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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT GAY, LESBIAN,
BISEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER PEOPLE

continued form home page...
From P-FLAG (Parents-Friends of Lesbians and Gays), www.pflag.org

Is there something wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?
No. There have been people in all cultures and times throughout human history who have identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT). Homosexuality is not an illness or a disorder, a fact that is agreed upon by both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association. Homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Pyschiatric Association in 1974. Being transgender or gender variant is not a disorder either, although Gender Identity Dysphoria (GID) is still listed in the DSM of the American Pyschiatric Association. Being GLBT is as much a human variation as being left-handed - a person's sexual orientation and gender identity are just another piece of who they are. There is nothing wrong with being GLBT - in fact, there's a lot to celebrate. What is wrong are discriminatory laws, policies and attitudes that persist in our schools, workplaces, places of worship and larger communities.

What is sexual orientation?
A person's sexual orientation is defined by their enduring emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional attraction to other people. Heterosexual (or straight) refers to people whose sexual and romantic feelings are primarily for people of the opposite sex. Homosexual (or gay and lesbian) refers to people whose sexual and romantic feelings are primarily for those of the same sex. The term lesbian refers to women who are homosexual. Bisexual (or bi) refers to people whose sexual and romantic feelings are for people of both sexes. Other terms that people use to describe their sexual orientation are "queer" and "questioning."

What is gender identity and expression?
A person's gender identity is their internal sense of being male or female. Gender expression is how someone presents their gender to the world. We all have a gender identity, and we all have ways of expressing it. Our society has a narrow view of what it means to be a woman or a man, and we learn that from an early age. Those who are visibly gender-variant face increased risk of harassment in school, unemployment, homelessness, hate violence, lack of access to health care and loss of custody of their children. But many create supportive communities where they can be who they are. PFLAG envisions a society that embraces everyone, including those of diverse gender identities.

What does Transgender mean?
A transgendered person is someone whose gender identity or expression differs from conventional expectations for their physical sex. The term transgender is used to describe several distinct but related groups of people who use a variety of other terms to self-identify. Transgendered people can include transsexuals (not all transsexual people need or want sex reassignment surgery), masculine women, feminine men, drag queens/kings, cross-dressers, gender queers, two-spirit, butches, transment, transwomen, etc. Like other people, transgender people can be straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Who are intersexed people?
Intersexed people are individuals born with anatomy or physiology, which differs from cultural and/or medical ideals of male and female. The medical term "hermaphrodite" has been commonly used, but is not accepted by many intersex people. It is standard medical practice to assign a sex at birth to individuals born with intersex/atypical anatomy or physiology and to perform surgeries beginning in infancy and often continuing into adolescence, before a child is able to give informed consent. The Intersex Society of North America has labeled this practice genital mutilation and opposes surgery on infants and children.

How are sexual orientation and gender identity determined?
No one knows exactly how sexual orientation and gender identity determined. However, experts agree that it is a complicated matter of genetics, biology, psychological and social factors. For most people, sexual orientation and gender identity are shaped at any early age. While research has not determined a cause, homosexuality and gender variance are not the result of any one factor like parenting or past experiences. It is never anyone's "fault" if they or their loved one grows up to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. If you are asking yourself why you or your loved one is GLBT, consider asking yourself another question: Why ask why? Does your response to a GLBT person depend on knowing why they are GLBT? Regardless of cause, GLBT people deserve equal rights and to be treated fairly.

Can gay people change their sexual orientation or gender identity?
There are religious and secular organizations which sponsor campaigns and studies touting that GLBT people can change their sexual orientation or gender identity. Their assertions assume that there is something wrong with being GLBT - the largest problem is, in fact, society's intolerance of difference. Many of the studies and campaigns are based on ideological bias rather than solid science. Claims of conversion from gay to straight tend to be poorly documented, full of flawed research with a lack of follow-up. No studies show proven long-term changes in gay or transgender people, and many reported changes are based solely on behavior and not a person's actual self-identity. The American Psychological Association has stated that scientific evidence does not show that conversion therapy works and that it can do more harm than good.

How does someone know they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered?
Some people say that they have "felt different" or knew they were attracted to people of the same sex from the time they were very young. Some transgender people talk about feeling from an early age that their gender identity did not match parental and social expectations. Others do not figure out their sexual orientation or gender identity until they are adolescents or adults. Often it can take a while for people to put a label to their feelings, or people's feelings may change over time. Understanding our sexuality and gender can be a life-long process, and people shouldn't worry about labeling themselves right away. However, with positive images of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people more readily available, it is becoming easier for people to identify their feelings and come out at earlier ages. People don't have to be sexually active to know their sexual orientation - feelings and emotions are as much a part of one's identity. The short answer is that you'll know when you know.

