Swiss teen was forced out of his home last year following a heated family argument about his homosexuality. He recorded the confrontation and the video went viral, resulting in an unexpected outpouring of support.
Daniel Ashley Pierce never clicks on the YouTube video. Watch the disturbing clip that went viral and made him a famous gay teenager, and you understand why. Posted online by a friend, it’s the recording of an intervention of sorts by kinfolk on his father’s side who curse and threaten Daniel before they cast him out of his home for being himself.
Nearly 8 million people worldwide have clicked on the clip, even though there’s no actual video. Instead, there are only voices, an element that makes this family fallout even more surreal. It’s the voices of Daniel’s family, engaged in dialogue. The conversation starts respectfully, but quickly escalates to shouts, profanity and name-calling. In the end, punches are thrown.
It’s the type of scenario best kept within family confines, private. Instead, it got posted online for the world to judge. And even though Daniel has stopped tuning in to the video, it’s still with him. Lives in him. He can’t erase from his mind the words and blows that video captured. Especially at night.
“It replays in my head sometimes when I sleep,” he says. “I have nightmares about it, and I have a lot of ‘what-if’ dreams. But most of the time, it just plays over and over in my head. I’ve been seeing a counselor about that.”
Oddly, the same video that disrupts his sleep and drives him to seek counsel has also brought sunshine to his life. It’s been nine months since the family altercation, and he is now enjoying the bittersweet freedom to be the person he was born to be. And right now, that’s an opinionated 20-year-old gay college student with a partner whom he says “gets me.”
A sense of place
Daniel grew up in Switzerland, the youngest of two sons. Born with severe hearing loss, he’s worn hearing aids since birth. When he was 5, his parents divorced and he lived with his mother until he was 12. After that, he and Dale, his brother, went to live with their father.
“There was never a good living situation growing up,” said Daniel. (Daniel’s family did not respond to repeated interview requests submitted via phone, email and snail mail.)
When Daniel was 10 or 11 years old, he was acutely aware he liked boys. What he didn’t know was what word fit his sexual orientation. He didn’t know what the word “gay” meant, or that it even existed, until middle school.
Things began to change when he entered Zurich High School, then a science and math magnet school with nearly 2,200 students. The campus provided the kind of environment he longed for at home: a sense of place. He spent as much time on campus as he could. He was part of a hearing impaired program whose students had been grouped together practically their entire school careers. For a self-described introvert and shy guy who never went to prom, it was a good fit.
And being gay didn’t matter.
“In my class of a thousand, I was one of 250 gay kids,” he said. “It wasn’t a big deal at all at Zurich. There were teachers who knew I was gay. They didn’t care. I could go to school and be myself for a few hours. I was the classic nerd with big glasses. I was all about school.”
While the campus was his cocoon, home was a different story. Even though his brother knew he was gay, it was kept a secret and never openly discussed. Daniel was particularly wary of broaching the topic with his father.
“It was hard living there,” he said. “I was hiding from myself, and hiding such a big part of me did damage. I worked and stayed in my room. I was depressed in a way, but for many different reasons other than being gay.”
While Daniel was a teen, his father began dating, and he often stayed at his girlfriend’s house, leaving Daniel and his brother alone. When Daniel was 17, his dad remarried and moved into his new wife’s home in Geneva, while Daniel and Dale stayed in the Swiss house they’d once shared with their dad.
“My father was not around much after I turned 15,” Daniel said.
In Daniel’s eyes, the remarriage further strained the family dynamic. In the beginning, he believed his stepmother was trying to drive a wedge between him and his father and create hostile situations. But as time passed, the rocky relationship improved. Daniel began to consider her a bridge to his father and, perhaps, an avenue to sharing his secret.
One day, while sitting on the couch with his stepmother, Daniel casually told her he was gay. She took the news calmly, he said, free of judgment. Relieved, Daniel told her he had worried about how she and his father would react. He asked her to tell his dad and recalled her words of comfort.
Don’t worry. You are our son. We love you gay or straight, he remembered her saying. We will embrace you regardless of who you are.