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Teenagers are OK with their mixed views on gays

June 17, 2008|SANDY BANKS

Kye D'Aguilar doesn't have a traumatic story to tell about coming out. The 18-year-old said he's always known that he is gay. "My mother told me she knew when I was born."

"She was like, 'Whatever.' " He mimicked her, waving a beefy hand in the air. His mother is a lesbian.

His dad -- who has another wife and new set of kids -- wasn't quite as sanguine. "Take the pink out of your life," he wrote on Kye's MySpace page. Kye responded with a diss of his own. "I blocked him," he said.

I met Kye at a Hollywood shelter run by the Los Angeles Youth Network for runaways, homeless and foster teenagers, just a few hours before Los Angeles County pronounced its first Mrs. and Mrs.

I wanted to talk to the generation that stands to benefit most from this historic civil rights advance: gay kids who will come of age knowing that a hookup could eventually lead to a marriage proposal. Just like their straight friends.

Of the 10 teenagers I talked with, three said they were gay. I found the group as philosophically divided as adults, but more comfortable with dissension. They shouted, insulted and defended one another, then settled back in to watch television.

'I don't like it," said David, twirling his skateboard wheels and shouting over the others. "Nothing personal, but two dudes ain't natural. . . . I'm not tripping; just keep it in San Francisco."

"Hel-lo!," responded Jazz Lepe, an in-your-face 17-year-old who straddles gender boundaries. "This is Holly-wood."

Tall and slim with delicate features, Jazz was a boy when she reached adolescence. Now she's transgender. Or bisexual. Sometimes she's not sure.

When I visit, she's wearing tight jeans and a rhinestone-trimmed pink T-shirt. She has long black hair with a dramatic red streak, pink nail polish on slender fingers and eyebrows so perfect I'm dying to ask who did them.

She grew up in group homes and foster families, was taunted at school and on the street. I get the feeling she's not one to wait on the state's permission for anything.

"I always had crushes on boys," she announced, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. Her mother wasn't bothered when she came out at 15. "She just doesn't want me to be a slut."

I asked if she'd heard about Lawrence King, the Oxnard middle-schooler allegedly killed by a classmate in February for flaunting his homosexuality. She hadn't. But she had heard about "this other guy that got killed . . . . They tied him to a fence. It was a big deal."

Jazz couldn't remember his name, but I could. Matthew Shepard. He died 10 years ago, before Jazz probably knew what "gay" meant.

His death publicly sensitized the nation to discrimination against gays; sparking hate crime laws and public outrage. But it seems not so much has changed in our private relations.

I'm stunned to read that one-quarter of gay teens say that coming out to their parents got them kicked out of the house, or led them to run away.

"The law doesn't change anything," said Jenette Hurst, 17, who landed in the Hollywood shelter three weeks ago when she came here from Seattle.

"We're always going to have this discussion. I'm not a lesbian, but if they want to get married, why can't we just be happy for them.

"It's just like blacks and whites," she said. The older generation "grew up saying things about each other because you didn't know anybody like that. But we know.

"Like me and Jazz. She's trans, she's bi, whatever. I'm not. But I like her. She's a person, he's a person . . . whatever. I like her for who she is. Or he is."

Mercy Molina didn't say a word during our discussion. From across the room, I couldn't tell if she was a girl or boy, lounging on the couch with her close-cropped hair, baggy clothes and black piercings hooked through her eyebrow and lip.

Up close, she looked and sounded much younger than her 17 years. She had a soft voice, perfect teeth and a rainbow-colored yarn bracelet neatly braided around her wrist.

Her parents are Jehovah's Witnesses and reject homosexuality, she said. When she told them she was gay two years ago, "they told me to leave. Then they said 'If you go, we'll call the cops.' " Confused, she stayed.

But when she brought her girlfriend around, the arguments started. So the two ran away, stayed with friends, then wound up living in separate shelters.

Mercy was a tomboy all her life, she said. "I played sports and never liked dressing up or doing girlie things. My friends and my teachers, they were OK with it. I don't know how my parents didn't know."

I asked her what she thought of gays' right to marry. She smiled and looked away from me. "Me and my girlfriend, we've been together for three years. We say we're engaged."

She laughed, and when she looked up I saw that same glow in her eyes I see when my daughter talks about the young man she loves. "I don't know . . . but yeah, maybe we'll get married."

And I don't see a gay kid, but a 17-year-old romantic.

Wait a while, I tell her, thinking like a mother. And hoping, come November, voters don't take the choice from her.


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