The weather spectacular, the many smiles were filled with joy and anticipation. We were ready for the parade to start at 1pm to ease our excitement. Many of us volunteered weeks ago and now we were eager to walk beside the company float while passing out white sunglasses with rainbow Coca-Cola bottles aligned across their sides, cardboard fans that matched our t-shirts, and mini cans of Diet Coke. We spent the last couple of hours in fellowship, dancing to the music of the DJ stationed on the parade float. It was time to take the two-mile route down West Peachtree to 10th Street for the 2015 Atlanta Pride.
As the first float led the way, we were met with cheering participators on the sidewalks holding babies, cameras, balloons, and rainbow flags. When they saw us with miscellaneous merchandise, they reached out with their available hands. Some tried to negotiate their freebies, “Can I have those sunglasses?” “Do you have the REAL coke?” and “Can I have the T-Shirt you’re wearing?” It was an enchanting moment walking in the center of a commonly busy street, witnessing thunderous yelling, cheering, and dancing. People were overjoyed, they were proud to celebrate their gay friends, family, and themselves. It didn’t matter what gifts we gave them, they were just happy we were showing our support as a company and representing their triumph in Equality. This was a sentimental moment for me because I shared the same perspective of the boisterous crowd. It didn’t hit me until I came to realize I was making a statement, while following a red convertible representing the LGBT resource group that I hold continuous membership in the company that pays my bills. The statement was my freedom and truth as a Gay Black Man. This month and this year mark a decade since I came out the closet to my mother. I could only rejoice on how far I’ve come and the amount of freedom I exuded in that very moment.
10 years ago, I was nineteen years old and a freshman in college. I was fearful of living on campus, so I elected to stay home with my parents for undergrad. I worked part-time at a now defunct clothing store, Anchor Blue, and I was navigating the inner workings of the gay community—with a level of discretion. My closest friends were gay and some of my high school acquaintances knew I was a same-gender loving guy. By this time, my mom was very suspicious and began asking me questions concerning my lack of girlfriends or even the mention of a woman. I was terrified to tell her as I thought I knew her unchanging thoughts on homosexuality. It definitely didn’t help that her brother and best friend died of AIDS in 1990. This left a bad taste in the mouths of my family. My mother wasn’t overtly homophobic, but I knew she felt “it wasn’t right” and it “went against the Bible”. This created a fear for most of my childhood and teen years because I loved my mother deeply and she loved me. The thought of losing that love and respect crippled me and made me as private as possible. But one day, it just happened.
My mother knocked on my bedroom door, frustrated after getting off a call with a family member. This particular person found her 6-year-old son and his cousin showing each other their penises. She allegedly panicked and whipped (spanked) the child mercilessly because she didn’t want him to be Gay. Upon hearing this, I grew furious, as I knew this was out of pure ignorance and a child was unreasonably disciplined for his simple discovery of self and others. Oddly enough, my mother shared my view on this and we ended up talking each other down to a much calmer place. In this sacred moment, I felt a level of comfort around her, prompting a rare and fleeting courage inside my heart. Before I changed my mind, I told her I was Gay and that’s why I was deeply hurt by the story she shared with me.
She grew awkwardly quiet and put her face in to her palms. She replied, “I feel like this is my fault… I should’ve done more to prevent this…sports or something”. I interrupted with “there isn’t a sport, action, or activity that could’ve changed this.” She had tears in her eyes but stayed calm, never breaking eye contact. We talked for nearly 4 hours; I described my journey and she revealed she knew about my sexuality since I was in middle school. Someone whom I confided told her parents and they relayed the information to my mother. She never confronted me, because she didn’t know how, but she grew stricter on my outside activities. I found it odd, that all of a sudden, I couldn’t spend the night at my friends’ houses; go to football games and dances unless certain friends she trusted were there. She often hid behind the “I just want you safe” excuse, which was true, but she also had other motives. She somehow thought it was phase that would go away with time but that never happened.
In the weeks to follow, I was able to have conversations with my mom that broke many of her deeply held beliefs about gay men and women. She was so baffled that I still had straight friends who accepted me as I was; she was also amazed at the masculinity of some guys who she never would’ve believed were homosexual. She also got to witness that loving relationships can exist between the same sex and it wasn’t sexual deviance. We held difficult discussions about safe sex and HIV/AIDS; parents never want to imagine their children having sex and when you add same sex attraction to that, well, you get the idea.
I’m sure this sounds progressive, it was for the most part, but sometimes her fear would get the best of her and cause disputes between us. I’d come home late and she’d assume I was being ganged raped or leaving a bathhouse orgy (Not yet, mom, not yet). I was into clubbing at the time but if I came home late she’d say, “I hope you’re being safe”. She eventually trusted I could handle myself responsibly and became more in tuned to my emotional well being as I dated men. I remember my first intense relationship and its unfortunate ending. I came home one evening, somber, after being rejected and insulted by someone I loved. I sat on the couch next to her and she said, “Tell me who I have to kill, Kevin”. It didn’t matter what sex I was dating, it was the hurt I was dealing with that she wanted to ease. She would check on me often for the next few weeks and often express her desire for me to find someone who would treat me right, preferably someone who wasn’t “afraid of their own reflection”, that’s how she referred to closeted and DL men.
Before I knew it, my sexuality was no longer a discussion in our home. My mom’s zodiac sign was a Leo and she owned it to her core. She became very protective over me and kept guard. She wouldn’t tolerate people saying negative things about me and if someone even mentioned my name in a more than soft volume, she read them for absolute filth. I was amazed that her love for me exceeded her own belief system. She transitioned from “you know what the Bible says about that” to “only God has the right to judge and I got my own stuff to worry about”. She began telling me she loved me every day — this wasn’t common— and I thought it was over the top at times, but I’m glad she did. When she passed away in 2012, those continuous statements were stored in my heart and it doesn’t take much for me to tap in and know how blessed I was to have a parent like her.
Since I’ve moved to the South, I’ve heard some terrible Coming- Out stories. There are people who aren’t in communication with their families now because of their “lifestyles”, some abused, rejected, and thrown into the streets. My heart cries out to those unfortunate journeys, it also makes me appreciate my mother and my father, who found out about me later and didn’t flinch. My parents’ acceptance gave me a sense of freedom and allowed me to live a bold life that is still in tact to this day. Here I am, an Openly Gay African American Man living in his complete truth. I can walk fearlessly among a parade of onlookers and be extremely proud about who I am as person.
I’ve been out the closet so long that my sexuality isn’t even a topic of discussion. There are the occasional blind, deaf, or plain oblivious people who may still ask me if I’m Gay—I was publically engaged to a man for god’s sake, how on earth did they miss that?
My point is…It Gets Better. Coming Out is a process that each individual must choose on their on time, if they decide to come-out at all. As for me, I’m glad I got it out the way in my teens because it alleviated my fears, allowed me to get rid of those conditional-homophobic bible-thumping friends, and it opened the door to genuine people who loved me for me. I’m living my best life because I live in my truth. This same truth is why I am genuinely happy and authentically peaceful. I wish the same for you. Happy PRIDE!