News (USA)

The Pulse effect: Orlando tragedy inspires teens to come out

The Pulse effect: Orlando tragedy inspires teens to come out
Sam Johnson kept his secret “for a very long time,” he told his family in his coming out letter.

The 18-year-old graduated near the top of his class at a Catholic all-boys high school in Seattle, reports Outsports. Johnson is a young role model, too: involved in his church as an altar server, a youth group and performing acts of community service such as raising money and awareness for breast cancer causes.

And he was an outstanding athlete to boot, specifically as an all-star soccer player. The Seattle Times even named him one of the best in the state. He’s spending his summer as a lifeguard and is enrolled to study as well as play at California’s Whittier College.

But after the massacre in Orlando, Fla., Johnson decided he could stay silent no longer. He wrote his extended family a letter explaining his decision to come out:

“I have listened, I have observed and I have reflected on a proper time and place to do this; but I decided that the time was now. You all are aware of what has happened in Orlando, and regardless of your opinions of the topic, a man walked into a bar and targeted people of the LGBT community and killed them, and that is the simple fact. You grow up being afraid of who are you, and then eventually you come to terms with it. And then something like this happens and you go right back to where you were. Put yourself in the shoes of the mothers, fathers and siblings of those people who won’t come home after their Saturday night out, put yourself in the shoes of people who have to watch their backs and live in fear for simply expressing who they love.”

Johnson’s friend and mentor, out college football player Conner Mertens, wrote about Johnson’s decision for Outsports. “He is joining the many voices speaking out against prejudice and bigotry. This is not about attention, and this is not about politics. This is about wanting to make a positive contribution to an otherwise negative and hostile world.”

And Johnson is not alone.

Another high school graduate 3,000 miles away came out in the hours following the tragedy. Carvin Casillas of Orlando, Fla. was one of those with a direct connection to the scene of all that violence: “he had been dancing at Pulse for more than year, unbeknown to his Puerto Rican father and Cuban mother. His mother had raised him in a church where parishioners learned that gay people went to hell,” reports The New York Times.

Hilary Swift for The New York Times
Hilary Swift for The New York Times

The 19-year-old with a nose stud who favored tight jeans faced his father, the owner of a local automotive repair shop, and told his dad, “I’m kind of gay.”

Joe Casillas told his son, “Okay,” and kissed him on the forehead.

“I just had to let them know,” Casillas told The Times. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to keep that from my family.”

As hard as it was for Casillas, activist Pedro Julio Serrano of Puerto Rico told the newspaper how very difficult these weeks have been for the families of Pulse victims who had no idea their sons and daughters were gay and lesbian. Some showed acceptance, others shame.

“That they would have preferred to deal with this privately and that nobody had to know that their son or daughter was gay. I can see it and I can feel it. And I just want to hug them and hold them and tell them that there is nothing wrong with this.”


Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

123,000 same-sex weddings since the Supreme Court ruling last year

Previous article

Dad arrested for trying to kill his ‘monster’ intersex baby repeatedly

Next article