By Author's name withheld
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* Editor’s note: We are not publishing the writer’s name to protect her friend’s privacy. Names have been changed.

Illustration by Lily Clark, 16, Immaculate Heart HS

I used to think all gay people dressed flamboyantly and talked about fashion all the time, so I thought I could never be comfortable around them. I thought people chose to be gay and that being gay was wrong. But when I found out my good friend *Alex was gay and how hard it was for him, I wanted to be there for him. I’m happy that our friendship changed my opinions about homosexuality.

I met Alex in math class on the first day of ninth grade. We were assigned to the same table. After a few days, the other two students at the table paired up so we started working together. It was an easy class because we could use study guides on the tests and the teacher gave extra points for keeping our desks clean, so we didn’t always pay attention. In our notebooks, we played hangman, connect the dots and tic-tac-toe. We had all our classes together and ate lunch together.

We shared the same classes again sophomore year so we were together most of the day. We started talking over instant messenger about our favorite movies, like Harry Potter, and our favorite TV characters, like Phoebe from Friends. We found the same things funny and teased each other about silly things like misspellings. It was easy to be open around him. We were good friends.

One day in September, we had an assignment due for English but he was sick and stayed home. Each student has an online account, where you can upload your work. Alex called me and asked if I could log into his to print out his English assignment and turn it in for him. When he gave me his username, I thought it was weird. That night I decided to Google it. One of the search results was a profile on DailyStrength, a website of support groups. I clicked on it and saw his picture. I started reading the “About Me” section. He said he was gay and wished people would accept him for who he was. I was shocked. At first I thought it might be a practical joke but after I read more, I realized it was not because it sounded too serious. He was not straight!

I never thought he could be gay

I could not believe it because he did not fit the stereotype I had grown up with, like Chandler’s dad from Friends, who dressed as a woman. I thought gays were girly guys. Once while riding a trolley in San Francisco during a family vacation, I sat near a guy who talked in a loud girly voice, flicked his wrist and wore makeup. I faced the other way so I would not have to make eye contact.

I was also uncomfortable because I thought it was a sin. From kindergarten through eighth grade I attended a Christian school, because it was the closest school to my house. In religion class in sixth grade, the teacher said God made Adam and Eve, showing that the perfect union was between man and woman. I thought being gay was a sin. In my mind it was worse than lying but not as bad as murder.

At my school, the boys said, “you’re so gay” when they wanted to call someone stupid. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that and sometimes laughed at the people they called gay. For most of my life the words “homosexual” and “gay” had negative meanings and these words just did not seem to fit Alex.

The next day when I saw Alex at school, he was walking to class after basketball practice. He was in basketball shorts and a sweat-stained T-shirt. The online profile did not seem true. A few weeks later during club rush, when all the clubs set up tables to recruit new members, Alex told me he wanted to join the GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance), but then he quickly joked that he wanted to join the FAT club, a fitness club, and patted his stomach. I thought he was joking about both clubs so I just ignored his comment.

That November, when we started working on our novels that the 10th grade English teacher makes her class write, Alex sent me his novel to edit. The main character was gay and hoped to be accepted by those around him. Some of the character’s friends stopped talking to him once they found out. It was clear to me that Alex was gay, but he was not ready to tell me.

I never felt conflicted about Alex being gay because he was my good friend. I knew Alex, so him being gay was just another part of him, not the defining part. One night he sent me a chapter to read. The main character wrote a letter saying he was going to commit suicide, but it was signed by Alex. It said he was sorry for being a disappointment by being gay and that he decided to end a life that disgusted people. I was worried that Alex might be suicidal so I texted him right away asking if he was OK and why he had signed the letter with his name. He replied it was an accident and that he had been writing the chapter late at night. The next day while working on our novels in the computer lab I joked that it was OK if he was gay. He said, “Haha you’re funny.” I thought I might be overreacting to the letter.

Another assignment in English was to select a quote from the book The Joy Luck Club and write a response to the quote. At school Alex asked me to read what he had written about the stress he felt from his parents, school and the basketball team. He wished that he had someone he could talk to. When I finished reading, he asked, “Can you be that person I can talk to?” and I said yes.

I knew he needed someone to talk to about being gay. I wanted to tell him I knew but I didn’t want to admit that I saw his profile. So I started to drop hints. I had him read my journal entry on the quote from the book where one character, Waverly, mocks another character’s gay friend by saying, “I mean, he is gay.” I wrote about accepting Alex but made it seem like I was writing about a gay friend that I had in the past. I hoped that he would feel more comfortable telling me. But he didn’t say anything. My plan didn’t work.

