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Rayvon Owen is a young, black, gay male who melted hearts across the country with his voice. Making it to the final four on American Idol, Rayvon Owen became a household name as he worked hard to make his music dreams into reality.

A few years later, Owen came out as gay to the public. He shares the feedback he received and advocates for others to get the conversations started.

“I was like, I showed you who I was as a musician and now I’m showing you this personal layer of myself. Now you can’t deny that’s not the same person,” he said.

Owen ‘grew up in the pew’ in the conservative and beautiful countryside on the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia. At the early age of four, he began singing in the children’s choir, and his passion for music bloomed. By five years old, he had already performed his first solo.

“I just remember looking out into the congregation and being like, ‘Wow. People are reacting to me. They’re moved and jumping and praising.’ It was like a very enthusiastic type of environment,” he said.

The support and encouragement helped him grow his passion for music and singing, and later he became a lead for the choir services.

Then in 2015, he decided to travel to San Francisco to audition for American Idol. His mother and siblings waited outside the door as he belted Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake,” hitting vocal ranges that had every judge in awe.

Fast forward to several months later, Owen had become people’s favorite. He had fans across the country making his dream to pursue a career in music become reality.

Over 132 million people vote for American Idol, and with the support of fans across the country, he made it to the final four.

Idol was a crazy ride,” he said. “It was so much fun. I learned so much. It’s kind of like years of music industry experience jam-packed into months.”

Post-Idol, Owen moved to L.A. and continued to pursue music. Along the way, he fell in love. He was inspired, working on writing new music, and came out with a track called “Can’t Fight It.” As he went to shoot the music video, he discussed the vision with the director.

“The director was talking about a girl in the scenes. I’m like, ‘Okay,’ because I hadn’t even told him. I hadn’t really told anybody.”

Until that point, no one knew that he was gay. Owen was dating Shane Crone, an LGBTQ advocate and filmmaker known for his YouTube video “It Could Happen To You,” in which he describes the hardships he faced after the death of his partner.

“I never lied when I was on the show. I never said I was straight or dating a girl. It just never came up. I knew the fan base was more conservative,” he said.

Upon the creation of his EP, he started feeling like he needed to share his story. The death of a close friend made him think about legacy and inspired the decision to come out to share who he really is.

“I don’t want people to not know the real me. I wanted to share that story and I wanted to be authentic, to the fans and to the people who voted for me,” Owen said.

He told the director his situation. The director became more excited and agreed it was a creative way for Owen to express who he is. They cast his boyfriend in the video, and at the end, they kiss to the chorus of “Can’t Fight It.”

Owen announced his relationship and felt great about being out. However, he received the negative reactions he anticipated. He had people tell him they voted for him, but now believe he is using his platform in a bad way. Even people from his church told his mother that they would ‘pray for her son.’

However, he said for every negative comment, he recieved more than a hundred positives.

“I’ve gotten a lot of messages and tweets and stuff. People saying … ‘This helped me come out. This helped me talk to my parents. This helped me accept myself. This helped me not want to harm myself,’” he said.

He believes his decision was worth it. Owen advocates that others should come out and share their story too, because the more we talk about it, the more normalized it will become.

“If we share our personal stories, we make it real for people, like, these are real struggles that we’re going through.”

He says everyone must do it on their own terms and in their own way, and try to remember that they are not alone.

“There are tons of other young, gay black men from church who are in the closet because they feel like they’re going to be turning their back on God if they come out and if they accept that part of themselves. So they’d rather live in the closet and kind of hide that part of their lives and not even get the opportunity to fall in love.”

Unfortunately, many people feel alone when it comes to sexuality because they feel like they will be rejected, lose friends, or even be kicked out of their homes or communities. The reality is harsh, but more conversations can shape the future. Owen reminds us that there is a network of support out there and those who really love you will accept you.

“It’s like the best feeling,” he said. “To finally kind of just embrace that part of yourself and be open about it. It’s just, like, out there, and it’s open. If someone doesn’t want to be in your life for that reason, then they don’t need to be.”

He wanted to get the conversation started, and he did. People back home and even close friends were in shock and reacted in disappointing ways. He reminds himself that you can’t take blame for someone else just because they can’t accept you.

“I hope it just becomes a normal, everyday thing,” Owen  said, “where it’s not even a big deal for someone to come out, because it shouldn’t be.”