Laura Kanaplue Reflects on her Homecoming Project Experience

I came across Live Out Loud’s Homecoming Project while trying to find meaningful volunteer opportunities in NYC, specifically working with the LGBT youth. Once I learned about The Homecoming Project, I knew it was the opportunity I had been looking for. I found it extremely important to participate so that I could give back to my high school. I was closeted in high school and I was not comfortable being a part of the GSA. I wanted to see what kind of progress my school had made since I left 10 years ago. I also wanted to speak to a group of teens about my journey in hopes to give them an idea of what life was like in high school for me and how far I’ve come since then.

In preparing to go back to my high school, I worked very closely with Live Out Loud’s Program Manager, Tom Hernandez. Tom was so incredible and always available to support me throughout the process. He facilitated a workshop for Homecoming Project speakers focusing on how to develop and craft a presentation. The workshop was very helpful and gave me an opportunity to meet some amazing people in the LGBT community. Tom also worked one-on-one to help me focus in on my stories. Part of this process was reflecting and trying to remember what it was like to be a closeted lesbian in high school. It also forced me to look at some very painful moments, but also some really significant moments in my life. To me it was life changing.

Stepping back into my high school that day, I instantly felt nervous. I was a bit overwhelmed with emotions realizing that I hadn’t been there in quite some time. The building still looked the same. Smelled the same. It was still very hot and muggy and had NO air conditioning. The same security guard was still there. It almost felt like I never left, except now 10 years later I am completely out of the closet. I honestly expected the students to be not that interested in what I had to say. I didn’t want them to feel like I was some “adult” reciting a script about what the coming out process is like. I wanted them to feel connected and engaged, just as I wanted to feel connected and engaged with them and their questions. Once I met some of the students my nerves subsided. They were all so incredibly smart, brave, well spoken, and kind. Not only did they listen intently, but they also asked a lot of thoughtful questions. I didn’t feel like I was some stuffy old adult lecturing them. I felt like I was sharing my stories with a group of young adults. After the event my face hurt so much from smiling. I felt proud and touched to have shared my personal stories with them. I felt inspired and confident, and so completely honored to have been able to participate in the Homecoming Project.

I was incredibly surprised at how knowledgeable not only the students were about LGBTQ rights, but the advisers blew me away. It was so amazing to see two adults so engaged and dedicated to the Gay/Straight Alliance. I think it’s important to share with young adults our stories. Think about who YOU were in high school between the ages of 14 and 18. Whether you were out or not. Think about how significant it would have been to hear someone older share his or her experiences. That is why I would recommend doing the Homecoming Project. This gives you an opportunity to give back to our community and help our youth. I cant imagine what I would have thought if a 28 year old, bow-tie wearing, out lesbian came to my high school and shared her experiences. You will touch these kids hearts as much as they touch yours.

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