By Jeff Walsh
During his senior year, Adam Colton wanted to change his high school. The week classes began last year, he came out to faculty, board members and students attending an in-service. Colton had previously mentioned a diversity program with school administrators and now he was pushing for a gay-straight alliance.
"The high school was unfortunately notorious for intolerance and racism, just everything a high school doesn't want to be nowadays," Colton said in a recent interview with Oasis. "Our hope was that in starting a student group like this on campus, we would bring students together around important issues and focus peoples' attention on acceptance and not just tolerance."
Colton was the first person in the school's history to come out of the closet. It wasn't a decision he took lightly. Colton came out to his best friend and had worked his way up through his family, all of whom were supportive. His mother even became very involved in the small community center forming in their area. The time seemed right for Colton.
"By the time I was starting my senior year at San Marin, there was really no reason to stay in the closet anymore," he said. "Everybody asked me if it was a decision I was sure I wanted to make because of the reputation San Marin had, but it was even more reason for me. I saw just how important what I could do was."
Colton was beat up shortly after the school year began. It didn't take place on campus, though. He was at a grocery store shopping for his parents. He returned to school right after the attack to show people he would not be intimidated. In February, six months later, Colton would be intimidated enough not to return.
"I really don't remember anything from that attack," Colton said. "I spent the night at a friend's house the night before. I came home, got dressed for school and remember leaving for school and when I was found, my car was also found locked and parked on campus. I'm not too sure what took place that day."
Colton was beaten up and the word FAG carved into his flesh.
"The second attack was much more brutal than the first attack. I had been getting teased at school and the pressure was building," he said. "Students did not want me on campus anymore and they were doing anything and everything possible to make my life miserable while I was at school. I think this is just the last word."
Colton described his wound as looking "like someone had drawn on my arm and stomach with some sort of ball point pen, and wrote the word Fag," he said. "My skin was broken by the pen, but just like all of my other cuts and bruises, it healed over time.
"I didn't go back to school after the second attack. It was important for me to go back after the first attack, because it wasn't so much that I expected it, but it went with the territory," he said. "I came out in a blue collar, fundamentalist community at one of the most 'hick' schools in the town. It was important to me to prove to not only my attackers but to the people watching me and looking up to me that this wasn't something that was going to get me down. I was much stronger than that."
Colton said that after starting the group, he wasn't doing anything to call attention to himself.
"I wasn't being vocal. I had my rainbow triangle on my bag and was not afraid to talk to the people I was friends with on campus about who I was, or afraid to be who I was," he said. "But, don't get me wrong, I wasn't running through campus screaming, 'I'm gay! I'm gay!' I can't tell you why they did it."
After the second attack, Adam's name was sent around the word in news reports of his attack. He has received letters from many people across the globe, but at the time he didn't want any attention.
"All I can say is the media sucks," Colton said. "When you don't give reporters and media what they want to hear, they really get vicious. They don't leave you alone. They keep calling, and when you don't give them anything they make up their own story. And that just became a whole different attack. It was almost like the third and final blow.
"A lot of people were struggling to get my story and there was no real compassion," he said. "There were some people that came through like your magazine and XY and a couple of reporters that I talked to who had my interest at heart. We decided as a family the first night that we would communicate with each other and when we were ready to talk to the media, we would. We were mainly focused on each other. It wasn't just me physically being beaten up. All of my family live in Novato, so we all dealt with it. We decided it was about us dealing with things and moving forward. We had so many things to think about."
Colton eventually finished high school through a home schooling program, and started college this fall at College of Marin. He plans to study design. While not far from his high school, Colton said it is a completely different atmosphere.
"All of the sudden, it doesn't matter what your friends think anymore," he said. "You're your own person and the people are more open-minded. It's a more comfortable energy."
Colton said he also accepted his sexuality fairly well.
"I had a real easy time with it. I never really dealt with much self-doubt and self-hate as far as coming out," he said. "I was very ignorant to the fact that I was gay. I knew I liked guys, but didn't know what the word gay was until I was in high school. All along, the guys I chose to become friends with were the more attractive guys and I can remember as far back as fourth or fifth grade looking at guys and taking time to notice them, and how attractive they were."
When Colton began the coming out process, he was leading a double life.
"I think I knew freshmen year in high school I was gay, but I probably would have identified more as bisexual, since that was the lifestyle I had to lead. I had to lead a straight lifestyle because I wasn't too sure what gay meant. I knew what it was, that it was out there and the term for guys who liked guys, but everybody around me was dating girls," he said. "I chose a lot of my girlfriends on the basis of what girls could I be really good friends with and a lot of my girlfriends ended up being some of my best friends.
"So, once I got into sophomore and junior year, I started leading this double life where during the day I'd go to school and hold hands with my girlfriend on campus, and at night, I'd go home and talk to gay guys online on AOL and get that gay urge out of my system. That became very depressing and trying and it was always something in the back of my mind. As far as self-doubt and saying, 'I can't be gay,' that just wasn't the way it was. I was raised in a very open, liberal household."
To people not familiar with the Bay Area, it might seem strange when Colton's hometown was described as being "just north of San Francisco." Whereby it might seem close, Colton said being near the "gay mecca" doesn't make the surrounding cities any more tolerant.
"You move five minutes across the bridge and you're in a different land," he said, adding. "I'm thirty minutes from the bridge."
In June, Colton crossed the bridge, working for a brief period for XY Magazine as an editorial assistant, and speaking at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. For Colton, speaking at Pride marked a turn for him. It was the first time he was telling his story for himself. Not because a reporter called him, not because someone shoved a microphone in his face. And he wasn't speaking as the kid who got beat up, but the kid who is getting on with his life.
And Colton has no regrets.
"Each time something like this happens, it proves to a greater extent the necessity for people to be out there."