CJ, 19, Macon, GA

I told my grandmother I was gay last year and she made her religious convictions about it apparent, but she said it wouldn’t change the fact that she’d still love me. My grandmother’s always been one of the role models of my life, but I didn’t want her to change her morals just because I was gay. If she did that, then she could change them for any reason. But I understand her reasons, and I’m thankful she’s still supportive and still loving. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one.

I go to a Baptist church and to the Reformed University Fellowship on campus. I identify as Christian. I view the Bible as encouraging love and compassion for all. Those morals are the same. That’s more important to me than one or two Bible verses that condemn same-sex relationships.

I don’t hang out with that many gay people. I hang out with people who are gay-friendly. Since there was no controversy when I came out freshman year, I’ve stayed with those friends. I’ve been one time to the gay club in Macon. It’s not exactly my cup of tea.

I do like to hang out with friends and party that way, and I’m very involved on campus. You have professors and get to know everyone on campus. It’s a very active and loving campus.

If I was giving advice to other gays, I’d say it’s important to be self-confident. But I would also say not to advertise it. You don’t have to act straight, but when you meet someone don’t say, “Hi, I’m gay.” When I was meeting gay freshmen last year. I always thought it was weird if that was one of the things they said when they introduced themselves.

Mercer’s small, so everybody knows everybody. It’s a good thing sometimes, but when it comes to dating it’s not a good thing because you’ve known everyone so long. I dated someone freshman year and he moved to Florida, and after that I haven’t found anyone I’m interested in.

My first kiss was weird. Not because it was a guy; it was just weird because I had never kissed anyone before. In high school I was still straight. Well, I wasn’t straight, but I wasn’t out. I had girlfriends in early high school. I was still kind of young.

I went to a really small Georgia high school. The graduating class was 38. High school’s never good for anyone unless you’re a football player or cheerleader, and life’s pretty much over for them after high school. I was asked a million times if I was gay, and I had a cracking voice, so I got picked on for that.

I think people thought I was gay partly because of the voice. Because my high school was so small, you were categorized. I wasn’t the only person thought to be gay. The other people who were thought to be gay weren’t gay. They were just different.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken at Macon University, Macon, GA, 2010
To tell your story, email hello@wearetheyouth.org

Kat, 17, Brooklyn, NY

I love me some comedy. I’ve always loved watching comedy, but I didn’t discover how much I love performing it until I went to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. My very first experience with long-form improv was a show called Death By Roo-Roo: Your F’d Up Family. It was really screwed up and morbid. I was like, “Sign me up for a class!” When I started taking classes, I became funnier, more quick-witted, but most importantly, more confident. I finally had an outlet in which I could truly be myself.

I definitely want to go into comedic acting. I’ve wanted to be an actress since I was five years old. If we pretend that my GPA hasn’t been completely screwed over by my not being able to go to school most of this year, I’d like to major in drama in college.

I’ve missed so much school that I have to make up four months of work over the summer. I was in an acute psychiatric hospital — in layman’s terms, the wacky shack. I have major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. I’ve attempted suicide before. This time I knew I didn’t want to die, but I was just in so much pain that I couldn’t find any other way to escape. I was in danger and didn’t want to hurt the people around me, so I checked myself in. Much of it is chemical imbalance rather than environmental. Actually, none of my mental issues come from the fact that I’m queer, so maybe that’s a somewhat screwed-up sign of progress? I’m very comfortable with my sexuality.

Parts of my anxiety were exacerbated by some religious indoctrination that I underwent when I was young. Religion comforted me and made me feel a little better, even though it was harmful in the long term. As I grew older, I realized that I cared more about truth than I did about comfort. My faith slowly began to fade as I learned more and more about the real world. Eventually I realized that I was an agnostic atheist. Some people get confused when I say that, because they assume that the terms “agnostic” and “atheist” are mutually exclusive, but they aren’t. Gnosticism deals with knowledge. Theism deals with belief. I can’t “know” that there is no god, the same way I can’t “know” that there is no Flying Spaghetti Monster. That’s why I am agnostic. But I don’t “believe” in a god. That’s why I’m an atheist.

I’m really into queer politics, too. I’ve recently become interested in gender politics as well. I call myself queer rather than lesbian or gay because not everyone I’m involved with identifies exclusively as female, if at all. Sometimes people don’t expect to hear something like that from me, because I’m very feminine. I like frilly dresses, makeup, heels and all that jazz. I love to cook, I love to look after little kids and pretty much every other stereotypically “feminine” thing. That’s me. I’m more or less comfortable in this gender role that society has assigned for me, but I know so many people who aren’t. The idea of a gender binary, sexism and cissexism just makes me want to throw up.

