I came out the day before 9/11. Here’s what growing up gay in the early ’00s taught me about bridging America’s political and cultural divides

The author in a school portrait from the autumn of 2001, around the time he came out to his parents

parents thought I got a girl pregnant.

“Mom. Dad. You love me no matter what, right? I’m still your son. Because I have something to tell you. It’s just… I’m gay.”

Silence. I stared at them, trying to read their expressions. Shock. Utter shock. They thought they were about to become grandparents. Instead, I killed those dreams.

I was 15, scared, but utterly sure of who I was and tired of pretending I was someone else. I had been out at school for a while, out online even longer, and out to myself since I hit puberty and first realised that actually, Justin Timberlake was a lot hotter than Britney Spears. It was 2001, and like being gay or straight, you were either *NSync/Britney or Backstreet Boys/Christina. The choice defined you. Not that being gay is a choice. Even in 2001, we knew that. Well, I did.

“Of course we’re disappointed,” I remember my mom saying, before hugging me and assuring me that they still loved me and that she also knew being gay isn’t a choice. She knew it too. Phew.

“It’s not what I was expecting,” Dad told me. I think I giggled. I knew what he meant. I’d spent the previous weekend googling — before googling was a verb — Planned Parenthood and “teen pregnancies.” A friend of mine thought she was pregnant, and I was trying to help her.

I didn’t delete the internet history because, well, it wasn’t my secret. Dad saw it and panicked. He didn’t see the “gay boys near me” and “Queer as Folk kiss” searches. I did delete those. I can only imagine my dad’s simultaneous shock and relief. It must have been a bit like getting a CNN push notification in 2020: sure, cops abducting US citizens on the street is terrifying, but at least Betty White is still alive.

My father went to his bedroom, where I heard him crying. That, however, was that. There was no more angst over it. Whatever issues my father might have had, he made sure I never knew them. All I knew was that he loved me.

In fact, the rest of that day is utterly unremarkable. I don’t remember anything until the next morning, when Dad woke me and my brother up. We got ready for school, walked to the bus stop, and parted ways at the school door. I rushed to my friends in the “Hall of Fame,” just enough time before the first bell to tell them I had done it. I had come out. That was about 7:30 AM.

A little over ninety minutes later, a plane flew into the World Trade Center.

Coming out to my parents the day before 9/11 has always been one of those “two truths and a lie” stories. It seems too unlikely to be real, but so absurd that no one would ever think to make it up. Yet, it is my truth. I usually think about coming out, and high school, at this time of year. In the utter despair of 2020, though, remembering a time when things felt utterly hopeless rings with a new resonance.

The weeks and years following that awful event were uncertain and tumultuous, for myself and for the nation. Nearly two decades later, it’s easy to forget how incredibly tense and divisive the early 00s were. George Bush was president, which was not ideal. The stirring show of patriotism and unity we saw in the days after the attack quickly dissipated as Bush moved the country to a war footing, first to Afghanistan and then — with much more resistance — Iraq. Only two months later, a psycho started mailing anthrax through the mail. In December of that year a man tried to detonate a shoe bomb on an airplane (which is why we take our shoes off at the airport, in case you’re too young to know that). A year later, two snipers terrorised DC for three weeks.

All the while Islamophobia creeped into the American mainstream, with hate crimes rising against Muslim Americans. As gay rights began to gain cultural traction, the Republican Party saw an opportunity and began running as an overtly homophobic party. The Chicks were banned from country radio for saying what half the country thought. We were ashamed of the president, too.

Starting to sound familiar?

In other ways, though, 2001 truly was another era. Though it might seem otherwise looking backwards from 2020, the victory of gay rights was not a foregone conclusion. Few of us in 2001 thought gay marriage was an achievable goal, not nationally, not in our lifetimes. Shows like Pose and films like Love, Simon felt like dreams. Icons like Troye Sivan, Ruby Rose, and Laverne Cox were few and far between. Pete Buttigieg’s historic run for the White House would have been impossible.

According to GLAAD, 10.2% of regular characters on US broadcast television were LGBTQ during the 2019–2020 season. That’s a massive shift in representation over less than two decades. When I was 15, two of the only gay men on American television were Will & Grace’s Jack McFarland and Dawson’s Creek’s Jack McPhee. The yuppie, big-city lives of Will and Grace and Jack and Karen were something I aspired to, but could not relate to as a working class kid from the hollows. Jack McPhee, a popular jock with piercing blue eyes and a Colgate smile, was a far cry from preppy and effeminate me.