After two months of us both dropping hints, he finally decided to tell me. Halfway through a history lecture, Alex passed me his notebook. On the side of the margin it said, “I’m more like my character than you think.” I scribbled back, “I know” and then he wrote back “I had to tell someone before I burst, I like Matt.” I was happy because I never thought Alex would trust me with such a big secret. When we got out of class, Alex pulled me aside to ask if I had any questions. I said no and that I was OK with it, which I could tell reassured him by the smile on his face.

We became closer

After that day, our daily IM conversations usually started off about school or nagging parents but sometimes we would end up talking about Alex being gay and how difficult it was.

Alex told me that he could not stop liking Matt but he knew it was pointless since Matt was straight. He felt stupid for not being able to get over him. I was surprised that it was easy to relate to him. I have liked guys who never liked me back too.

Another time, he told me some of his middle school friends stopped talking to him after he told them he was gay. His childhood best friend started avoiding him at basketball games and when they went on tournaments he didn’t want to stay in the same room as him. He said that he has been scared to tell other friends because he does not want to lose them.

He also told me that it was hard, knowing that his family would probably not accept him. When I asked him how he knew, he said that his family had stopped inviting his gay uncle to family gatherings. I thought it was unfair. I could not imagine losing my family and friends because of who I was. I wondered how his family would treat him if he told them. I wished that he could one day be open with them.

The more I talked to Alex, the more my opinions changed. I felt bad about how I had felt about gays. I couldn’t think negatively about a group of people that included Alex. All my past opinions didn’t seem to make sense anymore. I started to sympathize with Alex.

 Another time while talking over IM, I asked if he knew he was gay when he was little. He said he realized that he was gay around the age of 7 when he would write in a book all the crushes he had and most of them were guys. My whole life, I thought people chose to be gay. Then he said, “It wasn’t like I transitioned into this or like I tried to make me like this or anything.” I realized Alex did not have a choice. I finally understood that homosexuals do not choose their sexual orientation. I asked that if he had a choice, would he choose to be gay or straight. He said “honestly … straight.” I felt sad and helpless. Sitting in front of my computer, I teared up knowing that Alex could not do anything to change who he was even though people would discriminate against him. I felt guilty that I used to be uncomfortable around gays.

Being around Alex was just like being around any other friend, maybe even better. It was fun being able to talk about guys to a guy. I could be myself knowing he would not judge me because he believed in not judging people. However, I felt uncomfortable a few times. When he had his first boyfriend and talked about making out with him, I felt uneasy. But then again, I would not want to hear about a heterosexual couple making out either. Maybe it was harder to be comfortable because what I had been taught in religion class contradicted who he is and his lifestyle. But I want to be a good friend. I listen and encourage him to tell me whatever he needs to talk about so he does not have to hold it in.

I’m proud that I’m more open minded

Now I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin because I do not think it’s a choice. It is like race. No one chooses to be a certain race, you’re just born that way. I feel it is wrong to condemn someone for something they are not responsible for. Looking back, the way I thought was prejudiced.

Now I see gay people as individuals. Recently at the grocery store I had a conversation with this guy about baking. When he said that he was baking a cake for his partner’s birthday, I thought it was nice that he was making a cake for someone special. Another time, I saw this gay couple at the mall and instead of looking away, I smiled at them, hoping that Alex could one day walk publicly with his partner.

I never thought about gay marriage before, but now I support gay marriage. Homosexuals are like everyone else and deserve to be treated equally. They are people who fall in love, cry over exes and wish to get married and share their lives with someone special just like the rest of us. Even if people don’t support gay marriage, I think they should at least stop using phrases like “that’s so gay” because it degrades gay people by using the word in a negative way.

While working on this story, I realized how grateful I am for our friendship. I’m  glad Alex came into my life and helped me change.

Like this story? To help ensure that talented teens in Los Angeles County can continue to write stories about the struggles of gay teens and the importance of gay rights, please donate to L.A. Youth.

How you can support gay youth

April 16, 2010 is the Day of Silence, when students don’t talk for a day to show their support for gay youth who have been bullied and harassed at school. To find out more, including how you can help plan an event at your school, go to

L.A. Youth stories about gay teens’ experiences …

Taming my anger. Tray spent years fighting until moving to a group home helped him control his rage. (September 2006)

Gay and so alone. Marvin, 17, was harassed at school because he’s gay. (October 2004)