What I love about Pride Month is that it’s always evolving. Each year it becomes more inclusive and less about one thing, but more holistic and centered around the individual. Even the pride flag has evolved to reflect and represent the diversity of skin tones and gender spectrum. It represents more than the LGBTQ+ community; it represents everyone.
To me, Pride is about being proud of being myself. It may seem inward thinking, but I haven’t always felt the freedom to be who I am. I grew up in a conservative, faith-based family in small-town Texas, and though some might balk at that type of upbringing, I’m grateful for it. My family has always been nothing but loving and supportive but growing up gay in that environment isn’t without inner and outer struggles. Rather than accept who I am, I tried to hide. Rather than talk about my identity, I kept a lot locked inside of me. Even though my eventual coming out wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be, it’s still a challenge sometimes to go beyond the surface with my family and talk about my personal life.
I’ve been balancing my professional life, family background, and personal relationships for as long as I can remember—hoping that this one singular thing doesn’t define me. I have a big personality; some might call me loud. But I’ve gained a lot of perspective over the years and my experience has helped inform some of my professional and personal successes. I’ve learned that what I put into life is what I’ll get out of it. While I don’t have it all figured out, I know one thing: The support I’ve been shown by the companies I’ve worked for, the friends I’ve made both professionally and personally, and the confidence I’ve gained in myself is what has shaped me into who I am—and that’s someone I’m proud of.
But not everyone can say that.
The LGBTQ+ community is no stranger to prejudice, discrimination, harassment, hate, and violence. As we honor Pride Month, it’s our time to celebrate how far we’ve come with huge wins—marriage equality, the right to serve openly in the military, spousal and adoption benefits—but also to be mindful that there are still many barriers to break down, for all threatened and marginalized communities.
It feels like we’re at an inflection point as a country, and heck, even as a human race. Everywhere we look, rights are being threatened, freedoms are being trampled on, and people are getting killed. While the LGBTQ+ community continues to advocate for change, it’s equally important for us to stand in solidarity—loudly and visibly—with Black, Asian, Hispanic, and other marginalized communities as they battle daily, sometimes for their lives.
We all want equal access to quality jobs, education, housing, and health care. Those are big dreams. But right now, I think many people would settle for safety. Transgender men and women are being treated brutally in almost every community. The fundamental rights of women are under attack, and the limits being considered now to remove their freedom of choice and criminalizing the health care they receive weigh heavily on me.
Everyone should enjoy equal rights. That’s what we celebrate during Pride Month, and until we do each of us has the responsibility to speak out and reciprocate the support each community gives to another. I’m not saying the struggles of every community are identical. Each group has a distinct history and identity, their own challenges and threats, and their own cultures, celebrations, triumphs, and joys. But I believe we have more in common than what divides us. I also recognize that I sit in a position of privilege.
My comfort zone is fairly wide, and I live in New York City, perhaps one of the most progressive and tolerant cities in the country. I have worked for fantastic firms that support their employees in all their walks of life and celebrates events like Pride and movements like Black Lives Matter. While it’s nice to have this sort of freedom, I recognize that there is still so much progress that needs to be made, even here. I stick to the neighborhoods I know are the most welcoming; I’ll go to the same restaurants and bars where I know what kind of crowd to expect; and I surround myself with people who I have most similarities with. This is stuff I need to work on. We can’t always stick to what’s comfortable because that’s not how we advance change. Safety isn’t guaranteed; freedom isn’t guaranteed, but we can make the choice to act in defense of those things.
Our freedoms are hard-won. Pride is a time to recognize the struggles that have brought us here today. It’s also a call to action because the battles aren’t over. If we’re going to have a more inclusive flag, shouldn’t it signify that we’re ready to fight for those represented on that flag? We need to recognize the intersectionality of the movements of marginalized communities, and Pride Month, to me, is a perfect opportunity to do that.
I say all this, because as a Society that’s based on forming relationships and leveraging those relationships to achieve excellence, it’s vital that we step outside our comfort zones. I love that SMPS isn’t just in major cities or red states or blue states; the organization spans our entire country into Canada and represents a diverse, dynamic, vibrant cross section of people.
The next time you’re at an event, engage with someone you don’t know. If you’re planning a panel of stellar thought leaders, make sure it reflects a diverse set of opinions and experiences. We all have the habit of sticking to our groups—and while that’s comfortable, it inhibits our personal and professional growth.
At the beginning, I mentioned how this commemorative month is always evolving. And so am I. At SMPS, we’re here to demonstrate excellence. I can’t think of a better time to highlight the work we still need to do and celebrate how far we’ve come than during Pride Month.
Article written by SMPS member Nathan Reyna, who’s president-elect of SMPS New York.