The pride inside
Imagine being in a room with almost 100 other students. You’re sweating profusely. You’re shaking convulsively. You’re breathing heavily. You’re about to stand up and admit something that has haunted you your entire life, something that may instantly cast you out.
The day had finally come. Michael Castro, a Quinnipiac senior, walked into his weekly Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter meeting with deep-seated confidence. But on the inside, Castro was anything but calm. Through sweat and bated breath, Castro stood up in front of his 90 brothers and revealed the secret he had buried deep down for years:“I have something to say. I don’t want any of you to think of me any differently. I’m still the same person. I cherish all of your friendships, and I don’t wanna lose anyone through saying this, but I’m gay.”
If you look at Castro, a friendly face and a welcoming smile await you. Beneath his fraternity letters, dark, faded jeans and normal build, Castro blends right in with the Quinnipiac crowd. Growing up yielded similar results.
“I’m not your stereotypical gay kid,” Castro said. “Everyone just pictured me as a normal guy. I played hockey, I ran track, I was very into sports. I hung out with a bunch of guy friends and I had girlfriends, so everyone looked at me as a normal kid. But I didn’t feel normal at all.”
Up until his junior year at Quinnipiac, Castro covered up his sexuality and often battled against it. Through dating girls and joining his friends in unintentionally hurtful name calling, feeling trapped and abnormal was a common emotion.
“I wasn’t expressing who I actually was,” Castro said. “It made me feel upset my friends didn’t know who I was. I would think if I did die, no one would know who I was during my life, they would just know the front I put on.”
It wasn’t until last year that Castro felt he was ready to tell the truth. Starting with a close friend, Castro almost instantly felt relief. After much deliberation with the few friends he trusted, Castro decided he was ready to tell his fraternity brothers.
“I had told a few people throughout the beginning of the semester, but Sigma Phi Epsilon has been a family to me since I joined,” Castro said. “I told my immediate family at home, and I didn’t want my family at school to not hear it from me.”
After Castro told the filled room of Sig Ep brothers of his sexual nature, the room erupted with claps of assurance.
“The entire room stood up in applause,” Castro said. “It was an amazing feeling, to have all of those people stand up and support me for who I was.”
In response to Castro’s act of courage, something unexpected happened: two more members came forth and admitted their true sexuality.
“I didn’t expect them to do that,” he said. “I didn’t expect them to stand up and do the same thing, but they all were welcomed as well. It was the most memorable moment in my life.”
“I loved these guys before I told them,” Castro said. “These people are family, whether they’re blood related or not. They are going to be there for the rest of my life and I will be there for them.”
Coming out to his mother proved not as easy. Raised Catholic throughout his life, his family had a differing set of morals. Castro said he remembered having a gay neighbor, and although his parents were fine with it, they viewed it as unnatural and abnormal.
After a dinner out with his mother in Hamden during the beginning of his junior year, Castro broke the news. She was not as receptive.
“She instantly stopped the car and started crying. She told me she had now lost her best friend. That was really hard for me,” Castro said. “We didn’t speak for a month after that.”
“Half of gay males experience a negative parental reaction when they come out and in 26 percent of those cases the youth was thrown out of the home,” according to the Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Organization.
Castro initially expected his mother to be the most accepting, but his father, a devout Catholic, proved to be more understanding from the start.
According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, more than 9 million Americans identified themselves as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender in 2011.
Homosexuality, although more prevalent now than ever before in America, has had a rough path in the past century. Castro cites a generation gap as the reason behind the disconnect.
“[My parents’] generation grew up during a time when being gay was a disease,” Castro said. “It wasn’t a lifestyle, it wasn’t something that you’re just born into. They would have strange and barbaric treatments back then. My mother didn’t want me to live that hard of a lifestyle.”
Today, Castro’s parents are more supportive than ever, and his mother is open to anyone in his life.
“The current person I’m dating has been to my house and met my parents. My mom loves him, and everything is better right now,” Castro said. “It just was a very rocky start.”
It would be the support of his family and friends that would propel Castro to be an active and productive member at Quinnipiac. Among other accomplishments, Castro became the Phi Sigma Sigma sweetheart : an honor given only to few before him.
“He lives our values in his everyday life,” said Margaret Dooley, a Phi Sigma Sigma senior. “He is the type of person that always has your back and you can always count on no matter what.”
As for his future, graduate school for a degree in public health is on the horizon. But Castro will no longer hide his true self.
“For anyone that is struggling with it, it does get better,” Castro said. “My friend would quote Dr. Seuss and tell me, ‘be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.’ There’s no point in hiding who you are.”