COMING OUT: WOMEN FOR UNDERSTANDING

Ronnie Veliz October 12, 2012 2
COMING OUT: WOMEN FOR UNDERSTANDING

Yesterday, October 11th, was the 24th anniversary of National Coming Out Day (NCOD). NCOD is an international event to raise awareness, nurture pride, and promote a constellation of conversations about issues affecting the human development of LGBTQ people. It is an international day which gives gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals the opportunity to “come out” to others about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many people indeed “came out” yesterday around the globe, but many others are still silenced and questioning.

This Q&A article is dedicated to all the minors and young adults out there who still feel and see themselves trapped, misunderstood, rejected, bullied, beaten, and homeless for simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer. The 13 female leaders featured on this article want you to know that your life matters and that things are getting better as we speak, but you must not isolate yourself and find the courage to create dialogue around you.

Stay honest. Stay humble. Stay visible. Rise above adversity and stay connected. No matter what people might say to bring you down, YOU are a human treasure. YOU are NOT alone. These 13 exceptional women for understanding cannot wait for you to grow up and become a positive motivating force on Earth, and neither can I.

Marina Ying Teo, Agent of Change

Self-identified as a Singaporean-Chinese lesbian woman / President of Vote For Equality at CSUN / Working on her Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy / Her dream: “To work for a non-profit organization and to help children around the world.”

Q: How did you come out to your mother?

“Currently, I am in the US as an international student, so my only form of communication  with my mother has been Skype. I came out to my mom through Skype at the age of 19. I felt that it was very important for me to come out to my mom because I was going through a lot and I needed to feel her support. I had a girlfriend at that time and as crazy as it might sound, I came out because of my girlfriend. So I told my mom, ‘Mom I need to tell you something very important.’ And she said, ‘What is it?’ and I said “Uhmm, I’m gay as in lesbian,” and immediately she got angry. I was crying. I didn’t know what to say. And my girlfriend at the time needed help because her mother was treating her very, very badly. And since my mom had a friendship with my girlfriend’s mom, I told my mom, ‘Please, please, help me please!’ and my mom was really angry and she told me, “Although I knew you were maybe gay, I didn’t think that you would actually be gay.’ I told her that I’ve come to terms with myself that I’m gay, and then my mom went onto blaming herself first, asking, ‘Is it because I didn’t pull you from the physical, emotional, and mental abuse you’ve been through as a child? Is it my fault? Is it because I didn’t help you out? Is it because I wasn’t there for you? Is it because of me?’ Then she started shouting, ‘Why do you have to be gay? why can’t you be something else? I’d rather you be straight! Is it because you never had a boyfriend?’ And she went on saying a lot of more hurtful things and I just kept silent out of respect for her. Then I respectfully checked out of the conversation, ‘Mom I have to go to class, so I will talk to you later, ok?’ And I went to class. After class, she called me and she said, ‘Your girlfriend is a bitch. She won’t treat you well. She doesn’t deserve you. I don’t know why you are with her. You can find someone else better than her.’ Sadly, my mother can be very judgmental. She bases everything on first impressions, but I still love her.”

Q: What happened after you came out?

“I decided to travel and talk to my mom in person during December of that same year. And then, at that time I came out to her again. I reassured to her that I am gay, ‘I don’t know how else to tell you this, mom. I am gay.’ And then she asked me, ‘How much percentage of you is gay? how much gayness is there in you?’ And I did not know what to say to her. Ever since then, she has tried to act like a matchmaker, trying to find me some rich guy to marry, but I know who I am and I do not want to marry a guy. My mom might think it is just a phase, but I know who I am and I love myself.”

Q: Why do you think National Coming Out Day is important?

“You see, every time it was National Coming Out day here in the US, I would attend events connected to such event, I would go discreetly with my backpack and observe. I think it is important to have a National Coming Out day because there are a lot of emotions one has to go through. Social support is important. It takes a lot of courage to come out. I would actually say to minors and young adults who have not come out yet: Believe in yourself; sit down with your loved ones, family and friends, and try your best to have an honest conversation with them. Try.”

Mohena Moreno, Agent of Change

Self-identified as a Peruvian-American heterosexual woman / Sexual Assault Advocate & Peer Educator at Valley Trauma Center and Blue Projects /Working on her Bachelors in Psychology /Her dream: “To become a psychologist and help all types of families and individuals.”

Q:Who was the first person that came out to you?

“My brother came out when he was 16. It happened at home. He was getting ready to come out to my mom. He wanted to tell my mom but he was so scared, so he came to me first and said, ‘I think I’m gay.’ My mom always had suspicions of my brother being gay since Peru, but we weren’t 100% sure because he had a girlfriend. But it wasn’t like he appeared to be in love. He told me, ‘I think I’m gay. And I have to tell my mom.’ And I said, ‘I already knew. I don’t care. I love you. If you want to tell my mom, I guess you should.’ I grew up with my brother as best friends. When we lived in Peru, classmates would call him ‘maricon’ (fag) and ‘cabro’ (queer) until he cried. He would not defend himself. People enjoyed making him cry and I remember I would defend my brother to the point of having to spit on people because he went through a lot of bullying, the bullying was so brutal that in the heat of the moment I had to defend my brother that way. When he finally came out to my mom, she immediately cried and asked him, ‘Why you? Did you get raped? Did someone touch you inappropriately?’ My brother came out Once my mom calmed down, she said, ‘I will be here for you, no matter what. I still love you, but I think it is too soon for you to start dating. So, take it easy, son.’ But my brother was even more scared of my dad’s reaction. My mom told my dad and my dad was pissed. My dad expressed his anger by saying, ‘Que desgracia! esto es una maldicion!’ (What a disgrace! this is a curse!). My father started being very avoidant, very distant and my brother would cry. It took about a year for my father’s anger and isolation to decline. Aside from facing my dad’s indifference, my brother continued facing bullying here in the U.S. When we started attending Taft high school, people wanted to threaten him, to hit him, so he never wanted to go to school. His books kept getting stolen and no one would talk to my brother because he was very in touch with his feminine side. Latino peers would not recognize him as part of their ethnic group. A group of Israeli guys and girls were the only ones who were supportive of my brother’s presence in school, and there was only one teacher who would intervene against the bullying he experienced, a Persian teacher who was very nice to him also would stop everything in class if anybody said something mean to him. It meant a lot for my brother to receive my dad’s full acceptance after a while. My brother decided to come out because he did not like hiding. He felt it was the right thing to do. He was never confused about his human development as a gay minor. He is an honest young gay man. He is an awesome Chef. I love my brother.”