The author in high school, circa 2003

The US version of Queer as Folk had debuted the year before to quite a bit of controversy, yet unless you had Showtime (and I did not), there was little chance of ever seeing it. Streaming wouldn’t become the norm for about another decade. The alternative, downloading multiple hours of tv over dial-up, was 1) illegal and 2) a pain in the ass.

Still, a friend’s older sister taped the first season for us, and I remember being enraptured by this portrayal of camp gay men embracing their sexuality and living successful, fulfilling lives in a city that wasn’t New York. It felt like a revelation because it was. No other show gave me a glimpse of my future, and I would spend my nights dreaming of my very own Brian Kinney coming to sweep me off my feet at my prom. As an adult, I now recognise how problematic that was, not least because Brian was ten years older than Justin and because Justin ended up gay-bashed at the end. But in 2001, we took our dreams where we could get them.

his was the culture into which I came out, shimmying and belting a Bernadette Peters standard. Four weeks later, I moved from if-not-progressive-at-least-not-bigoted Dayton, Ohio to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, so that I could live with my grandparents. (This had nothing to do with me being gay but is itself a complicated story that perhaps one day I will tell. This is not that day.) I made a few friends those first lonely weeks, and after feeling things out, I thought I had found one who would not reject me for being gay.

To my credit, and to hers, I was right. She hugged me, thanked me for telling her, and promised it changed nothing between us. I went home that day, feeling just a little bit lighter having a new friend who accepted me.

What I didn’t know is my new friend had a nickname: “the mouth of the South.” (If you went to high school with me, you know who I’m talking about. If you’re her, I still remember, and this queen can hold a grudge.) Within a week, everyone at Leslie County High School knew the new kid was queer as a three dollar bill.

From then on, high school was a daily crucible of homophobia and walking down the hallways was running a verbal gamut of abuse. “Faggot.” “Homo.” “Queer.” “Fudge packer.” That last one still humours me. If only they knew.

I would rush through the halls with my nose in the air — everyone thought I was a snob, but it was really so I didn’t inadvertently make eye contact with a bully, thus provoking his ire — while football players and good ole boys shouted slurs at me, laughing those guttural laughs teenage boys do when they’re overcompensating in front of their friends. It was a bit like being an innocent boater when a Trump flotilla went barraging past you; every day I hoped not to be capsized in a hateful and ill-planned wake.

I was always grateful to get to the next class, because while no one ever attacked me, the notion that they would, if only they could, was never far from my mind. It was an incredibly isolating feeling. Being the only openly gay kid in school, there was no one around me who could relate to what I was experiencing. Even at home, though I had a family who loved me and nurtured me and were always on my side, there was no one who understood what it was like to be gay.

Part of that is my fault. I tried desperately to keep the truth from my grandparents, whom I lived with after moving to Kentucky. Part of it was simply the stubbornness that comes with being a teenager. What happened at school was my business, not theirs, and I did not want to open the door to them getting in my business. Let them know I’m being bullied and they’ll start asking all sorts of questions, which would invariably have ended with them snooping around. I didn’t need them reading my AIM chats with my boyfriend or finding the pack of Marlboros hidden in a stuffed animal.

The other part of this was to protect them. I remember one day, my senior year, my grandfather and I were going through the drive-thru at the local Dairy Queen. “Fucking faggot!” shouted a boy who still pops up to taunt me as a “person I may know” on Facebook. My grandfather screamed at him, but I insisted that he was not talking to us. “Just drive,” I said, slinking down as far as I could in the passenger seat. I was mortified, not by the slur, but that my grandfather had heard.

I knew if I had admitted that asshole had been shouting at me, my grandfather would have insisted on doing something about it. Insisting on doing something about it would only make things worse. I had some good teachers at Leslie County High School, but I had some terrible ones, too. It was no secret what was happening to me. Everyone knew. Most turned a blind eye.

Even the principal, a fat old hillbilly called Otis who reminded me of Boss Hogg, was of little help. More than once I found myself in his office — always at his invitation, never of my own volition — discussing what was going on. Once, he clumsily tried to make himself sound enlightened, informing me that he once knew a man who was “that way.”

“What way?” I asked, tossing my scarf over my shoulder with a little too much sass. I was Kurt Hummel before Chris Colfer.

