I started volunteering at The Center when I was in my undergraduate program at UCF. I frequented local LGBTQ+ bars and clubs even before I had really come out. One of my first “real” dates with a girl was at Pulse. It was the first time I had ever danced at a club with another woman and not felt ogled and sexualized by straight men for just having fun. It was the first time I ever really felt safe as a bisexual woman in public, that night, years ago, dancing at Pulse.
I came out in stages, first to people I dated, then to friends, then slowly to some co-workers. But not to family. I love my family. They’re wonderful. But for the most part, they are much more conservative than I am, and while I have never really heard them say anything against the LGBTQ+ community, I was scared. My family is very close, my aunt and uncle are more like my second parents and my cousins are more like my siblings. The thought that I could lose them because of my sexuality, or that they would think less of me because of it terrified me, and I couldn’t handle it. So when I dated men, I brought them home and introduced them. When I dated women, I didn’t bring them home at all, or I introduced them as friends. Then I married a man, a wonderful man who knows and understands and supports me and is an advocate and an ally, and that was that.
When I started working for Two Spirit Health Services, Inc., no one in my family was really surprised; I had always been outspoken about my advocacy in the LGBTQ community and my work in the HIV+ community. They didn’t totally understand why my passion was so fierce in those areas, but they respected it and supported me. And then the Pulse massacre happened.
Never have I felt more ashamed of hiding my sexuality than I did that day. I never lied about it, but there were times that I didn’t correct people when they assumed I was straight, or when my mom referred to me as a “straight ally” that I let her. How could I sit in my office and encourage people to be themselves, not to hide, not to live in fear while doing that myself? I felt like a hypocrite. That day, when members of my community lost their lives or were horrifically injured because of that hateful act, I just couldn’t do it anymore. My mom had been texting me to check on me to see if I was okay because she knows how much this community matters to me, and to see if there was any way she could help. I just did it. I came out. She was wonderful, supportive and loving and it changed nothing; if anything, our relationship is better. I then came out on Facebook. Most people knew, but there were some who didn’t and the support was overwhelming. On Father’s Day, I came out to the rest of my family. Again, no one was really surprised and there were lots of hugs and affirmations, not a word of disgust or discontent.
The other night, I was talking with my mom and she referred to me as her “rainbow child.” I laughed, and she said she was serious. She said that the rainbow that had appeared over Lake Eola the night of the vigil one week after the shootings looked exactly like the one that had appeared over Orlando the day that I was born, and that she didn’t think that was a coincidence. She even told me to go look in my baby book, that she had written about that rainbow. She was right: there it was, a letter written more than thirty years ago by my mother, “The Lord gave me rainbows while we were waiting for you.”
Maybe I was always meant to do this. Maybe that rainbow was an announcement of some sort. Or maybe it was just a random rainbow in a city where it rains a lot. I don’t know, but that’s okay. Knowing that I serve a greater purpose, that I serve a community as united, strong and beautiful as ours warms my heart and gives me the strength I need to support those who need it through the days that have passed, and the days to come.