Right now, I’m on the train to Trenton with members of the Garden State Equality team. We’re getting ready to testify in front of the Senate Health Committee to talk about “gay cure” and “conversion” therapies and why they are so harmful for LGBT youth.
As I was going over my prepared remarks, I realized that there is a story I’ve never shared before that I’m ready to tell — because this issue is deeply personal to me, and it’s important for legislators to hear it.
When I was 15 years old, I met a young man from the rival high school in my home town in Oklahoma. He was the first person I felt I could truly connect with, the first person I came out to, and the first person I ever kissed.
But that first kiss was interrupted. The football team caught us behind the school after practice. We ran for what we felt was our lives, and what may very well have been in Oklahoma in the early 1990s.
We made it to our homes safely, and my first call was to my friend to make sure he was OK.
But he wasn’t OK. He described the “conversion” camp his parents sent him to when he told them he was gay. He described things that I couldn’t imagine, indignities that I won’t repeat. He said, “I will never go back.”
That was the last time we spoke. The next day I found out that he took his life. There is no doubt in my mind that the thought of returning to that torment was more than he could take.
It took me another decade before I was brave enough to honor his memory and honor my true self-identity by coming out of the closet once and for all. I became a better person, an advocate, and stronger than I knew I could be. I found a new home, here in New Jersey, and I am proud to lead an organization that works every day to fight for the equality, fairness, and acceptance that I never felt as a young person.
I’ll be telling this story to the legislators later this morning, but I wanted you to hear it first from me directly.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you do and for the role you play in this organization, our community, my chosen home.
Executive Director, Garden State Equality