Huffington Post, Gay Voices, November 2011
Read the Original Story
Before I left for college, my parents told me not to tell anyone at school I was gay. But I was so excited about being in a gay-friendly place, the first thing I did when I got to campus was find out who was in charge of Common Ground, Mercer’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Now I’m the president.
I made the decision to get involved with a lot of different things at school. I’m the photo editor of the school paper. I’m in Amnesty International. I’m on the table tennis team. I also do my own photography, and I’m having my first gallery exhibit this winter. Plus I’m trying to keep my grades up while having a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend, Kayden, in Atlanta, which takes the commitment of a full-time job. I have to force myself to sleep.
Mercer is a small Baptist school in the South, so it’s not going to be a liberal school. But it has a history of gay activism on campus that I didn’t tell my parents about when I was applying. My parents know I’m president of Common Ground, but I don’t think they realize what a big part of my life it is. I didn’t know any gay people before I came out, so I figure it’s my job and responsibility to make sure it’s easier for other people.
I was 16 when I came out. I told my friend, and he thought I should tell my parents because he was worried about my soul. They weren’t thrilled. I had to go to several Christian therapists. Not ex-gay therapy, but ones that try to work out what’s best for you.
A month later I actually got kicked out of my school. I told only two people at the school I was gay, so I know exactly who told the administration. It was a private school, and they had a secret meeting. It was about a week before my senior year was about to start. I had enough credits, so I just graduated early. It was rough. I didn’t feel like God loved me or my parents loved me. All those things happened at once, and it was intense.
December of that year I tried to commit suicide. I tried to swallow a bunch of pills. A friend called when I was doing it, and she talked me out of it. Then I decided not to feel so sorry for myself.
Looking back, I think it was a half-hearted attempt. But back then I thought I was so serious. I really did believe it was the only option. I really did.
Afterwards, I sent my parents a garbled letter in emotional language. I don’t think they know the extent of how serious it was. I think they thought I was being a hormonal teenager, which I sort of was.
That was two years ago. Everything is so much better now. At college, no one cares that I’m gay. My brothers and sisters don’t care, and my father’s trying to be accepting. This summer, my mother said she’d rather I be a drug dealer than be gay, because there’s rehab for being a drug dealer. But just recently she told my dad, “I’m not going to be one of those Christian people who hates gays.” She’s making an effort, and in turn I’m trying to be as sensitive as I can be to her needs.
Like, I try not talking about gay stuff around her, and when I’m with Kayden I try not to be handsy. It may not be the best situation, but it’s improved dramatically.
Kayden’s coming over Christmas Eve. He’s never been here on a holiday with my extended family. I anticipate that no one will say anything. It usually bothers me when people don’t talk about stuff, but in this particular case I’m kind of cool with it. I used to think that when people didn’t say anything, they were thinking all sorts of bad things. But now I realize it’s that they’re making a conscious effort to be more accepting.
Kayden and I have been together two years. We met when we both lived in Alpharetta, Georgia. Now he lives in Atlanta and I live in Macon, but we try to see each other every weekend. It’s actually good on a small campus like Mercer, where everyone’s in everyone’s business, to date someone from outside the bubble.
But we don’t have that connection you have in a relationship where you see each other all the time. But we work at it. Skype helps. I feel very lucky to be with him. He balances out of all the things I can’t take care of on my own.
As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken at Mercer University, Macon, GA, 2010
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I’m lucky I already had my kids before I got HIV. I became HIV-positive June 16, 2011, in Florida. It was with a real female and the condom popped. She knew she was HIV-positive but didn’t tell me. I was so angry.
Then I came to New York in August, because it was too slow with the medicine in Tampa. My homeboy said he’d get me one of his private doctors, but then someone told me in New York they have a program to help with benefits.
When I came to New York, my girlfriend Honesty and I were looking for a shelter. I stopped at Housing Works because I heard there was a shelter on Pitkin. I met Johnny and I asked if it was a homeless shelter. He said it was for people with HIV and AIDS, and asked if I was HIV-positive. I said, “Yes, I am.” After my test results came back, he got me signed up for HASA — a program in New York City that provides housing for people with AIDS — to get me into housing and offered me a job. He said I can do outreach to the youth.
My goal is to be an outreach specialist. My Plan B is to drive trucks. My other Plan C is to be a good daddy to my kids. I came a long way from where I was when I was a little boy. My life story is a whole different thing. When you live without a mother and your father passes away when you’re five, staying in the city of Tampa is rough.
I ran away from foster care at the age of 10. I didn’t like my foster care people. They didn’t treat me right. I stayed on the streets, sleeping on benches. How I survived was stealing from Wal-Mart to get clothes and soap to wash my body.
I learned how to sell dope at the age of 11. I didn’t want to sell at the time, but I had to do what I had to do to get my money. After that, I started getting in trouble. I got my first gun, a 9-mm, and started using my gun to break into people’s houses. We used to take the TVs and take them to the pawnshops.
I didn’t care about my life. I didn’t have no family. I didn’t have no brother, I didn’t have a mom, I didn’t have a dad. I kept on going to jail. I went to a juvenile program in Tallahassee at the age of 12.
When I went to jail, my first day in Orlando I got stabbed on the side of the ribs. I did the five years, but it felt like I was doing 20 to 25. I didn’t have nobody to talk to, nobody to send me canteen. It was like gang banging.
