A young blonde woman slouches against a garden retaining wall and eyes the entrance of San Diego's Hillcrest Youth Center (HYC), a tax-funded drop-in program for homeless and disaffected kids who are "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning"-LGBTQ in the parlance of politically active homosexuals. Wearing a baggy gray sweatshirt, Army-green pants, tousled hair, and no makeup, she looks like a kid from the streets. At 21, she is the right age: The youth center, a beige house with fairy-tale blue eaves situated on a palm-lined avenue, is open to "youth" ages 14 to 24. But the woman is not LGBTQ-she's a WORLD reporter, sent undercover after HYC staff denied the magazine an arranged tour to see how taxpayer funds are spent.
HYC is a project of the Lesbian and Gay Men's Community Center of San Diego that received nearly $2 million from federal and local governmental agencies, according to its most recent public filings. In an age when the "morally straight" Boy Scouts face ejection from taxpayer-funded facilities, an increasing number of "anything but straight" youth facilities are applying for and winning taxpayers' funds. The New York State legislature, for example, doubled its funding of homosexual organizations in 2000, doling out at least $500,000 to gay youth centers and advocacy groups. In Minnesota, the gay youth center "District 202" last year paid with government funds for more than a fourth of its operations-which include weekly "drag" shows and a Sunday evening gay-themed reading group called "Bedtime Stories with Darren."
Over the past decade, the number of centers that cater to youth who are practicing or considering homosexual behavior has increased tenfold. About 20 centers dotted the United States in the early 1990s, mostly in larger urban areas. Today, there are about 200, according to the National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYAC), a Washington, D.C.-based group that seeks to establish a "national infrastructure" of gay youth organizations. About a third of gay youth centers receive public funds, NYAC estimates.
How is the money spent? WORLD's reporter hoisted her backpack and headed into the Hillcrest Youth Center to find out. Profanity-laced rap music thumped through the entryway, where she confronted the first thing kids see when they walk in the door: an enormous black-and-white wall display holding 16 transparent bowls, each containing a red plastic scoop. The bowls contained condoms and other items, some marked for boy/boy sex and others for girl/girl sex. Nearby, blue shelves housed "gay" newsletters, brochures on HIV prevention, and guides to "coming out."
The center's interior was filled with colorful paper lanterns, bright rugs, bean-bag chairs, and mod furniture. About 30 young people, friendly and upbeat, filled the house. In one room, two boys, 16, lay entwined in a bean-bag chair, while other boys camped in front of a television, expertly thumbing video-game controls. A girl, about 17, smacked home a foosball goal, then bent over to give her plastic men a celebratory kiss. "Eeew!" groaned another girl: "She's kissing guys!" Although Heather Berberet, a lesbian psychologist and a director at the adult gay community center that sponsors HYC, told WORLD in a telephone interview that the center doesn't emphasize homosexual sex, per se, a dozen or so photos in the computer lab depicted lesbians, some engaged in sexual acts. Other gay-themed art and literature was prominent.
Spirited and well-spoken, Ms. Berberet had denied WORLD's tour request, but on the phone she said HYC has a "two-pronged goal-to provide a cool, interactive, safe environment for every youth that visits ... and to provide a very tight net of interlocking social services for the youth that need them." She pointed out the high suicide rate among teens who "self-identify" as gay or lesbian, and the increased risk for substance abuse and contraction of sexually transmitted disease, including HIV. Such problems, she claimed, stem mainly from discrimination and rejection teens face from parents, peers, and society at large. She said HYC addresses those issues with "case management" services, housing placement, mental-health counseling, and HIV-prevention education.
But more than 80 years of clinical research and observation calls into question the notion that the troubles of gay youth are based in discrimination, says Yale psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover, author of Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth. The American Psychiatric Association, under political pressure from a vitriolic internal gay caucus, ignored that science and removed homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973. But science just wouldn't go away: Researchers have since found causal links between homosexuality and a lack of male role models (Journal of Genetics and Psychology, 1983); parental emotional abandonment (Journal of Psychoanalysis, 1989); and child sexual abuse (Child Abuse and Neglect, 1992).
A 2001 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior compared childhood molestation between heterosexuals and nonheterosexuals. The authors found that almost half of gay men and about one in five lesbians reported homosexual molestation in childhood. This compared to childhood homosexual molestation rates of only 7 percent of heterosexual men and 1 percent of heterosexual women.
Critics say that gay-youth advocates and centers such as HYC downplay such triggers in an attempt to make homosexuality seem a "culture" rather than an abnormal expression of sexuality. In addition, advocates edit out unflattering facts about homosexuality, such as the low incidence of long-term relationships and high rate among gay males of sexually transmitted disease such as AIDS.
AIDS/HIV is a primary public-funding fountain for gay youth centers. In tax documents filed by the Lesbian and Gay Men's Community Center of San Diego for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2001, the 501(c)3 nonprofit reported $2.8 million in revenue-at least 70 percent from government sources. According to Ms. Berberet, that money came primarily from tax-funded HIV-prevention grants at the state, federal, and county levels. But an analysis of HYC and Community Center literature suggests that HIV-prevention activities account for far less than three-quarters of each center's activities.
When WORLD's incognito reporter tried to get information about HIV prevention from HYC staff members, she found slim pickings. One staffer told her about "Wrappers," a group she could join if she wanted to: "Wrappers is a peers-educating-peers group where youth can be trained to talk to other teens about HIV and other gay issues," the staffer said. "But that's really all we have."
While advocates claim that youth centers like HYC provide social services to at-risk kids who are rejected by peers and counselors at non-gay facilities, critics say such services actually are limited. WORLD's reporter didn't have much success getting information about some "social services" HYC's literature claimed the center offered. She edged up to a table where four center staffers perused their cards in a game of Spades. When the reporter asked one of them-a thin, dark, 40ish man-about home placement services, he told her, "Why don't you come back tomorrow when it's not so hectic?" and returned to his cards.
Other factors render gay youth center operations suspect. For example, some centers allow adults to socialize with young teenagers. HYC is open to 14- to 24-year-olds. Ms. Berberet acknowledged that age groups are not separated during social activities and no parental permission is required for on-site events. That means adults are mixing socially with kids just graduated from the eighth grade. While the center does not allow on-site coupling, activity originating at HYC and occurring off-site could be classified as a tax-funded introduction to statutory rape.
Other youth centers, such as the tax-funded District 202 in Minneapolis, pair adult homosexuals with children in "mentoring" relationships. Advocacy-oriented adult "help," as well as shifting cultural attitudes toward same-sex relationships, may leave kids who are questioning their sexuality with no place to go but gay. Which raises the question: Are havens that promote high-risk sexual acting out leading troubled kids with homosexual tendencies away from real healing of underlying dysfunctions?
The problem with gay youth advocacy, said Dr. Satinover, is "the monolithic, uniform resistance to the idea that there are some youngsters who want to leave the gay life." He told WORLD, "There are hurting children who are struggling sexually but want desperately not to be in the gay life. The kind of support they as free citizens should have available to them is to seek the ability to change. Those children are not being supported."