For five months, Randy Phillips, 21-year-old soldier stationed at Ramstein Air Base Germany, and "100 percent closeted," anonymously chronicled his coming-out experience on YouTube.
For his first 16 videos, Phillips — aka AreYouSuprised, the pseudonym he used to launch for increasingly popular YouTube videos and Twitter feed — counted down the last days of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the 17-year-old policy that did not permit gays to serve openly in the U.S. military. A natural storyteller sharing his journey, Phillips' story has attracted more than 98,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, and more than 2 million video views.
The videos are filmed in a variety of settings — sometimes in front of a map, sometimes standing around what appears to be enormous military equipment — the camera is always focused from the neck down or just out of range of the young man's face. But in the 17th video — all that changes.
Posted on Tuesday — when DADT's repeal went into full effect — Phillips appears in the video sitting in an office chair in front of the now-familiar map, a good-looking kid with sandy blond hair pleasantly uncombed, looking straight at the camera and holding a cellphone. At this point everyone he serves with knows he's gay — just one more notification to make.There, live on tape, Phillips calls his dad in Alabama and tells him that he's gay.
Seconds drag as the young man waits for the connection to cross the globe, for his father to answer the phone, and finally for his father to respond to what the son, who he hasn't seen in a year, just told him.
"I don’t know when’s the next time I would be able to see you. I didn’t want to do it over the phone. I wanted to tell you in person, but uh … I didn't want you to find out in any other way," Phillips nervously rambles.
(In what feels like) three hours later, his Dad says: "OK."
It's compelling drama so painfully stretched out, the dad on speakerphone frustratingly muffled in static, it certainly feels real — but the Internet providing a rare insight on what it is to come out of the closet to the people you count on most. It's history. And with a huge sigh of relief to viewers, this coming-out story also has a happy ending, and as such, is currently featured on the homepage of the It Gets Better Project, the Internet video site where adults share hope with LGBT teens, a minority likely to be bullied by even the adults in their lives and suffer a disproportionately high suicide rate.
It's hard to hear exactly what Phillips' dad is saying, but certain words make it through the static —"doesn't change our relationship," "I will always be proud of you" and "I will always love you."