June is LGBT Pride Month and a chance for us to appreciate diversity and practice acceptance. This is my “coming out” story.
When I was 16, I came out as a mixed-race person. I know that it may not sound like a big deal these days, but this was the 1980’s. I went to a high school that had over 2000 students and only two were black. David Duke and skinheads were still in the press on a regular basis. Our parents grew up in the 60’s and the names JFK and Dr. King were as much a part of conversation as the Madonna or Michael Jackson. Terms like “busing” or “segregation” or “Civil Rights” were learned at a young age. Ethnic and racial jokes were told, openly, in groups of strangers. They even published books filled with such jokes, and we all had them. I was certain we would have a white female as President before we would EVER have a black man. Got that one wrong.
So, when I made the decision to openly state to my friends that my heritage included black people, it was kind of a big deal for me.
All my life, I passed as white. Sometimes people would think I was Hispanic or Italian (depending on where I was living,) but never African-American. I “acted” white. I lived in white neighborhoods. I had grown up in a suburb of Chicago when I was younger, and had black friends, but when I moved to Southern California, my world became a little less colorful. By the time I was in high school, I lived in a rural area of New Jersey, where diversity was just a theory you read about in books. So most of my friends had never interacted with anyone who was different than they were.
I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I told them. Would they run in horror? Would they treat me differently? I didn’t want them to feel bad about all the racist jokes I had heard them tell over the years, not knowing how much they stung me like ice picks to the heart. Would my boyfriend dump me in disgust? Would they think that I was trying to deceive them all of these years? I wasn’t sure what the reaction would be, but I knew that a time had come where I desperately needed to embrace my heritage and be my authentic self.
Well, we all survived. They were surprised, but no one freaked out. They had questions, and I answered them. I said it and we all went on as we normally did. Maybe they wanted to seem cool themselves, I don’t know. But my world did not fall apart. If I could tell the people whose reaction I feared most, I certainly could tell strangers. Each time someone asked me “where I was from” I would tell them that I was white, African-American and Native American. And every time I did, I felt myself growing stronger in courage and spirit.
Eventually, we all went our separate ways and I eventually met my future husband. And since this is also a wedding blog, I will share this story:
Most of my family lives far away and did not have a chance to meet my future husband when we were dating. As our wedding day approached, I implored him to tell his family that I was part black. Because you, know, they would be showing up. Well, he forgot. And at the reception, when I heard some tell my mother-in-law that her grandchild “might be a ______”, I flinched. However, after a moment, I decided I had grown too strong to let one ignorant person ruin my day. So I pushed it out of my mind and had a great time dancing and laughing with my family.
In this month of celebrating LGBT Pride and embracing diversity, I think about my personal coming out story and how we are all uniquely wonderful. I am reminded of what Gilbert Baker said when talking about how he came up with the idea for The Rainbow Flag. He said that he chose the rainbow because it was “made by nature” and that while “each color is different” they are together.
I will never know what it is like to come out as a LGBTQ person, but I can understand and appreciate the strength that it takes to live your authentic self. As Baker stated in a 2016 NBC interview “that single moment, when individuals claim their own truth, is true power.”