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'Why I Came out at My School Assembly'

This is Jacob Rudolph, and he may look familiar. No, he didn’t commit a crime or rescue a child from a kidnapper, but what he did that made him an Internet celebrity will make you smile.

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Jacob is a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Miami who is studying music. Before he graduated high school and moved to South Florida from New Jersey, he was chosen for a particular Senior Class superlative that no one would find shocking due to his love for theater. Jacob was voted Class Actor and was quite proud of his accomplishment until he thought about what it really meant.

As Jacob prepared to offer his acceptance speech, he questioned his ability to keep up his act. “Here I was getting an award for acting on stage when I had actually been acting since middle school as someone I was not,” he said. “My friends saw me every day acting the part of ‘straight’ Jacob, even though I knew I was bisexual and I hated not being able to outwardly be who I really was.”

Jacob decided that he wouldn’t wait for it to “get better.” When his name was called at the ceremony he used his acceptance speech to come out as an LGBT teen in front of more than 300 of his peers. The video of his coming out speech was posted online by his father, and it went viral, garnering nearly 2 million views.

The whirlwind that followed the surprise video hit has turned Jacob into an LGBT advocate and inspiration to many. During the height of his video’s popularity, Jacob would receive hundreds of Facebook messages daily from young people who were despondent over their sexuality and were inspired by watching his video. Jacob responded to as many as he could, eager to help others overcome the very mentality that had held him back from happiness for so many years.

These days, you can find Jacob wearing flip-flops and a T-shirt to his 8 a.m. music theory class, or hanging out with his roommate as they both enjoy the warm Miami sun. A decade ago, Jacob would never have known he would be so lucky as to be completely free to be himself.

“One day, my mom flat out asked me if I was attracted to guys.”

“Back in middle school, probably around 7th grade, I started to think that I may be attracted to guys in addition to girls,” Jacob shared. “The thought really scared me, and I began to ignore it altogether. In fact, I strongly gravitated toward having close female friends because I was so afraid that I would only set myself up for failure by hanging out with guys because I knew they would reject me if they found out. So why bother?”

He didn’t tell anyone about his sexual feelings until 9th grade when he had his first girlfriend, Katie. When he told her that he thought that he might be bisexual, she surprised him by admitting that she was having the same feelings about her own sexuality.

“We really helped each other through the most confusing period of an LGBTQ person’s coming out,” Jacob shares. “Katie and I could talk about everything, and the feeling of being able to say, ‘Katie, that guy is damn good-looking’ was so liberating that I just wanted to feel that way all the time.”

At home, Jacob’s parents encouraged a deep appreciation for diversity, reminding him to not only respect all kinds of people, but to embrace them as well. Regardless of how open-minded his parents were, he still couldn’t stomach the thought of telling them their oldest son was bisexual, so he waited until he was nearly done with high school before he had the life-changing conversation.

“One day, my mom flat-out asked me if I was attracted to guys,” Jacob remembers. “I told her the truth even though part of me just wanted to lie through my teeth.”

Six months later, Jacob came out to his dad. He invited his dad to talk, and they met in his dad’s room. They both sat there for 5 minutes in complete silence as Jacob mustered the courage to say the words he had feared for so long.

“I’m not straight,” he told his father.

“And?” his father replied.

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Fortunately for Jacob, the stigma surrounding homosexuality seems to be fading away. He says that he has not had many negative experiences regarding his choice to speak up about his sexual attraction.

“I have had so few negative experiences, I feel an incredible guilt, a survivor’s guilt,” Jacob says. “My parents have supported me, my friends did not desert me, I am not homeless, my religion did not discard me ... and the list continues.”

As a result of the positive circumstances surrounding his coming out, Jacob has decided to work as an advocate to ensure that there is a normalization of sexuality so that others will one day stand proudly beside him, declaring that they, too, have no negative experiences to share.

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