Hey, I am Brooke. I was raised in Spokane but spent a lot of time in Coeur d'Alene as a kid. I came out as a lesbian when I was 21, although I had known since 8th grade. I started realizing there was something “different” about me in about 6th grade. All my girlfriends were constantly talking about who was the cutest boy in our school or how cut Joey from New Kids on the Block was. I was thinking about how cute Joey from Dawson’s Creek was. Nevertheless, I became a master at faking crushes on boys.
If I had only felt safe enough to reach out to someone in 8th grade, 9th grade, 10th grade…any day that I was feeling out of place and alone, maybe my life would have been “easier.”
One important piece I forgot to mention, I was raised Catholic and attended private Catholic school kindergarten through 8th grade. That meant religion class daily, nuns for teachers, confession, and church every week. Basically, it was ingrained in my brain that if I did anything that went against the bible, I was going to hell. Also, this meant that I should and did feel guilty about everything. One of the big sins that they drove home was homosexuality. Romantic love and marriage were to be between a man and a woman, period. As a 12/13-year-old, I felt like there was something horribly wrong with me, and when I died, I was going to hell no matter what. I had no one to talk to or confide in about what I was feeling. I carried this secret around with me all through high school and into college.
In my freshman year of high school, I started drinking and going to parties regularly. Drinking was a way to make me feel “normal” and numb out the horrible feelings I had about how disgusting I felt inside because I like girls instead of boys. Don’t get me wrong, I was fully supportive of anyone who was part of the LGBTQ community, but I still felt shame for my sexuality.
At age 21, I finally found the courage to tell my sister, “I’m a lesbian.” Her response was, “Okay. You’re my sister, and this is part of who you are.” From that moment on, I was able to find the courage to start telling my friends and parents. Everyone was completely supportive, and even though my parents didn’t totally understand, they still tried. Nobody saw me as the horrible person I had made myself out to be in my head…, except me. My whole life was supposed to be amazing now, right? But I still had no one I felt I could turn to that understood me. Being a lesbian was still so abnormal to me. Unfortunately, coming out wasn’t like the ending of a Disney movie where I ride off on a magical unicorn down a rainbow path.
As time passed, I fell deeper and deeper into depression, and my anxiety increased substantially. In September of 2002, I attempted suicide. I swallowed 20 Lorazepam, which I later learned was about the equivalent to drinking 12-13 cases of beer. Fortunately, my attempt failed, and I finally was able to get the help I was too afraid to ask for and desperately needed.
If I had only felt safe enough to reach out to someone in 8th grade, 9th grade, 10th grade…any day that I was feeling out of place and alone, maybe my life would have been “easier.” But who really knows? What I do know is that it’s imperative for our youth to have someone to reach out to that they can trust. Being brave enough to talk to someone about who you truly are on the inside is hard enough, but to have people in your life condemn you for who you are is heartbreaking. Our youth deserve to be heard and to feel safe sharing their feelings.
There are some youth programs in Cda where they can find support or support each other, but how safe do they feel being a part of these groups? Especially considering what happened when an 11-year-old youth confided in their school counselor regarding their gender identity. The public has made the guidance counselor and 11-year-old out to be disgusting and unacceptable humans. When a person of any age, especially a youth, is made to feel “broken, wrong, and not worthy of love and acceptance for who they are,” we are teaching them to hate themselves (Quote is taken from NIPA Facebook page). We are also treating them like they are somehow abnormal.
The more the youth of today is taught to feel horrible for who they are, the more likely they are to turn to drugs, self-harm, and suicide like I did. This unacceptable behavior still happens regularly, especially in Cda. In Spokane, I can walk down the street and feel confident about who I am, but it is not the same here. I am constantly stared and glared at. People go out of their way to make me feel uncomfortable, unwanted, and unsafe. And at 41 years old, it still gets to me sometimes, no matter how hard I try to ignore it. If the people of Cda can shake the confidence of a 41-year-old woman that’s been out for 20 years, how do you think our children feel?
So, my question to you is, how are we going to make the youth in Cda feel safe and supported? It’s time to make a commitment to them and ourselves to take action and stand up against intolerance and replace it with education.