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First Light

Pathfinding guide for gay, lesbian and bisexual youth illuminates the way

Free Your Mind
By Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufman
HarperPerennial, 417 pages, $14

Reviewed by Scott Brookie

There's a short scene in Mr. Holland's Opus that confirms that things are a lot better than they used to be for gay, lesbian and bisexual youth. The movie's plot spans some 30 years and relies on a montage of images (helicopters over Vietnam, Jimi Hendrix) to transport us from the mid-'60s to the early '70s. When it comes time to segue to a high school in 1995, there are the predictable shots: pierced-boy-with-purple-hair, boombox playing hip-hop, then two guys walking, leather jackets, leather collars. We think it's a comment on high school fashion.

But then the camera pans down slowly to show that the guys are holding hands. In other words, how do you know it's at least 1995? Answer: you see queer-boy couples in high school.

Free Your Mind, by local authors Ellen Bass (The Courage to Heal) and Kate Kaufman, is likely to vault this increased visibility and acceptance of gay/lesbian/bisexual youth to new heights. Free Your Mind remarkably melds a self-help book, steady cheerleading, first-person commentary, history lesson, gentle prodding for allies and comprehensive resource guide into one thick, 400-plus page tome. Significantly, a large portion of the book is excerpts from interviews with gay youth, many of them from the Santa Cruz area. The result is less that the authors are handing down a treatise, and more that they are guiding a conversation or, perhaps, moderating a panel of experts.

Some stories are quite painful, others touching. A lesbian named Stone relates, "My parents have wanted to meet everyone, so they'd invite them over to dinner. I'd sit there really nervously, going like, my girlfriend is sitting here, my parents are sitting here, my six-year-old brother is throwing food across the table--could somebody please just shoot me? They were very good. They didn't make anybody feel too embarrassed."

The section on school will be as eye-opening for straight folks as it is familiar for queer folks. "Gay and lesbian students have to go to school every day," write Bass and Kaufman, "where they are expected to work and socialize with other kids while being taunted, threatened, and occasionally physically harmed." To counter this, the book provides an extensive guide for educators on making schools safe for queer students, including ideas for building a support program and an outline for a day-long in-service.

There are several other sections addressing those who have contact with lesbian/gay/bisexual youth. Each of these sections describes ways to make the family/school/ church or synagogue/community more queer-friendly.

With gay issues in an almost constant--and often harsh--spotlight these days, Free Your Mind offers a timely contribution and a milestone in the literature about and for gay, lesbian and bisexual youth.

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From the August 29-September 4, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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