Growing up as a closeted gay kid in semi-rural North Carolina was difficult to say the least. I pretended to be straight so I could fit in, and I still faced verbal abuse and bullying on a daily basis.
My peers said I was “too feminine.” I didn’t really like sports or cars or girls or most of the things my male classmates did, so I was doomed. I was afraid to come out. I was afraid to be gay. So I sat in silence, alone, and prayed to God every night for years that I would wake up “normal.”
I vividly remember lying in bed one night hatching out a plan to kill myself. Looking back on that memory breaks my heart, not because of the turmoil I was in, but because there are children who still are making plans to take their lives as a result of ignorance and bullying. Even worse, there are some children who carry those plans out.
I came out my senior year of college and found out that it wasn’t a big deal at all. In fact, none of my friends were surprised. My parents struggled initially with the idea, but we are growing stronger in our relationship every day. We don’t often talk about the fact that I am gay, but they love me and support me. And for now, that’s good enough. I was fortunate to have a wonderful support system, but not everyone is that lucky. Not everyone has a voice.
Today is a day to celebrate and empower LGBT people! Today is National Coming Out Day. Whether you have been out as a member of the LGBT community for a while, you’re just beginning your journey, or you are a straight ally, today we recognize courage to live and love, openly and honestly.
I strive to set a positive example for gay and straight youth alike, by living my life openly. Last year, I noticed that bullying was a huge problem in my school. Hateful and hurtful words were exchanged on a daily basis between my students. I chose to not tolerate it and didn’t allow such language in my presence.
Furthermore I had meaningful conversations with my students about the harmful effects of bullying and appreciating individually. City Year allows me to develop meaningful relationships with students in schools where bullying takes place. I can leverage those relationships to make sure all children feel safe and loved.
Lady Gaga has been a huge influence in my life. Her music is amazing, and more importantly she is a huge advocate for the LGBT community. She once said, “Being gay is like glitter, it never goes away.”
So today, I am going to glimmer and shine. I am gay. I am proud. I am happy. I am here.
Post by Jeffrey Cooke, a senior corps member serving with City Year Washington, DC