Walking the dirt street to reach my house, I hear a homophobic slur emanate from the car driving past me. A meek 12-year-old, I rush on in fear—fear of what they would do if they knew how right they were. “How do they know?” I ask myself. “Am I too masculine? Too feminine?” My identity was long apparent to those around me despite my best efforts to conceal it.

An immutable piece of myself, my queerness has always been part of me; even in middle school, when I would lay in bed crying at my parents’ lack of acceptance. Forced to believe that my identity was a burden, I prayed that I could change—change into someone who would be easier to love. I never thought I would live long enough to reach high school, let alone life beyond. I thought the pain of being myself would take my life before I’d reach those milestones. 

But entering high school, I gained safe spaces. Spending time with other queer people, I became comfortable being myself. I realized that I wasn’t still a 12-year-old alone, undefended. I now had a community of people surrounding me who were just like me: queer and working to be proud. We were connected by a shared history of love and oppression alike. We shared the inequity that we faced, and we shared the aspiration to embrace our futures with pride. We did not want the future laid before us, so we pushed against the pressures of the world. 

I learned to embrace my queer identity, and I learned how to be myself. I realized that I had complete control over how I wanted to be seen. I could be any of infinite versions of myself, an idea that once terrified me. I once wanted to blend in, so afraid that people would see my queer identity that I tried to push it away from me. Now, I embrace my place in the queer community, trying to advocate for those who struggled much like me. Looking back, I was just one of many suicidal LGBTQ+ teens. My experience inspired me to start a fundraiser two years ago for The Trevor Project to give young queer people support in their dark moments, to give them the freedom to envision their futures, as this community gave me. 

Through my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, I established free transportation to Pride in the CLE, our area’s pride parade. A larger community stood before me with each person stronger than the next because of their connection to each other. Anti-LGBTQ+ protestors stood quiet, outnumbered by the strength of the alliance between queer people. There was unspeakable beauty in seeing adult queer people, who had already lived through the difficulties we young people were facing. It was a community, but it was also so much more: it was a family. 

To me, Pride Month is about the connection that LGBTQ+ people share with one  another, crossing religion, culture, and age. This connection undoubtedly saved my life. The  LGBTQ+ community has continued to strengthen, with more queer people now than ever, safer  than ever before. As we continue to push forward—facing discriminatory laws  and prejudiced people—I hope we continue to see ourselves leaning on this vibrant community,  which holds space for all of us. 

About the Author

​​​Mary Bigenho is a graduate of Avon Lake High School in Avon Lake, OH, and an NHS Scholarship semifinalist. She will be attending Davidson College in the fall.