Students face the truth and open up to friends and family

By Caitlyn Kolakowski

“Starting freshman year, I began to come to terms with the idea that maybe I was different, maybe I wasn’t straight, but gay. That was probably one of the hardest things for me, and I think [it is for] a lot of other people who are coming out. It really took its toll on me mentally for a while.”

These were the thoughts of Michael Podgers, Div. 030, when he came to realize that he was gay. Many others have made this same startling realization about themselves.

Paola Lopez, Div. 021, discovered she was lesbian in middle school from her friend, Jorge.

“One day we were doing community service at [a] church and we were sitting in the back because mass was going on. We started talking and I was telling him about this infatuation I had with this one girl and he’s like, ‘Well, you are obviously a lesbian’,” said Lopez.

Podgers, who struggled with his sexual preference, also turned to a friend for support. He chose to first come out to his friend Kelly, who was going through the same process herself.

“In her, I saw that this wasn’t something to be afraid of. She eventually became a great resource,” said Podgers. “Kelly slowly made me feel more comfortable and accepting of my own homosexuality.”

Brandon Pondexter, Div. 033, took two years before coming out. In his opinion, it was easier to tell a group first rather than an individual.

“No one seemed to care about it. They were surprised to hear it since it doesn’t show,” said Pondexter.

Jalessa Perez, Div. 090, thought it was difficult, at first, to come out to anyone.

“It wasn’t that easy. Even if your parents are open-minded, there is always that question of ‘Is it going to be okay with them?’” said Perez.

After coming out to their friends, the next step was to tell their parents. For many, this conversation was often abrupt and unplanned.

“It was a very informal way in which it came up. It was over an argument. They were yelling at me for not doing things around the house,” said Lopez. “Then they were saying ‘Oh we forgive you. You’re just a teenager. It’s okay.’ Then I didn’t even think about it. It just came out like word vomit. I said, ‘Well, would you still like me if I was gay?’ I don’t even know where it came from.”

“I had told some cousins by this time, but still feared the absolute worst from my parents. I knew my mom would be able to take it well though. I told her first. We were dropping off my sister at a Notre Dame High School football game, and almost the second we pulled out of the parking lot, I blurted out I was gay,” said Podgers.

Their cultural background also prevented many of these students to come out to their parents.

“It was hard because my parents are pretty strict and pretty traditional in the sense of Hispanic culture. [They were] not hardcore Catholic, but Catholic nonetheless. So homosexuality was still wrong,” said Lopez, who waited a few years from when she first told her friend and when she told her parents.

Some parents reacted better than others when they were told.

“[My parents] have been very supportive,” said Podgers. “They treat me perfectly normal. That’s the support I need and want. Nothing more.”

“It took my dad a while, but he came around. My mom told him. He was upset at first. But now he is really cool with it,” said Perez. “They meet the girls that I go out with.”

In a few instances, the reaction from parents was more negative.

“My dad walked away and my mother just turned off the lights. There was no reaction at all. They were in shock and I was in shock because I could not believe I had just said that,” said Lopez.

Because of the intensity of these coming out experiences, unexpected emotions came to the surface for a few.

“I was overwhelmed. When I got to my friend Kelsey’s house, I laid down on her bedroom floor and cried. [Neither Kelsey] nor my friend Kevin could understand why I did that because everything went well [with telling my parents],” said Podgers. “It’s hard to imagine how it feels to have so many emotions coursing through you at one time at such a pace until it happens to you.”

Some students are willing to provide advice to those who have fears about coming out to family and friends.

“If parents are open-minded, just get it out there because it always feels better when it’s out there,” said Perez. “If people aren’t going to accept you, then they aren’t worth being in your life.”

“I would recommend those students to come out so they can see who their real friends are,” said Pondexter.

“Confidence in yourself will go a long way. Don’t hide because of fear either,” said Podgers. “The more people who come out means just more people who get to know a gay person, reversing any ignorance somebody may have towards homosexuality.”