By Jackson Hare, Education and Enrichment Coordinator
When I first arrived at Xavier, finally escaping the hellscape that my home had been for my newly out gay self, the freedom and relief I had felt was unforgettable. Throughout the year, I found a community that not only accepted my identity but celebrated it, but of course I’d visit home from time to time.
These trips home tended to be painfully enlightening as I checked in on my younger queer friends who were still stuck in a place that belittles them. The young queer population in these small towns are incredibly underrepresented, despite them being such a vulnerable group, and I realized I had allowed myself to be ignorant, enjoying the privilege of being accepted while my friends were suffering back home. I owe it to them to pay attention, and I implore you to do the same.
I grew up in a small, conservative, rural town east of Cleveland, which by the time I was a senior in high school was noticeably experiencing some cultural tension regarding acceptance of the queer community. Knowing I’d very well be leaving next fall, as a senior, I made sure to stir the pot and set fires on my way out.
With the help of a friend and trusted faculty member at my high school, I started the first LGBTQ Alliance and made headlines in the local newspaper after speaking at a school board meeting after a local group of homophobic moms created a petition on Facebook alleging that we were indoctrinating and bullying their homophobic children. It was overwhelming to say the least, but thankfully I left and started enjoying my life in college.
Then, this past summer came, and I attended not one but two of the very first pride events to be held in my hometown. I started getting involved with a few local groups in my hometown that dedicated themselves to supporting queer youth in the area. I was starting to feel hope that change was finally making its way through my community.
However, this past fall I heard news that a kid at my high school had committed suicide. I checked in on my friends I had met through the LGBTQ Alliance to see how they were doing and found out this was a young closeted gay kid that had been going by a different name than was written on his obituary. I dug deeper into the details and found out that a candlelight vigil was being held to remember him by a deeply homophobic local church his parents attended, and I connected the dots.
The twisted irony of it all made me sick to my stomach. I had never met this kid, but I couldn’t help but feel heartbroken to think what that kid must have experienced. Even after the premature passing of this young queer kid, no one but his close friends and a couple teachers knew the depth of the situation. No one knew that the same group that organized his vigil and offered prayers were those accountable.
Ultimately, I had been reminded that small towns like my hometown are the epicenters of homophobia; the kind that has the most lethal of consequences. Of course, bigger cities like Cincinnati are not perfect, but there’s community out there, while in these small towns it is ostracizing and there’s rarely somewhere you can turn for safety or a sense of belonging. Queer kids are dying, and we cannot allow ourselves to be satisfied with the safety and acceptance we’ve found outside of these small communities. We owe it to these kids to do everything we can to make these places safer. Small town queers need help. Volunteer or donate to local queer support groups, local advocacy groups, or local LGBT affirming churches. Do anything you can to make sure these young kids know that people are fighting for them because they are invaluable, important, and accepted.