I knew I was different when I was in elementary school. I admired my female teachers more than my male ones, and it took me years to figure out that I didn’t necessarily want to be like them. I wanted to be with them. (Theoretically, of course.)
Growing up attending church every Sunday in a community that said being gay was evil, I quickly realized that I could never act on my feelings. So instead, I turned inward and hurt myself. Feelings of shame led to nights spent leaving razor marks on my skin, and after my family found out and took me to therapy, I stopped.
I decided to ignore who I was and leave the physical and emotional pain behind. I decided to be numb and told myself I would deal with it later. For now, I just wanted to be “normal.” My remaining high school years consisted of me hanging out with my friends, playing sports, and learning to play guitar.
In college, I was exposed to a more diverse group of people, and since I attended a primarily musical theater and dance school, I was surrounded by fabulous gay students. These kids were so proud to be who they were and there I was, pretending to think certain guys were cute when deep down, I was staring at the girls in their ballet leotards.
I met a friend who was a lesbian, and she convinced me to go to the local gay watering hole.
That night changed my life.
Although it took me a few more years to break down my walls and come out to my family and actually fall for a girl (I fell hard and flat like a pancake, by the way), attending that bar made me realize I was not alone, and I had the option to be myself and be alive. The shame that I had felt for almost 10 years dissipated as I drank my vodka-cranberry among my fellow LGBT peers.
That bar is now my second home, and it’s one of the few places I feel proud and safe. Because the sad truth is, we still live in a world where gays and lesbians feel like prey.
After the tragic Orlando shooting that left 49 of my brothers and sisters dead, that reality became even more clear. The night after the attack, my girlfriend and I met up with a few friends at this same bar. For the first time, we all noticed the back door off of the patio. We never paid much attention to it before, but we then took note of this second escape route in case of a shooting.
We shouldn’t have to think of these things, but we do. We shouldn’t have to be at a bar and fear our lives, but we do.
I shouldn’t have to back away when my girlfriend leans over for a kiss while we are in my car at a stoplight, but I do. I shouldn’t have to want to hold her hand while walking down the sidewalk but decide not to, but I do.
At every corner, we face the possibility of being harassed or beaten or killed.
Long after I left my shame of who I am behind, I still have to keep my identity “in check” for my own safety.
Unfortunately, there are far too many people out there like me who live in fear.
Black men cannot drive down the street completely uninhibited without fear knowing at any moment, they could be pulled over for a broken tail light and then be shot by a cop. Muslims cannot pray in public without the fear of an intolerant person spitting on them and calling them terrorists.
No one should ever be ashamed of who they are, and no one should ever fear for their lives for it either.
I want to say I am proud to be gay without having to look over my back first.
I’m not sure when this day will come, but for the sake of future gays and lesbians and transgender people and African-Americans and Muslims, I truly hope we come together as a society and make it happen sooner rather than later.