Brady Blanton is possibly the most resilient and positive-thinking young person I have ever come across. He is a rising junior at Union County High School and the president of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance.
Things have been tough for Brady, who was outed against his will in the 8th grade. At the time, he didn’t have words for the fact that he had romantic feelings towards both genders. He confided in a female friend, and she told him he was bisexual. But somehow, word got around.
A classmate stole Brady’s phone and texted all of his contacts, including his mother, about his sexual orientation. His family sent him to “Christian counseling.” While Brady only attended five sessions, the experience was hard to take.
“The counselor said it was some kind of deformity, but I didn’t really listen. I tried not to listen because I knew he was wrong,” Brady said.
“I kept to it, stayed out and didn’t go back in the closet. I stood strong as best I could. I knew it wasn’t a mental disease.”
It’s important to note here that Brady does not harbor hard feelings towards his mother. In the years since Brady was outed, they have come to a kind of truce on the subject.
“I love my mom,” he said. “I know she wants what’s in my best interest, but that wasn’t it. Things have gotten better with my family. They’re not accepting, but I’m their son and they always support me.”
But Brady was facing harassment outside his family life. At school, it was all verbal, he said, mostly name-calling of “dyke” and “fag.”
“I went to the principal and assistant principal and nothing was done,” he said. “I gave them names of people that were harassing me in class and in the hallways and everything, but they did nothing.”
The worst incident is difficult for Brady to talk about. It happened outside the school walls, but the perpetrators were older students. Brady was a freshman and they were “probably seniors,” he said.
“I was just walking on the sidewalk heading to the grocery store, and there was a gang of guys walking past me. They said ‘What’s up, faggot?’ and just walked by, laughed, and walked behind me and tugged on my shirt, saying ‘Talk to us,’ but I kept walking.
“A guy just pushed me and then I fell, and they just crowded around me and started laughing. They started hitting me. It wasn’t bad, but it was on the side of the road. There were people driving by and no one did anything.
“I usually don’t talk about it. I don’t want to be perceived as weak.”
But even in the face of harassment, Brady said he does not dread coming to school.
“The most important thing is my education,” he said. “I remain steadfast and try to go through every day with a positive mindset. Today is going to be a good day.”
It was the end of Brady’s freshman year when the UCHS GSA had its first meeting, and Brady said his involvement in the club has changed his life.
“I felt a sense of security, like once I walked into that room I was accepted for who I was. There was no bad talk or anything. It was like I’m accepted and wanted, and I think that goes for everyone else, too,” he said.
He asked teacher sponsor Chris Richeson if he could run for president of the club, and he won.
“It’s a lot to handle, taking the position of president of a club that most people don’t feel is right, but there is acceptance in the school,” Brady said. “The teachers are OK, but the mountain of support came from the people who came to the meetings.”
GSA meetings typically attracted 30 to 40 students, around 50 at the highest.
“Just seeing that many people come for support, it showed me that we’re getting somewhere,” he said.
Brady kept his positive attitude through the height of tensions in the school last March surrounding posters for a GSA-sponsored showing of the movie “Philadelphia.”
“A lot of people tore down the posters, and we just hung them right back up. It was all we could do,” he said. “Mr. Richeson had this ideal of be like MLK, and that always stuck with me, and that’s what I did. I didn’t say anything negative against anybody even though their mindset was different than mine. I tried to remain positive, and I kept going.”
Being president of the GSA had a positive impact on Brady’s life, helping him take steps towards overcoming his social anxiety and teaching him public speaking skills.
“I’ve gained more friends because of it. The people from the meeting, we’re most certainly friends. We’re like a family. That’s what it’s come to be now. We always stick by each other no matter what,” he said.
With the start of school just a month away, Brady is anticipating a “different” kind of school year. While he’s sad that Richeson’s contract was not renewed, he has high hopes for the GSA’s future.
“Just because Mr. Richeson is gone, it is not the end of the GSA at Union County High School,” he said. “It’s going to remain strong for as long as I am part of UCHS. I am going to find a new sponsor and do everything in my power to keep it together, because it is very, very needed in that school.
“I want people to feel like they are needed and wanted in this life, that if they are part of the LGBT community that they do not have a mental disease, that they are fine individuals and they should be proud of who they are.
“This is not the end, most definitely.”