Developing An Unexpected Voice (From Swish Edition)

I remember sitting in front of the fireplace at my parents’ house wondering how I had arrived at this point. I was staring at my blue and white sneakers; tears were running down my face. My parents were on the other side of the room trying to process what I had just told them. I saw the confusion and concern in their eyes. I knew they didn’t know how to respond. My father turned to me and simply said, “We love you.” My sister walked in, and suddenly all was back to normal, though I knew that I had a long road ahead of me when it came to gaining my parents’ acceptance.

That Sunday afternoon, on an unplanned trip home, I decided it was time to come out to my parents. I had been leading a double life for years, and in neither of those worlds did I ever reveal my true identity. I had no idea how I was going to do it and I don’t remember how I ended up doing it. I just remember the tears and the concern in my parents’ eyes. I remember the freedom I felt within, paired with the sadness of not knowing if my parents would ever understand.

I vividly recall crying the entire ride back to my home in Boston. That three-hour ride marked a turning point in my life. It was that moment when I was no longer afraid to live my life. It was a moment of freedom, and it was the moment I started cultivating my unexpected voice. I know that my story is not unique; it mirrors that of many others. It is a painful process but many times the people who go through it come out stronger on the other side. They are suddenly more powerful and more willing to make a difference in this world.

As is making its first public appearance this week, and with National Coming Out Day right around the corner, I thought a discussion of my coming out story, and the importance of coming out, would be an appropriate first column for me.

A majority of gay men and women have to deal with the same struggle in some sense. It is a frightening internal struggle; and a painful battle. The decision of whether or not to come out is one of the hardest decisions we face. There is the built-in fear that your family and friends will refuse to accept you. These fears can be paralyzing.

A quote from poet e.e. cummings rolls around in my head anytime I think about coming out stories, It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. No truer quote could have ever been spoken when referring to the process of telling your friends and family that you are gay. It truly is courageous. We all follow our own path and we all make our own decisions. We were once afraid to lead our lives but now we celebrate who we really are.

The day that I entered my parents’ house, I had reached my breaking point. That moment when we can no longer live the lie, and we decide that we must be completely truthful and live our lives without apology is a powerful moment. That is when we start to cultivate our voices, and when we begin to actively get involved in the world around us. We all begin to walk down a new path of freedom from the moment we come out. It took me a long time to arrive at the point where I am now, that point where I am not afraid of what people think. I AM FREE!

I now feel comfortable standing on a stage and proudly saying that I am a gay man and there is nothing wrong with that. I finally realize that I have nothing to be ashamed of, that I am equal. I am now comfortable serving as a role model to others who are struggling. So many young adults are harming themselves because of who they are and I want to be that person that can be out there and can show them that they will be okay.

Even after I came out to my parents, I felt a need to hide some of my true self. Then, tragedy struck. I was the victim of a violent hate crime just a few weeks before I left Boston. I woke up in the hospital. My best friend and now fiancé was not allowed into the hospital room to visit me.

Then, there was a trial. The man who attacked me served no jail time even though he was guilty on nine counts of felonies and civil rights violations. My anger at these injustices boiled inside me. I needed an outlet. My voice became louder. I would not stand by and let this tragic injustice occur. I was going to speak out. I was going to make sure that my voice was heard.

Following the trial, I continued to speak out, and some of my words were selected to be used as part of Senator Kennedy’s floor speech in support of the Hate Crimes Legislation. I spoke even louder. I refused to stand quietly and allow for my rights to be trampled upon.

I continued cultivating this unexpected voice in the fight for marriage equality here in D.C. I got engaged to my fiancé on the eve of the National Equality March in Washington D.C. The following day, we marched hand in hand and the strong voice formerly hidden inside me came out. I chanted and clapped as all of the different speakers expressed the need for full equality so eloquently. For the first time in my life, with the support of my amazing fiancé, I realized the real power of words, I realized that I had the ability to make a difference. I had power. My words were power.

Finally, in March of 2010, we decided to enter a contest. It looked like something fun to do, yet it became so much more. We became a symbol for marriage equality here in D.C. and nationwide. My unexpected voice was here to stay.

What was shocking to me was that people were listening to my words. They were listening to my voice, those words that came from my heart, and they wanted to hear more. I am not sure what was more unexpected – the fact that I developed this powerful voice, or the fact that people were listening. They were listening to me!

The root of all of this, however, is my coming out story. If I had not made that decision, I would still be living that dual life behind closed doors. My voice would still be hidden. I would not have been able to change so many hearts and minds on this amazing journey.

We all have an unexpected voice within us – all of us do – and in order to finally achieve full federal equality, we all need to let those voices be heard. We all need to come out, be proud, and share our stories; only then will we achieve our goals. All of our words have power. Each coming out story has the power to change minds. Telling those you love about that which was once secret can help all of us achieve our goal.

This column is about the issues. It is about my unexpected voice, and it is about all of you cultivating your unexpected voices. It is about our freedom, and sometimes it is about some plain ol’ gay fun. I hope it entertains and enlightens you.

And one day, I hope to use this space to celebrate achieving our ultimate goal – full federal LGBT equality.