There are many different kinds of pride. There’s the pride we feel in a job well done. There’s the pride that swells in our chest when we talk about where we’re from. And, perhaps most importantly, there’s the pride we experience when we can live as our authentic selves, when we feel free to express our gender and sexuality in a way that truly defines us, that shows the world our truest selves without fear of repercussion.
For many people, sadly, this pride does not exist. And it’s not because they don’t want it to. Who wouldn’t want to feel secure in the knowledge of who they are and unafraid to let others see them? But there are factors that work against it. Maybe they’re not yet out to their loved ones and are afraid of what their reactions might be. Maybe the area in which they live isn’t safe for nonconformist expressions of self. Or maybe they don’t have this sense of pride in who they are because they have never been afforded the opportunity due to limitations that have been (often unfairly) placed on them.
These are the people I have always tried to reach: those for whom pride in self has been the hardest. As a trans man of color who has worked with the LGBT community since 2007, I have found fulfillment working with the most vulnerable among us, providing mental health services for marginalized populations affected by poverty, racial issues, mental illness, substance abuse, physical illness, and homelessness—those for whom pride takes a back seat to more pressing concerns such as adequate housing, employment, and medical care or simply getting through the day.
While California is among the most progressive states in the nation, I believe we can do better in addressing the needs of these members of the LGBT community who are less visible, who face challenges in their lives that keep them from achieving this sense of pride. And while I chip away at it every day, it’s an issue that really needs to be addressed on a larger scale. Until we are all seen, until we all can come out into the light, none of us are truly free. And that means accepting each and every one of us not just for our gender and sexuality expressions but for all of our challenges, for all of our mental and physical health issues, for our disabilities, and for the many obstacles we encounter on a day-to-day basis over and above the challenge we all face to live as our authentic selves.
This is not something a handful of people can do alone. It is a disparity our entire community must address. And I can think of no better ally to have than The California Endowment in creating all-inclusive, welcoming, and safe community environments in which we can all feel empowered to have pride in ourselves not just for one designated month out of the year, but all the time.