Features

Leading them into temptation

At-risk Youth | Far from promoting abstinence, taxpayer-funded youth centers push confused, troubled kids into the homosexual lifestyle. WORLD took an unauthorized tour of one such center in Southern California

Issue: "Global shame," June 15, 2002

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.

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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).

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