Every year as Pride month comes around, I talk a lot about courage. As a gay man who grew up on a dirt road in rural Louisiana during the ‘80s, I’ve needed enormous amounts of courage my entire life — the courage to stand up to bullies, the courage to come out to my conservative, religious parents, the courage to move across the country and live a life that’s open and free.

Being myself has meant life-long anxiety, years of therapy, and cutting off friends and family who insisted I was going straight to hell. So I’ve always thought, “If I can do it, anybody can.” 

All they needed was just more courage.

This past year in isolation due to COVID-19 restrictions has given me a lot of time to look myself in the mirror and face some monsters I didn’t even know existed. Yes, I’ve had struggles, and yes, I should be proud of being courageous. But I’ve also had to acknowledge that coming out was a privilege. Growing up solidly middle class, getting an education, having the financial resources to support myself, and surrounding myself with caring, accepting people made my life today possible. 

And as kind, loving, and non-judgmental as I have always tried to be, I’ve realized that I’ve held an implicit bias against those who aren’t out. Parades, rainbow flags, holding a significant other’s hand… none of that was for them. Somewhere deep down, in the dark place we don’t like to acknowledge, I’ve kept these people in a second-class LGBTQ+ status. 

They weren’t worthy of Pride — they hadn’t earned it yet.

I’m embarrassed it took me so long to see just how wrong I’ve been. Who was I to think I was somehow superior because of my struggles? Where were my empathy and compassion? Why did I think life was a competition for who had the toughest journey?

Whether a person comes out today, or in 10 years — or never — is none of my business and definitely not something for me to judge. I can’t know what situations may be in another person’s life. Maybe they live in a place where it’s unsafe to be out; maybe they don’t have the resources to live on their own if they’re rejected; or maybe they simply don’t want to.

I never discount the amount of courage queer people need in order to be their true, authentic selves. It takes a lot… trust me. But this year, I want to also acknowledge my privilege of being out, and I’d like to speak directly to the LGBTQ+ community who aren’t:

I see you. You’re perfect exactly the way you are. I’m deeply sorry for my past judgments, and I hope you feel every bit of love I’m sending you. Pride month isn’t about wearing a rainbow tank top, dancing to Lady Gaga until sunrise, or even kissing the love of your life — it’s knowing everyone is worthy of respect, no matter their journey.

I am proud of you for having the courage to be here.