All throughout my early years, I felt isolated and afraid. I went to elementary school in the early 90s. At that time, there wasn’t very much representation of LGBTQ+ people — not in school, not in church — and from what I remember of what the adults around me said, it was nearly always negative, and very offensive.
I grew up knowing that I did not fit the mold that society was telling me was the standard. I was different, and not having any positive representations of people who identified as LGBTQ+ made me feel very alone and incredibly vulnerable. I was embarrassed, afraid, and ashamed of identifying as something other than what society told me was acceptable.
As teenagers, we all go through some tough experiences, which can have an enormous effect on the way we view ourselves and our place in society. However, growing up at the time and in the place I did, in a community that was not generally LGBTQ+ friendly, made me easy prey for bullies at school.
It was a very difficult time for me emotionally. I was not prepared at that time to come out to my family — or least of all, at school. Yet there were classmates who went out of their way to ridicule, harass, and even physically hurt me. I did not feel safe at school. In fact, I dreaded even going.
For me, school was dreadful and not something I enjoyed at all. I know what it is to feel ostracized and excluded. I had no friends, I was deeply shy, and I did not know how to deal with the pain of the bullying I was experiencing. I silently suffered, saying nothing to my parents or school counselors. After all, I did not want my secret to be known.
Fortunately, I found a resource in the unlikeliest of places. I was at a bookstore one Friday afternoon, and I picked up a magazine and started flipping through the pages. I stopped at a very colorful page that had information on resources for LGBTQ+ youth. There was even a community center in my city! I started visiting that center and began meeting other kids like me. This was the beginning of me finding my confidence and my voice.
As it turns out, I just needed a space where I felt safe to be myself. To be as I am. To speak about the things that were troubling me with others who understood what I was experiencing. I needed to be in an inclusive, welcoming space, and I needed to see LGBTQ+ people represented with dignity and respect.
That is all it took for me to come into my power. To find my voice and to never again allow myself to be silenced, humiliated, or hurt because of my identity.
So, what does Pride mean to me?
It means that I now walk with confidence, with my head held high, knowing that I am much more than just the sum of my parts. I am much more than any label anyone wishes to place upon me…
I am a happy, funny, outgoing person who cares deeply about helping to make the school experience better for all children. I care deeply about building Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in every situation in my life. Because really, there is enough room for all of us, and we all go through different kinds of pain, but we can heal together when we extend our hand in friendship and understanding.
I am PROUD to have thrived despite the obstacles that I had in front of me. I am PROUD to be a happily married man who is about to celebrate his ninth wedding anniversary. I am PROUD to have a role at an organization that cares about what is inside the person — their strengths, experiences, ideas, perspectives — and how their uniqueness brings strength to the organization. I am PROUD to be with an organization that knows that talking with children matters. I think we can use our words to value and affirm who they are from the very beginning.
I am PROUD to BE ME!