My first Pride Parade, Orlando 2016

It’s fitting that our first inaugural blog post should come on June 1st which is the kickoff of Pride month 2018. Gay Pride provides a strong example of the conflict between religious stigma and living honestly. It highlights a few reasons we want to help people transition out of fear and into freedom.

Pride parades, events, parties always caused a huge internal conflict for me while I was in the ex-gay world. Back then, I bought into the lie that all “gay pride” was about was licentious hedonism and rebelling against God.  There would also be an inner voice of trying to not judge and admit that while I talked a good game about being “Free,” I didn’t feel that way. Especially as my religious fake smile faded while closing the door to my lonely heart. I was trapped between deep-seated fear and the even deeper yearning to admit the truth that I was gay.

Many of us have been taught that to be an LGBT+ person is to be inherently “broken.” We were to taught that our innate sense of relational being is not only unhealthy but selfish and damnable. Our churches taught us to deny that being a sexual LGBT+ person is a gift, not a source of shame. 

Over time I began to listen to LGBT+ people, leaders, and advocates as the peers they are instead of people to look down upon and “witness” too. I began to see that “Pride” isn’t just massive parties. Parties are fine but it is also more about opportunities. Opportunities for us to assert ourselves as individuals and as a positive part of our broader communities. Pride provides opportunities to educate others and our own community on various issues like public policy, health, helping homeless LGBT+ kids, and highlighting important non-profit works who benefit our entire community. Gay Pride also allows our broader communities the opportunity to join us as equals among them.

I learned that the heart of Gay Pride is outwardly focused for the greater good, not inwardly focused and indulgent as I had believed.

Even after coming out in January 2015, I was afraid of going to Orlando’s Gay Days (in June) and Come Out with Pride Parade (usually October). I see clearly there was still so much fear of getting sucked into some dark vortex resembling my unhealthy life in the 80’s. But, as I met so many LGBT+ people in our community, I began to get angry at how deceived and myopic I had been during my ex-gay years. Gay Pride reflects a community. Every community has their character strengths to embrace and struggles to work on. Gay Pride is as honest a reflection of that as you can find in modern culture.

It was a process but I learned that being a gay man is a gift. A gift to embrace and enjoy. In fact, I need to stand strong in who I am, what I believe, and not lose what’s important to me (i.e. faith, friends, family.) I learned that I am not suddenly going to lose my mind and be swept up in all the dark fears implanted by religious stigma. I learned that Gay Pride is what I bring to it. The Gay Community is my community and I get to choose how I participate in and contribute to our community.

Plus, if I want to go sit nervously by the pool at a “Bear Pool Party” during Gay Days drinking a cocktail, I can. I actually did that in 2016, scared out of my mind and literally shaking. My friend from Chicago looked at me and said, “Randy I am so glad you are here but you do know you are way over-dressed. You are an adorable square.” Turns out, “Bears” aren’t scary at all and taught me a lesson about “body positivity!”

Later that same year, I went to the Orlando Pride Parade. My very first Pride Parade. I was thoroughly enjoying the day and making jokes with everyone who came by the HRC booth I was volunteering at. That’s also the booth where my partner Dan started flirting with me. He asked me out on our first date that day.

Gay Pride is just one example of how the LGBT+ community lives our truth and informs those willing to see what we are truly about. The antidote to fear and stigma is to empathize and humanize. It’s not enough to simply survive when we are created to thrive! We don’t have to fear the gay community, and we certainly do not have to fear ourselves. For those of us who are believers, it may take time, but we also can shed fear-based religion and joyfully bring our sexual (and complete) selves to God.

The Creator created us in our specific way to bring beauty into the world. For those sitting at home with a pit in your stomach, feeling conflicted about who you are and what this is all about. It’s ok. You are where you are and this gay man understands, completely. If I could encourage you, please embrace the truth that you are beautiful and worthy of being loved honestly. You are a treasure to be celebrated and not hidden. Wherever you are and whatever decisions you may be facing, I hope your inner voice will show you that next right step for you.

Our community is here and ready to celebrate and support you.

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