“Places where it is accepted are a paradise for us because we can be who we are.
This is the first interview in the series of anonymous interviews with people who are LGBTQ and either are youth in Alabama or adults who experienced their youth in Alabama. This is a young man, we will call him Andrew, who grew up in Alabama and did not come out until after he graduated high school. He has some regrets about waiting to come out, but he has generally had a good experience. He is supported by his family. The thing that stuck me about this interview is that this young man is a faith-filled and faithful member of his Catholic Church. And because he does not want to risk rejection there he makes a “personal sacrifice” to keep his homosexual status hidden. Even though his experience has been good and his family supports him, Andrew’s biggest fear is still the fear of rejection. He has experienced bigotry. There are places where he still feels that he cannot fully be himself – and when one feels forced to deny themselves, there is a sense of loss in who you are and a lack of peace that you are okay with being who you are in the world. Please read this and answer the question: could this be my child? Am I the parent who will love my child and the children of our state unconditionally? Do you create a paradise of acceptance for the children in our community?
How long have you or did you live in South Alabama?
I lived in Mobile until 2011, then moved to Baldwin County and attended private school.
How do you identify?
Are you out?
If yes, how out? i.e. just family, just friends, inner circle, loud and proud, activist, etc.
I am out to friends and close family. Not as much to extended family. On my father's side, it's much easier and more extended family knows. On my mother's side, they are very conservative and traditional and it doesn't come up as much. I am out at college.
How old were you when you came out?
“Where is the love from those parents who don't support their kids and promote equal rights?"
Tell me about your coming out experience?
People would ask if I had a girlfriend at holidays and events. I obviously didn't. I never got angry over the question. It became more evident as school dances came up. I was not a trailblazer - I never asked a guy to a dance, and I regret that. Our culture is not there yet in South Alabama. My story is plain and dry. It somehow or another came up more matter of factly to my parents. They were not necessarily surprised, or maybe they were surprised, but there was a sense of understanding. They have different politics from me but love me for who I am. They definitely believe in equal rights and protection and the right for me to marry. When it's your child, there is no choice. Where is the love from those parents who don't support their kids and promote equal rights?
If you are not out or are partially out, what is holding you back? What is your biggest fear of being out?
I’m not being out to everyone - I think perhaps it’s a fear of judgment. I think there are many like me who want to prove they can be a functional member of society. I have family members who do believe we are sub-members of society. To muster up the courage to be out with these family members, I haven't gotten there yet. There is an internal debate about how to have those conversations.
How did you feel when you came out?
It was interesting. It was a feeling of relief and also a feeling of mounted stress because there is that moment of hesitation when the person you tell is processing. It is awkward, but at the same time it's said and done and it's the truth and there is nothing to do about it. You just need five seconds of courage, and then after the hesitation, it's alright, okay. I never thought about fear for my physical safety in coming out. Fear of verbal abuse was definitely something I thought about. If I saw a protest on a street, I would absolutely consider precautions for my physical safety. Places where it is accepted are a paradise for us because we can be who we are.
What were the determining factors in your decision to come out? What was the process you went through to come to that decision?
Being fed up with not being out. When I was 17, there was a lot of interesting energy in the political scene. As the intensity grew, I felt it was time to be honest. Donald Trump has exacerbated anger toward the Republican Party. Initially he said he would be the most supportive LGBT president ever. And then he didn't get it or care about people not like him. I'm center left, but it's hard to be middle of the road on something like that.
How old were you when you knew you were LGBTQ? Describe what you knew and when.
I had feelings for the same sex since I was about 7 or so. I knew for certain by 7th grade. Because I was hospitalized at age 10, and then my parents got divorced and we moved, and then the absence of my dad, I never thought of who I was. For a long time I didn't know what to do. In the 7th grade you are more worried about friends, and I didn't have a context for experience - it was more foggy. It became more clear later.
My first reaction was disappointment. I come from a very Red background. I was in denial. It was not a peaceful moment.
How did you feel about yourself when you identified yourself as LGBTQ?
My first reaction was disappointment. I come from a very Red background. I was in denial. It was not a peaceful moment. I covered until I was 15 or 16 by going out with girls, and even older girls. It didn't feel right. There was nothing there. It's just not who I am. The world around me said I should be straight, but it is just not who I am.
How were you raised to view the LGBTQ community?
I was raised in a Red area that was very anti-LGBTQ, but I was never taught hate. You can't change the minds of people in a moment. You just have to live your life and be who you are and let people see your truth. I do remember when I was younger hearing my parents say it was not normal and the Bible didn't approve. I don't have much experience with same sex relationships. I wish I did, but it feels good to figure out how things are for me. College is a clean slate - I am out and I feel liberation.
“Did I play it too safe? Do too much harm to myself?"
What is your perspective of people's view of LGBTQ people in school?
In school I heard everything from "I wish I could shoot them. I wish they would burn in hell. I wish we could get rid of them because they can't reproduce anyway." They weren't all like that, there are some who are progressive. By graduation, it seemed like fewer cared about it. I do feel like I would have been a better leader and more honest if I had been out in high school. Did I play it too safe? Do too much harm to myself? My school was conservative - not friendly to people outside the traditional landscape, and that was something I struggled with. I was a leader in school, but I took a bullet and did not feel it was the time or the place. I have some regret about that. I was not out until post high school graduation.
In the community?
I would say older generations, 65 plus are definitely black and white on the issue. It is one man, one woman. Decreasing generations are more tolerant, but many adults still hold pretty negative opinions.
Urban areas seem more comfortable with others living their lives. Birmingham seems to be its own enclave of tolerance.
“Still, it is one thing to have human rights and another to respect them.
