Thursday, October 26, 2006

10 Years Out

I have been out of the closet for 10 years today. It was October 26th, 1996 when I told the first person that I am gay. I was 14 years old.

I was aware of the fact that I was attracted to other guys for a while. I didn't realize that those feelings meant that I was gay until I was 13. I remember looking up the word "gay" in dictionary. I was terrified of the feelings inside me.

I remember having a crush on one of my classmates. My entire class when on a three day trip to Canada. I spent the trip tormented by my feelings. I prayed that they would go away. I was torn up inside.

I entered High School when I was 14 years old. I lived in a small town in central Massachusetts with about 9000 people. The High School had about 500 students. I remember walking down the hall one day and seeing a sign for the gay/straight alliance. BIGLASS (Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Society) was a club formed the year before I arrived at the school. They had a poster up in a window in the lobby of the school.

The poster had a pink triangle and some writing on it. I would walk by the poster and look at it real quickly so that no one knew I was reading it. I didn't want anyone to see me looking at it so I read only a part at a time. The first time I walked by I read the first line. On my second pass through that hall I read the second line and so on. Just seeing the word "gay" in writing on the wall of my new school was comforting, exciting, and scary.

I was about ready to burst. I needed to tell someone my secret. I could not hold it in any longer. I didn't really know how I was going to tell someone, but I knew that I had to do it.

On October 26th I was asked to attend a Halloween party and tell a ghost story. A friend of our family was having a party for his children and their friends. I invited one of my friends to come with me to the party. I was going to tell the ghost story and he was going to put on a mask and go outside and scare them.

My friend and I were talking before it was time to tell the story. I wanted to tell him so badly but I could not get the words out of my mouth. The way that I came out to him was kind of strange. I jokingly said that the Halloween mask he was holding was cute. Then I said that it was not as cute as the guy I had a crush on. He didn't understand what I meant by that. He then said to me, "You’re not gay, are you?"

I wanted to say that I was gay. I wanted to scream it. The words would not come out of my mouth. I couldn't even say, "I am gay". I did manage to answer his question though. I just said, "Yes".

Seconds later
I had to be out in the other room telling a ghost story. We didn't have a chance to discuss what had just happened at all. I don't remember anything I said in the story or if it was even scary. All I could think about is what I just did. I had come out of the closet.

When the story was over I had a chance to talk to my friend. We spent the rest of the night outside discussing my sexuality. I remember the cool October air and the big bright moon. He asked me a bunch of questions. He wanted to know how I knew that I was gay. I told him everything. I let it out. I was finally able to talk about my feelings. It was beautiful.

In the next two months I came out to all the rest of my friends, my parents, and my entire school. All of my friends stood by my side. For most people in my school, I was the only gay person th
ey knew. I was asked a lot of questions. It was a lot of pressure.

When I came out to my parents I sat them down together and handed them some pamphlets from PFLAG. I was then able to say out loud, "I am gay". I was so scared. They told me that they loved me. My dad said that I still had to do my homework. I am not sure if they even believed me at the time. Through everything they have been my biggest supporters.

As you might expect, there was a lot of harassment from some of the other students. I was called names and pushed around a little. However, most of the students remained friends with me. I also had a strong ally in the school administration. Most of teachers stood up for me as well.

It didn't take me long to be out and proud. I joined the gay/straight alliance, BIGLASS, and
become a leading member right away. I spoke out against homophobia and started a campaign to educate the student body. We had an anti-homophobia rally at the start of school one day. I put up the pink and green triangle stickers that said "GLB Safe Zone" on classroom doors. In 1996 the stickers only included "GLB", so I took a marker and added a "T" on all the stickers.

During Valentine's Day the school would participate in a "data match". Each student would fill out a survey with lots of different questions. One of the basic questions was: "male or female". A computer would match students with similar answers. You could buy you "data match" during lunch on Valentine's Day. This was a sm
all fundraiser for the Student Council.

The "data match" would only put men and women together. I protested this fundraiser by checking off the "female" box so that I would have men in my results. This got the attention of a lot of people. I was called to the principal’s office and reprimanded. Many of the male students that had gotten me on their list of compatible results threatened to beat me up. The school went crazy for a few days. I liked to stir things up. The Student Council immediately discussed added a box for gay and lesbian students.

A few months later I started a campaign to remove the military recruiters from my school. The law in
Massachusetts states that only employers that do not discriminate against any students, including gays and lesbians, may recruit in school. It was very clear that the military was not allowed to recruit in the school.

I wrote letters to the ACLU and other groups asking for help. I spoke to lawyers from many different
organizations. I was 15 when I made my case in front of the Superintendent of School. He disagreed with me and told me that I didn't understand the law. Again, many of the students were upset with my actions. This time a few parents were vocally upset with me as well.

Since the day I came out I have been fighting for equality. For ten years I have been an advocate for change. I believe that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered people are a repressed minority. A lot has changed since that Halloween party in October of 1996. We hav
e been making progress, but we still have a lot of work to do. We cannot simply ask for our rights, we need to fight for them. It all starts with coming out.


At 3:43 PM, Blogger John Hosty said...

That is a great story Chris. I am honored to be considered your friend, and very proud of you.

At 9:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is an awesome story Chris and I am so proud to be your Dad. You have had many tough mountains to climb but you have persevered. You are so amazing. I love you.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Blue-Xela said...

Chris, you rock ... I had no idea that you were such a fighter for social justice so early on.

One thing I'd like to throw out there is that many people come out in stages, first to friends, family, the mailman, co-workers, employers ... the more people we come out to, the better and that we are never too old to come out of our closets.

At 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Wicked good story.

You are such a powerfull person.

Very inspiring.

At 5:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent and insipring post, Chris! I hope many others will read your post and become more confident in themselves. Proud to be your brother!

At 1:02 AM, Blogger Pablito said...

Chris, I love your dad's perspective! And I hope you still did do your homework!

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Richard Gaspa said...

Chris, I found your story about coming out so interesting. I do feel a little sad after reading your story. I wish I was out of the closet back then so you had someone to go to when you needed one. I feel like I let you down in your time of need. At the time you are talking about I was in the Army and still in the closet. For almost 15 years keeping the fact that I was gay as a secret until one day 15 years later being ousted from the military. I am here for you now though. - Uncle Richard


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