For Colton Mink, being openly gay in rural southern Idaho was both a defining and difficult experience.
Colton, a current Pride Foundation scholar, grew up in Gooding—a small town of about 3,500 people, located 100 miles southeast of Boise.
“I had been bullied since the beginning of middle school, even before I came out at 16,” Colton shared. “But after I came out, the bullying only got worse. It even got to the point where it came from the administrators of the charter school that I was attending at the time. It was horrible. Nobody should have to fear for their safety.”
Now 19 years old and a freshman at Idaho State University (ISU) in Pocatello, Colton is majoring in international studies and dance. He credits his parents and younger brother for helping him get through those challenging years and keeping him grounded.
“They stood up for me, cried for me, and supported me through every endeavor,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here today without my family. I have also been blessed with incredible friends, both old and new, who have supported me throughout my high school years and my semesters at ISU.”
He also found refuge—and learned more than a few life values—being a member of the National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America).
“When I first entered high school, I was searching for a place where I belonged,” Colton recalled. “Through various competitions and career development events, FFA teaches and encourages diligence, honesty, unity, responsibility, fairness, respect, and charity. I found my home in the FFA. It allowed me to form lifelong friendships and skills that I will never forget, including public speaking, leadership, and effective communication. It helped me break out of my shell.”
After college, Colton plans to attend medical school in order to support people living with HIV/AIDS. He hopes to work with Doctors without Borders overseas, then return to Idaho to help HIV/AIDS patients that are living in rural communities.
“Working with this particular population is very important to me,” he said. “In addition to the health challenges of living with HIV/AIDS, many are also routinely stigmatized and discriminated against by our society. People living with HIV/AIDS need more people in this world to be understanding and willing to help. Our society needs affirming healthcare providers and advocates.”
Seeing many parallels between his experience growing up gay in a rural town in Idaho and the isolation and stigma that many living with HIV/AIDS experience, Colton notes that he considers “societal misunderstanding” to be the single most important barrier facing the LGBTQ community.
“If everybody in the world were to be more understanding, then life would be much easier for everyone,” he said. “Even if people would just attempt to be more accepting, there would be less hate in the world.”
Colton knows that working in the healthcare field will take dedication and commitment, something he’s become accustomed to since starting college at ISU. In addition to his class studies, his full plate has included juggling two jobs, performing in ISU’s Dance Faculty Concert, and being elected vice president of the university’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance club—which he considers his proudest achievement of the last year.
“I cannot thoroughly express my gratitude to Pride Foundation for awarding me a scholarship,” Colton said. “As a gay man from a small town in Idaho, it means the world to me to have support from this organization. To be recognized and validated by other members of my community brings me immense joy. This support has shown me that something great can come out of bad experiences. I know I can go on to do great things for a community that has done so much for me.”
Steve Martin is the Regional Development Organizer in Idaho for Pride Foundation. Email Steve.