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UNCG student fights for gay rights

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For Article published Jun 26, 2007 Click Here

UNCG student fights for gay rights

Seth Crawford

Northwest Guilford

<script type=text/javascript> // This article was written as part of a Multicultural Journalism Workshop at the News & Record.

The numbing cold handcuffs constrict his wrists.

A firm hand tightly grasps his arm.

An attentive man guides him to the sporadic blinking lights of a police car.

As he is placed in the back seat, confidence builds up inside him.

Unlike most college students, 21-year-old Matt Hill Comer has been battling adversity his entire life.

Comer, a UNCG junior, realized he was gay when he was 12. But he grew up in a strictly conservative Baptist home, where he struggled with a decision to make his sexual orientation known. He would sit in church on Sundays, listening to his pastor ? who seemed to point him out ? condemning gays as despicable, vile creatures that would inevitably burn in hell.

Comer struggled with his sexual orientation. Maybe he didn't feel the way he thought he did, or maybe it would pass. After two years of wrestling with himself, he finally came out to his parents at 14.

"My dad just sat on the couch. He didn't really say anything," Comer said. "My mom gave me the typical conservative Christian reaction saying, 'You're going to hell.'

"I cried myself to sleep."

After he told his parents, he built up enough courage to confide to a friend in his Boy Scout troop and another friend from school, who told everyone else. It wasn't the way he had planned. But there wasn't much he could do about it, except grit his teeth and take the verbal abuse that followed.

Comer remembers being teased by the kids in his Boy Scout troop. That eventually turned to violence.

"They tied me to a tree and threw rocks and sticks at me and hit me with wet towels," he said.

His father confronted the Scout master, who simply replied: "Boys will be boys."

After coming out, Comer leapt right into gay rights activism. He started the Gay Straight Alliance club (one of the first five in the state) at Reynolds High School.

After his story appeared in a local newspaper, Comer's Scout master told him that they would have to make a decision about his Scouts' membership. He never told Comer who "they" were.

Comer was dismissed by the Boy Scouts a few months later. This incident didn't faze him or his passion to fight for gay rights. In the seven years since admitting he was gay, Comer co-founded the N.C. Advocacy Coalition, a youth-run political action committee that deals with youth lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, and joined UNCG's gay and lesbian group, PRIDE. He also belongs to the Triad Business and Professional Guild, UNCG's student government and the Guilford Green Foundation, an organization designed to promote acceptance of all people.

He spends a part of each day reading polls and statistics about the effect LGBT activism has on the country and its acceptance of homosexuality. His biggest goal is to spread the message to gays and lesbians living in fear of coming out, assuring them that it is OK to be who they are.

They can also be a Christian and gay at the same time. He says that it was a struggle at one point, but he has now come to terms with his faith and his God.

"Unconditional love does not have a 'but' at the end of it," Comer said.

Comer recently attracted media attention by taking part in two controversial campaigns. In the Equality Ride, a group of 50 young adults traveled across the country, demanding to be allowed on the campuses of 32 private religious colleges.

Comer said their goal was to share intellectual conversations about LGBT issues with students who have been taken down a path of hate and exclusion by pastors and never been informed otherwise.

Comer was a member of the East Coast team, which traveled to 19 colleges ? 12 of which barred the team from their campus. Comer believes that ? like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi ? the Equality Ride squad stared discrimination and hate in the eye, and approached it head-on in a firm, nonviolent way.

"Throughout history, those who show nonviolent resistance always win," Comer said.

The Equality Ride reaches out to gays and lesbians at those universities who have heard their whole lives that it was wrong to be the way they are, Comer said.

He wanted them to believe that they would still be loved, and could be happier by being themselves. There were more than 90 arrests combined during the trip.

Most recently he was involved in the Right to Serve Campaign. He and two others tried to enlist in the Army, declaring that they were fit college students with high school diplomas and the willingness to serve the country ? and, oh yeah, they were gay.

A recruiting officer asked them to leave. They refused and were arrested.

"My heart was racing. My adrenaline was pumping," Comer said.

He was just one of 11,000 gay youths across the nation to try to enlist in the armed forces during the campaign. Comer believes that the military can implement similar programs to that of the ones implemented by President Harry Truman when the Army integrated June 27, 1950. That's when soldiers were taught to be a colorblind entity.

As far as service members having a problem with allowing gays to fight side-by-side with them, a poll conducted by Zogby International reported that 73 percent said that they wouldn't mind.

A political science major, Comer wants to work with a LGBT group after college or with the Democratic Party. He could also see himself running for public office in the future.

"I will be involved in activism for the rest of my life," Comer says.

Seth Crawford

Seth, a junior, wants to write for Sports Illustrated. Good thing he has a runner's metabolism because this boy can eat.

Two editors ? who often used red pens to mark changes and who will remain nameless ? helped Seth trim his profile to fit the paper.

"It's never, like, fun to get pared back and to see all the red. Sometimes you don't agree with all the stuff, but when you read it back over it's like 'That was a really good idea. This is really good.'"

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