Stephen Hooper is a social media personality and former fashion model. The 25-year-old lived in Chance Cove until age 17.
“I knew at young age that I was different but I didn’t know how,” Hooper said during a recent telephone interview.
Fortunately, he said, he “comes from the best family in Newfoundland.”
His parents (James and Ruby Hooper) have supported him throughout his life, he said.
“My mom was a stay-at-home mom. My dad was a fisherman. I can remember vaguely as a child he would go for a week or two at a time on the fishing boats. I would be upset that he was going but when he’d come back, he’d always bring me a new doll because that’s what I wanted.”
People often questioned his father’s choice of a present, he said, asking why he’d choose a doll for a boy.
“Dad would say, ‘Well, why are you buying your son a truck? Because he wants it,’” Hooper recalled.
Hooper says his parents were supportive not only of him, but of other youth, recalling how they helped a young man whose parents kicked him of the house when he told them he was gay.
“My parents helped set him up somewhere. They understood the whole story,” he said.
Hooper said he was 13 when he told his best friend that he was gay. He did so over the phone, he said.
“I was way too shy to tell her in person. She wasn’t surprised. She just said, ‘Oh. Okay.”
His friend’s positive reaction helped him open up to more people, he said.
Hooper recalled going to school with others who were trying to figure out their sexual orientation.
Many young people didn’t know where to go for information, he said.
That holds true today for many youth, he said, particularly those living in smaller communities.
“There are numerous resources out there and with Pride Week coming up (July 10-16) I want people to know (about the resources).”
In his story that’s now posted on the Kids Help Phone website (www.kidshelpphone.ca) Hooper said he sought guidance from the school counsellor and from the team at Kids Help Phone.
“I didn't know how my teenage years were going to play out but, thankfully, I had an amazing support system and knew I had to believe in myself. At the time, Ellen DeGeneres was also such a huge role model for me. I admire Ellen for having the strength to tell the world who she is as a person, and paving the way for others to do the same,” he said.
Hooper went on to tell how challenging it was opening up about his sexuality during his school years.
“I remember hearing negative criticism like being gay is a disease, or gay people burn in hell for making that choice. It was heartbreaking hearing this as a child because you want to be able to express yourself, but I was too scared to because I didn't know what the kids at school or the neighbors or the congregation at church would say,” he said.
Thanks to the support he’s had over the years, he said, he’s now comfortable in his own skin.
“It’s so freeing to be able to be yourself and not hide a secret from the ones you love. I am much happier and more goal-orientated now than I have ever been,” he said.
He said while this province has come a long way in accepting all people, there’s still more that can be done.
“I have friends that come over to my house. They will say, ‘I’ve never seen half of these clothes before.’ I’ll say, ‘They’re my Toronto clothes.’ They’ll ask why I don’t wear it here... I say, ‘trust me, I can’t wear that here.’”
Hooper has a message for LGBTQ children and youth.
“There’s no one to blame because there’s nothing wrong with you. Wherever you go you’re going to get a hater but that doesn’t matter... don’t try to cover it up just to fit in. You’re perfect the way you are,” he said.
For a list of LGBTQ services and groups visit www.stjohnspride.ca