9 Pride Months Have Passed. I can say that 'It gets better!'
I was looking up Pride events when I suddenly stopped and a thought struck me: It’ been 9 years this month since I started coming out to my closest friends and family. I leaned back, hands behind my head, and stared at the ceiling as my life for the past 9 years flashed before my eyes.
When I came home from Bible college in May of 2010, I was coming home with a heavy heart. That particular year was a rollercoaster. I had stayed on campus over winter break and wrestled with God as that embodiment and meaning of Love.
If God is Love, then how can loving another man with all my being be an abomination? I asked. A love so strong surely must not be a sin.
It was a deep struggle that shook me to my core as I wandered through alone around the campus of Valley Forge Christian College. But I needed that alone time away from my family and friends to clear my head and really think through the feelings that had grown stronger and stronger throughout my 18 years on earth.
When classes started back up in the spring, I found myself questioning more and more the religious beliefs that I thought were my own.
When a group of LGBTQ college activists showed up on a road bus and stood with signs just outside of the Christian college’s premises, that’s when I really started making some decisions. It was less what the activists were saying on their posters, and more the bigotry thinly veiled as “love” that I saw from the staff and students of the Christian college.
In Chapel, which we were required to go to every morning, people were fervently praying as if Satan himself was at the doorsteps of the school. But beyond the prayers, I heard the same old stereotypes and stigmas about homosexuality that I was slowly unloading and rejecting.
They characterized people like me as sexual deviants who were defiling the “Natural Order” that God had intended for “Man.” They conflated people like me with pedophiles and pointed to HIV/AIDs as proof that homosexuality was an abomination.
These were the things that helped drive me away. You see, over winter break, I wrestled with the meaning of Love. For me, I realized that I had the meaning of Love defined for me. Love was something pure and innocent and bordering on divine but to exclude gay love from that, they laser-focused on the sexual acts – as if that was all gay love was…. Lust.
So by the time I had arrived home that summer, I had grasped onto a new meaning of Love. That, yes, it is pure and innocent and bordering on divine; that, yes, consensual, communicative sexual acts are ways to express that love.
And as I started coming out to my close friends and family, I clung to that meaning of Love, ever expanding and changing. It birthed in me a new hope. I lost some friends, had a falling out with my best friend from high school, but also gained some new friends who cheered me on and supported me.
When I started college at the University of Southern Maine that fall, I found a whole community of queers who opened my mind, my heart, and my worldview even more. They challenged me and helped me grow. And when Lady Gaga came to Portland, Maine, to hold a rally to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, we were so inspired that we restarted the USM Queer Straight Alliance and they elected me, the baby gay, as the first president. My proudest moment was when I went to the Maine State House and called on legislators to make all bathroom’s gender neutral.
I learned a lot of lessons about leadership in that role. It’s not just about processes and policies, which I was good at. It was about people. I learned to be emotionally intelligent and to simply listen to people to learn about their lives and experiences and feelings. I even learned that listening to people was actually something I was good at.
From there I went on to help found a new fraternity and to break the stereotype that gay men couldn’t be in fraternities. I helped to instill a spirit of community and public service in the fraternity. I was proud to learn later that our fraternity was the first in the state to elect a transgender president.
Then I got involved in student government and charged forward with proposing that language in the student government constitution and by-laws should be gender neutral. As the first Student Vice-President, I joined student protesters during #USMFuture and sought to bridge the divide between students and administrators by focusing on anemic state funding for higher education and lobbying in Augusta.
Years later I graduated from law school and even ran for public office (no, I didn’t win).
And here I am celebrating the 9th Pride Month since coming out and the enormity of it all is still sinking in. All the people I met and all of the things I’ve done and, yes, the mistakes I’ve made. Just last week, I was wondering how a kid from a broken home grew up to be the man who was talking and laughing along with the LGBTQ Poet Richard Blanco and his partner while bringing them to an awards dinner.
To top it off, a few years ago I had reconnected with my best friend from high school. He’s got a wifey now who’s pretty cool. You should see the look they give me when I keep asking when the kids are coming.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that… It gets better.