On identifying as LGBTQ, coming out and being bullied: Justin Preston’s story

Justin-Preston1

Photography by Wendy Teal

 

One of the first times I realized I was attracted to other guys happened the summer before my first year of high school in 2007.

I was visiting my cousins in Crystal Beach and we were play fighting on the lawn. The brother of my cousin’s best friend came over. I remember running and hiding behind trees, trying to avoid this boy with brown eyes and beautiful curly brown hair, because I was sure he was going to tackle me to the ground, and I was right. He pinned me down when we hit the ground, and all I can remember is just staring into his eyes as he stared back at me. Finally he smiled and got off of me, so I quickly brushed the dust off myself.

On the ride home that day, all I could think about was him and I couldn’t wait to go back to visit my cousins again so I could see him. When I did, he made me smile every single time.

I wasn’t sure if he was aware of how I felt about him but I noticed he slowly started to show affection towards me. Whenever people weren’t looking, we would play footsies and hold hands. Then one day, we kissed under water by the pier. I never thought a simple kiss could mean so much. A couple of days later, we started dating.

Problems eventually occurred. His family started catching on to us because we were in-separable. They caught us kissing once and that’s when the problems really started. His mother threatened me with a restraining order if I continued to see him. This went on for many months but eventually, his family accepted us. It was hard for them at first, coming to terms with the fact that their son was gay. But they came around. And life was good…the boy with the beautiful eyes and curly brown hair, Matthew, was my boyfriend.

It didn’t take long for kids at school to clue in that I was gay. It started with name calling, but quickly got worse. I started getting bullied pretty badly both at school and online. I was in class with the same kids, each period of the day. There was no escape. This group of guys just wouldn’t stop and I could barely hold my emotions together. And then, one day, I was attacked.

My bully grabbed my head, slammed me into a wall and shouted: “You’re a faggot. You should die.” I was terrified and afraid for my life.

I called Kids Help Phone many times. One time, a counsellor spent an hour talking to me on the phone. I felt so much better afterwards. Eventually, I gathered the courage to report the bullying incidents and told people how I was feeling. I also finally confronted the leader of the group of kids that bullied me. Once I stood up to my bully, he backed off and I didn’t have to worry anymore about going to school.

In 2011, my experience even inspired me to start my own organization and movement called Rise Against Bullying after I read about a gay teenager, Jamie Hubley, who died by suicide as a result of bullying. I didn’t want what happened to him to ever happen to anyone else again.

I’m also very fortunate to have a really supportive mother. One out of four youth who identify as LGBTQ are homeless because of family rejection. I was so lucky to have support from my mother from day one. Not only did she not throw me out when I came out, but it brought us closer together. She’s one of my best friends.

Today, I get to travel all over the country and share my story with other young people and I always recommend Kids Help Phone as a resource to kids who are bullied.

Coming out at such a young age was really hard, but I have no regrets. I’ve learned that people are going to be negative and ignorant, but that will never stop me from being the person I am today. Because I’ve also learned that I’m loved by many people and that there are organizations, like Kids Help Phone, there to offer support, even during the darkest times.

Justin Preston is the founder of Rise Against Bullying, a past service user and a Kids Help Phone Ambassador.

Join Justin on Thursday, June 30th 2016 from 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. EST for a Facebook chat to talk about #FirstPride experiences. To submit your questions for Justin, please click here.