A new report looks at what it’s like to be a teenager and gay — and living in a rural area like Iowa. Chris Stapel, a high school math teacher in the Boston Public Schools, compiled the report with funding from the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus. He says youths are less likely to know openly gay role models, different from growing up in a gay community in a metropolitan area. He says in rural America, it feels more isolated.
Stapel says his interest in the issue came out of his own experience growing up gay in rural Illinois. Included in the report are quotes from three anonymous Midwestern women, who write about feeling out of place in their small towns.
Stapel says a feeling of isolation was a common theme among many of the people he interviewed for the report. There was a fear, he says, “that there was something inside, about to be burst.” He chuckles ruefully that the women said their image of a lesbian was “someone in the city,” who looked and acted different from them.
Stapel says some of his interview subjects said it was only after moving to urban areas that they began to shed those feelings. He says his book is designed to be a manual to help rural teachers and social workers better serve gay teens in their areas, and to help connect gay youth with supportive adults and peers. The manual includes a list of organizations and other resources available to gay young people in rural areas.