In the country?
When Obama was in office, it seems there was a trend toward basic human rights with LGBTQ being respected with the exception of transgender. With the current administration (Trump), we are seeing the government is more willing to take away rights than protect them. Still, it is one thing to have human rights and another to respect them.
“I have heard "faggot," "manwhore," etc.
Have you experienced bigotry? When, where, and describe?
Oh, yes. Most commonly it is more passive. People making fun of gays because of their orientation or making fun of their sexual interactions or asking inappropriate questions. I have heard "faggot," "manwhore," etc.
If you have experienced bigotry, how did you handle it and how did it make you feel?
When I was younger, it bothered me a lot. I guess people could see the tendencies in me and jumped on it when I couldn't find the courage to be out. And they still jumped on me.
Have you experienced depression?
Have you experienced suicidal thoughts or attempts?
Where do you find support?
Faith and in college. Friends and family that I trust. I go on walks, I cook, I meditate and pray.
What do you want for your life? Please use details - family, career, etc.
Eventually to get married and have kids to call my own. To graduate college and find an interesting job. Maybe to work in the public sector, maybe elected position. I want a life where I am comfortable with whom I am living, with a solid partner in my husband, with kids I can be proud of . To have a normal, comfortable life. I have not closed a door on coming back to the South, but I have other options as well.
Do you want to get married?
How do you feel when you hear homophobic slurs either toward you or others or see or experience violence based on sexual orientation? Feel free to give examples.
I just want to say, "hey, please don't say that. That's not cool." Often, when you look someone in the eye and mean it, they get the point. I would teach respect by example.
How did you feel with the Department of Justice announced that LBGTQ was not a protected class under the Civil Rights Act?
That was perhaps the biggest setback. It was a massive setback.
How do you feel when someone offers you support?
It's relieving. It's comforting. It's someone sharing their heart with yours. It's love - someone caring about you enough to share their heart and offer support.
“The point of being free is that it is for everyone, not just straight, white, Christians. It's for everyone - Jews, Muslims, Blacks, LGBTQ, Silencing them for being who they are is reprehensible to me.
How do you feel about the silencing of LGBTQ voices in schools or in the workplace?
It's deplorable. I don't see a more blatant offense against the first amendment of voices that are protected by the constitution. It is beyond offensive that people have the nerve to do that, especially in the LGBT conversation. The defense is always that they are on the right side. That it is a matter of religious freedom, but you can't limit that to only what you believe. The point of being free is that it is for everyone, not just straight, white, Christians. It's for everyone - Jews, Muslims, Blacks, LGBTQ, Silencing them for being who they are is reprehensible to me.
How do you respond to "love the sinner, hate the sin?"
I feel like it is that way with friends and family, some still ingrained with hate - it's what they do.
What did the election of Trump mean to you? Did you take a message from that?
When watching the returns with 2 friends who supported Trump, sitting in the living room, thinking of all the things we heard him say - I went to two rallies - I thought about "lock'em up" and "build the wall" with Republicans controlling Congress and having Supreme Court nominations, I thought, "What does this all mean?" I was not anticipating that Trump would win. I haven't really seen it as too big of a setback as he has been ineffective in policy. I believe it has left the US looking pretty badly. I don't think there will be a second term for him.
What did the election of Doug Jones mean to you? Did you take a message from that?
It was such a resounding message of hope. It was the same energy as Obama, a vivid moment. It was remarkable to see a man, who despite all the odds, won!
What is your biggest fear?
Well, roaches. Really. But after that, the fear of being rejected.
What is you greatest hope?
I have a lot of hope in people my own age - that we are in a time of defiance and disobedience and resistance toward bigotry and hate. I have hope that people will grow up in a world of more inclusivity and diversity. Eventually younger people will be in positions of power - power in the business world and in nonprofits and in government. They are more open to others' opinions.
The state of Alabama has had a lot of attention surrounding the LGBTQ community over the last year or two. From the affirmation of gay marriage by the Supreme Court and the subsequent denial of Roy Moore to follow that law to the election of Doug Jones over Moore, to the silencing of LGBT students in schools, to the racist and homophobic rap distributed on social media, the conversation has been heated and the opinions condemning. But there has been one thing missing from the conversation – HUMANITY. People are so sure they know what is right. They are so sure the have the moral high ground, that many times, the fact that you are discussing the lives of humans – and many who are young humans - is lost in the chaos. I want to tell the stories of these HUMANS. And in particular, the stories of these YOUNG HUMANS.
In our area of the country, there are many, many LGBT youth who have chosen not to come out to their families or friends due to fear. There are many who struggle and feel alone and isolated. There are many who do come out only to realize those fears as reality. And there are those who come out to supportive families who still walk in fear at school, in the community and most offensively, at church, where love should be the answer to us all. Every. Single. Time.
So I am beginning this as a series of anonymous stories of Humans who grew up in Alabama. Their understanding of themselves and their communities. Their fears, their hopes and their dreams. It is anonymous because these are my children. They are your children. They are all ours. And do you know if they are yours? Are you a safe space for your children, your family, your friends? Or are you someone to fear? These are their stories. I hope that by reading them, you will see a little bit more HUMANITY in them and learn to love not hate. Period.
First, lets look at some statistics. Please look at the statistics. And while you do, imagine these numbers apply to your children. Imagine how it must feel to see these numbers about a child you love. Imagine. Feel. And then love.
Stay tuned for the first in this series. And please help me show others our HUMANITY.
These are the statistics LGBT Youth and Their Parents Face Each and Every Day. Think about that:
Author, LGBTQ Advocate, Relationship Expert, Humorist, Advocate of Finding Your Voice