I received a “Happy Coming Out Day” text from a dear friend this morning & thought hey I should re-share my coming out blog on facebook. Funny enough, when I went to facebook I saw a message from a colleauge asking if I would publish a blog she had written for National Coming Out Day. I was so touched and inspired when I read what she shared and have happily shared here on my blog. Thanks for being an Ally and for sharing your story Cristina!
Becoming an LGBTQ Ally
By Cristina Alonso
On this National Coming Out Day, I share my story as an LGBTQ ally. I began advocating on behalf of the LGBTQ community in 2008 in the matter of Embry v. Ryan, resulting in the appellate court decision holding that Florida must give full faith and credit to adoptions granted to same-sex couples by other states. Since then I have devoted countless hours advocating for same-sex couples’ parental rights, their children’s rights and the right to marriage recognition. Along the way many have asked why this cause or why I have devoted so much pro bono time. My response was the standard: “Because that’s why I went to law school” and “Because it’s the right thing to do.” But the answer is much more complex than that and takes me back to my childhood, family and friends.
Before I knew what it meant to be gay or a lesbian, before I was even a teenager, I was confronted by a group of older girls in the neighborhood who had some questions for me. They wanted to know if I was a friend of the girl who lived across the street and whether I liked her. Yes, of course, was my response. The girls ran off and never spoke to me again. I didn’t understand why my answer bothered them until the girl across the street explained to me that I should have said that I was her friend but did not like her. She was a teenager already and she liked girls like girls liked boys. I didn’t understand liking boys, much less what it meant to like a girl instead. What I did understand was that those other girls made my friend feel bad, so bad that she was telling me to tell others that I did not like her. I don’t recall the name of that friend across the street. Her parents told me that I was too young to spend time with her and that she was “sent away.”
My understanding of sexuality continued to evolve. Like many, I did not learn about sex from my parents. There was no internet back then to answer questions either. I learned about sex from a book my mom gave me (which she did not feel comfortable actually discussing), from school, from older friends and from the conversations that I overheard.
As an introverted teenager who preferred to spend time reading and listening than talking, I overheard a lot. I heard the slurs in English and Spanish: queer, pervert, maricón and tortillera. I heard the “advice” from family. “Tengán cuidado con esa gente. Eso se pega.” “Be careful with those people. It may rub off on you.” There were also the pronouncements. “Mejor prostituta, que tortillera.” “Better a prostitute, than a lesbian.” “Mejor muerto, que maricón.” “Better dead, than gay.” At times, the statements were made about family and friends, though not directly to them. At other times, the statements were made as a second thought or in jest.
The take-away for me as a teenager was crystal clear – – my family, my community was ignorant and afraid. Family members were afraid of what other family member’s sexuality meant about them, their own sexuality and that of their children. They were also afraid of perceptions, what others would think about them by extension. There was also a general fear of society and what the future might hold for someone who identified as LGBTQ. Yes, I understood all of this as a teenager.
I also understood that this fear did not make any sense to me. I never forgot the girl who lived across the street and was sent away. I did like her. I liked her, not because she was a girl, but because she was kind and honest. I liked her much more than the group of girls who sought to ridicule her for being a lesbian and me for being her friend. And, really what was all that bad about girls liking and kissing each other?
Fear also did not make any sense to me, because it led to so much pretending and continued ignorance within my extended family. This fear destroyed some relationships and prevented others from developing. Under the guise of religion, tradition and even the protection of the family, parents sacrificed their relationships with their children, cousins grew apart and relationships with aunts and uncles fell by the way side. We all pretended. We pretended that gay and lesbian family members were just friends and roommates with their life partners. We pretended that it was okay to not talk about it. In many ways we are still pretending, because it’s hard to have some conversations and because we are afraid of what those conversations will reveal about us.
I did not become an advocate for the LGBTQ community, because I understood early on that fear and ignorance shaped my family and community’s perception of the LGBTQ community. I became an advocate, because in-spite of gaining that understanding at a young age, I listened silently far too many times. I sat in the back of the car looking out the window when you made fun of the flamboyant guy walking down the street and said nothing. I heard you whisper butch bitches, making fun of the lesbian couple and said nothing. I heard you say you don’t understand gays and could never be friends with them and said nothing. I laughed at jokes that made me uncomfortable. I am an advocate, because I have much to make up for. I am an LGBTQ ally, because I will not pretend.
Time, education, communication and marriage equality have made it easier for many to stop pretending. Family and friends have come out throughout the years. But some are still pretending in silence, alone.
Today, I write for the high school, college and law school friends who pretended they liked a boy when they actually liked a girl or who pretended they could like one gender more than another. I write for the same-sex family members who have been in committed loving relationships for decades. I write for transgender friends who have struggled for acceptance. I write for friends whose sexuality is fluid and does not fit in a neat box.
More importantly, I write for the child sitting in the back of the minivan who doesn’t know who he or she likes yet and who you thought was not paying attention when you made fun of that gay guy. I write for those who don’t understand the joke, because it’s about them. I write for those who fear not being accepted by family and friends. I write for those who are still pretending.
I do so now, because this year I found out that a friend of many years died alone. He died alone even though he was married. He died alone, even though he had accepting family and friends in the LGBTQ community. He died alone, because he was pretending he didn’t like other men. I will never understand why he did not come out. I will never understand the fear and loneliness he must have felt. I will never know whether I said something that made him think I would not understand and accept him. What I do know is that his life ended, before he stopped pretending.
Coming out is a deeply personal decision that is difficult for many. The decision to be an LGBTQ ally is not difficult. Let family and friends know that you support and love them, regardless of whether they like boys, girls, both or neither. And speak up next time someone speaks in ignorance or fear.