Q: What happened after this person came out to you?

“Currently, family acceptance is a reality at home. Coming out made my brother feel happier. My brother has been able to bring dates and partners. He did not want to have a double life. We are a family, no matter what.”

Q: Why do you think National Coming Out Day is important?

“As a heterosexual woman, my solidarity for LGBT communities is unstoppable. I know what they go through. I know the mental health issues affecting their development because of bullying, homophobia, family rejection, and everything they go through, I feel what they feel, every cell in my skin knows how it hurts, I learned all of it through my brother, and I hate to see LGBT people being harassed, molested, and rejected. I believe National Coming Out day is a very important day.”

Sarah Shabbar, Agent of Change

Self-identified as a Jordanian-American straight woman / Ambassador at YourMiddleEast.com / Working on her Bachelors in Broadcast Journalism with a minor in Middle Eastern & Islamic studies /Her dream: “To work as an Arab correspondent for an American news station and I’d like to travel all over the Middle East.”

Q: Who was the first person that came out to you?

“In middle school and high school, I met kids who were homosexual but they had never explicitly come out to me themselves and say, ‘Hey, I’m gay.’ It was always an unsaid thing, as much as some kids were comfortable in high school [with their queerness]. I think there was an unspoken word that they shouldn’t, mostly out of fear, say. Nobody wants to be the “different” one in high school, they are already awkward years. In college although I am a straight ally, I’ve always felt different, maybe it was because of my cultural background, the way I had been raised or etc…I decided to join the Persian club, although I am not Persian. I wanted to be involved in a Middle Eastern club and Melody Ramin had recruited me, from day one, I stuck to her like a leech, always looking up to her as a big sister, and to this day probably one of the few people that could make me laugh until I pee. My birthday weekend of my first year of college was terrible. I realized I didn’t really have any ‘friends’ to share it with and with limited money,  it was hard for me to do anything. Melody texted me on Saturday asking if I had been available to go with her to a Halloween party, excited of course I went. In the car I had always been whining about boys and relationships, and heartbreaks, after I had stopped talking, I asked Melody, ‘Hey I forgot to ask you, do you have a boyfriend?’ She quickly looked over at another friend and smirked. Mel looked at me and said, ‘I’m gay. I know my sexuality doesn’t scream out loud, but yeah I’m gay, I’m a big lesbian.’ Mel became the first explicit encounter I had of someone personally coming out to me, and because of her personality, anyone that knows her, knows it was nothing dramatic, but more humorous.”

Q: What happened after this person came out to you?

“The more I got to know Mel, the more I realized the struggles that she has faced and is still facing as a Persian lesbian woman. I think that’s the kind of strength that speaks to me when I get selfish about my problems. Our friendship has grown stronger since she came out to me. We are best friends.”

Q: Why do you think National Coming Out Day is important?

“I think National Coming Out day is extremely important because I believe you should never hide who you really are, even though you may be struggling to come out. I think Melody is definitely a great example of somebody who is doing that. Her strength and pride as a Persian lesbian woman is admirable. Living in the US, I think, we have a lot of freedom. My hope for Middle Eastern countries is that they can come around and accept National Coming Out day as well.”

Tifany Del Rio, Agent of Change

Self-identified as an undocumented and unafraid woman / San Fernando Valley Dream Team ambassador / Working on her Bachelors in Biology / Her dream: “To continue pursuing higher education in order to provide significant medical research to the United States and to the entire world.”

Q: Who was the first person that came out to you?

“The first person to came out to me was my best friend: Israel. We have a long history together. This is my best friend from Mexico. We finished elementary school together. We started middle school together. I always knew Israel was different and very special in comparison to the rest of our classmates. He was always playing with my hair and fixing my skirts and doing my nails for me. He always made me feel good about myself with the biggest smile on his face. I never asked him whether or not he was gay, because I grew up loving his feminine side. To me, Israel was always as normal as he could be. I never saw anything wrong with him as a child, but people would make fun of me for hanging out with him, and people were horrible to him for simply being a gay kid. Israel and I were into science, so we joined the technology class and there were mostly guys in that class. It was a class of 50 boys and only 4 girls. So you can imagine how hard it was for me as a minority, and for him being the only gay child in a class of 50 boys who did not care about the feelings or development of LGBTQ peers. Classmates would say, ‘Porque te juntas con ese joto? De seguro eres lesbiana! (Why are you hanging out with that fag? Surely, you must be a lesbian!).’ Israel and I spent our days together regardless of what people said. We gave each other extra strength and since I grew up with my uncle –and my uncle was in a long-term committed relationship with his partner– Israel eventually met them both.

