Closeted No More

Closeted No More,blog pic of Laila

by, Laila Al-Shamma

This was originally published in the April 2013 issue of MavLife News, the school newspaper for La Costa Canyon High School.

Everyone knows what it means to “come out of the closet.”  But nobody ever asks how people get into the closet in the first place, and what’s it like in there, anyway?

People locked me in the closet from the moment I was born.  Along with all the other gender stereotypes, they presumed that one day I’d like boys, marry a man and be heterosexual, just like my parents. I was never asked, “Well, Laila, do you identify as heterosexual, or homosexual?” no one ever consulted me on that one.  Everyone always assumed (and they still do) that I identified as heterosexual and they put me in a category and that category became a closet. Once I realized that I wasn’t heterosexual the walls of the closet started suffocating me.

I admitted to myself that I was gay around seventh or eighth grade.  I went through a lot of denial before I had the guts to write down on paper that I was gay. That was on paper. I still struggle simply saying the words out loud.

I was in middle school between 2008 and 2010; at that time studies showed that nine out of ten gay students experienced bullying or harassment in school.  Stories in the news and at home popped up about gay people getting bullied, beaten up, losing the support of their family and friends, losing their jobs, even committing suicide.  When I came out to my younger sister, she began to cry.  She said she was scared that I would get beaten up at school.

Each day I heard “That’s so gay,” or “don’t be such a fag” many times. I remember that a few of my close friends sometimes expressed disgust or disapproval of being gay.  Homosexuality was paired with nothing but negativity and shame.  That kind of social pressure pushed in the walls of my closet and instilled deep fear in me.  I was so afraid of anyone finding out that I was gay that I disguised parts of my personality. I lied to most of my close friends about who I had a crush on.  I avoided any clothing that insinuated masculinity.  At times I even tried to make my voice sound a little higher so that I could appear more feminine.  In acting class I was cast as a leading male character and almost turned it down because I was so worried what people might think.  I silenced myself and I silenced who I really was, all out of fear.

This fear continued into high school.  Even after coming out to my immediate family and close friends, I never talked about my sexual identity in public. I had to filter everything I said. The simplest everyday conversations brought up internal struggles.  Imagine having people constantly ask you what boy you want to ask to formal.  Then you have this sinking feeling in your stomach because you can either tell the truth (“Actually, I’m gay and really want to ask this girl I met at a party”) and risk your entire friendship, or you can lie (“I don’t really have anyone in mind, so I’m just going stag”) and stay safe. You must deny that this part of you even exists. At all costs you must keep silent.

That’s the silence that the Day of Silence aims to end.  When I see some of my peers wearing red or supporting the Day of Silence, I immediately trust them. I know that they will accept me when they find out I’m gay; they will stand by me as allies without judgment.  All of a sudden, the walls of my closet stop closing in and start easing up. I can feel a little safer prying open that closet door.

To end the silence faced by teens like me everywhere, I’ve written this piece. I can count the openly gay students at this school on my fingers; it’s not right that so many of our peers are silent. If you are closeted and need help, I support you.  Our Gay Straight Alliance meets every Tuesday and every member of that club supports you.  A vast majority of our staff and administration support you.  Stand up to the silence in your own life.

I’ll leave you with this: writing this piece was not easy. I procrastinated for weeks, not because I didn’t want to write it, but because I had to build up the confidence to do so. I’m not sure how this will be received. I expect that some of my peers will stop talking to me, and I’m worried that some may even bully me.  But I think more friends will be moved into action.

Think about the voices you are not hearing today.  What will you do to end the silence?

Featured UU, September 2011

Jarrett A. Bell is a dynamic, outgoing, 24 year old, originally from New York City, but currently residing in Atlanta.. His frequent challenges to the status quo and thinking out of the box left him feeling confined in the traditional Baptist Church in which he was raised and he has recently converted to Unitarian Universalism.

Jarrett has very diverse interests, including but not limited to computers, law and politics, bowling, and highways. He currently spends most of his time on the road traveling for work as a technical security consultant. However, when he is home, he loves to spend time with family and friends.


The people that are calling the shots in our modern day society, whether that be Hollywood, politicians, the popular students in the high school class, one’s parents, etc- they hold an idealistic vision of how everyone should look, act, be, become, do, what have you. Their opinions about another individual must never be used as a standard to judge one’s self worth, esteem, or potential. No person should make an attempt to be someone that they are not just so they can be considered ‘normal’ by society’s standards. They do themselves an injustice, as they are unable to live their lives to the fullest. Society is also at the receiving end of this injustice as they cannot reap the benefits of what the particular person has to offer.

