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My Pride Story

My Pride Story

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Growing up in New York City meant growing up with 8 million other people. No one on the street, block, or apartment building has the same story. Every experience whether it’s sitting in a classroom or going to the corner deli introduces you to someone different. It isn’t just ethnic or cultural diversity that the city is teeming with; intellectual, ideological, sexual, and preferential differences are celebrated. Being exposed to such a wide spectrum of people from a young age has made it very clear to me that while there are different people, they are all equal – black or white, gay or straight.

The question of equality was never really a question to me but a matter of right and wrong. The idea that a group of people couldn’t marry the person they were in love with or adopt a child and start a family together never struck me as something to be debated. Homosexuality never had to be explained because there was nothing strange about it. Some men like women, some like men, simple as that.

When same sex marriage was legalized in the US, it was such a proud moment for me as a citizen of this county. Unfortunately, there are still countries, and even parts of the US that are still against equality but eventually, history will right its course. I am proud to stand with the LGBT community as an ally, as a supporter, and as a friend.

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Entertainment

ANNOUNCING THE 2018 SHOW YOUR PRIDE FILM FESTIVAL

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A Unique Virtual Film Festival Experience At Your Fingertips

NEW YORK, NY – TravelPride and Brand Spankin’ New Media have announced the joint effort to bring to life the 2018 Show Your Pride Film Festival to be held April 19-22, 2018 in their unique designed virtual environment. The four day event will feature short and feature length films in 6 online theaters, an Exhibit Hall for sponsors to showcase their products and services, and a networking lounge with chatrooms and virtual networking opportunities.

“The entire immersive experience is meant to bring the film festival into the living rooms of everyone in the world,” said Robert Coles, founder of TravelPride. “We believe that film makers should have their work seen. This brings people into the theater to view their projects and learn more about their experiences within the industry.”

Panel discussions will take place after each screening with a moderator and select film makers. Additionally, four sponsored panel discussions are scheduled on the following topics: Gender Equality in Film and Television: Past, Present, Future; Women in Cinema: The Unique Feminine Perspective; How to Get Your Screenplay Made: 3 Top Producers Tell All; and Marketing for the Independent Film Maker: Stories of the Hussle.

Additionally, TravelPride and Brand Spankin’ New Media have selected Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE). The mission of SAGE is to lead in addressing issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) aging. In partnership with its constituents and allies, SAGE works to achieve a high quality of life for LGBT older adults, supports and advocates for their rights, fosters a greater understanding of aging in all communities, and promotes positive images of LGBT life in later years.

A portion of the funds earned through ticket sales, submission fees, sponsorships, and donations will also go to LGBTQ news organization TravelPride.org. Their mission: To promote content that encourages the LGBTQ+ community to explore the world without fear of persecution. To provide the LGBTQ+ community a place to share travel ideas and thoughts with one another in a supportive environment. To shine a light on all that we, the LGBTQ+ community have to be PROUD of every day.

Tickets are on sale now for the festival and weekend passes are just $20. To submit your film to the Show Your Pride Film Festival, CLICK HERE. To purchase tickets, CLICK HERE. To learn more about the festival, CLICK HERE.

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For more information: submissions@showyourpridefest.com


Also published on Medium.

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My Pride Story

My Pride Story : Alyssa Skelly

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Oh, snap! The revelation of My Pride Story is familiar to some and new to most. My comfort in being vulnerable seems to be as fluid as sexuality itself. It hasn’t been silky and smooth these past three years, yet I’m grateful for how much I’ve learned about myself in the process. Luckily, this navigation has led me to travelpride.org, and that in itself is something to be proud of!