He cleared his throat, glancing up at the assistant principal, a stub of a woman who resembled Marcy from Married… With Children. She simply shrugged. “I don’t know if he was, do you say gay? Gay, or bisexual, or what,” he told me, before asking why I insisted on flaunting my sexuality.

“How am I flaunting it?” I crossed my legs. Like any respectable gay man in 2002, I was wearing faded jeans from the Gap.

“You told people,” he said.

“I told one person,” I corrected him. “She told people.”

Having no support from the people who are supposed to keep you safe, or even having them actively working against you, is something I would wish on no one. It was a rough time. Living through something like that gives you a resilience that lasts a lifetime. I have an incredibly thick skin.

I am grateful for this now. After three years of daily abuse, Twitter is a cakewalk. It is also, I suspect, why I have never shied away from controversy. Speaking truth to power comes naturally to me, not because I am naturally ornery but because I had to do it every day for years on end. High school prepared me to stand up for myself when no one else — even the people who were supposed to — would. It was perfect training for the Trump years, when you can’t trust authority and have to figure shit out on your own.

Of course, Donald Trump is not the first incumbent Republican I’ve tried to oust. I turned 18 in 2004, and George W Bush looked vulnerable. The Iraq War was an unpopular quagmire, and many Americans were tired of a gaffe-prone president who couldn’t string together a coherent sentence. I got my first taste of protest in 2003, when on a trip with the Future Business Leaders of America, I joined in an anti-war march. My teacher was mortified, but I was emboldened.

A rebel rouser was born.

The author on an FBLA trip in 2003

I was on that trip competing in impromptu speaking, something I have a natural gift for on account of being a gobby cow who has opinions he thinks you should hear. I didn’t do so well that year, but in 2004 I placed first in Kentucky and ended up going to Denver to compete at the national level. It was my first time in a big city, and it was liberating.

Seeing gay couples holding hands and rainbow flags outside of a gay bar was liberating. I always knew I would find my people, and here they were. Feeling Rocky Mountain high in the first truly progressive place I had ever been, I bought a shirt with “RECRUITER” written across the chest in bold rainbow print, feeling quite smug in being Maggie Gallagher’s worst nightmare. I also picked up a compilation CD called “Rock Against Bush,” featuring artists like New Found Glory and Sum 41.

I strutted up and down the 16th Street Mall proudly wearing that shirt and listening to that CD on an old Walkman. It felt subversive in a way it could only have felt to an 18-year-old from deep red Kentucky, who was used to being not only the only gay kid in school, but the only lefty, too. I was Lance Loud for the new Millennium, here to make love and stop war.

Mind you, both the shirt and the CD were performative, the latter quite literally. Purchasing these things made me feel righteous, but they did fuck-all to change the world. As I would soon learn, it is not enough to be performative. So much of activism in 2020 is nothing but platitudes and virtue signalling. You can put #Resist in your Twitter bio, you can stick a “Love Trumps Hate” sign in your yard, you can even put a ByeDon (get it?) bumper sticker on your car. It’s all meaningless unless you do the work, and that work is unglamorous, hard graft.

started college in the fall of 2004, enrolling at Western Kentucky University, across the state in Bowling Green. Less than a year before that, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court stunned the nation by ruling a state law banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional, making the Bay State the first in the nation to equalise marriage. It was a watershed moment in the gay rights movement, but it was met with a swift backlash. Across the nation, Republican-controlled state legislatures began putting state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage on the November ballot. Kentucky was one of those states.

I threw myself into defeating that amendment. The fact that it was even on the ballot felt like a slap in the face. I had not just lived through three gruelling years of homophobic bullying from fellow teenagers only to be legislatively gay bashed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

The Bluegrass State’s gay community swiftly organised an official campaign called No on the Amendment. The first time I walked into their Bowling Green headquarters, in the carriage house of a historic downtown mansion, I felt as though I had come home. With exposed brick walls, white boards counting down the days to the election in big block letters, and a row of phones for “GOTV” initiatives — an acronym I didn’t understand and assumed was some local-access television station for longer than I care to admit — it was the most empowering place I had ever been.

The local campaign organiser was a middle-aged butch lesbian from Hendersonville, a place I’d never heard of but that had passed a fairness ordinance some years before. In Kentucky, that is still a big deal. In 2004, it was a big deal anywhere. She was assertive to the point of being abrasive, and more than once she came into our campus LGBT resource centre and ordered people to start making phone calls. She ruffled a lot of feathers, even within the local LGBT community. But with her leather jacket, cropped hair, and biker boots, she was the most badass woman I’d ever seen.

