by Leah Barker
“My name is Christian, and I’m openly gay.” This proud declaration from a 14-year-old Colorado Springs native has been years in the making.
It is a seemingly simple statement that requires an incredible amount of courage from a young man who has already put up with years of harassment, violence and discrimination.
Today marks the first day of GLBT History Month, which encourages open discussion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual and transgender (GLBT) issues. In the spirit of open discussion, Christian Sanchez will be appearing on Nick News with Linda Ellerbee this Sunday, Oct. 3, to speak about his experiences with bullying. The episode titled, “Sticks, Stones, and CyberSlams” airs on Nickelodeon (Comcast Channel 75) at 7 p.m. MDT.
Sanchez was remarkably articulate when I talked with him Thursday night. He wants above all else for the community to be able accept that “difference is uniqueness,” and he's willing to put in the work to make it happen. He interviewed four times and flew to New York to be able to talk on Nick News. He is currently working to create a Gay-Straight Alliance at his northern Colorado Springs high school. “If we can get to that place where people can just understand, then we will be able to spread peace and happiness so much better,” he says.
When he was 7 or 8 years old, Sanchez knew something was different.
“I was kind of flamboyant as a little kid,” he says. “I just knew guys were different than girls for me. It was very odd.” He was scared to be open about it, but eventually came out to his friends when he was 11. His friends accepted him, but other kids in school still constantly harassed him. “To this day, I have to deal with bullying,” he says.
Sanchez remains hopeful that things can change while resigning himself to the fact that there will always be intolerance, “just like there will always be racism, even though we supposedly got rid of it a long time ago.”
Hope for him lies in people and their ability to change. “My friend used to only be my friend when we were alone,” he says. “When we were with his friends, he would be a jerk to make himself bigger and let his friends tease me all the time. But then he stood up for me and told them that he didn’t care what they thought and he would stand by me and support me for as long as he needs to.”
Sanchez was quiet and withdrawn when his mother first brought him to Inside/Out Youth Services, according to executive director Shawna Rae Kemppainen. But he has since opened up, Kemppainen says, and “become a natural leader” among kids at the nonprofit, which aims to “educate, empower and advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning youth.”
“Chris always has his eye on the door, and is ready to make any new kids feel welcome to the group,” says Kemppainen.
His advice for other youth:
1) Don’t be afraid to be yourself and be different. You will have friends who like you for who you are, and they are way more important than people who only like you when you’re trying to be someone else.
2) True friends are really important. They will make your life so much easier. They will hold your hand and make sure you’re OK.
3) You want to be really honest with your family. Whenever you’re ready and whatever you have to say, it is so important that you can love each other for exactly who you are.