The day I realized that I was gay was the end of a childhood that I considered happy. To start, I wasn’t raised religiously, but my family practiced traditionalistic values based on religion. Roman-catholic views reflected strongly on my mother's Italian and father's Irish family trees, though I never went to church. As a child, all I ever wanted to do was to impress my parents, especially my father. He was never a man to show love. To my father, love was a sign of vulnerability and being shot would be more pleasurable. Never receiving validation, I strived towards being what I wasn’t, and that was this masculine, straight, far-right republican child who was taught to avoid “disgusting” homosexuality.
Once I had reached high school, I had started a relationship with the all-star girl of the school and the girl of my parent's dreams. She was the drum major of the marching band, at the top of her class, and the only problem with her was that I was gay. For once, my parent's were proud and happy of where I was, and it felt therapeutic. As time went on though, my anxiety and depression began to rise as I knew the time to come out was coming soon.
I had known one of my classmates that had came out to our school, and the social reaction was explosive. The way that the student population had handled his brave action was horrific and worsened my own personal process. You see, the county of Sussex, which can be found in lower Delaware, is full of white, republican families who strongly practice traditionalistic or religious views. It is hard to travel five miles without spotting several confederate flags and "Trump 2020" poster signs. As a closeted gay child, living in this area struck fear in my heart, but I knew I would need to come out soon.
In my junior year, I had confided to a close friend of mine about my true identity as a gay man, and there was a wave of relief that filled my entire body and soul. Ironically, this was the worst and best decision of my entire life. A week after the big reveal, I had walked into my high school and found out that the entire student population knew. I was practically outed to my high school before I could ever understand myself. Every relationship I held close was affected. The worst of it all was with my parents. My mother was embarrassed, and to this day I do not know if I could ever confide in her again. My father was a different story. Any possibility of acceptance or validation from my father was destroyed by his first word that came out of his mouth: "faggot!" We haven't spoken much since, but from the little conversations that we have held, this derogatory term wouldn't be his last. The remainder of my days in high school were difficult as a gay teen in a school of homophobic adolescents. It was here that I knew that I needed to join advocacy efforts to protect and support the future generations of LGBTQ+ youth.
Nowadays, I am a student of James Madison University studying Vocal Music Education. At this institution, I have grown greatly in my self-acceptance and advocacy efforts. When I was a child, I could hard accept myself for being gay, but seeing that I am proudly out and expressive excited myself. I also work as a peer educator through a program called "SOGIE Programming", where I teach college lectures, host podcasts, and hold meetings for other students about LGBTQ+ education and inclusion. I have also led several protests about LGBTQ+ equality within our justice system and continue to develop my campaign for my old high school to provide stronger safe-sex/HIV/AIDS education to their students. Maybe I had never received validation from my parents, but to feel accomplished within myself is all I ever needed.
These experiences are just the tip of the iceberg, but have made me realize many things about today's society, and a big part of that involves the hate I still receive at my university. I have been shared many dirty looks by those I pass as I walk down the street with my high heels and make-up on, or by the way I talk, or by the way I move my hands when I get heated up. I love to explore my feminine side, but unfortunately, my femininity still affects the masculinity of other. Although LGBTQ+ equality and acceptance is growing, there is also a growing ignorance towards prejudice that still attacks the community, and that is what I have realized from my experiences.
The world may never change how minority communities are treated. As of today, gay marriages and families are still attacked by our justice system through threats towards "Obergefell v. Hodges" and "Fulton v. City Of Philadelphia". The transgender communities are at risk with the several bills that are trying to be passed that allow genital checks on students to participate in sports. We may be farther along on the road to success, but as we venture down this road, obstructions continue to block our paths. It breaks my heart to see all that continues to go down within our nation as well as others globally.
In the end, my experiences have helped me understand the world. It is a dark place, and no matter how hard you work to be comfortable with being yourself, there will always be people who try to shoot you down. My father never showed love to prevent vulnerability, but we must do the exact opposite to create a safer and more inclusive society. Life in the LGBTQ+ community is going to be full of many hardships, but the biggest takeaway from my experiences is that life is not meant to go through alone. The more we join together as a community, the harder it is to try and shoot us down.