The Long Way Home

Coming out to my parents was the first big step in my coming out journey. At the time, I was working at a summer camp in North Carolina and at the ripe age of eighteen. I didn’t have much cellular service, so I did what so many young, struggling LGBTQ+ individuals resort to: I wrote a letter. My letter began with confidence because the Supreme Court had just ruled in favor of Same-Sex marriage. My letter ended with, “Life is good and I love you.” In between these two segments was a scrambling of words detailing my then-relationship with a girl and my definition of sexuality. While a handful of my coworkers and friends knew of and supported my relationship, including my siblings, my parents were shocked. I had dated a boy for over a year in high school and this recent news didn’t seem to add into the equation. In addition, I failed to give them any resources or outlets to help them process.

Silence. Neither of my parents responded for over a month, until they rolled up streetside in West Asheville to take me back to our humble abode in Maryland. My mother was already crying when she stepped out of the car to see me. I knew that the eight hour drive was going to get real, and there was no escaping the moments that followed.

I was told for at least two hours about how terrible this ‘decision’ was, as if I could change this part of myself. As if sexuality was controlled like choosing coffee or tea in the morning. Words like ‘selfish’ and ‘gross’ stung harshly in my ear canals. I was told that this kind of lifestyle would ruin the family, abolish any chances of a heavenly afterlife, and threaten my future employment opportunities.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t continue to live out this car ride in my mind, even after digesting the events with a therapist for over a year. Every time I submit a job application, I have to shove down my anxieties of possible discrimination. I have deep-seated guilt for being unable to bring a partner to my hometown or to a family event. Even further, I’ve had to work incredibly hard to accept and forgive, especially because so much of what my parents said to me was worthless dialogue that they had learned from others. They possess deep love for me, yet they were speaking from a place of fear. As a gay person, I knew exactly what that fear felt, looked, and tasted like. By the time we pulled into the driveway, I knew that I had to learn to love all parts of myself, even if others chose not to.

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ~Rumi

The Original Gender Neutral Restroom

The summer camp that I mentioned became a place of acceptance, a second home to me. This was slightly uncomfortable, as the governor of North Carolina proposed the House Bill 2 Bathroom Discrimination Bill (HB2). Yet, here I worked, openly dating a woman and interacting with campers of all ages to complete backpacking trips and activities. It was a confusing disposition, and I had to navigate being the first gay person that some young adults had ever met while being a professional and human being.

The frequent outdoor opportunities often distracted me from the internal conflict of my identity. I was being paid to tell corny riddles and lead hikes in Pisgah National Forest, a true dream in my opinion. This area is beautiful! The most prominent discrimination that I experienced among the forest had to do with my identified gender, as women still struggle to gain the respect of rugged outdoorsmen. However, it was on a particular trail known as the Art Loeb that I finally made the connection to my sexuality:

Ironically, while the bathroom bill was creating a lot of unnecessary turmoil, I was squatting and peeing in an unlabeled, ~au naturel~ bathroom in the woods with no contention. Nature is organically queer. Biodiversity is queer. The several variations of plants, animals, watersheds, and trails, which include differences in reproduction, growth, and maturation, proves that humans are not as unique as we want to believe. Queerness can be natural, I thought; a previously unattainable truth to me.

It is when we resist the exploration of ourselves that we are most unnatural. And by the time I stepped off of the trail, I realized that only two years after losing support from some family and friends that I had found my love for myself.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~Anaïs Nin

One Degree Later

Ah, college. A time of irresponsibility and so many free things. Like most students, I had some difficulty balancing my home life, my growth, and my academic responsibilities within my social context. My parents separated for some time, I transferred schools, and financial liability was a very stressful subject.

I began at a small, private university in Winchester, Virginia, where I was studying Biology and Psychology and participating in a Christian Leadership program. I had gained massive interest in religion following my relationship with said high school boyfriend, as he dumped me to pursue his life as a Jehovah’s Witness. My family’s background is in Christianity, and we attended church semi-regularly during my childhood. During my freshman year, I participated in the Interfaith Unity Walk in Washington D.C., attended a Methodist conference in Denver, and read both the Old and New Testament. It was here that I met some of the most influential and powerful people in the theological realm, yet I still couldn’t connect to a form of deity. Especially because religion has been used so often to persecute and abolish what my life looks like, I continue to wrestle with the concept.

