I didn’t come out of the closet until I was 24 years old. I had told my parents, a sibling, and a few close friends before then that I was gay. But otherwise, it was a terrifying secret I buried deep inside myself, only to come out when the shame and guilt it festered were too much to handle.
Shortly after I turned 24, I was living in Philadelphia for my first-year legal summer internship. Despite still being in the closet, I had cracked the door a bit so I could play my “gay card” and score a diversity scholarship through the American Bar Association to intern with a federal magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court in Camden, N.J. There aren’t many situations more diverse than being a gay law student from Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School — a fact that was underscored with each and every double-take from those who had just heard where I was studying law.
Those four months were the second of a two-part learning experience in my process to deciding the future of my life. I had previously explored the path of remaining in the closet and, with a goal of remaining faithful to my childhood rearing in the LDS Church, either living a life of celibacy or trying to pursue a mixed-orientation marriage. The summer of 2013 was when I would flip the coin, exploring a potential life outside the closet where I could pursue love and happiness while being true to those innate feelings I had experienced since I was a young teenager.
Without going into a full accounting of that summer (suffice it to say that it was one of the best summers of my life), so it was that I found myself on a Sunday morning in the middle of June on the side of the road as the annual Philadelphia Pride Parade was passing by. The only other people I knew in this large East coast city were my newly-engaged fellow intern and the roommate I had found on Craigslist (who I had recently discovered had been less-than-honest about the bedbug-free state of the room I was renting from him). So there I was, by myself, standing behind rows of hundreds of people stretched out on the sidewalks as far as I could see in either direction.
But as I was standing there in a BYU Law t-shirt, surrounded by rainbows, unicorns, and glitter, I didn’t feel alone. As the corporate floats, sequined drag queens, and scantily clad go-go boys all passed by, I cheered and yelled. But I’m embarrassed to say, that as I was standing there on Market Street with Independence Hall in the distance, the main thing I was doing was crying. I had tears streaming down my face off and on for over an hour because it was in that moment that I finally felt self-acceptance of my queerness for the first time in my life.
I’m not sure that I can go as far as to say that I was proud to be gay at that moment in time. But seeing members of Philadelphia’s LGBT community showing their pride out loud without apology — something I had never before seen in my life — planted the seeds in my being that have eventually grown into a sturdy sense of pride for who I am. I’m happy to say that this moment led me to come out of the closet later that year and I’ve never looked back.
The following summer, I found myself back on the East Coast for my second-year summer internship. This time I was in New York City, living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, while working in lower Manhattan as a legal intern for the LGBT Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. As part of the conditions set by BYU Law for my internship there, I was barred from working on any of the gay marriage appeals that were then the big stars of the civil rights universe. However, I had the distinct pleasure of helping though my own small efforts to advance LGBTQ equality in other areas, such as transgender access to health treatment in prison and the adoption of children by gay and lesbian couples.
It may have been partly from the rewarding work I was involved with at the ACLU, but over the course of the summer of 2014, I fell in love with that huge, bustling city of concrete and steel. And as a shy, quiet introvert, I was admittedly surprised by the extent to which I thrived amid the constant pulsating energy of the millions of residents and tourists exploring at all hours the endless events and attractions strewn across every neighborhood of the city. With an endless buffet of restaurants, clubs, museums, and musicals from which to choose, I took full advantage of my summer in the Big Apple and it became another entry in the list of “one of the best summers of my life.”
The neighborhood I probably visited most often that summer was Greenwich Village. A “Salty Pimp” cone from the Big Gay Ice Cream shop quickly became my go-to treat on those hot, humid summer days I spent exploring. Only a few steps away was Marie’s Crisis, the small piano bar which quickly became the place where my weekends began. All my cares would melt away with each hour I spent loudly singing along to showtunes in that bar that was always packed to the walls.
I also found myself on these narrow streets of Greenwich Village on a warm afternoon in the middle of June. I had joined my fellow interns to march with the ACLU in the New York City Pride Parade, a monstrosity of a spectacle that takes hours to wind its way through the towering concrete valley of 5th Avenue down to its terminus on Christopher Street in front of the historical Stonewall Inn. After taking a quick moment to fangirl over Edie Windsor, who briefly joined to march alongside the organization representing her in the case that would only weeks later establish a federal right of marriage for same-sex couples, I took the opportunity to bask in the history and meaning of the place where I now stood.
Before that moment, I felt like I knew the history of the people of color, drag queens, gay men, and all the others who on that night decided to fight back against the discrimination they were facing in the spaces they had made their own. But it wasn’t until that moment that I really felt that history become my own history. The decades of struggles suddenly felt real and palpable. That day, I stood upon the shoulders of countless individuals who through their riots and marches had made our parade possible. I was filled with pride for the community who had come before me, trailblazing the paths to tolerance and acceptance. And I was filled with a newfound pride to have been marching alongside the lawyers and activists who had dedicated their lives to continuing that fight for equality.
Each Pride I have attended over the past few years have continued to build upon those seminal experiences I had during my two summers while in law school. While in Washington, D.C. in 2016, I proudly celebrated the historic advances our community has gained over the past few years. Only two weeks later, I was dancing in the streets of San Francisco, taking pride in the extent to which our community had captured the desire of corporate America to share in our Pride celebrations.
But nothing compares to the anticipation and excitement that builds over the days and weeks leading up to the Utah Pride Festival each summer. Utah Pride may not have the biggest parade or the flashiest headliners. But it fills me with pride to see drag queens and scantily-clad go-go boys marching their way through downtown Salt Lake City only blocks from the Utah State Capitol and the headquarters of the LDS Church, just as they do through the streets of San Francisco and New York City. I’m proud of the politicians who unabashedly stand up to represent our community or act as our allies in the halls of government, as well as the organizations who continue to advocate for our rights in those same halls despite setbacks and frustrations. I’m proud to accept a hug from the courageous Mormons marching in their Sunday best who have chosen the belief that it is much better to build bridges than continue sowing division. And most importantly, I’m simply proud to be able to be myself here in my community of Salt Lake City — the place I now call home.
To those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer, whether here in Salt Lake City, Provo, New York City, or San Francisco, and to our allies, whether family members, politicians, corporate CEO, or friends, I sincerely hope you have a fabulous LGBTQ Pride Month! May we all continue to take pride in ourselves and our community, in how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go. I know I will.