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It gets better

A local take on the national project to save gay youth

Photo: Photos by Carlos Amoedo, License: N/A

Photos by Carlos Amoedo

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executive director, GLBT Community Center of Central Florida

I was born in rural Alabama – a small little podunk town called Talladega. There, gay rights were pretty much nonexistent, as you can imagine. In TV or in movies, the male characters that had a hint of being effeminate … somehow they always met a tragic death. So growing up, that’s how I equated it: If you were of ‘that persuasion,’ you would die.

Also, being raised Southern Baptist didn’t help. So when I started having these feelings, in junior high and high school, I fought it and fought it, I prayed, I cried to myself at night. As a result, I tried to recreate myself. I got involved in masculine things. I wasn’t just a football player – I was a mean S.O.B. of a football player who would pick fights. I was the kind of guy that would scream in the locker room and hit his head against the wall. I thought that the more masculine stuff I did, the more likely it was to go away. I was one of the ones telling queer jokes – I think back on this one kid who was very effeminate, made his own clothes, and we’d say horrible things to him. And I look back now, and I would give anything to go back and apologize to him.

It really took me until college to realize that these feelings weren’t going to go away. I probably didn’t even admit it to myself until I was about 23, 24 years old. Coming out to friends was probably in my late 20s, early 30s. My parents died without me ever telling them that I was gay.

For high schoolers, I would strongly encourage talking to a counselor – even in small, rural areas in the South, they’ve usually got enough common sense to recognize the difficulty of your situation. In the meantime – I know this is said a lot – but really, you’ve got to just put one foot in front of the other; you’ve just got to hold on. Things will improve.

John Sullivan, 41 

co-founder of the Orlando Youth Alliance, Watermark contributor

I grew up in a big family, second to the youngest of seven, and a very religious family, born again Christians. It made it kind of hard when, at a pretty young age, I figured out that something about me was different from all of the others, although I couldn’t really put a finger on it. 

It was actually October of 1984 and I was 15 years old. My cousin Michelle, who was the same age, and I wanted to go see Cyndi Lauper. It was actually Oct. 29. A friend of my mom’s that she worked with took us.

We get there, and made our way into the crowd and waiting for the concert to start, and I was just noticing people. I looked around and there were guys who had their arms around each other. At first it just freaked me out. It was like, ‘Oh my god, these people are gay.’ And then the concert started and at some point in the show Cyndi tells the story about Celie and Shug from The Color Purple. And she doesn’t come right out and say it, but she talks about them facing adversity and overcoming obstacles and finding a way to be who they are, honestly, and living that truth. And that really spoke to me. 

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