It’s June. In a lot of places all over the world, it’s Pride Month.
In major metropolitan areas, small towns, and even throughout the tech world, you’ll see rainbows plastered on buildings, apparel, parades, and company logos, as people and companies represent their support of the LGBTQ+ community on the 50th anniversary of The Stonewall Riots.
As members of the LGBTQ community, seeing so much visible encouragement and representation of identities that are still shunned, classified as mental disorders, and illegal in other areas of the world, we celebrate and feel pride, because visibility is important.
Visibility Is Important
Communities Are a Spectrum
When there are diverse representations of LGBTQ+ people included in the media and in company organizations, society is able to see more perspectives within the community and form a more complete picture. Rather than reverting to stereotypes, the community becomes a full visible spectrum as we see represented so colorfully during Pride Month.
This helps support a shift in social consciousness to include people from a range of different backgrounds.
Positive Identity Affirmation
Another aspect to consider is the importance of healthy and positive self-affirmations. Feeling affirmation with your own identity can boost your self-esteem and give you positive role models, which is especially important for those who are still developing their sense of self. When these representations aren’t displayed, it sends that message that your identity is invisible, doesn’t exist, and isn’t important.
Burden of Representation
Whenever any minority group is publicly represented, their portrayal defines the way the community is seen and carries a “burden of representation” for the larger community. This makes diverse and visible role models even more important, or you run the risk of creating and reinforcing stereotypes, due to a lack of variety in the way that groups are portrayed.
When most LGBTQ+ characters are represented by white performers, this leads to an erasure of the people of color within the LGBTQ+ community and can leave them and their stories rendered invisible to the rest of society.
Coming Out Stories from Our Team Members
In an effort to increase visibility in the tech and startup world, some of our LGBTQ+ team members wanted to share stories from coming out.
From Christine Spang, CTO & Founder
“When I was in high school, I had a crush on a nerdy boy who played French horn with me in the wind ensemble. I asked him to prom, stammering the words out in a Denny’s entryway. He said yes, and showed up to the event in a dazzling white suit. A month later I moved away to go to college and that was the end of that.
In college I kept dating boys, but I lived in a queer-positive living group and I realized halfway through that I had a crush on a girl. Two, actually. They dazzled my mind in the same way that some boys did, but how do you even ask them out? The thought of expressing interest and having them not be into girls was excruciating. Or what if I told them I liked them and turned out to be wrong about this whole thing? Straight is normal, after all!
I didn’t have the guts to ask them, but I eventually confirmed that yes, I was actually into girls at a drunken party.
I developed a friendship with one of my crushes that carried onto IM, where I was more comfortable expressing myself at the time, and I spilled my feelings one day. The crush was mutual and we dated for a year or so after college. I sent their picture in an envelope to my Lutheran parents who I’d tortured through college with hair dye, boyfriends, and trips to Europe. I was scared every time I pushed the limits, but even when they disapproved they stuck by me with the unconditional love that only parents can provide. My mom told me that she and dad had read the letter and they were okay with it.
I actually can’t imagine not being attracted to someone solely because of their gender. There are beautiful men and women and everything in between, and whether we have chemistry doesn’t seem to depend on that element. I feel lucky that I’ve never felt judged for being who I am, though even with a history of welcoming environs I still think twice about when and where to implicitly come out by mentioning my female partner. I think it’s super important to create an environment of not feeling wrong about who you are for as many people as possible, because belonging and safety form the basis for exploration, for taking risks, and for innovating.”
From Michael, Executive Assistant
“I was a late bloomer. Coming out for me was like learning to breathe for the first time… in fact they happened simultaneously. I grew up as a child with chronic respiratory problems and was further suffocated by the weeds of religion and familial imbalance that I was surrounded by. As with many, I didn’t begin to bloom until my late teens, when these medical conditions were finally corrected. As the seasons changed, I felt comfortable seeing my self in a new light. However, I had to uproot in order to grow into who I really was. It took a lot of pruning, complete with nose surgery, jaw surgery, tongue therapy, multiple sets of braces and plucking out negative growth in my plot to finally feel like I could feel the sun and the breeze that I had been lacking. At this point, I was 23 and living in London, surrounded by a bouquet of amazing people who I felt like I could be myself with. They didn’t know me as the boy who couldn’t breathe, they saw me as I came into my own.”
