M-S grad speaks from the heart, wins competition

CHAMPAIGN — Speaking from the heart, Clayton Maupin shared how the Trevor Project saved his life during the 15th annual David M. Jones Persuasive Speaking Contest at Parkland College on May 3.

"The Trevor Project has a close connection to my heart as I had a suicide attempt before coming out as gay," Maupin said.

Maupin is a freshman communication major at Parkland College and a 2013 graduate of Mahomet-Seymour High School. His approximate seven-minute speech earned first place among 15 other competitors.

The 23-year-old received a $500 scholarship and a $500 donation to the Trevor Project for his impressive delivery.

The nonprofit organization provides a 24-hour crisis hotline known as the Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ youth who simply need to talk to someone.

"It's a very powerful tool," Maupin said.

The M-S grad said he, too, used the crisis hotline when he struggled to feel accepted.

"It was never something I felt comfortable talking about because when you're in the closet, it seems like it'll be different for you (coming out)," he said.

Having all too often heard derogatory language in the hallways at school, Maupin said the experience was enough to "put me on edge and keep me quiet."

"I let my feelings simmer," Maupin added. "I let what shouldn't be a problem become a problem."

In his desperation, he called the Trevor Project's crisis hotline.

"Talking about it is the No. 1 way to get a grip on what is happening," Maupin said. "They're wonderful counselors if you're young and a student at Mahomet."

For Maupin, and many others, the crisis hotline helps each youth simply get to the next day and take it one step at a time.

"For some people in that situation, the biggest help you can do is make sure they're loved and in a safe place in mind," he said.

Though his parents were accepting of his homosexuality, Maupin said each individual's coming-out story is different.

For Maupin, the greatest factor in allowing someone to feel safe while coming out is to lend a listening ear.

"The first step is to be a good listener and let them tell you whatever you need to," he said. "I know it's difficult for parents if they don't expect it.

"To the parents or friends who get blindsided, it's OK if you need a little time, but you do need to take some time and understand that that child took the time to tell you."

Maupin's advice to Mahomet youth who have yet to come out or accept their homosexuality is to know that they are not alone. The biggest lesson he learned post high school is just how many accepting people were waiting for him in the LGBTQ community.

"In high school, you have your blinders on and you're thinking about your future. People don't realize how many people are going on with so many struggles," he said. "I do hope anyone in the area can take a minute and look around, and if they're having a hard time, know that there are people near you who are willing to talk if you want to talk about it."

The communication major knew all too well how easy it is to feel lonely when still in the closet. Coming from a smaller community such as Mahomet, Maupin was surprised to learn just how much this would change only a few years after graduation.

"I was able to reconnect with former classmates that became part of the LBGTQ community," he said. "It becomes easier and easier to love yourself, but that very vulnerable time when you utter, 'I'm gay,' you need to be handled with care by everyone involved."

Maupin credits the persuasive speech contest for giving him a platform for his passion. The freshman's ambitions after college include working for the Trevor Project, the Human Rights Campaign or another advocacy or nonprofit organization.

The biggest takeaway for the M-S grad is his hope to help one person. He encourages everyone to share the website (thetrevorproject.org) and the crisis helpline number (1-866-488-7386).

"Not because you're gay," Maupin said, "but if you could share the phone number or share the website to Facebook, just know that you could be saving lives that day. People who are calling that number are calling in crisis. They're hearing words to maybe get them to the next day, and spreading the knowledge will save people."

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