ON HIS OWN...BECAUSE HE'S GAY
I first met Joel in October 2014 when he stayed with my family at our home in Oklahoma City while auditioning for the dance department at Oklahoma City University. My first impression of Joel was a sweet, sheltered kid who grew up with a different home life than most of us. Joel has been homeschooled since the 5th grade and his parents have done a lot of work as evangelical missionaries. During the recession his parents were laid off from their jobs & but found jobs living and working at a local church camp. He was very nervous about auditioning, staying up all night rehearsing in mind and in my living room. This was the only college he was submitting an application to; he just wanted to follow his dreams of being on the stage, and OCU was where he set his sights on beginning that journey.
My mom, Joel’s dance teacher, just celebrated her 41st year as a dance teacher and has sent about 20 students to OCU because of their exceptional dance program. I graduated OCU as a dance performance major, and I remember my senior year the cost at the private, liberal arts school increased to $400 a credit hour. That's pretty steep when you take about 18 hours a semester as a dancer and that doesn't include all the other expenses. Without my parents support, there is no way I could have attended. OCU’s dance program graduates have been cast in more than 70 Broadway productions; more than 48 have been a member of the Radio City Rockettes; and thousands of others have performed on cruise ships, in Las Vegas, regional theatre, touring companies, dance companies, and/or run successful dance studios. OCU has graduated such names as Kristin Chenoweth, Kelli O’Hara (both Tony Award Winners) and Chris Harrison from the Bachelor.
When Joel was accepted at OCU he was ecstatic! He was offered a dance scholarship of $6,800, an academic scholarship of $3,000 and a financial hardship scholarship of $5,000. His whole dance studio stood by as he opened his acceptance letter to OCU! The scholarships and aid combined to still leave him appx $16,000 short for his freshman year at OCU. Initially, his parents agreed to help with financial aid so that Joel could get student loans for college. Joel is only 17, he has to have his parents’ signature on loans and financial aid, even though upon graduation he is liable for it. And therein lies the challenge. Now that he is 30 days away from moving to Oklahoma City, they refuse to sign the final paperwork. Why? Joel is gay and plans to live openly as a gay man. Due to his family’s strict stance on homosexuality they will not sign or cosign anything to help him get to college. They believe that by signing the paperwork they are somehow endorsing Joel being gay and encouraging a lifestyle they do not agree with.
This isn’t Joel’s first adversity though. He has had an uphill battle pursuing what he felt was his inner dream of dancing since he was a child. Although he danced around the house as a young boy declaring, “When I grow up I want to be a dancer!”, his parents, afraid he would get made fun of for being a “boy ballerina,” told him that he could only take dance lessons when he could pay for them himself. So, until he was old enough to find jobs, he instead played musical instruments, joined a choir, volunteered at church and community events, joined the drama team, the singing team, bell choir and even the puppet team. His other-than-dance activities even show how innate his desire to perform has always been.
It was around age 13 that Joel began to understand that he was gay. This was a gut wrenching realization because of his family’s belief that homosexuality is a sin - that it is a choice and a choice that is not to be tolerated. Because of this Joel asked his parents to sign him up for counseling to “pray the gay away.” He felt torn between who he knew he was and who he thought he should be based on the beliefs of his family and others around him. The counselor would tell Joel how bad and wrong it was for feeling the way he felt. Most nights Joel would cry himself to sleep; he had an inner battle going on and didn’t feel any support at home in terms of just being loved for being who he is, as he is.
As soon as Joel could, he got not one job, but several. He continued to volunteer his time at a local dementia care center, but also worked at a jewelry store and a local farm for pay. At the age of 15 he finally had his own money to pay for his first dance class... And he was so excited! By the age of 16, he was spending more than twenty hours a week in the studio taking classes and being part of the performance team. And his senior year, he worked non-stop in the summer so he could continue dance and join the competition team. By working during the days, and getting help from the homeschool partnership and from his dance teachers, Joel has managed to pay for all of the classes, attire, shoes, and costumes without financial help from his parents.
It was during his senior year that Joel finally came to terms with his sexuality. After a lot of thought and prayers, Joel decided to tell his parents three things. 1. He would be living as an open gay man from this point forward. 2. He had been attending his local LGBT center for support (The gay/straight alliance) and 3. He had met someone, a boyfriend, at the center. They had mixed emotions; they loved Joel, but they would not support him. They told Joel he could either obey their rules (of not dating, not going to the center and not living openly as a gay man) or he could move out and live on his own. He loves his parents, but also respects himself. He chose the latter.
