Pride Month provides a time to reflect on the struggles and triumphs that I and many others endured when coming out as LGBTQ+.
As a first-generation American born to Cuban exiles and raised in Miami, I grew up with the pressure of tradition. As a young girl in a conservative Catholic family, tradition dictated marrying a man. I constantly was reminded that this first conventional step was the only way to find success and happiness.
At 15, I mustered the courage to say, “I think I’m gay.” Yet, my mind raced with the conflict of who I was and the traditions of my family. I could not find the same strength to let the world know who I was yet. I worried that my family would not love me or my friends would treat me differently. And what would breaking tradition cost me — success, happiness, family? Despite having laid eyes on the love of my life as a junior, I still wasn’t ready.
It wasn’t until the last few weeks of my senior year that I started coming out to my closest friends. Although coming out to friends was an important step to embracing me, my parents, the most important people in my life, had no idea. I needed their support, but it never seemed to be the right time.
At 28, I was diagnosed with an incurable, aggressive stage 4 lymphoma. I remember leaving the doctor’s office with my parents and knowing that I could not fight this battle alone. Nor could I fight while living a lie. I needed my family by my side, as they always have been, and they needed the truth. As we arrived at my brother’s house, I asked them to come inside to talk as a family.
I was trembling. My uncle, aunt, and brother were waiting inside to support me as I came out to my parents. I didn’t know what I was more afraid of: coming out to my conservative parents or dying from cancer.
The six of us sat in the family room with tears streaming as we grappled with the long fight ahead. And then, with a pounding heart, I began: “I can’t go through what I am about to go through without being honest about myself. I need to be who I really am in front of you and can’t keep my secret any longer. I’m gay.”
It wasn’t until a few days later following a bone marrow biopsy procedure that I sat my parents down again and asked, “Could you picture yourselves doing this without each other?” Hand-in-hand, they glanced at one another and replied, “No.” “Well then this is the last appointment I will be going to without the person that I love.” Since then, the girl I instantly fell in love with junior year — now my wife — has never left my side.
A year after I completed my chemotherapy, Monica and I were married on my parent’s front lawn. My parents’ unconditional love for me flows into their love for my wife and our daughter.
As a mother, I am filled with worry about my daughter’s generation. I don’t want anyone to grow up feeling like a stranger to themselves. Pride Month is a time to reaffirm our commitment to uplift the LGBTQ+ community: those proudly out and those still living in the shadows. This month also allows us to show solidarity and allyship with those who feel the most alone.
But solidarity is not enough. Action is crucial. We must educate future generations to treat those who identify as LGBTQ+ with respect and dignity, protect the transgender community as it faces rising discrimination and violence, and pass laws such as the Equality Act to ensure that everyone is protected fairly.
Pride Month is about more than colorful flags; it is about family. It is a time to remember the journey our family members have endured, and the journey still left ahead. We are a family bonded through shared experiences and struggles. And family supports one another all year round.
Janelle Perez is the chair of the city of Miami’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Board and a board member of the Miami-Dade County LGBTQ+ Advisory Board.