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It started when my sister Sarah overheard me talking to my boyfriend on the phone. That afternoon, under the football stadium bleachers, Jonathan and I had our first kiss, and I told him how much I liked it, how I wanted to do it again. I didn’t notice the click of another phone in the house being picked up, but I sure heard it when my parents yelled my full name.
“Elijah Michael Goodman, come here right this second!”
“I gotta go,” I whispered to Jonathan, and hung up before he could say anything. My heart was in my throat as I went downstairs to the living room to see my mother and father standing there, looking for all the world like they’d swallowed lemons.
“Who were you on the phone with?” Dad asked.
“Jonathan,” I answered truthfully. They thought he was my best friend. “Why?”
“What were you talking about?” Mom demanded, her voice shaking.
I squirmed and did the only thing I could with no time to think. I lied. “A test in Algebra tomorrow.”
“That’s not what Sarah heard,” Dad challenged, eyes flashing.
Oh shit, I thought, but would never say out loud. My parents would tan my hide if I swore in front of them, then take me to confession.
My silence made them angrier. Dad’s face turned red. “She said you kissed Jonathan.”
There was no way to refute that. I wasn’t a good liar. All I could do was take a deep breath and nod, hoping they’d see the pleading in my eyes.
“Are you gay?” Mom demanded. Another nod.
The rest is a blur. My mother began screaming about my soul and salvation, and they wouldn’t listen when I tried to tell them I tried not to be interested in guys, but it was impossible. My dad went quiet, which was scarier than if he’d yelled, or even taken out the belt.
Roughly grabbing my arm, he marched me up to my room, got out a duffel bag, and threw three changes of clothes in it, grabbed my deodorant from the top of the dresser, and shoved my shoes at my chest. Then he dragged me back downstairs, twisting my ankle in the process, and threw me out the front door, the duffel landing beside me on the dry, brown lawn.
“Don’t come back. You’re not our son anymore.”
My heart, having never left my throat, exploded, taking with it my ability to breathe. What did he mean? Don’t come back, ever?
That’s how it started. By the time I’d walked to Jonathan’s, my parents—no, Mr. and Mrs. Goodman—had already called his parents, and his mother met me at the door with crossed arms and a stern expression, telling me Jonathan wasn’t home, and that he wasn’t allowed to see me. As I’d walked away shivering, tears stinging my cheeks in the cold November air, I’d looked back. Jonathan was at his bedroom window, holding an ice pack to his eye and looking miserable. He gave a tentative wave, which I returned.
I had no choice. I had no money. I didn’t have my coat. No phone. And no one to call anyway.
That first night, I slept in the doorway of a shop downtown. Maybe I could shovel driveways for money when the snows hit. I didn’t think anyone would hire a fourteen year old to work as a busboy or store clerk. I’d been trying to talk my mother, I mean Amanda, into letting me get a job, but she’d just kept telling me to be a kid as long as I could, that I was too young to get a job in Indiana anyway.
For two days, I went up and down the stores on Main Street, but no one needed help, and the ones that did said I needed a work permit. To get one, I needed my birth certificate to prove my age. I couldn’t get it without my guardians’ help, and I had no guardians.
By day three, I was so hungry, I gave my first blowjob for twenty bucks. The guy was a trucker at the local diner, and the cab of his rig smelled like B.O. When he was done, he patted my head like I was a good boy. My face burned with shame. Hating myself, I tried not to cry when I walked to the Goodwill store to buy a coat with my dirty money. That left me five dollars to get something to eat.
In a way, that first week was hard, but also easy. I still looked like a normal kid, if a little dingy around the edges. People still served me if I had the money to pay. No one said I couldn’t loiter. The hard part was when I stopped trying to survive long enough to think about my dad’s—George’s—last words to me. You’re not our son anymore. I ached at those words.
A couple weeks later, I saw Sarah coming out of the stationery store with her friends. Her eyes got huge when she saw me, but she didn’t speak or wave. Didn’t tell me if my—her—parents regretted what they’d done. She did, however, look back at me one more time before they got on their bikes and rode off. Her face was wet.
After that, I walked by what used to be my home. Maybe Sarah would help me. Maybe she could get my birth certificate. The next time I saw her, she pretended I wasn’t there.
For months, I ghosted around town, trying to stay away from cops, who’d realized I wasn’t just some kid, and that I was up to no good. I tried to keep going to school, but I didn’t have my backpack or my books or my school supplies, and the lunch ladies wouldn’t give me food without my account being paid up.
It was the day I saw my face on a Missing Person’s poster outside the local diner that I met Brandon. I started to retreat, but he spoke, and his voice didn’t carry the disdain I’d become used to.
“They do that, sometimes,” he said, standing next to me as I stared at the smiling kid I’d once been. “Parents will tell the truancy officers you’re a runaway so they get out of trouble when you drop out of school too young. How old is that picture?”
