KTEM EXCLUSIVE: Belton High School Student Comes Out To Family, Friends During Graduation Speech
On Thursday evening, Belton High School’s 2013 Salutatorian Mitch Anderson told a packed auditorium filled with his fellow students, family, friends, teachers, administrators and complete strangers that he was gay.
It was the first time in his life he had ever told anyone he was gay.
KTEM obtained an exclusive interview with Anderson on Friday after his graduation.
During his senior year, Anderson had a GPA of 112.2, and scored a perfect PSAT score in his junior year. He said when he found out he would be the senior class salutatorian, he immediately began thinking about what he would say to his graduating class. The choice to come out "felt natural," Anderson said.
Speaking at his graduation ceremony about being a gay teenager struggling trying to find his identity felt like the right thing to do, he said.
The ceremony took place at the Bell County Expo, in Belton on Thursday, with the largest graduating class in Belton High School's history. But the young teen said he was undaunted by the massive crowd.
“Once I got up there and stared talking, I felt completely fine,” Anderson said of Thursday's night speech at the Bell County Expo. He said he told no one of his plans to come out during the speech.
In his speech, Anderson addressed his struggles with coming out and finding acceptance with who he is.
“I myself am guilty of self-doubt, relying on others to give my life definition,” he said in his speech, “But that time has passed, and I feel the moment has arrived for me to be publicly true to my personal identity. So now, I can say, I’m gay. It is both a significant portion of who I am and an inconsequential aspect. It’s as natural and effortless to me as breathing. I couldn't change myself even if I wanted, and believe me, I have.
He said no one, not even his parents and close friends, knew he was gay prior to the speech. So far, the teenager said reaction has been positive.
“I’ve received so much support and kindness,” Anderson said of fellow classmates and others. “Knowing that [people] found the speech inspirational has been really amazing.”
Anderson said his parents knew nothing of his plans to come out that night, and have were extremely supportive afterwards.
“[My mom said] ‘I love you’,” and I said “I love you too,” he said. “Dad hugged me. “
As for what inspired him to come out, Anderson said pop culture icons such as Madonna, Lady Gaga and Star Trek star Zacharay Quinto all played a role in helping him feel confident about his identity.
“They are all about standing up for who you are, being different, being unique,” he said. “They’ve gotten strong positive reception for their [actions].”
Anderson said he wrote two nearly identical speeches about being true to oneself, one he presented to the administration for approval and another one for himself that included a specific mention of being gay.
“If you were really intuitive, you might have picked up on the similarities,” he said of the two speeches.
Anderson said he knew he was gay for a good portion of his life, but that he was not ready to deal with it on a deeper level until last year. He said that living in a small town in Texas is a mixed bag for a gay teen, because while the community is tight knit and loving, there are still elements that are not as accepting.
“It is hard and easy at the same time. So many of the kids in my school are so completely open minded,” he said. “But then because you are in Texas, deep in the Bible belt, you have a lot of people with very deeply rooted beliefs who are not accepting of it at all. It does make you feel like you’re a second class citizen to them.”
Anderson said he was aware of some negative reaction directed towards the speech, mostly posted on various community Internet message boards. Some expressed that it was wrong for the student to use the opportunity to make the speech about himself. Anderson noted that Valedictorian Jacob deKeratry also spoke about his own personal experiences as a teenager.
“I didn’t make the speech all about me,” he said. “It’s about acceptance, about celebrating everyone.”
“It’s a little bit hurtful,” he said of negative comments. “But it’s really no big deal. I’d rather they direct their hate and anger, at me, rather than someone else, because I know I can take it and blow it off.”
While several media outlets were at the graduation, it was hard to find mention of the topic in the following day’s coverage. One local paper quoted Anderson’s salutatorian speech, but excluded any direct reference to his coming out.
“I just think that just shows they are uncomfortable with [the subject matter],” Anderson said.
In the fall, Anderson will attend the University of Texas in Austin, to study Biology and Psychology, in the hopes of someday becoming a doctor.
“I love medicine, I find it so fascinating,” he said. “I love most science.”
As for advice for other families or young people dealing with similar situations, Anderson said they should be true to themselves.
“That’s the most important thing,” he said. “Find them and embrace them.”
“I could not change myself even if I wanted to,” Anderson said.