In celebration of Pride, we offer you an amazing story of a young man with experience in foster care, and the positive impact that support from foster parents, friends, teachers and adult service providers can have on healthy development of young people in foster care. At ACF, we are working to ensure that as many young people as possible, who come out while in foster care, have an experience similar to J.L. Here is his story.
Coming out to your friends and family can be one of the hardest decisions an identifying member of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgendered or Questioning) community can make. There are still many stigmas and stereotypes associated with this population making it very difficult for some to feel comfortable embracing their true identity. The decision of coming out or letting others in is an even harder one when you’ve grown up or have experience in the child welfare system. Unfortunately, there are foster families that don’t feel comfortable with an LGBTQ-identifying youth residing in their home, which causes instability for that young person and makes them continually question their identity for safety and security purposes.
Even though I knew I was gay around the age of 11, I decided that I would avoid the ridicule and judgment from friends and family and hide safely in my “closet.” Even after entering foster care at the age of 13 to live with an amazing supportive woman, it was still very difficult for me to come to terms with who I really was. All through high school and college I continued to mask my true identity and conform to social norms, date women, and live as a straight male would. All through life I wanted the American dream; the white picket fence, the colonial style house, two kids and a dog. All things you would find in a very traditional family. But yet, I just couldn’t come to terms with this being who I really was.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2011 that I finally decided that I was going to make the necessary decision to come out to my friends and my family. This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made but in the long run it was by far the best. The first person I had come out to was a great co-worker of mine. We were at lunch one day and I had said that I had something very important to tell her but the words that “I was gay” couldn’t come out of my mouth. She insisted I tell her what was so important so I opened the notes application on my phone, typed in “this is my official coming out to you,” handed her the phone and the excitement only went up from there. She was so happy for me and nothing short of ecstatic. Coming out to her really got the ball rolling on me telling more friends and more importantly my mom who I really was.
My foster mom had shown nothing but love and support for me so there was no reason to be nervous, but I was terrified. I had drafted this extremely long email telling her that I was gay and if she chose to not accept me for me then that’s ok, but this is who I am. I also expressed in the email that I hope nothing changes between us and her response was “you’ve got it right, nothing will change between us. Also, I am not surprised, every now and then I had an inkling.” This did nothing more but put my heart at ease and know that my foster mom truly loved me for me and nothing would ever change that between us.
From there I came out to my best friends, more family members and I was shocked to not have one negative response. I am so proud to be part of a country that is working so hard to better equality for all human beings and ensure a much more nurturing and welcoming environment for all. Coming out can be one the hardest decisions you will ever have to make; it was for me at least. But knowing that I had the support network and caring friends and family made it easy for me to finally begin expressing who I really was and I couldn’t be happier. Happy Pride Month!
-J.L,, a young leader in foster care advocacy