A few weeks ago I attended the Pride festival in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I had been looking forward to it for a few weeks. I wanted to show my support to those who belong to the community. I had a friend I wanted to tag along with me but they were unable to make it. The reason being- they had attempted to commit suicide a week before the event due to them identifying with the LGBTQ+ community. They felt ashamed, as they were surrounded by people who did not show the support they needed. I’m sure there was more to it then that, but I know that is one of the feelings this friend had: shame.
I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of four. My parents or grandparents never shamed me for it, it was part of who I was. They let me know that I had ADHD and they helped me understand how to cope with it and what tools to use in order to be better in the classroom. When I was in the fourth grade, I had a friend, J, who was also ADHD. We were goofballs and loved helping each other find ways to get distracted in the boring classroom. One day, our teacher, Mrs. B, was having a classroom discussion with us. She said, “Raise your hand if you’ve been diagnosed with ADHD,” so, J and I raised our hands. “I remember when my son was diagnosed with ADHD,” she began, “it was so devastating, I cried all week when he was diagnosed…” and she rattled on and on about how ADHD had ruined her life. I was confused and embarrassed. That was the first time I had ever felt ashamed of myself; it was the first time I knew I had to be ashamed of myself.
I remember the first time I was questioned about my sexuality. I attended a private, conservative, Christian school in the 8th grade. As an Autie, I wear my heart on my sleeve. As we were leaving class one day, I told my friend, “See you later! Love you!” and she looked at me bewildered, lowered her voice, and asked, “are you a lesbian?”
“No,” I replied, “Why do you ask?”
“Because,” she said, looking at me, careful judgement in her eyes. “I notice you only hang out with girls and you tell them that you love them.”
Okay, I thought, sorry you live a loveless life and the guys at this school have pea-brains that I can’t stand talking to them.
So, the running “joke” at school was that I was gay.
A few weeks later as I was naively teasing my friends telling them I was gay, Mr. W, screamed at me and said, “Leah Whitehorn! I cannot believe you would say such a thing! What would your mother say if she heard you saying that you were gay?!”
I looked at him, fire coming out of my ears, mad that being “gay” was something I would have to be ashamed about and confess to my parents in the first place. Then I laughed, and spit the words out, “She’d laugh,” I replied to that spineless, arrogant, teacher.
He did not like that reply, and away I went, sent to the principles office.
A few years later, in high school, I attended another small, private school. It wasn’t a Christian school but it was run by Christians.
During class, my principal/teacher often went on rants. She would tell us that gay people became that way because they were molested as children. She also told us about a movie that she went to go see in the theater. She reported that there was a scene where two men started kissing each other. She said she was SO disgusted that she got up and walked out of the movie theater.
The sad thing about this teacher and her stories were that she told these stories with the students she knew were part of the LGBTQ community sitting in her class.
My senior year of high school I joined the LDS church. It kind of felt like “coming out” to family and friends. I know it’s not fair to relate my story in this way, but bear with me. I lost a few friends, and I definitely had a few family members show disappointment in me. I was told “have a nice life” and “you’re going to hell for your decision” and it was a hard time. But, I also had so much support as well.
Then, the church that I loved so much made a official, public statement saying that children of same-sex couples were not allowed to be baptized until they were 18, only after they admitted that their parents relationship was wrong. Their “official” statement rocked my world.
I have family and friends who are dear to my heart that are part of the community that the church was officially showing opposition to. They can preach love and acceptance all that they want but if the actions do not count, I’m not buying it.
So, I wear my rainbow pin to church every chance I get, in hopes that an LDS member of the LGBTQ community sees it and knows they are not alone, they are loved, and they have an ally.
But, I’m also considering changing to a more accepting congregation of church goers.
All of this to say, LGBTQ community, I’m so sorry for the hate that you endure. I understand, to a very small extent, the hate and shame that is aimed your way. Please don’t end your life. If you need someone, I will fight for you. I love you and I will fight for you. Always.