I was raised in a military family in Pinehurst. My parents were both loving, and they were both conservative. They took me to church, and I memorized the 10 Commandments.

But none of that has stopped me from being who I am: a queer, non-binary person.

Contrary to what some on the far right think, I am a queer, non-binary person despite little exposure to homosexuality while I was growing up, except through slurs by my classmates and the adults around me. I watched movies depicting mostly straight relationships, and I read books about straight people, but I still turned out to be who I am.

I and millions of other LGBTQ people who were raised by religious, conservative parents are proof that your upbringing cannot control your sexuality or gender.

Growing up in the Sandhills area did have an effect on me, though. Being surrounded by people who used “gay” as a derogatory term, people who used religion and morality as justifications for why being gay or transgender is wrong, made me hate myself as a teen. I struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide.

I hid who I was, and didn’t come out until well after college, because being raised in an area with little acceptance of LGBTQ people made it hard for me to accept and love myself.

My story isn’t unique. LGBTQ youth experience higher rates of mental illness and are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is higher for LGBTQ youth whose parents don’t accept them, the American Psychological Association found.

LGBTQ people in the South face additional struggles because much of the culture is rooted in religions that tell them their existence is immoral.

Exclusion can have a grave effect on LGBTQ youth; they make up 40 percent of all youth experiencing homelessness, despite the fact that they are just 7 percent of the total youth population in the United States, according to nonprofit the True Colors Fund. Half of LGBTQ youth said they were homeless because their families rejected them, according to a 2012 study by the Williams Institute. And though there are a number of reasons why LGBTQ youth might be rejected, one 2007 study found that many were forced out by their religious family members.

The climate is shifting, though. A 2019 survey by The Harris Poll and GLAAD, an LGBTQ rights nonprofit, found that eight in 10 Americans support equal rights for LGBTQ people, and an increasing number of religions and churches are accepting of same-sex marriages.

Representation of the 11.3 million LGBTQ Americans in the ranks of government is also continuing to grow; LGBTQ candidates were elected in record numbers in 2019.

Acceptance is growing in the Sandhills community, too, though much more slowly. Resources that I didn’t have growing up, like Sandhills PRIDE, now represent and support the LGBTQ people here.

Young people in the area are also leading the charge to support LGBTQ rights. Max Epstein, a ninth-grader at The O’Neal School, raised more than $7,500 to buy and hand-deliver diverse books to kindergarten through second- grade classes at 18 schools. The Pilot previously reported that the books included “populations that have been underrepresented in children’s literature — non-white characters, same-sex parents, blended and adoptive families.”

Pinecrest High School also has its own student-run pro-LGBTQ club, Spectrum, The O’Neal School has a diversity club, and Sandhills Community College has a Gay, Straight-Transgender-Alliance (GSTA).

Southern Pines Public Library also has diverse books in its children’s section, including books that represent same-sex parents and same-sex romance, just like they have books about heterosexual parents and heterosexual romance.

The far right often claims that young people are being “indoctrinated” into homosexuality or other parts of the LBTQ community. But, in reality, young people aren’t having anything forced on them. All youth have a unique sense of right and wrong that’s free from politics, so they are choosing to lead the charge for LGBTQ rights, especially in the South, where many are still rejected by their religious families.

Clubs like Spectrum, and books representing diverse families and gay or transgender people, offer LGBTQ youth here something I didn’t have when I was coming to terms with who I am — the chance to feel normal and safe.

Our community needs to push back against homophobia and transphobia, and embrace acceptance, because LGBTQ youth deserve to live free from violence, they deserve to feel safe, and they deserve love.

Jo Yurcaba lives in Seven Lakes, is a freelance journalist, and is a board member of Sandhills PRIDE.

(17) comments

Barbara Kelley

Biologically, it takes a man and a woman to create a human body-either male or female. That body is also given a spirit/soul by our creator who chose which sex to put the spirit/soul into. It is that spirit/soul who is rebelling against Gods decision.

