Laws may have changed, and social acceptance may have changed (somewhat). But in the face of ongoing prejudice, it’s still a challenge for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, and queer (LGBTQ) community to come forward and speak. Well, I have a voice – and I want to be heard.
Since I started dating, something always felt a little off. I always felt like something was missing, but I could never quite figure out what. Boyfriends came and went, but none of it felt right. I didn’t know it yet, but I was trying to suppress deep-rooted emotions that I wasn’t letting myself feel – feelings that would later lead me to the woman of my dreams.
My Southern, Christian upbringing had me certain that being gay was unacceptable. My grandparents’ clear disapproval of gay people had me fearing the repercussions of allowing myself to accept what I knew I was made to feel. Would I be cut off from my family? Would I be able to work wherever I wanted to work?
On my 21st birthday, I sat on my porch with my roommate. In a thorough, life-altering conversation, I let down my walls, added everything up, and discovered my true identity – I am a lesbian.
The next few weeks were extraordinary. Despite my biggest fears, I came out to my closest friends and family and was warmly received with open arms, pride, and love. I also ended up meeting my current partner, the woman who will soon become my wife.
Over the course of the next year and a half, my entire world changed – I was finally confident, happy, and immensely proud to be me. I’ve been so fortunate to have accepting family members and friends and even more fortunate to have encountered only minor run-ins with bigotry and hatred. People stare at my partner and me, some look at us and envision something exotic, but none of that bothers me with the love of my life by my side – someone I would not have met had I not let myself live authentically.
My good fortune has extended into other aspects of my life, as well. My time at Sachs Media Group has proven that when you’re passionate and good at what you do, your identity is secondary. I have been warmly accepted and loved – most coworkers even asked when they could meet my partner – and that’s something I will never take for granted. What’s even more amazing is that my newfound confidence has positively influenced not only my personal life, but my professional life as well. It allows me to relate to clients in different ways and helps me tackle challenges with confidence, gusto, and poise. If I can overcome one of the most difficult internal battles, it seems, I can do anything.
And so it is with special enthusiasm that I experience Pride Month, which is happening right now. It is not only a time to celebrate, but also a time to educate. It’s one month out of the year to emphasize what we as a group have experienced over time, to foster understanding about why the walk of people like my partner and me matters. That’s why I embrace my role as an advocate and an educator for those around me.
LGBTQ people are just like everyone else – we make mistakes and eat pizza and love just the same – but an FBI analysis showed that by 2016 we had passed Jewish Americans to become the most targeted demographic for violent hate crimes in the United States. The U.S. made extraordinary strides in June 2015 with the 5-4 Supreme Court decision ruling that same-sex couples can marry nationwide, but that didn’t guarantee the safety of LGBTQ+ individuals and those they love. In the year following this landmark decision, violent attacks against the community grew exponentially, reaching its most critical point with America’s deadliest mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.
In 2017 alone, more than 100 anti-LGBT bills were introduced around the nation, many of which sought to provide “religious exemptions” and bar eligible parents in same-sex relationships from adopting children. That is why it matters.
Since establishing my place within the LGBTQ community, it’s been a priority for me to approach questions with kindness and an open mind. I openly talk about my sexuality, my coming-out story, and my partner to remind my coworkers, friends, and family that LGBTQ individuals are truly no different. I invite questions and conversation so I can be a source of information and enlightenment to those who may not know anyone so open and willing to talk about it.
Given the history of attacks of many kinds against LGBTQ people, this problem can only be solved with an open communication channel and raising awareness. Greater understanding is necessary to build a society where this kind of treatment isn’t tolerated. Progress won’t come without LGBTQ people willing to speak up and educate, so we can arm those around us with enough understanding to fight back against homophobia and transphobia wherever it may arise.
Pride Month is important because it gives this fantastic and extraordinary minority a month to shine and celebrate all the accomplishments we have made as a demographic – and to remind ourselves and those around us how far we still have yet to go. Those who came before us paved a way for people like me, my partner, and every person who identifies as something within the LGBTQ spectrum to live so confidently and bravely. Not every LGBTQ person has the same experience, not everyone is able to live confidently, bravely, or even out of the closet. This is also why Pride Month matters, to show those unable to live out their lives as their full, authentic selves that they are not alone. We are in this together as one strong voice. For those unable to speak out, we can be your voice and make certain it is heard.
Identifying as gay and being a part of this diverse and unique minority has had an obvious and prominent role in my life. It took me from some of my lowest points and helped me rise and grow into someone I never thought I could be – someone who truly loves the person she has become.
And that is why Pride Month matters.