It Gets Better
I grew up in the heart of the Bible belt, a college town in W. Va. during the mid 1950’s and 1960’s, to a Southern Baptist family headed by a WW II veteran, military background father. I was not necessarily “out” during high school, but I was sexually active and had feminine mannerisms. My mother and grandmother were my best friends. In fact, most of my friends growing up were adult women because I could not trust people my own age. At one point the harassment in High School was so bad that I contemplated suicide a couple of times. In fact, I did eat an entire bottle of aspirin, (the only thing I could find in the medicine cabinet at the time), and fortunately, I only got a little sick. For some unknown reason God had something else in mind for me; even though I was always taught at church that I was a sinner, abnormal, and a freak of nature, I knew in my heart that “my” God is a loving God, therefore I knew he loved and accepted me for the person I am.
Until after high school, I always thought the word “gay” meant happy. I had always been called “queer”, “faggot” and other derogatory names that definitely could not be considered as ego builders for a young teenager. After I graduated from high school, I went to work where I was befriended by another gay man who introduced me to the local gay community in my home town, such as it was. We had two gay bars that were private clubs with locked doors. I finally felt that I was among my element and made many friends and became an active part of my home town gay community. I was finally out, or at least as out as I could be in 1970, in a small W.Va. college town. We still had to be careful in those days but at least we did have a place of our own where we could be ourselves.
During the 1970’s gays became a little more accepted and we did have some accepting straight friends and neighbors but we still had to be careful who we came out to. In 1975 I met my first partner and moved with him to Pittsburgh, Pa. That move changed my life forever. In Pittsburgh I could be totally out (except at work, of course). I lived in Pittsburgh for 16 years as an “Out Gay Man” and I have never looked back into the closet except to decide what to wear that day.
I have made and lost many friends over the years, both gay and straight, but I could not be happier with my current life. In 2006, the company where I worked for the past 17 ½ years decided that it needed to embrace diversity on a greater scale, the company was already (unofficially) known to be “gay friendly”. They started several employee resource groups, one being for LGBT employees. At age 58, it finally became very clear to me that this country was changing for the better. I, along with two other friends/co-workers, founded the LGBT Employee Network, with the full support and backing of our company, including our CEO.
We have built the our network to over 60+ members, both LGBT and many straight allies. We have made quite a name for ourselves over the past 4 years by participating in many activities in Tampa Bay’s gay community.
At age 58, I finally realized why God intervened and spared my life. I am now 62 yrs. old and I lead a very fulfilling life as an out gay man. Many people out there say that being gay is a choice. Believe me, when I say it is NOT a choice and I am living proof. In my family, alone, I have two first cousins who are gay and they are also brother and sister. My best friend is gay and so is his brother. For this reason, I am totally convinced that being gay is genetic and there is nothing we or anyone else can do to prevent it. When people ask me why I chose to be gay, I always respond by throwing their same question back at them,“When did you choose to be straight?”
The point I am trying to make is that “It Does Get Better” and it IS OK to be gay. Your teen years will definitely be the toughest years of your life, and you just need to hang in there and keep a positive attitude. Surround yourself by others like you. DO NOT let the derogatory comments drag you down. You are a better person than the bullies. You are a human being and deserve to be treated as such. Don’t let anyone convince you that you are not a good person just because you were born gay.
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