The thought of coming out to my loved ones was terrifying, which is why I feel connected to the film Blackbird, and the character I portray, Randy – a talented, loving, teenager struggling with his sexuality in a Southern Baptist town.

Growing up, I always felt different from others boys on the playground.  My mother told me children can be cruel, and I learned that first hand. Before I knew what any of my feelings meant, children were calling me gay and making fun of the way I talked.  As a kid, I was hurt by their comments.  I prayed every night asking to wake up without these feelings, to be what everyone else considered “normal.”  As I read the script for Blackbird, Randy was me and I was he.

My teenage years would be no different – I was the ONLY gay person in the world, so I felt.  I didn’t have anyone to open up to that would understand. I didn’t see myself in movies or on TV. There was no positivity surrounding the topic. So the thought of telling my parents was out of the question. I never thought I would be comfortable talking about being gay with my parents until I was secretly in a relationship with a guy who I cared deeply for. He officially came out to his parents while we were together, so it was only right to introduce him to my parents.

This aforementioned scenario instantly connected me to my character; he meets someone on a romantic level who he can be himself around. Someone who gives life-changing advice, tells him he’s not alone and not an alien. I had that same connection with my boyfriend at the time.

Before introducing him to my parents, I was so afraid. I had heard so many negative stories of families disowning their children or sending them away for help. I did not want that to happen to me, but that was a risk I was willing to take.

My parents always told me I could talk to them about anything. I told my mother before I told my father because I felt she would understand me. She didn’t.  She always knew but felt it was a phase or something I would grow out of.  Through her disbelief, she still loved me and accepted me for me. My dad is a retired military man, and before we had ‘the talk’, I had this misconceived notion of what a son should be through the eyes of a father.  Someone who plays sports, video games, a real man’s man…everything I wasn’t. I felt I was going to let him down, as I was not the image of what a son should be.

After gaining the courage to open up to my dad, he told me something I will never forget. He told me I’m his baby and he loves me. He lost his dad at the age of 15 and made a promise to himself that no matter what came his way that he would be the best father and always give his children what he missed out on in the absence of my grandfather. He hugged me and told me nothing could ever change his image of me being his perfect little boy. He loves my brother and I more than anything in the world and that was something he wasn’t going to let go. He is so amazing, loving and caring. I couldn’t imagine my life without him. Throughout the process of making Blackbird he’s been there every step of the way. He loves me for me, through my mistakes and all. He’s the true definition of a man and father. I can only hope to grow into the man he is. Father’s Day comes once a year, but if I could make that man feel as though it was every single day, I would.

It’s ironic how my first feature film role is a character that I relate to on SO many levels. Having the opportunity to work with and feel the support of talented actors I admire such as Mo’Nique and Isaiah Washington is a true blessing. These stories of acceptance, love and family should be told constantly and that is why I am proud to be a part of the #ThisIsLuv campaign.  My coming out experience wasn’t the end of the world and I’m beyond thankful for that. But never do I forget about those who are experiencing drastically different circumstances or don’t feel there is hope. My message would be you are not alone; you are beautiful. You are you, which makes you PERFECT. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Be original. Live life.  Love.

Homophobia within the Black community needs to end. I know it is not an overnight process. Too many talented young men and women are taking their lives, harming themselves and living unhappily out of fear. I hope the beautiful messages of love within Blackbird and #ThisIsLuv will change that. Seeing my father cheer after the credits rolled at the film festival premiere with a tear in his eye is a moment I will cherish for a lifetime.  Productions such as Blackbird, The Skinny and Noah’s Arc give the world insight into the unknown through the powerful medium of entertainment. Visibility is key to understanding, and if even just one person is touched by my performance in Blackbird enough to see life from a new perspective, I’ve done my job.

Julian Walker is completing his final semester at The University of Southern Mississippi majoring in Theatre and minoring in Media Production.  He stars in the feature film Blackbird which releases in theaters April 24, 2015. Visit the film’s official website for more info.