From Kitt, Engineering Manager
“Coming out doesn’t happen just once; it happens over & over again. And it gets easier as you find your tribe. Being afraid to come out is real, but it doesn’t always protect you. Closeted, one still gets bullied by kids & teachers at school. Careers are hampered because you can’t chase that promotion that requires a security clearance. You are run down & sick often because you code switch between your personality at work and your true self.
Coming out isn’t always successful. You are told ‘you can go to therapy & get this fixed’ or ‘you should buy a condo, you’re so good alone’. But, you persevere and adjust your tribes and find the right place to work. I’ve been lucky, despite false starts with my family & coming from a deeply catholic background.
When I first met my wife, my life changed & I was truly happy for the first time in my life. My mom immediately saw that I was happy & of course asked me why. I didn’t lie, though I was tempted, & told her about who I was dating. To my mom’s credit (& as hard as it was for her), she insisted that I bring my girlfriend to meet the family & that I had to call all my siblings and come out before they met her. And of course my siblings had known forever. My brother-in-law said “Thank God! What took you so long?”
My mom stopped going to church, choosing her family over the dogma. That changed the trajectory of my life, my family’s warm embrace of my wife made me look at my life & start making other changes. Dropping friends who were judgmental, seeking better places to work, joining a new job out.
In 2008, my girlfriend & I were discussing what we would do if the CA state supreme court allowed gay marriages. There was no doubt that opponents would try to block it; no security that it would stick & be real; who wants to throw an expensive party if the rights would be rolled back only weeks later? We were leaning towards no. But, not five minutes after the ruling my mom sent an email that said ‘So, when are you getting married?’.
And we did before Prop 8 passed. Our marriage was only legal in CA. Prop 8 tried to strip away our rights & did prevent others from marrying. But, ours stayed intact and then it cleared nationally as well. Our cousin wrote for the Baltimore Sun & wrote a piece about our wedding – a large step for me to be out to so many strangers.
These days,we live our lives openly & so are always coming out to new people & it takes some getting used to. New parents at our son’s school, random grocery shopping, interviewing for a new job, etc. Not always successful, but always better to know where others stand & to be authentic. And as I said, we are the lucky ones.
Everyone in our family, both sides, is happy for us & treats us with respect. Having that support, that so many others don’t, has eased our lives. But, if you don’t have that support, go make the family that loves you, surround yourself with friends that support you, find that job where you can be your authentic self. It gets better.”
From Peter, People & Places
I grew up in a very politically conservative area of California. My father was also very much so.
I was born and raised Catholic, church every Sunday, bible study, altar boy of 7 years, church choir for longer. All of these cultural pressures led me to feel that dating girls was the only “good” and positive way to live. I still didn’t even really have an idea of what a positive gay relationship looked like or that it was a part of who I was.
Fast forward to me, in a Catholic high school, trying to understand why a relationship of over a year with a girl that I really liked still didn’t feel right. That’s when I developed my first real crush on a male friend of mine and when I finally decided to break down the wall of denial.
I told my girlfriend at the time the truth, that I had feelings for a guy, and we broke up. After that, I laid low while I was still coming to terms with who I was, telling an individual friend here or there in confidence. But I eventually decided to just rip the band-aid off and made a Facebook post about it that was along the lines of: I don’t care who knows, I’m gay. It spread like wild fire (as people didn’t really ‘come out’ at my small Catholic school) and within 3 days, the entire school and all of my teachers knew about it. The first few weeks were whispers, snickers, jokes, and threats (both in-person and anonymous texts), but I tried to not let them bother me. (I actually still get anonymous texts full of slurs and threats to this day).
My father ended up finding out from his connections in various school districts before I had told him. This is probably the thing I regret the most from how I came out, and something I wish I had done.
People and my teachers treated me differently (my acting teacher even stopped giving me lead roles because he couldn’t imagine me as a ‘normal’ person), but I didn’t regret it. I was relieved and happier and felt more like my authentic self.”
By sharing these stories, we hope to give an honest view into the experiences of our community. Join the discussion with us about the importance of visibility and representation by tweeting us at @nylas.