It was a clear, cool Friday night in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, and Theodore Vidal and his boyfriend, Colin Beyers, were walking back from their first prom together, holding hands in their matching navy blue tuxes and now-wrinkled pink bowties when they heard the raucous sounds of boys yelling ahead of them on the boardwalk.
They tensed and tightened their grips, preparing for the inevitable jeer, sharp insult, or crude joke that is usually lobbed at them in this part of town.
"It's South Jersey. Guys pick on us for being gay a lot," explained 17-year-old Vidal, a junior at Lacey High School. "It's an area where you normally would get picked on and discriminated against."
The rowdy group of quintessential "Jersey Shore bros" had been yelling at every couple who passed beneath the rooftop bar from where they perched, Michael Del Moro, an ABC producer, noted on Twitter.
Del Moro, his family, and his boyfriend had been out grabbing ice cream and watching the group cajole couples into kissing by "obnoxiously yelling 'KISS HER!' in unison at every apparent couple that passed by," he explained Saturday morning.
Then came the two high schoolers decked in their matching suits and Del Moro said he and the rest of his party stopped, nervous that "something might happen." However, Del Moro wrote, "the rooftop crew quickly switched from 'KISS HER!' to 'KISS HIM!'"
"After some hesitation, the young men kissed... and let me tell you: both the rooftop crew and everyone else on the boardwalk just went absolutely wild for them and we all breathed a sigh of relief," Del Moro continued.
The spontaneous, joyous moment took the couple completely by surprise, said the teens, who described it as "victorious."
"Machoism is such a thing here, so the fact that those guys cheered us on was shocking," recalled Beyers. "It's one of those small victories that makes the hard times worth it."
"It was so surprising that these guys were supporting us," his boyfriend echoed. "Especially after what I've gone through."
Little did the teens know that after Del Moro witnessed the entire interaction, he shared it on Twitter and it went viral. It soon caught the attention of Jonathan Mills, who went to high school with "Teddy" and heard what had happened on the shore that night.
While he didn't know Vidal that well, Mills, a 19-year-old now in college, said the junior was "comfortable in his own skin and proud of who he was."
He wasn't always comfortable, though. After coming out to his friends and family in eighth grade, Vidal said his classmates bullied, attacked, and ignored him, telling him to "end [his] life" and that "he didn't belong here."
"It was worse than I thought it would be. No one would talk to me. I was by myself for that whole freshman year," he shared. "My mom was there for me but most people would avoid me. I was cordoned off. People followed me home and told me I shouldn't be like this. I was so depressed."
He says he found solace in his passion for music — and that's how he met Colin, an 18-year-old senior who goes to school a few hours away. The two both played for the Eastern Wind Symphony and, after "making eyes at each other" for almost six months, finally became friends on Instagram.
"I finally worked up the courage to DM him and we started talking from there. And I thought it wouldn't work out because of the distance and we were so busy but here we are," Beyers laughed.
The couple is about to celebrate their six-month anniversary after nearly a year of "just glancing at each other."
"My life has changed because of him," Vidal said. "He pushes my depressed thoughts away. He's always there and he makes everything better. He helps me live life to my fullest and that's what I am doing right now."
With the support of his boyfriend, the 17-year-old said he's been working on his relationship with his dad, "who has come a long way."
"Like a lot of people here, he was taught that being gay was bad. He was judging it as a topic," Vidal said. "But we have been bonding a lot now and he wants to support me."
Although Beyers came out much later, about nine months ago, he says his experience was less painful and fraught than his boyfriend's, since he "got a positive reaction from family and close friends."
But both teens say they have worked hard to be themselves without fear and "believing in what and who you are even when people are picking on you."
"It always gets better; that's what I tell myself when it's hard," Beyers chimed in. "For those that are getting bulled or in a dark place and feel like it won't stop or end, it does. Those people go away and you meet better people who love you for who you are. When I feel like I'm discriminated against I tell myself that it will get better and it does."
Emphatically agreeing from his crackling phone line late Sunday night, Vidal underscored the importance of "showing who you are and being proud of it," something he says he has learned from years of fighting to believe in his own self-worth.
"You get one chance here and you need to stand out for who you are and believe in that even when people are picking on you," he emphasized. "Find people who love you for you and don't try to be anyone else. You are an amazing person. Look in the mirror every day and tell yourself you look good even when you feel you don't."
Now that prom is over, the couple says they are excited to go to Greece together this summer before Beyers heads off to the College of New Jersey in the fall while Vidal wraps up his last year of high school.
The two, obviously, are staying together.
And although the teens never stopped to talk to the jeering "Jersey boys" that Saturday night, they say they won't ever forget how they made them feel.
"A lot of people here think gay people aren't strong or we're more girly because we show emotion but we've learned it's better to show what you are feeling and be open and who you are as long as you are pushing forward," Beyers said.
"We were celebrated for who we were and those times make you feel less alone," Vidal added.
*Update*: On Monday, Del Moro discovered that he knew one of the "bros" (because, Jersey) who was there for his friend's bachelor party.
BuzzFeed News spoke to The Bachelor (which is what he asked to be called and to remain anonymous), who said it "was awesome to see a moment that was experienced by so many people."
"I have entered situations before where I know I might get harassed or made fun of and it is a very uncomfortable feeling, so I am thrilled that they found happiness in this moment," he said. "I wish them all the best in the future and encourage them to never stop being themselves and to ignore those that seek to not allow that."
Brianna Sacks is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Brianna Sacks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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