Rainbow Educators' Network

Brian Ballard: Gay teen conquers fear, plans a career helping others

Charlotte Observer, December 30, 1998
P. O. Box 2138, Charlotte, NC, 28233
(Fax 704-358-5022 ) (E-MAIL: opinion@charlotte.com )
( http://www.charlotte.com )

Brian: Boldly, publicly himself

Something is wrong with me. Something is terribly wrong. I feel horrible. I'm different. I'm confused. I think I want to die.

Welcome to the teen-age life of Brian Ballard. For much of the past five years, those were the thoughts clanging around in his head.

He heard all the jokes and the mockery. Gay people were vile people. He stood by and listened. Sometimes he even joined in. Though he fought it, though he tried to like girls, date girls - all the high school stuff you're supposed to do - he could not escape his feelings.

He was gay. Gay, ashamed and afraid.

Brian was born April 2, 1981. He is a senior at Rock Hill High School, the son of a single mom. He is 17 - and 17 has been a very good year. Much better than 16 and 15, 14 and 13.

On the verge of being an adult, he is taking bold, public steps. He is speaking out about gay bigotry. In October, he was even interviewed on a local newscast during a vigil for Matthew Shepard, the 22-year-old gay man from Wyoming who was beaten to death.

Now that he is proud and public about who he is, he plans to apply his experiences to his life's work. He'll go to college to study social work, and someday he'll help teens going through sexual-identity problems.

"I was pretty much a little recluse until I was in high school. I stayed at home. I never really had any friends. I was different.

"I tried to make myself straight. I looked at my grandfather's Playboy magazines. I dated girls for four years. I thought, 'Maybe I can actually do this. Maybe it's just a phase I'm going through.' ''

Brian no longer thinks it's a phase.

The low point came one day when he was 16. Brian got in his car and headed for school. He had what seemed like an anxiety attack. Everything seemed dismal, scary, hopeless. He wanted to die.

"I went through this period of denial, and finally I just couldn't take it anymore. I remember it vividly. I wanted to drive my car as fast as I could and run into something stable.''

There was too much traffic for him to mount any speed. He was shaking, crying, panic-stricken.

He rushed into the school and told his counselor about his suicidal thoughts. Then a psychiatrist. He spent a week in the psychiatric unit at Piedmont Medical Center. He was asked to sign a suicide contract - that he wouldn't try to hurt himself without telling someone first. But he couldn't bring himself to sign it.

He recalls telling a therapist: "One thing that might be wrong with me is I don't know what my sexual orientation is.''

"I was ashamed,'' Brian says now.

With Brian's permission, the therapist told his mother and sister. To his relief, they were accepting. That was in September 1997. He started telling his close friends he was bisexual. Bisexual is cooler, tamer than being gay, he thought. But he knew he was lying.

Three months later: "Mom, I think I'm gay. I don't know yet.''

One day, he was roaming the Internet and settled into a gay chat room. Someone mentioned Time Out Youth, a Charlotte support group for gay and lesbian young people. He walked into the group's next meeting. Bold.

He was nervous. There were 35 young men and women sitting on folding chairs in a big circle.

"I was immediately accepted. That was incredible. I had never been around a bunch of gay people in my life. I had always heard that they were child-molesters, that all they wanted was sex. But it wasn't like that. I thought, 'This is home.' ''

His mother, Cindy Gossett, a bookkeeper at a Rock Hill paper mill, says the support group has helped Brian immensely and did not recruit him into the gay lifestyle, as some people might suspect.

"I've changed, too,'' she says. "I don't criticize people's decisions in life. I used to make fun of gays myself. But I feel he was born this way and God chose me to be the parent of a gay person.''

Now that he is free from the dread of coming out, Brian is relieved. He is far more than simply a gay young man.

At 17, he is trying to figure out politics ("I have absolutely no idea''), making money ("I just want to survive'') and love ("I just want somebody who's understanding'').

He likes hanging out at coffee shops. His favorite singer is Sarah McLachlan.

He has an explosive laugh and a keen sense of humor. He wears several earrings and likes to dye his hair, a typical skateboarder-ish or mildly alternative look for a 17-year-old.

The future is still confusing. But it's clearer now than when he was headed down that road, looking to ram into something stable. He has found something stable: acceptance, peace.

And he is looking forward to a good life, helping people like himself in a world where people like that have it a little bit harder than most.

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