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A young man in rural Idaho was holding on to a secret. One weekend, something changed

When he opened up, Chewey Clinton felt like he finally had a confidant.
Chewey Clinton
When he opened up, Chewey Clinton felt like he finally had a confidant.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team, about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

Chewey Clinton grew up on a ranch in rural Idaho. As a teenager, he was a typical small-town kid, working at a hardware store and going hunting with his friends.

But he was also holding on to a secret that he felt made him different from everyone else: He was gay. He hadn't told anyone the truth, even his closest friend, a classmate named Spencer.

"He was my best friend in high school for a number of years," Clinton said. "We liked to listen to punk rock together, play video games. He was good to talk to. He was a really wonderful guy."

One weekend during Clinton's senior year, his parents went out of town, so he decided to throw his first-ever party. A bunch of his classmates and friends came over, including Spencer.

"Spencer and I were hanging out, and he had been drinking and, you know, having problems with his girlfriend at the time," Clinton recalls. "And he was frustrated and upset, and he wanted to go home."

Clinton didn't want his friend to drive home if he'd been drinking, so instead he asked Spencer to go on a long walk with him on the roads around the ranch.

"We were walking and talking, and he was sort of unloading to me his frustrations with his relationship," Clinton said. "And there was just a lull in the conversation after a couple of miles."

As they walked in silence, Clinton felt something he hadn't expected. He wanted to tell Spencer about his sexuality.

"It was something I never thought I could say to anybody who I'd grown up with, because it was really dangerous," Clinton said.

But in that moment, Clinton felt like he could reveal what he'd been holding on to for so long.

"I said, 'Spencer, I'm gay,'" he recalls. "And there was a momentary silence, and without anything else, he just put his arm around me as we were walking and he said, 'That's OK. You're still my best friend. I still love you.'"

Although Clinton didn't really know what to expect, he said that Spencer's response was more than he ever expected.

"For somebody to tell me they loved me when I told them that was unlike anything I could have ever asked for. It was like a relief valve," he said. "It was like this constant weight that had been building on me for so long suddenly lifted a little bit."

For the rest of that year, the two friends remained close. Clinton felt like he finally had a confidant.

"I'd never had anybody that I could tell things to," he said. "I could never have known what it would feel like to have that kind of friendship."

At the end of that year, Clinton went off to college. He and Spencer slowly drifted apart, as high school friends often do. But he says he'll always remember the compassion Spencer showed him.

"I have come out to hundreds of people since that time," he said, laughing. "And I'm never afraid to say that to anyone, because I love who I am so much. I have thought about it enough times to know that he's a part of the reason for that."

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday and Thursday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ryan Katz
Autumn Barnes