June not only celebrates the first day of summer and Father’s Day, but it also celebrates members of our LGBTQ + community. It celebrates their ability to be themselves freely. PRIDE celebrations have been going on since the 1970s. In June 1970, New York City hosted the very first PRIDE March which covered 51 city blocks! In 2019, 2 million people participated in a very similar event. The number of participants is a testament to the continued growth and awareness of PRIDE month and the importance of what it represents.
What does LGBTQ + mean? Lesbian, gay, transgender and queer / questioning are the terms of the acronym that has evolved over time. The plus sign recognizes other gender identities such as pansexual; who can best be described as someone who doesn’t recognize gender but loves a person just for who that person is on the inside.
“Go out” to family and friends we choose to love is something that can cause a mixture of heightened emotions for people of all ages, so these identities are often hidden. If someone feels there is a need to hide who they really are, it can lead to depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety among many other mental health issues. The coming out process should be something that everyone accepts; family, friends, school officials, local law enforcement and anyone in between. No one should ever feel like they are less of a person because of who they choose to love.
I came from a strict / religious home where this type of lifestyle was frowned upon. During my childhood, I hid my identity from my family, my friends, my employers, my educational advisers, everyone. It wasn’t until I was 29 that I really found the strength to “go out” like the person I am today.
I think deep down, as human beings, we all want one thing, to achieve the highest level of happiness possible! If it can be done feeling accepted, regardless of our gender identity, then in my eyes that’s all that should matter. The acceptance I experience daily from my peers, family and others is incredible. It is because of this that I have achieved a very high level of happiness in my life. My only wish is to have expressed my true self sooner.
If you or someone you know has identity issues, have questions about the LGBTQ + community, or would like to get involved in any way, please call one of our Behavioral Health Clinics. They are located in Dunkirk (716)363-3550 and Jamestown (716) 661-8330. We have an amazing team of people who are always ready to help. In our clinics, we can provide mental health counseling services and link to one of the many support resources available in Chautauqua County.
An important final note, be sure to talk to your kids about creating safe spaces for themselves. Encourage them to speak openly about who they are and who they want to be. Help them achieve their highest level of happiness. You could save a life. Hope you all have a safe and good month of PRIDE.
Candice Edwards is the Senior Care Coordinator for the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene.