My name is Troy N. Diggs. I'm a 20 year old Radio/TV major at Arkansas State University, and yes, I'm homosexual.
Up until a couple of years ago, I was scared to death to use that word. I've been born and raised in Arkansas all my life, and this place isn't exactly the most tolerant one in the world. There are still people around here (most of whom are in college or high school) who stick Rebel flag license plates on their cars or hang the flags in their dorm windows. My personal opinion is that these are people who think Jeff Foxworthy books belong in the self-help section of the bookstore. That group compromises about 1/3 of the population here in Jonesboro, AR.
Another third are the almost-maniacal Christians (this leaves about 1/3 of the population who really doesn't care). I don't mind people who believe in God; as a matter of fact, I go to church most every Sunday and thank God every day for putting me here and helping me through my life. What bothers me, though, are the type of Christians we have here.
While this example might not have occurred in Jonesboro, to me, it might as well have. Last October, a church in Colorado ran what they called a "Hell House", designed to, as MSNBC put it, "preach and, quite literally, scare kids straight." A demon would guide visitors through "Hell", which included scenes of a woman getting an abortion, a teenager committing suicide, and a gay young adult who has died of AIDS. In this particular scene, the demon flails around saying such charming things as "that's the way I like them; out of the closet and into the casket!" and "we've got your alternative lifestyle all right... IN HELL!!!". As I said earlier, this is indicative of what some of the churches here would do, and if memory serves me correct, one church in Jonesboro actually considered doing this program last Halloween; can't remember if they did it or not.
But we're straying from the topic at hand. I first came out to a friend in '95, and the experience was a little comforting, to be honest. I told him I was gay, and his immediate response was "So?". What that statement doesn't say, though, is that I had several friends who were either repulsed by the idea or simply refused to associate with me anymore. Needless to say, they aren't my friends anymore. I hope that someday, that will change, but for now, I've had to accept that some people I honestly cared about cannot accept that I am gay.
In the last two years, I've tried to help other folks (as Tommy and the rest are doing now) whenever I could. The first, and most important step, in coming out is admitting to yourself that you are gay. From there, it really doesn't matter who knows (as long as you're safe). Last fall, I met a person here at ASU who, quite honestly, confused me and many people I know as to specifically what he was. I confronted him about this, and he basically lashed out at me before moving elsewhere this semester. A couple of people I know told me they thought it was none of my business. I tend to disagree. In my opinion, I was trying to lend a hand (and a listening ear) to someone who looked like they needed it. If he had told me he didn't need the help (instead of ranting and raving), I would have understood and dropped the matter entirely. Coming out is a difficult process for anyone, and I didn't want to see him go through it alone. My friends have told me that they thought I had guts for taking it up with him. My personal opinion is that somebody had to take charge and find out what was going on. I did what I thought was right, and I still stand by it, even though the consequences weren't what I had hoped.
Today, I think we here at ASU are making headway into being recognized as people, not some radical fringe group. Recently, a gay/lesbian/bi/straight organization was started here on campus (of which I'm actively participating), and I see that as a big step because it shows that there are other people, just like me, who aren't ashamed of who and what they are.
So, you may ask, what is the point of this tirade? My point is this: being gay isn't easy, especially in an area where gays aren't exactly welcomed. Having good friends who see you as a person (and not as just a homosexual) helps tremendously. Despite all the stuff that goes on around here, I am proud of the progress we've made, and wouldn't trade this experience for anything.