In a recent survey by the Massachusetts Department of Education, 31 percent of gay high school students say they have been threatened or physically injured. And, 22 percent say they have skipped school because of fears for their safety.
In an anonymous survey by a state corrections center of straight students at several northern California community colleges, 32 percent admitted having verbally threatened gays. Eighteen percent had physically threatened or actually assaulted a gay person.One young man says he knows that what happened to Matthew Shepard could just as easily have happened to him:
"Right now, anywhere in L.A., anywhere in California, anywhere in the country, there's some kid getting beat up, pushed, yelled at, made fun of because he's gay," he says. He says it doesn't even matter where you are: "In school, at home, on the street."
His name is Gabriel. He's just one of the hundreds of gay teenagers who have sought shelter at a gay and lesbian center in Los Angeles.
"My family wasn't okay with me being gay, and I was thrown out from my home and I had nowhere to go, no one to turn to," Gabriel says. "It's kind of 'three strikes you're out' when you're young, gay and homeless."
Statistics show that many gay and lesbian teenagers skip school because they feel threatened. Gabriel says it was far worse in his case: "I was going to a boarding school, a private school, and it got so bad that I actually didn't even want to live anymore."
"Since I went to a Christian school, I was constantly being told that homosexuality or being gay was a sin and that gay people deserve to die. I guess you could say I was more effeminate than other kids, and they recognized that. They would make fun of me and push me around, call me a fag, a queer."
He attempted suicide as a way out. Now, Gabriel wears a black ribbon in honor of Matthew Shepard.
"He was basically lynched, I think, if that's the correct word, and he was gay," he says. "He could have been any of my friends. He could have been me."
Wednesday night, Gabriel joined thousands of others in Hollywood and across the country to protest the death of a young gay man.
"He was a kid, he was like any other kid. He could have been someone's son, anyone's brother, best friend. This has to stop."
Gabriel and others said gays and lesbians seem to be the only group that it is still considered okay to ridicule. That, for instance, teachers who would never tolerate a racial slur would tolerate an anti-gay slur in class.
Gabriel is trying to get his life together now. He hopes to go to college and someday become counselor and help other youg people.
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