John Haskins: It Does Get Better

Story by: Caitlin Taylor 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are four times as likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. Questioning youth are three times as likely. Those that do not experience suicidal thoughts, Mental Health America reports, remain 2.5 times as likely to experience depression and anxiety.

For Michigan State University alumnus, John Haskins, suicidal thoughts and depression were more than just numbers; they were a very authentic – and scary – reality. During a 6-month period of clinical depression during his senior year, Haskins thought that if he were still gay at 25, he would commit suicide.

“I wasn’t being melodramatic,” he said. “I just didn’t see a bright future for myself.”

In part, Haskins attributes his depression to an inability to come to terms with his sexuality. Between growing up in a fairly strict Catholic family and the invisibility of LGBTQ+ students on campus, Haskins felt substantial pressure to remain closeted, not only as an undergrad during the ’70s, but for many years following.

A lack of LGBTQ+-inclusive resources also contributed to Haskins’ depression, as a queer community was almost non-existent on campus and the MSU community was relatively non-inclusive at the time.

“The only GLBT activity I vaguely remember was a pride week in the spring that nobody I knew participated in,” he said.

Now 40 years post-graduation, Haskins overcame his depression. Through strength and courage, he fought on, graduating with a B.A. in finance, having a successful career in business, beginning the coming-out process at 29 and meeting his spouse of 31-years when he was 30.

“My personal experience is that coming out is the only way to find self-acceptance and affirm the love of family and friends,” he said. “After living a double-life for so many years, especially during my career, I am more able to comfortably integrate being gay into the totality of my life.”

In addition to his professional career and personal life, Haskins has found community through membership with the Houston Prime Timers – a social club dedicated to providing older gay and bisexual men the opportunity to enrich their lives. Through this membership, he meets for a weekly lunch with 8 to 15 other members, where he can discuss health, politics and other topics among friends.

Haskins’ desire to advance the equality of LGBTQ+ people has also inspired his regular contributions to MSU and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). He has frequently contributed to the It Gets Better Project as well, even giving a personal testimony for the organization.  

“My reason for donating to It Gets Better is purely personal,” he said. “I remember when I was in high school, and it was a miserable experience being gay. I think that the project was a great idea so that other kids do not feel so alone like I did.”

Throughout his involvement within the LGBTQ+ community and contributions to queer-specific organizations, Haskins has become an avid supporter of National Coming Out Day, calling it a brilliant strategy to advance LGBTQ+ awareness and rights. He believes in the positivity and agency that can be a result of the coming-out process.

“The older I get, the less I feel the need to hide my sexual orientation,” he said. “The process of coming out has been one of the most positive and affirming experiences of my life.”

Ultimately, Haskins’ experiences serve as a reminder to the community that even through one’s toughest moments, it will get better. Haskins hopes that other LGBTQ+ folks won’t let their identities or their hard times define them.

“Come out to the people who matter in your life,” he said. “Seek people who will affirm you, and leave behind those who can’t accept you.”

If you, or someone you know, is battling with depression or having suicidal thoughts, call the Trevor Hotline at 866-488-7386 or visit thetrevorproject.org.