There have been many events in my life that were well worth celebrating, but one of the most unparalleled celebrations was the one of showing everybody who I was for the very first time. Around the age of twelve when all of my classmates started developing a crush on the opposite sex, I felt different. I did not share that similar desire of pursuing a girlfriend like my other male peers seemed to want – I wanted a boyfriend. I attended church when I was young and I became all too familiar with the pastor’s anti-gay sentiments to the point where I felt he was talking directly to me as I sunk down in the pew. Soon thereafter I felt excluded, embarrassed and experienced self-loathing. I suppressed these emotions and moved on with my life until about six years later.
My junior year of high school, I felt like a prisoner in my own body and incapable of expressing myself. But I knew if I wanted to become unshackled, it would be at the expense of losing many friends. I couldn’t seem to escape the obsession of people, both at school and at home, wanting to know who I loved.
Hearing the question “so why don’t you have a girlfriend?” made me cringe. As time progressed and the frequency of that dreaded question increased, my response would become ambiguous until the point that I finally replied, “I don’t like girls.”
I felt a sense of freedom to finally let out the secret that I had been keeping inside for years.
After “coming out,” I was approached with awkward glares in the hallways and was well aware of the whispers that surrounded me. Word travels faster than light in high school, but I persevered to ignore the hearsay and understood who my true friends were.
They were few. I believe, however, that I had a painless experience compared to other Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) youth. According to True Colors Fund, an organization that works to end homelessness among young people, over 600,000 LGBT youth are homeless as a result of their sexuality. The organization states that many have been kicked out of their homes or become disowned by their families.
Everyone should feel protected and intact within their own home, but they become vulnerable when out on the streets. There is an increased chance that an outcast LGBT young person will partake in petty crimes, practice unsafe sex and have a greater risk of developing mental health issues.
Many gay people lack a reassuring support system, which is extremely important for those struggling with their sexuality. I was grateful that I had such an empathetic mother who comforted me during tearful nights after a day of being badgered with homophobic remarks at school. According to DoSomething.org, 6 in 10 LGBT students report feeling unsafe at school.
In June 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, a long-sought victory for the LGBT community. Despite coming so far in the past decade, we continue to face challenges that thwart our success.
Although we still have prejudices and incessant judgment here in the United States, gay citizens of other parts of the world have it extremely harder than us. Homosexuality is illegal in 74 countries and punishable by death in 13 – a monstrous statistic. Despite not experiencing that kind of acrimony, I have realized that being an out, gay man can be dangerous in our own country.
Earlier this year, violent attackers carried out hate-crimes and attacked men in the predominantly gay neighborhood of Oak Lawn in Dallas – an area that I visit frequently. The Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando earlier this year claimed the lives of 49 people and wounded 53 others. This was the deadliest terrorist attack in the country since the Sept.11 attacks. It was the most fatal act of violence against the LGBT community in history. It is a scary thought to believe a stranger would want to hurt or even kill someone based solely on sexual orientation.
In 2016, gay marriage is legal, but that in no way means we are equal to our straight counterparts. Discrimination still exists and the LGBT community faces it daily. As a nation, we need to become a more accepting society and not be scared of what we do not understand. People should be accepting of one another even when there is differences. It is hard to understand what it feels like to be isolated or oppressed until you have walked in those same shoes.