I have been out as a gay man to my family and friends for over 12 years. Being gay is an important component of my identity, as is being a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend, a medical student, etc. However, none of those other components of my identity necessitated “coming out.”
I knew my parents would love me regardless of whether I got into medical school. I wasn’t so sure they would love me if they knew I was gay. Thankfully, they never stopped loving me for one second.
In coming out, I grew closer to many people and emerged from the process not only unscathed but feeling more love and support than ever before. I had that love and support the whole time, but I was never sure of it until I shared my most authentic self. For that I am proud.
I wish everyone could have what I have. I learned from my family and friends that, despite the constraints of religious beliefs and indoctrination, love has no boundaries. My parents didn’t fully understand my coming out. They certainly weren’t excited about it, but they didn’t let their doubt cloud their love for me. The sobering reality is that I am extremely lucky. I won the lottery when I was born into a loving and supportive family. Countless people do not have the same support or access to resources that I had.
Gender minorities, such as transgender people, face a different coming out experience, and deal with unique hurdles related to transitioning and gender affirmation. It’s not uncommon for gender minorities to retreat from view of friends and family to reemerge later in their more authentic identity. This creates great difficulties for people who, for a variety of reasons, must maintain their false identity. Worse yet, young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and other gender and sexual minorities are getting kicked out of their homes for living authentically. Parents, often those who are religiously motivated, send their children to conversion or reparative therapy to “correct” their child’s natural reality. Evidence suggests this type of therapy is not effective in changing the subject’s sexual orientation and can worsen depression and suicidality. [Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation (2009): http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf]
It isn’t only religious and parental rejection that drives up rates of mental illness in the LGBTQ+ community. Societal and community-driven marginalization is a huge contributing factor.
The lack of opportunity for marriage in this country (prior to the 2015 Obergefell v Hodges Supreme Court case) was home-grown, built-in prejudice against sexual and gender minorities. There is also prejudice and hate within our own community. Racism and body shaming is rampant on gay dating apps, and many in our community judge gender minorities by whether or not they “pass” as a “real” male or female. With all this prejudice coming from so many directions, it’s not hard to see why rates of homelessness, survival sex, and suicide are higher in gender minorities than the rest of the population.
With the deck stacked against sexual and gender minorities, why is “Pride” the title for our celebrations worldwide?
It all began with a riot. Literally.
The riots stemmed from the intersectional unequal treatment from law enforcement in many disparate minority groups: women, people of color, sexual minorities, and gender minorities were facing similar issues as marginalized groups. Although everyone was fed up with being targeted, these groups weren’t naturally inclined to band together. Marsha P. Johnson, a genderqueer person of color, united activists from these minority groups to fight together for social justice.
The movement grew from multiple accounts of civil rights violations and the ensuing collective rage. The original Pride marches were inherently disruptive and intolerant of the status quo. When some people see certain groups that they identify as “the other” living openly and freely, they perceive it as an assault on the social norms they hold dear. These marches have always been a rejection of that idea, and about taking pride in being different and not standing by when some groups are being treated as less than human.
There is still much work to be done, but there is also much to be proud of. As I write this, I am sobered and reminded of the progress that Pride has brought to my community.
Two years ago, on June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. They lost their lives due to another’s abject hatred. I spent that day crying and reflecting on my earliest memories of going to gay bars and clubs, where I was surrounded by other sexual and gender minorities. For the first time, I had a space that was for me and others like me. It was safe to be myself in that space. What happened in the following day shows how much we have progressed.
Every victim who lost their life in the Pulse Nightclub shooting was identified, and their bodies were claimed by their next of kin. Less than 40 years ago, after arsonists set similar gay clubs ablaze, many victims were never identified or claimed. The amount of shame that people had in being associated with gay people unconscionably seemed greater than their love for their child, sibling, or cousin. I am proud that this is no longer the case.
The progress we have achieved is tangible in other areas too. Dr. Mark Schuster, the founding Dean of Kaiser Permanente’s new medical school, is openly gay. He explained in a 2012 essay, “On Being Gay in Medicine,” that when he was a medical student at Harvard, he had to conceal his identity for fear of being pushed out of school. He endured experiences in hospital units where gay men with HIV were treated with little dignity or compassion. Today, he is becoming a world leader in improving health education standards for future doctors and their future patients. For that, I am proud.
There are still universities and colleges that do not accept gay students, or require a code of conduct that prohibits homosexual behavior. I am proud that PNWU has demonstrated consistent effort to promote and uphold inclusivity and diversity among staff, faculty, and students.
This month, I will go to Pride celebrations and share my love and joy for my community. Marsha P Johnson, Jim Obergefell, and Dr. Schuster remind me of the incredible progress of my predecessors, yet I am keenly aware of areas of inadequacy, in America and abroad.
High rates of homelessness, self-harm, suicide, and lack of access to adequate medical care persist in the LGBTQ+ community as a direct result of marginalization. Homosexuality is still outright criminalized in countries like Russia, Egypt, and Uganda.
People are still being jailed and executed because of who they love and who they are. These inadequacies shouldn’t detract from the fact that Pride has helped the survival, acceptance, and prosperity of countless LGBTQ+ people. They should fuel you, and motivate you to outwardly show more love for all people.
They should inspire you to help create a world where the diverse aspects of our personal and cultural identities are celebrated.
When someone is a part of a culture you aren’t familiar with, learn more. Show your curiosity and willingness to embrace inclusivity. Rather than create a shadow, shine light on what makes us different, and celebrate it.
For those who struggle with sexual or gender identity: don’t forget that it is always okay to be proud of who you are, where you came from, where you are today, and where you are going. You will undoubtedly encounter those who disagree with this. When you do, remember what Dr. Seuss purportedly said: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.”
Share your best and most authentic self with the world and inspire others to do the same. It will help you be the best you can be, and it will lift up those around you too.
Below is a link to The Trevor Project, an organization that provides life saving crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth. If you are having thoughts of suicide and need help, please call the TrevorLifeline at 866-488-7386.
Osteopathic Medical Student - 3rd year (OMS III)
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences