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How a Gay, Homeless Teen Became His High School's Valedictorian

Chicago teen Marquise Brown got kicked out of his home after he came out. Now he's heading to Pomona College.

Earlier this month, the principal of Chicago's Gary Comer College Prep wrote about how 100 percent of the school's seniors earned acceptances to four-year universities. This is the third of four student stories.

Going to college has always been a dream of mine—but it almost became a dream deferred. As a 16-year-old sophomore I came out as gay to my aunt, who was my guardian, and she kicked me out of the house. I didn't get to take my belongings, and I wasn't wearing anything but my underwear. But thanks to the support I've received from other family members and the community at my high school, I’ve continued to pursue my goal. This fall, I'll be heading to California to start my freshman year at Pomona College.

I didn't always live with my aunt. My biological mother is a cocaine addict who abandoned my siblings and me to my grandmother's care. As a child, my grandmother talked to me about going to college. Although I didn't fully understand what college was and how could I get there, she instilled in me the understanding that it would make me a better person and provide lifelong benefits. Even though she had never gone to college herself, she was determined that I would have the opportunity. Unfortunately, in February 2005 my grandmother got really sick after fighting lung disease for years and had to be hospitalized. Before she left in the ambulance, she assured my siblings and me and told us not to worry, that everything was going to be okay. She never returned.

After my grandmother passed, at first I wanted to give up on everything. Then I realized that doing so would disappoint her, so I decided to focus my grief and use it to motivate me to achieve. My siblings and I were left in the care of my aunt, who filled out my application for GCCP. Everything was going well for me at home and at school until I began to find my identity and gained the courage to express myself as a homosexual male. I refused to accept my aunt's religious beliefs about homosexuality as my own, so she evicted me from her home, calling me vicious names like "freak of nature" and "faggot" as she put me out early one summer morning.

I knew there were consequences for standing up for your beliefs, but I never thought I'd lose the place I'd known as home since sixth grade because of who I am. Full of anger and despair, I walked a few blocks across our neighborhood to my sister's house. Despite having two children of her own and another baby on the way, my sister welcomed me into her home. It was a relief to finally be able to be myself, but I also had to grow up fast.

Living with my sister came with unlimited amounts of freedom—I was allowed to hang out with friends and attend parties whenever I was invited, and I didn’t have a curfew—but for the first time in my life I had to support myself financially. Although I wanted to stay out, shop, and party with friends, it was up to me to pay for my clothes, shoes, and phone bills, and maintain my grades without someone telling me to do my homework or get up and go to school.

The support of my teachers, school, and peers also helped me stay on track. GCCP supported me not just as an occasionally homeless LGBTQ teen, but as a person and as a student. The school has always been a safe place where my peers and I don't have to hide who we are. I've been able to focus on my academics, and I'll proudly graduate as the valedictorian. I’m also a senior class representative for student council, a member of my school's National Honor Society, and one of my school’s first male cheerleaders. In addition to actively recruiting boys for the cheerleading team, this year I helped create GCCP's student-led Gay Straight Alliance, which organized our first annual National Day of Silence. Both students and staff members chose to remain silent for the day in recognition of LGBTQ individuals who are continuing to live without the ability to express themselves.

I'm ecstatic about attending Pomona, and I plan to major in biology and focus on genetics. I'm also glad I can set an example for my younger siblings and other GCCP students: You can be proud of your identity, overcome life's challenges, and make your dream of going to college come true.

Photo courtesy of Gary Comer College Prep

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