One day Israel and I interrupted a romantic kiss between my uncle and his partner. Israel and I were supposed to be doing homework at my uncle’s, but we witnessed that. That day was the day Israel finally admitted to himself and to me who he is by confessing, ‘Tifany te he querido decir algo hace mucho tiempo. Tengo dudas. Las he tenido por mucho tiempo. Es que a mi me atrae un muchacho en la escuela, y quiero compartirlo a mi mama (Tifany I’ve been wanting to tell you something for a while. I have doubts. I’ve had them for a very long time. And it’s because I really feel attracted to this boy in our school, and I want to share it with my mom).’ That was the first thing he said. Israel was looking at the ground the entire time while saying this to me. He looked sad, as if he felt trapped or hopeless. And then he finally looked up and made eye contact with me, ‘Tifany, soy gay pero siempre me dicen que es malo (I’m gay but people are always telling me that it is wrong).’ I think he chose me because he trusted me. I felt moved. He continued, ‘Quiero poder compartirlo con a mi papa. Quiero decirle a mi mama, y a mis hermanos (I want to be able to share it with my dad. I want to tell my mom and my brothers). But he also told me that his oldest brother would call him homophobic names daily, especially ‘AJO as in Ajotado‘ (queer).’ Israel added, ‘Mi mama es bien Catolica, pero estoy cansado de que la gente se burle de mi, quiero decirle a mi mama que soy maricon y que? en vez de que me esten haciendo burla, quiero que lo sepan, necesito tu ayuda, me acompanas? (My mom is very Catholic, but I am sick and tired of people bullying me, I want to tell my mom I am queer, so what? instead of making fun of me, I want them to know it for sure, I want your help, can you come with me?)’ I accepted him and his initiative, but I asked him first if he was 100% sure, ‘Pero como le quieres decir a tu mama? (How do you want to say it to your mom?).’ Without a doubt, he responded, ‘Le quiero poder decir que la gente se burla de mi en la escuela y nadie hace nada. Le quiero poder decir a mi mama que me gusta un muchacho en la escuela y que no me gusta que mi hermano me diga ‘AJO’ (I want to be able to tell my mom that people make fun of me and no one does anything about it. I want to tell that I like a boy and that I do not like when my brother calls me faggot).’

A few minutes later, I called my uncle to the room and asked him to listen to Israel’s confession. My uncle asked my friend, ‘Dime que es lo que pasa? (Tell me what’s going on here?).’ Israel told him everything and my uncle replied, ‘La gente puede que se burle mas de ti pero tu debes estar seguro de quien eres. Estas seguro que quieres decirselo a tu mama? (People will make fun of you, but you have to feel confident of who you really are. Are you sure you want to tell your mother?)’ As soon as Israel confirmed, my uncle broke the tension in the room with awesome jokes and we went on our way to tell his mom.

Israel fantasized with this boy he liked in school, just like I fantasized with boys I liked, just like other boys fantasized with girls they liked. Witnessing Israel’s coming out to his mom was shocking. The first thing his mom said was, ‘Lo que a ti te hace falta es tener una novia, Estas muy bien chiquiado. Porque como eres mi bebe es mi culpa. (What you need is a girlfriend. You are being too spoiled because you are my baby, it is my fault.)’ My uncle intervened, ‘Porque dice que es su culpa senora? Me imagino que a criado a todos sus hijos igual, no es su culpa, es como el se siente (Why are you saying this is your fault, ma’am? I imagine you have raised all of your children the same way. Don’t say it is your fault. This is just the way he feels).’ And then Israel’s mom had the audacity to scream, ‘Usted de seguro ya le metio ideas! (You must have brainwashed my son!)’ Israel immediately broke down and started crying like never before. My uncle told her, ‘Senora, esta bien si su hijo tienen sus propios sentimientos. No es algo facil, pero que su hijo ya estaba pasando por bastantes burlas y depresion, y lo que el mas necesito es el amor incondicional y el respeto de su madre (Lady, it is okay if your son has his own feelings. It is not easy, but your child is going through pervasive bullying and depression, and what he needs the most right now is the unconditional love and the respect from his mother’). While Israel kept crying in the background, the mother started crying too and wondering, ‘Pero como lo va a ver el pueblo? que van a decir de nuestra familia? como va a agarrar un trabajo? a esa gente nadie los quiere! (What is the town going to say? What are they going to say about our family? How is he going to obtain a job? Nobody wants gay people!).’

I will never forget that experience. As a straight child, I discovered what many LGBTQ people go through when they are little at home. My best friend Israel just wanted to be able to count with her mother’s support. He liked a boy, but he wanted above anything else to be able to share everything with her. I am confident Israel chose to make me part of his coming out moment because he trusted me and felt safe around my uncle and I.”

Q: What happened after this person came out to you?

“Israel is the same age than me. We both are 21. He is on his way to become a cardiologist. His brothers are okay with Israel being gay. Homophobic language gradually declined at home. At some point, his mother wanted to take Israel to church hoping he could be ‘cured’ by a miracle and turn straight, but she has come a long way and accepted that her son is gay, without having to quit her religious affiliation. Israel studies medicine because he wants to save lives. I am glad he is still alive.”

Q: Why do you think National Coming Out Day is important?

“It takes a lot of courage to actually stand up and own who you are, to stare at those who make fun of you and show your pride. Israel is not the only gay person I have known in my life. In the DREAM Act movement there are many queer leaders. I see undocuqueers as any other member of the movement. In the San Fernando Valley Dream Team, for instance, we got church boys, we got LGBT, and we got strong women too. When we have our meetings, we’re all the same. We all are DREAMers. We dream of having careers, growing up as hardworking people in society, we dream of giving back to our communities and give back to the economy. It doesn’t matter if you are straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, you know, if you are a DREAMer, we have a vision in common, which is to make education more affordable to us and more accessible to other human  beings like us, as DREAMers, we are team members, and if you are an undocuqueer, you should feel proud to come out and represent as well.”

Cadence Valentine, Agent of Change

Self-identified as a Cosmopolitan Transginger / Peer Mentor at CSUN Pride Center /Working on her Bachelors in Psychology continuing to a Masters in Social Work / Her dream: “My goal is to become a counselor to at-risk LGBTQ youth, specifically working with Trans youth and my dream is to help create a world where my job becomes redundant.”

