“The only thing that should come between me and my neighbor is our walls of our house and our fences,” Josh said. “The second I step out of my door I want to be able to say, ‘Hey, how are you?’ and I’d hope that they’d do the same for me.”

Along with his mother Meredith, Josh has joined HRC’s #LoveYourNeighbor campaign, a video storytelling series focused on sharing the stories of LGBTQ and allied people in Tupelo, Mississippi. In the video, the pair shares Josh’s coming out story with the hopes of creating a climate in their hometown that facilitates love and acceptance.

Meredith knew when Josh opened up to her at the age of 12 that an incredible weight was lifted off his shoulders -- and she wanted him to remember that moment forever.

“It was about me being open and honest, and sharing some of the pain that I’ve been dealing with and kind of covering up,” Josh said. “(She) knew that it was something important and something that I should remember and celebrate, so she actually surprised me with a necklace with the date and time -- the exact time -- that I came out to her.”

Sharing personal stories is a powerful tool to change hearts and minds, and helps create new advocates for equality. Josh encourages his neighbors to be open and communicate with one another in order to gain a greater understanding of the diverse backgrounds that make up the Tupelo community.

“I think conversation is necessary to create change,” said Josh. “There’s something in everyone that’s different. If we all just acknowledged that say, ‘Hey I’m different, you’re different, let’s be different together. Let’s love this town that we have. Let’s love this community, this earth, and not look for things to divide us.’”

On Tuesday, March 7, the #LoveYourNeighbor campaign will culminate with a town hall discussion in Tupelo featuring all seven videos of the participants. You can learn more about the town hall here.

In 2014, HRC launched Project One America, a comprehensive multi-year effort to dramatically expand LGBTQ equality in the South through permanent campaigns in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.

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