When I came out to my mom, it was a storm of awfulness. I feel like she’s slowly come around to it, though. It’s been exactly two years since I’ve come out to her, and I think she’s finally accepted it, even though she may not be happy about it. Every now and then she’ll say something sexist and passive-aggressive. For example, if we can’t fix a shelf, she’ll say, “See, this is why you need a man in the house.” But she’s a really good person at heart, and I love her so much. We all have our bigotries; we just need to be aware of them and try to educate ourselves as much as possible.

Aside from Staten Island, Bay Ridge is probably one of the most conservative areas of New York City. People aren’t exactly gungho about Pride. My school, however, has been absolutely awesome. In the last couple years, my friends and I organized the Day of Silence and held a bake sale to benefit the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). I’m starting a Gay-Straight Alliance, or a Q&A — Queers & Allies — as I like to call it, because I don’t want to limit the club to gay and straight people. My school has been really supportive of our activism. My school is an amazing place overall. I really don’t know where I would be without it. Of course, you’re going to find homophobia almost everywhere. In my school, though, it’s addressed. If someone gets bullied, my school does something about it.

I’m trying to change things. Right now, it’s little things like bake sales and school clubs, but I’m branching out more as I’m growing older and gaining more independence. I went to the Dyke March for the first time this year, and was really blown away. I definitely want to volunteer next year. We all have the power to change the world, even if it’s one step at a time.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Brooklyn, NY, 2012
To tell your story, email hello@wearetheyouth.org

Corey, 16, Millburn, NJ

I’ve always been very adult-like. I had different interests than other kids. I did well in school but wasn’t athletic or into sports, and that’s what people talked about. Once I started middle school, the bullying got worse. I wasn’t out as gay in middle school, even to myself, but people suspected. But even if I wasn’t gay, it would have been something else. They’ll find anything. The teachers didn’t do anything to help, so my parents got involved.

In seventh grade, the bullying got so bad. I was so depressed. I planned to kill myself. I told my parents, and I was admitted to a hospital for a couple of weeks. That was really scary. I was home-schooled for the rest of the year. It was kind of difficult, but better than being at the school.

So I transferred to the Hudson School, a small private school with 25 kids in each grade. It’s been a great fit. I haven’t had any problems and everyone is so supportive. I’m president of the Gay-Straight Alliance. For Ally Week we had almost the whole student body participate. It was pretty cool to see.

LGBT activism is an important part of my life now. I’m involved with Garden State Equality. Last year, right after Tyler Clementi committed suicide at Rutgers, an anti-bullying bill was introduced to the legislature. Bullied students testified for the New Jersey State Legislature and shared their experiences. Garden State Equality asked me to testify before the Legislature about my experiences. The bill passed the State Legislature and Governor Christie signed it.

I have the strength to tell my story and be an activist because I know that I’m fighting to make the lives of other people better. I don’t want anyone to have to go through anything remotely as bad as I went through. Garden State Equality announced that I will be a recipient of the Lt. Laurel Hester Prize for Citizen Courage at this year’s Legends Dinner. I’m very proud and happy that I’m able to have such an impact on people’s lives. But I’m a pretty modest guy.

Now that a lot of middle schoolers at my school are aware of what I’m doing, some kids in the younger grades feel comfortable coming to me when they’re being teased or anything. I listen and try to help them out as best as I can. I talk to teachers and administrators on their behalf. It’s a bit of responsibility, but I really enjoy helping people.

I really want to start seeing a shift in culture away from bullying. I know that won’t happen overnight, but I think we need to educate children from a young age that you can be whoever you want to be, and to accept people for who they are.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Millburn, NJ, 2011
To tell your story, email hello@wearetheyouth.org

Quincy, 18, Montevallo, AL

Lambda Chi doesn’t care if you’re gay or straight, or what race or religion you are. My big brother in the fraternity’s also gay. He’s the fraternity president and dating the rush chair. At mixers we can bring a same-sex date. I really like the brotherhood events and the stories I’ve learned from my fraternity.

I went through rush and got my bid from Lambda Chi. Lambda Chi is the first frat that said no to the pledge system, because it leads to hazing. They don’t even call us pledges. I’m an associate.

When I was looking at colleges, I didn’t think I’d want to go to Montevallo because it’s in a small town in Alabama. But then I saw how represented the GLBT community was. It’s been wonderful.

When I started school, I wanted to be a choral director. I was classically trained at piano and still sing in the choir concert, but I switched my major to social work and psychology. I realized I really want to help people.

