This June Penny Lane Centers is celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride Month! The road to self-acceptance can be a rocky one, especially when it's paved with others' reactions. For many LGBTQ+ people, coming out as their true gender or sharing their sexuality comes fraught with fear over how family members will react, whether they'll lose friends once they bring their authentic selves into the light, or if their workplace, church or community will look at them differently.
And even as Pride flags ripple from many homes and storefronts and everyone from the Google doodle to your favorite snack food seem to have turned rainbow-hued for Pride month, we're still a long way from full equality. An estimated 5.6% of the U.S. population identifies as LGBTQ+ according to the most recent Gallup data, but not everyone feels safe and accepted in their identities. A recent Human Rights Campaign Foundation survey found that, of 10,000 teens ages 13–17, 31% feared they would be “treated differently or judged” if they came out. Another 30% said their family was “not accepting” of LGBTQ+ people and 19 percent were scared or unsure about how their families would react.
We spoke with 6 different Penny Lane staff and clients from all across the LGBTQ+ spectrum about their coming-out stories, to unfurl the beautiful array of experiences the journey entails. Here's what they had to share...
I was 13 when I discovered I was asexual. One night, I was so done with all the confusion surrounding my sexuality that I started looking at adult content to see my reaction and I was indifferent to it. I cried, since I knew that being ACE (asexual) plus being trans would make my life very hard. After moping around for weeks, I realized that I needed to accept it because I didn’t want to live hating myself and with that I began looking for positive representation. I found that representation in Sonic the hedgehog. I related a lot to him, always rejecting Amy and just wanting adventure and friendship. After that and seeing a tweet from SEGA celebrating pride month and supporting the Asexual/Aromantic community, I was dying to come out to my mom despite knowing that she’d say some ignorant things. The day finally came, and I was fully prepared. She said all the ignorant things I expected her to, but I didn’t let it get to me because I knew that Sonic would never let such things get under his skin.
Two months after coming out as asexual, I came out as transgender. It was the first time I met with Rafael, and I was extremely nervous since I knew that he would ask me about my gender identity. The time came and at first everything was fine. I felt so happy when he forgot to ask me about my gender! Until he remembered that he forgot and asked me anyway. That was the moment, all eyes were on me, and I didn’t know if I should lie or tell the truth. Then I started analyzing the situation and that’s when I realized I couldn’t wait any longer. I felt so lonely and isolated, but at that moment, I was handed an opportunity on a silver platter. I won the golden ticket. I knew that if I came out then my mom wouldn’t say anything aggressive because she was in front of another adult, so I took the chance and admitted I was a man. Rafael looked like he had witnessed someone being born and my mom was trying to play it cool, but she was mortified. We cried and she accepted me since Rafael was there.
After coming out my life became a little hectic. My mother was making calls left and right announcing my identity to the world. It felt horrible because even though I was out of the closet it didn’t mean I was ready for everyone to know about it. I started feeling shame and guilt all over again, wondering if I made the right call, asking myself if maybe I should’ve never come out at all but that night when I stared at my roof I felt better. I wasn’t ecstatic or anything, but it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, like now I could finally rest and lower my guard. In no time I stopped regretting my decision even though my mom was still making the calls I no longer cared. I could keep living my life but now as who I truly was, and it cut my misery in half. I was no longer a secret and for me that was enough. I want to thank Sonic for making that possible and I guess Rafael was there too 😉!
When I was 15 years old, I discovered the term “bi-curious” and it was then that I began questioning my sexuality in a heteronormative household and world. I was nervous to share this questioning part of myself, out of fear that I’d be rejected by friends, family, and loved ones, so I kept it hidden within for over a decade.
A year before I announced my sexuality to the world, I had shared with a friend that after years of being in a heterosexual relationship, I was interested in exploring a same-sex relationship. The friend gaslighted my sexuality and made me doubt myself and who I was both sexually and romantically attracted to. A few months later, I had connected with members of the queer community and found the validation and confidence that I had been searching for. With pride, I labeled myself as bisexual and continue to identify that way. I came out publicly on August 2, 2021 and received so much love and support.
Even though I’m out, I’ve chosen not to disclose my sexuality to my father, who is machismo and homophobic; a decision that I am okay with. It’s been almost a year of me being out and I continue to challenge others’ biphobia, homophobia, and transphobia daily. I am currently in a healthy relationship with a cis-heterosexual male who accepts and honors my queerness, which matters the most to me – living and loving, authentically.
My name is Rafael Lopez, and I am the Peer Navigator for our LGBTQ+ services in our Commerce facility. A lot of my passion comes from my personal experience along with my journey as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Over the years I've had the opportunity to understand and listen to a few of my clients express how difficult and challenging it can be to have no support, experience bullying in school and be homeless for being LGBTQ+. In an article, "Family Acceptance Project", published by San Francisco State University explains how families play a huge role in their child’s success and can reduce risk factors experienced by people in the community.