Humans have always rebelled again their creator from the very beginning.

This is not a statement of hate or intolerance but of truth. Denying the truth is your free will given to you by God.

Because there are people who do not agree with the LGBT... community, does not mean they are obligated to change their views to suite your preferences.

We are to follow the law of God and love and pray for our neighbors.

Jim Tomashoff

You have a right to your religious beliefs. You do NOT have a right to impose your religious beliefs on others who do not share them through laws enforced by government. You choose to believe that God determines which gender you will be and that God intended all people to be heterosexual, you call that "truth." But it is not "truth" it is just your belief. The word God is nowhere to be found in our Constitution. That was INTENTIONAL. We most certainly are not "...to follow the law of God..." We are a secular society. Our laws stem from a secular legal system. If you want to live in a society ruled by "God's laws," a Theocracy instead of a Democracy, by all means feel free to buy a one-way ticket to Iran. I'll be glad to drive you to the airport.

Richard Wright

Do the laws on murder and stealing come from the secular world or from the religious world?

Jim Tomashoff

They come from civilization. They come from the use of reason. It is in the self-interest of everyone to put consequences on the act of murder and stealing. Do you know of any civilization that has not prohibited murder and stealing?

Peyton Cook

No one is attempting to force their religious beliefs on you. You are free to worship a God or Supreme being or not. But you are wrong about the Founders and our rights cited in the First Amendment are “natural rights”. While some of the Founders were not members of a specific religion, they were Deists believing in a Supreme Being. While the word “God” is not in the Constitution, the word “Lord” is in Article VI. There are two genders: Female and Male.

Barbara Kelley

Just because a person denies that God exists does not make it true.

My statement imposed no belief on anyone. ‘We’ are to follow the law of God meaning myself and fellow believers. This government was not founded on secular beliefs but rather Christian principles that continue to be eroded. We are a democracy and given religious rights so there is no need for you to take me to the airport. Religious and secular people can live peacefully together in this society.

Jim Tomashoff

This country WAS founded on secular beliefs, not Christian principles. Your "belief" is simply historically wrong. You do seek to impose your beliefs on people who disagree with you. Your statement that the country was founded on Christian principles proves that, to my satisfaction. Your initial comment further proves that.

Peyton Cook

I do not seek to impose my beliefs on you or anybody else. I stand by my comments about our “rights “. The Founders did believe they were “natural”, not granted by Government. Recommend you read “The Summer of 1787” by David O. Stewart. An excellent book on the Constitution.

ken leary

It has been my experience that people's opprobrium toward others is due to ignorance and fear. The ignorance and fear are often a result of purposeful, deliberate, misinformation, or a questioning of, and lack of acceptance of, one's own contradictory desires. If you have a problem with other people who are not a threat to you perhaps the problem is yours. Excellent essay.

Kent Misegades

“A new Gallup poll finds that Americans’ estimates of the percentage of gays and lesbians in the United States is “many times higher” than the actual percentage, demonstrating a distorted perception on the part of Americans of this demographic group.“

Kent Misegades

CNSNews: Youth Acceptance of LGBTs Drops from 63% to 45%

Jim Tomashoff

"CNSNews.com (formerly known as Cybercast News Service) is a politically conservative American news and commentary website founded by L. Brent Bozell III and owned by Media Research Center, Bozell's Reston, Virginia-based organization." Wikipedia. Why am I not surprised that Kent get's his "news" from this organization. Why would anybody?

Here's some context worth considering.

"Conducted online earlier this year, the poll quizzed 1,970 U.S. adults on their comfort level with seven theoretical situations: Learning a family member is LGBTQ, learning their doctor is LGBTQ, having LGBTQ members at their place of worship, seeing a LGBTQ co-worker's wedding picture, having their child placed in a class with a LGBTQ teacher, seeing a same-sex couple holding hands, and learning their child was learning LGBTQ history in school...he number of young Americans who were comfortable across all seven situations dropped from 53 percent in 2018 to 45 percent this year, the second consecutive dip for the age bracket...Some 43 percent of young males said they'd be uncomfortable learning a family member is LGBTQ (up from 32% in 2018). But, GLAAD reports, the more significant erosion is being driven by women 18-34, whose overall comfort levels fell from 64 percent last year to just 52 percent in 2019.

