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Cover Guy: Courtney Grant

For months, Courtney Grant, 24, had been preparing for a life-changing move to Los Angeles, where the aspiring model hoped to start a new life far away from the stormy existence he’d endured in Florida.

He’d given two weeks’ notice at work. He’d gotten out of his apartment’s lease. He’d packed all his belongings into his silver Ford Focus. He even had his best friend Jen—who had moved to Los Angeles a year earlier and had talked him into joining her—fly to Orlando to make the cross-country journey with him.

He had just one stop to make before beginning the 2,000-mile trip: He needed cash. As he pulled into his bank’s parking lot, his car—which had been in and out of the shop with an undiagnosed problem—shuddered and shut down. He tried to turn it over again, but it was dead.

The self-described “crazy-positive person” says he wasn’t about to let a little car trouble stand in the way of his dreams.  A call to AAA and $500 later, he was ready again for his journey. Nothing was going to stop him.After all, he had weathered far worse as a kid.

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Courtney was born in Ocala, Florida, to Jamaican parents. He was born the third of what would eventually be a family of seven children. His father worked construction jobs; his mother was a nurse. The two were separated for most of Courtney’s childhood, but didn’t officially divorce until he was about 8.

When Courtney was one year old, his mother sent him away to Jamaica, where he spent sun-filled days with his extended family, raising chickens, cows and goats on the family farm. “Chores were fun,” he says. “I didn’t even know they were chores, so that’s probably why they were fun.” Courtney says those early years in Jamaica were his best memories of childhood. “I was taught and given so much and was able to do whatever I wanted,” he remembers. He’d play soccer with his uncle and spend time with his grandfather. “I just got to be myself.”

When he was 7, Courtney returned to his newly single mother in Florida, but it wasn’t exactly a happy homecoming. “I was the black sheep of the family, for sure,” Courtney says. “If I played with my brothers, my mom would take me away from them and put me in the other room and have me read a book.” He didn’t understand why he was being separated, but it didn’t end there. He found himself doing the lion’s share of the household chores. “It was like the Cinderella story, for real. I was doing every chore in the house. All the other kids were just sitting down, watching TV.”

Courtney says he now suspects the reason he was ostracized was that his mother had picked up on his being different. “My sister always told me that my mom felt like I had hurt her in some way, even when I was young,” says Courtney. “But there’s nothing a young child can do to hurt a parent.”

Nothing, that is, except be himself. Sadly, Courtney’s mother rejected him when he came out to her.

Courtney also faced rejection at school at the hands of bullies.

“I never got it,” he says. “I know the majority of them called me gay, but I didn’t even know what that was, and it still didn’t make sense to me because it’s nothing I could help.” Courtney tried not to let the bullying affect him. “I was like, ‘This is happening now, and I have to make sure I do everything I can to get to a better place,’” says Courtney.

It wasn’t until Courtney saw an episode of The Jerry Springer Show—who says Jerry Springer isn’t educational?—about gay men that he began piecing together what the word “gay” even meant. “It was really stupid, because the guy said someone was gay, and I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve heard that before,’” says Courtney, who was 13 at the time. One Internet search later, it all clicked: He was gay. But he didn’t plan on saying anything about it at the time. It would be another six years before he’d tell his best friend, Jen Bricker.

I was just like, ‘You know what? I’ve got to just accept it and be who I am,” he remembers telling himself. “Because I was miserable, and staying in the closet wasn’t helping anyone else out.”

For more on Courtney, pick up the new December/January issue of Instinct!