Unable To Live Openly In Foster Care, Gay Man Finds Family In His Fraternity.

by John Paul Horn

My name is John Paul Horn and I’m from Bakersfield, California.

I grew up in foster care from the age of 8 to 18. When I was in eighth grade, I remember the director of the group that I was living in calling me in and asking me to come sit down at the table where we usually ate all of our meals and did all of our homework.

And she sat down and she said, “There’s a concern somebody has brought up and they think that you might be gay and I just wanted to talk to you about that.”

I hadn’t told anybody that I was gay and I didn’t think that I was doing anything that was particularly indicative of being gay, so I just said, “Well, you know, what’s the problem?”

And she said to me, “Well, the problem is that if you’re gay, we don’t think that we can take care of you at this group home because we are concerned that you might do things with some of the other guys who live here.”

I told her, “Well, no, I’m not gay. I don’t know where you heard that. That’s not who I am and I don’t think there is a problem.” I stayed there for a while and things didn’t work out for one reason or another. I moved to another place and I moved to another place and then I finally arrived at this other, kind of more confined space where school is on campus, I lived on campus, I lived with a lot of other people. And I started to really have a lot of thoughts about the fact that I was gay and I was living in these environments where being gay, you know, I’d been basically told that being gay wasn’t okay in foster care.

So I started talking to my therapist about it because we all had therapists there. She’s like this South African woman and she’s just very matter-of-fact. So I was just kind of like, “So I think I might be gay.”

She’s like, “That’s fine. Like, let’s talk about it.” And we did and then immediately afterwards she says to me, “I’m really happy that you felt like you could share this with me, but I think it’s better for you if you don’t talk about this with anybody outside of this room because I think that I would be concerned about your safety here because I think it’s easy to be, you know, it’s easy to be bullied for being a gay person.” One of the things that got really frustrating was the fact that even though this was a space where my counselor thought that it was okay for me to be gay, I still wasn’t in an environment where I could be myself. Because of that, I ended up leaving that group home and then I went to another group home where I couldn’t be myself and I was told that if I was gay that I couldn’t stay there. And then I went to another group home where, again, I was told being a gay kid, I wasn’t gonna be allowed to be openly gay. I couldn’t be who I was. And I finally ended up at, like, a group home that was for gay youth and even in that environment, I could only be gay basically in name. I couldn’t go out on dates. We were in a very restrictive environment. Our entire day, our entire calendar was planned for us. There was literally no time for me to even just go for a walk to the park. So I ran away and I lived on the streets of Los Angeles for awhile and that was not great.

So I decided that I would go back to Bakersfield and I turned myself into the child welfare folks and they put me into another group home, where this group said, “It’s okay for you to be gay. We’re fine with the fact that you’re gay. We don’t want you to tell the other residents mostly because we just, we don’t think it’s any of their business.” And I ended up finishing high school with actually the same set of students that I had gone to school with in eighth grade, which is great. I graduated, I turned 18. I left foster care and I went immediately to college and college is where everything changed.

I found a group of people that accepted me for who I was, who were familiar with my past, who were familiar with the – they thought it was fine that I was gay, it wasn’t a big deal. I helped found a fraternity at my undergraduate university and I remember sitting in a circle and saying, “You know, guys, I just wanna tell you, like, I’m gay.” And them all looking at each other, like they looked at each other and they were like, “Yeah? So what? Like, that’s not a big deal.”

In my first year of college, my fraternity brothers and I were celebrating one of our guys going off to seminary and so we were holding a social event to send him off. I had gone up to this guy who had been invited and I was asking him where one of my fraternity brothers were because I needed to go talk to him about something.

And this guy basically looks at me and he’s like, “I’m not gay, like, get the heck away from me.” The next thing, I know I’ve got like six of my fraternity brothers who were within earshot who heard this guy hassling me and giving me a hard time literally getting ready to beat the crap out of this guy.

So I’m sitting there going, like, “No, no. It’s fine. We’re here to – we’re here to celebrate, we’re having a good time, we’re here to send our brother off. We just need to like calm down. It’s fine.” I just remember thinking like, wow, these guys are sitting here defending me and basically being okay with me being who I am. It wasn’t like when I was in foster care where I had people say that I couldn’t be myself because it wasn’t safe for other people or I couldn’t be myself because it wasn’t safe for me.

This was a group of guys who basically said, “You get to be yourself and we want you to be yourself and if it’s not safe for you, we’re gonna make it safe for you.”

For me, I know that because of my experiences with these guys, with this fraternity, with finding this particular place where I belonged, that it really gave me the strength to keep going when things got rough. It was hard to finish undergrad but i did. It was really rough moving to another state to do grad school, but I did that as well and I finished grad school and I did it with amazing grades and then I started a PhD program here in Boston and I’ve been doing great in this program.

I’m just so excited to be able to be done with this one journey that I’ve started and start on a new one knowing that I’ve got a great group of people who accept me for exactly who I am and that I have a place where I belong.

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