A friend of mine, Valerie, works at a religiously-affiliated institution of higher education. Having experienced the coming out of several of her grad school friends, my friend Valerie took it upon herself to become an ally, and she carried that passion into her professional work, taking on an advising role for her new campus’s LGBT+ student organization.
Recently, Valerie shared with me that the group has faced some hardship, and she asked me to put together some words. Sitting down this morning, I wrote them a letter. The following, edited a bit so as to apply to a broader LGBT+ community, are my words:
To the miraculous, courageous, beautiful unicorns that comprise the LGBT+ community:
Hey there. My name is Michael King, and I’m a gay man. I came out to myself at the age of 22, to my close friends at the age of 24, to my family at 25, and to the social media world just before I turned 26. That, in and of itself, has been a journey.
In reflecting on what to share with you, I thought it might be best to equip you with some reminders. These are the things I have learned on my journey, and I have stored them in my pocket for the days when things are hard. Please consider them, brave unicorns, as you continue on your path:
You are brave. My greatest obstacle in coming to terms with my authentic self was within me. For 22 years, I did whatever I could to ‘overcome’ the part of me that felt different. I tried ignoring it, squashing it, hiding it, praying it away, ‘treating’ it, and hiding from it entirely. When, at last, I summoned the courage to say those words to myself, to speak myself into existence to a person I love, I began to understand the wild courage within me. We are strong enough to take this path; we are brave. Keep this in your mind and heart at every bend.
Love outshines hatred. A challenging aspect of coming to terms with being LGBT+ is the reality that, at some point or another, we will all encounter hatred. For me, it sometimes comes through in a phone call from a parent who doesn’t want their child living with a gay roommate, or maybe it’s a condemning text message from someone I love. When that happens, I find myself tempted to admit defeat, to respond with hatred, and to see hatred as the victor. But we are tasked to paint over hatred with love.
For every person who cuts you loose, who refuses to look beyond your identity and into your humanity, who wounds you with words (or worse), there are mobs of people waving a flag for your right to exist and be loved. You have the tremendous power to show people who you are, scars and all, and change their minds. You are brave and strong and wild, excellent unicorns.
You don’t have to go it alone. As an LGBT+ identified human being, you are part of an extensive network of people who share and understand your experiences, your fears and hopes, and your dreams. You do not have to be an unshakable monument of strength and invulnerability. You will actually find, counterintuitive though it may seem, that your greatest strength comes from your scars. Share your pain with one another, and then build one another back up. This world is hard for everyone, but it is especially hard for those of us who are fighting for our right to exist. We must be brave, but it is also okay to be scared, to be hurt, and to be uncertain. Give your brothers and sisters courage when they need it.
And we have allies, brave people who are willing to stand beside us and advocate for us, and we must celebrate them. The person who takes a leap to diminish an obstacle, to change this world, is a miraculous human, a wild thing. Embrace our allies with love, with celebration, and encouragement.
I am not certain what the next bend of your journey looks like, but I am certain you will persist. You are brave, strong, real, and deeply human. Find the magic within you, the immutable light, and share it with the world. Take heart; ours is a journey together.
With love and with bravado,