I cannot imagine how my younger, closeted self would have reacted to an eight-foot-tall portrait of me draped in a rainbow flag. Terror, shock, and confusion would be at the tip of that emotional iceberg. However, five years after coming out, I embraced this opportunity. Last October, I stood proud before the Portraits of Pride Boston exhibit. Despite one heckler’s shouts, joy, excitement, and gratitude engulfed me.
For my portrait, I had the opportunity to choose a caption describing what pride means to me. Reflecting on my journey with my sexuality throughout the last decade, I chose the following words:
Pride means embracing your true, authentic self and loving others for who they are.
To me, pride is a challenge to accept yourself and others fully. Pride is something to be cherished and celebrated all year round. But it can come with a complicated past and uncertain future.
Growing up, I encountered very few “out” members of the LGBTQ+ community. This lack of visibility limited how I understood my sexuality. As a child, I thought of sexuality as a binary. I struggled to find my place in the two-choice multiple-choice quiz of “gay or straight.”
In college, I finally confronted the complexities of my identity head-on. I worked at Y2Y Harvard Square Shelter in 2017 and met countless out-and-proud young people who were kicked out of their homes because of how they identified. Despite the challenges forced upon them, the shelter guests I met remained proud of their identities. Moreover, these amazing young people introduced me to drag, taught me about pansexuality, and created space for me to be myself. Working with them, I also learned that 40% of young adults experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ+ across the United States.
Inspired by my LGBTQ+ peers experiencing homelessness, I came out as pansexual in early 2018. While I lost some friends, the most important people, including my family, embraced and celebrated my openness. This was a potent reminder of my privilege. Family conflict is one of the leading causes of young adult homelessness because some families choose bigotry over love.
While volunteering at Y2Y with my classmate Tony Shu, the two of us noticed the same faces returning again and again. These young people were stuck in a cycle of not having the job security they needed to maintain housing and not having the housing security they needed to remain stably employed.
Tony and I co-founded Breaktime in 2018 to break this cycle of young adult homelessness. For the last five and a half years, we have empowered hundreds of young adults with the job and financial security they need to obtain and maintain housing security.
The experience of building and scaling Breaktime has helped me feel more prideful about my own identity. Pride requires a daily battle between unconditional love and internalized shame. Surrounded by LGBTQ+ staff and Associates every day, love wins.
Reflecting on my young, closeted self, I wish he knew to love the parts of him that were different and confusing. Every young person deserves the support they need to embrace their true, authentic self and love others for who they are. I hope Breaktime can make this possible for thousands of more young people.