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Colleges try to appeal to gay high school studentsBy Jennifer Peter, Associated Press, 05/18/2002
BOSTON -- Like any other high school student, Justin Childs is beginning to think about where he wants to continue his education.
But his top priority in choosing a college has nothing to do with academics.
"I need a college with a gay-friendly community," said Childs, a sophomore from Maine.
Childs was one of more than 500 teens who braved the rain Saturday to help kick off the weekend-long Gay-Straight Youth Pride Celebration and attend the state's first gay and lesbian college fair.
After speaking with representatives from American University and Suffolk University, Childs said a large gay community is not a must for him at college "as long as there's a large tolerant community."
With more teen-agers identifying themselves as gay or lesbian during the application process, many universities are developing strategies to make them feel welcome on campus, said Brad Blankenship of American.
"It's a need that's always been there, but only recently have we been expected to meet that need," Blankenship said. "We want to tell them they are valued as students and that we value their identity."
The annual festival is sponsored by the 10-year-old Massachusetts Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. It was established in 1992 in response to an epidemic of suicides among gay and lesbian youth.
Massachusetts is the only state that publicly funds such a group, commission chairman Vincent McCarthy said.
The festival featured speeches by former television evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker and appearances by gay cast members of MTV's "The Real World."
Participants included gay teens, their supporters and parents.
Not all of the students who stopped by the college tables Saturday were gay and not all of the questions were about resources for gays.
"They're asking me about academics in general as well as gay life," said Bayliss Camp, who represented Stanford University. "We're just trying to give high school kids an idea about what opportunities are available to them."
Colby College, Johnson & Wales University, the University of Vermont, Bates College, the University of New Hampshire and the University of North Carolina were among the more than 40 colleges represented at the fair.
Kaitlin Burroughs, 16, of Middleton, isn't gay, but said it is still important for her to attend a college that embraces diversity.
"I couldn't go to a school that's not open-minded," said Burroughs, after stopping by the Colby table.
Bakker, now a gay youth advice columnist, noting a high suicide rate among gay teens, encouraged the festival participants not to be discouraged by bias.
"No matter what happens in your life, suicide is not the way out," Bakker told the cheering crowd. "Not everyone is going to like you, not everyone is going to want to be your friend, but always be you, no matter what."
The cheers grew much louder, with teen-agers racing toward the stage, when several gay cast members from past episodes of "The Real World" made their appearance. They emphasized how unusual it was to have an event dedicated to gay youth.
"Can I just tell you how lucky you guys are?" said Danny, a member of the New Orleans cast. "There's no other place in the country that has this."
© Copyright 2002 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing Inc.