It’s so great to be in a place that’s open and cool. It’s definitely a change from high school and middle school. I moved from Michigan to Tuscaloosa in eighth grade. Throughout high school there were people whose parents were like, “We’re not racist but … we don’t want our kids to date people of a different race.”

I got picked on, especially in the South. This guy in eighth grade rode our bus and hit me upside the head. We took it to the police and met with the middle school administrators. Then I had to go to high school with him. I reported every single thing he did to the school counselor. He eventually dropped out of high school.

I was always really quiet and more feminine, so people thought I was gay, but I didn’t want to be. My local church was really conservative. I was really afraid I wasn’t going to make it to heaven. In 10th grade, I was dating someone but wasn’t open about my relationship.

During that time, I was really depressed a lot. I can honestly say I thought of ending everything. There was one day I got in a fight with my mom. I remember crying so hard that day. Later, I was clenching a bottle of her painkillers.

I really think it was divine inspiration that I didn’t die. I just sat there and eventually calmed down. I thought about how I wanted to be a music teacher, and if I died I wouldn’t be able to do that. I talked to a school counselor. I never did tell my mom about that.

After that, I tried to become more optimistic. My absolute BFF was raised Unitarian, and she got me involved in the Unitarian church. I met a lot of other gay people there who gave me lot of inspiration. I still believe in God.

Around 10th grade I started telling a lot of my friends I was gay. I’m kind of glad. Before then I was scared, but once people were like, “Whatever,” I could be more open. That was really great. My dad is really cool about it and my mom has gotten better. I brought my last boyfriend around, but we don’t really talk about it. My grandmother’s amazing. She’s a member of Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). She just wanted to understand.

I’m so happy with how things are now. I’m in one of the best schools ever. I feel really good about myself. I think I’m making a lot of good decisions.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken at the University of Montevallo, AL, 2010
To tell your story, email hello@wearetheyouth.org

Jahmal, 20, Brooklyn, NY

I moved out of my family house my junior year of high school. I was doing a lot of outside things my family didn’t agree with, and they gave me the ultimatum. At that point I could support myself through ballet and modeling for the adult entertainment industry. Ironically, the modeling was also the thing they didn’t agree with.

I started modeling when a promoter saw me at a club in Cincinnati, where I grew up. At first I did a lot of underwear modeling, and after I turned 18 I started doing nude photography.

I was very hesitant at first. At that point I had started developing myself professionally as a dancer, and nude photography can tear someone’s career apart. I don’t do it anymore because I’m even further in my career as a dancer. People started to notice me from some of the modeling work I was doing. Even recently, a well-known dancer came across something, and it made me scared a little bit that she saw something I did years ago.

But it was great money, free traveling and a lot of extra perks I was liking. Living with my family, I was so closed off to a lot of things. I started going out and meeting different people from different cultures. I was attracted to the fast, fun lifestyle that came with modeling. I was young. It made it even better, all the attention that it brought from males.

As I started to get more work, I just decided to tell everyone at my high school I was gay. Once I did come out, a lot of people came out themselves. I was very popular at the high school with people thinking I was straight, and after I came out other people did too. They knew they could come to me if they had questions.

During this time, I was also on an MTV reality show. It was kind of like Fame and it was produced by Nick Lachey. I was just a background dancer, but people would notice me. I hosted a party for Cincinnati Gay Pride. I chose to wear these very bright orange stilettos and booty shorts. I was walking in the Pride parade, and I wasn’t aware a news camera was filming me. My father was watching the news and saw me walking in my orange stilettos. He had no knowledge prior to that of me being gay. He, of course, didn’t want to have anything to do with me afterwards. For a year we didn’t talk. But he saw I was standing my ground and didn’t need his approval. Our relationship got a lot better. I don’t think he wanted to lose his son because of my sexual preference. Now my family comes to New York to see my shows. They’re pretty supportive now.

I started dancing my sophomore year of high school. I was at a performing arts high school, and one of my best friends invited me to the dance show. The teachers saw I was naturally flexible and quick to pick up choreography. In the dance world in general, since there are not as many guys, it’s easier for guys to get into things. I just worked hard, and kind of followed everyone and tried to pick up as much as I could. I started dancing with Cincinnati Ballet. I was then accepted to be a dancer for Alvin Ailey. I had no family in New York to stay with and didn’t really have money to survive. The artistic director of my school and I called Nick Lachey, who personally sent me a check to sponsor my first year in New York. Now I’m a dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem (PTP Ensemble).