It is very important to note in this discussion that all humans have basic needs in order to survive. We have basic physical, mental and social needs. One of those basic social needs is acceptance. When a person feels accepted by others, this need is fulfilled and the person feels comfortable with themselves. The feeling of acceptance that a human has results in that particular person realizing they have a meaningful existence; that their life has a purpose; that they are worthy and capable of positively contributing to society. For the need of acceptance to not be fulfilled results in engaging in the negative behaviors that were previously stated. To prevent this from happening, people need not be labeled; people need not be stereotyped; people need not be peer pressured into being something they are not or doing something they do not want to do. That means for those who have influence on others, these people need to be positive role models and be inclusive. Influential people also need to understand how they carry themselves and treat people will resonate with those who look up to them. Those who have the power to inspire need to be capable of satisfying the basic human need of acceptance by not establishing a normal that is exclusionary and prejudiced.

UU of Month, November 2010

My name is Lehna Huie.

I am 22 years old and loving discovering life.

I grew up UU and Community Church is my home church in NYC. I became very involved in social justice work through my youth group and YRUU [Young Religious Unitarian Universalist]. I hold my UU values as core values of living- it has been the backbone of my spirituality, and struggles and joys of being an artist and activist.

As a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts (BFA) and being an activist and UU Sunday School teacher, I have composed a language that is ever broadened by indulging myself physically and mentally in the community.  My responsibility and commitment to the urgency of social change and awareness brings me to.

I am enlightened and motivated by the power of the collective voice- awareness and community through shared knowledge and heightened consciousness. My art is representative of my spiritual journey and quest for answers. As a Black woman committed to being an agent of change in this world- art is a positive tool for change.

I am committed to collectively bring young Black artists together to do projects. In recently founding the art collective Native Tongue, I recognized the urgency for growth for supporting young Black creators within NYC’s community. We are a group of 15 black artists and activists finding alternative strategies for sharing knowledge and creation beyond the group. The aim is to build a self-sustainable community of Black artists committed to resisting oppression, and documenting and delivering our voice where it matters most. We will do so in developing new ways of sharing information, creative insight, history and knowledge on an intergenerational and multidisciplinary level in community with one another.

I am also am aspiring to become a Yoga teacher. I wish to observe and practice fusion of the body, mind and spirit in healthy ways and sharing that with others.


The figures are mostly women, with a focus on the body.
How are our spirits represented in art? Are our bodies as Black women commodity? NO.
Our bodies are full of fire, lust for life, dance, soul and sweet music. We are full of joy, pain, sorrow and scar stories.
The food I eat, my family, teachers, icons and friends’ spirits find their way into the sp ace through bold colors-a life mostly influenced by women.
There we are…we are present.
You can feel our spirits while you thank us for having a large role in sustaining and cultivating this world.
Out of the paintings, these women are universal and representational of my mothers, ancestors, sisters, myself and any woman who is graces us with her presence day to day.
Be it raising a child or braving this harsh world just to survive and flourish.
Humility in tact- the true definition of a goddess.
With knowledge of the history of what has been done to our Black Bodies, many of us can only escape in dreams. I choose to paint the emotion I feel from my how these women affect me.
How wonderful it is to get up and find ways of facing the day with strength, power, faith, and grace.
Blue Self

UU of the Month, September/October 2010

Elias Waddington

Elias Waddington has been an active Unitarian Universalist for just over a year and has been a member of the Countryside Unitarian Universalist Church for just over half a year. He discovered the UU community at Camp De Benneville Pines where he realized that he has been raised with UU ideas. His American father has been a UU since High School.
Elias has been playing piano since he was five and at Camp De Benneville Pines, he discovered a new way to express his spirituality through music. He draws inspiration and influence from widely varying genres including cool jazz, classical, and power metal.
In his church, Elias is an active member in the youth discussion group, the Senior High youth group, and youth and adult committees. He has also been elected to the Central Midwestern District’s Youth Steering Committee as the communications director, writing articles for the CMwD newsletter, the Midwesterner. Elias’s main contribution to Unitarian Universalist gatherings is his music. Playing both piano and percussion, Elias uses his music to enhance worship services that promote relaxation and self expression. Beyond music, his hobbies range from miniatures to computer and information technology. He is currently planning to pursue a career in aerospace and systems engineering.

UU of the Month, August 2010

Abhimanyu Janamanchi

Abhimanyu Janamanchi is 16 years old and is a junior at Palm Harbor University High School. He was born in India and is a lifelong UU Hindu.
Abhimanyu is an active member at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Clearwater where he participates in leading worship and Young Religious Unitarian Universalist (YRUU) related programs.
Abhimanyu is currently the worship coordinator for the General Assembly Youth Caucus, is on the Florida district board as a youth representative and is a Chrysalis trainer. Abhimanyu enjoys playing basketball, watching movies, and living out his faith every day.

