Audri, 15, Laurel, MS

I’d always been that weird kid in class who no one really liked that much. I was called He-she, It, Dyke, Transvestite, Sir. This is from people I went to school with since kindergarten. I got pushed up against a wall in eighth grade by a girl I’d known since third grade.

From the time I was in school until my mom pulled me out to be home-schooled, I was really, really, really angry. I acted stupid. After I left school I started to calm down more, and was happier. Less punching holes in walls and throwing hissy fits about everything. I didn’t have to deal with people calling me names. I felt more free.

One morning about two years ago my mom tried to wake me up to go to school and I refused to go. And she’s like, “If you don’t go you’re grounded, blah blah blah.” I told her, “You don’t know what it’s like to go to that hell every day.” Every time I went to the bathroom someone was calling me a man or tormenting me.

My mom went to the school and called me back 30 minutes later. She said, “Well, you’re not going there anymore.” I was living with my dad before, and I don’t think he realized the extent of the bullying. He basically laughed at me and said, “You’re gonna deal with high school like everyone else.” My mom realized a little bit more.

I came out at, like, 12 years old — first as bisexual. I thought I liked guys a little bit but I really did like girls a whole lot. I came out to my mom before I came out to everyone at school. I was like, “I have something to tell you,” and I couldn’t get it out. And she said, “You’re not sexually active, are you?” And I’m like, “God, no. I’m kind of bisexual.” She’s like, “You’re 12. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Go back to sleep.” But now my mom is a PFLAG (Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays) mom and has rainbow stickers all over her car.

And I was kind of scared to tell my dad. But he was like, “Whatever tricks your trigger. Just don’t be tricking it too early.” Then we’d be checking out girls at Wal-Mart. My dad died last year, so he didn’t get to see all of the activism I’m doing and what I’ve accomplished.

When I came out, I dated all these girls and maybe two guys. Being the only gay person out in school, girls would come up to me and say, “So I’m gay.” Even if I was just friends with someone and walked them to their locker, there’d be a rumor they were gay.

The girls I dated weren’t out, and they were very feminine. I dated a cop’s daughter and the youth group leader’s daughter. That was when I was in school. I was kind of a little player, confident and cocky.

The year after I left, a lot of girls at my school came out. They didn’t really get teased because they dressed feminine. A lot of people aren’t comfortable with a girl who dresses like a guy. I know I’m a female, I just look like a guy. I know I’m not transgender, and that’s what people around here don’t understand.

I got involved with gay activism last year. I watched the TV network LOGO a lot and I saw a movie, I can’t remember what it was about, but they mentioned PFLAG in it. And I was like, “I wonder if that’s real?” So I went and Googled it and I found a chapter in Laurel. Then, at the second meeting at PFLAG, the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition came. I wanted to get involved more and help people not have to go through what I went through. I want other kids to be able to go to football games and pep rallies and have the high school experience.

I’ve gotten to go around Mississippi and speak to people. I’m 15 years old and talking to college kids, and I’m like, “This is the problem and here’s how we’re gonna fix it.” It made me grow more and learn.

There are some things I missed out on by being home-schooled. Me and my friends drifted apart a little bit. I did think about going back but I don’t regret being taken out of school. I’ve done so much at 15.

I want to start college next year so I can get out of this stupid town, which I can’t stand. I’m ready to get started and get on with the rest of my life. And this is gonna sound bad, but it kind of warms my heart that all these people who picked on me are idiots who are barely passing. They’ll be starting 11th grade and I’ll be a freshman in college.

I want to stay in Mississippi for college. There’s gay flight in Mississippi because everyone thinks it’s so horrible, so they leave. And nothing ever changes when all the gay people leave. Conservative people will never be used to a butch lesbian holding another girl’s hand, or two guys holding hands, if they don’t see it. There’s lots of work that needs to be done and it really makes me happy to get to do it.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Laurel, MS, 2010
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Derrick, 18, Statesboro, GA

I told the principal in January that I wanted to take my boyfriend, Richard, to prom. Two weeks later my mom said, “This Constance girl’s all over the news. Don’t start this drama in Cochran.”

I was knocking on my principal’s door every single day to get an answer as to whether I could bring Richard to prom. Finally the school’s lawyer said there was no school policy against it, but urged me not to. But I told them I was going to do it, and then I told everyone. In the beginning it was a matter of civil rights. Once February hit and Constance’s story hit the news, it really hit home for me that I needed to have a positive experience and share a positive experience. It didn’t turn out exactly like that.

A local TV station contacted me soon after. I did the interview in the morning, and the principal called me into her office in the afternoon. She said, “I asked you not to do the story, but now you’ve just painted a bull’s-eye on your back. We’ll do our best to protect you, but you should know you just blew this story up.”

I got home that night and the lights were off. My mother told me to pack my stuff. I put everything I could into trash bags, got in the car and sped away. It was as dramatic as it sounds.

I drove to my friend’s house. I’d actually lived with her before. When my parents found out I was dating Richard, they threatened to move me to relatives in South Carolina. I knew my parents wouldn’t hit me but I was scared they’d take away everything, so I moved in with my friend. Then my parents said I could try again, so I moved back with them for my senior year. When the press hit over the prom thing, I moved back in with my friend.

During this period, one guy pulled up in his truck and said, “Next time I have a gun, I will shoot you.” I would take a different route every day when I was going home. They stationed a police officer outside the tutoring center where I worked.