Q: When did your coming out experience start and how did your girlfriend react to your transition?

“When you’re Trans, it is even more of a process of doubt, as it goes well beyond just sexual identity ‘Am I really this person? Could it just be that I am a cross-dresser or is there more to it?’ Two years ago I began some serious introspection, allowing my mind to go to some very dark places and I realized that there was far more to it than just being a cross dresser, because at the end of the day when the clothes, the jewelry, and the make-up were all back in the closet, I still felt the same way. I realized while standing naked in front of the mirror that I was still different, my body not aligning with my mind and not who society expected me to be, and that was a very scary thought. My sexual identity never changed; I have always been attracted to women. But this wasn’t about my sexual identity, it was my gender identity that did not match with my biological sex. So, my transition started a year ago, in Spring 2011. I came out to my partner of 10 years, knowing that I might lose her, by telling her, ‘This is me. This is who I am. All this cross dressing and gender bending in secret over the years means a lot more than what I had thought.’ She looked at me and said, ‘I fell in love with you regardless of what body that might be.’ And it was in that exact moment that I absolutely knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that she was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”

Q: How did your girlfriend’s parents react?

“My partner’s parents were 60’s hippies, yet when I came out to them, they were two of the most judgmental people I’ve ever met. For ten years, I was the best thing that could happen to their daughter. I showed both of them I loved their daughter and treated her right, and they in turn seemed to love me. And when I came out, that changed in a heartbeat. Just because I chose to stay honest. Her mother had no questions even though I offered to explain, ‘Please if there is any information I can give you, ask.’ She did not want to talk to us, just silence. Her father on the other hand was brutal. He does not take change well. He is a very tough person to deal with. He, without asking one morning got on my computer and I caught him, reading through a trans support site that I had left minimized on my desktop that I was still logged into. I was mortified. Even with that, he didn’t know and didn’t ask. I finally came out to him and he made me feel like shit. He didn’t understand and made it be all about him. That was the last we spoke.

In Spring 2011, I started my HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) and I started living full-time as of this past February. I had informed my “in-laws” that I would begin living as a woman and they communicated to me through my partner, ‘Whatever, we don’t care, just NOT in front of us’ –even though we lived in the same house. So, I guess I had to get dressed up, go to school, go to work, live my own life as Cadence and then come home, quickly undress, take off the makeup and nail polish, and pretend to be a guy exclusively around them,’ and I told them, ‘That is ludicrous and not going to work.’ In ten years of being with their daughter, I never received any hostility or harassment. During my first day of going full-time with my transition, I ran into my partner’s father on the driveway once I came back home from school, and the shit hit the fan. For the next 15 minutes, he kept on yelling at my partner, ‘When did you become bisexual?!’ as well as ‘Aren’t you ashamed of going out with your boyfriend in drag?!’ and denying her sexuality because “she was never abused as a child so she couldn’t be anything but hetero” I wanted to tell him, ‘You know what!? If you want to talk about drag and being ashamed, I am ashamed of having to present in drag for the last 10 years of my life whenever I was a guy for you all!”. No more.’ Things got better by leaving that house. My partner and I got our own place. We are still together and our relationship is better than ever nowadays,” but I have had no communication with her parents since.

Q: Any regrets about transitioning?

“Regrets? Hell no! I am finally living my life the way I always should have, correcting a mistake. I know it might be odd to some people that it is hard for me not to refer to my previous self in a third person for the most part, but despite the fact that you know, on a cellular level he is still me, I don’t identify with that person anymore in any way, shape, or form. I don’t regret it. I am not angry about it. That person is the person who got me to this point after all. But it is important for people who know me to accept it as an alternative past because I have figured out who I am. I have been fighting to affirm who I am. This is me. I don’t care what you see; I don’t care what you say to bring me down; I don’t care what labels you want to want to assign to me; I know who I am and I can honestly say, I love me now.”

Q: Where does your courage come from?

“From brave souls that deal with the consequences. My heart goes out to each and every one of them. We are living in a country where coming can be pretty rough and even dangerous for some, but for example, across the pond in Russia to this very day you cannot even hold a Pride parade because you can be thrown in prison, beaten, and possibly killed, and this is supposed to be civilized Europe. Think of Iran, did you know that the one of the largest numbers of people who have gone through sex reassignment surgery are gay Iranian men? Because their government will actually force them through the reassignment surgery and “make them into women” so they can say that they are no gay Iranians. They will take gay men who have no gender identity issues and are perfectly happy living as gay men and tell them you either transition to be a woman or we kill you. There is an extensive amount of hate, amazing amount of misunderstanding, and so much unwillingness to create awareness, and it is –without being overdramatic– literally killing people and that is not okay with me. I want to make the world a better place for the people of my community. And that’s where the courage part comes from.”

Kolina “Koko” Koltai, Agent of Change

Self-identified as a Taiwanese-Hungarian-American woman / CSUN-NASA and US Air Force Research Assistant / Working on obtaining her PhD in Social Psychology / Her dream: “To institute change in the world by being a University Professor.”

Q: Who was the first person who came out to you?

“The first person who came out to me officially was my younger brother Kaz. I was 17. He was 14. I was going to a different high school than him. My parents sent me away to a very progressive art school, so I didn’t get to spend much time with him. My parents rented an apartment so we could attend Beverly Hills high school so he could go to a better district. Our tradition as siblings was that whenever I visited, right before I would leave to go back home we would sit in the car and we would talk for at least one hour. That was our private time away from our parents. I remember I was about to take off. I am sitting in the driver’s seat. He is sitting in the passenger’s seat. We were just talking about school, and suddenly he said, “Koko! I have a boyfriend!!!” and he looked so cute and adorable when he said it. I was so happy that he felt comfortable to tell me that not only he is gay but that he was in love with a boy who was going to the same school than him. I always kinda suspected it and I felt very fortunate that he knew he could count on me as a support system.”

