Written with immense help and words from my lovely cousin, Jase Tilley.
In my parent's home, above my red, wooden mirror in my small, teal-tiled bathroom adorns a sticker. It reads, "in a world where you can be anything... be yourself." A gift from my mother most likely purchased on a whim at the Dollar Tree. It is large and ugly, but its meaning has always lingered dear to my heart.
It is a beautiful sentiment for those who have the means and opportunities to choose their own path in life. When I was younger, I imagined that meant becoming the superhero I always thought I was. As time progressed, the paradox of this sticker left me disheartened.
In 1993, I was born an American citizen in the state of Oklahoma. I wouldn't know this until the hormones kicked in, but I was also born a lesbian -- a part of me that I have not shared with many people. Yes, I did struggle accepting myself for a short period in my adolescence, but a larger part of the reason I have waited until now to come out is because I thought the second I was true to myself would also be the second I would be open to discrimination.
This thought blinded me from the perpetual truth. I damaged not only myself, but possibly other members of the LGBT community by selfishly protecting my personal fear. Morgana Bailey, a human resources activist, gave a TED talk that crippled me. It was poignant, raw and possibly hit me in the most revolutionary, tear-filled moment I have experienced. In it she says:
I'd always told myself there's no reason to share that I was gay, but the idea that my silence has social consequences was really driven home this year when I missed an opportunity to change the atmosphere of discrimination in my own home state of Kansas.
In February, the Kansas House of Representatives brought up a bill for vote that would have essentially allowed businesses to use religious freedom as a reason to deny gays services. A former coworker and friend of mine has a father who serves in the Kansas House of Representatives. He voted in favor of the bill, in favor of a law that would allow businesses to not serve me.
How does my friend feel about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people? How does her father feel? I don't know, because I was never honest with them about who I am. And that shakes me to the core. What if I had told her my story years ago? Could she have told her father my experience? Could I have ultimately helped change his vote? I will never know, and that made me realize I had done nothing to try to make a difference.
For those of you who have known me for a month, a year or a lifetime -- or not at all -- this may come as a surprise to you. The truth is that nothing changes for you. You may temporarily be titillated by the fact that I shared a secret, or confused as to why I am making such a big deal out of something so a couple months ago. Despite the liberal steps forward our country has seen over the last year, discrimination persists. As a result, something so personal, so consequential to ones happiness, becomes a defining characteristic through which our society views you. Instead of being a personal decision, matters of the heart are subject to public scrutiny, with devastating effects on the LGBT community, and the heart of our nation.
In some states there are laws in place justifying discrimination against people like me by hiding behind the guise of "religious freedom." In states like Texas, Indiana, Alabama, Kansas and my home state of Oklahoma, it is legal for someone to fire me, prevent me from adopting children, not approve a home and refuse service because of my sexual orientation.
Plain and simple, there is a chance that I could be legally discriminated against in certain states. There will be no physical or tangible difference post-coming out, yet by admitting a singular part of myself, that lingering risk still remains. I am still the same human being I was before you read this article-except I may be sporting a little more rainbow. So does it really make sense that there are laws protecting people who think there is something wrong with the way I was born and no anti-discrimination laws protecting people like me just because I happen to be attracted to Beyoncé instead of Jay-Z?
I was raised in a Catholic home, attending Catholic schools through high school. I was required to take courses that aligned with the Catholic faith. What I learned in my years as a student from the teachings of Jesus Christ was the opposite of what I see conservative politics claiming they are trying to uphold.
I'm no expert, but it seems like Jesus was a cool dude. He taught about acceptance, love, sacrifice, and service. The bible has a couple verses about homosexuality and hundreds about acceptance. That's like standing in a field of beautiful sunflowers and deciding to pick the only one that is dead and forcing people to smell it.
Although it may be time to get rid of the ugly sticker, the message will finally take shape for me. Today, I finally decide to be me in this world where we can truly be ourselves.