Defined by Drive

Henry Gaylord represents a new generation of LGBTQ-identified youth who refuse to be pigeonholed, one way or another, by their sexual orientation.

One will not find me with my school’s GSA or presenting on issues in the queer community; although crucial work, it’s not me. Yes, I am a bisexual youth involved in my community and occasionally get the opportunity to collaborate with many incredible LGBTQ youth advocates who admirably work to advance the support of the queer community, but I am not one of them. My work’s emphasis is on youth issues and bringing the youth perspective to those making decisions on behalf of youth. From sitting on the Board of Directors for the United Way of Dane County to being the Student Co-President of the Madison School District, I continue to ensure that the crucial decisions affecting youth involve youth in the process.

During eighth grade, my school hired a new teacher who “re-found” our inactive GSA, and together we built up the membership. Granted many of them were my friends and were arguably forced into coming, but I call it persuasion. Now whether our GSA was productive in doing things could also be questioned as I may have sidetracked us many times, but I call it leadership. We did, however, create a safe environment in which students felt comfortable expressing themselves, including me. It was here that I came to terms with the fact that I may not only be interested in girls, but boys also. Thankfully due to the accepting community that is Madison, I experienced an easy time embracing my sexuality and “coming out” per se. I never made a big announcement: “I’m bi!” Slowly I started to tell my friends whenever we had those silly middle school conversations late at night or amidst games of truth or dare, about who we like; I do not feel the need to announce my sexuality, but I also will never lie about it. One by one my friends found out that I am interested in both guys and girls, which not at all surprised them.

Freshman year I involved myself in various clubs, none of them a GSA, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year when I delved deep into my community through leadership positions and different organizations. It was then when I first felt the experience of being an outcast, feeling like I do not belong when I was the only youth in the room. There’s the assumption that adults think that youth do not know what they are doing because many decisions are made for us, and that results in us not feeling like we belong. So when I enter a room of a group of adults for the first time, I am terrified. A great example was my first ever Board of Directors meeting for United Way of Dane County; not only did I know very few adults in the room, but all of them also knew each other and regularly worked with each other. As a result of this type of experience, many young people feel a sense of isolation around adults. Every new experience comes with a modicum of fear, but one eventually one learns to adapt as I did, and I became a comfortable, productive, and participating member. The feeling of not belonging never goes away entirely, but as I mature it minimizes. Furthermore, it is not specific to United Way, but continually happens with every new meeting and every new organization.

I never got heavily involved in a GSA because my passion was for something else, and my sexuality does not define who I am. It is one part of my identity, but my identity is complex and made up of many different circumstances, experiences, and interests. I enjoy what I do and the work I do in my community, but one’s sexuality does not have to influence their work if they don’t want it to. I may not follow the status quo that LGBTQ leaders work within the queer community, but sometimes the status quo has to be broken; just because one does not conform to heteronormativity does not mean they are not passionate about issues outside the LGBTQ community. Furthermore, my sexuality never had a big impact on my life; it’s just something that adds on to what makes Henry.

After graduating a year early from high school, I look forward to taking a year off to further discover what I would like to pursue and continue with my passion for helping my community and neighbors. I am thankful for the experiences and leadership opportunities that have been given to me, and a special shout out goes to all of my inspiring mentors who have helped me along the way. I will attend college and major in political science with an emphasis on either policy or communication.