Supporting Youth: A Matter of Life and Death

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By Lauren Means | Photos courtesy Brianna Fearing

In larger cities and metro areas, it’s becoming easier to find resources and services for the LGBT+ community. This is something that’s taken many years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Now, it’s members of the community in the suburbs and rural areas that are working to bring resources and services to their areas. 

Brianna Fearing is leading the charge for the LGBT+ youth in Maury and Marshall Counties. Living in Tennessee for the last eight years, Fearing notes the climate is noticeably more conservative than New England where she’s from originally. “I was really shocked that people would have Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman plastered on the back of their car but now that’s become a part of the scenery. I’ve only been openly discriminated against one time in the four-ish years that I’ve been out of the closet. However, my wife and I don’t advertise that we’re a couple,” said Fearing. 

Fearing and her wife don’t feel safe holding hands in public and she doesn’t feel safe disclosing she’s gay to the parents of her daughter’s friends for fear it could disrupt her child’s social life. She explained, “Overall, I don’t discuss it openly unless I trust the other person. That being said, I’m the picture of a cliche lesbian and wear rainbow stuff all the time, so I imagine people make their own assessment.”

While she’s doing a lot of the work building this community behind the scenes, bringing awareness to the LGBT+ community in the area and changing the climate to one of acceptance is why she is doing this and stated, “I plan to step up and be transparent about myself and my group once there is enough support.”

History Not Repeating Itself 

For Fearing, it was her own experience growing up and coming out that pushed her to create the Marshall and Maury County LGBTQ Alliance group on Facebook. She said, “As a teen, I tried to come out of the closet several times and each time was pushed back in by either my parents or relentless bullying. As a result, I pushed my feelings down and didn’t officially come out of the closet — for good — until my late 20s.”

Fearing married her best male friend and they had a child together. She finally admitted her true feelings at age 28. Now 33, she’s happily married to a woman and still very close friends with her child’s father. She recognizes things would’ve been different for her in high school and young adulthood if she’d had a support system or a safe place to be herself. “My mental health suffered so much in high school,” said Fearing.

Having a child of her own who is entering kindergarten has brought up these feelings again. Her child hasn’t expressed anything to do with being queer but just having a child reminded her of what it was like to be in school. 

“I wanted to create a safe space for the youth in this area to be themselves, connect with other people and get resources — LGBT+ specific healthcare and mental health care, HIV/STD testing and care, resources for queer BIPOC, scholarships, churches, support groups, homelessness, emergency services, etc.,” Fearing said. Having support can mean the difference between life and death for some people. She revealed, “As a teen, there were times I considered suicide because of my sexuality, and I know this is the case for a huge number of queer youth.”

fearing (right) pictured with her wife

Building Resources

“Initially, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to accomplish, and that’s still in flux,” said Fearing. She began doing research, established a Facebook page and started building an online presence to get the word out. 

She envisions a support group after school for teens to sit around and talk where she could serve as the catalyst for getting things started but allowing the youth to run it and take ownership of their own support group. “That was my initial vision, however, it’s become apparent that there’s a need for local queer adults as well, though I haven’t developed a plan for that yet,” Fearing explained. COVID, of course, has made it more difficult to try to get a group together in person, but this has forced Fearing to focus more on building a solid community before taking action.

Expanding on Diversity

Fearing thinks that any sort of LGBT+ group would be beneficial in her area. “Nashville is much more culturally diverse than where I live, so there isn’t a vibrant openly queer community that I’m aware of. I’d love to have the opportunity to meet with fellow queer folks and support queer youth,” she said. 

Locally, the Franklin PFLAG chapter does a phenomenal job for parents of queer children but there’s very little support of queer youth in local schools based on conversations with others in the area. “Recently, teachers from a local middle school reached out to me and a friend of mine who’s active in the queer community with PFLAG and Tennessee Equality Project about helping start a GSA in their school. We did a lot of brainstorming and developed a plan,” recalled Fearing. Barring some initial pushback from some more conservative faculty, the kids are actively getting their GSA going with the help of their teachers. 

She doesn’t feel alone in the drive for youth programs and said others clearly recognize the need for queer youth support, “I’ve recently been reached out to about collaborating to create a youth pride event for next year. I think this sort of momentum is what the local queer community needs, especially kids who need support the most.” 

For more information check out the Marshall and Maury County LGBTQ Alliance Facebook group.