Orlando shooting inspires Alabama man to come out as gay

MONTEVALLO, Ala. (CBS News) — At the University of Montevallo in Alabama, sophomore music major Jesse Johnson was devastated. “Like, my heart sank inside of my chest.”

After the Orlando attack, he says he wanted to mourn, but couldn’t. At least, not with the sincerity he wanted to.

“In the back of my mind I kept thinking, ‘You know, I can’t show the sorrow that I have inside without first explaining to the world why I have that much sorrow.'”

Alabama Coming Out

So after hearing the news, Jesse sat down with his phone and did the most daring thing of his life. He typed out a message for his Facebook page and stared at it for the longest time, before finally mustering up the courage to click “post.”

“I just did it.”

The note read in part: “I’ve thought about coming out for months, but was afraid of being shunned by those I care about over something that makes me who I am; I’m not going to change. I am gay and I love you all.”

“I wanted to officially be a part of that communitythat was hurting, and that needed as many people to come together and stand with them,” he told us.

A lot of people came out after Orlando, but few took as big a risk as Jesse Johnson. Jesse’s family lives in Jemison, Alabama — in the heart of the bible belt. Fly a flag here and it better have just red, white and blue.

“I worry for his safety because of that. I mean, this is Alabama,” said Jesse’s mom, Nikki.

“I personally will never understand the parents that turn their back on their kids. I love him and that will never change,” she said.

When someone shoots up a gay bar, this kind of acceptance is not what he’s aiming for.

But Jesse says the majority of his family and friends have been remarkably supportive, and by doing so they have helped turn his lifetime of fear into his future of belonging.

“We’re going to stand together regardless of how afraid we are,” he said.

And that’s how you make a terrorist die in vain.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, email us: OnTheRoad@cbsnews.com

Categories: Regional News

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