By Jeff Walsh
Michelle Klucsor didn't have any stress going to her first gay youth group meeting -- at the time, she thought she was straight.
The now 19-year-old college sophomore says she first went to a San Jose, CA youth group when her friend asked her to go with her for support.
But it was more difficult when Michelle finally decided to go for herself. "The first time I went on my own, it was still pretty scary," she said. "I got there early and I was nervous, but the people there were really friendly.
"Another friend of mine went three Sundays in a row and stayed outside before she finally went into the group," she said.
Once Michelle went in, though, she couldn't wait to come out, so to speak. "It was my only social outlet during high school," she said. "I think every queer youth should try and find an atmosphere like that."
Homophobic high school
Klucsor now majors in marine biology at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She was the recipient of the Bobby Griffith Memorial Scholarship, named after the young man who took his own life in 1983, rather than deal with the struggles of being gay. His tragedy and the effect it had on his family is chronicled in the book "Prayers for Bobby" by Leroy Aarons.
The scholarship is given to a high school senior who has been politically active as a queer youth. Klucsor earned her high school credits early, and spent a few months before graduation doing political activism for queer youth issues. One of the highlights of her activism was speaking before the Teachers Associations of Southern and Northern California.
When talking about her activism, her sexuality and her life, Klucsor is self-effacing, doesn't brag or seem to get all that excited about what has happened in her life. As for being political -- it's just what she does.
"I just tried to convey my experience and educate teachers out there that there were queer youth," she said. "High school's a very unpleasant, homophobic place to be."
She finished classes a semester early as a way to get out of that environment, one made even more difficult once she decided to be honest about her sexuality.
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Klucsor started accepting she was a lesbian when she was 15. At 16, in her junior year, she started coming out at high school. She didn't make a speech or do anything to mark the announcement. "I just stopped hiding it," she said. "Instead of changing pronouns and being vague, I was just myself. That was hard. I was glad I had already found a social network outside of high school."
Her biggest problem in coming out was that no one believed her. "I was very femme in high school," she said. "I was more femme than your average high school student. Because I didn't look like stereotypical, people would come up to me and say: 'Oh, I heard you're a lesbian, but I know you're not.'
"To the day I graduated, a lot of people didn't know," she said. "If a guy was hitting on me, I would say I'm not interested in men."
But in the final semester of high school, while Klucsor was being out, proud and loud, word finally spread. "When I came back, people knew," she said.
Klucsor also didn't plan how she would tell her parents, and they both ended up finding out unintentionally. "I had gone to an all-girl dance (at the youth group)," she said. "My friends and I had three different stories on where we'd gone and my mom caught me lying to her."
Klucsor recalls the conversation she had with her mother.
Mother: Where were you really?
Michelle: Really I'm a lesbian and I went to this girl dance.
Mother: Oh, why didn't you tell me? If you told me earlier, I would have driven you there.
She wasn't as sure she wanted to tell her father. At the time, gays in the military was the hot topic. "My dad was anti- gays in the military, so I decided not to come out to him," she said. "He later overheard me speaking to my mom, and that's how I ended up coming out to him."
Klucsor says her father was in denial about her homosexuality. For six months during the gays in the military debates they couldn't talk without arguing. "He would start to talk about gay issues with my girlfriends," she recalls.
When Klucsor was receiving the Bobby Griffith Scholarship in June 1994, her father attended the P-FLAG meeting where she was being honored. He apparently liked the atmosphere at P-FLAG, she said, "He never stopped going. He goes to four meetings a month and I think it's been very helpful to him."
Her father is now the facilitator of a P-FLAG support group in the San Jose area, and last June he marched in his first gay pride parade with his daughter. "It was my dad's first march, my birthday and we marched together in San Francisco," she said.
Klucsor said her parents were both very liberal when she was growing up. They even had gay friends that would visit the house. "I remember when I was six years old at a Christmas party, I asked about lesbian and gay couples," she said, after seeing same-sex couples at the party. "They explained it to me in a completely rational sense."
'I could have easily been a statistic'
Klucsor still speaks out about sexuality on campus, and is an active member of the queer community in Santa Cruz. She specifically selected her college because of its "liberal atmosphere" and high lesbian population.
"It's a pleasant change going from a homophobic high school to this," she said.
She plans to go into research, with an emphasis in marine mammals. She came to terms with the environmental problems affect on marine life when in two consecutive years, she swam from Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay. "I don't think I'd do it again," she said. "It was more polluted the second year than the first year."
Klucsor says she will stay politically active her entire life. And she still feels thankful that she had such a positive coming out and acceptance of her sexuality.
"I know it's not possible in a lot of areas," she said. "I had liberal parents, who were not homophobic, living in a metropolis and it was still hard for me to come out.
"If I had lived in a conservative family in the Southern Bible Belt, I could have easily been a statistic of gay suicide."