By Paul Pellerito
Oasis Staff Writer
The Internet has done a lot for 20-year old Jason Hungerford, but what he is doing for it may be even more important.
Hungerford is no stranger to the power of being online. Like many queer youth today, he had his first tastes of coming out on the Internet, and it helped him come to terms with who he is.
Hungerford was out to many of his friends in high school, but even though they accepted and supported him, they weren't gay. He needed a place where he could feel welcome, so he reached out.
What he grabbed onto was the PFLAG-Talk mailing list, a list for, but not restricted to, people involved in the group Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Hungerford soon found himself to be the only teen on the list, and after lurking for months, he finally felt it right to post something.
"I felt, here are all these people talking about young people; however, there are no young people on this list to give their side of it. So I spoke up, introduced myself, and shared my thoughts."
He soon started telling readers of the list about his efforts to get his school to recognize its gay students. He had been sending stories of teens that were suffering in schools to the administration of his high school, always attaching anonymous notes asking why nothing was being done. These letters spawned meetings at his school, and eventually the administration became more aware of their queer student population.
This was the first in a string of victories that Hungerford brought forth for his gay peers.
Out of the stories of his silent activism came an idea. Why not have a list for people who want to make their schools safe? So in April of 1996, after many suggestions and encouragement from the PFLAG-Talk list, the Schools list came into being with Hungerford as List Owner.
Soon after, Hungerford started getting more e-mail from depressed teens, and after helping these people, the numbers of e-mails continued to increase.
"I couldn't stop helping people," he says, but the e-mail became too large a part of his life. He started to neglect the real world, and realized that something else would have to be done.
He realized that if he could "connect this person with these other people who felt the same way" then it would be better for all involved.
"I'm still alive because of the Internet," said Hungerford, knowing that there were others that could say the same thing, and others that wouldn't get the chance to if he didn't do something. So at the end of January 1997 he, along with help from his friends and the Critical Path AIDS Project, launched two youth-only lists. There is one for ages 13 through 17 and another for ages 17 through 21. Hungerford will also be launching another e-mail list on National Coming Out Day. The new list will be for youth ages 21 through 25. The two current youth lists have a total of over 350 subscribers and the Schools list has 175.
As these numbers grow, so do the numbers of queer youth who are being helped, all because of Hungerford, who uses the appropriate tagline of "Internet Youth Guardian." While he seems to be modest, he also has an understanding of what he is doing. A lot of Oasis readers are in the same position as Hungerford when he was first accepting himself. I asked Hungerford what advice he would give to the queer youth of America. He offers this:
"First, don't be afraid. Even though it may be hard to accept who you are, if you're afraid they've got you. If you're not, then no one can touch you. Start loving yourself a little more, and your life will become happier. The moment I stopped fearing who I was, was the moment I started to value myself and my life and was the moment my life started getting a lot happier."
Hungerford also says that he had thought about suicide before, but "If I would have killed myself, I would have, without knowing, killed all those other people I've helped. Knowing that is what keeps me going."