Q: How did your parents or closest relatives react?

“I was not there when Kaz told my parents, but I found out afterwards that my mom did not take it well. She told him, ‘I don’t like it.’ Uncles and aunts from my mom’s side thought and still think Kaz is ‘going through a phase,’ or ‘He has to meet the right girl,’ even though he has brought boyfriends home over the years. And my father’s main concern is visibility. See, my dad, who is Jewish, grew up in a time in which if you were Jewish you were killed, if you were homosexual you were asking for death, so to my dad it did not matter that Kaz came out, it was not about Kaz being gay, but how many people knew about it and how ‘flamboyant’ Kaz could be, because my dad’s main concern is the possibility of Kaz being attacked. My dad by the way denies his Jewish heritage because he is in that mentality where he is not proud at all to be Jewish; he even changed his last name to avoid ‘dangerous’ associations. So, while my mom thinks there are no gay Chinese kids, my dad is terrified with the idea that someone might hurt or kill Kaz for being proudly gay, so he doesn’t want Kaz to openly show it. But I consider Kaz to be very brave for coming out and I support him because it was very important for him. We both identify ourselves as fearless activists. We are vocal about it. We are progressive people. We are agents of change.”

Q: Why do you think National Coming Out day is important?

“There are many LGBTQ minors and young adults who do not have immediate support system. To them, I say: Search for the right time. Search for the support groups. Search for the resources because although you may feel very alone, very tiny, and it might feel like it’s not the right time, there are people waiting for you to ask for help. Just make sure you feel comfortable with yourself first. It is very important for minors to come out without shame. My brother came out and it brought us closer. I have to the right to marry. My brother has the right to marry. I can love whoever I want to love. He can love whoever he wants to love. So, I think National Coming Out day is important because we should not need National Coming Out day. We should get to the point where we do not have the need to have it. Coming out should not even be an issue. But since we are not there yet with all these blending cultures of people who come from traditional Chinese families, traditional Latino and Chicano/a families, or Middle Eastern families…my hope is we get to the point where there is so much support system that we do not need to call it ‘coming out’ anymore.”

Elvira Padilla Funes, Agent of Change

Self-identified as a Salvadoran-American straight woman / Southern California Regional Coordinator of Unión Salvadoreña de Estudiantes Universitarios (USEU Youth) / Working on obtaining her Bachelors in Central American studies and Sociology / Her dream: “To become the best counselor I can possibly be for college students.”

Q: Talk to me about a significant coming out experience to you:

“When my high school teacher came out to the entire class in Belmont high school. I found out before anybody, though, because I needed to search for a document and he trusted me with his laptop. And what I found was pictures of him and his partner in the background. Upon discovering that, I didn’t ask anything. He just let me react on my own. I was shocked, but not so shocked as well. I mean, I have always been around the gay community as a child, so to me being gay is something very normal, but he was the last person some people would expect to be gay because he was this huge bodybuilder, a very strong-minded individual, a very authoritative figure. Obviously, I needed to experience this in order to become more conscious of my misconceptions. Around the same month, we were introduced to literature that included a gay character as the protagonist. But before we started reading the material, he said, ‘I have an announcement to make: I am gay; I am coming out to all of you.’ And some students explicitly asked, ‘Are you joking?’, ‘Are you sure?’ and ‘Are you doing this just so we show solidarity to gay people?’ It was quite an eye-opening experience. Many of my classmates have never ever shared a word with a gay person like our teacher. Because of him, we became more conscious thinkers and better individuals.”

Q: How did this coming out experience impact your character?

“I thought the teacher would become the target of jokes, but he did not. This man taught me how to have control in a class, how to have control when I speak to an audience, to refrain from using profanity around him, and with very minimum effort he taught me how to take pride in having control of my life.”

Q: Why do you think National Coming Out day is important?

“Because National Coming Out day reminds young people to avoid any type of repression, to dismantle any type of oppression, and it reminds young people to accept themselves first on an individual level before seeing themselves as powerful individuals working for the wellbeing of society. Actually there is someone I know who is still questioning herself, this is someone I admire a lot and lives far away from here, but to her I would like to say: I am very proud of who you are, and for what I have seen on Facebook, you seem to have a very beautiful life, despite society’s ‘limitations’ on the queer communities, you are one of the strongest reasons I chose Sociology as a major, I do look up to you. Estudio y Lucha!”

Karen Medina, Agent of Change

Self-identified as a Feminist queer Chicana /Vice-President of Gender & Women’s Studies Students Association at CSUN /Working on her Bachelors in Gender Studies and Cinema & Television Arts Multimedia Production / Her dream: “I have so many dreams. I want to be a screen writer, I want to make media, I want to be a continuous educator, and get into Politics.”

Q: How did you come out to your mother?

