We were fortunate to have a panel of lgbt students who shared their experiences with those of us willing to listen. Thanks to all who listened with a beginner's mind.
I found it really telling how several of the students spoke about how they could not figure out why they felt different or felt that something was not right. I think it was a poignant example that sexual orientation and gender identity is not a choice. In a couple of cases the students grew up in homes where being gay was not even discussed. The student didn't even know what the words "lesbian" or "homosexual" were. Furthermore, some students were from homes that strongly did not accept homosexuality. Knowing the power of socialization and nurture, I think it really sheds light on the fact that these students did not choose to be that way.
Another message was to be mindful about other people. Using language like "That's so gay," or "You're a fag" is hurtful to those who are gay. And, by using that language it really limits how those of us who are not gay are allowed to act and I don't want to be put into a really narrow box. There is a spectrum for gender and sex and sexuality, but our culture refuses to acknowledge the spectrum or allow anyone to live along the spectrum. Instead we are pushed into a box at one end of the spectrum.
Also, realize that all people are different and this includes those who are glbt. They might be categorized as gay or lesbian or transgender but be careful that you don't turn that category into a stereotype. Each person is an individual with his/her own preferences about how to act, talk etc... Try to see each person as individuals and do not make assumptions about how they are. And in doing so, don't make their status a master status. In other words, if a friend comes out to you, thank them for trusting you but going forward don't make every conversation about being gay. Realize that they have a multitude of other interests in their lives such as school, sports, movies, etc...
Lastly, I also think it was revealing how strong the agents of socialization were in their development and acceptance (or not) of their selves. In some cases, their family had them convinced that they were not gay. But in the end, they did not have a choice about their sexuality, it just comes with who they are. If you are interested in resources or how you can help checkout itgetsbetter.org and stopbullying.gov