‘Let go’ of homophobia: Coming out on the Darling Downs
WHEN I came out in Year 10 I knew there would be tough times.
I was scared of what the world would think, but I was lucky that my parents always had a 'put up, shut up or get out' policy when it came to my sexuality.
My older sister had come out as a lesbian just a few years earlier and she had been welcomed with open arms by my family.
That's where my resilience started, and although I have became very good at ignoring what people shout out to me in the street, it can be hard some days.
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Imagine as a teenager dating and always being introduced as a "friend" by your boyfriend's family.
Imagine being told not to show any affection at all, even simple hand holding because of what people might say or do to you.
Imagine dressing down or wearing clothes that don't reflect who you are to have to look "less gay" and blend with the crowd.
These are all situations I was put in as a teenager because of homophobia.
I don't like to paint myself as a victim, because frankly I have - for the most part - been widely loved and accepted no matter where go.
But I have been a victim of homophobia; some of it very open - some of it very sneakily, almost every day.
Imagine walking down the street and having "faggot" screamed out at you.
Imagine being treated second class or having people refusing to speak to you.
Imagine being told to your face that if you were their son they'd have "beaten the gay out of you" or that you're immoral or you're going to hell. Believe me - I have heard it all.
I got to a point where I didn't care what was said to me, and I could handle myself with dignity and "be the bigger person" but seeing what the words of others did to those close to me was one of the worst feelings.
So many awful comments were let slip to my family, so many awful things were directed at me in the company of my family and I could see how it affected them. I didn't tend to notice it, but I know my dad and my brother in particular noticed it.
I remember a conversation with them both where they asked me how I dealt with having people shout comments out at me because they both were struggling to keep a lid on their anger for me.
I suppose it comes back to the fact that homophobic behaviour directed at one person can have such a profound effect on people around them.
Naturally I am a flamboyant person. I have flamboyant taste, expressions and voice. I always have, as my mother will tell you, since I started walking and talking.
Because of that flamboyancy I was a prime target for homophobic comments when I started high school in Year 8 - and some of those vicious comments would have me in tears at night.
It wasn't until I finally came out and allowed myself the freedom to be true to myself that some of that died down.
Some people say "Oh gee, being gay in a small country town must have been hard" but I'd have to disagree.
Just like the Pet Shop Boys song Go West hints, being gay in the country was easier for me.
People knew me in Clifton, and at my high school. They knew my family, they knew who I really was and didn't just see GAY and freak out.
But despite that I had some tough times at high school.
In my senior year I asked for my tongue-in-cheek nickname Gay_J to be put on my senior jersey. This request was denied by the school's P&C to protect me and the school's reputation. I fought hard, with lots of support to back me, but when expulsion became a real threat, I backed down.
At my high school formal I decided to settle the score and stick my proud middle finger to those who had an issue with my sexuality.
I took both a girl and a boy to the formal - and I made a point of kissing him in front of hundreds of people on the red carpet for all to see.
Unfortunately, while most of the crowd were cheering, there were some who snubbed their noses and let slip comments, which caused a great upset to my formal partner's family and almost ruined the night.
Even in my role as a reporter with the Daily News I haven't been immune to homophobia.
I have openly been called a faggot while taking photos at the races and weekend sporting events. So much so that for a while I avoided approaching any players or groups of young men.
I also have a tendency to struggle with a rural setting. When covering the Warwick Cattle Sale once I had a charming gentleman ask me if I was "from the Kings Cross Times" - a totally uncalled-for sly homophobic comment.
Of course as a professional I brushed it off and carried on with my work.
Another time after having a blood test I covered an event in Leyburn. While taking photos a man pointed to the bandaid on the inside of my arm, smirked and quipped "so are you positive or negative?".
I was so taken aback, all I could say was "that's none of your business" and carried on with my work.
The biggest thing I am thankful for is that I have never been physically abused. There have been threats - but nothing more.
Would physical abuse make me go into my shell… back into a closet built by homophobia? No.
Words have little bearing on me and that strength I owe to my family.
But while I am one of the lucky ones, there are so many out there who aren't.
So many young boys and girls my age who hide, who are disowned by their own families, who can't express their love.
The stories are heartbreaking, unacceptable and as a society we should be ashamed.
That's why I am throwing my support behind beyondblue's Left Hand campaign, and why the Daily News is coming on board behind me.
As an employer the Daily News has been so supportive of me. From day one I made it clear who I am and what my personality was like and from then I have been nothing but appreciated, accepted and respected by the company and my colleagues.
My message to a town that has been so friendly and accepting of me is simple - being gay is OK.
Let's open up and let go of homophobia - for the sake of the lesbian couple raising a family, for the gay teenager sitting alone at the school dance, for the guys playing sport who are constantly hit with homophobic slurs - for every single person who expresses their sexuality.
Let's all let go.