It's not entirely clear what's fueling the downturn, but Sarah Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, believes, "the sharp and quick rise in divisive rhetoric in politics and culture" is poisoning younger minds. President Trump has routinely targeted LGBTQ Americans since taking office...Still, overall support for equality remains high: Eight out of ten Americans believe in equality for LGBTQ Americans, a rate that's held steady since 2016. The Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil-rights legislation, passed the House last month. It now faces a tough battle in the GOP-controlled Senate. https://www.newsweek.com/young-people-comfortable-lgbt-poll-1445435

Kent, of course, would never publicly take note of this last finding.

Michael Edwards

People do not chose their sexuality. We are are who we are when we are born. If that's not understood then there's nothing else to discuss on this topic from me.

Richard Wright

Is this a scientific fact -- or an opinion? There are but two sexes.

Julia Latham

Thank you, Jo, for sharing this. I'm privileged to know you. Incredibly well said.

Kent Misegades

There is no difference in bibles used in the South and elsewhere. Homosexuality is a sin, period. The problems that homosexuals experience can easily be solved when they reject this sinful behavior. Recent studies at MIT and Harvard prove that there is no gay gene - people are not born homosexual but make this bad choice on their own. Christians accept that we are all sinners and will atone for our sins one day. We are also obligated to warn others of their sinful behavior - not out of hatred but out of love. We want them to find a cure for their gender confusion and lead wholesome, happy lives. Despite similar survey claims as those here North Carolinians soundly voted in favor of Amendment One, which amended our state constitution to protect the Biblical definition of marriage between one man and one woman. North Carolinians defeated a far-left effort in Charlotte funded by progressives to allow men into public women’s facilities - the reason there is a large national boycott against Target. The organization GLAAD, funded by Hollywood’s radical left, is responsible for sneaking the homosexual agenda into our government schools, trying to hide this at Pinecrest HS under the innocent name of Spectrum. Not too long ago, the primary focus in our schools was abstinence before marriage and this still remains the best policy. That graduates of government schools supposedly accept homosexuality is no surprise considering the liberal indoctrination they receive there. New data indicates however that millennials are changing their attitudes to be more aligned with traditional values - what most people do when they grow up. Christians accept their own sins and that we walk with sinners, but we also strive to be better people, especially when it comes to following the Scripture. For the gender confused, the new book ‘A Change of Affection: A Gay Man’s Incredible Story of Redemption’ is recommended reading.

Jim Tomashoff

Kent once again demonstrates his paranoid far right-wing belief in vast conspiracies. He's already told us that climate change is a conspiracy designed solely to destroy the U.S. economy. Just the other day he informed us that the Americans With Disabilities Act is the result of a conspiracy between government bureaucrats and the construction industry. Now the "homosexual agenda" is being pushed by yet another conspiracy, this time of "Hollywood's radical left." He also demonstrates his problem with reading comprehension. The recent studies he quotes did not "prove that there is no gay gene..." It proved that there is not single gay gene while confirming that there is a "genetic component" involved:

"The largest study1 to date on the genetic basis of sexuality has revealed five spots on the human genome that are linked to same-sex sexual behaviour — but none of the markers are reliable enough to predict someone’s sexuality.

The findings, which are published on 29 August in Science and based on the genomes of nearly 500,000 people, shore up the results of earlier, smaller studies and confirm the suspicions of many scientists: while sexual preferences have a genetic component, no single gene has a large effect on sexual behaviours.

“There is no ‘gay gene’,” says lead study author Andrea Ganna, a geneticist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts." https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02585-6

Nothing this narrow-minded bigot authoritarian (I guess "authoritarian" has now become more acceptable than labeling such individuals as fascists) writes should be accepted at face value.

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