Opening doors

Decatur students reflect on coming out

Kyleigh Brown

“You know they’re going to hell don’t you?”

“You know that women can’t actually like other women right?”

These were the words thrown at Kyleigh Brown each day by her peers. Brown previously attended at the Dekalb Academy of Technology and Environment (DATE), where most students were conservative Christians. However, these words weren’t meant for Brown, they were directed at her moms.

When Brown was ten years old, her mother got together with her current wife. At first, Brown didn’t understand the relationship.

“I just thought they were roommates,” Brown said. “I remember thinking how my mom and her were such good friends!”

The first time her mother admitted her sexuality to Brown was after church. Brown’s church had recently become more accepting of the LGBT+ community, so the time seemed right for her mother.

“We were in the car, and my mother just said ‘hey, I’m gay,’” Brown said. “I had to process it for a second after she told me.”

When Brown’s peers would comment about her moms, they didn’t realize their words had a more direct impact. Brown also realized she wasn’t straight in sixth grade when she started noticing girls.

“I just thought this girl was really pretty, but then I started to have a crush on her. I thought dang, this is a Christian school there’s no way,” Brown said. “It was kind of upsetting.”

Brown tried to push her feelings aside, knowing that her true feelings would only be met by hate.

“I knew if I said anything about it they would tell me to go to hell with my moms. I was really closed off,” Brown said.

Instead, the comments about her parents caused her to lash out. Brown tried to express herself physically.

“I was a violent kid, so I would probably just beat them up,” Brown said.

Overall, Brown was not in a good place, literally and mentally. There was no one Brown could turn to for support.

“I didn’t know anyone I could trust, there was no one I could trust,” Brown said. “To try and connect with people I would just create conflict.”

Everything changed when she moved to Decatur in eighth grade. The awareness and acceptance of the LGBT+ community were liberating for her. Decatur was what Brown needed to start over.

“I tried to be a new person, I wanted to stick to who I knew I was instead of pretending to be someone else,” Brown said.

To do this, Brown knew she had to cut herself off from her previous school.

“[Students at my old school] were making me a toxic person, and that’s not who I wanted to be coming to a new school,” Brown said.

Decatur was also the place Brown could finally acknowledge her sexuality. When Brown entered the halls of Renfroe Middle School, she had to go through the struggles of meeting new friends and adjusting to a new environment. For Brown, the Art Club was where she found her home. When Brown went to her first meeting, the people she met excited her.

After spending more time with them, Brown found that most of the members were gay.

“It was a comforting feeling, knowing that someone else kind of knew what I was going through,” Brown said.

Brown joined the Gay-Straight Alliance at Decatur in her freshman year and realized that she was pansexual.

Even with the acceptance of her friends, Brown still hadn’t formally admitted to others that she was gay. The first person she admitted her sexuality to was her best friend Cara.

But when she came out to her parents, it was an entirely different story. Brown made sure her parents both had a good day. She made dinner, and all was going well until she finally admitted her sexuality.  

“I said ‘hey guys, I’ve been looking into it, and I think I’m pansexual’ and they were like ‘ummm are you sure?’” Brown said. “My lesbian parents told me I was lying.”

Her parents believed that Brown was simply conforming to the “trend” of coming out. During their time, Brown’s parents had to fight for their rights before gay marriage was legalized, and felt that it became a trend to come out. 

“I was really hurt, I thought they would be more understanding considering their circumstance,” Brown said. “I guess it just made me realize that not everyone would accept my sexuality even if they also experienced [the same feelings].”

Brown has tried multiple times to come out to her parents, each time delivering the same result. Her parents aren’t against the LGBT+ community, they just believe for Brown, it will fade away.

“They don’t have a problem with me dating girls, or non-binary people. They just think [being pansexual] is something that I will grow out of,” Brown said.

Brown hopes that her parents will come to trust her sexuality. But for now, she has to wait it out.

Josiah Acosta-Ballard

Like Brown, Josiah Acosta-Ballard lives with two lesbian moms, but it wasn’t always like that. He lived with his mom and dad when he was a kid until they got divorced when he was nine. When his mother started seeing another woman, Josiah rejected the idea that his mother was gay.

“When [my mother] came out to me, I cried and was upset. At the age of nine, it all felt very wrong to me,” Acosta-Ballard said.

His beliefs stemmed from the Christian school he attended in New Orleans where only the traditional heterosexual relationships were accepted.

“I kind of acted like I didn’t have any mothers,” he said. “I pushed the relationship away from me and acted like it didn’t exist for a long time.”

When he was in school he would tell his friends his other mother was only a friend or even a babysitter so he wouldn’t have to admit that his mother was gay. However, Acosta-Ballard couldn’t shake the feeling that he was different too.

“A lot of guys would talk about girls.  Not like that’s a secret, but I guess I never noticed the stuff they were talking about or really paid attention to what they noticed,” he said. “It was like some universal truth I didn’t quite get.”

