I just looked back in my journal and realized I passed a major milestone two days ago without even realizing it. Saturday, June 24, marked one year since I publicly came out. (I’ve included links at the end of this article if you’re interested in more of my story.)
The same day this life anniversary was taking place, I stepped out on stage with the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, performing the first of two Disney Pride concerts that kept the audience wildly cheering and enthusiastically engaged until the final curtain. It’s no wonder I didn’t realize the significance of the day. I and 130 fellow chorus members had been practicing and memorizing music and choreography for the past 10 weeks. It felt like every spare moment was taken up with the monumental effort of learning more than 40 songs.
Now that our big performance weekend is over, I’m basking in the glow of bringing spectacular music, artistry, and joy to thousands of people in the audience. After the final show, I ate dinner with several dear family members who attended. During our conversation, my aunt asked me about the aspect I enjoyed the most. One thing immediately stood out in my mind.
The most memorable part of this concert wasn’t the dramatic lighting, despite having one of the premier lighting designers in the industry. It wasn’t the show-stopping choreography brilliantly brought to life by our incredibly talented Sara Martins. My favorite piece of the concert wasn’t the soul-stirring music created by 130 voices singing together as one, led by our fabulous artistic director, Braeden Ayres. The highlight for me was found in the still quiet moments of the concert when the stage went dark, and a lone spotlight illuminated a chorus member courageously sharing their personal story with the audience.
I and other chorus members pulled back the curtain and shared an intimate backstage look into our personal LGBTQ+ experience. The audience laughed as we shared stories of finding true love and stories of incredible resilience. They gasped and murmured as we told stories of being unhoused and disowned by family and described how it feels to be the target of bigotry and hate. People in the audience openly wept as we recounted tragic stories of lives cut short.
Standing in the wings, waiting to share my story, I took a moment to breathe and be grateful for an opportunity to speak openly when so many still cannot. And then, it was my turn. Stepping out of the shadows into the spotlight, I adjusted the microphone and began to tell my story.
Cinderella’s prince rode in with a crystal slipper. Mine arrived wearing a surgical mask.
Picture the scene. Spokane, Washington, 2020.
My boyfriend and I were downtown, fully masked, trying to get a little last-minute Christmas shopping done. As we walked along, we noticed a commotion up ahead. A preacher stood on a street corner, wearing a sandwich board, and was preaching at passersby with a bullhorn.
At the time, we were still deeply in the closet, but I knew what I wanted to do: “I want to hold your hand as we walk past him,” I told my boyfriend.
As soon as we approached, the man noticed. Turning his angry condemnation our way, he started shouting. “You’re choosing to go against God’s natural order! You’ll reap the wrath of God for your actions!”
There, in the middle of the street, my boyfriend stopped. He took me in his arms, pulled down our masks, and kissed me! To our surprise and delight, the people nearby broke out in cheers and applause! One young woman shouted, “We love you!!”
My prince had definitely arrived: strong, bold, and unafraid to show our love. And now….my prince? Now, he’s my husband!
If you had told me one year ago that I would be standing on stage sharing my story and performing songs from Disney movies I would have probably laughed at you. I’ve never stopped to consider how the underlying themes of so many Disney tales resonate with my own LGBTQ+ journey. I think of Dumbo, the 1941 story of a misfit longing to fit in. Then there’s The Little Mermaid, the 1989 story of a girl always on the outside looking in.
What PGMC pulled off this weekend with the combination of movie songs and personal stories was truly pure magic. Each concert we shared superseded mere entertainment, transporting the audience to a place where every person was celebrated for who they are.
Personal stories hold immense power. They have the ability to create connections, foster empathy, and broaden our understanding of the human experience. Whether shared in the workplace, through social media, personal interactions, or through events like the PGMC concerts, personal stories play a vital role in shaping our collective knowledge and promoting inclusion.
I’m deeply grateful to have been able to celebrate my one-year anniversary as an openly gay man in a way that uplifted and celebrated the value of all.
As my bestie aptly put it, “That is sooooo poetic!”
If you would like to know more about my personal journey, I have links to WAY more content than anyone should ever have to be subjected to. When I came out publicly, I did so in a big way through news articles, blog posts, podcasts, and social media. I didn’t want or need the personal attention, but I was uniquely positioned to speak into the LGBTQ+ experience as a queer person at that moment in time. I resolved that no matter how uncomfortable it became, I would be a voice that my younger self so desperately needed to hear.