I've often wondered what happened to Justin, the person who trained me in the fine art of flipping burgers at the McDonald's I worked at in high school. At first Justin seemed like any other high school kid -- we bonded over toasting buns, "running the bin," and daydreams of all the horrible things we could do to your milkshake. But over the course of a year, Justin changed a bit. He started out with, "I think I accidentally went on a date with this guy," then moved on to, "I'm definitely dating this guy," and eventually it became, "Okay, I think I'm gay, but don't tell anyone."
For whatever reason, he came out to me first (or at least first at McDonald's) and this is what I remember most clearly about it: Justin was still like any other high school kid. His gayness was the least of our problems in the grease-infested sweatshop that is a McDonald's kitchen. It might seem obvious now, but at 17 I had to stop and think about it.
The reason I've always thought about Justin is because we grew up in a small, conservative town in Western Kentucky. We went to different schools, and I never saw him again after he quit McDonald's, but I can't imagine that being a gay teenager in our little town was easy. In fact, it's probably not easy anywhere, and that's what makes the work over at outLoud Radio so important. Now in its 10th year, outLoud Radio trains LGBTQ youth in media and radio skills to give them the confidence they need to decide for themselves how they will be represented. The website boasts an impressive list of podcasts, some about serious issues like being harassed on the bus, and some lighthearted, such as "Behind the Facepaint," about drag queens doing community service.
outLoud is launching a campaign to expand its programming and cultivate youth leadership with its 10th anniversary gala, 10 Years of Making Waves. The event will feature NPR White House Correspondent Ari Shapiro in conversation with KQED's Scott Shafer (both openly gay radio-makers), and outLoud's own youth producers. If enough organizations like this take root, then the Justins of today will be able to come out to everyone -- even at a McDonald's in Kentucky.