"I am proud of my unknowing perseverance. I’m not sure how, but I always seem to get back up when I’m knocked down.

I grew up in a small town in Arkansas that was deeply intertwined with my family and the Christian college in town. I was a part of a huge machine—I had a reputation to uphold.

So when I went to that college, I was always looking over my shoulder, wondering if anyone knew my secret. Being gay in a religious environment like this made me see myself as some crazy monster. This place was supposed to be a paradise; instead, it was a prison.

So I tried. I tried to make people laugh. Tried to be a nice guy. Tried to be a model son. Tried to tread water. And honestly, I don’t remember much about this time. I was a fake version of myself, always in survival mode.

Now I’m proud to say I’m gay. I’m proud to be myself. And I’m very proud to be a teacher. I think my purpose in life is to help kids who are weird or gay or different, to tell them everything is going to be okay. Helping them heals a part of me."