My partner and I attended an event this weekend that drew a large number of people, mostly from the so-called "women's community" (i.e., mostly middle-class lesbians). What was nice at this particular event was that there was a wide range of ages -- this is one context in which I don't mind falling into the old fart routine: You know, in my day, we didn't have events like these, or support groups in high school, or lesbians represented in film or on TV.
It's really great to see these young kids who are able to explore different aspects of their identity in a public and community fashion, not simply by sneaking off to the library to read whatever sociological treatises and 70s feminist tracts they could find. Sure, it doesn't necessarily make your life easy, just because you have the option of being out in high school -- but simply the greater availablity of a public discourse about sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular, means that young people with a vested interest in exploring such topics can find their way to resources. The internet alone would have made my life so much better. I'd still probably have been a sulky, depressed adolescent -- but I'd have been able to write bad poetry and chat with other sulky kids online.
Growing up in a small Midwestern college town, I actually had it easier than many people I know -- there was a decent library, so I could at least read about gays and lesbians. My family knew gay people -- all of them men -- and there was a gay male English teacher at my high school. He wasn't out -- but everyone knew that he was gay. But that kind of unspoken tolerance only goes so far. A few years later, he was one of the first HIV cases in our town, and the nurses at the hospital refused to feed him, so our (female) high school Latin teacher would go every day so he could take his meals.
Gay/lesbian students at my high school? I can make some guesses now. But at the time (early 80s) no one was openly gay. Sure, there were the odd rumors about the daring exploits of the drama club. And several people probably handled things as I did, on an individual need-to-know basis. But there was no sense of community, no opportunities for glb students to connect with each other.
I basically just counted the days until I would graduate. Then, I knew, my real life would begin, somewhere else. (And it did!)