Now, I would like to share a bit of my testimony, as my personal experience has shaped me to become the person that I am today. Growing up, I automatically knew that my sexual orientation would not be accepted/understood as I was raised in a traditional Christian Hispanic household. A household in which my parents taught me the values and beliefs of being a Christian, however the stereotypes and misconceptions around Christianity and being queer made it difficult for me to navigate my identity as a young adolescent. In addition, living in a Hispanic community where "machismo" was openly present and rooted in language amongst friends and family members-made it that much more difficult to navigate my identity as a gay male. However, I tried to follow the rules and norms of the household, keeping to myself, and trying to hide who I really was. Nonetheless, my parents, close family members, and friends seemed to have always known.
On the day of my prom, my parents sat me down to talk about something they had found in my phone. I remember walking in and seeing both my parents cry, I felt so confused and worried. I was confronted with my text message exchanges from my partner and I. I was speechless and upset that my coming out experience was exposed and not done in my own terms- how I always envisioned it would be. I began to hear my parents say, “what did I do wrong, this can’t be happening, this is just a phase.” These words hurt me so much, since all I wanted to hear was “It okay we still love you.”
As time passed, I assumed that they would understand and learn to accept my sexual orientation, as the subject was never brought up or discussed. I quickly learned that not discussing or dismissing my sexuality was not a symbol for acceptance, but rejection and denial from my parents and siblings. Unfortunately, I came to realize day by day that coming home was a nightmare as I felt un-welcomed and alienated . This phase of my life was very confusing and an emotional roller coaster. I felt that the people that I loved and that I was supposed to rely on were suddenly abandoning me over something I had no control over.
Nonetheless, over time emotions, feelings, and even people can change. God's love and mercifulness never left our family, as my parents, siblings, and I were able to reconnect and find an abundance of love amongst each other. Today I am happy and proud to say, “ I am a Christian, Queer Latinx individual” and have so much support from people that love and care for me. Despite the journey we experienced as a family, both my parents are true examples of unconditional love and now huge advocates for the LGBTQ+ community. Although it took time, they now talk to their friends, coworkers, and compadres about the importance of supporting their child regardless of sexual orientation. I am so thankful for this chapter of my life, as I have the support from my family and friends. I understand that it can be difficult at first, but life does get better over time.
Hello, I'm Kai and this is my coming out story. When I first found out about my sexuality, it was 2020 late-March. I realized I was bisexual but I was nervous to tell my mom about it because I didn't know if she would be supportive or even homophobic. On my dad's birthday, I came out to her, and surprisingly, she was very supportive. She did tell me to be careful since she knew that being LGBTQ+ could be dangerous and I was very young. Since then, I basically didn't listen to her and I continue figuring out my sexuality AND identity. When I was 12, I was bigender because I felt like a male and female at the same time, and still bisexual. I also came out as Ade to my friends. In the beginning of 8th grade, I started to tell my teachers what pronouns I used and what name I would rather be called instead of my dead name. They respected that and started using them! Mid-8th grade year, I was still figuring out who I was. I then felt non-binary, because, whenever I'm around my friends, teachers, and relatives, I felt bothered by people calling me either he or she. I felt more than just a male or a female.
As I began exploring, I realized I was pansexual. I told my mom about this, and somehow she changed my mind. I began reading and researching about different gender identity and sexual orientation and came across the word genderfluid, as I began to read I realize this is who I am and since then I have identified myself as genderfluid. I told my mom and she agreed. She said I was right since I act like a male and female depending on what day and I agreed with her. She supported me with my choice till this day. I also came out to my dad and he is supportive as well, but trying to understand/learn more about LGBTQ+. So, this is my coming out story from 2 years ago. I'm really glad that I became friends with people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.
The thing I'm most proud of is that I came out of the closet and everyone I know supports me. 💗
When I was about 10 years old (we are talking early 70s) I realized that I was gay. I remember that day very vividly. It came to me as a bit of an epiphany while I was on starting blocks to swim in a race. After completing the race, I pondered it a bit more and quickly thought that this was something I had to keep to myself. At the time we were living in Navy Housing on Long Island and my first thought was all the military folks would hate me if they found out. Then I thought about my very Roman Catholic parents and thought “oh this isn’t good at all as not only will people hate me, but I will burn in hell.” My 10-year-old self assumed I would need to lie and hide for my whole life.
From New York we moved to Guam where we lived on a Navy base, and I continued to swim. I used to love to go to the pool and see all the boys in their speedos while I continued to keep my secret. I also started to become more of a loner as it was more and more difficult to hide who I was. This was about the time in life that my hormones could betray me. I was a great student, stayed out of trouble, read a lot of books, and swam. During this time at the Catholic School I was attending the priest taught us all sex education – talk about confusing the closeted gay boy learning about sex from a celibate priest – let’s just say that things didn’t clear up much. The only thing that was clear was I was going to hell just for thinking the things I thought.
High school in San Diego was when I finally found a “like minded and age appropriate” person and acted out some of the things I had long thought about. While it was great it also assured my future descent into hell as well as created a lot of frustration as I didn’t understand why I didn’t get to just be me?!! Like all of me?!! At that time, I really felt like the day would never come when I could be completely honest with others about who I was. This created a lot of inner turmoil and I found myself lying about so many things and had very dark thoughts about always being “trapped” in the world’s vision of “normal.”
