"I can't tell anyone."
"I can't even talk to anyone."
"All of the friends I have feel fake."
"If they knew, they wouldn't want to be my friend anymore."
These are some of the thoughts that haunt LGBT kids around the country, and around the world. I remember feeling these thoughts myself. I remember being 16 and realizing that I was attracted to boys, not girls. My parents were religious. My friends were ultraconservative and openly homophobic. I remember feeling completely helpless, trapped, with no one to talk to.
But here I am today, 22 and proud of who I am, proud to be a member of the LGBT community. After years of support and growth, things are good today. But it was a long journey that included lonely days and nights of feeling helpless.
LGBT youth face a very unique challenge. At some point in our lives, we have to question every idea of ourselves that we've been raised with and decide who we are. Some face bullying. Some face religious intolerance. Some, tragically, face physical violence. What we all have in common, though, is our need to be safe and be heard. This need is why I believe in Just Left the Closet, a social network I started for LGBT teens, both closeted and out. If I'd had JLTC when I was 16, I would have had a community to listen to me and interact with. That's what I needed more than anything: someone to talk to.
The Trevor Project and It Gets Better both do a fantastic job. Trevor offers a much-needed service for kids who need real emotional support, and It Gets Better is just a brilliant idea -- brilliant, simple, and invaluable. What we wanted to create with JLTC, though, was a place where members could smile, where they could be distracted from their crappy day, be reminded that they're not alone, and feel like they're in a room full of fun new friends.
We launched early February, and the response so far has been fantastic. We already have close to 1,000 members, and it's incredible to see how much they want to express their feelings. In addition to offering each member a window to tell their coming-out story, the site has a postcard gallery where members are given the chance to say whatever is on their mind, and they have done so in droves. There have been over 300 cards submitted so far. Our postcards are simple, 120 characters and a simple font, yet they offer something that a tweet or Facebook status update can never offer: a place to safely say anything that needs to be said. Some members have come out and shared their parents' reactions on postcards. Others offer words of support. Whatever they choose to share, it's clear that they appreciate having an audience who understands them and which won't judge them. This is exactly what JLTC was meant to give them.
It wasn't long ago that I was in the same position as many JLTC members. Growing up, what I needed more than anything were real friends and open conversation. That is exactly what we want JLTC to be: a place to make friends and have open conversation. We really hope JLTC will become an important part in the coming-out process for our members, both current and future. We are giving them a voice of their own -- and that's something we're very proud of.
Check out some of the postcards from the site:
Follow Jeremy Cabalona on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeremycabalona