It was 1998, and I was in 8th grade, when I decided to start coming out to my small town in the middle of Michigan. In the Midwest you don’t come out to individuals, close friends or family members; the news travels fast—you come out to the entire town, overnight.

No one was surprised. A few years back I had begun dressing goth, and in 5th grade proudly proclaimed my love for Alanis Morissette, whom I still adore to this day. Before coming out I’d been plagued with fear that my father would disown me, and I would literally become the next Matthew Shepard. None of those things happened. To be honest, I ended up having it pretty easy, aside from having food thrown at me in the lunchroom, being yelled at in the hallway and a few words scratched into my locker, which of course were spelled wrong.

Here we are, 20 years later, and LGBTQ populations still don’t have it easy, and in a lot of cases it’s worse. With the gain in visibility comes the rise of hate crimes, reportedly an increase of 5% yearly against the LGBTQ community. And 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Families are still kicking their children out because of their sexuality and gender identity, leaving our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to make new families, their chosen families.

I just moved to NYC from Utah, and I don’t know anyone. I want to make friends, but everyone seems to just want to hook up. What do I do? – Male, Gay, 19

Welcome to the city! I think what you’re going through is something that most go through when they move here. You’re the new face, and everyone wants a piece. You didn’t mention what you do for work or if you’re a student, but I’d recommend getting a social job (something in a restaurant or bar) in a gay part of town. You’ll meet a ton of coworkers that are LGBTQ, or friendly straights, and tons of patrons. That’s what I did when I moved here, and I met mostly great people. I’d shy away from apps for making friends, but if you go that route, be clear you’re “looking for friends”—and mean it. Hookups can become friends, but it’s not always the case.

I haven’t come out to my family. My friends think I’m weak and should. I’m afraid they will cut me off financially, and I need them. Do I have to come out? – Male, Gay, mid-20s

No one can make you come out, and you don’t say if you “want” to. If it’s something you want to do, then do it. You’re in your mid-20s; you can support yourself one way or another. But, that’s a choice you have to make, and it might require making some lifestyle changes. Everyone has a different timeline, and only you can say what’s right for yourself. There are a variety of reasons to come out or stay in the closet, and there is no “right answer,” but you have to make sure you’re safe either way. Make a pros and cons list, accept that for now and reassess later. Write to me again if you decide you want to come out and need some tips!

Sex/Love/Relationship advice? Send your questions to: Instagram: @ThomasWhitfield84