Then I transferred. A bigger, public state university in Harrisonburg, Virginia allowed me to better understand myself and others. I focused on my degree in Psychology and worked incredibly hard to secure independence. While this was going on, I had some serious frustration with the drama and hyperbolic state of the college life. I’m not much of an alcohol consumer, and I have always found myself more interested in genuine conversation with caring people than grinding in a sweaty fraternity house. The first option is offered much less at a school like James Madison, so I found my solitude in small groups and authentic friendships when they appeared. I solidified a number of incredible and formative commitments and was challenged and pushed to be the best person that I could be.

I tried some Tinder dates, some long distance relationships, and for a while only referred to these women as ‘friends’ to my peers. I would walk away from conversations and beat myself up for not having been honest, for not just saying that I am “talking” to a lady friend or interested in dating a girl. Fear is an untamed beast to the soul, so I finally flipped the script beginning at the end of my sophomore year. In coming out and staying out, I began to understand how suffocating the ‘L’ and ‘Q’ of LGBTQ can feel. I consider my sexuality to be a trait, like being born with dark hair or hazel eyes, why didn’t others? I would forget that some may consider this worth hatred or discrimination, and therefore quickly learned the importance of self-care to curb my worries of stereotypes or reduction.

Working at various counseling internships and the LGBT and Ally Center reconstructed many notions for me. I received education on this community and minority identities, realizing that every chance to appreciate my individuality is absolutely worthwhile. My love for myself began to flourish and it was during this time that I urgently wanted to reflect this motivation out for others. While I hadn’t found them yet, I decided in my junior year of college that I would take my education and pursue the avenues which inspired, educated, and empowered those who had been marginalized, silenced, and vulnerable.

“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” ~Anonymous

“There is freedom waiting for you, on the breezes of the sky, and you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, what if you fly?” ~Erin Hanson

From Eyes to Ears to Mouth

It wasn’t until the beginning of this year, upon visiting the Art AIDS America exhibit in the Alphawood Gallery of Chicago, that I learned to trust the magnitude of my voice. Each footstep around this gallery was accompanied with a loud, clanging bell noise that rang every three minutes. With each ring, a vibrant ‘SILENCE = DEATH’ sign would brighten, posterizing the logo and efforts of a 1987 project of six gay activists responding to the AIDS epidemic. As I took my steps out of this gallery, having viewed uncomfortable and direct artwork that responded to AIDS and the perceptions of homosexuality in the early 1980s, I made the choice to omit silence as an option for my identity as a Queer Woman.

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.” ~Sigmund Freud

The Present

Since visiting the Arts AIDS America exhibit in January, I have made significant changes to align who I think I am and who I appear to be. I’ve branched out to explore community resources, such as the LGBT Community Center in New York and the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community. I sacrificed my wavy, blonde hair to my past and adopted a more GQ style. It’s amazing to look into the mirror and feel more like myself; it’s difficult to receive judgment for rocking the cut. I experienced and let go of a partnership with a woman who encouraged me to become a more active advocate and intellectual. I’ve continued conversations with my family and friends so that we may understand our different perspectives. I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree, which caused me to deplete my ego and gather knowledge on issue and privilege. I generated international travel plans to experience the community in South America and got an offer to work for TravelPride. Both of these risks forced me to challenge any leftover, unopened silence and pursue artistic forms of happiness.

With all that is happening in the world, there are days that I wake up in fear of my own self, in fear of religiosity, in fear of limitations, in fear of becoming silent. Sometimes I get lonely and feel isolated from the world and myself. This journey is not always easy. There will always be toughness, especially for those with intersectional identities or unusual circumstance. Yet among the pain and the bruises, there exists strength and endurance. It is a journey worth making. It may take a long time, but we must hug these discomforts into our chests. Let them bury into our spines to stand taller and look farther ahead. The trials of my life have directly benefitted my emotional fluency and sense of self, and have led me to become more empathetic, aware, and passionate.