UU of the Month, May 2010

Natalia (Natty) Maria Francisco Averett

Natty’s nonprofit experience includes organizing workshops on race for the Anti-Defamation League and involvement in the Environmental Club, and black, Latino, Queer and multicultural organizations. She has worked as a volunteer coordinator, co-managed a women’s center, interned at Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project and Libreria Del Pueblo, and worked as a campus organizer for the Feminist Majority Foundation. She is currently a member of the D.C. HIV/Prevention Community Planning Group, a joint effort of the Centers for Disease Control and the D.C. Department of Health.
In the UU world, Natty served on the Joseph Priestly District Young Adult Network Steering Committee and has been involved in young adult activities at the national level. She was a leader in the UU Church of Arlington’s (UUCA) young adult community, where she helped organize a conference inspired by the Our Whole Lives pilot course for young adults. She has been a UUCA covenant-group facilitator and was a member of the congregation’s 2008/2009 Strategic Planning Task Force. In 2009, she joined the Board of Trustees and was recently elected Chair for the 2010/2011 fiscal year. Over the last few years, she’s been involved in several UU racial justice trainings and activities.
In her day job, Natty works for the consulting firm SAIC, where she provides industrial security strategic planning assistance, policy advice and training to company leadership and professional colleagues. She is active in her company’s multicultural network and women’s network, where she chaired community outreach and was nominated for an achievement award for Excellence in Corporate Responsibility.
Natty strives for personal connection, consensus and efficiency. She enjoys walking, sleeping, sitting outside, reading, art, film, puzzles, music, dancing, beaches, food culture, and finding “the funny,” the small thing that makes something hilarious when it would otherwise not be funny at all.

UU of the Month, April 2010

Christopher D.  Sims

Christopher D. Sims is a man of African descent who has been writing poetry for most of his life, and performing it for half of his life. His poems are intricate, detailed, knowledge-filled, and entertaining. Christopher grew up in Rockford, IL, where as a child he was allowed to be free to express himself and discover his gifts and talents.
His adult life has been one of many performances, open mike hosting, and travels all across the states, and Canada.
Christopher is still writing poetry, and has taken a performance hiatus to return to the University of Memphis to complete his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.

In her delicate brown eyes
I saw a rise of rage and fury –
justified anger LOUD and uncompromising.
I had entered hell then.
No more her.
No more hugs.
No more hope.
No more love.
I deserved it.
In a wordless ten minutes of tension
she proudly mentioned her celibacy.
But, my adultery spoke silently.
It’s scared, tiny voice
had no place in between us.
It was hard.
She, I left scarred.
To the door she charged
leaving me single, and at large.
Why do men cheat?
Then not want to stand
the kitchen’s heat?
I lied. Then lost. Became lonely.
Was unwanted. Walked in wonder.
Talked to invisible spirits. Cried inside.
50% of me died. My stomach balled up
at the site of her loving again. For a
moment in time I lost my soul, my sanity,
and my best friend.
It was like:
drowning in a well;
the most unbearable smell;
stepping on a rusted nail.
Being without her
was pure hell.
© Christopher Donshale Sims 2010

If I were ML King and A UU for a Day
In Rockford, IL
With our first principle in mind
I wonder about man kind
lost in a world of drugs, alcohol,
and a poor education system in the Forest City.
To him I want to listen,
and then envision a city
Where we all live
and are treated equally.
I want to live justfully in Rockford, IL
with a compassion that shows,
and with a spirt that glows.
I want love to flow
out of my energy,
so that adults respect and love me
and that children embrace and hug me.
We must accept one another.
We must live as sister and brother.
And, as I cruise through west side Rockford streets
then travel to reach the east side of this city,
I won’t feel pity
knowing that I participate in a
lonely disconnection.
We are all free to be who we are.
Our many churches practice what they will.
I must recognize this.
I must realize that truth and love are found
throughout all religions. Even if I am a UU
and my neighbors are Muslims or Christians.
As long as I have conscience in my church,
and am granted the democratic process.
My church congregation is a resource to this city,
positive energy we create, and progress is
As a Unitarian Universalist in Rockford, IL
how am I contributing to the world community?
Am I walking in Martin’s light and shoes,
spreading peace and humility?
I can be Martin Luther King jr. in my own right
and help fight for liberty and justice.
In these days in time of joblessness,
homelessness, and a lack of hope,
the Martin in me can cope
As long as I understand that as woman and man,
we are a web connected.
That we are a community facing obstacles
together, not alone.
Whether the east or west side of the river is
our home.
© Christopher Donshale Sims

All rights reserved2010.

