Why I Am Proud to Work at NAF
Growing up as a queer kid in the south was not the easiest, especially in a protestant household. From an early age, everyone knew something was different about me. I don’t know what gave it away (maybe it was trying on my mom’s high heel shoes or planning my own surprise 9th birthday party) but everyone knew I was a little bit “extra.” However, this spirit to embrace myself wasn’t fostered. To the contrary, it was repressed through my church’s teachings. I always felt this looming cloud over my head that I couldn’t be my true authentic self.
Education was the only thing I felt like I could do right. In second grade I was accepted into gifted classes, where three times a week a cohort of seven of us would leave our school and participate in accelerated classes on a different campus. So, if being a poor, chubby, queer kid in the south wasn’t enough, add being a nerd onto it. The bullies had their field day.
Luckily, I was able to find a group of like-minded friends who went through these gifted programs with me from second to eighth grade. It was nice having a group of friends to confide in – but it became very evident to me when my peers started to develop crushes that who I was crushing on would only make me a target for more ridicule from the bullies in my school.
“The very things that held you down are gonna carry you up and up and up.”Timothy Q. Mouse, ‘Dumbo
Still a shining light in my life was my success in education. Countless teachers invested in my success when my single mom (supporting three kids) could not. I was accepted into the IB program at an affluent high school and the imposter syndrome cycle set in again. I looked around at my peers wearing pressed Lacoste polos and Ralph Lauren shorts while I sat there wearing the chic Walmart summer collection. I did the best I could, but all my issues battling imposter syndrome and sexuality would soon come to head.
I developed severe depression from hiding my authentic self from the world. I began to act out in class and I stopped doing my homework or showing up to class altogether. I went from being on track to graduate high school with an associate degree to being labeled an “at-risk” kid – all due to the lack of emotional and social support I wasn’t receiving at home.
Senior year before Christmas break, I decided I had enough. The weight of the world became too much for me to handle. I was ready to be out. And boy was I OUT! I came out of the closet, dropped out of school, and moved out of my home. This was one of the toughest decisions of my life, but I knew I had to make it. For me to be able to be myself, I needed my independence – and that meant getting a full-time job, a studio apartment, and a GED.
Now my story is not to be glorified, but it is one of resilience. By setting boundaries for my family, I was able to change their minds on what being gay really meant. It wasn’t a lifestyle, it wasn’t a choice, I was born this way. This had such a resounding impact on my family that four years after I came out of the closet, my mom (who was single my whole life) came out of the closet as well.
Thanks to a Pell Grant, I was able to enroll in the local community college, St. Petersburg College, and secure my associate’s degree. That propelled me to graduating from the University of South Florida with a communications degree. This is where my passion for becoming a mission-based communicator began. Being able to give back to the community after the trials and tribulations I faced as a queer, low-income kid made all of it worthwhile.
Today I am a proud, out, successful man. I am proud to work at an organization that not only values diversity – in all aspects – but actively invests in the future leaders of our nation. I am proud to work at an organization that is supporting students from under-invested-in communities and approaches this support with a holistic lens. At NAF we know that students’ social-emotional needs are just as important as their future preparedness. That’s why we provide both. I’m proud to work at NAF and support students with similar backgrounds as mine.