'Blackbird' star Julian Walker to teenagers: "Be you because that's what makes you special."

Julian Walker spoke with GLAAD about coming out in the South and his debut film Blackbird, a movie about a young man from a religious household in Mississippi coming to terms with his sexuality. In Blackbird, Walker's character, Randy, plays a teenager growing up in a Southern Baptist household, and struggling to reconcile his faith with his gay identity as he comes of age. Walker joined and participated in a talk-back following a screening of the film with GLAAD as part of the Southern Stories Summer Tour, a six state, ten city bus tour accelerating acceptane of the LGBT community in the South by promoting the stories of LGBT advocates and allies.

GLAAD: What was it like to grow up gay and black in Mississippi? What is it like now as an adult?

Walker: It's always interesting answering this question - I feel that people have this perception of the South, Mississippi in particular. I had a normal childhood. My worst enemy was myself. I was too afraid to open up to my family because of my fears of what would happen. When I was 18, I came out and I was fortunate to have a great support system behind me. I recently graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi and the time I spent in Mississippi until that point has been great. I have supportive friends and instructors behind me 100%. 

GLAAD: Do you personally relate to the experiences of your Blackbird character, Randy? In what ways have your experiences been different?

Walker: I can relate to my character in many ways. I too grew up in Mississippi with a religious background. Growing up, I struggled with understanding who I was as an individual and feeling different from everyone else. But as I became older I learned I must be proud of the person I am and not ashamed of what people will think. I owned my individuality and stopped trying to be someone I wasn't. Randy's story in Blackbird was tough for him, especially when he came out. Luckily my experience was a lot different. My parents, brother and friends have been my BIGGEST support system and I'm beyond blessed to have them in my corner.

GLAAD: A main theme of the film concerns the role of religion in coming out. How does religion impact the experience of being LGBT in the South?

Walker: I wouldn't say religion in the south is any different from everywhere else. I feel everyone experiences coming out in their own way within the church. I never experienced any negativity within the church while living in the South.

GLAAD: What have you learned from being a part of this film?

Walker: Filming Blackbird has drastically change my life in many ways. My outlook on different issues within the LGBT community has changed. I say that because I always thought I was the only gay kid growing up. I was invited to a youth LGBT conference in Boston last September and it was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. There were so many teenagers there who have either been put out or are living in an unsafe household. It opened my eyes to understand everyone has a story and with stories like Blackbird we can continue to help them find their way. I would love to continue to help in any way I can.

GLAAD: What do you hope other people will take away from the film?

Walker: I hope the audience takes away the message of love. Love is love and what's the point of judging someone because their living in his/her truth. I also would like for teenagers to understand: be you because that's what makes you special. I would like to thank GLAAD for the opportunity to share my story.

Blackbird is available for pre-order on Amazon and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on August 4th. Follow Julian Walker on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! Be sure to visit GLAAD's Southern Stories page for more information and profiles of people accelerating acceptance in the South.