In the Mar. 22, 2008, edition of Q-Notes, Editor Matt Comer did an excellent job capturing the struggle faced by LGBT youth in rural North Carolina (“Rural gay youth struggle for acceptance”). I’m certain the same struggle is representative of other areas of the country as well.
Having grown up in rural North Carolina, I live a pretty simple life. My childhood memories are filled with visits to the farm, outdoor church services and snipe hunting. But when I came out at age 21 I faced similar issues as the youth featured in the article.
When I came out my parents kicked me out. My mom emptied my bank account, leaving me with no money. She called my employer (I worked for the state) and told my supervisor about my “lifestyle.” In the end that resulted in me resigning because of the constant harassment.
I was “fresh out of the closet” and I didn’t know about Lambda Legal, HRC and PFLAG. I had one friend who was gay and he introduced me to an LGBT support group in Hickory called Catawba Valley Time Out Youth (CVTOY), the satellite group of its Charlotte-based parent organization.
At CVTOY, I met a group of youth who were facing similar issues as me. They related to my experiences and I related to them. We shared our struggles and talked about forging paths through a seemingly impossible journey.
CVTOY was started by a local lesbian after she heard the trauma stories from LGBT youth facing harrassment at a local school. The group took off like a firestorm. “Momma M” was truly a godsend. She ran the group, managed emergency calls from youth and supplied most of the group’s financial support.
She recruited the help of several other adults who served as support group facilitators when their schedules allowed. When none of the other adults could facilitate, Momma M carried the weight.
In the end Momma M was getting burnt out. It seemed nearly impossible for her to find financial support and adults willing to take a couple hours a week to assist the kids. The group dissolved within weeks of its second anniversary.
Most of the group’s original members had worked through most of their issues. For me, the group helped reconcile my relationship with my family and also with my faith. In the end I was a stronger person than I was before I came out; however, other youth were left without an important resource.
A young person I spoke with about a year ago told me about the challenges and hardships he faced after he came out. At age 17 he was kicked out of his home and lived on the streets for a couple days. Finally, he found shelter at the home of a gay couple in Hickory. He’s now 18 and his support group consists of Friday and Saturday night visits to the local gay bar.
It doesn’t take a psychotherapist to see how unhealthy that could be to someone facing adversity. Like many LGBT youth he has a high chance of developing an addiction to drugs, alcohol and other substances.
I remain optimistic that someday another LGBTQ youth group will open in the Catawba Valley. Operating such a group would require the dedication and commitment of a core group of adults focused on one goal: supporting, advocating and educating LGBT youth. It would require the financial support of our community, with funds coming from both private and corporate sources.
I’m dedicated to seeing something come to fruition, so if you’re in the Catawba Valley (Hickory, Newton, Conover, Taylorsville, Lenoir, Morganton, etc.) and you would like to join me in this project, please contact me.
You and I could be the only safety net standing between a gay youth and the grave. That’s not a scare tactic, that’s the honest truth. I’m a personal testament to it.