Joel moved in with a teacher and mentor and she has helped him focus on his dance career and his brighter future. After only three years of dancing, Joel placed third runner-up for a national Dancer of the Year competition this summer, beating dancers who have had 10-15 years of training. The judges and choreographers told my mother he was one of the most passionate dancers they had ever worked with. For only three years of dancing, he was remarkable. And my mother just wrote to me and said, “As I watched this young man develop within a few short months, and his knowledge of music from every musical ever written, I knew he had been blessed with a gift. I have never seen a dancer progress that quickly with the desire, heart and joy of performing.”
I’m asking for your help. Joel is a one-of-a-kind young man. We could just set a goal of $16,000 and make sure Joel is covered for his first year at OCU. But like Joel, I think we should reach for the stars! (Coincidently that is also the name of OCU’s mascot - the OCU Stars) He is on his own, at an expensive college, in a big city, 900 miles away from home.
We don't all have to agree on everything, but our higher selves know that we should support those pursuing their dreams. We should stretch for our own goals while encouraging others to do the same. We know that love is higher than fear and our perceived differences. Joel's authenticity, his focus and drive toward his goal of attending & graduating from OCU to become a career performer is inspiring, to say the least.
Let's help make it happen!
Anything you can give is greatly appreciated. If you can only give a small amount, please do - that is going to add up to major help for him. But for some of you, I'm gonna ask you to dig a little deeper. For supporters who donate $250+ we will be sending you a compiled video on DVD of Joel at the end of his freshman year. His performances, his growth, his new life, his new friends, and his new home that you helped him achieve at college in OKC. And if you are reading this story and can’t financially give right now, will you please pass it on to others who can potentially support Joel? Yes, a share on facebook or twitter is great, but also think of others who have a big reach online, in the media, or in the LGBT support communities. Please send them Joel's story via a link to this campaign with a personal message. Together, we can not only help Joel pursue his highest aspirations, but we can also prove that in the end, #LOVEWINS!
With all my love
Wow! What a day (so far)! In the last 8 hours we've raised upwards of $30,000 towards Joel's dream of paying for and graduating from OCU (Oklahoma City University) with a dance performance education. Dan Savage's thorough vetting of Joel's story and his subsequent article on www.thestranger.com has clearly been a catalyst to taking this campaign from 'we hope we can do this' to WE KNOW WE CAN!
Our outpouring of thanks for all contributions and supportive comments continue; from Dan & Terry's generous $500 contribution, to Rosie O'Donnell giving an amazing $5,000! To the anonymous $5, $15 & $25 contributors! Joel thanks You! He's been in dance classes all day and is just now getting these new updates!
After discussing options of what Joel could do with potential funds that may exceed his undergraduate costs, one option stands out as an inspired and right path. With any extra funds, Joel has decided to form a scholarship or donate to an existing scholarship for other college-bound LGBT students who may be facing obstacles to their dreams simply because of their sexuality. Together, we can create a tidal wave of paying forward the heart-felt generosity and love that you are a part of! Let's do this!
Much Love and Sincerest Gratitude.
Over the past few months we have been lucky enough to work with the loving Dan Savage who writes numerous articles and blogs, but is best know to Joel as the founder of the "It Gets Better Project." He has mentored and helped Joel in numerous ways but today he wrote about Joel on "the stranger." Thank you Dan for everything, and check out his article here:
If you haven't yet had a chance to support Joel, please do. We are making sure that his second semester is covered and we can support him continuing to reach his goals and dreams.
Dear Son, As a mother of many sons I often find a misplaced son I feel a natural affinity towards. My brand of parenting is really more of a co-parenting, I view each of my sons as equal individuals, it's my job to assist them in finding their own truth, to parent as needed. There are times when they need a lot, times when they just need a hug, times when they need to talk and I do my best to listen. At 48, I've about 30 years on you and it does seem I've fallen behind in your parenting. I'm here for you now. First things first, you are under no obligation to accept but I want you to know I offer you my name, freely, proudly, with honor. Joel Andrew Glenn. JAG. Sounds good. My dear, you are doing phenomenally well, all considered. Right now you're so in it, it may be difficult to step back and see the big picture. As time goes on I think you'll realize that your childhood memories are limited and few in comparison to the new memories you're about to start building. Most people remember clearly so little prior to age 8 or 10. Now at 18 you are at the threshold of your life. So, years from now when you look back, in truth you may recall perhaps 10 years of oppression. Sounds like a lot and to a child that picks up on the daily subtleties of rejection and the unatural conditions placed on parental love 10 years is horrific and unacceptable. But Son, it's over now. If there's one thing I could help you learn it would be to let it go. Let it go, move on, you need never look back. They never deserved you. You will find people that do. What I don't want for you is to be 40 or 50 and sad and still clinging to the remorse and rejection of the people that placed unfair, unrealistic conditions on their love when you have always been worthy of boundless blissful love, free of all conditions! Move forward, your life begins now. And I am so filled with pride at all you've accomplished, all you will accomplish. Your childhood is behind you. There was a rough 10 years. Ten years is nothing. Keep it behind you, let it go, it's over. Soon it will be a memory. Then a distant memory. Let it go and then it's over. Gone. I love you and miss you crazy and can't wait for you to come home, Mom
Char Renee said: "So what if he's gay..being Gay doesn't make you a victim"..No, it doesn't. Except when your parents kick you out for it, or someone beats you up for it, or you are fired for being gay, or denied housing for being LGBT. In the case of a kid being denied the support of his parents, *because he's gay*, that's why he needs our help. Would he deserve assistance just based on his drive & talent? Yes. But if his parents signed the forms he needed for financial aid, & let him live at home, gay & all - then he wouldn't need that help, would he..? Good luck to you, Joel. Chase those dreams, chase them hard.
