The harsh reality of being gay in America

by Kashif Stone

Departing customers scorned me with whispers and looks of confusion as I exited my car and walked inside the Crackle Barrel. I thought to myself, “maybe it’s the heels or the bright blonde color of my wig.” Despite the progress over the years toward acceptance of homosexuals, I often forget that I am living in southern America with my New York City tendencies. Here people aren’t as open to diversity or “out-of-the-norm” things. Nonetheless, I was still enthusiastic to meet my potential boss for a journalism assistant position I’d applied to. Although I found it a bit strange that the interview was set at Crackle Barrel, obtaining the position for resume and portfolio purposes was my only concern. Graduation is in May and I need as much experience as possible to compete in this industry.

The employer – whose name I do not care to mention – stood up and shook my hand as I approached the table but it was his body language and initial reaction to seeing me for the first time that was surprising. “With a name like Kashif, I expected you to be of Arabic descent,” he said. I sarcastically laughed off his comment and told him to blame my parents for naming me. At that moment, I could tell that this interview was going to be something other than what I expected. He stared me up-and-down with an unsettling look on his face as if I was an unknown species. It was presumably noticeable that he was uncomfortable sitting at a table with me in the crowded restaurant.

For the first five minutes he gave me the opportunity to explain why I am the best candidate for the job, and then the remainder of the interview consisted of questions about my sexuality and religion. The employer is a Baptist pastor at a family operated church in Greensboro, so that only made matters worse. When he made the overly offensive remark that he could not hire me if I could not comply with his religious beliefs, I asked myself why am I still participating in this train wreck of an interview? So, I grabbed my keys, shook his hand, and politely wished him well with his search.

America. The land of the free and home of the brave. A country founded on civil liberties and justice for all. Yet for many years, there has been an overwhelming disapproval of the lifestyles certain American citizens live. Who exactly am I referring to? Gay America. These views come solely from my own experiences, of course, and by no means do I speak for the entire LGBT community.

As a young boy, I remember being the “odd” one in the bunch.

I grow up in a house full of boys who enjoyed doing things that boys do. However, it was different for me. I had a fascination for the late R&B singer Aaliyah, girl groups TLC and the Cheetah Girls, and an obsession with Disney Channel original series “That’s So Raven.” My mother decided to skip the barbershop and let my brothers and I grow our hair out. When it became too much for her to manage, she took us to the hair salon. For years, my brothers were not feeling the vibe of going to a hair salon full of gossiping women and feminine perfume scents, but it was like paradise to me because it was a place that made me feel more like myself. I felt comfortable and considered those ladies my peers.

Despite what many believe, my parents raised me in the church with the hope of instilling good morals and religious wisdom. Until the age of 16, I was the lead singer of the church children’s choirs, singing songs about righteousness and turning away from sin. Having an integral role in the church came with an image that needed to be upheld. I would attend bible study meetings, Sunday school, and carried my bible on days I wasn’t in church studying it faithfully. Life was great and although I enjoyed it, deep down inside I knew I was living a lie. I always felt like the congregation looked for me when the pastor would condemn the acts of homosexuality, and honestly I do not blame them. I was never the type to try to hide or cover up my feminine personality because it wasn’t something I could just turn on-and-off. It was singing about God on the stage every Sunday that affected me mentally because I knew that I wasn’t living the life he demanded I live according to his Gospel.

In middle school, I remember being called a “faggot” for the first time. My classmates taunted me for having long hair, a switch in my walk, and no bass in my voice. In fifth grade, I had to learn how to defend myself after a guy, who bullied me all year, decided to slap my glasses off my face for acting gay. Since that incident, it seems that harassment of my character has become an everyday norm and defending myself against bigots is second nature. And what I find troubling is that homosexuals are targeted with violence often in America. According to an article by the Huffington Post, the advocacy group Anti-Violence Project (AVP) reported that LGBT homicides increase year after year. The group reported 18 anti-LGBT homicides in 2013, between 20 and 25 killings in 2014, and as many as 15 homicides as of April, with many more expected to increase the number throughout the year. I blame ignorance for this evil.

Ignorance of the LGBT community is the only reason for one to take a persons’ life because of the way they live it. Hopefully one day people in America, and around the world, will understand that “we” are humans too and deserve to be treated as such.

I was 15 years old in high school when I first decided that I would tell the world that I was gay. Although many of my peers already suspected that I was a homosexual, I felt if I finally announced my sexual preference to the masses, everything would be normal again. To say I was wrong would be an understatement. Killing myself would probably be more permissible. After coming out I thought life would be better and that I could finally gain acceptance by society. Indeed, I have those who support my decision to live my life openly as a homosexual, however the number of people who hate my lifestyle is far larger. Living gay in America on top of being an African American is like committing social suicide.

I can rarely walk out my own house without neighbors starring me up-and-down with a look of disgust on their face because I choose to proudly cross dress on a daily basis. I face adversity when I walk into a bar or club that is not preference specific, mostly dealing with people distancing themselves from me as if I am a contagious disease. To top it all, I have to worry if I will be able to make it in this world as an openly gay man because many of my elders remind me that “my life” isn’t acceptable in the professional world. I will never understand how my lifestyle can affect people so much yet I continue to stay true to who I am and live each day without regrets.

Although I am faced with discrimination every day, I am grateful for life. You have to have tough skin to truly be who you are while accepting that everyone may not agree with your lifestyle. Hopefully one day I can live in a world where I am not judged because of my character. But until then, I will continue to live with the harsh reality of being gay in America and pray that a change for acceptance will soon come. !