Helping gay teens find comfort in their identity

Posha Carter first worked with youth as a teen leader with OPALGA

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Posha Carter remembers some of the family stories shared with him by gay teens from Oak Park and surrounding suburbs when he was youth leader with OPALGA, the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association.

Some of those teens, unfortunately, experienced what a lot of gay and lesbian youth do when they come out to their families: rejection.

Carter felt compassion for them, but thankfully for him, he didn't experience rejection when he came out to his parents as a teen.

"They accepted me. I didn't experience that rejection that a lot of teens do," Carter, 26, recalls.

He could also relate to those teens wanting to feel accepted. Carter wound up at OPALGA while looking for a support group for LGBT teens. He wasn't finding any in the city or western suburbs where he grew up. Carter was able to find out about Oak Park's group online and discovered that they had youth program. He would eventually become a leader, running some of OPALGA's youth programs.

Helping people is an important part of who Carter is. And while he's proud of who he is, Carter isn't trapped in that "gay bubble," as he explains it.

While mentoring those teens, he found that many had, and liked, having straight friends. Other teens, he recalled, were afraid to make friends with straight people, fearing that they'd be rejected. It's a transition a lot of LGBT youth go through, even Carter. In college, Carter thought he might have trouble with some of his classmates but didn't experience any woes.

"I was a little surprised but they didn't treat me any differently. Even the guys in my dorm were very accepting," he said. "One of the fears gay teens have in coming out is how will people treat them. So they sometimes only want to hang out with other gay teens. But what I found when I was at OPALGA and working with some of the youth there is that many had friends who weren't gay; and that was important to them. You don't have to be in the gay bubble, as we call it.

"I have gay friends but I have friends who are not, and do things that don't involve the gay community at all," Carter added.

A native of Peoria, Posha grew up in Maywood and attended Proviso East High School. He went to college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio studying political science. Political activism is another passion of Carter's.

While at OPALGA, Carter got a chance to volunteer at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, working with staff to improve its policies and procedures regarding transgendered teens there.

"There are many issues with that," Carter said. "One of the issues was that you had male-born teens who are females now but they're housed with other males. Some of the staff also would not refer to them as females and that can cause resentment or make them feel that they're not respected for who they are."

For Carter, education and advocacy on LGBT issues go hand-and-hand. It was at OPALGA that he became interested in social work, though that career does run in the family with his father and cousins. Carter especially likes working with youth. And while LGBT teens still face hurdles in coming out, Carter stressed that things are a littler easier for them today than, say, 20 years ago.

His coming out was actually by accident. Carter recalled never "officially" coming out. His parents found out from MySpace while Carter was networking with other LGBT teens. But his family, which includes a younger brother, didn't reject him.

After OPALGA, Carter worked for PCC Wellness Center in Berwyn as an outreach worker on HIV education and prevention. Carter also worked with families of LGBT clients, something he thinks is very important.

"Parents have certain dreams for their kids; that they'll grow up and get married and have kids. All those things are possible for gay people," Carter said, adding that his mom has told him that she's waiting for those grandkids. "I can get married and have children, whether done naturally or through adoption."

Contact:
Email: tdean@wjinc.com

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