KarMel Scholarship 2005


“Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth Struggles of Coming Out”

By Danielle Bowerbank



Desciption of Submission: “Paper about the struggles in society for our gay youth.” - Danielle




This paper will be on the struggles and theories of the coming out process for the gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (GLB). I will mostly be focusing on the youth and their struggles in the coming out process. For during the adolescence stage is when most GLB discover their sexual orientation.


What are gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth?  These are the sexual orientation of people under the age of 25. Gay is a male homosexual. Lesbian is a female homosexual. A homosexual is a person was has sexual interest in the same sex as oneself, or involving in sexual intercourse between members of the same sex. Bisexual is a person who possesses characters of or having sexual desire for both sexes. Homosexuality is a normal part of human behavior. It is cross-cultural, meaning that it appears with about the same frequency in all cultures.


Adolescence can be an exciting though conflicting stage of a person’s life. Though not quite an easy period for most young people, social and educational resources are widely available for heterosexual adolescents to support the formation of their sexual identity. Though socialization their feelings are accepted and shared, by peers, by adult role models, by school, and by the media.  However, for the young people experiencing same-sex attractions these feelings can be confusing and embarrassing. They do not have the same support and resources. With peer pressure to conform to a heterosexual standard, and lack of support systems in many cases the young people turn inward. Ignoring or hiding there true self. Research indicates that homosexual adolescents who have a close relationship with their parents and families tend to come out at a younger age and to experience more positive identities than do those who have a poor relationship.



Researchers have developed theoretical models charting the coming out process. These models have been suggested as explanatory frameworks for a variety of human processes. For example, Lawrence Kohlberg describes stages of moral development, and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross charts five stages in the process of coming to terms with death.  This framework provides a means by which one can understand the process an individual is experiencing and also to predict what form future stages might take. To be aware of these stages enables the individual to gauge her or his relation to other individuals who are having or have had similar experiences.


I also feel it is important to note that males and females tend to differ slightly at points within the process. It must also be known that the coming out models presented is merely general patterns and each individual comes out in different ways under unique circumstances.  Studies suggest that the coming out journey begins with an early awareness of feeling “different” but takes many years. Some move more quickly than others and some might get stuck causing them to never progress to the final stage.  There are many complex reasons why individuals move from stage to stage, going back and forth, or failing to move.  Theorists have stressed, however, that societal attitudes are important in affecting the development of a person’s positive identity.


Gilbert Herdt has discovered seven variables in the coming out process:


1.      Adolescents who behave in “gender unconventional” ways, and who have had same-sex sexual experiences, tend to travel through the developmental stages—especially the earlier stages – quicker because they seem to have less sexual identity confusion and less chance of hiding.  Adolescents who more closely conform to gender role expectations and have had heterosexual sexual experiences seem, at least initially, to have greater sexual confusion.

2.      Family support will make for smoother passage through stages, while lack of support will delay this passage.

3.      Adolescents from working class families with high-defined gender roles and expectations are more likely to engage in gender unconventional behaviors.

4.      Families with strong “ethnic” backgrounds tend to reject GLB adolescents less, to preserve the family unit. This “acceptance”, however, often comes from assumption that the child may be “damaged but our own,” which can hurt the child’s self esteem.

5.      Coming out can be likened to the anthropological model of an “adolescent rite of passage.” This rite has been made possible by a greater visibility and shared sense lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender communities, supporting and making the way easier for young people.

6.      The coming out process is particularly difficult for ethnic, racial, and religious minority youth, since sometimes they feel they must abandon a central identity in taking on a new one. The loss must be acknowledged as a ritual death, before a new relationship to minority status can be assumed along with a sexual identity.

7.      The problems sometimes faced in the coming out process, e.g. depression, substance abuse, suicide, etc., are related to stigma and rejection more than to confusion over desires or inability to form intimate relationships.



According to Zera (1992), Cass (1979) was the first to articulate a model of homosexual identity (perceptions of self as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, even asexual). Cass proposed that individuals go through six non-age-specific stages:


1.      identity awareness —the individual is conscious of being different

2.      identity comparison —the individual believes that he or she may be homosexual, but tries to act heterosexual

3.      identity tolerance —the individual realizes that he or she is homosexual

4.      identity acceptance—the individual begins to explore the gay community

5.      identity pride —the individual becomes active in the gay community

6.      synthesis —the individual fully accepts himself or herself and others



Richard R. Troiden (1989) offers a four-stage model. Troiden states that only small portions of all people who have had “homosexual experiences” actually develop lesbian or gay identities. Unlike Cass, Troiden’s stages are age-specific.