UU of Month, March 2010

Jackie Whitworth

I was born and raised a UU in Rockford, IL. My mother is white and my father is black, and I was raised by my mother and my grandparents in the early years of my life. I’m the youngest of four, and my three sisters have also been actively involved in congregational and continental UU work.
In high school I was an active member of my congregation’s youth group, and was president of its Youth Advisory Board for one year, when I also had the opportunity to serve on the Religious Education Committee. For two years I served on the UUA’s Youth Ministry Working Group and participated in the Mosaic Project Summit, experiences which revitalized my desire to be an active UU. I also participated in several DRUUMM conferences, where I found a welcoming community of friends and mentors that challenged me to confront questions about my own identity, and helped form the basis of my commitment to history and anti-racism.
After graduating from high school in 2007, I attended college in Portland, OR for a year, and then moved to Chicago, IL where I currently study history at the University of Chicago. My decision to study history was influenced by my belief in the importance of stories, and in the importance of recognizing the past and its implications for our work in the present.
I recently completed an internship with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, a Chicago-based group which I’ve been active for the past year. I credit my upbringing as a UU with giving me a belief in restorative rather than retributive justice, and this belief has driven my dedication to challenging injustices within the prison system and the criminal justice system.
I currently attend First Unitarian Congregation in Chicago, and find a spiritual home in the congregation’s Campus Ministry group.
Jackie Whitworth

UU of the Month, February 2010

Alison Aguilar Lopez Gutierrez McLeod Crotty

“I never knew I was called to be a Director of Religious Education (DRE) until it happened.  I fell in love with the members of our fellowship community.  I realized that empowering children and youth is my passion.  Providing them a safe space to explore their religious ideas is my mission.  Encouraging them to think outside social constructs is my responsibility.”
Alison Aguilar Lopez Gutierrez McLeod Crotty was born to a Mexican family, adopted and raised by her Unitarian Universalist parents in San Diego, California and Pullman, Washington where both were University professors.
As a student at Washington State, she was the first Latina to be elected to the City Council of Pullman, Washington.  In addition, while working toward her B.A. in English and Women Studies and her Masters of Education, Alison was a teacher at an Alternative High School, a tennis instructor at a local high school, and served as a Board member for a variety of organizations that dealt with civil rights, social justice, and issues faced by women of color.
Following college, Alison traveled across the country undertaking various academic and political pursuits. She has experienced Unitarianism in many venues, including All Souls in Washington D.C., Unitarian Universalist’s of the Palouse in Moscow, Idaho, and First UU Church in San Diego.
Alison worked for several years at the Washington, D.C.-based National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS), a non-profit college honor society for high-achieving freshmen and sophomores across the country. Back in San Diego, Alison chose to volunteer for the first openly gay woman elected to the City Council who was seeking election to the California State Assembly. While working on that successful campaign, she met her husband, Chris Crotty, a Democratic political consultant.  Alison joined her husband as a strategist with his political consulting company before finding her calling as the DRE at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito (UUFSD) in Solana Beach, California, just north of San Diego, where she has served for almost three years.
“My Unitarian Universalist upbringing gave me the confidence to find my voice to speak out against oppression and injustice.  Beyond that, I know that I have a loving community that encourages my exploration of faith and life and how the two intersect.  I carry within my heart and soul all of the support I am provided and the connections I am afforded.”

UU of the Month, January 2010

Ronald Charles (Chuck) Hunt, Jr.
Ronald Charles (Chuck) Hunt, Jr. is a graduate of Saint Frederick High School in Monroe, Louisiana and grew up in the Missionary Baptist (African American Baptist of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A.)  In 2007, through the Church of the Larger Fellowship, Chuck gained interest in joining Unitarian Universalism.  Chuck remarks, “I joined the faith because I can raise questions freely. I love the openness of the faith. I never was exposed to this type of faith in Northeast Louisiana.  However, after reading about various U.S. Presidents and their religions, I recognized their mainstream faiths, but Unitarian was one that I was not familiar with.”  Chuck goes on to say, “I went to the encyclopedia and read about UUism, but decided to go online and look up it up on Yahoo and found  I received more information and was amazed about the faith.”
For Chuck, Unitarian Universalist inclusiveness stood out because too many religions want their members to check themselves at the door.  Chuck “called a member of a UU church in Mississippi and learned more about Unitarian Universalist because he wanted to talk to people of the faith.  The guy at the church gave me more details and a smile was on my face while talking to him on the phone.  I was convinced that Unitarian Universalism is my faith of choice. We may have our downfalls, but there is always dialog, unlike other faiths. There is still room for improvement. My first General Assembly truly was an experience. I met people of many races, religious beliefs, and sexual orientations, etc.”
Chuck has attended McNeese State University of Lake Charles, Louisiana and Hinds Community College of Raymond, Mississippi.  Currently Chuck works at a local restaurant, but is in the process of seeking new opportunities.