He nodded sagely. “You’re what, fourteen, fifteen?”
“Fifteen,” My birthday was a month ago. I’d celebrated by doing three blowjobs in one night, then buying myself a new pair of shoes because the ones I’d been wearing had pinched my growing feet. Sucking guys off for money was the only work I could get. I had what they called “cocksucker lips” and as sick as it made me, I used them to my full advantage.
“Puberty changes you enough no one will recognize you even if they look at the photos on the notice boards,” Brandon continued.
“How did you?” I asked suspiciously.
“The look on your face.” He turned and stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Elijah Goodman. I’m Brandon Maxwell.”
I didn’t shake his hand immediately. What does he want? He wasn’t bad looking, and frankly, he smelled a lot better than my last customer.
He chuckled and gripped my wrist with one hand, then closed his fingers over my palm with the other, pumping it twice. “Have you eaten?”
Not since I’d scavenged some soggy tacos from the trash behind a fast food restaurant two nights ago. The last one was lunch the day before. “It’s been a few hours.”
“Come on.” He led me into the diner, and the waitress who’d thrown me out last week started to yell again, until Brandon shut her down with a look. We sat in a cracked vinyl booth and he passed the laminated menu over. “Order as much as you want.”
There had to be a catch, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to fill my belly. I’d grown a few inches since the day of the First Kiss Phone Call, and I was always hungry, and conscious of my wrists and ankles protruding from my clothes. Ordering a burger, two chili cheese dogs, fries, a Coke, and a piece of pie, I barely spoke as Brandon talked, telling me about the shelter he and his partner ran for kids like me.
I was one of the lucky ones, finding help after only months on the streets. I hadn’t resorted to riskier behavior for money. I hadn’t been attacked, though many of the street kids I knew had been. I hadn’t gotten pneumonia or hypothermia during that long winter, and when Brandon found me, there was a bed available right away.
I will never forget the pillow beneath my head the night he brought me to the shelter. The comfort of blankets. How warm felt. Sleeping without worry of being jumped. I knew what I had lost, but not how to get it back. All because of a phone call about my first kiss, and the Goodmans’ conviction I was an abomination.
Thanks to Brandon, in the three years since being tossed out of my home for being gay, I’m back on track. Got my GED and my important papers. In a few months, I start college. Thanks to the generosity of kindhearted donors to Brandon’s shelter, who accept LGBT people as human beings, I survived.
While Elijah’s story is fiction, here are some facts. LGBT people make up less than 10% of the overall population, yet 40% of homeless kids in the U.S. identify as LGBT. Of them, 68% cited family rejection for the reason they were on the streets. Studies have repeatedly shown that homeless LGBT kids are more at risk of being attacked, robbed, and raped than their heterosexual counterparts, more likely to engage in prostitution or survival sex, more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol, and more likely to attempt or commit suicide. Despite this, less than 25% of homeless shelters cater for or specifically target LGBT kids, leaving them at the mercy of individual organizations who can pick and choose who they help and who they abandon on the streets. Laws such as Indiana’s SB 101 enshrine the legality of refusing service—including such basic assistance as food and shelter—to people specifically because they’re LGBT.
This isn’t about pizza. This is about creating a climate in which LGBT individuals feel isolated from and rejected by the rest of society. It’s about creating a climate in which parents feel justified for kicking their kids out on the street. It’s about cutting off any and all support networks which might otherwise be available to prevent kids from ending up on life’s scrapheap because of how they were born.
Want to read a happier ending?
Changing laws and attitudes takes time, and right now there are LGBT people in need who can’t afford to wait. The sooner we can help them, the better, and the more resources we have, the more help we can offer.
That’s why 224 authors, review bloggers, and publishers have got together to offer something wonderful: a reward for people who do a little bit to give back to charity. Instead of spending $5 on a book in the next two weeks, give that $5 to an LGBT charity of your choice, tell us about it in the comments, and go into the draw to win a book from one of our participating donors. And because it’s not all about money, if you can’t make a donation then please take a moment to share a charity’s links and tell us about that instead.
Three fundraisers have been set up to counter the hateful effects of Indiana’s SB 101. #Pizza4Equality is aiming to match the money raised by *that* pizza parlor, with all donations going to Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund. Another fundraiser is aiming to raise $100,000 for Indiana Youth Group. Finally, Planting Peace is trying to raise $100,000 to provide beds for homeless LGBT people.
Please consider giving to one of these deserving fundraisers, or any other LGBT charity anywhere in the world. We’re not telling you where you should donate your time and money, only asking that you do. The smallest things can make the biggest difference, and together, we can do something incredible.
to enter the giveaway to win, not only a copy of my novel, Out of the Blue, but one of a number of books being offered. There’s over 200 authors involved, giving away free books in exchange for a little kindness to someone who really needs it.
*First Kiss is a work of fiction copyright 2015 by AJ Rose and any resemblance to actual places or people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.