Why do people "come out"?
Coming out is a way for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people to live their lives openly and honestly. Hiding one's sexual orientation or gender identity can be very stressful, lonely and isolating. Coming out is an affirming way for GLBT people to connect with others in vibrant and diverse GLBT communities. GLBT people come out because staying "in the closet" keeps the important people in their lives from knowing about a big part of their identity. Coming out can be a difficult decision, because many GLBT people fear rejection from their families, friends, employers and religious institutions. It is important to turn to supportive people for advice, and to have a plan if a person has reason to fear how their parents, employers, classmates or teachers will respond to them coming out. PFLAG can help.

For many, the stress of keeping a secret from the people they are close to ultimately outweighs the fear of losing acceptance and love. Coming out is an important decision that people should be able to make on their own terms - when they want to, to whom they want to.

How do I come out to my family and friends?
There are many questions to consider before coming out. Are you comfortable with your sexuality and gender identity/expression? Do you have support? Can you be patient? What kind of views do your friends and family have about homosexuality and gender variance? Are you financially dependent on your family? Make sure you have thought your decision through, have a plan and supportive people you can turn to. And be prepared for the stages that your family or loved ones may go through upon learning you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Coming out can cause shock, denial, guilt and grief. However, PFLAG was founded because of the unconditional love of parents for their gay children. Your loved ones will need time to adjust to your news, the same way you may have needed time to come to terms with yourself. However, true acceptance is possible, especially with education and support.
What do I do if someone comes out to me? How can I support my GLBT loved one?

Learning that a loved one is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered can be a difficult discovery. It can send you on an emotional roller coaster ride. You may feel like you have lost a loved one. Remember that this person is the same one that you loved before they came out to you - they have just shared another part of themselves with you. Feelings of grief, guilt and denial are natural given some of our society's attitudes towards homosexuality and gender variance. However, you owe it to your loved one -and yourself- to move towards acceptance and understanding. Whatever your reaction, reassure your loved one that they still have your love. PFLAG offers local support and education to help with that process.

Can gay people have families?
YES. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people can have families. Same-sex couples do form committed and loving relationships. In the United States many same-sex couples choose to celebrate their love with commitment ceremonies or civil unions, although these couples are not offered the rights and benefits of marriage. In Vermont, same-sex couples can have a state civil union that offers some of the benefits of marriage to resident couples. More and more GLBT couples are also raising children together, although state laws on adoption and foster parenting vary. And of course, many GLBT people have the support of the loving families they were born into, or the families that they have created with their other friends and loved ones.

How can I reconcile my or my loved one's sexual orientation with my faith?
This is a difficult question for many people. Learning that a loved one is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered can be a challenge if you feel it is at odds with your faith tradition. However, being GLBT does not impact a person's ability to be moral and spiritual any more than being heterosexual does. Many GLBT people are religious and active in their own faith communities. It is up to you to explore, question and make choices in order to reconcile religion with homosexuality and gender variance. For some this means working for change within their faith community, and for others it means leaving it. There are many resources to help you in this journey.

What about HIV/AIDS?
Since the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, many people have viewed HIV/AIDS as a gay issue. The GLBT community mobilized early in the epidemic to formulate a response that included educating communities, creating visibility to reduce stigma, developing prevention strategies and advocating for appropriate care and treatment options for People Living with AIDS (PWAs). Yet the epidemic has continued to progress and take its toll on many communities globally. Still, despite overwhelming statistics documenting the spread of HIV/AIDS in other communities, many people still choose to view HIV/AIDS as a gay issue.

The truth is that being GLBT does not give you AIDS. Certain sexual practices, certain drug use behaviors and other factors can put you at risk for catching HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Everyone needs to get the facts about HIV/AIDS.

HIV is spread by sexual contact with an infected person, by sharing needles and/or syringes (primarily for drug injection) with someone who is infected, or, less commonly (and now very rarely in countries where blood is screened for HIV antibodies), through transfusions of infected blood or blood clotting factors. Babies born to HIV-infected women may become infected during birth or through breast-feeding after birth. While research has revealed a great deal of valuable information, a lot of false or misleading information, often fueled by homophobia, continues to be shared widely through the Internet or popular press, so be sure to consider the source when educating yourself about HIV/AIDS.

If your loved one is presently HIV-positive or has AIDS, they now need your support more than ever. You should know that you are not alone. There are numerous local and national organizations that can help you with medical, psychological and physical care. PFLAG can refer you to other parents, families and friends in similar situations, and resources specific to your needs.

Why should I support gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights?
GLBT rights are not special rights. PFLAG works to achieve equal civil rights for all people, including our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) loved ones. Because our GLBT children, friends and family members deserve the same rights as our straight ones; because discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is still legal; because a GLBT person can be fired from their job simply because of who they love or how they express their gender; because same sex couples cannot legally be married in the United States; because GLBT youth face constant harassment and abuse in schools across the country; because the road to full equality and acceptance is a long one - YOUR LOVED ONES NEED YOU to take a stand for fairness.

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