I don't feel like I am a part of the community.
This is the second 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 young man, we will call him Bennett, grew up in Mobile, Alabama. One of the biggest issues Bennett faces is isolation. His family has rejected him and actually put him through a lot. His church is condemning of him and his mother even told him he needed to “get right with God before he dies.” He doesn’t feel that he is a part of the community because he is isolated by his inability to get transportation. He can’t get to support groups or counseling because he has no car and little money. He uses the bus or Uber to get to school, but he is basically confined to the place he lives with a friend’s mother and school. He has tried to commit suicide three times in his 19 years. He believes he walks this Earth with the potential to be killed for two reasons: first, if he behaves a certain way (hold a guy’s hand, etc.) he could be killed for that. Second, if he walks in the “wrong” (white) neighborhood, he could be killed for that. I believe it is our job as Bennett’s community to provide him a safe space not only to live, but to thrive. Do you offer community to everyone – different from you or not? How can we come together to make sure each and every child feels that he is a valued and loved part of the community? Imagine living a life of isolation and then let me know how you think we can make a change in the comments.
How long have you or did you live in South Alabama? *
My whole life.
How do you identify? *
Are you out? *
If yes, how out? i.e. just family, just friends, inner circle, loud and proud, activist, etc.
If you ask, I will tell you. I am out with some of my family - my mother, father, aunt, brother and sister. It is not worth my time to be out with the rest because I know how they feel. I love them, but we are only so close. It is not worth my time to pour my whole heart out.
How old were you when you came out?
13 or 14 I told the first person, a good friend in middle school. I came out at high school at 15 and to my mother at 16.
When I was 15 or 16, he tried to show me that I wasn't gay by taking me off alone and trying to entice me to have sex. When I refused, he said, "see, you're not gay."
Tell me about your coming out experience?
I started telling my friends first and the majority of them were supportive. I was pretty open in high school. I hung out with the misfits, and there was not a ton of homophobia. I did sometimes hear, "he's going to hell." In my junior year I was outed to my family by accident. A girl who was a relative of my mother's best friend overhear someone say I was gay. She then went to my mother and asked if it was true. After that encounter, my mother came to me and asked. I confirmed it. She didn't take it well and was hurt that I didn't tell her - which I understand - but I knew she would want me to go to church and have it removed, which she did. My mother lashed out at me on Facebook. She did not want anyone else to know, yet she posted anti- gay posts on my page. After that, I could not be close to her because she does not support me or LGBT. She even said one time, "I better not catch you saying you're a woman or you'll be out on the streets." I thought I would just get through high school and go to college, but it was hard. At one point I thought I would give up on college and go into the military, but that didn't work out. I am not living with my family now. My mother's boyfriend has issues. When I was 15 or 16, he tried to show me that I wasn't gay by taking me off alone and trying to entice me to have sex. When I refused, he said, "see, you're not gay." My mother is still with him. I tried to run away twice. Once my sister talked me down, and the next time I was successful. My life affected my school performance and my military experience. Two years ago, I gathered my important documents, Social Security card, birth certificate, and left. I have stayed with friends ever since. I tried to go into the military, but they released me due to depression. I am attending community college. I get there by Uber or the bus because I was laid off my job in January. The family I stay with helps me as best they can, and I will never be able to repay them. I am in contact with my mother. I apologized for not being the one to tell her. I regret that. We talk some, but not about me being gay because she doesn't want any part of that. I have lost trust with her. And she does know what her boyfriend did to me and didn't protect me.
I have cut ties with a lot of friends and family. I still get hurt and it is a self-protection mechanism
If you are not out or are partially out, what is holding you back? What is your biggest fear of being out?
It is not a fear. If people know, they know. I am not wasting my time to tell people who aren't supportive. I have cut ties with a lot of friends and family. I still get hurt and it is a self-protection mechanism.
How did you feel when you came out?
In high school, I wish I were more social about it instead of just being open with friends. This is my skin, this is what I live with. I wish I told my mother myself, maybe she wouldn't have been as hurt, but she would still want me to go through God to fix it. She always told me God was punishing her brother who was gay and died of AIDS.
I didn't understand why I needed to hide. I felt like it was like trying to keep the whole ocean inside a tiny balloon. And it was going to pop
What were the determining factors in your decision to come out? What was the process you went through to come to that decision?
I didn't understand why I needed to hide. I felt like it was like trying to keep the whole ocean inside a tiny balloon. And it was going to pop.
How old were you when you knew you were LGBTQ? Describe what you knew and when.
I knew in elementary school I was different. I was in middle school when I knew the name for it.
How did you feel about yourself when you identified yourself as LGBTQ?
I went through many emotions - anger, rejection of it, happiness, confusion. I was just trying to figure out what was going on and what was the next step.
How were you raised to view the LGBTQ community?
I was taught they were not my community and were something separate. I was raised to think of LGBT as "other." This created an internal conflict.
What is your perspective of people's view of LGBTQ people in school?
