Noah, 19, Macon, GA
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
To tell your story, email email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Update From Our (Virtual) Office
It’s been a while since we’ve said hello and many big things have happened since then! First of all, we’re happy to announce that Brooklyn Arts Council has signed on as our Fiscal Sponsor! Although it’s only been a few weeks, we’ve been impressed at BAC’s friendly and professional rapport and are very excited to work with them in 2011. Now that we have a fiscal sponsor, we’ll be able to apply for a larger array of grants and any contribution that you make to We Are the Youth will be tax deductible! For more information, please email email@example.com.
In addition, Quincy was our last profile from the Southern Series so starting next week, we’ll be posting profiles of interesting youth in the tri-state area (including some youth from the Common Threads Retreat that we attended in January)! In the meantime, stay tuned for a “from the field” write-up and if you need something to do, join our mailing list (we promise not to bombard you with a million newsletters, just a friendly update here and there).
Thanks again for all the support!
Laurel & Diana
Hi, y’all (just something we picked up in the South). It’s been a crazy week as we’ve been hustling to organize and process all the film/video/interviews from our trip! Every Wednesday, starting next week, we will be sharing the photos and stories of the incredible LGBT youth we met in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. We’ll have a video sneak-peak of our first participant on Monday. In the meantime, check out the press coverage we got at the University of Alabama (thanks to Xavier, Karissa, and the Crimson White!)
Please continue to spread the word about We Are the Youth so that more people can share in these incredible stories!
Keep Alabama Beautiful
Hi y’all! We’re currently in Laurel, Mississippi (very exciting for one of us) at the lovely Rodeway Inn. Since we don’t have a minute to waste on this trip (putting our donor money to good use!) let’s recap the past 3 days:
Day 2 at Mercer was jam-packed with six interviews and portrait sessions. Although the community was small, the LGBT population was incredibly diverse and excited to share their stories. That evening we attended the Common Ground meeting, which was interesting and informative!
Post-meeting, Noah took us to the (best) wing place near campus where we ordered fried okra, pickle chips, delicious wings and $2 beer! And here’s a fun fact that Noah shared: Macon, Georgia is home to more churches per capita than ANYWHERE IN THE UNITED STATES.
The next morning we woke up at 6 am (ugh), stumbled to our sweet ride (see above!) and drove two hours to Statesboro, Georgia. There we met with Derrick Martin, a super-impressive freshman at Georgia Southern. You may have heard of Derrick last spring when he made national news after being kicked out of his home for wanting to take his boyfriend to prom. He later founded Project Life Vest, an amazing organization that helps LGBT youth in crisis.
For lunch: Shrimp and grits, fried shrimp and sweet tea, of course. All for a total of $12! What a Southern steal (can you tell we’re from NYC?!). Laurel, suffering from a migraine, finally relinquished control of the car to Diana who did a superb driving job from Statesboro to Auburn, Alabama, a long, long drive.
That evening we attended the Auburn University Gay-Straight Alliance meeting. Being in the heart of the Bible Belt (and an SEC school where football is the second religion), we were happily shocked at the huge turnout – about 60 people. We then had a lovely dinner with the group and the next day we met with four students and a pet lizard. Interviews and portraits to come!
Last night we were back on the open road to Mississippi, stopping in Selma, Alabama for dinner and historical significance! Downtown Selma looks right out of the 1960s (really amazing), reminding us that the road to equality is not an easy one.
After Laurel pulled over at every historical marker, we made our way out of town and onto Mississippi! Thanks to Kandace for housing us in Auburn, Braxton for coordinating, the AGSA for being awesome and all the wonderful people we met at Auburn.
We Are the Youth is heading to the South! Starting in Atlanta, Diana and I will be driving all around Georgia, over to Alabama and across to Mississippi, all in 7 crazy days! We’ll be posting trip updates here and on Facebook and Twitter so stay tuned for sensational photographs of fried chicken, biscuits with honey, collard greens and, oh yeah, news on Southern queer youth.
Thanks again for all the support!
In T Minus 1 Week, We Are the Youth will be traveling to/around the South, photographing and interviewing LGBT youth, and we couldn’t be more excited! Thanks again to all who donated on Kickstarter, making this trip possible and special thanks to Jordan for the write up on ATLBOY!