Acosta-Ballard moved to Decatur in seventh grade. Although the move was hard, he was instantly drawn to a group of people who invited him to sit with them.

“I could tell these people were like me but I couldn’t really tell how,” he said.

Acosta-Ballard found out they were all gay, unlike his other group of all straight guys. It wasn’t until the summer before his freshman year that Josiah realized why he never completely related to them. He was bisexual.

Even though he had gay friends that wouldn’t have a problem with his sexuality, he still acted like “the straight one” around them.

“There was a long amount of time where I didn’t say anything because I was terrified,” Acosta-Ballard said. “I had a lot of straight friends and I was scared I was going to lose them. If their parents found out, they probably wouldn’t want us being friends anymore.”

However, when a guy in his friend group started showing interest in him, he couldn’t escape his feelings.

“I kind of acted like I didn’t care at first, but after a while, I couldn’t keep away from him and act like nothing was there, so I started to go out with him,” Acosta-Ballard said.

Except nobody knew.

“It was exciting and electrifying in a way,” he said.

At a certain point, Acosta-Ballard knew it was time to come out. He couldn’t keep his boyfriend a secret.

The next day, he came out to his parents. Surprisingly, he was nervous despite the fact that they were lesbian.

“I told them I thought I was gay because I liked a boy and wanted to go out with him. They skirted around the gay topic entirely.  They just wanted to know about the boy,” he said. “They said they had theorized that I was probably gay.”

In fact, Acosta-Ballard’s other friends had also had these suspicions.

“I had a couple guy friends tell me they thought I was gay back in middle school but didn’t say anything,” he said.

Acosta-Ballard was relieved that his parents and friends took the news so well. It seemed like with every person he told, a burden was lifted from his shoulders.

He started exploring the idea of gender as well. Every year, the GSA hosts what is called Queer Prom, which he was invited to. A friend of his jokingly suggested that he dress in drag. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea.

“I thought it would be too fun not to do, so I went to the thrift shop and tried to find whatever I could to make an outfit,” said Acosta-Ballard.  

When his mother asked him how it went, he responded, “I think I want to wear women’s clothing from here on out.”

His mother was a little hesitant, but Josiah was the opposite.

“I went for it anyways.  This is what I wear now. I just go for it,” Josiah said.

Acosta-Ballard realized that coming out gave him the confidence to cross-dress. But more than that, he had a better sense of who he was.

“I’m a lot stronger and a lot more confident,” he said. It was hard at certain points. It’s always been hard, but things get a lot easier as they go on. I’ve just become a lot more courageous in myself.”

Grace Iverson

The first time Grace Iverson came out was in the eighth grade. She was sitting on her kitchen floor casually chatting with her mom when she admitted she was gay. Her mother told her that she could accept her sexuality, but needed time to process what Iverson had just told her.

Her mother’s first response wasn’t what Iverson anticipated. Yet Iverson realized that she should be more accepting of her mother’s reaction, seeing as Iverson had to come to terms with her sexuality herself.

“When I first realized I was definitely gay, it took me three years to finally be okay with myself, so I thought why should I be mad at my mom?” Iverson said.

Iverson’s formal school was a small private school, where she wasn’t exposed to the LGBT+ community. She was always confused why she never had crushes on guys like the other girls.

“When I was younger, every girl in the school liked this one guy, and I was like ‘why don’t I like him?’” Iverson said. “The thing was there was this girl and I wanted to be best friends with her, but I realized I liked her.”

Being in such a close-knit environment at her school, Iverson had only been exposed to heterosexual relationships. When the thought that she was gay first crossed her mind, Iverson took it upon herself to learn about the LGBT community.

YouTube was where she started her research, but Iverson was also inspired by a middle school advisement teacher who was openly gay.

“I just knew her as someone who was out and was okay with it,” Iverson said. “She was a really good person so she was a nice role model.”

Yet Iverson still hadn’t fully accepted herself. It wasn’t until she moved to Decatur in her freshman year that her views started to change.

“There were so many people that were out and were proud and didn’t care what people thought,” Iverson said. “I wanted to be like that too.”

Even though Iverson was envious of the openly gay students around her, she struggled to have their same mindset.

“I had a hard time connecting my name and everything surrounding me as a person with being gay,” Iverson said.

As the year progressed, Iverson became friends with people who weren’t straight, and even one of her long-time friends came out. By the end of the year, she was finally able to be completely okay with herself.

“As I get more out, open people I think over time I got more comfortable with [my sexuality],” Iverson said.

The summer before her sophomore year, Iverson came out to her two sisters, as well as her father, without any problem. All of Iverson’s fear of judgment from her family and friends was gone.

Pretty soon, Iverson was out and proud like those she had envied before. She didn’t need to hide any longer.

Photos by Ava Posner