Coming out with care

While I normally begin my column with a classic quote taken completely out of context, I simply cannot this week.                                                                               

Rarely am I moved to tears by the strength of the human spirit; however, Tuesday evening I rivaled Hawaii’s own Mount Waialeale in precipitation. I had the privilege of interviewing two gay college students about their coming out process. I ended both conversations with the words, “I am so proud of you.”

Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, according to statistics from The Trevor Project, the leading national provider in crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and Allies youth. Within that group, those with minimal family support are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than those with accepting relatives.

Regardless of your religious beliefs and or political leanings, LGBTQIA youth are hurting; numbers don’t lie. It is my personal belief that everyone can empathize with pain and emotional struggle in some way or another. For this column, I ask you to compartmentalize any prejudices you have toward homosexuals and read two stories that desperately need to be heard.

William Boos, a senior communication studies major at Western Washington University, came out as gay in December 2012. Kaylee Hull, a senior criminal justice major at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, abandoned her closet in April of this year.

From a young age, Hull and Boos both knew they were different. Boos self-identified as gay at the young age of 13, whereas Hull knew her senior year of high school. Both waited for the right time to say anything for the sake of their families and themselves.

A lot of LGBTQIA teens don’t come out to their family and friends for obvious reasons. Some think that they will be shunned and in turn, financially cut off by disapproving parents. Ultimately, many fear that the love their family has for them will prove conditional.

The summer prior to her own coming out, Hull defended her cousin’s speculated sexual orientation at a family barbeque. As her family went back and forth, tensions ran high, and Hull learned something that would make coming out to father more intimidating than she imagined.

When asked if he would still love his daughter if she was gay, Hull’s father said no.   

Months later, his answer changed.

“It’s different when it’s your own kid,” he told Hull.

Hull described her closeted years as relatively easy and expressed minimal frustration excluding the occasional political and scientific debates surrounding gay marriage.

She explained, “I would just sit there wanting to say ‘It’s not a choice,’ but I couldn’t or they would know.”

Unfortunately, Boos did not fare as well during his closeted years. He retained his naturally high-pitched voice from a young age, which laid the foundation for bullies in middle and high school.

They had him pegged from day one.

“People never let me make up my mind about my sexuality. They decided for me. Through that I began to question my sexuality,” Boos said.

He knew he didn’t want to come to his parents with his questions. They were amid a family crisis with his sister at the time and he felt he couldn’t abandon his role as “the good child.” He also couldn’t ask his peers without confirming their suspicions.

Caught between a rock and hard place, Boos turned to the Internet to get his questions answered.

“At 13, there wasn’t a whole lot out there. I went to a chat room and started messaging guys just to see what being gay was about,” he said.

Boos met a man online who offered to meet with him at his local library.

“Me being 13 and super naïve, it didn’t go the way you would hope,” he said.

Boos met with the man who turned out to be 50 years old. The man molested him that day and did so several more times in the following months. Boos harbored the secret for four years before seeking therapy after nearly committing suicide.

“I couldn’t break down and tell anyone because that would mean I was gay,” Boos said.

Boos put the incident behind him and looked forward to college as a time to reinvent himself. By his sophomore year, he was out. But his journey was far from over. While many like to think childish ridicule ends in high school, traditional bullying simply disguises itself in adulthood; it masquerades as “the opinion.”

“In some ways, our society has made great strides. But there are still jerks out there,” said Heidi Stanton Schnebly, director of WSU GIESORC, the Gender Identity, Expression, and Sexual Orientation Resource Center.

These jerks do not suffer in silence. Both Hull and Boos have learned to deflect the term “abomination” with a smile on their face. However, the ignorance doesn’t end there.

“I get asked the question, ‘When did you decide to be gay?’” Hull continued. “I’ve been asked, ‘How do you have sex?’”

As it often does, ignorance turns to arrogance in this situation. Hull said many chalk her sexual orientation up to “a phase” characteristic of college sexual experimentation. Men have even had the audacity to tell her, “I can change you. You just haven’t met the right man yet.” She turns it around on them by sarcastically questioning their sexuality.

Regarding her future, Hull has been told that she shouldn’t marry or have children. Boos anxiously ponders life’s milestones as well, frequently wondering who will or will not attend his wedding.

Needless to say, the road is hard and long for LGBTQIA people. I urge you, if only for a minute to walk a mile of that road in their shoes. Be compassionate, supportive and act with love in your heart. It’s not about what you believe.

“It’s about being there for them in that moment,” Stanton Schnebly said. “You don’t have to say the right thing. It’s not about what you have to say; it’s about what they have to say.”

For those on either end of the conversation, resources are available. Campus organizations like GIESORC and WSU Testing and Counseling Services can answer any questions you may have. Nationwide, organizations like Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and the It Gets Better Project exist to help.

Just remember Bernard Baruch’s words, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”