As they prepared to attend their first prom together last year, boyfriends Pedro Reyes and Evan McKenna faced both homophobes and allies in their rural community of Morristown, Tennessee. Now they’re sharing their story in solidarity with other LGBTQ+ youth.
As Reyes writes in an Outsports essay, he met McKenna in 2015 when the then-sophomore introduced himself to Reyes, a freshman, at cross country practice: “A tall, clumsy boy stumbled over to me, saying, ‘Hi, I’m Evan! Want to run with me?’ In that moment, I knew that this was the boy for me.”
Reyes held his torch for McKenna for two years while McKenna figured out his own feelings, and the couple finally started dating in the autumn of Reyes’ junior year. Around the same the time, though, a homophobic hate group proposed a symbolic resolution to ban same-sex marriage in Morristown. Mercifully, the resolution failed, but it was that kind of experience that gave Reyes pause when he and McKenna went to pick up boutonnieres from a local florist.
“She asked, ‘What color will your dates be wearing?’” Reyes recalls. “We hesitantly answered that we were each other’s dates. A moment of lingering suspense filled the room before she exclaimed with a smile, ‘Great! How can I help you?’”
A photographer named Eric McKinley, whom Reyes says is a part of the LGBTQ+ community himself, happened to overhear the exchange and offered to take the couple’s prom photos for free.
These days, Reyes is finishing his senior year in high school while McKenna studies pre-med at Notre Dame. “Things have changed for the better in our community, but unfortunately we are still fighting to this day, and we will continue to keep fighting for not only ourselves, but the rest of our community,” Reyes writes. “Even though Evan and I live 410 miles apart now, every time he comes home, we make time to run together.”
“We didn’t plan to become activists but after experiencing how hard it was growing up in the South, we knew that we need to tell our story,” he adds. “I’ve been blessed with a platform that has allowed me to tell my story. Growing up in Morristown I felt disconnected and alone. I want no other teen to feel that way.”