It Gets Better For Small Towners, Too

itgetsbetterI grew up in Delaware, Ohio, a small rural town just outside of Columbus, and I was picked on mercilessly in junior high and high school for acting “feminine.” I was called a faggot on a regular basis. I was called a lot of things on a regular basis. Every derogatory name used for gays was at some point directed at me. My parents are also extremely religious; my father’s a Pentecostal minister, so I had to deal with bigotry at home, as well.

All of this, of course, made coming out extremely difficult. I was in church every week hearing the pastor preach that gays are going to hell. There was even a rumor started that I was fornicating with another member of the church and we were infecting each other, and those around us, with AIDS. It was pretty bad. I dealt with a lot of inner turmoil and self-hatred for a very long time.

Even though things were pretty bad growing up, the great thing about high school is, it doesn’t last forever. After I graduated I went to Ohio University, a school that’s extremely open and accepting of everybody and anyone. I met a remarkable group of friends who I still keep in touch with. I came out in college and was even a part of starting an amazing support group for LGBT people of color there called SHADES—the first of its kind at OU.

When I told my family I was gay, there was some resistance but they all said the same thing, that they loved me no matter what. My friends were also extremely supportive, and most of them said they had already known. Altogether, coming out wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be.

When I came out to my extremely religious mother she said that she didn’t agree with my “lifestyle” but that she loved me just the same. My father echoed this sentiment. My parent’s initial reaction was one of avoidance. My sexuality was just something we didn’t talk about. Biblically, I knew their stance and they knew mine. But they are slowly coming around. When I first came out my mother she didn’t want to hear anything about my love life. Now, she actually wants to meet my boyfriends. And my father has even started inviting my boyfriends to family functions. So, it gets better.

I moved back to Delaware recently and it has dawned on me how important leaving was. I was able to discover people who were just like me, and live a life that was void of any hatred. That experience made me a much stronger person and gave me the ability to confront the stereotypes and bigotry that used to go on here all the time. And Delaware has changed some, too. There are LGBT groups now that never could have existed when I was growing up here. So, sometimes it just takes time.

If you’re a teen in a city like Delaware, Ohio, seek out the gay community where you live. There are groups and organizations that can help you. One great organization in Columbus is the Kaleidoscope Youth Center. It’s an organization specifically designed to be a safe space for LGBT youth in junior high and high school. So find a center like that near you. And, if there isn’t a gay community near you, go to the biggest city around you. Or, find an older gay person or an ally that you can trust, that you can talk to.

Suicide is never the only option. Please, please, please do not let the bullies win. High school is only four years of your life. There is so much more out there that you need to experience. There’s a whole world out there waiting for you that is much better than the one you’re living in. It does get better.

~from “It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living,” edited by Dan Savage and Terry Miller, (Dutton/Penguin USA, March 22, 2011) ORDER HERE

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