Most people perceive ballet as a more gay thing. But as a male, and an African-American male especially, whatever your sexual preference is, or your lifestyle is, you’re representing more than yourself. Being an African-American male dancer, you have to be a strong male character onstage. For a long time, a lot of people didn’t think African Americans would do ballet. The bar is 20 times higher for African Americans, but we are able to move just as hard as the Caucasian dancers.

I do know I cannot dance forever, but I intend to keep dancing as long as my body allows. I’d like to go out and mentor youth, and stay connected to the dance world as well. I work with Youth Pride Services and I want to use everything I’ve been through to help young, black, gay youth worldwide.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Brooklyn, NY, 2012
To tell your story, email hello@wearetheyouth.org

Ana, 18, Blauvelt, NY

In a way, I was pissed off to even have to come out. I think it’s stupid. Heterosexual people don’t have to come out as straight.

After I told my family I was gay in eighth grade, my dad didn’t talk to me for two or three years. He picked me up at school and we didn’t talk. I’d wake up and say good morning, then once in a while he’d say good morning back. But usually nothing.

I was born in Mexico and we came here when I was seven. My family’s very Catholic, but they work with a lot of gay families. I always thought they’d be fine with it. I was wrong, clearly.

When I turned 18, I started telling my dad again. My mom told him, “This is your daughter, she’s not gonna change,” and started making my dad talk to me. The only reason I told him again was my parents have a rule: No dating until you’re 18. So I told him I had a girlfriend and wanted to be honest with him.

Was Claire my first girlfriend? Bullshit. I dated people and I hooked up with people, but my parents weren’t aware of it before. They’ve always seen me as the good kid, compared to my two sisters. They think I’m a goody two-shoes.

But dating is kind of a weird word for me. I think dating is no good. I’d always been a let’s-just-have-fun kind of person until I met Claire.

I met Claire at Common Threads about a year ago. I didn’t really know who she was, and my then-really good friend A was interested in Claire, so I was helping my friend get with her. But three or four weeks after Common Threads, I met up with Claire again and started talking to her, and slowly an attraction happened.

When I asked Claire to prom, A and I ended up not being friends anymore.  We’ve gotten into a lot of physical fights. My friend was a very special person to me, but I’m not exactly sad about it. You can’t get held up on things. Grudges aren’t exactly the best thing to hold. I can’t help her if she can’t get over it.

Claire’s still in high school, but that’s not weird for me. I think age is just a number. She’s been through a lot. She’s learned to grow up and be independent.

Like me, Claire’s very eco-friendly. We both care a lot about nature. She’s a vegetarian. My parents won’t allow it but when I move out, I can finally be a vegetarian.

I found a really great place in Nyack. I want to move in with friends in the summer. Nyack’s like gaytown. Very gay and hippie. I’m really excited.

I don’t think telling my parents right now that I have plans to move out would be the best idea. I wanted to go to a four-year college but my mom really wanted me to stay close because my father’s sick, so I went to Rockland Community College. I don’t think my father has a clue that I stayed home for him.

For me, family does come first. I want to go to Smith or Bard after next year, but two things are stopping me: money and needing to be close to home. Maybe if I was given a scholarship, I would go to one of those schools.

I’m going to be at RCC for another year. I was not looking forward to coming here at all, but I got involved with lots of things. I’m on student government and am president of the Gay-Straight Alliance. Now I don’t love it, but I definitely don’t hate it.

Not to brag, but I have that leadership thing. I think it’s because I grew up in a family of four women and one guy. I was always very strong-minded and open-minded. My grandmother always said that just because you’re a woman, that shouldn’t limit you in any way.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Stony Point, NY, 2011
To tell your story, email hello@wearetheyouth.org

Carter, 19, Oakland, CA

I don’t know what I could do to make me seem gayer. Even last night, I was talking to a girl I’ve known for a while. I said something about some girl, and she was like “Oh, are you bisexual?” She jumped to thinking I was straight to thinking I was bisexual. I’m like, “No, I’m pretty fucking gay.”

I could cut off my hair, but that wouldn’t be me. I’m not one of those people who can change my appearance at the drop of the hat. I don’t have piercings, I don’t have tattoos. I guess hair grows back, but I have weird things with my hair. It’s like a security blanket. To me, at least, cutting my hair so people know I’m queer would feel like putting on a costume.

I wrote a paper about hair. When I started writing it, the point was going to be that you can’t judge people’s sexuality based on their hair. But then all the research I found showed you can make assumptions on people based on their hair, and it’s been a really helpful way for members of the queer community to identify each other. My paper ended up with me realizing that I am the exception.