I got my GED in prison, because when I was a youngin’ I wasn’t attending school like I was supposed to. But I didn’t want to get locked up again. I didn’t want to be the type of person who keeps coming back.
As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Brooklyn, NY, 2011
To tell your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric Juszyk, chief administrator of the Gay Nebraska Youth Network, guest blogs a rundown of the great work his group is doing in Omaha. Follow Eric on Twitter @ericjuszyk.
Growing up as LGBTQ in the Midwest can be difficult, especially in conservative states like Nebraska. The youth in rural and agricultural communities are often isolated and have few legitimate resources for forming new friendships and interacting with the larger LGBTQ community.
In May of 2010 I learned about the Gay Nebraska Youth Network when the founder, Drew Heckman, returned to Omaha after his freshman year at Brown University. Drew was astounded at the vibrant community in Providence and sought to create an environment back in his home state where youth can interact with each other in a safe and positive manner.
The Gay Nebraska Youth Network was formed as a youth-focused, peer-led organization that seeks to connect high school and college LGBTQ students statewide with social activities, opportunities to form new relationships, and connections to resources. A secret Facebook page is used to promote social interaction and the sharing of relevant issues while protecting the identity of its members and ideas while a public page is used to publicize our organization to the larger straight and ally communities. Additionally we match the virtual interactions with real life social events held at a variety of locations across the state.
Some members from the Queer Nebraska Youth Networks
at Nebraska AIDS Project’s Condom Fashion Show,
with the dress and accessories we designed!
If you haven’t been to the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art to check out the Window Gallery, man, do we have GOOD news for you! Leslie-Lohman has extended our stay and the eight We Are the Youth portraits and accompanying quotes will now be on view until June 22, 2012!
So hop on the subway, board the Metro North, jump on your bike, take a stroll (the weather is getting nicer, no excuses for taking cabs, New Yorkers), and go check out the Window Gallery! If you do make it over to Wooster Street, be sure to check out The Piers exhibit, on view inside Leslie-Lohman until July 7, 2012.
*Above photo by Stanley Stellar
The Big Day is Almost Here! Come one, come all (seriously — parents, friends, strangers, youth, senior citizens, you get it…) to the opening reception of We Are the Youth’s Window Gallery display at the Leslie/Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. Friday April 13, 2012. 6-8pm. Drinks, snacks, raffles, art, good company, sweet tunes will abound! Check our our upcoming events page for more information. Thanks to everyone involved. Hope to see you there.
We Are the Youth work will be on view at Leslie/Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art until May 12, 2012.
You’ll have to visit The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art to see the full show, but here’s a taste of what’s in store when you do! Be sure to check out our Upcoming Events page for all Leslie-Lohman updates and hope to see you at the reception on April 13!
We’re thrilled to announce that We Are the Youth will be showing work in the Leslie-Lohman Window Gallery from March 12 until May 12. The reception will be held on April 13, 6-8pm and all updates on the L-L show will be posted on our Upcoming Events page.
The Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation, established in 1990, morphed into the the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in 2011. Its mission is to provide an outlet for art work that is unambiguously gay and which is frequently denied access to mainstream venues. The Foundation’s Leslie-Lohman Gallery mounts exhibitions of work in all media by gay and lesbian artists with an emphasis on subject matter that speaks directly to gay and lesbian sensibilities, including, erotic, political, romantic, and social imagery and providing special support for emerging and underrepresented artists.
Special thanks to Leslie-Lohman and curator, Julia Haas!
My mom said, “All artists are male and female. To be an artist you have to be psychologically hermaphrodite.” I don’t know if I agree with that. A lot of artists are really boring. I don’t necessarily think everyone who painted a ceramic mug on Etsy is a hermaphrodite.
But I really just want to use myself in my work.When I came to New York for my freshman year of college, I knew I wanted to do drag. In my early performances I played banjo. All the other drag kings were trying to be the cute boy, and I was the creepy uncle. I was more like Pete Seeger than ‘N Sync.
It’s great being in New York, just being able to be in drag and not get questioned. There’s so much freedom in being anonymous. There are times when I want to be passing as a guy, and times where I want to stop people a bit and slow ‘em down.
Thanks to everyone who came, danced, performed, volunteered, helped with clean up, tabled, installed, and in general, supported We Are the Youth! MC-ed by (ever-charming) We Are the Youth participant, Kaden and with DJ AngelBoi spinning some hot jams, the Brooklyn Museum Teen Night Event was an enormous success! With 150+ teens in attendance, Archie Burnett kicked off the evening with an amazing Vogue tutorial, followed by 2 great performances by Shadow Lover and Julia Weldon.
2012 is practically here. The end of the world is upon us. Have you checked out our Upcoming Events Page!? If you haven’t, you probably should, like right now. Really, stop reading this post, move your pretty little eyes over to the right hand side of the screen and click on Brooklyn Museum FREE Teen Night Event January 12, 2012 (you owe it to yourself, this could be your last year on Earth). There you will find exciting updates about, you guessed it, the Brooklyn Museum Free Teen Night Event on January 12, 2012! Installation artist Erika Sabel as well as Brooklyn-based design studio Hot-Sundae have been added to the roster! This means cool things will be happening at the Teen Night Event and cool people will be attending (like you!).
If you have a short attention span, you hate reading or you’re really just too lazy to move your pretty little eyes to the right hand side of the screen and click on our Upcoming Events, just remember this: BROOKLYN MUSEUM. JANUARY 12. All the cool kids are doing it.