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Being Gay in Small Town America

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Growing up in a small town isn't always easy, especially if you're an openly gay teenager. Michael Baatz, a senior at Hayward High School in a small Wisconsin town with just over 2,000 people is doing just that.
Although he has a team of support behind him, Braatz still endures constant bullying. For example, yesterday, January 21, 2014 while he attended a local hockey game, someone wrote “fag” with their fingers in the snow that was on his car. To that he says “Honestly, everyone in my community knows that I'm gay. My bumper sticker literally says 'sorry girls, I'm gay'. They aren't dropping any bombshells.” Other times, his school locks and lockers are vandalized and his property stolen or displaced. He explains that the bullying all started when he came out as gay in sophomore year.
Aside from harassing language and bullying, Michael also expresses his displeasure for terms that are casually thrown around on a daily basis such as “that's so gay” and “fag”. He says “In small town America, it happens every day.” A lot of people who would never dream of uttering racial or religious slurs, seem to have no problem using this homophobic one.
So what's the deal? Unfortunately, being gay is often viewed as a negative thing. As a result, terms used to put down gay people have slipped into everyday speech and are used as a way to demonstrate just how bad the person using the phrase thinks the "gay" thing is.
If a phrase is repeated enough, its origins may be forgotten. Because it is so common to hear, "that's so gay" plenty of people don't link the phrase to an insult against gay people. Calling someone out for using this slur can be all it takes for the person using it to understand that it isn't simply a harmless expression.
Last year, when Michael “came out” to his school, he explains “I got to school that day, and they were all wearing tie dye shirts to support me and honestly, it was the most humbling day of my life.” Braatz went on to say “I made a promise to myself that my life was worth living and I couldn't be afraid of who I am. You just need to be who you are and be proud of that.”
In his YouTube video titled “My Coming Out Story” published earlier this month he responds to his critics saying “I tell people what I've gone through because I think it's important for other people to see that I'm still here, that I'm fine.”
Braatz also mentioned that numerous students at his school and throughout his community have confronted him seeking advice on coming out themselves. To them, he says “There is nothing more important than having pride of who you are. You should never live in fear of being yourself, who you always have been and always will be.”
When asked to respond to individuals that think being gay is a sin, he simply states “There are thousands of verses in the Bible, only six refer to homosexuality. In the six most popular in Leviticus, it says that 'if a man lies with another man it is an abomination and the two should surely be stoned to death.' But there are also verses saying 'if you cut your hair you shall be put to death' and 'eating shellfish and pork is an abomination'. Therefore if you are going to use religion to condemn someone, you cannot pick and choose what verses you adhere to. I don't think I'll be stoned to death anytime soon.”
Michael also spoke of his own religious views saying “I believe in God and that Jesus is my savior. But, my God loves me the way he made me. No questions asked.”



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