I couldn’t say it aloud, so I wrote a letter.
Gathered in our living room, I passed a piece of paper containing the words my small town conservative Catholic family could never have imagined reading: I’m gay.
What followed were tears, some confusion, and a feeling that I couldn’t live there anymore. I couldn’t bear the embarrassment, the hurt, and the shame of feeling like a disappointment. So I packed my bags and left. For a few months, I didn’t have a steady home. I took community college classes during the day and crashed on friends’ couches or blow-up mattresses on the floor at night. It was hard to not feel like a burden, like I was somehow in too many people’s lives or in the way. So, occasionally, I would find a secluded place to park my car, and I’d sleep there instead.
My story is not unique. Every day, LGBTQ+ youth have to face the outside world without family support. That can be especially devastating to folks in Black and Brown communities who have even more to fear from the outside world. And so we often find family elsewhere.
For me, that was on-stage. Theater saved me. It surrounded me with lovable outcasts and phenomenal educators who worked together to create something beautiful for the audience and ourselves. We were a band of misfits, and my friends in the theater saw me as more than the scared, closeted Chasten, desperately wanting to hide that tell-tale swish in his step. They taught me to believe I was worthy of love and the space I take up. Holding onto that belief, even during periods without a home, was everything. And gradually, it got better.
Our country has taken a similar path. Yes, gay marriage is legal in all 50 states. Transgender rights are finally part of the national conversation. Billy Porter and Laverne Cox are national treasures. And yet, LGBTQ+ youth still face a multitude of dangers and threats to their well-being and futures because of who they are. Transgender women of color have faced an especially harsh reality, comprising 18 of the 19 murders so far this year.
If they can have the courage to come out in a world that doesn’t support them, then the world’s most powerful country should summon the necessary courage to keep them safe. It’s time our government took a stand with LGBTQ+ youth. And this week, Peter released a new plan to do just that.
We’re taking a stand against anti-LGBTQ+ bullying.
As teacher, I know firsthand that schools and teaching staff are in need of help to make schools safe, welcoming, and nurturing places for all students. That means giving schools the resources to prevent anti-LGBTQ+ harassment as well as making transgender youth protected under Title IX. We’re also dedicated to passing the LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention Act which will identify and respond to risk factors for suicide, a particularly prevalent issue among low-income LGBTQ+ youth from communities of color.
We need to make sure that LGBTQ+ youth have access to affordable housing.
Today, around 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+, and 70,000 transgender youth lack access to secure housing. That’s why we’re committed to increasing federal investment in housing for homeless youth and passing the Runaway and Homeless Youth Prevention Act which would give states the resources and framework to keep homeless youth sheltered, safe, and able to complete their education.
It’s time to ban conversion therapy.
Convincing LGBTQ+ youth that their identity is a choice is not just wrong — it’s torture. Still, 73,000 youths will experience it before their 18th birthday, along with countless other adults. That’s why we’re dedicated to passing the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act which will ban conversion therapy by classifying it as consumer fraud.
For a while, my future was just a question of where I’d be sleeping next. Thinking about those nights on the floor or the nights I’d stare up at the stars through the windshield of my car, I couldn’t have dreamt that things would change for people like me. I couldn’t have dreamt that I’d meet a wonderful man who loved me for exactly who I was. And I couldn’t have dreamt how it would feel to have my dad walk me down the aisle, squeezing my arm as if to say “I’m so proud of you.”
Being on the other side of this journey, it’s easy to say that it gets better. And for many, it does.
But for many others, it hasn’t. And it won’t if we don’t do something different.
That’s why we’re taking a stand for LGBTQ+ youth.
When I was young and in the closet, all I wanted was for someone to see the real me. While I may not know you, the reader, the brave soul scrolling through this article, please know that we see you, and you deserve so much more.
You deserve to look to the highest office in the land and hear the president and his husband say: You are loved. There is space for you here. And we promise that no matter where you find family, you will always be able to find it in the first family.
If you are LGBTQ+ and in need of support, PFLAG is an incredible organization with a list of hotlines ready to hear from you: pflag.org/hotlines