Two years ago I stood up in front of my entire school and delivered the most difficult speech one could possibly give. I wasn’t sure if it was coming out in a Catholic school that made me nervous, the fact that it was an all boys school, or simply because this was the first instance I had addressed my sexuality. Regardless, I was terrified. After I had delivered the last word, I was overwhelmed by a standing applause from my peers, teachers, administrators, and even my priests. This was the most liberating experience of my life. Please join me today in liberating someone else by devoting a few hours of silence to let their voice be heard.
Six years ago I was sitting at my desk playing cards with some classmates during indoor recess. Two of my other classmates came up to me while we were playing and asked me, in between giggles, if I was straight. In fifth grade, everyone tried to trick each other by getting them to admit to something they didn’t really understand. At that time I had absolutely no idea that the word straight was being used to label my sexual orientation. Figuring they were trying to trick me I didn’t respond. Ever since that moment my sexual orientation has been questioned and I have been teased to this day for being gay.
Growing up, I was raised by my mother and my two older sisters. I didn’t have a father who was around to have football catch with in my front yard, as he was always traveling for business, sometimes months at a time. So my mom and sisters raised me to the best of their ability. Our youth is the foundation to who we are. We are very impressionable during that time and we adapt certain traits from the adults who raise us. I was raised by three females, and as a result I am more feminine then most guys our age.
People often perceive these feminine qualities and associate them with being gay. Our society has limited understanding or tolerance for anything gay, because it is unfamiliar, not something most can relate to, and something society has taught us to ostracize. Since that day in fifth grade, I have been ostracized by many people because of this label society slapped on me, a label based only on how I am perceived. A label that had so much influence over people staying away from me and teasing me that I started to question my own identity. I believed that since so many people had labeled me as gay it must be true.
My middle school years were especially tough, because that is when I started believing everything people said. I believed I was all of the names I was called: faggot, queer, homo, fag, and flamer. Guys assumed if I approached them it was because I was attracted to them. Girls never took me seriously as dating material but instead recruited me as their gay best friend. The worst part of all of this is that I let it happen, because I believed it had to be true. So many people said the same things to me, called me the same names, treated me the same, that it had to be true. Even last year when I came to Malvern, I was labeled because of the way I dressed, the way I talked, and my interests.
All of this got so bad that I eventually started to hate myself for being gay. It wasn’t until that I really searched myself, tested my emotions, and discovered my attractions that I was able to tear off the label society scarred me with. I am now confident enough in myself to stand up here and tell you my story of how society’s perceptions impacted my life. My hope is that you all heard my story as a need for change, change in how quick we are to judge people, change in how we treat people, and learn to accept people for who they are or who they may be, and if not acceptance then tolerance. Regardless of a person’s sexual orientation, personality, or any unique traits that set them apart, they are just as much a person as you and I are in God’s eyes and deserve the same amount of dignity we expect from other people. I ask that you think about everything I said while you remain silent today as well as the impact you might have on the people around you. Thank you.