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Look out, world,
here we come!

Look out, world,
here we come!

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Today's young gay leaders represent the largest cultural shift in a generation. Here are some high achievers who aren't hung up on their sexuality and are determined to make a difference

Who were you when you were 16 years old? At 16, Travis Shumake was out to his entire Phoenix high school. At a cheerleading squad sleepover, after a female friend confessed that she'd "gotten with" a senior named John, Travis decided that then was as good a time as any to confess his big secret: "I've gotten with John too." It didn't take long for the news to spread through the school like wildfire, but here's where the story takes a distinctly 21st-century turn: By his senior year Travis was student body president. What's more, Travis, now 20 and an openly gay Sigma Chi brother at Northern Arizona University, was elected this past spring as student body president there, by one of the widest margins the university has seen in years. At 16, Angel Brown was volunteering at SMYAL, a Washington, D.C., sexual minority youth center that was such an oasis of acceptance, Angel decided it was time to come out to her mother--for the second time. She'd tried at 14, but it was dismissed as just a phase. This time Angel was more convincing, and she asked her mom to keep the news private. Naturally, by the next day her whole family knew. At 16, Ksen Pallegedara was also out to his entire Brooklyn, N.Y., high school after a straight friend had taken one look at how uncomfortable he felt inside the skin of his female body and said, loud enough for the entire locker room to hear, "You know you're a guy, right?" Ksen had indeed known since he was 9 that he should have been a man, but his friend's supportive candor still shocked him. What was less shocking was his rabidly pious Russian mother's violent reaction a year later when she realized the truth about her oldest child: Ksen went to school that morning with a patch of his knee-length hair torn from his scalp. Now 19 and in college, Ksen would live in Prospect Park, on strangers' couches, in a GLBT homeless shelter, and then in foster care rather than ever return home. At 16, Simone Sneed was a brainy misfit whose open-minded mother let girlfriends (the romantic kind) sleep over, provided they slumbered in separate rooms. But since Simone hit all the sweet spots for bullies--she was smart, loud, overweight, black, and openly gay--she decided she'd suffered through enough juvenile tormenting. She accelerated her class load and graduated from high school one year early. At 16, Christopher Kawasaki felt rudderless and profoundly unwelcome in his family's Virginia home after telling a friend at his evangelical Christian high school that he thought he might be gay. He was kicked out of the school, and his mother took him to the "ex-gay" ministry Exodus International, but after two sessions he told his mom, "This is never going to work." At 16, Sol Kelley-Jones was working hard on We Can See Queerly Now, the culmination of the second season of Proud Theater, which she founded with a local Wisconsin gay playwright-- when she wasn't working with the American Civil Liberties Union to combat the PATRIOT Act, discussing "person-specific" sexuality with her lesbian moms, or attending her very out girlfriend's small-town homecoming dance. Travis, Ksen, Angel, Simone, Chris, and Sol are just a few of the standout future leaders of Generation Q, the rapidly growing number of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens and young adults from the ages of 12 to 24 who are leaving the closet earlier than any generation before them. They represent quite possibly the largest generational shift in how GLBT people view themselves since the Stonewall riots of 1969. They are high achievers who don't define themselves by their sexuality, even shying away from the words "gay" or "lesbian." They are involved in activism at an earlier age and in religion as well. Yet to hold up these six young people as the poster kids for an entire generation would be disingenuous. For one, they would tell you their lives, on balance, have been favored with more good fortune than those of most every other GLBT youth they know. Speaking with them about their lives, it becomes clear just how preternaturally capable, solicitous, and confident they are--despite suffering through the pesky, confusing insecurities of childhood and adolescence. It is that luck and those qualities that have guided these six to share an ingrained sense of civic responsibility well beyond what anyone would reasonably expect of them. They all represent the powerful changes their generation has faced. Read their stories and the words of their parents, their mentors, and civil rights leaders. There's hardship here, to be sure, but there's also a great helping of hope.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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