02/10/2015 10:03 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Gay in Alabama

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I live in a decent-sized town in eastern-central Alabama and have lived here for the majority of my life. I'm also openly gay. My sexuality and geographic location shouldn't impact each other, but they do; that's just how it is when you live in the South.

I came out during my sophomore year of high school, after years of internal conflict and external bullying and harassment. I've been bullied since kindergarten, and specifically about sexuality since elementary school. I had people calling me gay before any of us were old enough to even know what being gay is. Coming out was at first a major relief from this pressure and pain; I was very well received by my friends and loved ones, and things were looking up. But I'd seen scary things on TV and online: keyed cars, defaced lockers, physical assaults. There was a very real fear in living somewhere where the majority of people thought you were going to hell for something you couldn't control.

A photo posted by Ian Oriol (@ianoriol) on

For a while after I came out, everything was OK. The bullies couldn't call me gay as an insult, because I was gay, and I was finally opening up. This opening up is what proved to be problematic at times. I began dating my first boyfriend, who ended up being unable to endure being called names and bullied because he was dating me, ending our relationship and crippling me emotionally. I also went to school in drag as Lady Gaga for my school's celebrity day, much to the ridicule of many boys (and the envy of many girls, since I could walk in four-inch heels). I discovered that the moment I stopped acting straight is when people began getting uncomfortable. Once I stopped acting the way they wanted, they stopped treating me the way I wanted.

I certainly didn't act straight just to please people. That's the opposite of what should be done in any event. I shouldn't have to hide who I am just because of where I am, and it pains me that people, like my ex-boyfriend and many others, have to hide from their loved ones, friends, and everybody that they know just for their own safety and well-being. LGBT teens have one of the highest homeless rates, and it terrifies me. This isn't just Alabama either; this stretches throughout the South and even beyond. Even though marriage equality is so close that I can taste it, I can still be fired in my home state for my sexuality, and I'm sure that I could find plenty of companies that want none of my business.

I believe that there is hope, though: Recently Alabama's gay-marriage ban was struck down, Auburn grad Tim Cook is out and has spoken about wanting to see a more accepting Alabama, and HRC has launched a special Alabama division to help improve the very things I worry about. I have a shred of faith that Alabama can someday be on the right side of things, and that I can be proud to call it my home. Don't disappoint me, Alabama.