Robert Louis Brown, 29, wanted to share his story about how he overcame severe bullying and depression as he struggled with his sexuality. He had just published a book called “Beauty Is,” a book documenting the lives of those who live with severe burns. The courage these people showed inspired Brown to find a way to use his story to inspire others.
He was on Facebook one day, and one particular person appeared as a suggested friend: Tina Meier.
“When I saw Tina’s name pop up, I immediately knew I wanted to contact her and be a part of her organization to help out kids being bullied,” Brown says.
That organization is the Megan Meier Foundation, which was found by Tina Meier after the death of her daughter Megan, who committed suicide after a period of cyberbullying.
Brown had previously attended the Megan Meier’s vigil, where he hugged Tina. He was also a manager at the YMCA organization, which was located across the street from the Meier’s house. He says she did not remember him as there was too much going on at the time with Megan Meier’s death and the media attention. Brown says he knew what Megan Meier was going through and that he himself had contemplated suicide because he was bullied.
“I felt so much pain for their family because I though about suicide,” Brown explains, “I could not imagine my parents finding me in the closet.”
Today, Brown volunteers his time to go to different institutions where he both shares his story and listens to others. Brown says Tina Meier does whatever she can to get everyone involved, and that no story goes untold.
“Meeting her last year was like talking to a lifelong friend,” Brown says.
Brown says he knew that he was different as far back as pre-school, where he developed a crush on a boy in his class. He knew the boys in his class were taking an interest in the girls, but that was not how he felt.
Brown attended Francis Howell Middle School, where he came to the realization that he was gay. It was also at middle school where the bullying started because he says he took more interest in “femine” things, saying he was not the most athletic or masculine in the class and that he hung out with more girls than boys.
“With me already getting bullied just for the way I acted, I was more than afraid to come out and be open about me having an interest with guys,” Brown says.
After middle school, Brown attended Francis Howell High School, which he called a “nightmare.” That time was when he started to feel down on himself. He remembered hearing laughs from other students when he walked in the classroom, he was having issues with self-esteem and became introverted. He says he tried to act like someone he was not to hide the fact that he was gay. He did have some friends, some of whom he says he shut out.
“It was a really hard time for me,” Brown explains.
There was one bright spot for him: yearbook class. Brown says that he did not want to stay in high school longer than needed, but he wanted to better himself in some interest. That interest was technology, with holding a camera being what he was most interested in. He loved the idea of taking pictures, so he decided to sign up for yearbook class. It was not easy starting out, as the bullying caused him to rebel and act up in class.
His yearbook teacher took him out in the hall one day and told him to get his act together or he was going to get kicked out of the class.
“It kind of was my wake-up call,” Brown says.
Brown started to take the class seriously, and his work eventually got him promoted to editor-in-chief. Yearbook helped him realize that working in photography was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
After graduation and going into college was when Brown started to accept himself. The people he saw in college were a different story compared to the people he encountered in high school. It was a diverse group of people from all kinds of different backgrounds.
“It really opened that life isn’t all about high school and what everyone thinks of you,” Brown explains. “You have to let down your wall at some point. I finally got tired of just explaining myself over and over that I wasn’t gay and I knew I was lying to myself.”
Brown started to come out to those he was close to. His friends were accepting. He came out to his parents at the age of 21 and they to were also accepting. He says his father, who he was intimidated by, hugged him so tight, picking him up off the ground and telling him he loves him and would always be there for him.
“That was finally the breaking point of me finally letting down my wall, knowing that I don’t care what anyone thinks,” Brown explains. “I’m going to do what makes me happy.”
Brown got his formal education from Webster University, and now owns a business called Robert L. Brown Photography, where he shoots the occasions where people are at their happiest.
Brown says the best advice he could give to LGBT youth struggling with their sexuality and bullying is not do it the way he did. Times have changed and he says people have been generally more open about their sexuality than he was.
“You have to learn to stand your ground and say something to them [the bullies],” Brown says. “Let them know how you feel. Make them feel like the fools for saying it.” V
by Bill Loellke