My name is Felix Montano and I am a gay 48-year-old first generation son of Cuban-American immigrant parents. My brother-in-law, married to my older sister, is Muslim. My mother and younger sister are devout Evangelical Christians who continue to “pray for me” to be delivered from homosexuality. As a gay man, I have been on the receiving end of ridicule, prejudice, and hatred most of my life.
Every day throughout elementary school in Burlingame and San Mateo in Northern California, I withstood bullying and name-calling. Each morning before school I wondered how to make myself as inconspicuous as possible to avoid being tripped, having my locker vandalized, or my books getting knocked out of my arms. I was taunted, teased, and threatened from the second grade through my senior year in high school. Even my fourth grade teacher asked me why I was such a sissy, and then told me all the teachers talked about it (me and my “affliction”) during lunch in the cafeteria. This same teacher also allowed fellow classmates to talk about my “gayness” when sharing during “current events.” If I tried to stop them, I was told to sit down and not interrupt. I was called gay, faggot, and sissy before I knew what the words meant. But I knew I was not okay, not accepted, and only wished I wasn’t me.
I endured the daily pain of harassment at school crying myself to sleep at night or praying for hours that someone or something “fix” me, make me like the rest of the boys. At times it became so unbearable that I pictured myself running into the street in front of oncoming traffic—only then would I find relief. Only then would it all stop.
A bullied child who has become a social outcast yearns to be accepted, to have a friend, and is particularly susceptible to an adult role model. The sexual predator has an acute awareness of the “wounded” child and offers the lure of comfort, understanding, and friendship to create a false sense of trust, inevitably with the sole intent to satisfy his sexual appetites. I experienced this first-hand and became the target of a sexual molester.
The summer before ninth grade I took a drama class at a nearby high school and discovered that I loved becoming someone else on stage. The male drama teacher was especially supportive, attentive, and encouraging. I had “talent.” Finally someone saw who I was and accepted me–he made me feel special, unique. I transferred to the high school where he taught, feeling I could leave the years of pain and terror at school behind me. Little did I realize he’d been grooming me. My beloved, extremely popular drama teacher molested me for the next two and a half years—in the dark corners of the stage, before school in the basement costume room, or at his home when his wife went to work on weekends. Vulnerable and needy to his overt attentions, I was unable to separate his “adult love” for me from his perversion as a child molester. Not until I was in my twenties did I begin to recognize what he’d done to me. It took many years of intensive therapy to overcome the guilt and shame I carried which, I learned, had begun in my early school years from being bullied. Somehow I had the strength and will to overcome the torment of my childhood, accept being gay, and believe that I could live a full, happy, and successful life. Many can’t endure the emotional torment and end up taking their own lives.
When I attended the National Equality March in October 2009, I met many young people, gay and straight, who had driven long distances to participate in the march. I heard many stories similar to mine, many who were still suffering, afraid to expose their homosexuality, and I realized that I needed to become more involved. Silence is the voice of complicity. I want our young people to be able to live openly without fear, to be able to discover their authentic selves without hiding, and to receive their full constitutional rights and protection under the law. Without acting on their behalf, we not only cheat our young people’s development, but that of our society as a whole.
It is said that it is not what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you. This is what I will do with what happened to me.