How to Survive Freshman Year: 13 Tips for LGBT Youth
By Daniel Reynolds
GLSEN Respect Awards
Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel may have been the most famous names at last weekend's Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network Respect Awards. But the real stars of the evening were the LGBT kids, among then the youth-dedicated nonprofit's Student Advocate of the Year, Mars Hallman. In their honor, The Advocate asked those on the red carpet, including Gigi Gorgeous, J.J. Abrams, Jason Collins, Dana Delany, Connor Franta, Robbie Rogers, Todrick Hall, and more, to offer a piece of advice to LGBT freshmen in high school. Here are their responses as well as highlights from the evening.
“Continue to build the support system that you have, those friends. … There’s the family that you have, and then there’s the family that you choose. Try to make contact with those people that are gonna have your back through thick and thin. It’s great when it is your family, but sometimes, it’s not gonna be your family. … Before I made that general public announcement [of being gay], I told some of my friends from high school, some of my friends from college, my family, obviously, and I played an entire season, 2012 to 2013 NBA season, with just them knowing. And I never once thought that it would get out, because those are the kind of people I keep in my life, people that have my back and would never sell me out. I’m so grateful I had that opportunity to talk to them when I was dealing with some tough times in a season. It gave me strength. So try to find that strength. I’m a twin. I play a lot of team sports. There’s strength in numbers.”
Cochairs Marilyn Katzenberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Jim Parsons
Zachary Quinto, Recipient of GLSEN's Champion Award
"It’s hard. I think that LGBT people sometimes have it the worst at their schools, depending on where they go and their surroundings. It makes you a stronger person, and you just need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of the day, it’s all gonna work out, and you’re gonna be so happy. And the sooner, the better. Come out the sooner, the better. Be safe about it, but there’s no better feeling than being true to yourself, even if people don’t understand you."
Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel
J.J. Abrams (Star Trek)
"Having gone to high school straight, but very much an outsider, I don’t know exactly what it’s like to be you. But I know what it’s like … to not fit in as well as you wish you could. And here’s what I’ve discovered, is that years and years later … you can realize who you are is a beautiful thing. … You’ll realize that the things that make you a little bit different … are the things that make you … a lot [more] interesting."
J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath
Cochair Bob Greenblatt and Eliza Byard, Executive Director of GLSEN
"Find a supportive ally. Even if you’re in a community where you feel you’re the only LGBTQ person there, there is at least one person in your school or in your community who will support you and who will listen to you. Look for those cues. You can find subtle cues if someone is an ally. Maybe they post a photo on Spirit Day. Maybe they talk about GLSEN on social media. Or maybe they just offer encouraging words about an LGBTQ celebrity when it comes up in conversation. So find that one ally [with whom] you can be really comfortable and share your story with, because it can then affirm who are you and help you as you embark on your journey of becoming more comfortable with yourself and then ultimately coming out with more people."
Sasha Alexander and Jessica Capshaw
“I wish I would have found someone to speak to — someone away from my family, away from my friends, that I could have just shared my emotions with. Because I kept that all inside, which is really damaging. Find someone who isn’t gonna share that and [will] just kinda work things out with you. I think that would’ve really helped me.”
“It’s very easy to say, 'Don’t be afraid, and just come out.' But make sure you’re in a safe space. Make sure you’re ready to come out. Because you’re not coming out for other people, you’re coming out for yourself. And once both of those are OK, just know, it’s gonna get great. It’s gonna get so better. I’ve only been out publicly for 10 months, and it feels like I’ve been out for my entire life. It’s been the absolute best 10 months of my life. It’s cheesy, but, it gets better!”
Todrick Hall (MTV's Todrick)
"Be fearless. Go in and explain to everyone why they should love you as a person and show people who you really are. Don’t try to overcompensate for your sexuality or anything you think might be wrong with you. Believe what you’re doing is right and that you’re walking in the right path."
Joe Zee, Editor in Chief of Yahoo Style (right)
Gavin MacIntosh (The Fosters)
“It’s gonna be pretty tough. There’s gonna be a lot of people that will think you’re different, and they’ll discriminate. But the whole time, you just have to be strong and stay true to yourself.”
Zachary Quinto and GLSEN Youth
Brad Bessey (Producer, Entertainment Tonight)
"Be who you are, respect who you are, and let people see who you really are. Just because you’re afraid doesn’t give you the right to be invisible. When I think about respect and this award tonight, I really think about myself when I was a child. I buried myself in being the most successful in high school and being a straight-A student and editor of the school paper and president of the student body. But that was to keep so busy that no one could really see the real me. And I think, as a creative person, any success I’ve had in my life, it’s because I finally became not afraid to be who I am. If I look back on my life, and if I had recognized that at an earlier age, I think I could have made even a bigger difference, and I could have spent a lot less nights afraid that someone would find out who I was. As a father of a 7-year-old, we work to create a space where he could be whoever he is, freely expressed, and not ashamed because of that. I think that’s the space I would have liked to have created in my own heart if I was a high school freshman."
"I was a freshman last year … and I think the most important advice I could give to anyone is, don’t put on a mask to hide yourself. Don’t try to hide yourself just because you’re afraid of what other people might think or say. That’s the thing about high school. It’s all about finding yourself and finding who you truly are. And you can’t do that if you hide yourself under a mask. … The most important thing you can do is be yourself, find your groups, get involved in stuff, and find who you relate to most. Then you’ll be your happiest."
"If I could, I would tell every freshman in high school who might be L, G, B, or T, there is nothing wrong with you. No matter what you have heard, no matter what you have been taught, you are whole. You are worth it."