By Matt Hutchinson, Williamsport Sun-Gazette
Gay or straight, everyone needs support.
That was the message Thursday night at Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Klump Auditorium given by three dynamic speakers hosted by the Gay-Straight Alliances of Loyalsock Township High School and Penn College.
The event, attended by about 80 students and community members, was to let struggling gay and lesbian students that “it gets better.”
Crystal Hooper, a 1996 Williamsport Area High School graduate, Aaron Maxa and Jim Biddle talked about their experiences dealing with the stigma and pain that can come along with being gay. All agreed, though, it does get better.
Maxa, an emergency management and homeland security consultant in Virginia, said he knew early on that he was different.
“I knew from the time I was little that something was very different,” he said. “I knew as a kid. I knew when I was 5. I think I figured it out when I was 18. I just didn’t fit in.”
Maxa attempted suicide three times, he said. After that, he decided to immerse himself in school work to take his mind off of his social life. He made headlines in Washington, D.C.’s American University when, as on openly gay student, tried to join a fraternity and sorority. He was denied because he was gay, he said.
“The differences that you hide as a kid make you special as an adult,” he said.
Hooper, who left high school in hopes of making a name for herself in the music industry in Nashville, said he had it all-or so she thought. She had a college degree, a job, a husband and a baby.
“My life just hit a brick wall,” she said. “I met somebody and I just fell in love with her. I can’t explain it. All of a sudden I didn’t know myself anymore. I know I didn’t love my husband the same way I loved her.”
Hooper said finding out her true sexual orientation didn’t happen until she was 27 – something that happens at a younger age for most gay and lesbians, she said.
Living in the South, she said that she is more aware in public with her wife. Hooper added that the subject of homosexuality cannot even be legally discussed in schools below the ninth grade.
“When I talk about my wife, I call her my ‘wife.’ I don’t call her my roommate or girlfriend,” she said. “Marriage is marriage is marriage. There’s no difference in it.”
Hooper said she not only has the support of her family, but her ex-husband and his family. She said they frequently all go out for special occasions.
“Treat everybody with respect. Be kind. We just want what everybody else wants,” she said.
Biddle, and AIDS activist and sexually transmitted disease/HIV prevention educator, said condom use and abstinence only go so far. He said it is the individual who decides to make safe decisions.
Biddle said he contracted HIV sometime between 1976-1978 and has lost two partners to the disease. Diagnosis came in 1989. Doctors gave him three months to three years to live.
He said it is a costly cocktail of medication that keeps him alive today.
“You cannot afford this disease,” he said.
His monthly cost for prescription drugs tops $5,000, he said. Since taking daily doses of multiple pills and injections, Biddle has had nine heart attacks and a stroke.
“If the virus doesn’t kill you, the medicines will,” he said.
Even so, Biddle said he believes he will die of old age before he dies of AIDS.
Michael Harrison, a Loyalsock Township High School senior and member of the school’s GSA, said the event served as a “reminder of how dark it can be, but how it gets better.”
Fellow senior Jacob Mackey added, “We just want to make people feel like they have someone, because they do.”