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Street Smarts: A young man's journey from hell and back

Editor's note: Joshua Scarpuzzi, 20, joins SDGLN as a contributor of social commentary from a young person's perspective. In his first contribution, Josh shares a very personal story about the dire consequences of coming out to his parents.

Having grown up in a very strict Christian family here in San Diego, I was very fortunate to be raised on the principles of love, acceptance, forgiveness and equality; that all are created in God’s image.

I believe this to be true. All men and women: gay, straight, black, white, top, bottom! We are all equal and deserve to be treated equally.

A lot of our rights as humans can be taken from us in an instant, without warning, and oftentimes they are taken from us by the ones we hold closest. This is why it is so important for the youths in our community to be strong, know who you are, and always be yourself.

Four years ago I came out to my parents at a very delicate time. I was only 16 but in my eyes I was already an adult and could make my own decisions. I told them that I was gay, that my boyfriend is 11 years older than me, that I love him, and there’s nothing they can do about it!

Unfortunately for me there was. Just as quickly as I was out of the closet I was kicked out of their house.

There I was, on the street with just a few sets of clothing, no phone or money, and most importantly, nowhere to go. I was feeling just as lost as I was before I had shared some of my deepest feelings with my loved ones.

This was the single most difficult thing I have ever told anyone and I knew going into it that what I had to tell them could very well break their hearts. I also knew it would break my heart to live a lie, to never be myself, and to always feel distant to my family.

Over the course of the next year, I spent every day in fear. My parents had me transported across the country to a camp designed to change me into the boy they thought I was. For 365 days in the mountains of western Montana, I spent my days doing line drills, getting spit on, and forced to attend intense seminars in which I was told how to live my life to be the best boy I could, in God’s eyes, of course.

Every day I was called a fag, told I was dirty in my unjust ways, and instructed to fear the wrath of God. The only thing I learned was the hypocrisy of a group of people who proclaim to teach God’s love.

Who runs these camps you might ask? The Mormon Church, the same institution fighting to take our rights away with the recent Prop. 8 battle and their ongoing fundraising against all things queer and wonderful in this world.

Now, one would think that such a traumatic event would build up hatred and lasting distrust in my family, but I’m happy to say it was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Since my return, I have created a deep and meaningful relationship with my family. We were able to look past all of our judgments and misunderstandings and realize that we are family and nothing can change that. We were able to look past religion and focus on what truly matters: relationships, love and equality.

It most definitely took commitment and patience when trying to talk with them. I realized how important it is to allow them to have their beliefs, and ask that I have mine in return. I’ve learned that I can’t change anyone but myself and that I had to prove them wrong.

I had to prove that I was not the image of who they thought a gay boy was. I proved to them that I was still the fun, goofy, loving kid they raised. Don’t get me wrong, we have a long way to go, but always keeping an open mind and allowing them to take their time to accept their son’s decision were keys in building that relationship back.

My point is not only how important it is to stay true to your family, your values and what you want in life, but to always stay true to yourself no matter what people say. There are always people who will accept and love you for being the wonderful person you are meant to be. Most importantly, never forget to love yourself!

San Diego has set the bar with some outstanding youth organizations that will help to provide you with the best resources in those times of confusion and need.

The San Diego LGBT Community Center is first in my book. As the second-oldest and third-largest LGBT center in the nation, it provides San Diego individuals with a sense of community, respect and empowerment.

The Center has programs available for youths, ranging from coming out to youth housing. The excellent staff provides services Monday to Saturday at The Center, conveniently located in the heart of Hillcrest. www.thecentersd.org

If you’re looking for a great place to meet other individuals younger than 24 in a safe and fun environment, then look no further than Our Circle. Our Circle is a non-profit group providing gay, lesbian, transgender and questioning youths a place to socialize and get help in a time that can sometimes be confusing and lonely.

Our Circle holds a weekly meeting every Thursday night in Vista just of Highway 78. www.ourcircle.org

To contact Josh Scarpuzzi, send an e-mail to JoshS@dogsontherun.com or visit his professional dog training website at www.DogsOnTheRun.com.