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A Place to Feel Safe: A Center for Gay Teens Tries to Combat Depression with Support

15 May 2006

By Leigh Woosley

Zachary Bundy described the formula for suicide. A gun in his bedroom and a belief that he didn't belong in the world.

Bundy said he'd been shunned and castigated for being gay by his fundamentally religious parents. Unwilling to bear what he called his family's rejection and attempts to revert him to heterosexuality, he left home.

Bundy was 18, essentially homeless and suicidal.

"I didn't fit anywhere, and I felt like I was more of a bother than anything," Bundy said of that time one year ago. "I felt like it was better not to deal with it and just end it."

He's one of many teenagers whose struggle with sexuality spurs depression and suicidal thoughts. It's scorn from parents and ridicule from peers at school, where oftentimes there isn't enough protection from bullying.

It's fear that being gay is a sentence to hell and the emotional struggle of deciding if the homosexual lifestyle is worth giving up a heterosexual one with marriage and kids.

Ken Draper thought of suicide many times as a teenager even though his mother accepted his "coming out" at age 16.

Today the 41-year-old tries to protect gay and bisexual youth from such feelings as the director of the Openarms Youth Project (OYP), a center that describes itself as a "safe place for gay, lesbian, transsexual and questioning youth."

The center offers support groups for teenagers dealing with sexuality issues, as well as a place to congregate with others like them.

"You get kids here with all kinds of problems," Draper said, sitting in the center's lounge. "Many are suicidal. I've talked to kids here who if it wouldn't have been for this place, they would have committed suicide."

OYP is a hip space in a strip mall with a full kitchen, computer room, pool table and a TV lounge where the coffee table is covered with gay-friendly magazines.

One large room is set up like a dance club for the weekly Saturday "Show Night," where sometimes as many as 240 kids come to listen to music and see an occasional drag show. A full concession stand is how the center makes a lot of the money that runs it.

Draper operates OYP with his partner of 17 years, Tim Gillean, who will be part of a panel discussion at 6 p.m. Thursday in the sixth annual Charles P. Seger Seminar on Depression in the conference center at Family & Children's Services central office, 650 S. Peoria Ave.

A reception will follow the discussion. The event, sponsored by the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, is free and open to the public because it aims to raise awareness of depression and provide resources to people dealing with it.

OYP is one weapon against depression, Gillean said.

"I think that's how we deal with depression, by giving youth somewhere to come where they feel like they're not the only ones in this universe dealing with sexual issues," he said. "They know they can come here regardless of their sexuality and be safe."

OYP is where Bundy went rather than using his stashed gun. One night while he was there, he shared with Draper his desperation and accompanying thoughts of suicide.

"I broke down, told him what was going on and told him I had no options," Bundy recalled.

Draper offered a space at his home, which he and Gillean keep for wayward teens. Tom Ellett moved in there not long ago.

The rail-thin 18-year-old said he came to Tulsa last year from a small town in Louisiana where he was consistently harassed for being gay, especially at school.

"I couldn't deal with it, so I dropped out," he said, telling a story that many gay teens share. "It was pressure from everyone, and I just wanted to run away, get away. And I did."

Ellett said his life is finally coming together after earning his GED, getting off drugs and recently leaving a psychiatric hospital where he was treated for suicidal thoughts.

OYP has a little more than 100 steady members, and in a survey, almost half of them admitted to being bullied at school because of their sexuality, Draper said.

Sexuality issues are commonly expressed to the student-support program, SafeTeam, at Hale High School, said student leader 17-year-old Kimi Dempsey.

Gay students at Hale for the most part aren't degraded, she said, but they do stand out.

"It's hard going to a school where that's not a big population of the school ... It makes them feel awkward," she said. "All we can do is support them in their decisions and not judge them for what they do."

Bundy said when he went to Jenks High School most everyone knew he was gay but few people judged him for it. He said he wishes the same from his parents yet no longer dwells on that to the point of depression.

Bundy accepted Draper's offer to move in and has been there more than a year.

The 19-year-old works at Americorp, a government-supported service organization, waits tables at the Wild Fork and recently finished his second semester at Tulsa Community College with a 4.0 grade-point average.

He rarely talks to his family, he said, but life is again hopeful.

"I dealt with it, but so does everybody else," he said.


Leigh Woosley 581-8465


Seminar Charles P. Seger Seminar on Depression

The sixth annual Charles P. Seger Seminar on Depression is Thursday and Friday in the conference center at Family & Children's Services, 650 S. Peoria Ave. The purpose of the event, which is sponsored by the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, is to promote education and awareness of depression and its effect on our community.

A panel discussion followed by a reception begins at 6 p.m. Thursday. It is free and open to the public. Friday is an all-day continuing education workshop for professionals.

For more information, call MHAT at 585-1213 or visit .

Copyright 2006. Used wither permission from Leigh Woosley and Tulsa World.

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