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A safe haven for gay youth

Outlet members say LGBT students are at risk for destructive behavior

While they recognize the Bay Area is known for its progressive politics, local advocates say many Mountain View students questioning their sexual identity still feel disconnected from traditional high school rituals such as prom and homecoming.

These feelings of isolation often lead to destructive and dangerous behavior, said Shannon Turk, director of Outlet, a Mountain View advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth.

Outlet, which is part of the Community Health Awareness Council, or CHAC, provides a place for these students to hang out, watch movies and attend dances with other LGBT youth. Turk spoke about the group last week during a meeting of the Challenge Team, a group of educators and youth advocates who meet every month to discuss issues facing at-risk students.

According to a national survey, 5 to 7 percent of teenagers will realize they are gay by the time they graduate, which means "300 students walking our halls identify this way," Turk said.

"Most of us walk through the world expecting the people we interact with are straight, and they will grow up to have 2.5 kids, a minivan and a white picket fence," Turk 'said. But LGBT students "are afraid their life will not have a happy ending."

According to an Outlet survey of nearly 50 local LGBT youth, 60 percent answered "yes" when asked whether they have "had thoughts about suicide to the point you had a plan in mind," Turk said.

Although gay students do not fit the common "at-risk" description, many are more likely to be depressed, to get lower grades and to binge drink "simply to dull the pain, to make it go away," Turk said.

Turk said she has worked with Mountain View LGBT youth who were kicked out of their homes after coming out to their families, and she currently has a student who is scared to drive by the Outlet office with her parents, in case someone recognizes her.

In general, however, homophobia is less of an issue in Mountain View, especially compared to neighboring cities, she says.

Even so, Outlet holds support groups for LGBT students, HIV education seminars, leadership training and community outreach sessions for local students. During these meetings, the three Outlet employees discuss how important it is for teachers and administrators to stop students -- and sometimes even themselves -- from using "gay" as a slur.

Turk said the people at Outlet hope LGBT students will realize: "You can have a house with a white picket fence. You can live the American dream."

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