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As Pride Month comes to a close, I asked one of our instructors if we could share an article she had written, because it touched my heart and reflects our tagline, “Changing Minds, for Good.” We want every mind to be able to look at life through the lens of love and light. I know that my mind is growing in that direction–I wasn’t into tire-slashing by any means (that will make sense as you read below), but I was certainly into judging in years past. I’m proud to share this here: 

In my younger years, I never would have imagined that one day I could be spiritual, successful and respected AND live as an openly gay women. Because what I knew to be true as a Christian growing up in Louisiana was that being gay was a taboo. A sin. Something to hide.

I first realized I was a pervert when I was 8. I had a crush on a girl in my class and thought that was normal until I heard the radio announcer say that ‘girls who like other girls’ are freaks of nature and perverts and should be sent off to an island far away. I was devastated. I knew I would never act on it or tell anyone, but I was terrified that others would be able to tell just by looking at me that I was a freak and would send me away. So began my history of being ‘perfect’ so that if anyone ever found out, maybe my being good would save me from being sent away. There was Fear and Devastation – but not Pride.

I first realized I was going to hell when I was 20. I fell in love with a new friend. The night she first kissed me made my heart crack wide open in the loveliest of ways, but it was also one of the most horrifying moments of my life. After years of trying to deny that I was a freak, I finally had proof that I was ‘one of those people’. There was gut wrenching Humiliation and Despair – but not Pride.

I struggled to make sense of the innocent love I had for this woman versus the negative messages I received from everyone around me, including the church. Countless nights I cried myself to sleep asking God to please make me normal. My prayers went unanswered and out of respect for God, who I considered a really good friend, I left the church which I had held so dear. There was Sadness, Loneliness, Abandonment and Confusion – but not Pride.

I spent my twenties living a double life. I was only able to be myself within the confines of my home and in the gay area of town. And I had to lie to everyone close to me. I once attended an event with ~20,000 LBGT folks and over 200 of us had our tires slashed by an anti-gay Christian group. And there were ALWAYS protestors with ugly signs wherever we went. I spent these years soul-searching and coming to grips with my reality. Although I made progress in being ok with me, I was still attached to not making others uncomfortable. There was Shame and Embarrassment and feelings of being Violated and Hated – but not Pride.

The first part of my life was not filled with PRIDE. But along the way, I learned to accept me just as I am. I now find myself in my late forties living a very happy and fulfilled life. My journey did have, at times, excruciatingly painful moments, but now they are but faint memories. When I look back on my journey, I am filled with so much PRIDE.

Having to stand tall in the face of no agreement, I learned I am tenacious, resilient, courageous and strong. In that, there is PRIDE.

In finally getting the courage to come out to my family, I learned what LOVE truly is. Despite my news sending them on their own courageous journey of acceptance (of me and the gay community), what was always present was their unwavering love for me. In that, there is PRIDE.

Starting from a place of nothingness, I had to explore and dig deep to uncover what I believe about a higher power and what sustains me spiritually. I now have a connection to ‘source’ which is stronger than anything that would have simply been ‘handed down’ to me. In that, there is PRIDE.

My journey humbled me. I now have the capacity to be with and embrace others who are on the fringe of what society considers normal. My ability to have compassion and love for ALL of humanity is at a level it would never have been otherwise. In that, there is PRIDE.

In keeping the promise I made to myself in 2001 to never lie again about who I am despite those times when it would have been so much easier to do so, I displayed courage, commitment and honor. In that, there is PRIDE.

For me, PRIDE festivities are more than parades and parties. It’s a time to reflect on, honor and celebrate my journey. And in these moments of reflection, I am filled with PRIDE for who I am, the choices I have made and the challenges I have overcome. For me, it’s a different kind of PRIDE. And it’s definitely a PRIDE worth celebrating!

– Stacy Duhon, Academies Instructor