My Coming Out Story
Teenage Sammy (yes, once upon a time I was Sammy) had not a clue that identifying as anything other than straight was an option. Teenage Sammy thought being queer was a decision for grown adults. Teenage Sammy fought his insecurities and the bullies who preyed on them daily. No one told Teenage Sammy that being different was OK.
I promised myself to never let another teenager or child who sat in front of me to slip through these same cracks, and at JeffHOPE, I unexpectedly had just this opportunity. JeffHOPE comprises a system of student-run acute care clinics that exist within four homeless shelters and one harm-reduction-based needle exchange program every week in Philadelphia.
At this time, I was working at a shelter where I provided screening and counseling services for sexually transmitted infections and pre-exposure prophylaxis for STD prevention (PrEP). No matter the individual job description, however, we all did so much more than that—and the nights I cherished most were spent with the kids and teens who resided at the shelter.
I promised myself to never let another teenager or child who sat in front of me to slip through these same cracks, and at JeffHOPE, I unexpectedly had just this opportunity.
One teenager in the shelter spent many of his nights with the clinic team. He shadowed each of us, learned about our roles and the world of medicine, and mostly just chatted with us about our lives. The two of us instantly bonded. One day, under no special circumstances, he came out to me. On the inside I was screaming out of excitement, ready to share with him all the amazing aspects of being LGBTQIA+. But the budding clinician within me jumped in first.
“Who is your support system?” “Are you out to anyone else?” “Do you feel validated at home?” “Is there enough help for you at school?” “Do you feel safe?”
I wanted to make sure that he felt safe and supported, and I told him that he could always come to me, any time, for questions or guidance. I told him to never let anyone dull his fire. He understood that our world is extremely difficult for queer people—after all, he’s a teenager with access to pop culture and didn’t need a lecture. And when the day finally came for his family to move out, we all felt it in our hearts.
I consider myself absolutely lucky and wholeheartedly recognize the privileges that allowed me to serve as a mentor and friend to this particular teenager. These are the experiences that have fueled my own fire to validate, lift up and inspire LGBTQIA+ kids and teens for the rest of my life. And as the incoming director for another JeffHOPE clinic, I hope to continue my mission to do the same.
Samuel Fels is a student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College.