Ernesto’s Story

By Ernesto Olivares

ernesto largeMy name is Ernesto, and I’m a 24-year-old gay man. I wasn’t always open about my sexuality. I spent years in foster care, afraid to come out of the closet.

When I was 13, my little brother and I were put into state care and placed in a shelter. I was scared, the guys were mean and called me names. But it wasn’t anything new, others had called me “gay,” “faggot” or “queer” before. I had known I was gay since I was 5. I liked boys. But people don’t accept that and you get bullied for it. Once we were at the shelter, I didn’t talk to anyone other than my little brother. Then, after three months, we were moved to a foster home.

I played sports to make myself seem normal and make friends. I dated girls that I had no attraction to so people would stop asking me if I was gay. I never dated a guy in high school, and I hated that I wasn’t brave enough. I wish I knew what it was like to be young and in love and to make silly decisions over a summer fling. I wish there was an adult who saw that I was suppressing something and told me it was okay to be who I was. Someone to tell me that no one was going to hurt me.

I loved my foster parents. I felt safe with them, but behind closed doors my foster brothers picked on me and did stuff like write “faggot” on my duffel bag. There were so many days I cried in the shower or late into the night. I even tried to trick myself into thinking I wasn’t gay. We went to a Christian church, which made me feel worse about my thoughts about guys.

There were a few times when I came close to telling my foster parents, but I was afraid they would move me out of the house and away from my little brother. I also knew there would be no place for me to go. There aren’t LGBTQ-friendly foster homes or shelters. Foster care doesn’t open its arms wide for kids like me, so I suffered in silence until my second year in college.

There I joined the men’s volleyball team, and that is where I met my first boyfriend. At the time, I was still living with my foster parents so I kept the relationship secret. It sucked because he was so amazing, and I was too afraid to tell anyone.

One evening, my foster parents and I had a fallout. They, and everyone else in our house, found out I was dating a guy. One of my foster brothers decided to post it on Facebook. That’s how most people found out I was gay. It was never on my own terms. I lost so many friends and family because they judged me and who I was as a person.

It took a while to get over things and to get out of the depression I was in. I got the courage to live for myself, and I came out to others in my life. I told myself there is no more hiding, no more shame, no more putting up with name calling. I had all this energy and a new life, but I couldn’t help but wonder what things would have been like if I had lived differently.

The challenges I faced should not be a part of a youth’s experience in the child welfare system. If I had to rate foster home life, it would have to be negative because of all the mental and emotional abuse I felt. Never will I say that being in foster care was the worst — because it was not. I graduated from high school and attended college. Foster care enabled me to reach other personal goals, but as a LGBTQ foster alumni, I feel that LGBTQ youth need rights and placements where they can feel safe.

I think foster parents need training and support systems to turn to when they have a youth who is LGBTQ. In the South where I’m from, the resources are rare and youth are often left to fend for themselves or to live in fear. We need to be able to say, “I have a right to be who I am without any discrimination, without feeling afraid.” We need people to step up and say, “We will help, we will open the doors.” There should be no gap for youth, but instead a community that is reliable, safe, and well educated on current issues. No youth should ever have to go through what I did.

This first appeared on fosterclub.com as part of FosterClub’s #FosterEquality campaign.

Published on May 30, 2015 as part of Children’s Rights’ “Fostering the Future” campaign. The opinions expressed herein are those of the blog author and do not necessarily represent the views of Children’s Rights or its employees. Children’s Rights has not verified the author’s account.