1.      Sensitization —beginning before puberty, the individual has homosexual feelings or experiences without understanding the implications for self-identity.

2.      Identity confusion –occurs during early adolescence, the individual realizes that he or she may be homosexual.

3.      Identity assumption—occurs during later adolescence, the individual begins to come out as a homosexual. Occurring first in the homosexual community, with attempts at coming out in the heterosexual community.

4.      Commitment –a self-acceptance and adopting a homosexual lifestyle. This has both “internal” and “external” dimensions

Internal: fusion of sexuality and emotionality into a significant whole; perception of the identity as a valid self-identity; expressed satisfaction and happiness after self-defining as lesbian or gay.

External: enter same-sex love relationships; disclose identity to non-gays; shift stigma-management strategies.



Eli Coleman (1982) described five stages of the coming out process.


  1. Pre-coming out – individuals know something is different about themselves, but are not aware of same-sex feelings.
  2. Coming out – individuals have admitted to themselves that they have homosexual feelings, although they may not have a clear understanding of their sexuality.
  3. Exploration – where they experiment with there newly recognized sexual identity. There are three developmental tasks the individual face in this third stage.

1-     they must develop interpersonal skills for meeting those of similar sexuality

2-     they need to develop a sense  of personal attractiveness

3-     They must learn that sexual activity does not in and of itself establish healthy self-esteem.


  1. First Relationship – individuals learn same-sex relationship skills.
  2. Integration – where the public and private identities merge into one unified and integrated self-image, is ongoing and continuous and will last for the rest of the person’s life.




Over the past fifty years, research has revealed that parenting styles have a strong impact on a child and adolescent development (Parish & McCluskey, 1992).  Recently, researchers have begun to broaden their investigation of familial influences on homosexual youth. Savin-Williams (1989) found that lesbians feel most comfortable with their sexual orientation when both parents accept their homosexuality. However, the mother’s acceptance was found to be more important as compared with the father’s acceptance.


The reactions of parents to the disclosure of homosexuality are often unpredictable, making the decision to come out difficult (Cramer & Roach, 1988; Savin-Williams, 1989).  Many homosexual youth fear rejection by their parents and other relatives.


Newman and Muzzonigro (1993) found that gay adolescent males in families with more traditional values are less likely to come out to their parents than those in families with less traditional values.  Traditional family values are defined by having criteria: importance of religion, emphasis on marriage, emphasis on having children, and whether a non-English language was spoken in the home. 


At younger ages than ever before young people are “coming out” of a closet of denial and fear. Due largely to the support systems developed for and by them over recent years. There are Internet sites, books, television shows, and educational programs in schools addressing the issues of gays, lesbians and bisexuals. 


In 2000 Outproud did a survey on GLB and the coming out. Its results showed that the typical individual was 12.4 years old when they realized that they were queer. On average it took them until they were 15.6 years old to accept this and they didn’t tell anyone until they were 16.1 years old.  Their best friend was typically who they told first (42%), friends at school (21%) or friends outside of school or work (10%).  Only 7% of the respondents told their parents first.


This survey also showed that in just three years the school has become more welcoming and safer for GLB students.

            13% of HS students say that their schools discuss homosexuality in a positive manner, compared to only 6% in 1997.



It is my conclusion that the understanding of the coming out process can greatly assist not only individual coming out but their parents and peers as well in accepting it. Even though society has a long way to go before homosexual and bisexual acts will be seen as normal in everyday life, we are trying and learning to accept.  In my research studies on the Internet I came across dozens of sites. Offering chat rooms, questions & answer, and parental guidance for not only the youths, but gays, lesbians, and bisexuals of any age.  Considering, how long it has been since the end of segregation for blacks and other minorities, and how today there is still a large issue of racism, I do not expect to see greater results in the near future. However, we will see results and wider acceptance.







“My Child is Gay” (2000)

By Scott Bidstrup



Adolescence, Sexual Orientation & Identity an Overview 

By Warren J. Blumenfeld



2000 Survey Results

By Outproud


Identity Development of Homosexual Youth and Parental and Familial Influences on the Coming Out Process.

Author:  Lee A. Beaty


Cass, V.C. (1979).  Homosexual Identity Formation: A Theoretical model.  Journal of homosexuality. 



Coleman, E.  (1982).  Developmental Stages of the coming out process.

Journal of homosexuality