Read Oliver’s coming out story here.
As a family man, Oliver Ernst took inspiration to paper in writing “Letters to the LGBT+ Community: Supportive affirmations for queer youth.”
Though his values go way back, the idea to write the book came at a random time in Ernst’s life when he was walking his dog and had thought back to when he came out as a teenager.
“I felt so at peace [walking the dog] – I found myself wishing I could send a younger me a loving letter, just to tell him that he will be okay,” he said. “Knowing there’s a supportive adult in my life would have made a positive difference for me.”
So after he arrived back home in 2014, he wrote a letter and posted it on Tumblr, signed as a “virtual parent.”
“I thought it may get a couple likes and if I made one person smile, I did great,” Ernst said. “But I checked back a few days later and the letter had hundreds of likes and comments by people who were deeply touched by my words. Many of them especially enjoyed that the letter was coming from a (fictional) parental figure as they didn’t have loving or supportive parents in real life.”
After the unexpected though overwhelmingly positive feedback, Ernst was encouraged to write more after initially not seeing the letters as more than a one-off thing. He then continued writing letters he wished he could send to his past self for those who could use it today, and amassed enough to publish a book independently five years after the first Tumblr post.
Ernst’s goals with both the blog and the book have been to provide a space for people to feel “unconditionally supported and loved, just the way they are.
“[I want it to be] a place where they are encouraged to feel curious about themselves and not be scared to explore their feelings,” he explained. “I just hope to make people smile and feel like there’s someone who wholeheartedly supports them.”
And even more-so with the book, he says just by looking at the book on the shelf may become more real; a comfort feature of being by a “parent,” and using it as a steady resource rather than passing one by online, though they comprise different types of letters.
While the book is a stagnant piece of literature, Ernst said he generalized letters for larger, broader questions teens may have as they explore their identity. Meanwhile, on his blog, some letters are tailored specifically for things such as current events or holidays.
“The overwhelming majority of e-mails or messages I got regarding the book have been positive,” Ernst said. “Most of them were simple thank-yous and there were about equal numbers of people who got it for themselves and people who got it for family members or friends. There were also people who donated it to libraries or even a prison which made me really happy.”
But one of his favorite responses, he said, was from a mother who bought the book for her teenage daughter.
She came out to this mother, whose reaction was insensitive. After the daughter stopped talking to her, the mother sought inspiration to write an apology letter – stumbling across Ernst’s book.
“It felt really good for me to hear that I helped a family feel closer again,” he said.
And Ernst also said negative comments have been few and far between, and fairly easy to ignore.
But as time went on, Ernst has published two other books in his native language – German – and is working on a third. He said the #OwnVoices books all have LGBTQ main characters and lie under the realistic fiction genre, dealing with real-world issues.
“It has always been important to me that my books are not just entertaining but teach the reader something and bring awareness to important issues,” he said. “I’d love to translate them to English one day so my readers from outside of Germany can read them as well.”
He’s also heard suggestions from readers to provide a follow-up to Letters to the LGBT+ Community, so he’s kept that in mind too.