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As we prance into Pride Month, I want to hold space for the people that can’t be out for various reasons or maybe don’t feel proud of who they are.
People see the pomp and circumstance of the gays in June and may get the impression that our lives are all rainbows when, in fact, it’s not. Because as much as the world has progressed in “love is love”, there are still oppressive attitudes, environments and practices that say otherwise.
I think about my own journey of “coming out”.
I started dating women in my early twenties but because I didn’t know if it was a season or a lifetime, I didn’t feel the need to “label” or publicly “declare” myself a lesbian. I’ve also never felt the need to make a public announcement about it because hell, heterosexual people don’t come out as straight so why do I need to make an announcement?
A journey into acceptance during Pride Month
But it wasn’t easy getting to this point of acceptance. I thought about how in high school, my friends and I would tease “masculine-presenting” girls on opposing basketball teams to get under their skin before a game. How, growing up, I heard older people in my family and in the neighborhood use words like “fag”, “sissy”, “dyke” and “bulldagger” and get a sense that the people they were talking about were somewhat considered outcasts.
And most importantly, as most of us grew up with the expectation that we’d marry someone from the opposite sex and have a family, I didn’t want to disappoint my mother by being “different”.
As I got older, being worried about familial rejection (which didn’t happen), what people thought and letting people down subsided because I was becoming more comfortable with who I was and in that, chose happiness and love. Today, I’m happily and proudly engaged to the love of my life as we celebrate Pride Month.
If I could guess I would say the majority of people in the LGBTQIA+ family go through a similar journey. But some of us struggle through or won’t even make it to see the proverbial rainbow at the end of the tunnel.
Suppressing your identity doesn’t help
I personally know people that are suppressing their romantic feelings because their religion tells them being gay is a sin. It’s a sad sight and sometimes, the tactics go deeper–like with conversion therapy.
I remember watching a series on Netflix called Pray Away where several deeply religious people shared their experiences with reparative therapy during an anti-gay movement led by churches and politicians. Some of the cast reported being suicidal during the process, others lived double lives but eventually all of them ended up accepting who they really are.
Young people identifying as LGBTQIA+ are at high risk of bullying and suicide. According to a study done by The Trevor Project, nearly half of LGBTQ youth have considered commiting suicide over the past year.
They’re also casualties in political battles with the passing of laws like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill that bans conversations about gay and transgender issues in schools.
And let’s not minimize the impact of community and home environments.
Yale’s School of Public Health reported that over 80 percent of the world’s gay, lesbian and bisexual community hide their sexual orientation from all or most people in their lives.
During the pandemic, college students expressed feelings of depression, anxiety and trauma being sheltered in place with families that rejected them. And overall, more than 60% of LGBTQ youth said their home wasn’t affirming. Nearly 2 in 5 LGBTQ youth said they lived in a community that wasn’t accepting of LGBTQ people.
So, it’s not my intent at all to kick Pride Month off on a sour note. But for those of us who have the freedom to celebrate and love, it’s our responsibility to acknowledge and hold in our hearts those that can’t–the people that can’t be themselves at school or work, the people who feel unloved or unwanted by their families and those that have yet to arrive at loving themselves for who they are.
We love you and I hope that one day, you choose you.