Family Man 

We Are Family leader Daniel J. Crooks speaks out on coming out

Daniel J. Crooks III • We Are Family ( • Age: 24 • Charleston • Just came out

Daniel J. Crooks is the new head of We Are Family (WAF), a youth organization that offers support and advice for 16 to 23-year-olds coming to terms with LGBT issues. Although he says that this interview represents his "first public outing," he came to the realization that he was gay during his freshman year at the College of Charleston. While studying there, he became involved with the Gay Straight Alliance and the Alliance for Full Acceptance. He now works at the college full time and is a member of a group of young gay and bisexual men called The Mpowerment Project, part of Lowcountry AIDS Services.

How did your family react when you came out to them?

The whole family always has been and always will be 100 percent supportive. I wouldn't be in the position I am now without such a strong foundation. My parents are able to sympathize; they have friends who've gone through the same process. They're no strangers to the gay world. There are some battles that I have to fight alone, internally and externally, such as psychologically dealing with being gay in this culture. No one can understand that except if they've gone through it themselves. But my parents guide me where I need to go. They're my role models with a direct impact on my current success, and they're open to all my friends. Some people don't have that ability to go to a family's house. But my mother's universally maternal; she proverbially adopts everybody.

What's it like being a gay young man in Charleston?

Superficially, Charleston seems to be becoming more liberal. But there's still a conservative, reactionary undertone harkening back to old ways. I'm not sure if people are ideologically opposed to LGBTs. It's more of a "don't ask, don't tell" situation. It can be a struggle for these people to come to understand the depth of feelings that can be had for a same-sex person.

Has anything bad ever happened to you based on your sexual orientation?

There are so many little slights that occur on personal levels. I've had a couple of things said to me in college, people obviously voicing their opinions... They use words like "faggot" or "queer." It made me internalize my feelings. There are some gay men — I would say a good part of them — who are angry at circumstances. They're frustrated at their inability to crawl into everyone's mind to make them see that one's definition of masculinity and femininity is more subjective than you might imagine.

Why did you become the head of We Are Family?

I was determined to come out and be an active part of the development of some of these youths. We tell them it's okay to be gay, it's not as big a deal as they might think. Now We Are Family's a vital part of the scene here. Safespace is our focal point, where a few youths meet. We're a close-knit group, and it's a comfortable first meeting place for people questioning their sexuality.

Can We Are Family really make a difference?

I have seen changes when people start coming out. They're able to live without a shroud of secrecy. It's easier for them to deal with any psychological issues or emotional hurt. We've made a difference between life and death, because suicide rates among LGBT folks are some of the highest in the nation. Couple those statistics with the prevalence of prejudice and hate in an area such as the South and you've got a recipe for disaster. So it helps these kids to talk it through and be validated by others.— Nick Smith

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