More Americans than ever publicly identify as members of the LGBTQ community.
Cornelius Bryant grew up in Chicago and Adonis Milline is from Miami. They said they weren't ready to come out until they moved to a place where they felt safer. They now live in Atlanta.
“I knew I was gay, you know, when I was little, but I didn’t, like, it was hard to me to come out because I was scared,” Milline said.
“I’d seen people that were open in Chicago, but I’d always see them get hassled, or I’d always see them running from people or about to get jumped, and I was like, ‘I don’t want that to happen to me,” Bryant said.
Those who declare their identity in 2022 do so at a time when legislation in state houses and beyond threatens to limit their expression.
“All this legislation that is pretty much attacking who you are as a person and as a young person, that's too much. Sometimes it's overwhelming,” said Jack Fonder, who lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Fear comes from legislation and intimidation. It also comes from devastation. In November, five people were killed and many more were injured in a mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Fears of violence are holding people back from being themselves.
“I’m going through a phase of transitioning into another lifestyle. I’m transitioning into a woman,” Milline said, “I was scared to walk outside with my hair down sometimes because I didn’t know what people might think of me.”
“Fifty percent of it is, you know, seeing everything online,” Bryant added. “But it’s a different type of feeling when you feel it from family members, and you see how everybody just starts to change when you tell them.”
For everything happening outside, there is often just as much happening inside.
“It took me an hour to post the picture. I keep posting the caption, deleting the caption,” Bryant said, “After I posted the picture, I didn’t read none of the comments. I turned the comments off and stuff like that because I just didn’t want to feel hated for something that I was doing or accepting within myself.
“Just having my mom, you know, she kind of understood me the most. And my best friend, those were the only people who really knew what I was going through emotionally,” Milline said, “I learned I have real true people around me that are very supportive of me. And I won’t get that a lot in life.”
Their two stories, their two experiences, are hyper-personal and hyper-complicated. But that’s what coming out is.
“The decision is up to you on whether if you want to come out or not,” Bryant said. ”Everybody gets hate. Everybody feels the negativity. But, at some point, you have to draw the line with yourself.”