Heidi Hirvonen, senior

Kayla Kearney’s second home is the stage.  So when the Maria Carrillo High School senior, respected for her singing and acting skills, stepped out of her comfort zone at the Martin Luther King Jr. Assembly on Jan. 13 and 14 to publicly expose her homosexuality, Kearney was actually in her element.

And quite possibly, Kearney’s childhood dream of stardom has come true, though she won’t be belting out in her deep tenor tones on the Broadway stage anytime soon.

            The 17-year-old teen’s message has flooded from the MCHS theater into the community and beyond; she spoke at a fundraiser in Marin sponsored by Fit For Equality which benefited the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) Network promoting gay activism on Jan. 23, and posted a video of her performance at the assembly to YouTube in the hopes that her message would reach others.  And it has.  With over 18,200 views and close to 400 comments after just one week online, Kearney’s speech­—and her message—have gone viral.   The video was shown on Good Day LA and has appeared on various websites such as jezebel.com, a site targeting women on issues such as sexuality and fashion, and alternet.org, which is an online collection of news articles and human interest stories.    “I just think it’s great that I can keep touching people through this video,” Kearney said.  And while the immediate success has been overwhelming and “surreal,” as she puts it, Kearney doesn’t plan to stop now.  She has been contacted by several magazines and newspapers, and has also emailed Ellen DeGeneres, the popular gay talk-show host, in the hopes that she might find yet another outlet through which to share her message.

            Yet while Kearney describes her school environment as a positive, safe place, spreading her message into the “real world” has presented some adversity.  Hurtful and offensive YouTube comments, especially, have dealt a blow to Kearney’s confidence, but she refuses to dwell on these.

            “This is the first negative feedback I’ve gotten,” said Kearney.  “It kind of shook me a little bit, but there are so many positive comments surrounding the negative ones, and I can read those and feel really amazing.” 

            While Kearney’s peers were inspired by her courage and composure, she freely admits that she wasn’t always so confident.  Once she came to terms with the fact that she was gay, Kearney still struggled to conquer fears about living in a judgmental, closed-minded society.  

            “I would feel sorry for myself,” Kearney said.  “Sometimes I wished I could just take a pill and fix it.”

            Last summer, before Kearney came out to her parents, her mother began to notice trends uncharacteristic of Kearney’s typically lively disposition.  Kearney’s sleeping patterns became irregular and, suspicious that she might be dealing with depression, Shawne conversed with her daughter, providing her a safe place to share her secret.  This supportive family environment was something Shawne advocated from the start, believing that “core family strength” is the factor that sets gay teens like Kearney apart from other LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender) youth who are harassed and driven to suicide.  

            Kearney’s mother first had trepidations about her daughter’s decision to speak at the school-wide assembly, worried that she might receive negative feedback or feel a lack of support.  On the contrary, Kearney describes the aftermath of the experience as extremely positive.

            “So far, based on the initial reaction, I feel really proud and happy,” said Kearney.  “I feel loved and supported by almost everyone, and that’s great.”

            She describes herself as a sort of “guinea pig,” someone who, through her own courage, can inspire other gay teens to come out without the fear of losing support from their peers.