LGBTQ Youth Leaders Send ‘Signals To Their Peers That You Can Be Out’

LGBTQ
Molly Pinta, right, and her mother Carolyn started the first Gay-Straight Alliance at the middle school where Molly attends and Carolyn teaches. Molly came out to her parents as bisexual was she was 11 years old. Susie An / WBEZ
LGBTQ
Molly Pinta, right, and her mother Carolyn started the first Gay-Straight Alliance at the middle school where Molly attends and Carolyn teaches. Molly came out to her parents as bisexual was she was 11 years old. Susie An / WBEZ

LGBTQ Youth Leaders Send ‘Signals To Their Peers That You Can Be Out’

Updated Feb. 22

With her multicolored hair, it’s hard to miss Molly Pinta. She’s not a flashy 13-year-old, but she isn’t one to hide either. Pinta identifies as bisexual and came out to her parents when she was 11.

“My dad literally said ‘Duh’ when I told him,” she recalled.

Pinta may sound familiar. Last summer, she was responsible for organizing the first gay pride parade in her hometown of Buffalo Grove, a northern suburb. Now, she’s one of the new youth ambassadors for the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy organization.

She’s joining young people from around the country who are headed to Washington, D.C., this weekend for a conference hosted by the Human Rights Campaign on LGBTQ youth.

“I’m the youngest age there, so that’s something that I could contribute,” she said. “But really, I would like to learn from the people around me that have had much more of a difficult time coming out and a much less easy experience, because I really need to learn my privilege and use that to help me help others.”

Pinta is among the increasing number of LGBTQ young people coming out at earlier ages.

Caitlin Ryan is director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. Within at least the past 20 years some kids are coming out before they turn 10, she said. Ryan said research shows some children know their sexual orientation around age six and gender identity as early as three.

“Young people are seeing themselves in more positive ways in the media, in popular culture, in their community with other people who are coming out,” Ryan said. “For the first time in history, we're seeing normative development of sexual orientation and gender identity."

Ryan said there are still challenges. The FBI shows that nearly 19% of hate crimes reported in 2018 were incidents related to a bias toward sexual orientation and gender identity. A survey conducted by the University of Connecticut shows most LGBTQ youth don’t feel safe at school.

Ryan said that’s why it’s important to have youth in leadership roles. They can help change how people think about sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It also signals to their peers that you can be out,” she said. “You can live an integrated life, and that has had a profound impact over the whole life course.”

Molly Pinta said social media has helped in this way. She said if kids don’t get support at home, they might find it online.

“My Instagram and Facebook are very public,” she said. “So people will reach out to me on there, and I'm always glad to talk to them.”

Pinta’s mother Carolyn is a Spanish teacher at her middle school. Together, they started the first Gay-Straight Alliance there. Those student organizations are more common in high schools, but they’re trying to change that.

Molly Pinta said that’s helped kids feel comfortable to come out in a safe space, but Carolyn Pinta has received negative messages from some parents.

“We feel we have to make a big deal of it every single day for those kids who don’t get that support at home,” Carolyn Pinta said. “They need to see themselves represented in other people, and if their own family won’t do it for them, we’re going to do it.”

Molly Pinta hopes her two-year term as youth ambassador will help others who are struggling.

“LGBTQ youth can really benefit from having their voices heard because often they don't,” she said. “It's often adults making laws.”

Molly said it’s about youth speaking up for themselves and speaking out for their rights.

Susie An covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @soosieon.

This story was updated to replace an abbreviated version of a quote from Caitlin Ryan for the full version.