“I grew up in a very strict Christian household. I always knew I was a gay child. I admitted it to myself in middle school. During high school my mom and I did not have a good relationship, but once I went to college, our relationship was good. At the age of 19, I was already attending college and I started dating. Every Friday, my mom would come to the dorms for our weekly dinner. Every Friday, she would pick me up for mom-daughter time and she would hear me mentioning Sarah all the time, my ‘friend’ Sarah. I would tell my mom all the campus activities we attended together and all the memories Sarah and I built together. Suddenly, one Friday, as I was telling her a story about Sarah, she stopped me and said, “Sarah no es solo una amiga, verdad? (Sarah is not just a friend, is she?)’ I stayed quiet. Tears started forming in her eyes. Finally, I said, “What if I would say that Sarah is not just a friend?” And my mom started crying. The waiter comes and my mother is crying out loud. People around us staring at us. Here is my mom exploding in tears. I felt so embarrassed. She kept crying for 5 minutes. When she finally stopped crying, she got really angry. She displayed her anger by questioning, “What did I do wrong?! Is it all the feminist activities you are involved with? Who has brainwashed you? Was it the Women’s Center on campus? Why are you doing this to me? Is it all the women stuff you are participated in? You need to go to church! It is your fault for not going to church! Is it because your dad and I are getting divorced? Is it your dad’s fault?.” I tried to answer her angry questions, but she kept interrupting me every time I tried to explain. I did not want to talk about it under those conditions, but she did not let me walk away. I told her that I admitted it to myself back in middle school. My feelings have been permanent before middle school. I told her the main reason I stayed silenced was because I was so afraid of her reacting exactly the way she did. She kept on telling me that it was ‘just a phase.’ Once we left the restaurant, she said in the car, ‘Before I take you back to the dorms, can we leave this whole gay thing as a question mark, because this is all just a question mark, right?’ I told her, ‘No, mom. I can’t do this to myself. It has been a question mark for so long, that right now in my life I am so sure of it, this is the one thing I am the most sure about in my life.’ We drove back to the dorms. We did not speak on the road. She called me two hours later after dropping me off and said, ‘You are my daughter and I love you unconditionally, but this is gonna be really hard for me to deal with. I don’t understand it. I don’t get it. I still think what you are telling me is wrong, but I don’t want to ruin the relationship we have, so maybe we should just not talk about it. I will let you know when I’m ready to talk about it.’

Q: What happened after you came out?

“After three years of a lot of different conversations and arguments during holidays about why Sarah can’t come over, my mom finally opened up and told me that she was watching a TV show about a 22-year old girl who was wasting her life in drugs and alcohol. My mom said, ‘That girl was 22 and you are 22. She was wasting her life away, but you are committed to your education, you are not into drugs, you are not out on the streets, you get good grades, and do work for your communities, you will be graduating soon, you are responsible, you are a good girl. I still don’t understand the fact that you are gay, but you are a good kid and I am going to deal with the gay thing.’ I fought for Sarah to be welcome in my family. My mom finally said, ‘It’s ok, you can come with her.’ Last year’s Christmas was a bit awkward. It was the first time I was able to bring my girlfriend home for Christmas. My hope is this Christmas’s is less awkward. I love Sarah and I love my mom.”

Q: Why do you think National Coming Out day is important?

“My hope is that minors and young adults are able to come out and be themselves are at younger age. I wish I could come out when I was in middle school. My hope is that oppressive traditions and ideologies must be taken down to the point where future generations of parents can be more accepting, more supportive, more protective of all children in order for them to feel more independent. I believe that future generation of heterosexual and LGBTQ parents will be better. Kids should be able to express themselves freely, even if kids are just exploring and questioning and even if it was just a ‘phase’ for some of them, kids deserve to grow up without destructive judgement coming from their families.”

Ana Miriam Barragan Santoyo, Agent of Change

Self-identified as an undocumented and unafraid Chicana woman / Dreams To Be Heard community organizer /Working on her Bachelors in Psychology and Deaf Studies / Her dream: “I want to attend Law school in order to serve, protect, and educate our communities.”

Q: Who was the first person that come out to you?

“The first person who came out to me was a male cousin. Growing up in a very conservative and very ‘machista’ family, we always knew what ‘gay’ meant and what ‘lesbian’ was. My parents tried to be as open-minded as they could be, but my dad had a tendency to spread anti-gay sentiment by saying things such as ‘I hope you’re not lesbian or gay’ to the little ones whenever they behaved out of the norm. My dad also used the word ‘joto’ (fag) very often to express anger, to insult people. Well, I remember I was 12, when this male cousin came to me and we were talking and having a cordial conversation as always, and randomly he said, ‘I’m gay’ and I always had an idea that he might be gay, but hearing it directly from him was a satisfactory moment, so I said, “I am happy for you!” We both knew it was a very important experience because his tone of voice and body language displayed a feeling of ‘I’m free now’ and I personally would’ve not liked for him to stay silenced about it, or grow up to have a double life. Before coming out, he was never able to express himself fully and freely. He would always use the word “someone” when saying “I am dating someone” and avoid mentioning the names of the people he liked. He was 19. I was 12. I am glad he came out to me. He came out to his mom next, and since day 1 his mom accepted him, although for his dad, it was very difficult to accept.”

Q: Now as an adult, is he single? Is he in a committed relationship?

“Last September, my male cousin and his boyfriend were finally able to have their first dinner with my cousin’s parents. Although my cousin’s dad does not openly talk about it, he accepted to have dinner with them. They’re a good couple. They live together.”

Q: Why do you think National Coming Out day is important?

“It gives you an opportunity to express who you really are, without fear. I think about my younger brother. I don’t know his sexuality. He’s 15 years old and if he ever said, ‘I’m gay,’ I would make sure he feels comfortable, safe, secure. I wouldn’t want him to feel alone. I would want him to know that there are millions of people going through the same situation with pride and joy. And I am not saying my younger brother is gay, but I am mindful that the younger generation of LGTBQ right now needs guidance, needs good people to look for and look up to. I also know a lot of undocumented queer young leaders. Being involved in the California DREAM Network, I have had the opportunity to meet and connect with many wonderful undocuqueers, who are very important people to remember and celebrate on National Coming Out day too because this is a group of people who are a double minority, a group of people not only struggling for their immigration status to change, but also struggling personally as coming out and dreaming of family acceptance as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender minors and young adults.”

Grace Castañeda, Agent of Change

Self-identified as a Mexican-American queer woman / Matadors for Equality community organizer /Working on her Bachelors in Political Science and a minor in History / Her dream: “To work for a non-profit organization advocating for our undocumented communities.”

Q: Who was the first person you came out to?

