I SEE YOUR TRUE COLORS SHINING THROUGH
The month of June, for me, is usually celebrated with great joy, as people from all walks of life come together in the name of love to celebrate PRIDE Month. First established in June of 1999 as Gay and Lesbian Pride month, the movement has grown to encompass the entire LGBTQIA+ community’s evolution around the world, resulting in outdoor celebrations and parades featuring millions of people vibrantly sharing truly unique colors against the grey backdrops of most city centers worldwide.
These city centers, instead of being the stage of one of the world’s most joyous celebrations, are today under siege, and, sadly, they need to be. Instead of rainbow banners, signs read “I Can’t Breathe” while others read “BLACK LIVES MATTER” as hordes of emotional protesters make their voices heard. Our country is suffering today more than ever before, it seems. We are all struggling with the new challenges that COVID-19 has brought to our health and economy and the true realization that systemic racial inequality is real. The horrific murder of George Floyd has magnified lifelong struggles of racism, hatred, and violence. At times it can feel all too much to understand. We all want to do something but may not even know where to begin. For me, it has started with an awareness and a desire to learn as much as I can about everything that is broken in our system so I that can make an impact in both my personal and professional worlds.
I have to say, my heart feels torn apart. I’ve witnessed what the immediate impact of COVID-19 has done to my beloved hospitality industry. I have stood by clients, friends and employees suffering from the emotional, physical, and economic outcomes the pandemic has brought on. I have been obsessed with the continued mistreatment of the black community and the protests themselves. We all wake up every day to try and fight the good fight only to ask the question, what does winning really look like? Yet, while the world is indeed opening up slowly (hopefully safely) and our eyes have also been widely opened to the systematic struggles that black people face in our country, it seems we truly are only at the beginning of the battles ahead of us.
One magnificent beauty of the resilient hospitality/media community of entrepreneurs, innovators, dreamers, and doers that I love so much is the ability to take action and share information that may help others. Below are a few of the top resources and funds that have been shared by EATER, the James Beard Foundation, Thrillist, and Bob Cut Magazine among others. They are great to reference if you would like to find a way to learn more, participate, contribute and protest peacefully.
PRIDE IS MORE THAN A PARADE – IT’S A PASSION
All this said, I still have genuine pride in our country and my community. I have a need to celebrate what being gay means to me. I believe that if any community can seek to understand what black people have endured in this country, it is the gay community. I feel it is my duty to speak up, too; not just for myself and the LGBTQ community, but also for my hospitality community, my Jewish community, my San Francisco community and for marginalized communities everywhere. I was truly touched by Senator Scott Weiner’s quote while explaining the reasoning for cancelling San Francisco’s Pride event this year:
“Let’s never forget even in our moments of celebration, massive work lies ahead to create a world of justice and equity for all. And, even in our deepest despair, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, as long as we’re willing to fight to get there.”
To this end, if you will indulge me, I am proud to share my journey of discovering the real me. And while it was very tough at times, I’d like to give you permission to laugh, if even just a little bit. We must always remember that with all the challenges that life presents us with, humor and love are very crucial to our sanity and even our survival. So, I invite you to get your grin going, and be ready to turn it into a giggle.
MY COMING OUT STORY
Many of my friends and I have shared our coming out stories and let me tell you, for quite a few of us that closet was tightly closed for a very long time. For me – it took till I was 30 (just a few short years ago) to finally break free. As many of you know, my wonderful mom Gerry passed away when I was just 19. She was my very best friend and my protector. I believe she knew I was gay all along (most moms do) and always covered for me. Like the time when I was obsessed with going with her to the beauty parlor and sitting under the dryer, or when I was insistent on picking out her outfits every day when I was just eight years old. Of course, she gloried at my passion for the divas and we sang show tunes together daily. My favorite was our now famous duet of “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Yes, my mom’s motto for life was “don’t let anyone rain on your parade” and while I tried to live that way, once she died, everything changed.
Unfortunately, my dad didn’t understand it all and really pushed me to be the kind of man he envisioned his son to be. I believe now he was trying to protect me in some way. He and my mom were called into school quite often (middle school and high school were the toughest years) because I was being bullied or I was refusing to take gym (I was so scared, but I also really wanted to take home economics in its place). After my mom died, things got worse –so I snuck deeply into the closet and stayed there for the next 12 years. There were women, sports, and manly activities, but honestly, I knew who I was, and I was becoming more aware, getting stronger, and my secret life was getting emotionally out of control. I knew what I had to do, and I also knew I could lose my family and friends in the process. On the eve of my 30th birthday, Michael, my then boyfriend (very handsome, I might add) gave me an ultimatum – come out, acknowledge me to your family and start leading a public life or I’m out of here. That very night, I broke the news to Ricky and Heidi (my brother and sister-in-law). I will never forget Heidi dropping the phone and screaming to my brother – “I knew it!! He’s gay!” My brother’s reaction was a bit politically incorrect, but I knew in my heart he loved and accepted me. Next was my dad — sadly, that didn’t go so well. He told me he couldn’t embrace my lifestyle and didn’t talk to me for almost 10 years.
The next night at my fabulous 30th birthday party, I came out to the world and introduced Michael to everyone. In one moment, my secret was out and the euphoria I felt was incredible. What had been my problem was now the problem of anyone who didn’t support me, and honestly, I knew they wouldn’t be in my life very much longer. Sadly, Michael and I parted ways about a year later, but I will always be grateful to him.
Now, looking back on the last 25 plus years (trying to avoid telling you how old I am), I believe being a proud gay man has enhanced my life in ways I could have never imagined. I have a wonderful career, the respect of my peers and a family and friend group that continues to show me unconditional love and support.
And I now have the unique honor of being the Uncle/Dad to another proud and successful gay man – my nephew, Zach, who came out to us about two years ago. Putting it quite simply – he is an awesome person who I love with all my heart. (His mom is incredible as is his straight brother, too).
Each of us has a unique story and something about us that we struggle with, live with, or hope to overcome. It takes amazing courage to be who you are meant to be – whether it is your sexual orientation, your race, your religion or so many other things. Sometimes a very loving reminder that we are supported and we are accepted is just what we need to keep going. As world tension continues and the strains between us become even more real – a smile, a hug (yep, I’m still going to hug you) or a simple word like PRIDE – can bring us together. I am proud to know each and every one of you. I will continue to march passionately forward for all my causes. And on that note, remember the role you play in every life you touch, and be gentle.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
With empathy, solidarity, light, love, and PRIDE,
P.S. — We are proud to be included in The San Francisco Business Times’ Annual Top Fifty LGBTQ Owned Businesses for the 8th year. This year we ranked number 22! On behalf of the hard working team at af&co., we couldn’t be prouder.