I spent a lot of time working on that campaign, making phone calls and entering data we’d collected. I knocked on a lot of doors, too, usually in the more affluent areas of Bowling Green. The verdant lawns and sprawling McMansions were a world away from the trailers and clapboard shanties that lined the hollow I had left just weeks before.

One day, I asked why she always put me in these richer areas. After all, I was from one of the poorest counties in America. “You’re cute and preppy,” she said, stuffing a mailer into someone’s mailbox. “You’ll remind them of their son.”

Even then her words did not sit well with me. It seemed utterly unfair that the way I presented myself should have any sway in how someone viewed whether I deserved equal rights. Yet, I knew there was a ring of truth to what she said.

I only remember two times in high school that my safety was perilously in question. Once was my sophomore year, when for some reason — I think the guy thought I’d insulted him, but I’ve never been clear why — a classmate had planned to jump me while the rest of the school was in an assembly. A friend of mine, an eccentric girl who was nice but not particularly popular, asked the senior cheerleaders to look out for me. Surrounded by the most popular, or at least the most feared, girls in school, no one touched a hair on my head. It was the start friendships that last to this day.

The second instance I was lucky, but someone else was not. The hallways were unusually crowded as I made my way towards biology class, but I couldn’t understand why. When I finally got into the room, my best friend — who was not in the class — was waiting for me. Tearfully hugging me, she informed me that “they jumped the gay guy.” She was afraid it had been me.

It wasn’t. It was another boy, a year below me, who one of the football players thought was checking out his ass. They bashed him over the head with a padlock. He had to go to the hospital. I think about him from time to time. Why him, and not me?

I suspect it’s because I hung out with the cheerleaders, a thought that still makes me uneasy nearly twenty years later. As I recall, that kid was in band, kind of pudgy, and meek as a lamb. I am not sure I even knew who he was before he was attacked, and our school only had about 650 people in it. Conversely, I walked with confidence (even if it was feigned), wore Abercrombie (which was the cool thing back then), and my friends were as popular as anyone could be in a school where most students could hold a family reunion in the cafeteria.

In case you hadn’t picked up on it by now, I’m from a small town, and like many small towns, my hometown loves Donald Trump. In fact, nearly 90% of the county voted for him, and it has been more than a century since Leslie County voted for anyone but the Republican presidential candidate. So friendly to the GOP is my hometown that Richard Nixon made his first public appearance post-Watergate there, to open my high school’s gymnasium which was named in his honour.

If you look at the data, though, a different picture begins to emerge. Polls routinely showed that in 2016, Trump’s support came largely from affluent Republicans. There is this stereotype of the embittered Trump voter, angrily clutching at his guns and God. Yet it’s the nice middle-class suburban family — like that of Nick Sandmann, the former Covington Catholic High School student who spoke at the Republican National Convention this year — that is more likely to vote for Donald Trump.

Still, a sneering classism has long existed on the left. As I was canvasing in Bowling Green, I remember one activist telling me I was lucky to be getting the more affluent areas. “They’re likely to be more educated, and therefore more enlightened” on the question of gay rights, her logic went. It rubbed me as incredibly classist even then, the type of smug middle-class derision those of us from the working class are used to. After all, my family was not college educated, and they were voting against the amendment. I was voting against the amendment.

As it turned out, I had just as many negative experiences campaigning against a gay marriage ban in the tawny neighbourhoods as I did in the poorer tracts. Having people quote Bible verses about Sodom and Gomorrah at you, or tell you that two men kissing is “sick,” or that they didn’t know why they were voting against your equality, they just were, was incredibly demoralising. Yet, as that butch field organiser reminded us, it was also an opportunity.

“This might not seem like it,” she once told me as I was feeling quite sorry for myself, “but this is a gift. It’s a chance for us to knock on every door in the Commonwealth and introduce Kentuckians to a gay person.”

And she was right. A lot of the people I talked to said that they had never met a gay person. “Whelp,” I’d quip, “you can’t say that now.”

Some people weren’t as pleased to have met a ‘mo as you might think. Others, however, were perfectly lovely. Ironically, they could also be the ones to hurt you the most. The most difficult conversations I had was with people who were polite, thoughtful, and obviously uncomfortable telling me to my face that they didn’t think I should have the right to marry another man — and there were more of them than you would suspect. They knew they were hurting me, and I honestly think that hurt them.

