Column: Over the rainbow

Pride Month reminds us of how far we've come ... and how far we have to go

One vendor at the Flint Pride Festival on June 24, 2023 featured homemade sun catchers and jewelry.

As I walk through Grand Rapids and the streets are filled with rainbows, I can’t help but get emotional. Just five years ago, I never thought I would be standing here, proudly myself. 

Pride month is celebrated in June and is dedicated to celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and its history. 

The month is a reminder of the struggles and triumphs the community has faced throughout its history. For me personally, it’s a time to reflect and remind myself of the steps I have taken to accept who I am. 

Coming out journey 

I am a lesbian. I came out in 2019-20, and let’s just say, I didn’t have the smoothest coming out. 

I had a lot of internalized homophobia, which stemmed from religious trauma.

Julie Rodgers is an author who talks about her experiences with this trauma and being a part of one of the biggest conversion therapy organizations in the country, Exodus. 

“Where I come from, good kids aren't gay, and all I wanted was to be good,” she said in her book, "Outlove: A Queer Christian Survival Story." 

When I read that earlier this year, I realized that my whole being was based on trying to not disappoint the people I love and to be seen as “good”. And I knew the moment I said the words “I’m gay” to some people in my life, they were disappointed. Before I came out, the idea of disappointing the people I loved and God hurt me more than I can explain. 

It led to mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. In my head, I would’ve rather not been here than be gay, which is a scary thought to have. 

The Trevor Project says that 41% of LGBTQ youth have seriously considered attempting suicide. 

The pain that I felt is something I can’t begin to explain, so I shut down. Any feeling I had, I decided to push away and not feel. My biggest fear came true because I couldn’t change who I was, which meant disappointing the people I love. 

After coming to the realization, I started coming out to people I knew would be accepting, and their support helped me tremendously. However, the hardest part of my journey was not what others had to say, but realizing I had to accept myself. 

My whole life I was told that being gay was wrong, so I thought that I was wrong. I had to rethink a  belief system that I had for over 16 years. 

Through so much work and support from people around me, I was able to get to a place where I loved myself. 

I have had some unaccepting people in my life, including close family. I had to learn to admit that I might be disappointing them, but I would rather be here and happy than ever go back into the closet where I hated who I was. 

At the end of the day, LGBTQ people will always have to face people who will be unaccepting. However, I have been met with loads of support, compared to people who are not, and I have found my community. 

To those who are struggling, it gets better. There is a community waiting for you with open arms whenever you are ready, and they will love you unconditionally. 

Representation matters 

When we don’t have the conversations that are essential to affirming LGBTQ youth, it can hurt them in the long run. 

The Trevor Project found that “nearly 2 in 3 LGBTQ young people said that hearing about potential state or local laws banning people from discussing LGBTQ people at school made their mental health a lot worse.” 

That’s why pride is important. 

I was able to come out; however, there are queer and trans people still fighting the battle everyday. 

To those who are struggling, it gets better. There is a community waiting for you with open arms, whenever you are ready, and they will love you unconditionally. 

One thing that pride does is give queer and trans voices the platform to speak about issues that involve them. It shows people at whatever stage of coming out that they are not alone and that there are people who are going through or have gone through the same thing. 

It gives us representation. And that is one of the most important things LGBTQ youth need. 

Without the representation and without the queer people and allies by my side, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten through the mental health struggles I faced. 

Seeing queer people be themselves authentically, especially during pride, gave me the courage to accept myself . 

It was people like singers Hayley Kiyoko, YouTubers like Paige and Holly and TV characters like Santana from "Glee" who helped me. 

I felt alone when I realized my sexuality. But the representation that they gave me, along with support from true friends at the time of my coming out, helped me to be able to confidently stand here today and say I am a lesbian. And I am so proud to be a part of the community. 

I have finally come to a place where I don’t need validation from others to feel proud of who I am. My sexuality doesn’t affect who I am as a person. 

If people are disappointed with me because of who I am attracted to, that is their own problem.

I know who I am, and the people who truly support me know who I am, and I am proud of who that person has become. And I am sure that me five years ago would be too. 

Work that still needs to be done

I often hear the question, "Why do you need a whole month?" 

Well, because there is still progress to make. 

There is still hate, bigotry and people who are hurt or killed for who they are.  

This year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security all issued warnings for people attending pride events to use caution related to acts of violence. 

The organizations warned people that terrorist organizations and supporters might target these events, according to the New York Times

We should not be afraid to go to a celebration commemorating all the steps we have made in our personal journeys and strides we have made as a community. 

Why do people feel the need to hurt others who are just being authentically themselves? What have we done to you?

I spent so long just trying to find myself. And now that I have, I have to think about my safety and the safety of my queer friends around me. It shouldn’t be this way. 

I am not expecting anyone to change their beliefs for me, but please respect us. 

So why is pride important, you may ask? 

Because it is a time where I feel most seen, it’s a time of celebration and, most importantly, it shows the steps we still have to take, so every member of the LGBTQ community feels respected and valued.