“When you reduce life to black and white, you never see rainbows.” -Rachel Houston
Still closeted during graduate school, I found myself strategically asking my professors questions about how best to serve the LGBTQ+ community as an upcoming psychotherapist— without outing myself. I was not ready for what I believed would be an inevitable spotlight to shine on me. I eventually decided to come out during my last year of graduate school through social media.
I chose this platform because it allowed me the luxury of not facing people in person and opening myself up to what I most feared: judgment, rejection, or the pure disgust that I imagined in my head. I was surprised that so many were so warm, open, and welcoming towards me, almost like I achieved something insurmountable just by being myself.
I was fortunate enough to have unconditional support from my family and friends, but I understand what a privileged position that is. Others may not be as fortunate. I quickly learned that much like therapy is not a one size fits all model for clients, being gay is not a one size fits all model either; everyone’s experience is unique to them.
I went to my first Pride Parade in June 2015. It was everything and more that I could ever imagine; beautiful and colorful streamers, balloons, and floats, coupled with a palpable energy of acceptance and celebration. I was not ashamed or scared to wave my little rainbow flag because I was amongst my community. I was finally free to be my true self, and I felt solidarity just standing in a crowd full of colorful and diverse people, whom I shared something so deeply with, in a way I had never experienced before. I think about how Pride month came to be, and sadly it wasn’t always celebration and rainbows.
With Pride, we remember how far we have come and how much our history impacts us now. The fact is, LGBTQ+ people are openly harassed, discriminated against, and even killed for being who they are. This is not just our history but our current reality. There is a stigma associated with being gay, just as there is a stigma associated with having a mental illness and seeking therapy.
Pioneers such as Black trans activist and self-identified drag queen Marsha P. Johnson (who also suffered from mental illness) tirelessly fought back. In the 1960s, she bravely led the Stonewall uprising, which sparked the Gay Rights Movement in NYC. Her actions allowed the LGBTQ+ community to exist more freely in a world that banned LGBTQ+ inclusion. Presently in the LGBTQ+ community, Black trans women are still being heavily targeted and frequently killed with little to no presence in the news or social media about their stories. Marsha P. Johnson’s efforts were not in vain, but there is still so much more work to be done.
As a gay woman, I have experienced different forms of discrimination and harassment. As a result, I was closeted for most of my adult life. Having the time to reflect on this, I realized how isolating that time and experience was. I compare it to the isolation that many of us are going through during this pandemic shut down.
We’ve been in the midst of this collective trauma for over a year, and it has not felt in the least communal. In order to defeat Covid-19, we were told by the experts to isolate ourselves, not visit loved ones, keep a distance of 6 feet from others, and stay home. Holidays would pass, milestone birthdays overlooked, and weddings postponed because every day the number of Covid cases would steadily climb.
Pride, too, was canceled, but that does not mean it ceased to happen. Pride lives within us and amongst us. Although the pandemic has highlighted inequity and has exasperated mental health issues, it has also highlighted the availability of online support and resources for the LGBTQ+ community.
One of the most important takeaways of Pride month is the personal element of self-acceptance, owning who you are, and finding solace in a community. It is very challenging to fully accept who you are if others cannot and will not accept who you are. This is a constant struggle, but during Pride month, for many of us, it does get a little bit easier.
Celebrating who we are no matter how one self-identifies is an act of self-love. By being ourselves —our true selves— we can live more fulfilling lives that positively impact others. This pandemic has tested us in different ways, but gay or straight, we are all human. So be who you are, love who you love, because great strength lies in being your most authentic self. We can only be seen if we are brave enough to show others who we are.
Happy Pride, everyone!