Voices from the once unheard

When I was in high school, during my senior year, a group of students and the Spanish teacher started a Gay-Straight Alliance to address some of the bullying issues.  I believe we were the third or fifth such organization in Wisconsin.

I have lived and worked in a lot of place, often volunteering with Gay organizations, where the idea of coming out in high school was unheard of.  Being an adult member of a Gay rights group was dangerous enough.

I have seen and watched some of the It Gets Better Project videos and read about the impact that the internet and organizations like this have had on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) youth around the world.  Having access to information and feeling not alone is a powerful tool for any minority— particularly a hidden one.

Today, on the New York Times website, I noticed an interactive project “Coming Out” they have going that I wanted to link to.  There are the stories of at least 33 LGBT people, a place for each of them to tell their unique story.  One of the things I loved is the huge range of stories and experiences.  They didn’t exclude, but rather, created space for transgender, bisexual, and minority.  Stories from Christians, Muslims and other religious groups are heard. Authors range in age from 15 to 81 years old. Each story is merely a snippet of a life, a few paragraphs, but in many cases, I know how important they were to write and how difficult.  If you have a chance, go read.

And, because many are lazy, and won’t flip over, here are a few snipets:

There is nothing wrong with being gay. It is not a sin, it is not dirty, it isn’t deviant. For years, I have been vocal about this aspect of homosexuality, but when it comes to my own, I’m at a loss for words. If I were to tell my friends that I think that I might be a little bit gay, they wouldn’t bat an eyelash. Theater kids, the lot of them, they’re no strangers to homosexuality. If I were to tell my parents, at worst they would be surprised and I would be indignant. It would be a cliche, but after the initial discomfort that comes from unanticipated surprises, we would be okay. Even thinking about God, well, He knows already and somehow I don’t think he minds nearly as much as some people like to think.I am the president of my school’s Gay Straight Alliance, I have had friends come out to me on multiple occasions, I’ve been called a slur, but even then, I worked to bring voice to the movement for equality and understanding. It’s just finding my own voice that seems to be the problem. I’m bisexual. I’m gay. I’m not straight. Lesbian. It’s so easy to type. But I am paralyzed when it comes to taking my sexuality more seriously than a joking admission of a passing attraction to Mila Kunis in Black Swan (by the way, is she officially the new girl its socially acceptable for straight girls to be attracted to, formerly a position held by Megan Fox?).I’m floundering, and the worst part is if I just stopped flailing and let myself float to the surface, no one in my life would care. It would be the exact same, but I would have a shot at being happy. I just can’t seem to force myself to make the move.

T, 17 years old

My name is Charlie, I am currently 16, and I knew I was gay when I was 5.

When most people hear me say that, they ask, “You were thinking about sex when you were 5?”

Of course I wasn’t. I thought certain boys in my class were cute. I liked them, it’s as  simple as that. By that point, I had been taught that being gay was wrong. The church told me God hates gays, and that they’re truly unholy. So I hated myself. At age 6, I was absolutely terrified that I was going to go to hell because I was gay. I was afraid to get too close to other boys growing up, and I was afraid to like things such as musicals or show tunes. I was afraid that someone would accuse me of being gay, and I would be completely ostracized.

When I was 9, I contemplated suicide. I was almost certain that God had made a mistake and that I was wrong. Every night, I would pray to God that I would be straight, and that he would love me. That prayer never came true, and I thought God was ignoring me. I kept thinking about never being able to go to anyone about this, and just feeling completely alone. I kept asking myself, “What are you going to do when you get older?” So, I decided at about age 9 or 10, that I was going to fake being straight for the rest of my life, and I’m going to grow old and die alone. So I started getting used to the idea of living alone.

At about age 11, my family moved to a tiny town in West Virginia called Weston. Weston is a miniscule town nestled in the mountains with a population of 4,317 people (according to the 2000 census). The town’s key icon is a closed insane asylum, if that tells you anything.  Everything was fine for the most part, until I reached high school four years later.

By then, I’d already had several girlfriends. I had lied to all of them, and I even went so far to tell them I loved them, because I wanted to believe it was true. I still hated myself, and besides from my best friend, I stayed distant from most people. I had acquaintances, but I couldn’t talk to them about anything serious. Every night I prayed, and every morning I woke up disappointed. I met my best friend Nolan in sixth grade in math class, and he became like a brother to me. We spent literally every weekend at each other’s house. I really trusted him, but I still couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone else about my sexuality.

Go here for the end of this one: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/05/23/us/20110523-coming-out.html?hp#story/user_story_0

Growing up in rural MS there was no information out there for gay youth.  I knew I liked boys by the time I was 7, however I didn’t know what that meant. All I knew was that while the other boys where chasing girls around the playground I was watching them and had no interest in the girls. I would not be until middle school that I made the association of the words “gay” or “homosexual” meant boys who like boys. And on the day I did make that connection I got a shock that shut me down for years.

I was in 6th grade health class and we had a lesson on STD’s and AIDS. Keep in mind this was in 91-92. I don’t know if this lesson was of our teachers own “knowledge” or a lesson set out by the school but I found out later that much of that information was wrong.  During this class we learned that AIDS was a “gay” disease and that if you were gay you would get this virus and die a very long and painful death.  Well upon learning all this I was devastated.  I tried to find out more information but adults then would not talk about such things with a child and I was left with only what was set forth in health class. With believing that me and all like me were doomed to die looking like the pictures of emaciated men in hospital beds with wires and tubes running everywhere, I knew I wasn’t going to go that way even if that meant a life of solitude.

Once I hit high school the information got better and I figured out that just being gay didn’t mean that you were cursed.  That helped me to open up to friends but only so much because we were still in a very small town and the views of the gay lifestyle were now being shown in full force due to the ground breaking efforts of Ellen and others of the like. I still felt very alone and not secure enough to talk to anyone about it.

It wasn’t until I graduated and moved to Dallas that I was able to be myself and learn who I really am. I found that most everyone didn’t really care if I was gay or not (talk about culture shock).  And after returning to my rural town I found that most everyone there that knew me didn’t care either, but of course that can not be said for all.

After growing up without the resources that are available today, I am very happy and hopeful that the young men and women will not have to stand alone and wonder if they will ever be loved.

Jason Steen, 30 years old, Rural Mississippi

Remember, many more to read HERE!!!



  1. Thanks for sharing such thought provoking snippets from peoples lives, we all need to be reminded of the rich diversity that comprises this world. What a gift! (and I actually did follow the links to the NYT).

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