National Coming Out Day has me thinking about all that has gone on this past year and how so much of my past has made me stronger in my present. Spirit Day is also coming up on October 17th. For those of you that don’t know, Spirit Day is an annual LGBTQ awareness day observed on the third Thursday in October. It was initially created in response to a rash of widely publicized bullying-related suicides of gay students. GLAAD has since been a leader in helping spread the awareness each year by encouraging millions of Americans to wear purple. National Coming Out Day and Spirit Day have both given me reasons to pause, and think about my own journey as well as the recent events that collided together to become a full circle. A full circle lesson that is – and one that I hope inspires you too.
I have been outspoken about my own experiences of being bullied when I was younger for a long time. It has always been one of my missions to bring light to the topic, and let the younger generation know they are never alone and life does get so much better. My past was difficult and complicated like many people in the LGBTQ community. I was an easy target growing up in Arizona, as I would often be ridiculed for “acting like a girl” and “sounding like a girl.” Thankfully, I had my two sisters to play with after school. We would retreat to their room and play Barbie dolls for hours.
After elementary school, the word “faggot” started to come my way along with all the other hateful words that are associated with being gay. I switched schools at the end of 7th grade with the hopes that my junior high experience would be more enjoyable somewhere else. It wasn’t though, and I continued to feel lonely until I went to college. I remember one time during the 8th grade, I was waiting for my mom to pick me up from school, and a guy one grade above me started mimicking the sound of voice. When I eventually saw my mom pull into the parking lot, I felt a sense of relief, but as I walked away he got one last jab in by calling me a “fucking faggot.” That time in particular stung as I knew that other kids close by heard him. Those feelings of humiliation hurt. You feel degraded as if something is taken from you. I don’t wish those feelings upon anyone. It was also difficult because I kept everything in. I never told my mom because I did not want anyone to think I was gay. I felt that if I shared with my family members what was happening at school they would start to wonder if I was gay. Being gay back then was still looked upon as a “bad thing” in our society. I had no idea what was going on with my sexuality at that age so I just kept my mouth shut.
Fast forward to this past December, my now husband and I created the “Same Sex Barbie Wedding Set” for our niece’s birthday gift with the hopes to inspire toy giant, Mattel. Our intent was to get her excited about our upcoming wedding as we asked her to be a flower girl weeks earlier. Soon after my social media post to Mattel went viral around the world, we were quickly reminded that being gay is still very much a “bad thing” to some people. We were hit with disgusting online comments. However, there was a huge outpour of support, which meant so much to us especially on the days when hateful comments would pop up. A lot of the comments had to do with God hating us and that we were going to burn in hell. Such comments always amuse me, as my husband and I are both men of faith. We know God loves us. He made us this way!
One day in particular, I was sitting at work and my phone began to alert me of text messages from a random phone number. It was a long message about how “God hates my sin,” “I was on a dangerous path,” “to Beware! Repent, and ask God to forgive me,” and that I needed to “stay away from Mattel.” Such messages continued and were followed by screen shots of our home address and Google Earth images of our house. Talk about trying to be intimidated. Yes, if you are wondering – I called the police and we put in a security system with cameras immediately after. This time around I used the hate as fuel to keep going. Nothing was going to stop me from meeting with Mattel.
The following month, Nick and would get in our car with a presentation in tow and drive to Los Angeles to meet with the Barbie team at Mattel Headquarters. We were welcomed into the “Barbie Family” and met with an incredible group of women including Kim Culmone, Mattel’s SVP and Head of Design. For what is to come from that meeting, all I can say right now is – stay tuned! Before Nick and I left Mattel, we took a picture with the big Barbie logo above us.
I remember looking at Nick, smiling and grabbing his hand. We knew this picture would represent so much.
May 25th later arrived and after 11 years together, Nick and I became husband and husband. Our two nieces stood by our side just like the “Same Sex Barbie Wedding Set” we had created months earlier. We were also the first same sex couple to ever get married at The Scottsdale Resort in Arizona. It was obviously a day we will never forget and one we hope brought positive attention to marriage equality and the LGBTQ community. The shy-scrawny-Barbie playing-bullied kid would have never imagined.
For all the young people of the LGBTQ community, I am here to tell you that you matter and your voice matters. I encourage you to use it in the most purposeful way. You are a leader in your own right and will be the leaders of love of our future. Hate can hit us in our early ages and make its way into our adult life, but the strength within each of us is powerful enough to be used for good. Share your story, get others to stand up, fight for justice, and use your determination to make a difference in the world. I believe in you!
With Love & Gratitude,