While said so often, it’s all worth saying again: You deserve to be heard and to be loved, especially by yourself. You truly do matter. You’re the only person like you. So never compromise who you are. Even when you feel so small and insignificant, you are part of a bright, colorful, embracing community that supports you and wants you to experience your best self.

I am so incredibly grateful to be a part of travelpride.org and to share this space with you. Being able to describe My Pride Story is an immense privilege, one that some of our friends, brothers, and sisters of the LGBTQ+ community have never and will never be able to do. Thank you for taking the time to read and understand where my heart has been pulled and stretched, and let’s continue to be a part of the change, together.

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” ~Kurt Vonnegut

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My Pride Story – Steph Schwartz

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A Quest for Happiness

When I was younger, there were many women in TV shows and movies that I found I deeply admired. They were so strong and powerful and beautiful; as a nerdy, frizzy-haired, bookish child, it wasn’t surprising that I would look up to them or want to be them. They were so attractive and wanted by others–especially men–and I knew that that’s what I wanted as well.

Or so I thought.

The Curse of Heteronormativity

Heterosexuality was forced on me, there’s no doubt about that. I was raised in a family that adored reading and movies, and so I was exposed to a very specific sort of romance, where a boy and a girl crushed on each other, and then eventually kissed and confessed their love, usually with a lot of drama and stress and miscommunication in between. This was the only right way to date, as far as I could tell.

So that’s what I tried, for a while. I had crushes on boys, and they almost never crushed back, but that was okay, because in all the books I read the nerdy girl always found someone, eventually, as soon as she discovered makeup and contacts and pretty clothes. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it in myself to actually want to pursue those things, though. Out of laziness, probably. But I kept crushing on boys, determined to have the romantic ending that I had read and dreamed about.

Fake it ‘Til You Make It

It took me far too long to realize that something about those crushes and my few subsequent relationships with boys felt forced. I was trying too hard to replicate the feelings and actions I read about or had seen in movies. I was also finally old enough to realize that my “admiration” for the women I saw on TV was maybe a more similar feeling to the crushes I was supposed to have on my male classmates.

I resolutely ignored this realization. I was already a weird enough kid, what with the constant reading and general nerdiness. I didn’t need this other odd thing layered on top of it. I’d never heard of girls liking other girls before, and I didn’t need or want to be the one who had this strange attraction.

But then, in high school, I was introduced to the term ‘bisexuality.’ It was life changing! Suddenly, I could experience both the attraction I was supposed to have, to men, and have this attraction I had never really heard of before, to women. It was perfect. I felt as though I belonged somewhere, finally.

And Love is Love is Love…Cannot Be Killed or Swept Aside
(Lin Manuel Miranda, 2016)

Fast forward to college. I had fairly recently broken up with the last guy I would ever date, and, not for the first time, I was thinking hard about my romantic feelings towards men. Something about my relationships, especially that last one, just wasn’t sitting right with me. Everything that I had read or seen about what I was supposed to experience in a relationship just wasn’t happening for me, no matter how hard I tried. I knew that it was right and proper and socially acceptable to be attracted to and date men; why was it so difficult for me to fit in like that?

It was in the midst of this identity crisis that I was introduced to someone who is now one of my best friends–a lesbian.

I honestly do not know if I had ever heard the word “lesbian” before college. If I had, I probably would have had less of an identity crisis. But meeting my friend made me realize that there was this sexuality, and it existed, and, more importantly, it was okay. I didn’t have to be attracted to men. My attraction to women was totally validated. Finally, after years of confusion and self-doubt, I had a label and a community.

This realization, along with meeting other friends of various sexualities and genders, has led me to a place of personal acceptance and pride in who I am and who I love. I am allowed to be who I am, and no one can tell me otherwise. I can only hope that one day, girls like me won’t have to go through the same doubt and confusion that I had to, and know from the beginning that they are valid, perfect, and accepted.

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