Want to get involved in social change? Love yourself first

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. In honor of this movement, this week we’re shining a spotlight on the LGBT youth community and the myriad of ways you can get involved. Today’s story is about one young man’s coming out journey both to himself and the world of social good.

There comes a point in your life when you have to look in the mirror, and ask,  “Who am I?”

In April this year, while I was lying in bed in the wee hours of the night, I did just this.  I picked up my phone, opened Instagram, and chose a photo that I had taken earlier that night. I typed a short paragraph that forever changed my life:

My name is Hakeem Hicks, I am an African-American college student at Clemson University and I aspire to work in the field of broadcast journalism. I am a Gates Millennium Scholar, an innovator, a leader, and a role model. I am a man of faith who has his own relationship with God. I am a son. I am a brother. I am a best friend. I am a visionary. I am an achiever. I am a conqueror…. and I am a member of the LGBT community!

With the submission of this one post I released a myriad of emotions – fear, anxiety, doubt, worry, stress, even self-hate. I had finally found the courage to share my biggest secret that I had been keeping for 15 years – I am a bisexual male.

That night I laid in bed for over an hour just thinking and contemplating on what I had done the next morning. My mind was in a whirlwind. Will my family disown me? Will my church family shun me? Would my peers treat me differently? No matter how bad the potential answers were to these questions, I was still at peace.

Growing up LGBT in South Carolina

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Hakeem showing Clemson pride.

When I was younger, I was deathly afraid to let anyone know about my sexuality. I’d been on the receiving end of taunts about “being gay and a faggot” since I was in the fourth grade and those taunts broke down my confidence and left me vulnerable.

Then as I got older and became affiliated with the church, the desire to be and do exactly what I feel in my heart got stifled even more by sermons that said I was an abomination and unrighteous. I tried to “pray the gay away.” No matter how hard I prayed or how long I fasted, my desires never died down.  So I stopped trying to be what others wanted me to be and began living just as I was created.

My coming out process took three long years. It started my junior year of high school; I came out to my best friend one random day after school. She immediately embraced me. She expressed that she had always known and even began to unsuccessfully try her best to play matchmaker.

The next step was for me to tell my mother. My mother had always raised me to not be judgmental and to walk in love; I had been exposed to members of the LGBT community my entire life and she supported them. My mom was the one person I knew would be there for me and would have no problems with me being a same-gender loving person.

I was wrong. When I came out to her last summer, she told me that I was disgusting and that I would go to hell. We didn’t speak for two whole months. I gave up on my life during the fall semester of that year. I was no longer trying to work, experience, and grow; I was just there. Friends and mentors got me through this time.

Finding purpose again

The last phase to my coming out was to let the world know. I don’t know what happened to me that night in April that pushed me to share with the world my deepest secret, but I’m glad whatever stirred my spirit that night did.  

Now as an openly bisexual male, I feel it’s my purpose to break down barriers between the heterosexual world and the non-heterosexual world. I’m blessed to be a part of two major initiatives – Gates Millennium Scholars and National Youth Pride Services (NYPS). I recently joined NYPS as a way to be a part of a team of individuals who are passionate about gay rights and collectively known as an agent of change.

I don’t know exactly what my role will be in terms of LGBT social movements, but I do know this: I’ll never turn my back on those who have to give up or hide their own individual identity. Because in the end, gay pride isn’t just about loving another man, but about loving yourself.

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National Youth Pride Services (NYPS) is an organization that develops and supports black youth leaders in the LGBT community. To apply for membership or get involved, email youthpridecenter@gmail.com.

248576_1904658150504_1608657_nHakeem Hicks is a third-year student at Clemson University majoring in Psychology and minoring in Education. An accomplished student and a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Gates Millennium Scholarship, Hakeem aspires to a career in broadcast journalism. He hopes to use his future platform to fight social injustices and be a role model for the young men of tomorrow.

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On God’s Campus: Bridging the gap between faith and the LGBT community

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. In honor of this movement, this week we’re shining a spotlight on the LGBT youth community and the myriad of ways you can get involved. Today we’re featuring a project that is helping to make peace between two communities often at odds.



In December 2011 at the house of a George Fox University faculty member, Paul Southwick sat with a student in a secret meeting. The student was gay, suicidal, and struggling to come to terms with his sexuality on the religious campus.

“He cried and told me what he was going through, and it was what I had went through and heard other alums go through,” Paul says. “I thought, enough is enough. We need to be able to share our stories and let people know that this is the impact these policies and cultures are having. If we can personify the consequences, maybe there will be a little sympathy, and a little change.”

That moment was a catalyst for creating On God’s Campus: Voices from the Queer Underground, a video campaign and book project started in the summer of 2012 that shares the stories of LGBT youth and alumni from conservative Christian campuses across the U.S. The goal is multi-faceted: connect youth with each other so they don’t feel alone, empower both gay and straight allies to take action and create support systems on campus, and educate school counselors and staff about this community.

“The whole purpose of this project isn’t to destroy these Christian colleges. It’s actually to preserve them. Because if they don’t make some changes they’re only going keep hurting people and become less relevant,” Paul says.

The issue is personal for Paul, who was a devout Christian growing up. As a student at Oregon’s George Fox in the early 2000′s, Paul was frequently harassed and told being gay was evil. As a result he battled depression, was hospitalized for panic attacks, and sent to conversion therapy in the hopes that he would become straight.

He was embittered. It was only when he went away to law school in Michigan, where he attended churches that accepted him for who he was, that his anger calmed and he started questioning how his faith and sexuality could intersect.

Now, a full-time attorney at law firm back in Oregon, Paul dedicates his free time to On God’s Campus so that others don’t have to suffer what he did.

“I’m more of an ally to faith communities. A lot of the gay community hates the church, and for a very good reason. I’m trying in some ways to bridge that gap and also figure out where I stand myself, personally and theologically,” he says.

What he’s learned so far

The project is ongoing and a work in progress, but Paul’s realized some lessons along the way:

1. Dream big, but stay grounded.
Paul and his co-producer Tiffany Stubbert originally wanted to do 100 interviews with youth and alumni, but quickly realized that traveling to the campuses, many of which are rural and isolated, would be impractical. They’ve since scaled the number back to 50, and are close to finishing that number.

2. When the time is right, just go for it.
Right before he launched On God’s Campus, Paul suddenly started hearing about LGBT students groups popping up on campuses “like popcorn.” Wanting to take advantage of the national momentum  that he knew wasn’t going to stop, he and Tiffany hit the ground running, despite a small budget and a lack of a long-term plan.

3. Heart first, ego second.
Their website doesn’t focus on blabbering all about their project, or related news. It’s all about the stories: original content that travels far on social media because it’s real and people can relate.

“People love being able to share their story. There’s a huge sense of empowerment that comes with it,” Paul says. “It’s just that nobody has asked them before.”

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If you or anyone you know is a student or alumni of a conservative Christian college and would like to share your story, please send Paul a message at ongodscampus@gmail.com.

Keep up to date and get involved with On God’s Campus via Facebook and Twitter.

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