Meet Jake Streder, a high school senior at Matea Valley High in Aurora, IL. Earlier this year, Jake helped his community learn to celebrate pride month, and in so doing, made peace with his own 2018 outing by other students.
The story began in June. In a new interview with OutSports, Jake recalled walking to the principal’s office demanding to know why the school wasn’t recognizing pride month among its June festivities.
“I was just like, ‘It’s not a big deal if I go in and talk about it and ask if they did it,’” Streder said. “As soon as I went in, they announced it.”
For Jake, the moment carried special significance. As a 15-year-old freshman, he’d told a friend that he was gay, but asked to keep it a secret. That didn’t work: soon the entire school was gossiping about Jake’s sexuality, including his older sister. Jake was outed to his school and his parents. He also became the victim of harassment, enduring homophobic slurs at school.
Flash forward to this June. Jake and his mother, Jen Streder, decided to cap off Jake’s high school career with a full-circle moment. The two decided to encourage people within their community to display the pride flag in honor of anyone who openly identified as LGBTQ…or anyone still in the closet.
“It’s about how we pave it forward,” Jen told OutSports. “So how do we do our part to help other families realize embracing this shift in what you may have thought life would look like might just be one of the best things that ever happened to your family?”
The pair began by purchasing 50 pride flags to sell and give away around town. They found themselves quickly ordering more, eventually providing about 300 flags to the community.
“You never know when someone needs to see that,” she added. “You drove through the neighborhood and it was kind of overwhelming to see.”
Jen and Jake also constructed a special art display, meant to symbolize Jake’s closet. The pair repainted the piece to cover it in rainbow colors, and removed the doors. They captioned it with the words “…and they showed that closet they were Proud and would live happily ever after.”
“I just feel like it’s a really important thing [being queer] for people to know about and learn in general, and I don’t think in schools we really get much of that,” Jake says of the campaign. “If there’s a way for people to have that outside of school, it’s good to still know, and it’s good to get out there.”
Jake also now has no problem answering questions regarding his sexuality to his peers, and doesn’t feel the same anxiety he felt walking into football practice his freshman year, just after getting outed.
“It’s not uncomfortable anymore,” Jake says.
Now that’s a champ.