The author with his college mascot, Big Red, in 2004, during his first semester of at Western Kentucky University

One woman in particular stands out. She is what, in 2020, we would probably call a Karen, though I do not remember her name. She was upper-middle class, though, and dressed like a Desperate Housewife. (For some reason I remember her with Kate Gosselin hair, though this was a couple years before any of us knew who Kate Gosselin was so I’m probably projecting.) I stood on the doorstep of her palatial brick home for probably 15 minutes, chatting away. She wanted to know where I was from, what I was studying, was I adjusting to college okay. It was a genuine curiosity, one I have rarely encountered from a stranger, before or since.

Despite living in Bowling Green, she had a University of Louisville flag flying by her door. “Did you go there?” I asked

“No,” she smiled proudly, “my son goes there. He’s about your age.”

“You’ll remind them of their sons,” the field organiser had said.

We chatted about him, what he was majoring in, what I was majoring in, and then about the amendment. She told me she would be voting for it, because marriage was meant to be between one man and one woman. I thanked her for her time, walking off towards the setting sun.

“Young man,” she called after me as I trudged across her leaf-hewn lawn. I turned to face her. A crisp breeze blew through the trees. “For what it’s worth, my son doesn’t understand why I’m against it either. He doesn’t have a problem with it. Most young people don’t. I think you’ll win. Not this time. But eventually.”

Back at headquarters, I relayed the story to our field organiser. To my surprise, she smiled broadly. “But she’s voting against us,” I said, confused and outraged.

“This time,” she said with a shrug. “She’ll come around.”

When you’re 18, “this time” feels like all that matters. I couldn’t understand what good it was to talk to someone who was going to vote against gay marriage. All these years later, however, I suspect the field organiser was right.

When I came out in 2001, homosexual sex was still criminalised in many states. The US Supreme Court would not rule so-called “sodomy laws” unconstitutional until 2003. A 2001 Gallup poll found that only 54% of Americans believed same-sex relationships should be legal. Not same-sex marriages. Same-sex relationships. That means nearly half the country thought gay love should be a crime. When asked if same-sex relationships were moral, however, acceptance dipped into the negatives; less than half of American polled in 2001 found homosexuality “morally acceptable.”

19 years later, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe same-sex relationships should be legal and that they are morally acceptable. While it is still startling that nearly a quarter of Americans still disagree, that is a remarkable jump in a relatively short amount of time.

That chilly election night, I trekked from my dorm all the way across campus, past the old Victorian homes of downtown Bowling Green, finally ending up at the bungalow my then-boyfriend shared with his two housemates. We were interested in the presidential race, of course, but we were more interested in the referendum.

The results were not a surprise. Still, knowing what was coming failed to take the sting out of the slap across the face when 75% of Kentuckians voted to enshrine discrimination against us in the state constitution. We polished off a couple bottles of Smirnoff vodka between us, crying as we held one another.

“Will they ever not hate us?” he wondered rhetorically. At that time, it seemed the answer was “no.” We decided to have sex as a big middle-finger to the homophobes, but we were both too drunk to manage more than an awkward fumble before passing out.

The morning after the 2004 election I was hungover and pissed off. I ran into the Director of Student Affairs, whom I knew through student government, early that morning as I was making my way from my boyfriend’s house back to my dorm. Angry at a newspaper headline declaring Bush the winner, I kicked the newsstand. “You can’t act like this,” he told me, remarkably calmly for someone who had just seen a hungover gay boy try to fight USA Today. “This is America. People get to vote. You just have to convince them to vote your way.”

What I couldn’t articulate then — because I was hungover and angry and 18-years-old — was that I wasn’t upset I had lost an election. I was upset at what that meant. It honestly felt like the country hated me. I’m pretty sure that no one went into the ballot box thinking “I know, I’ll stick it to Skylar by voting against gay marriage.” But that is how it felt.

I learned several lessons that election. The most important is that elections will break your heart. Putting your all into a campaign only to lose, even when you know you’re going to lose, is devastating. You have to let yourself feel the pain and disappointment. It will pass, but you have to stew in it first. I also learned that vodka does not mix well with dairy and that two bottoms do not make a top. For more than just the politics, I am glad I am not 18 anymore

Two years after Kentucky passed an anti-marriage amendment, Tennessee had one of its own on the ballot. A fellow activist and I travelled the hour south from Bowling Green to Nashville to meet with leaders of the LGBT movement in Tennessee. We told them what we had learned: what had worked, what hadn’t, what to expect, and what not to. Telling them this felt like kicking a puppy, and the looks of resigned sadness on their faces still break my heart.

