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Kicked out, gay teenager finds role

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Kicked out, gay teenager finds role

July 12, 2007

BY DESIREE COOPER

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

At 47, sometimes I still wonder who I am. But 20-year-old Brandon Kneefel already is certain about who he is -- and he's paid a heavy price for it.

"I was 14 when my parents asked me if I was gay," said Kneefel, who was born in Dearborn and raised in Livonia. "I said that I was, and they immediately wanted to get me counseling."

For Kneefel, a popular student who holds track and field records at Livonia's Stevenson High School, it should have been a relief finally to acknowledge outwardly what he'd felt inside since he was 4. Instead, it unleashed a nightmare.

His family was humiliated and repulsed by his homosexuality. They objected to him running for student body president, fearing he would negatively influence other students. They didn't want him to play football for similar reasons.

"All I saw was their fear," he said.

When he was 16, the tension came to a head, and they cast him out of the house. He went to school the following day -- still in his pajamas. Kneefel lived with a friend's family until he graduated with a 3.5. Unable to afford college, he applied for an Army ROTC scholarship at the University of Michigan. He got it but relinquished it after his first semester.

"I could not be gay and be in the Army," he said. "I wasn't being true to myself."

That took courage, but it also derailed the life of the young actor, intellectual and athlete.

The cost of self-denial

Jorge Valencia knows a lot about teens like Kneefel. He's the executive director of California's Point Foundation, the nation's largest publicly supported scholarship grantor to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

"Gay youth are 4.5 times more likely to skip school than their non-gay peers because they don't feel safe there," said Valencia, a gay man who grew up in a Mormon family in Texas. "LGBT teens have three times the dropout rate, are more likely to run away from home and are three to four times more likely to take their lives than non-gay peers."

Plus, many LGBT youth often are ostracized by their families, making it difficult to get a college education, he said. That's why the foundation offers scholarships, leadership training and mentoring to promising LGBT youth. Point scholars -- 84 this year -- are supported until they graduate. Kneefel is one of them.

To thine own self be true

Now nearly a junior and a gay activist, Kneefel is grateful he'll be able to earn his degree in organizational leadership from Pennsylvania State University.

"For me, the scholarship is symbolic of how far the LGBT community has come," he said. "It means that I'm affirmed with all the struggles I've been through growing up gay."

Acknowledging his sexuality has exacted a high price, but for Kneefel nothing is more costly than self-denial.

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Dude;

Thanks for posting this article. I've wanted to support something like The Point Foundation, but had never found anything I felt I could trust. I'll be dropping them a check shortly. Here's hoping it will help support those who both need and deserve the support.

Cheers;

Abraxas

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Some choose to love and support, and to insist that others do the same.

Some choose not to love and support, and to resist when others do the same.

It isn't as complicated a choice as we too often make it seem.

Oh, how I wish more people made the right choices more often.

Oh, how I wish it were rare to see where someone didn't get support from the very people and groups who claim to offer it.

Love and life are the better way.

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I am heartened by this article too Dude.

When I think back to my own teenage years, I realise that there was a certain protection built in, back then, because homosexual acts were illegal, and so families were more inclined to either ignore or not admit that their kids were anything other than "normal."

We had enough trouble admitting our "criminal" status to ourselves.

We lived on our wits all the time, side-stepping the bully students and teachers everyday at high-school. Fag-haters were everywhere and their attitude was reinforced by the law. The work-place was just as threatening. You only had to be thought of as "one of them" to lose your job.

We truly were subject to their slings and arrows because we represented "The love that dare not speak its name."

I was 17 when my mother asked me if I was having a relationship with another boy.

At my wits end, I looked at her loving eyes filled with fear, and had a moment of insight to what she was feeling.

"Are you sure you want to know?" I asked her.

"No, you're right," she answered, "I don't want to know -just be careful."

She hugged me and said she hoped I would be happy.

So I sort of let her know without putting her in a position where she had to react. Not easy, but coming out never was; never is. It was even worse when being gay was illegal and you had to resort to subterfuge just to survive. Schizophrenia was very fashionable.

Today we fight the remnants of these restrictive laws and attitudes.

We need to do all we can to enshrine our freedom and extend it to all -just be careful.

:icon10:

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it took HUGE courage & unshakable principle for one to do what Kneefel did. Especially relinguishing his ROTC scholarschip...... :icon10: I admire him. So young yet so courageous & he decides his own life. He knows what he wants and he didn't let fear stops him. People like him is rare & getting rarer by the day....

Cheers to Kneefel! I hope you find happiness, love, money & all or any of the above!

rAD

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