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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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So of course I left there – and this is before the movie and Oprah and all that, so The Color Purple wasn’t even on my radar – and I ended up going out and getting the book. And the way it’s presented, the whole ‘Dear God,’ the chapters like her talking to God, and then as it gets into the story, her feelings for Shug and all of that, it became apparent what Cyndi was talking about. Now, again, 1984 – nobody was standing up and saying I love the gays, and this was as close as we had come so far. 

In fact, she dedicated the song to the Celies and the Shugs of the world. She knew, and the people who she wanted to speak to knew. And that was me. 

I was at the Bayfront Center, I’m sure they all weren’t gay, but down there in the front of the stage it was pretty gay, and for me to see that, it showed me that so much of what I’d been taught about gay people had been a lie. 

You know, it does get better. 

So many people say they’re afraid to go to the teacher or to the principal or to the counselor, and when they do they’re met with resistance or told they need to tone it down. Well that’s bullshit. You keep going. You make a record of it when you go, who you talked to. If it’s something you can’t get resolved with the teacher or the principal or within the school, go to the superintendent of schools or the school board. If that doesn’t work, go to the Orlando Weekly or Watermark. Don’t be quiet about it. If somebody is screwing with you, whether it’s verbal abuse or physical, speak out, do something to stop that. Because nobody has to go through that. 

Keith Theriot, 50

artist, program manager, Orlando Department of Housing and Community Development

I figured out I was gay when I was 11 or 12 years old, so I prayed and prayed for it to go away. A few years later my mother was working on a psychology degree, and I was determined to find out what this homosexuality thing meant. In her book – I remember it like it was yesterday; it was called Healthier Living – there was a paragraph that said the American Psychiatric Association had declared homosexuality to not be a mental illness. That sort of let me know that I wasn’t the one with the problem. But I’m from a very small town in south central Louisiana, and I knew it wasn’t a good idea to come out there, so I set my goal to come out when I moved away to college at LSU. And that’s what I did.

I was really lucky in high school – I never really got bullied, girls liked me and guys wanted to be around me. Honestly, the harassment that I endured was in college. The first year I was there we lived in a dorm, and my roommate was also gay, and was out, and was pretty effeminate. So the door of our room was frequently assaulted with basketballs and bats, and when I’d run out to find out who it was, they would scramble. One night, my roommate went to take a shower, and I heard a bunch of noise. Seven or eight guys were attacking him in the shower, throwing stuff at him.

If you weren’t from Baton Rouge, you were required to live on campus – but after that incident we wanted out. I went to the resident assistant who did the ‘boys will be boys’ thing. Then I went to the dean, who basically said the same thing. Then I threatened him, since I was a Senate Page, and I knew all the attorneys that worked for the Louisana state senate. So he let us move off campus.

Then it got wonderful. I met lots of people in the gay community that really took me under their wing and showed me I wasn’t ‘different.’

The biggest issue is helping people understand that this isn’t a choice. You kind of have to break it to people slowly. When you’re coming to terms with being gay, it takes a long time. I had seven years to process it before I came out. So you can’t really dump it on someone and immediately expect them to respond positively. You have to let people process it like you had to process it. 

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