“The person I came out to first was my best friend because I did not feel safe coming out to my mom. One thing I want you to understand before talking about my friend is the fact that my mom has always been very anti-gay with me, even though she had many queer friends herself. I have always been very town-boyish and I love it. But every time I practiced soccer (and I was also getting into basketball), my mom told me soccer and basketball were very ‘dyke’ sports to play. Before coming out, she was already using hurtful words to get my attention or make me feel punished. I did not like how she picked the worst words in Spanish to degrade my development as a queer child. I am talking about words such as ‘marimacha’ (dyke) and ‘maricona’ (faggot). One day, I was playing soccer and my friend, who has never really been into soccer, she was just there sitting down and cheering me up. And all of the sudden, my mom arrived and yelled, ‘Hey marimacha! Te estoy hablando!!’ (Hey dyke, I am talking to you!!). When she told me that, when she called me that out loud, in public, I felt so worthless. I was already having a bad day playing in the field so for my mom to express herself like that in public was so painful. I wanted to cry so bad, but I did not want to break down in front of people. And when we were leaving the field, my friend asked me, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I told her, ‘You know what? I need to tell you something. I really respect you a lot, and you are one of the few people that I actually trust a lot. I want you to know something very important to me, but I would never ever EVER want to you to abandon my life. But after I tell you this, if you don’t want to talk to me or if you feel disgusted…’ She put her right arm around me and said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I told her, ‘I’m gay.‘  My best friend looked me in the eyes and said with a smile, ‘Grace, I always knew. I kinda always had this idea that you liked girls more than boys, or that you did not like boys at all even though they pursued you. I do not really understand what ‘gay’ is, but because you are my friend, I want to learn and understand who you are, where you are coming from, and where you are going to go from here on. Regardless of who you want to be with, you will always be like a sister to me, you will always be my friend, and whoever says different, just know I will always be there for you. Don’t ever feel ashamed of who you are or who you want to be. I got your back. Don’t be ashamed.’ I was crying like I have never cried in my whole life. I could not believe she said all that. And then she said, ‘Grace, you’re hilarious, don’t cry.’ She took all the negativity and all this pressure and emotional built up and turned all this stress into something so beautiful. She was so supportive. At 10 years old, we consolidated our friendship. I was so happy to come out to her. I felt that I chose the right person to come out to. And I chose her because I’ve known her since pre-K.’

Q: What were your main concerns growing up from elementary to middle school as a queer kid?

“Before coming out, I was very scared. Personally, I was terrified about family rejection and violence. My thoughts were always wondering, what if my mom finds out that I’m gay? I kept on thinking, what if my mom kills me? Because my mother once told me in a moment of anger, ‘If you ever come up with stupid shit like that, I will beat the shit out of you until you stop being gay. I think those thoughts really made me feel trapped growing up.”

Q: Why do you think National Coming Out day is important?

“Because I had a love partner who committed suicide. I know there are many minors and young adults out there who are very afraid of coming out. To all of you, young queers, who feel trapped, I want to say: Don’t be afraid. I know it is really hard to try to be ourselves, but family rejection aside, there are many people out there who will love you, respect you, protect you, and try to understand who you are. Times might get rough once you come out, but there are resources out there if any negative outcomes were to happen. Reach out to those resources before coming out, if possible. And do not ever think of ending your life. Do not think suicide. Life gets better if you surround yourself with supportive people. To me, coming out was the biggest relief of my life.”

Sarah Marie Garcia, Agent of Change

Self-identified as a Chicana woman with no sexual orientation / Senator of Education at CSUN Associated Students / Working on her Bachelors in Deaf Studies and her minors on Anthropology and Queer Studies / Her dream: “To work with the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center to develop a Deaf and Queer program.”

Q:Who was the first person that came out to you?

“The first person who came out to me was my friend Stephanie. I have known her since 1st grade and this was about 7th grade, we were walking around the school and she said, ‘Hey! Can I tell you something?’ and I said, ‘of course.’ She said, ‘It’s a secret! Don’t tell anybody else. So, I think I like girls.” I asked her, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘I think I like them as I should like boys.’ And I said, “Ok” with a smile, and that was pretty much it. We continued walking around. She was obviously very nervous. And I think the fact that I wasn’t, like, it didn’t scare me off, I wasn’t weirded out by it, me being able to just accept it and not even question it, I think that made it okay for her to feel comfortable because I could even tell she was really scared and I felt that moment was very important for her. So, I knew it was a big thing for her. Stephanie came out to me when were both were 11 and attending Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies. I think she chose me because we’ve known each other since 1st grade and she felt that she could trust me. Maybe she used me as a test to see how everybody else would react. I’m glad she did it because it was something that she had to say, say it aloud, and proud.”

Q: What happened after this person came out to you?

“After she came out to me, she came out to everybody else when we went to high school and everybody else was very supportive and accepting of her identity. And then she told her parents and they were very accepting of it right away too. They did not even question her.”

Q: Why do you think National Coming Out Day is important?

“National Coming Out day is a day to celebrate and say, ‘Hey, I’m me, and you have to accept that!”

Mayra Veronica Amezcua, Agent of Change

Self-identified as a Mexican Chicana mujer / Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán community organizer / Working on her Bachelors in Liberal Studies with a focus on Gender & Women’s Studies / Her dream: “To be the best teacher all children can have. To inspire and guide all children to become critical thinkers.”

Q: What have you learned through your queer friends’ coming out stories?

