Matt Comer is editor of Q-Notes, the Carolinas' LGBT newspaper. Active in LGBT advocacy since high school, Matt's story of growing up gay in a conservative and religious family was published alongside 39 others in Mitchell Gold's Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay In America.
"I came out when I was 14 at the end of my eighth-grade year in Winston-Salem. The first folks that I came out to were friends. Actually, the first person that I came out to was a friend in my Boy Scout troop, then friends at school and then my family," he said.
And Comer said there weren't many role models for a gay boy to see at the time when the predominate image of gay men came from Queer as Folk and Will and Grace. "I was trying to fit into some mold that I though was supposed to be me. I got a lot of flack from friends because I was this stereotypical, flamboyant gay kid. But it was easier for friends to accept me than it was my family. I still have discussion with my mother today about whether homosexuality is right or wrong."
"Winston-Salem is definitely a conservative town and my family was a conservative religious family. We're baptist from the South and they very much believed that homosexuality was a sin. So, I had a lot of tough battles between me and my mother over my sexual orientation. But being raised in a very conservative and fundamentalist baptist church, the one thing that I've always been taught is that I should stand up for what I believe in and that's exactly what I did. When I was a freshman at R.J. Reynolds High School, I started the gay-straight alliance there. Back in 2000, there were only nine gay-straight alliances statewide, but it's almost ten-fold that number now, there are close to 100."
Comer said there weren't a lot of people in his community that were happy to see groups like his, but he found allies in the conservative community. Including his school principal.
"That experience, that advocacy experience in high school set me on the track that I'm on today, working with and for the LGBT community."