By Zachary-Taylor Wright
Revealing one’s sexual orientation to family doesn’t always result in overwhelming support and understanding.
Solomon Johnson, treasurer of the Gay, Allied and Lesbian Association and communication design sophomore, didn’t quite receive the acceptance he was seeking, but he found strength in himself and his friends.
Johnson, 21, first came to terms with his sexuality in the fourth grade, when he was attracted to a male classmate.
“I thought, ‘While everyone else is liking these girls, you like this boy. It’s strange, but you know it feels right,’” Johnson said.
Johnson refrained from telling his family until a GALA meeting he attended on campus at 19 inspired him.
He described the urgency he felt to come out to his friends and family as an internal anxiety that was too heavy to avoid any longer.
“I forced myself out of the closet with them because, you see, everything in my closet was just bunching up, and I just couldn’t conceal myself up in there any longer,” Johnson said.
His father is an ordained minister at a Methodist church and told Johnson he could neither love nor accept that part of his life; Johnson’s mother had died when he was 6, but he continued to live with his father despite the unwelcoming response to his coming out.
Johnson described the conflicting sense of appreciation he had for his father’s financial support and the pain his father’s disapproval caused.
“I call it bittersweet because of the bitter part of him not supporting me throughout my whole lifetime — me not having a big support circle as a child — which was just so hard for me,” Johnson said.
Johnson has come to terms with his father’s disapproval and still lives with him today. Johnson maintains focus on the positivity around him, such as his newfound network of friends in GALA and the communication design degree he is seeking.
He says he learned to shift his attention from his father’s rejection to his well-being because his father’s inability to accept him is too negative to welcome into his life.
Home is not the only place where Johnson was criticized for his sexual orientation; he was bullied and criticized at Sam Houston High School, where he attended his freshman year 2010-11 — even referring to his high school as a “hell hole.”
Johnson said he spoke with teachers, counselors, administration and the principal about his experiences, and no solution was provided.
The San Antonio Independent School District adopted a bullying policy in March 2012, said Leslie Price, the district’s communications and printing services executive director.
“We fully investigate any claims of bullying that are brought to us, and work with students and their families,” Price said.
Sam Houston High School’s counseling department referred The Ranger to the principal’s office; the principal did not return phone calls.
All of the negativity surrounding Johnson led him to have dark thoughts of self-harm and suicide, but he found comfort and strength in a dream he had of his mother.
“I believe she came to me in a dream one time in a field of grass talking to me. … She said, ‘Son, do you love yourself?’ and that’s when I knew I needed to start making change,” Johnson said.
Change is exactly what Johnson made; he moved away from the school that was harboring his tormentors to the Healy-Murphy Center, a high school that provides service to youth in crisis; began working on his confidence; and started being honest with himself and others about his sexual orientation.
Johnson found himself being strong and confident — hardly the same person who was struggling to find the positive and overcome his father’s rejection.
Johnson realized he needed to be his own source of strength; he focused on his confidence and was able to become his own support system.
“I can’t keep waiting for someone to save me; I’ve got to save myself. So, that’s what I did, and I started to have the glow-up of the century, something I’ll never turn back from,” Johnson said, referring to the fulfilment he found in being self-reliant and proud.
At his new school in San Antonio, Johnson was able to expand his support group.
Johnson said friends have been more welcoming to his coming out and it gets easier every time he tells someone.
“I was a teary-eyed mess,” he said about the first time he told a friend. “Over time it’s just like (second) nature to me — it is nature, it’s natural.”
Johnson joined GALA when he first entered college in 2013; he ran for treasurer because GALA helped him come out of his shell and he “didn’t want to see a legacy go down.”
Johnson now has the wisdom to understand that one can’t pick one’s family, but choosing friends can alleviate negative feelings about one’s given family.
“Your family can be your worst enemy because they know you and they live with you. So, they know just what to do to get to you,” Johnson said. “Your friends don’t generally have anything to lose with you.”