But even with everything I had to deal with, prom was everything I could hope for with the person I wanted to be with. My dad is a teacher at the school and was working prom. He watched us all night long and made sure we were safe. He didn’t like that I was gay, but he’s never stopped loving me. He just didn’t support the lifestyle.

My parents and I are now getting to the point where we are having a relationship again. From my mindset, it will be hard for me to forgive them. From their mindset, it will be hard for them to forgive me: for being gay, for causing this ruckus, for blasting them like I did. My parents would say, “You’re moving in a year. We’re going to be stuck in this community.”

Even after everything, I feel like the situation was a win-win. When the story hit the news people started sending me donations. It showed the strong support of the gay community. After prom we sent out an autographed picture of us from prom night to people who donated as a symbol of our appreciation.

When I flew out to California this summer to go to GLAAD’s media event, one of our donors said Richard and I could stay at his place in San Francisco with him and his husband. I marched in San Francisco Pride and had VIP seating for LA Pride. It sounded odd at first for someone to be willing to offer their home to us, but it ended up a great experience. They are like my family now, and I can never thank them enough for their guidance and support. It came at a time when I really needed it.

Richard stayed with us for the first two months, but then he and I started to disagree. We both went our separate ways, and he flew home a month before I did. It was sad saying goodbye to someone I loved. But it was a chance for me to reevaluate my life, and to make sure I was staying true to myself and my goals for both my push toward equality and my small-town, innocent-boy background.

I went back to Cochran a month ago. Going from California to Statesboro was just going across the country. Going from Statesboro to Cochran was like going back 100 years. I’m not saying they haven’t made strides forward, but it just feels like a giant step back for me.

When I was in California, I founded Project LifeVest to help young LGBT kids in crisis. I saw this as an opportunity to help people in Georgia, but now we’re getting calls from people throughout the world. I’ve helped people in Peru and California. Young people have contacted me who are considering suicide and dealing with abuse and bullying.

I’ve told all my professors about Project LifeVest, so if I get a call it doesn’t matter what’s going on; I’m allowed to leave class. After the large increase in known teen suicides, I really don’t fool around when it comes to my job. I love what I do, and I’m grateful to be able to save lives.

Just yesterday I got a call while I was sitting in calculus class. A boy at a local school was being bullied. I left class and ran over there, but by the time I got there the situation had escalated and he landed in the hospital. I spoke to the school and all the individuals involved. Now we’re working to get a better bullying policy in place. The worst punishment the kid who beat him up could get under the current policy is a one-day suspension.

I only sleep four or five hours a night, and I lose sleep over Project LifeVest. I only have four or five hours of sleep a night. But being in college, you have to have time to enjoy yourself.

Georgia Southern is really accepting. They just had a gay prom. I didn’t go. It sounded fun, but prom just wasn’t something I wanted to do again this year.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Statesboro, GA, 2010
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Queerty, June 2010
Read the Original Story

Brentin, 20, White Plains, NY

When I was planning the Center Lane prom, people said I could pass as Michelle Obama, so I went for it. I really respect her. She has very good fashion taste. She’s a serious woman but knows how to let her hair down.

But I’m not into drag. This was only the second time I did it. I think that it might be a little weird to say because I’m gay, but I think if you’re born a man, you’re supposed to be a man. If you’re born a woman, you’re supposed to be a woman. But that’s just my own stuff. My thing is, to each his own. I’m not going to judge you or mistreat you. I love everyone. I just don’t have to love what you do, like the way a lot of people might love me but won’t love that I’m gay or black or whatever.

I organized the whole prom. Myself and Alfred. No one else wanted to be a part of it. You know how it is: you try to get a lot of people together, and then they say “Yeah” and don’t do anything. Then they’re not a part of it. And you get it in place, and they start to complain. It was a very rough couple of months, but I’m very much happy with how it turned out. What made me happy was that the youth were very happy.

Center Lane has done a lot for me. When I was about 14, my parents and I weren’t having such a great relationship when I came out. Center Lane gave me what my parents couldn’t give me: the support and nourishment to help me be who I am. My parents made my life a living hell. Something as simple as taking out the trash became a drama. They thought, “We’re going to make him as miserable as possible so maybe he’ll leave or change.” Things were so difficult, when I was 16 I moved in with my grandmother.

My parents have come around and they’ve not come around. They come around when it’s convenient. Recently I ended an eight-month relationship in April, and they invited him to dinner. With my parents, you just never know. It’s hard.

The guy I broke up with, he wasn’t who I thought he was. I thought he was an honest, really caring person and he turned out not to be. He’s not faithful. He’s not really goal-oriented. I could go on and on. We were just two different people going in two different directions.

I’m going in a direction of positivity, of focusing on my goals and becoming a social worker. I just completed my first year at Mercy College very successfully. I used to work for a foster care agency, and I saw how manipulative the foster care system can be. I know one person can’t save the world, but I can make change.

I’m very comfortable with who I am now. It took a while, and it took a lot of work. When people say “I’ve always been great,” I think they’re lying. With anything in life you always have to struggle. I did my work. I had people, like at Center Lane, who helped me.

I’m very grounded with what I believe in, and my personal belief in God. I’m Christian Baptist. I was raised with it, and I believe in God very much and that you can’t do anything without Him. I’ve never felt any conflict between being a Christian and being gay. The God I believe in doesn’t judge.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken at the Center Lane Gay Prom, Yonkers, NY, 2010
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