14 years ago my life changed.
I was doing some reporting on an LGBT Youth Conference in San Francisco for a story to be aired on KQED for Pride Month.
I interviewed several LGBT youth about their coming out stories. In this process I met a guy named Robin. He worked for the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC). He invited me to the wrap-up party of the conference, and also to the SF Pride parade sign-making gathering to make signs for LYRIC’s contingent.
I let him know that I would come to both events, to keep gathering interviews for my story, and that I would love to be there as a “straight ally.”
Now, where would I tell my dad I was going to that night? He would definitely not let me go if he knew it was a gay party. So I told him that my theater group was having a cast party after the show.
I drove to the address provided, the Eureka Recreation Center. I remember walking from my car to the Center. I could hear the music and people laughing as I got closer. I walked in, signed in, and proceeded to the main room.
It was so awkward to see guys dancing with guys, and girls dancing with girls, and everybody around the room was OK with it. Everyone was enjoying the music and having a great time. There was no finger pointing, nobody making fun of anyone because they were gay. I just stood there watching, not really knowing what to do.
Robin came over and asked me to dance. I had never danced with another guy before. I think I remember telling him that. All I could think of was “How do I dance… with a guy?” Robin made me feel so comfortable that I just danced and I didn’t care.
Midnight came so fast. Almost like Cinderella, I had to go when the clock struck 12. I had the biggest smile on my face. I have never felt so happy and free!
The next day I went to the sign-making party at LYRIC. I walked in, and saw people making signs. I just stood in the corner, with a blank sign. I didn’t know what to write on it. Others were having so much fun writing what they wanted on the signs. I almost put my sign down and walked away, because I didn’t know what to put on my sign. Then, at that moment, I figured I would write it; this scary thing to admit: “Nobody knows I’m gay.” And there it was: now the world knew — or at least those in the room.
The two happiest days of my life had just happened, and I had nobody to share them with. I spent all night awake and crying. I made this sign for the parade and I designed an outfit… should I go? What if somebody sees me? What if people find out? I can’t go.
When I woke up in the morning, I got ready for work and drove into the City. I packed my outfit, still unsure if I should go to the parade.
There I went, walking down the street, looking for the LYRIC contingent. I found them and proudly marched down Market Street with my sign. Nobody knew I was gay, or so I thought. But now 1 million people knew.
The parade changed my life. It was only the beginning of my coming out. Fourteen years ago I came out for me. Now I come out for my community, for my friends and family.
The Pride Parade is not just about being gay. The parade, to me, is about finding one’s self; it’s about finding a community; it’s about finding the courage and hope that one day it will all get better. The San Francisco Pride Parade started in 1970, as a march called Christopher Street Liberation Day, on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. The march was in celebration of the gay liberation. It’s the day most recognize as the beginning of our community standing up and fighting for our rights and equality.
My coming out story does not end here — it’s only the beginning. There were many times, during my coming out that got very dark, sad, and lonely. I got kicked out and didn’t see my family for four years. The difficult times made me who I am today; they pushed me to view the world in a different light and want to help others.
Richmond, the city where I grew up and have lived for most of my life, had its first Pride event this year: Pride in the Park. It was organized by the Richmond Rainbow Pride organization, an organization that I helped found. This coming weekend our city will have a contingent in the San Francisco Pride Parade. All are invited to march with us. I hope that everyone comes out to enjoy the parade, and more importantly I hope that it helps those that come out to find themselves and their community.
For more information on Richmond Rainbow Pride, please visit www.RichmondRainbowPride.org.
By: Cesar Zepeda, co-founder of Richmond Rainbow Pride