[“Double Jeopardy: Lesbian Activist Says Fear of Parents’ Homophobia Inspires Secret Life” is part 2 of a 3 part series on LGBT issues. Bookmark this page for updates.]
Second Life is a virtual reality game wherein members create a customized “avatar” that serves as a digital representation of themselves. In this three-dimensional virtual community, the avatar assumes an identity, takes up residence and moves about in a world completely created by them, for them. Second Lifers buy property, start businesses, make friends, join clubs, attend classes or sometimes just hang out.
Amber Holt* has never played this game, but in many respects, she feels like she lives it every day.
Holt, 20, a junior at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga. – about 26 miles outside of Atlanta – is vice president of the Kennesaw Pride Alliance (KPA), a campus-based Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) focused organization. She’s active in the campus president’s Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning (GLBTIQ) Initiatives. She even helped organize the campus visit earlier this year of Meghan McCain, a gay rights activist who is the daughter of former Republican Presidential candidate John McCain. When she’s not busy planning AIDS Walk Atlanta, the Atlanta Pride Parade, The Summit (KSU’s annual LGBTIQ conference) and for KPA’s 20th anniversary celebration slated for the fall, she’s often spotted around campus hugged up with her new girlfriend of a few months.
“I’m very much out on campus,” says Holt, with a laugh.
Interestingly enough, Holt’s parents who live just over an hour away in a small rural Georgia town have no idea their daughter is living as a proud, openly lesbian woman. When Holt visits home base most weekends, they get to see her “avatar,” a tomboyish young woman, who abhors dresses and enjoys tinkering under the hood of her pick up truck.
“I was 17 when I finally realized that I can’t change who I am, but I was 18 when I finally embraced it,” explains Holt, an unassuming, but outspoken woman with cerulean eyes. “I finally realized who I am and nothing’s wrong with it. It’s such a burden covering my tracks all the time. I have to be very conscious of who’s around when I’m speaking.”
KPA President Victor Ferreira has nothing but compliments for his newly elected vice-president.
“She’s a great person, a hard worker and an excellent organizer; she always has KPA on her mind,” he says. “If she were to run for president, KPA would be in great hands. She has so much to deal with at home, in a way I feel her work with KPA helps to make up for it in many ways.”
Living a double life, Holt says, is what’s best for now. In fact, Amber Holt isn’t actually her birth moniker. She’s asked us to conceal her real name because she has not yet “come out” to her parents. She fears that when she does, they’ll force her teenage brother to cut all ties with her. The mere thought of losing contact with her baby brother, whom she calls her “best friend,” is crushing.
“That’s really the only thing keeping me from telling them right now,” says Holt. “He’s the most important person in my life right now. I know when I tell them they’ll cut me off from him; they’ll think I’m being a bad influence.”
Tana Hall, a counselor at Atlanta-based non-profit, YouthPride, which provides support for Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) youth, says Holt’s predicament is not uncommon.
“Many GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual transgender) folks hide their queer identity from their family,” says Hall, who is also a lesbian. “Older folks more so than young, I think. It’s about safety; the fear of getting kicked out or cut off.”
Holt says her personal struggles help her relate to the many recent reports nationwide of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) young adults and teens taking their own lives at alarmingly high rates. They are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, according to the Massachusetts 2006 Youth Risk Survey. “Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes” a 2009 study conducted as part of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, shows that adolescents who were rejected by their families for being LGBT were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide. And for every completed suicide by a young person, it is estimated that 100 to 200 attempts are made, a 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey concluded.
Holt, too, battled depression as a teen, once her parents first discovered her affinity for girls. “I definitely thought about it, but I always said to myself that I would never be that selfish,” says Holt. “I think suicide is the most selfish thing you can ever do. There’s always someone out there who loves you.”
Her parents spent several years and lots of money on efforts to get rid of what they consider to be a curable affliction. She hasn’t worked up the nerve so far to tell them that their efforts to help her “pray the gay away” have effectively failed.
Holt feels her parents just won’t understand, so the charade continues. It’s not surprising. After all they’re practically television’s Ward and June Cleaver, of “Leave It To Beaver” fame, personified. They met in high school when he was the football team captain and she led the cheerleading squad. They married after high school and had Holt and her brother shortly thereafter. Her dad’s also the lead minister at a small non-denominational church in their tiny close-knit town that at one time had only eight traffic lights. Neither of her parents believe that homosexuality is morally right. They cite Bible passages as proof.
“I love my parents but I believe they’re sorely misguided; I know they will never accept me being gay,” Holt says. “They genuinely believe in the Bible; and that I will go to hell because I’m gay. I know they honestly believe that they’re going to end up in heaven without their daughter one day. I think that’s how they genuinely see things; they’re stuck.”
*Amber Holt is a pseudonym. Her name has been witheld to protect her identity.
**Photographs are not of Amber Holt. Original stock photos were used to protect her identity.