Afterward, she and I had a few drinks at her place. A haze hung in the soupy air as the katydids sang in the woods just beyond her yard. “Do you think we’ll ever pass gay marriage?” I asked her, taking a drag from my cigarette.

She thought about it for a moment, taking a swig from her beer. “It won’t be us that get it done. It’ll be our grandkids.”

ut it was us. Less than a decade later, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of gay marriage. While neither of us are even attorneys, let alone attorneys on that case, it is unfathomable to me that the Supreme Court would have ruled the way it did unless public opinion gave it the foundation on which to rest its ruling. The day the court ruled in Obergefell v Hodges, I took myself to Boystown in Chicago and drank champagne all afternoon.

Yet I will never forget 2004, when three-fourths of my home state decided I was not deserving of rights. Nor will I forget high school, when my classmates turned into my tormenters and my teachers turned a blind eye. It is because of these experiences that I have so much sympathy with the young activists today who are frustrated by four years of Donald Trump, a seemingly-too-moderate Democratic ticket, and the seeming refusal of America to listen.

Yet, as I learned in 2004, listening is a two-way street, even if you don’t want to hear what the other person has to say. People do not want to be shouted down. They do not want to be told they are hateful, or prejudiced, or privileged (even if they are). How you word things matters. How you treat your opponents matters. When Michelle Obama says “when they go low, we go high,” a lot of us kind of roll our eyes. But in my experience, going high is the only way to win. The low road might stretch into the horizon, but it invariably winds up at a dead end.

The high road, however, can lead you to unexpected places. My senior year of high school, I had a crush on a gay boy from another school we happened to be playing against in basketball. I kept talking about him, trying to get advice from my friends. Finally, one of them turned to me, very curtly. “Stop talking about it. No one wants to hear about it. You do yourself no favours by broadcasting it.”

The author at a football game in high school. You can’t see it in this photo, but he is turned away from the field, talking to friends. This photo was taken by the friend who him “you do yourself no favours by broadcasting” being gay.

She was far from the only one. When I floated the idea of bringing a boy to my senior prom, another friend became enraged, asking why I would “be so self-centred” and “ruin prom by making it political.” One of the nicest guys I knew was a Baptist preacher-in-training who was always so kind to me but would, from time to time, remind me that my soul was damned for eternity. A lot of my friends — good friends who had my back and picked me up when I was down, including years after high school when I was getting out of an abusive relationship — told me they did not support same-sex marriage. Some, I know, voted against it in 2004.

There is still an amendment to Kentucky’s constitution banning same-sex marriage. It is unenforceable, but it is still there, a hateful relic of a bygone time that was not all that long ago. Only eleven years after that woman who was voting against gay marriage promised me that one day gay marriage would win, it did.

Eleven years. A blink of history’s eye.

That rapid shift in public opinion didn’t have to happen. It took a lot of people having a lot of uncomfortable and frank conversations with people who didn’t think they deserved equal rights. We live in a deeply polarised era, and for a lot of people that is a new and terrifying reality. Me? I have been here before.

And you know what? It gets better. When I think about the political chasm between Trump supporters and those of us on the left, I have to remind myself of the political chasm between a young gay teenager and the world around him, and how quickly that world changed for the better. For not only did we win the courts, but we won in the hearts and minds of the American people. A recent Gallup poll shows support for gay marriage at an all-time high, with two-thirds of Americans supporting same-sex couples’ right to wed. 18-year-old Skylar never would have believed that possible.

A few years after college, the friend who chided me for “broadcasting it” thanked me for changing her mind on gay rights. I don’t remember ever having a conversation with her about it, but simply by being her friend I had opened her mind. Several years later, I was chatting on Facebook with an old high school teacher. Somehow, the topic of my coming out came up. “You changed a lot of minds around here,” she told me. “You made it easier for the gay kids who came after you.” That was not my intention — I just wanted to be myself — but I am glad if I did help. And last year, as my graduating class was planning its 15th reunion, one of my old bullies messaged me out of the blue to apologise for the way he treated me.

I graciously accepted.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics and culture for more than a decade. His work has appeared at The Independent, Salon, and elsewhere

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