All in the Family: Teens, Sex, & Politics

Yesterday's Plan B shocker, in which the Obama administration sold out women's health for what appear to be clearly political reasons, has jaws dropping all over the country. James Fallows wrote that now it's the administration's turn to be anti-science by overruling a mass of testimony that allowing Plan B to be sold over the counter wouldn't harm teen health and would help improve women's lives in general. Michelle Goldberg explains the science and writes that the decision was "nakedly political." Linda Hirshman compared the putatively progressive call to link foreign aid to a country's efforts on LGBT rights, on one day, with the decision to overrule "the unanimous recommendation of the experts at the Food and Drug Administration to let young teenage girls buy the morning-after pill Plan B, like the condoms boys use, directly off drugstore and supermarket shelves without a prescription":

"It is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay," Secretary Clinton said one day before contraceptives that could save young teen girls from having one instance of inattention steal the rest of their lives were kept behind a prescription barrier for no medical reason at all.

"It is a violation of human rights when ... equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay," Secretary Clinton intoned one day before equal access to control of their reproductive lives was denied to girls whose boyfriends can pick up a rubber from an open shelf.

So why, on the one hand, is the LGBT movement getting some love from the administration—not just in this announcement, but on DOMA, DADT repeal, and more—while women are getting bitch-slapped? I've heard a fair amount of comment that it's because gay people (and usually what's meant is gay men) fight back, withholding money and votes if they don't get their way, while women just roll over and keep voting for Democrats no matter what.

I don't agree. For one thing, women aren't unanimous. For instance, there are as many women who oppose abortion as those who support it (even if, in a pinch, they might actually have an abortion themselves).

For another, international gay rights are a distant concern for most Americans. At the risk of undermining progressive hero-worship of the LGBT movement, let me point out that our primary area of failure remains how families deal when one of their children comes out as gay.

Anti-gay parents can still force their children into the religious equivalent of Communist re-education camps and try reorientation "therapies." Kids still get kicked out of the house—and are left homeless, unfed, and essentially sentenced to prostitution—for being gay. (Some studies show that between 20 and 40 percent of homeless teens identify as LGBT. A recent Massachusetts public health study found that, out of 6,000 teens surveyed, 25 percent of gay and lesbian teens said they were homeless, compared with only three percent of their heterosexual peers.) College students who come out to their parents risk being cut off financially; I've repeatedly met young people who lived in their cars or couch-surfed while trying to find a job that would allow them to go back to college. That risk has been so common that one group of donors created The Point Foundation to help those disowned young people with tuition and other financial support. Anti-bullying policies have been successful, I believe, precisely because they're not advertised as being about sexuality, even though in reality it's been the LGBT groups that have pushed that issue for years. We can't get reasonable sex ed in most parts of this country, much less sex ed that talks honestly about LGBT issues.

A friend of mine ran an abortion clinic for years. She used to tell me horror stories about fathers trying to yank fourteen-year-old girls off the operating table—even at the risk of killing them—saying that having them die would be preferable to abortion. Some families still treat kids who come out as gay much the same way, saying (explicitly or implicitly) that death would be better than having a faggot son or queer daughter.

All of which is to say: If this administration had to okay a proposed national policy that would implicitly allow teenagers to affirm their sexuality by purchasing something over the counter—"Plan Gay," say, or a teen vaccine against HIV—I think we would lose, just as girls and women have just lost. Do you think boys are going to get the HPV vaccine any more often than girls? Teen sexuality is a volatile topic in this country.

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