Moving away to Los Angeles and going to UCLA was when I started to feel free. I wasn’t at home with my parents, I didn’t have to go to church if I didn’t want to, I got to run my own day to day life and I could act out my sexuality. In High School I had become popular, and my secret came very close to being exposed, so UCLA was great as the slate was clean. I loved my years at UCLA as I enjoy school and enjoyed independence. Over time I became quite popular socially and shoved my secret down deeper. It felt nice to be popular and if they knew wouldn’t they hate me?
Right after graduation from UCLA in the mid-80s I fell in love, or so I thought (I know we have all been there) and moved in with a guy. I was 23 and indestructible. At least until that relationship fell apart for a lot of reasons one of which was my inability to be “out” and honest about who I was. In that moment I thought I would have to move back home with my parents and sacrifice my independence. I wouldn’t do that I thought to myself. I needed to be honest. I called my parents and told them my situation but said before I moved back home, I needed to have a conversation with them as this was going to be very different. I drove to their house – funnily enough before I took off to see them some of my gay friends offered for me to stay with them which is another story for another time – resolved to be honest. I wasn’t turning back. I walked in as they sat down in the living room and I said “I need to tell you something: I’m gay” My father said “you think I didn’t know that” and was pretty ok with it which was quite the shocker after years of assuming the military man would disown me. My mother cried a little saying she was concerned about my “choice” and did I want to see a therapist? I told her it wasn’t a choice and NO I didn’t want to see a therapist. I was finally 100% honest about who I was. It is important to note that over time both my parents came to be accepting and often express their love for me which is a wonderful thing.
My next step was to tell my siblings, none of which were surprised or rejecting in fact both my brothers said they knew and that I was still their brother and they still loved me. After that point it was like I couldn’t NOT tell people I was gay. To this day the most liberating thing I ever did was “come out” as it allowed me to stop lying and hiding and feeling shame and fear. I ended up living in West Hollywood, and never did move back in with the parents, for a few years (yet another story) and developed a lot of very positive relationships with gay and non-gay people. That liberation made me so happy. That isn’t to say I didn’t experience some negative backlash – some friends washed their hands of me and yes, I was bullied and spit on and called names – but it didn’t matter as I knew I was being me.
I used to be so happy for all the LGBTQ+ youth of today who are living in a time where in many places they are free to be who they are and be open about it. I thought it was wonderful the world had finally evolved and that these young people were so brave as they didn’t lie or hide. When I came to work at Penny Lane, I was happy to be a part of a culture that appreciated and supported LGBTQ+ individuals whether they were clients, donors, friend, family, or employees. I would be lying – which I don’t do anymore thanks to my liberation – if I said that today in 2022, I am not concerned for myself but for many others out there. I look at places like Florida that not only do not want to teach Critical Race Theory but have passed “Don’t Say Gay” bills. I worry for the young men and women who will face depression and contemplate suicide or other ways to end their suffering – I know because I was that young man. Today we live in a country that is very divided. Racism is not only rampant its obvious although others choose to ignore it. Civil rights along with voting rights are being eroded everyday and my worry is that soon it will be the hard won “gay rights” such as gay marriage that will be the next targets. What I can do is continue to live my own life, my own truth and to be an active participant in the world we live in. June may be gay pride month but today and everyday is “stand up for yourself and others” day.
I have been out as queer since I had my first girlfriend in my early 20s. I have now been married to a wonderful woman for almost 12 years, and we have an incredible 9-year-old son. We have always been open with our son about who we are. Since he was born, we read to him a book that we created about how our family came to be. We have been very open about being two women in a relationship, and he knows that we are married. It has always been his reality.
During a recent Diversity Training at Penny Lane, we talked about microaggressions. I thought of people saying, “That’s so gay!” in reference to something that they think is stupid or undesirable. I began wondering if my son had ever heard that. I figured he probably had. That afternoon, as we drove home from school, I asked him if kids still say, “That’s so gay!” He confirmed that they still do and gave the example of kids saying it to boys who have nail polish on. A few days later, my wife and I brought up the conversation again. “What do you think about people saying, “That’s so gay?” we asked. He was quiet. “Because we are gay”, we said. “No, you’re not”, he responded, “you are lesbians”.
I processed for a few more days, and this morning I was driving him in the car, and I brought it up yet again. “Is it bad to be gay?” I asked him. He responded that he wasn’t sure. “Do you know any gay people?” I asked. He said that he did not. As a queer couple, we are surrounded by several other queer people that my son knows. “Jaime is gay”, I said. “He is?!?” he responded. “Yes. He is not with anyone right now, but he used to be married to a man.” My son was silent. “It’s okay to be gay” I said, “Some people don’t think so, but it is. And your mom and I are gay. And that’s okay.”
I know this conversation is not over yet. I will undoubtedly sit on it for a few more days, and then bring it up again, so that we can continue the dialogue. And through this, I am realizing that Coming Out really is a lifelong process.