Student overcomes years of harassment, finds community at MSU Denver and shares a powerful message of hope.
Story by Doug McPherson | Photos by Mark Stahl
Payton Bradley’s golf teammates grabbed his clubs from his locker and started throwing them down a hill and into bushes.
After school, other students would yell derogatory comments at him. They would grab his hat and glasses and throw them, then they’d push him to the ground.
All for just being who he was: gay.
This happened to Bradley in his small hometown, Plainview, Texas, where he made the golf team his freshman year of high school. It was a sport he’d grown up playing with his dad. “It calmed me, relaxed me,” says Bradley, a sophomore majoring in English and minoring in sociology.
But any good feelings the sport would give him ended just a few weeks into the school year. That’s when “a friend” he had confided in began telling others Bradley was gay.
“I felt completely alone and devastated. I hated myself for being gay and wanted to just be normal more than anything,” he says. “I tried so hard to convince other people, and myself, that I wasn’t gay, that it was just a rumor. Nobody believed me. They just kept laughing.”
It’s a story that’s lived and repeated thousands of time across the country for decades – something not lost on Metropolitan State University of Denver. In 1992, the University created the LGBTQ Resource Center. It’s now celebrating a quarter century of support, education, and advocacy services to help students realize their fullest potential.
“I think the fact that MSU Denver has had the center for this long speaks to its true commitment not only to diversity, but also to understanding the needs of the LGBTQ community,” says Steve Willich, director of the LGBTQ Student Resource Center. “I know what happened to Payton happens far too often, but the silver lining is that there is help.”
And help is what saved Bradley, but not before he hit what he calls his lowest point - the summer after he graduated from high school.
“I had tried solving my depression with alcohol and ultimately watched myself waste away a little bit each day,” he says. “I became very unhealthy and I self-harmed in different ways. I didn’t care about my life or myself at all.”
He mustered enough strength to make it to Colorado and start his studies at MSU Denver. That’s when life began to bloom again. “MSU Denver has been a really welcoming environment, inside and outside of the classroom,” he says.
He also helped himself by seeking help and has since started seeing a counselor.
“It really changed my life. The counselor understood exactly what I’d gone through and helped me understand that the way I see myself isn’t my fault,” he says. “He helped me uncover dark memories and the reasons I felt the way I did. And he encouraged me to speak up and share my story, which is what I’ve done.”
Indeed he has shared his story. And that story has a happy ending, not just for Bradley, but for those who will hear it. He plans to spend his career helping others.
“I plan on pursuing my masters in sociology I want to study depression … in the gay community … [and] help lower the high suicide rate and mental illness in the community.”
His message to victims of bullying: “More than anything, I would tell them to tell someone, to get help somehow. I kept my bullying experience to myself and it ultimately ruined my self-esteem for years. I’d tell them to stand up for themselves, don’t do anything that would put them in harm’s way. Speaking up is one of the scariest but best things they can do for themselves. They’ll find they have an entire community of brothers and sisters fighting for them and supporting who they are. Even if they feel completely alone, they’re absolutely not.”
Check out our other stories ...
Athletics leaders discuss advocacy, representation and the difference between diversity and inclusion.
Psychology professor knew there was a hidden population of homeless students on campus – and she was determined to help them.
Partnership between United Airlines and MSU Denver provides career path from classroom to flight deck.