I feel like I always have to drop hints when there’s someone I’m into. It is kind of a bummer. But now is one of the first times I feel very comfortable with who I am and who I’ve grown into the past few years. I don’t want to alter that.

I think I first realized I was attracted to women when I was 16. It was interesting; my mom knew me so well that, when I told her, she said she wasn’t surprised because I’m very drawn to feminine things in my artwork. It’s not that my art is necessarily girly, but it’s very female and bold, and maybe delicate. A couple years ago I felt very fragile, and my art reflected that. Now it’s feminine in a more concrete, stronger way.

I identify as queer because I’m not comfortable 100-percent cutting out an entire gender. I didn’t really embrace the word queer before I knew about it at Mills College. I’m majoring in women, gender, and sexuality studies, and I learned a lot about what it means to be queer as not just a sexuality but as a political identity.

Honestly, I can’t imagine myself dating a guy. I’ve never felt an emotional connection to a guy before. Maybe, like once or twice, I felt a physical connection. But if I just want to hook up with someone and don’t like them as a person, it’s probably a bad idea.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in New York, NY, 2012
To tell your story, email hello@wearetheyouth.org

The Vigils Continue

The LGBT community has stood together through many vigils as of late, realizing the power to unite under a common cause — to acknowledge those that are no longer with us and to increase visibility of our community — is more important than ever. We went to a wonderful vigil last night at the New School during which attendees introduced themselves to the crowd stating their name and the way in which they identify; having strangers stand up around you and proudly shout who they are for all to hear was so very moving.

We Are the Youth was started to provide a space for LGBT youth to share their stories. Over the past few weeks, it’s become clear just how crucial it is to fight stigma, increase visibility and let others know that they are not alone. The small action of coming out (even as an ally) can have a huge impact on those around you, in ways you may not realize, and can sometimes be the difference between life and death.

To share your story, please email hello@wearetheyouth.org

National Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out Day! National Coming Out Day was declared in 1988 in celebration of the Second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights which occurred one year earlier, in which 500,000 people marched on the capital. In honor of National Coming Out Day, We Are the Youth will be posting coming out interviews in a continuing effort to combat stigma, highlight the diversity of the LGBT community and give queer youth a space to share their stories.

The premise of National Coming Out Day is simple:

Political and social change towards freedom and equality comes from people speaking out about their support for freedom and equality, being proud of who they are, and putting names and faces to the LGBT community and the friends and allies who support that community.

Why? Because it’s harder to be a bigot or a homophobe or a bully when you know that some of your closest friends, family members, colleagues, and neighbors – and some of your favorite actors, artists, athletes, musicians, politicians, and cultural leaders, as well as many of the military servicemembers defending your country…are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. (Gayapolis News)

To share your story contact: hello@wearetheyouth.org

Vigil Tonight in Ridgewood, NJ

Join Garden State Equality in Ridgewood, New Jersey to commemorate Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who committed suicide after his roommate posted a webcam video of him having sex with another man.

Corey Bernstein, 15, will be speaking at the event about his experiences with bullying as a gay youth. Corey, who will be profiled on We Are the Youth next month, spoke with us this morning.

All throughout elementary school I was different and didn’t fit in. I was teased and bullied. Once I started middle school it put me at the bottom of the food chain. The bullying got worse. I wasn’t out at this point in my life, even to myself. In 7th grade I was fed up with it. I tried to avoid the situation,” Corey said. “It was just a bad situation for me to be in. I became depressed and came very close to having the same fate as Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown and all those other boys we’re hearing about this month. I was admitted to a hospital for a couple of weeks.

Corey then came out, changed schools and is now using his past experiences to tell other young people not to give up.

For anyone else who is feeling alone and depressed, reach out and you’ll be surprised how many people will help you pull through. Find yourself that one person you can feel safe with. Whether that’s a friend, sibling, teacher. Even The Trevor Project or someone you don’t know. It seems like you’re the only person out there who is gay. But thousands and thousands of people are gay. There are resources.

Join Corey at the vigil tonight at 7 p.m. at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and check back next month to learn more about Corey.


Magda, Age 17, Brooklyn, NY

I was born in Poland, and I’ve lived in Williamsburg most of my life. There used to be nothing here but factories. I used to hate it. But now there’s so much going on, I don’t want to leave for college next year.

I’m going to Poland this summer to stay with family for six weeks. I definitely won’t tell them I’m gay. Poland is one of those places being gay is really not tolerated. My mom’s really cool about it though.

I came out to myself my sophomore year, and to my mom recently, two months ago. I wasn’t really worried about telling her because I knew she’d accept me. But I just didn’t feel like I needed to tell her before that. (more…)