The greatest love of all

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“I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadow. If I fail, if I succeed, at least I live as I believe. No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity.” — Whitney Houston

When I was a young kid growing up in Rock Ridge, North Carolina, I was very blessed to be part of a wonderful community. Everyone looked after each other and we all cared about each other’s well-being. But there was something about me that was different and I couldn’t find the words to explain it to anyone. I knew that I was gay.

Growing up in the Southern Baptist church community, I was afraid to say anything to anyone because I would feel that I was going to go to hell. I was afraid that God would love me less and I wouldn’t have the rights of passage to heaven. I let go of that fear when I entered high school. I found myself becoming more comfortable in knowing the fact that God made me the person that I was for a reason and anyone who appreciated and valued my friendship would accept me for who I am.

When I came out publicly at the age of 16, the road was not easy. There were times where I cried myself to sleep at night and I yearned to be accepted by those who I loved dearly. Although I did face rejection and pain, the power of having people who are allies to the LGBT community is powerful. My junior year attending Hunt High School, the principal at the time, Bill Williamson, made sure that the rest of my high school years would be easy as possible. When I graduated, I made it a mission to start a new life 3,000 miles away from home. But as I grew older, I realized how beautiful and wonderful Wilson, North Carolina is.

The progression that Wilson has made over the years has been amazing. The acceptance of the LGBT community warms my heart each time I visit. My message to anyone who is reading this, whether you are gay or straight, please remember to be kind to each other. At the end of the day, we are all human beings and we do deserve to love one another.

My challenge to anyone who is reading this is to reach out to a person who may be struggling with identifying themselves. To the young kid who feels that they are an outcast, be proud of who you are. You are beautiful. To the straight ally who defends and sticks up for your LGBT friend, we appreciate you. To the person who has never had a conversation with a gay person because of what you believe in, open up your heart.

Because at the end of the day, we must remember that learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.

J.T. Chestnut

Los Angeles