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A Slow Journey From Isolation

The rally closes with a young boy and girl who take the stage with sweet falsetto voices.

I love mother

The walls in Michael Shackelford's bedroom are decorated with posters of NASCAR champions, monster trucks and Speedo hunks. He has also pinned up a saying that reads, "Love is blind so it's harder to find." (Juana Arias -- The Washington Post)

_____Gay in Real America_____
In the Bible Belt, Acceptance Is Hard-Won (The Washington Post, Sep 26, 2004)
Braving the Streets Her Way (The Washington Post, Oct 3, 2004)
Using Her Voice to Rise Above (The Washington Post, Oct 4, 2004)
_____Gay in Real America_____
Photo Gallery: Michael Shackelford, 17, deals with being homosexual in small-town Oklahoma.
_____Live Discussion_____
Transcript: Washington Post staff writer Anne Hull discusses her four-part series on gay youth in America.
About This Series

With the Shackelford family's permission, Washington Post reporter Anne Hull spent hundreds of hours following Michael over the past year as he came to terms with being gay, a journey that paralleled Oklahoma's fight against same-sex marriage. The reporter accompanied Michael to work, church, car shows, speedways and Saturday night forays to the gay teenage dance club in Tulsa. Extended periods were spent in the Shackelford home, where Michael and his mother, Janice, struggled to understand each other. The events and direct quotes in this story were witnessed by the reporter unless otherwise noted.

The final two parts of Young and Gay in Real America are scheduled to run Sunday, Oct. 3, and Monday, Oct. 4.

She loves me

We love daddy, yesiree

We are a happy fam-i-ly

Two hours later inside the Capitol, when the state House approves a resolution urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, there is not a single dissent.

Spring comes and the culture war intensifies. Michael can't quite grasp the concept of same-sex marriage. He wonders about the domestic arrangements. Who would do all the stuff women do? "I can't really picture myself folding the laundry," he says. Right now he's more worried about being 17 in Oklahoma. He joins a weekly rap group at OpenArms Youth Project in Tulsa. Michael never says much, but the meetings are an escape from the wilderness of Sand Springs. One Thursday night, he plunks down on one of the secondhand couches. The attendees range from scruffy farm kids to clean-cut sons of Tulsa business leaders. The group is moderated on this night by a 16-year-old named Fred who has come up with a list of discussion questions. The first is, "What are your hopes and dreams?"

"To be stable without my parents' support."

"To go to NYU and become a psychologist."

"To be in the Berlin Philharmonic."

"To go to art school in Savannah."

"Getting the hell out of Oklahoma." This brings laughter.

Next question. "Do you live up to your parents' expectations?"

"Not even close, I really don't even talk to my dad."

"My dad wishes I played guitar instead of cello."

"My dad and I've never met."

Last question: "Do you bash back?"

"It depends on how many there are." No one laughs.

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