You may not know Daniel Pierce's name, but if you were an LGBT person online yesterday, you almost certainly know how his family reacted when he came out.
Pierce is the 19-year-old Georgia college student at the center of a gut-wrenching video capturing his family's violent reaction to his confirmation that he is gay. As the video racked up more than a million views on YouTube, Pierce began responding to media requests — making his first appearance on HLN's Dr. Drew on Call Thursday night.
Previewing the video, host Dr. Drew Pinsky and his panel offered a little context on the situation that ensued before Pierce began filming. The teen's grandparents, father, and stepmother were attempting to stage an "intervention" surrounding his sexual orientation, allegedly trying to send him to a "reparative therapy" program where he could try to "pray away the gay." When Pierce stood firm in his conviction that being gay was not a choice, the situation quickly escalated into violence.
Before welcoming Pierce to the show, Pinsky hosted a panel to discuss the video, including a call from a self-proclaimed "ex-gay" man who practices so-called reparative therapy. Pinsky acknowledged that he is concerned by those who would try to change a person's sexual orientation but still welcomed David Pickup to the program, noting that he believed Pickup's view, while controversial, was worth hearing.
In the second half of the segment, Pinky welcomes Pierce, who he identifies under the pseudonym "David." Most of Pinsky's panelists laud the teenager's poise, grace, and courage in coming out despite the hostile reaction.
[Editor's note: The Advocate spoke Thursday with Teri Cooper, a woman who identified herself as Pierce's aunt and the adult with whom Pierce was staying. She granted The Advocate explicit permission to publish both her and Pierce's names.]
After recounting some of the basics about the incident, Pinsky asks the teen if he ever considered "not coming out" to his family.
"Oh, yes," replies Pierce. "I lived in fear of coming out."
Panelist Wendy Walsh suggested to Pierce that his family's violent reaction "sort of helped you separate [from the family], so that you can better reaffirm who you are."
"I love the fact that you understand the science," Walsh continued to Pierce. "That you understand the biological news, and you were able to stand pretty firm about who you are."
Danine Manette, a criminal investigator, acknowledged that it's "probably best that he's not living there anymore, anyway." Calling the violence and hostility Pierce endured "awful," Manette went on to speak in defense of the teen's family.
"But at the same time," she continued, "this is their house, these are their beliefs, they pay the bills, he's an adult, so it's probably a good idea for him to now take this opportunity for him to move on in his life, because no matter where you are and what you do, people are not going to always accept you for who you are. And that's just the reality of life."
Regardless of the harsh reality of life, Pierce appears optimistic.
"I am so overwhelmed with joy," Pierce told the panelists of the massive outpouring of support sparked by the video's viral fame. "I am very blessed to have all of the comments and the messages and everything that everyone has done — the donations, all of that — has been a big surprise. It's helping me get through the day."
Of the GoFundMe campaign set up by Pierce's boyfriend — which at press time had raised more than $73,000 to help Pierce with living expenses after being disowned and cut off by his family — Pierce said he plans to pay it forward, literally.
"I want to give a portion of it back to the cause," Pierce said. "I'm going to get actively involved with as many organizations as I can. My main focus with the video was … I want to bring awareness that this is still happening. If it saves one kid the misery of what I went through, I will be satisfied."
Watch the portion of the HLN segment featuring Pierce below. See the edited version of the first segment here.