In my high school there was not a lot of stigma. Even though I identified as gay, I didn't force my views on others. I kept to myself, did well in school. I didn't out myself in a situation I didn't have a fight in.
I don't feel like I am a part of the community
In the community?
I don't feel like I am a part of the community. I am limited with transportation and money. I would like to be more of a part of it and see where I am.
Alabama is taking its time. Some areas are taking more time than others. Free2Be is a big step for Mobile. You just don't hear about big strides. I have aged out of Free2Be now, but I wish I could have gone more when I was in high school. For a while, my brother would take me, but when my mother found out where he was taking me, she wouldn't let him drive me.
In the country?
It depends on the area. Certain areas are so warm, and others are the coldest of shoulders. We are still a work in progress.
Because of the lack of acceptance in church, I am turned away.
Baptist churches still struggle with it. I see a lot of others making progress. I grew up in Baptist church and they are very behind. Because of the lack of acceptance, I am turned away.
I did sometimes hear, "he's going to hell.
Have you experienced bigotry? When, where, and describe?
If I did, I didn't realize it. Bigotry is still new to me. Even if you are rude, I am still nice. I never really understood what the big deal was about skin color until I was in middle school. I never took it to heart. It is harder for LGBT in the black community.
If you have experienced bigotry, how did you handle it and how did it make you feel?
My mother told me the Pulse night club shooting happened because God was punishing the LGBT community and that should get right with God before I die.
Have you experienced depression?
Have you experienced suicidal thoughts or attempts?
I tried to commit suicide 3 times - 2 in middle school and 1 in high school
Where do you find support?
Cartoons and friends and family. Cartoons are an escape for me. I love Steve of the Universe. I would really have loved to be more involved in Free2Be. I tried to commit suicide 3 times - 2 in middle school and 1 in high school. Because of my depression, I was let go from the military. I couldn't even get away when I tried. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and anxiety. I can't afford treatment. I am sad because being seen as gay is bad, not because I am gay. I walk the Earth knowing I could be killed for two reasons. I could get killed for being gay if I don't watch how I talk and act. If I go into the wrong neighborhood, I could get killed for the second reason [being black].
What do you want for your life? Please use details - family, career, etc.
I used to think I wanted a family, but now, I just want to know at any point in my life that I am okay. Whether I am with someone or not.
Do you want to get married?
I feel like I should want to, but I am not sure. I don't view marriage like I used to - thinking it was the ultimate bond. But you don't have to be married to be bonded. I don't put too much weight on it.
I love the idea of kids, but I have to be sure. I don't want to create a home like I grew up in.
If you need to punch be because of my sexual orientation, then why are you around me?
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.
It upsets me. I try to laugh the slurs off because there is always worse. As for violence, I feel it shouldn't happen, but it happens anyway. If you need to punch be because of my sexual orientation, then why are you around me?
How did you feel with the Department of Justice announced that LBGTQ was not a protected class under the Civil Rights Act?
I find it annoying because they use that as an excuse to get rid of me. It is sad that people feel like just because I am gay, I can't do a good job.
I have turned away from my family, friends and church because of losing trust.
How do you feel when someone offers you support?
Very happy. That is a good thing for them to do, but I still don't trust people in general. I have turned away from my family, friends and church because of losing trust.
How do you feel about the silencing of LGBTQ voices in schools or in the worklplace?
If you silence us now, when we are trying to fight for our rights, how do you expect us to fight for yours? Teaching kids to be quiet now, how do you expect them to speak for issues that are even bigger?
How do you respond to "love the sinner, hate the sin?"
I laugh at that. It is the logic that you love me, but you don't really love me. "I love you, but I don't like that you walk across the street without my permission."
What did the election of Trump mean to you? Did you take a message from that?
It is what certain people wanted. I do my best to be a good citizen, but there are times when you have to act. All I can do is do my best to play a good part. I don't support him, but I don't hate. If you hate, it is like letting someone live in your mind.
What did the election of Doug Jones mean to you? Did you take a message from that?
My vote counted. Alabama isn't as one-way thinking as I thought it was.
What is your biggest fear?
It is how I am going to get through my entire life and know what it means to be myself. Dying tomorrow and not being okay with my entire life.
What is you greatest hope?
That we change in a good direction. That the change won't be something we regret. Trump is turning America in two directions. It could be great, or it could be something we can't recover from.
Please feel free to discuss anything in this space that you feel is important.
Lincoln said that a house divided against each other can not stand. I hope whatever comes encourages people to do more with themselves. We are going to stay in one place until the place we are in becomes too uncomfortable for us. Trump is causing a bigger change because before, people were complacent. We are seeing a lot of the bad, but before it was just a band aid covering that bad. Now racism and homophobia are out for us to see. And when the time comes, we will remove it. Let it come the surface so we can see what it is.
Author, LGBTQ Advocate, Relationship Expert, Humorist, Advocate of Finding Your Voice