Hey, I don't have cash to contribute right now, but I wanted to leave an encouraging note. I was also kicked out of my conservative christian parent's home at the age of 17. Not for being gay, but for wanting to branch out in the ministry and relate to and interact with my age peers. It's not the same, but I completely understand the challenges and struggles of trying to make it on your own so suddenly. I'm so proud that you're working so hard to chase your dreams no matter what your parents say about you. You're an insipration to all of us!!
i do not understand how parents disown their children because they are gay. I do believe u do not get to choose by your own descion if youre gay, straight, etc. it comes naturally. Wish you the best of luck in your dancing career. Only thing I could offer is a place to stay once you got to OKC, LOL.. Good Luck!!
I saw your story on Dan Savage's page and you should know that not only is Joel an inspiration, but so are the women who are helping this 17-year old kid live his dreams with no help from neglectful parents. You are all heroes and I wish you the best. I bookmarked the gofundme to donate on payday, and wish you the best of luck from Las Vegas, NV!
I didn't have much to give, but every little bit helps. Dan Savage sent me here, and your story broke my heart. As someone who was fortunate enough to have love and support from my family when I came out as gay, I wanted to send some of that love and support your way. You will achieve great things in this life, Joel.
I am so glad you are going to reach your goal. My wonderful nephew is in a similar situation and it breaks my heart. I can what I can, but a scholarship fund would be wonderful. Please keep us posted on that progress and maybe one day my nephew can benefit as well.
I wish I could donate, but I'm recovering from cancer treatment and unemployed at present. I still wanted to send a message encouraging Joel to continue on this wonderful and amazing journey called LIFE! Go out there, embrace it! Surround yourself with kind, loving, supportive people. You clearly are no slacker and have such an awe inspiring amount of courage for someone so young. Stay strong and hit that stage with everything you've got!
I chipped in earlier but I keep coming back to this page, yes partially to see the very satisfying progress towards your goal :-), but also to look at these photos. I mean, wow! He really shines in these. Intensity and focus just jump right off the screen. I am so excited by the idea of maybe someday seeing him in person.
Wow your story breaks my heart. How can they disown his son like this? So sad
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Congrats on reaching your goal! I graduated from OCU in 1992. It is a wonderful university, with amazing training. Listen to EVERYTHING Jo Rowan tells you. She will lead you to be a successful performer and more importantly, a successful human being!
Hell to Joel and his supporters! My name is Erin and I am a costume designer that specializes in dance costumes. I find myself very inspired by this story and want to help you! I know how obscenely expensive the supplies are for being a dancer, and I think the best way I can help you is to offer my services! If you find yourself in need of tights and other workout wear, I ask that you contact me, and I will make you some things that you need. Please reach out to email@example.com if you want my help! Best wishes to you and much love from the dance community!
I am so inspired by your story. Good for you for being proud of being the beautiful person that you are. God bless you and wishing you all the best-Keep on dancing!!! :-)
Please excuse my typos. My fingers are too fat for my small phone. Lol. Hugs and god bless you
Im so proud your friend chose not to hide who he is. My 16 yr old is openly gay. Im proud of who he is and ge is my best friend. His father my EX HUSBAND refuses to accept it. I told my son his dad will regret not accepting him... not only is my son a beautiful person we decided to try to start a mother and son company to prove not just to his dad but other family members who think because hes gay and both of us are disabled he will never make it in life. Our gofundme page has been up 24 hours with not one donation but like i tell my son... never lose hope. We pray someone sees it and helps us start our business that's almost ready except a small starting fee. We are stuck for now living in a 55 plus community with my parents being disability isnt enough for rent. But when our company bloomoms we will get a beautiful two bedroom apt. I would donate if i even had a dollar in my account. Sadly i dont. But i support you whole heartedly. Big hugs Show us how to get our page out there please. I will not let my son ever just give up our dreams. Gofundme/94bydtg