When he was 14 years old, Daniel Cords told his parents he was gay.
They didn’t see it coming and Cords himself was not prepared for how such a revelation would so completely upend his life.
“I’ve never seen my mom so sad,” he recalls now. “I think in her eyes, I died that night …”
Cords’ parents immediately enrolled him in religion-based reparative therapy, hoping to fix what they thought was broken in him. Then, after a heated argument when he was a senior in high school, he said, they asked him to leave their Renton house.
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Over the next several years, Cords would struggle to accept the person he was, attempting suicide when he was 19 before eventually coming to terms with the life that lay before him.
Now 26 and a senior at Antioch University Seattle, he is among 44 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and allies from across the state who will share $200,000 in scholarships from the Greater Seattle Business Association, the largest LGBT chamber of commerce in the nation, with membership ranging from restaurants to Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft and Boeing.
The awards, in varying amounts, will be made at the association’s annual scholarship dinner Friday.
At another scholarship dinner on Wednesday, May 22, the Seattle-based Pride Foundation will grant $400,000 in financial assistance to 89 students from the five-state region.
Because they serve the same population, the organizations combined their application process 20 years ago to make it easier for students like Cords to apply.
Over the last 23 years, they have awarded nearly $5 million to students of all ages and in all disciplines of study, at institutions from trade school to Harvard University.
The scholarships reflect the reality that untold numbers of young people who come out to their families are rejected. Many subsequently leave or are kicked out of their homes, with no support to continue their education.
Many end up homeless, living on the streets, where 40 percent of youth are believed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Bullied at school
In family portraits, Daniel Cords is the showy one, arms in the air in expressive gestures. He was the dancer, the singer, the actor, always seeking out the stage — a girlie boy, he pronounced.
He said he knew early on he was gay. His mother, who asked that her name not be used, said girls flocked to her son and he even dated a few of them.
As a kid he hung out with other boys, never quite bonding with them.
Raised and confirmed in a Lutheran church, Cords said, his parents were deeply religious — “far more religiously conservative than the church.”
By the time he was a freshman at Liberty High School in Issaquah, he was being bullied regularly by a group of boys who would throw him against the locker, toss garbage at him or spit on him, he said.
Adults at his school, unprepared to deal with it, did nothing, he said.
Cords said there were no adults he could turn to for support, but through online-chat rooms he got to know other young people like himself.
One of them encouraged him to come out to his parents.
For his mother, the disclosure shattered many of the hopes she had for him — about growing up and marrying and having kids.
She was afraid he might be hurt and, she said, “I was worried about Danny’s salvation.”
Reborn with a plan
Cords said he’s suppressed much of what happened during the religion-based therapy sessions his parents enrolled him in after he came out.
One counselor used the Bible mostly to condemn him, “to get me not only to be straight, but to find girls attractive,” he recalled.
“He’d say, ‘Have you been to Capitol Hill, Daniel? Have you seen the homeless people, the druggies, the slums? That’s what you’ll become if you’re gay.’ ”
Cords’ mother said she pulled him from that counselor after only a few sessions and enrolled him with a Christian psychologist who had worked with gay and lesbians for many years.
In the end, she said, he helped her understand that her son’s homosexuality wasn’t something that could be fixed.
At the same time, she was doing her own research, scouring the Bible for answers she never found.
Worried they’d be judged or rejected, she said, the family quit attending church regularly.
“There was a reality I had to accept,” his mother said. “I quit asking why and began asking how.”
Cords said life at home became unbearable. He was depressed. His school work suffered.
His mother said he became rebellious.
“I had no role models and I didn’t know what it meant to be gay,” Cords said.
In his senior year, after a particularly nasty argument, his father told him to leave the house and he moved in with friends.
In 2006, he joined the Seattle Men’s Chorus, but even that wasn’t enough to eclipse the depression that overwhelmed him.
Then one night, after dinner with friends, he took a bottle of Ambien.
He spent three days in intensive care.
While in the hospital, he learned he landed a part with the Men’s Chorus to perform Johnny One Note — the 1937 show tune from the musical “Babes in Arms” — as part of the Chorus’ “You Made me Love You” show.
He remembers calling the rehearsal manager from his hospital bed to ask: “Don’t give away my role.”
Cords said he left the hospital a different man — reborn, he puts it
Two years ago, he began taking courses at Cascadia Community College and in January enrolled at Antioch, where he expects to graduate this winter with a degree in human development and learning.
He plans to pursue a master’s in education and wants to become a high-school teacher, so he can provide support to students who might be struggling in school because of race, poverty, sexual orientation or other factors.
His mother acknowledges she’s come a long way toward acceptance because of the frank conversations the two have had around issues of gay rights and same-sex marriage.
“As a mother I had to come to terms with the fact that he is the way he is and I can’t do anything about it,” she said.
Last June, Cords and his partner, Matthew Tevenan, held what they considered a wedding ceremony on a beach in Hawaii, attended by 20 friends and family.
They had no marriage license: “It had nothing to do with politics,” Cords said.
His parents struggled with whether to attend.
His mother said, “We thought about it for a long time and in the end decided he’s our son, of course, we gotta go.”
Cords and Tevenan will marry again on their anniversary next month — this time with a marriage license from Washington state.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or email@example.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.