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    Betrayal, Healing, and a Life Now Dedicated to Helping Queer and Trans Youth

    By Bishop Howard–

    Coming out for me really happened in stages. There was coming out to myself, coming out to those close to me, and the last stage is one that I feel like I’m always kind of reliving all the time, and that’s coming out to the world and living authentically. My story began in December of 2008. I was 17 and in my senior year of high school and it was during Christmas break.

    I have an aunt whom I’ve always been very close with, and I spent most of my Christmas break in 2008 staying with her, away from my mother and two older sisters. Also, during that Christmas break I spent a solid week watching nothing but coming out stories on YouTube. I had been wrestling with this question of my sexuality for a while now, and it honestly wasn’t much of a question because I always knew I was queer, and it was more of me trying to figure out how I could be queer and be actually happy in life and not end up going to hell.

    Growing up Black and having a very Christian family, I was always taught to believe that being queer meant I was a sinner and that meant I wasn’t going to be able to go to heaven after I died. And when you’re a teen with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, you tend only to replay the worst outcomes in your head. I was also raised to believe that being gay made you soft and if there was one other thing it was drilled into me that I couldn’t be other than being queer, it was being a soft Black man.

    By the time 2008 Christmas break rolled around, I was in a deep depression, I knew that I had attraction to boys and I’d even had a few sexual encounters with boys at this point, but I was still so scared. I was away from all my friends and my aunt worked, so I spent a lot of that break alone. I spent that time looking at literally hours of coming out stories on YouTube: the good, the bad, the horrible. As a whole I found some joy, but I also found more fear.

    One morning, the day I was going home to my mom and sisters, my aunt found me lying in bed. I had not slept and I was just lying there staring off into space. She didn’t say anything, but she absolutely knew something was wrong. A few hours later she told me to come sit down to have breakfast with her. Now, my aunt was never much of a cook, so I really should have known something was up the moment she told me she’d cooked breakfast and wanted us to eat together.

    We sat down and she told me she had a “theory” that she wanted to discuss with me. She told me she thought I was having some confusion about my sexuality and she wanted me to know that if I wanted to, I could talk to her about it. What she did not know at the time is that the night before, I had messaged my closest friend then and told him that I was interested in boys.

    I didn’t say anything to my aunt. Part of it was shock that she brought this to me, and part of it was pure fear because, if she’d figured it out, who else had? On the ride home that time I finally spoke up and told her I was no longer confused and that I knew I liked boys. She told me she loved me, and then immediately told me to wait until I moved away to college and no longer lived with my mother before telling her. I only wish it had worked out that way.

    Fast forward to April 2009. I was almost completely out to my friends and school and a few very supportive teachers, but my sisters and mom still did not know. One morning before school, after my mom had freaked out the day before because one of my obviously gay friends had come over, one of my sisters asked if I liked boys. Knowing I couldn’t hold it in any more I told her yes and asked her not to tell mom before I had the chance to. An hour later, while I was in school, my sister texted me to tell me that she had told our other sister, and our other sister had told our mother.

    I felt like my whole world had ended, and I felt betrayed like I’d never felt before. Minutes later my mother was calling me on my cell phone. Thinking back, I know that cellphones weren’t allowed in school and the fact that I was openly using it in class really showed how much of a mess this all was. My mother arrived at the school shortly after that to take me home so we could talk about this. On my way out of the building, I ran into one of the teachers who had been a great support to me and she told me words that have stuck with me to this day. She said, “No matter what she or anyone else thinks, no one can change who you are.”

    It’s been over 10 years since I started this coming out journey, and through the journey I’ve found some of the most valuable friendships and relationships I’ve ever experienced. Through my journey I also found the work that I love. There are tons of sad and depressed kids who feel alone like I once did, who feel like there is no place for them in this world.

    I work my ass off every day to ensure that there is a space for Queer and Trans young people to come and to be their authentic selves. I’m very grateful for the work I’ve done and the youth I’ve been able to support, and I’m incredibly grateful to my current organizational home LYRIC for allowing me to continue that work.

    Coming out is never easy, and for some it will never be safe for them to come out. But it is up to us to do so and to pave the way for a world where we can all live and feel loved, celebrated and protected.

    Bishop Howard is the Program Director of LYRIC, www.lyric.org

    Published April 8, 2021