|Sermon Excerpt: Logan's Story|
From "It Gets Better" Collaborative Sermon
delivered February 20, 2011 at First Unitarian Church of Orlando, Florida
My name is Logan Donahoo, and I’ve been a member here for a couple years now.
My story rewinds itself almost 16 years ago to my early teenage years.
After struggling with it for a while, I found myself coming out as gay to my close friends at my Catholic middle school when I was 13. Soon after, I came out to my family, some of whom took it better than others.
The next year when I started Winter Park High School, I quietly admitted to some of my new acquaintances on my bus that I “maybe, might be bisexual.” Although I knew in my heart of hearts that I was gay, I figured the bisexual label might be more palatable to others. (Footnote: I found out later this is common story, and is jokingly called the “bi-now gay-later plan”.)
Those few people that I mentioned my emerging sexual identity to on that Friday afternoon bus ride went right home, told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on. Over that one the short weekend the fall of my freshman year, it seemed almost as though the entire population of my high school had found out I was gay. That following Monday, it was clear: the word was officially out, and so was I.
The weeks and months following were some of the most challenging of my life. On a daily basis, I was physically threatened by peers and verbally attacked – in the halls and on the bus – by loud, violent, anti-gay slurs. I feared for my safety and never felt more isolated and scared before in my life.
I’ll spare you the gory details, but those feelings of isolation and fear took a toll on me on an earth-shatteringly emotional level. Feelings of hopelessness at any age are horrible enough, but at that time – at that particular age – they were more vivid and all-consuming than anything else I had ever felt.
Luckily, as in any ordeal, it wasn’t long until like minds found each other, and I found myself surrounded by a new circle of friends. I found a tribe of people I resonated with: Young activists, art students, theater kids, and a mish-mash of every other under-represented cultural group imaginable. It reminded me of the classic Rudolph claymation special: We were like our own little Island Of Misfit Toys.
A few of these new friends told me about a group they had started going to called Delta Youth Alliance that met at a certain church downtown. They took me here one evening after school, and I felt like I had finally found a safe harbor. Every week, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth would meet together and talk about life, in all of its garishness. We would talk about school, what we had been through that week, and how we were dealing with our families. Some weeks were all laughs, talking about celebrities and exchanging jokes; some weeks were quite introspective, trying to figure out what advice to offer to someone new who had been kicked out of their home.
Going to those meetings each week helped me grow as a person. The stories and struggles I heard each week helped me finally find an inner resolve and learn to face adversity head-on. I finally realized there were nothing the people terrorizing me at school wanted more than to see me crushed and gone. It became a matter of self-preservation. Simply put: If I killed myself, then the bullies win. Unlike some of my departed friends, I vowed to never let them reduce me to a statistic.
When I graduated high school, I became a youth facilitator for a few years before moving on to a brief career in the non-profit world and now a commitment to volunteerism, outreach and advocacy that I can’t separate myself from.
Delta Youth Alliance eventually moved several times, renaming itself GALIXY, and now Orlando Youth Alliance. As a teenager, there was a very positive message sent regarding the larger community, and the support that exists out there. Simply by donating space for this youth group to meet, the members of this church told me more about Unitarian Universalism than any historic or theological essay. Without ever proselytizing, or ever having gone to Sunday Service, I was sent a very clear message by this congregation: “This Is What We Believe In.”
Years later, I decided to start testing the waters here, and after a few wayward starts I finally jumped on in. I was happy to find a community that not only embraced my religious heritage including my Catholic childhood, and years of Paganism and earth-based spirituality, but that also celebrated my current identity as an agnostic/atheist/humanist.
To me, Unitarian Universalism is not just a religious movement in itself but is also an approach to religion. As an atheist, I can quickly rattle off what I don’t believe in, but here I’m challenged to not just discover what I’m against, but to explore and talk about what I’m for. I also feel deeply nourished by the constant message to change the world, and how community service can be a spiritual practice, even for non-believers like myself.
To any youth going through a similar ordeal, I can say it does get better. Not perfect, but better. The bullies quietly go off the radar. Laws change, public opinion evolves. Everything changes once you surround yourself with smart people, who love you as is, and care about seeing you well and happy. Things may look horrible now, but once you get out of that small fishbowl of your high school or small town and into the larger ocean, things expand and horizons broaden.
Don’t cheat yourself out of tomorrow.