The Joonko Effect

Who Said Diversity? Growing Up Southern & Straight

Posted by Tyler Hatcher on Oct 6, 2019 9:40:45 AM

One Alabama boy’s journey to finding his pride

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m gay. It was a long road to finding my pride, but in honor of Pride Month, here’s (some of) my story.


I was raised on cornbread and collard greens


Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, I had everything I needed: friends, family and fried chicken. But you better believe I was as straight as they come — or so I thought.
I was raised Southern Baptist, a deeply conservative religion. In spite of its controversies, I loved it and it was a big part of my life. Wednesday night services, Sunday morning classes, my grandmother gossiping with other ladies in the pews — it was a typical Alabama religion. I learned a lot about scripture and faith, but I was also taught being gay is wrong, Hell was real and my soul would burn at the simple thought of a rainbow. Not exactly the southern charm you hear so much about. Nevertheless, I continued to pray and continued to show up…until things changed.


Middle school was a weird time…

I was in the band, chubby and insecure. To make matters worse, as my friends started displaying heteronormative behaviors, I began coveting feelings for the guys in my class. I was frustrated and confused, but mostly I felt alone. I knew being gay was wrong, my family wouldn’t agree with it and I would be the laughing stock of my classes. But, I didn’t know what to do.
I studied my Bible religiously and in 2001 I was baptized without confessing all of my “sins”. I dealt with my unnatural thoughts on my own and prayed every night for those sins to go away. I went through middle and high school carrying the same practice, torturing myself through 8 long years of praying the gay away.


“You’ve been accepted to Troy University.”


It was 2009, I graduated high school, kept my “closet” locked and trotted off to a rural Alabama university. I was sure I’d meet the girl of my dreams, get married, have kids and buy a house in suburbia all before I turned 27. Things obviously panned out differently. I fell in love with a boy, and although it didn’t last, it turned the first pages to the rest of my story. I began to accept myself, but I stayed in the closet for three more years — more than a decade of my life living in fear. All that hiding drove me to mental health troubles and I couldn’t take it anymore. In the middle of 2012, I left my rural school and headed back home.
After I moved back home to Birmingham, I came out to the world.
I transferred universities, got a new job and began to live as my authentic self. No hiding, no lies and no fake girlfriends to keep me safe. I lost friends, my family no longer took me seriously, and even today, there are still times I make my voice deeper in uncomfortable situations, but I finally shed my shackles.


Birmingham saved me.


I could be southern, gay and proud. I could make friends, build a professional life and walk around holding the hand of the man I love. The truth is, that was always there. It took me all that time to understand what I always had: my truth. It was never going to be easy, but it was always going to be worth it.

 

 


A steel magnoliaAfter all that time, I now know I’m beautiful, rooted and unbreakable. In spite of heartbreak, judgment, slurs, and lost opportunities, I wouldn’t change who I am or go back into the dark confines of secrecy for anything. I’m strong, I’m Christian and I’m gay. I have a beautiful relationship and friends and family who support me. To top it all off, I work for a company that not only embraces my differences but allows me to tell my truth every day.

When they say “It gets better,” they mean it.

 

 


The point of sharing all of this is to encourage you to celebrate your differences and be proud of them. Your people are out here, and you should never give up who you are to fit a mold someone else wants you to fill. You are special and wonderfully made. This month, and every month after, take time to love yourself and own your Pride.

Topics: Workplace Diversity, LGBTQ, Pride

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