Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 24, 2003

Gay youth seek acceptance
Teens say community needs more education and understanding

By JESSE SOWA
Gazette-Times reporter

Tyler Haycock remembers being called derogatory names as he walked down the halls of his high school.

Now 19 and a student at Linn-Benton Community College, Haycock still has fears of what might happen to him physically or what someone may think or say to him because he's homosexual.

"So many times I wanted to turn around with complete hatred," he said of his high school days, wiping away tears. "I wanted to hit someone. They had no idea what I was going through."

Haycock was one of several young people to express their concerns and also wishes for their communities for themselves and other gay youth. "Honoring Diversity: It Includes Our Gay Youth," held at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, was sponsored by the local Community Alliance for Diversity.

Haycock grew up in the Mormon religion. Coming out as a gay person was not easy.

"I'm gay. That's who I am," he said in front of an audience of about 30 people. "I've been on my knees praying many times, and it hasn't changed."

In seeking the ideal community and environment for gay young people, Haycock said, stereotypes and assumptions about gays need to be eliminated. Being gay doesn't have to be a topic, it should just be accepted. Educating students about hatred and violence is an important step, he added.

Cliff Richmond's coming out was not easy either. He was 14 and living with his mother, who is very religious. He didn't find the acceptance he was looking for and eventually moved from LaPine to live with his grandmother in Corvallis. In town, and at Corvallis High School, he found that acceptance.

Now 16, with a high school-equivalency degree and a job, he urges more education on what it is to be gay.

"If families knew more about it, they may be able to accept a little more," he said. "Parents, love your children no matter what."

Daniel Duncan, a 22-year-old Oregon State University student, said he also has felt accepted by the people around him and on campus. He attempted suicide after learning his parents disapproved of him being gay, but it was a roommate who helped him through his hard time.

"It's the situation you put yourself in that makes a difference," he said. "It's just who you surround yourself with."

Duncan said he found diversity in Corvallis when he and his male friend walked hand in hand from one end of town to the other. Not one person said anything mean; in fact, someone at a gas station said "hi." Not many people even turned to look.

Sometimes the oppression comes from within yourself, he said.

"A lot of times it's all inside of you, and you need to get it worked out," he said. "Feel pride in yourself. Enjoy life. Meet people."

Jesse Sowa covers public safety and general assignments for the Gazette-Times. He can be reached at jesse.sowa@lee.net or 758-9521.