“I have been involved with Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán for 5 years now. I have met a lot of wonderful and successful MEChA leaders who identify as queer, not only at MEChA de CSUN, but in all other chapters as well. Many of them are openly out and proud as young queer leaders and I am proud to be their friend. Through their coming out stories, I have learned that for many of them coming out is not an easy process to face. For some of them it turns out to be an explosive experience, if internalized for way too long. Growing up, my queer friends shared with me they had to get used to heterosexual stories and personal heartbreak challenging heterosexual couples while nobody tried to make significant collective efforts to learn about theirs, about their issues, about their struggles, about their personal heartbreaks as queer people, not only facing relationships but society’s homophobia and transphobia in general. One night, for instance, I was with some friends driving around the valley and talking about our issues; to be precise, about dating and love. One of us started leading the conversation about her recent breakup with her boyfriend. This friend was talking about her ex-boyfriend almost during the entire road. As soon as we parked, one of us screamed, “Well, I’m a lesbian!” and the rest of the group stayed quiet for a minute. That moment of silence was a very intense moment. I believe we all realized how selfish we have been all along to our queer friend. There we were in the car whining about boyfriends and we never asked this particular friend about her feelings in depth and what she was going through as a queer woman in the closet. I was thankful she came out to us as abrupt as it was because it made us realize how disconnected the majority of us were to issues affecting her emotional state as queer woman. That night we became closer friends. We stopped letting our queer friend experience her issues alone. I suspected this friend was queer, but I never had the courage to ask her. Later on, we all found out that she recently experienced a break up with a girl she really liked, but none of us cared to listen and get to the bottom of the story. I am glad she came out because she told us she was feeling very isolated.”

Q: What would you say to any minor or young adult who is questioning whether or not he/she should come out to his/her family?

“I cannot say that it is easy, but at the same time, it is something that cannot be treated as impossible. In my opinion, there is no such thing as the right moment. If you want to come out, do it for yourself, don’t do it for anybody else. Be real to yourself. Do it for yourself. Own your life. Be truly fully honest with you and have faith in rising above adversity.”

Q: Why do you think National Coming Out day is important?

“Kids deserve to grow up in a world free of homophobic remarks. Kids deserve to grow up in a world free of transphobic, sexist, racist, and separatist views. We can do it. Together. It is possible. I think National Coming Out day is important because I am proud of my queer friends and I want them to never stop feeling proud of who they are.”

Kimberly White, Agent of Change

Self-identified as a queer woman of color / President of Matadors for Equality / Working on her Bachelors in Sociology / Her dream: “My goal is to work on the change I want to see in our communities.”

Q: Who was the first person that you came out to you?

“My best friend: Mario. He is a good guy. Mario is, like, a brother to me because we have known each other for so many years and been through a lot together. We were riding our bikes one day, and we stopped as we were getting to the bottom of the hill, and he said, ‘I want to tell you something: I have these unique feelings for guys and I don’t know what to do about them and I don’t know how to feel about them.’ I told him, ‘That’s okay, I have feelings for some girls and I think it’s just normal.’ I tried to reassure him that it was cool. I was 15 and Mario was 17. Now I’m in college, and we are still best friends. It took him a few years to come out to his parents and when he did, his parents accepted him. He lives now with his boyfriend. His brothers protect him. Everyone is pretty cool with them and Mario is an openly out and proud young gay man.”

Q: …and who was the first person you came out to?

“When I finally accepted that I was gay, I wanted to tell Mario. I called him since he was already out at that point. I told him, ‘I think I’m bisexual’ and he said, ‘Oh cool! I’m proud of you for coming out. You know, I already knew ‘cause of that bike ride. It is nice that you are coming out, Kim.’ And my thinking back then was that I did not need to tell my parents. But during my first year in college, I went home for Thanksgiving and my sister told me that my mother knew about me being ‘gay.’ I asked my sister, ‘How does my mom know?’ My sister’s version of the story was that my sister and a friend were at the mechanic and my mom was there, too. According to her story, there was supposedly a female mechanic who was ‘butch’ and they were talking about the female mechanic and mentioned I was gay [like the mechanic] when my mom suddenly OVERHEARD and asked them, ‘What are you talking about? Who are you talking about? Kim is not gay.’ After my sister told me that story, I thought I should probably just tell my mom. I thought I should just come out. My sister said, ‘No, don’t do it. It’s Thanksgiving. The family is here. Just wait until tomorrow or whatever.’ And then my sister played this joke on me that night. My mom was in the kitchen and we were in the living room. My sister yelled, ‘Mom! one of your daughters is gay!!’ and I asked my sister, ‘Why would you say that??’ I started saying, ‘No! No! Mom, she is just kidding!’ and my sister clarified, ‘I said ONE, NOT WHICH ONE.‘ So, basically I just outted myself. Later on, I talked to my mom and she said that she already knew. Mom also told me that they were at the mechanic when my sister told her that I was gay. So, the part in which my sister said my mom supposedly OVERHEARD the conversation about me being gay did not happen. I came out to Mario first, then to my sisters, and now I am out to my mom and my dad and my whole family knows.”

Q: What happened after you came out?

“My mom knows I am involved with serving and protecting our LGBT communities and is very aware of the queer initiatives I support. My dad is very accepting. My sisters accept me, too. 90% of our friends are gay, it would have been odd if they did not accept me. I am glad my family accepts me and supports me.”

Q: Why do you think National Coming Out Day is important?

“I think it is a very important day for many young people who are not out, for people who are questioning ‘in the closet,’ they can see all these people on National Coming Out Day who are out and feeling free, declaring their freedom and visibility, saying ‘I’m out and proud and I’m here and doesn’t matter my career or my religion or our immigration status, I am finally out!’ and this is why this day matters. It is a day that gives a lot of hope, a lot of great role models and great figures to listen to, to look up to. Once you come out, yeah, there might be some rough times, but it always gets better! Just evaluate your surroundings. Start the process by telling people who you truly trust first. Find a support system and the right moment to tell your parents will come. Make sure you love yourself no matter what and keep in mind honesty is a very important value.”

2 Comments »

  1. Debra Hammond October 13, 2012 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    Very empowering stories that will hopefully help others accept themselves and live the true lives.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Michelle Yee Choi October 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm - Reply

    I seriously get pleasure from your website. You’ve got a few very good issues the following that we such as greatly. We have book-marked the idea to determine my girlfriends as well as household.

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