Fears of coming out dissolve with acceptance from peers

Sunday , January 08, 2017 - 12:00 AM3 comments

ALEX JOHNSON, TX. Correspondent

When I first decided to come out, I was terrified.

At the time, I was 16 and just starting to move up the social ladder at my school. I was passing all my classes, looking for my first job, and had finally started to feel settled in after moving here a year earlier. I had come from the conservative state of Idaho to the equally conservative state of Utah, and both states were heavily dominated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons.

Again, I was terrified.

My middle school in Idaho seemed to be a breeding ground for the conservative culture I was so afraid off. My peers drove tractors after school for their farms, went hunting on weekends for wild ducks, and voiced their support for the Second Amendment whenever the issue was discussed.

There were boys who attacked others with the words “faggot” and “homo,” and peers of mine who called everything from a school assignment to a lonely seventh-grader “gay.”

It was in these halls that my stereotypes about the LDS Church and the conservative culture formed. During my three years at this Idaho school, I only knew two LGBTQ classmates who had already come out; a boy in the grade ahead of me, and my best friend. They had somehow pushed passed all of these slurs and jokes to become two of the most well-liked people in the school, something my 14-year-old mind could barely understand.

When I had switched schools to the suburbs of Utah, I was amazed at how similar it felt to Idaho. There were fewer farms for sure, and the schools were structured differently, but the residents were strikingly similar. They were rippled reflections of one another, with the most prevalent similarity being the dominant population of LDS Church members.

By the time my freshman year started, I was barely acquainted with the LDS Church and its policies. I knew that something called family home evening took place on Mondays and a majority of the members were conservatives. I knew that plans should not be scheduled for Sundays, and that my favorite beverage of the time, coffee, was a no-go for the church. Other than that, it was just another religion to me.

Then I stumbled upon a documentary on Netflix centered on Proposition 8, the controversial piece of state legislation passed in California that prevented same-sex couples from being legally wed. I started watching the movie because I was a teen struggling with my identity, but quickly learned that the LDS Church, the same religion that had thousands of churches and even more members in the only places I’d ever lived, was a major supporter for the movement.

My hesitation toward coming out and being ostracized in my own community had become a real fear. Prop 8 had happened in 2008, and six years later a relatively unknown documentary had made a then 15-year-old boy in Utah absolutely terrified to come out.

For six months I put up a façade of normality in hopes of finding some sort of solution. I refused to discuss my romantic life, and on the rare occasion that I was approached about homosexual people, I quietly voiced my support before changing the subject.

Then suddenly, on Dec. 14, 2014, I decided that I was ready to come out officially. I had told a few friends in the month prior, with all of them offering me unwavering support when I was ready. I logged onto Facebook that night and posted a photo of myself with the words “NO H8” painted on my cheek. I logged off, went to sleep, and woke up the next morning with a handful of likes and a few comments from friends who congratulated me.

Dec. 14 was the Sunday leading up to the biggest week of the year at my school: our annual winter fundraising drive. I had a vision of me entering the school and being surrounded by people looking to confirm the rumor they heard. I would be the ultra-confident gay, and my peers would look from afar as I became the talk of the school.

Instead, I was met with nothing; no support, no criticisms, no questions.

Eventually, people asked about it and just as quickly brushed it aside as irrelevant. I was the same person, and as one friend explained it, nothing had changed except that I had become a more complete “me.” Even in the weeks following, I found nothing but acceptance and open arms from all of my friends.

But most surprisingly, it was my LDS friends who supported me during the times I needed it most. They let me openly talk about my relationships and feelings and defended my community when a snide comment arose. Most seemed to opt for the middle ground; since my sexuality didn’t concern them, they had nothing to oppose.

Although I wish some Mormons were vocal about their support for the LGBTQ community, I understand that time is required for change to happen. And there are, of course, Mormons who are either LGBTQ themselves or allies for the community that work toward making the religion a more accepting place.

Yet, there is still this stigma that a gay person can’t be in the LDS church. When I tell people I’m gay, it seems to be assumed that I am subsequently not LDS (I’m an atheist), and I still find myself assuming that all Mormons I meet are heterosexual.

But I feel grateful that I can wake up each day and not dread going to school, because I know that I am lucky to have a group of peers who support me. There are less fortunate teens who are still afraid to reveal their sexuality in fear of being outcast; it’s an issue that can’t be resolved until the LDS Church makes it a priority to fix its relations with the LGBTQ community.

Alex Johnson is a senior at Clearfield High School where he is heavily involved in FBLA. Email him at alexj1498@yahoo.com.

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