Carlos Marin, Class of 2020 

LGBT__Carlos Marin.png 

“Embracing my own identity has been the hardest thing I have done in my entire life” read the first sentence of my HBS admissions essay. It was the first time I had put these feelings in writing. Writing about being gay, although painful, felt permanent and liberating. 

That was my first coming out event, not open or loud, but secret, with a letter only few people would read. 

After being admitted into the school, I felt a strong sense of validation. “You are worth it” the acceptance letter read in my mind. It was the first time I had felt this after revealing what was my most shameful secret. How harrowing is it, that I had to wait for an institution across the world to tell me that I could be a queer Latino from Venezuela and still be a leader that could make a difference in the world? 

At 25, I finally had the courage to share my story with my parents. After heartbreak and many tears, we’re still working on reaching complete acceptance and understanding. “It took you years before you were able to accept it for yourself, give us time” my parents said. I will give them all the time they need. 

This is my second coming out event, open and loud. Now not for me but for the countless others that are still hiding and waiting for the validation they deserve.

Chris LaColla, Class of 2020 

LGBT__Chris LaColla.png 

I used to think coming out didn’t matter. Whose business was it who I dated? Why should I offer this piece of personal information about myself to someone who didn’t really need to know? I’m proud of who I am, isn’t that enough? 

That changed when I started volunteering as a suicide crisis counselor with the TrevorProject. LGBTQ children and teens across the United States are so afraid that they would rather end their lives than tell the truth about themselves. Here. Now. This is not a problem from a different time or a far-off place.  

Many of the visitors to the crisis line fixate on uncertainty. They observe the people around them carefully, searching for some sign of whether or not they will be accepted. Too many of them aren’t finding a sign. By choosing to come out everyday, I hope that I might be that sign for someone. By choosing to come out as a vocal ally, you might be that sign for someone.  

Coming out does matter, because there are still so many people who cannot.

Natalia Ortega, Class of 2020

LGBT__Natalia Ortega.png 

Growing up in the closet, I didn’t fit into the role assigned to women in my Cuban community. I assumed that when I came out, I’d need to make it on my own without the support of my family. Like the generations of immigrants before me, I would need to leave my hometown for a place that would feel more like home.  

After college, I forced myself out of the closet. I sought opportunities where I could be open about who I was and jumped head first into leading my company’s LGBT group. Although terrifying, I found a welcoming community that allowed me to exist in the world as I was. Suddenly, the thing I worked so hard to hide got me a seat at the table with our CEO. Being seen, celebrated and loved in my own skin changed my life. Armed with new-found confidence, I found my place in my family again, and today they are my greatest allies.   

If you would’ve told me at 17 that by 26 I would be openly engaged to a partner who was embraced by classmates at HBS, I wouldn’t have believed you. I may continue to face challenges as a gay woman, but I now understand the transformational power of owning my identity and the opportunity I have to rewrite the narrative for LGBT people who look like me. I have created a place where the distinct parts of my identity coexist, and strive to help others also find home there.

David Pareja, Class of 2019

LGBT___David Pareja.png

I grew up in Peru and moved to the U.S. for college; and I always get asked why. I would like to say that it was because of the unique academic opportunities available at an American university. But the reality is that I moved to escape – to leave a place where I knew no openly gay acquaintances, let alone role models; a place where I felt I would either have to hide who I am or be denied opportunity. 

 Last summer I moved back to Peru to intern there. My mom’s words to me before my first day of work were, “be ‘well-behaved’ – no one needs to know your ‘condition’.” She feared, with near certainty, that, if my coworkers knew I was gay, I would face discrimination; but I just could not follow her advice. I decided to completely be myself at work and was out to most of my coworkers. There were some memorable moments – one coworker asked me four times if I had truly meant boyfriend during our conversation –, but coming out was precisely what my mom never expected it to be: just fine.  

 Because of my education and support network, I am lucky to be able to take that risk and come out in an ambiguous environment. But not everyone is as lucky. I left Peru out of fear, but my only fear now is wasting my good fortune and not taking more risks to increase LGBT acceptance in the country.

Grant Tudor, Class of 2019

LGBT__Grant Tudor.png

I became aware that I possessed a kind of superpower in the years after coming out. X-manlike, I took some time to grow into it – to move from understanding how it worked to meaningfully using it. It’s commonplace in our community. 

The superpower originates from this: we are everywhere. We’re sons and daughters, best friends and classmates. And for so many, for so long, you didn’t even know! One day I was someone’s son, the next I was someone’s gay son. Making something visible that was previously hidden is painful for most involved, but the superpower is the other side of that coin: we are in a special position to change people’s hearts and minds. 

 Years ago, after a bit of wine, a close friend confided in me that her opinion of queer people was not always what it had become. She’d grown up with a gay uncle, long estranged from the family. Growing up, her association with the identity of being gay was less than positive. “At some point in our friendship, that changed,” she said. What’s strange, I thought, was that I in fact hadn’t done anything – at least deliberately.  

The superpower functions by way of this community being visible. I think National Coming Out Day is in part a big, bright celebration of that.

Holly Fetter, Class of 2020

LGBT__Holly Fetter.png

I’m always coming out.

As a white woman seen as straight, I move through the world without eliciting suspicion, disgust, hatred, violence. 

I could always be quiet, protecting myself. Instead I disrupt the luxury of invisibility, making myself seen to fight for those in our community who have no choice but to be visible, their lives often altered or cut short by injustice and violence, transphobia and racism. I come out for them.

Who are you visible for? What would you risk for them?

Jason Brown, Class of 2020

LGBT__Jason Brown.png

“Maybe something’s wrong with me. 

But at least I am free. 

I am free.” 

– Free, Rudimental 

This song was the marching anthem to my coming out. I’d spent 25 years in churches learning there was something wrong with me and that freedom could be found in God. I believed it all; I dove headfirst into the Scriptures, desperately seeking healing from this sin. All I wanted was freedom: the freedom to just feel… normal. 

What I found was anything but. The inescapable belief I was unworthy of love. The nights I sobbed myself to sleep praying, “How long ‘til I’m saved?” The heart-wrenching turmoil weighing whether coming out was worth losing the family I loved. The constant frustration that all my friends seemed capable of finding happiness… but not me, the outsider always looking in. 

It’s hard to describe how dark it is in the closet, but I can tell you what it’s like to come out. It’s finally being able to take a full breath. To feel comfortable in your own skin. To widen your grin, to laugh freely. To look yourself in the mirror and say, “I like what I see.” 

It’s finally learning to be really, truly happy. To realize, “So this is what freedom feels like,” and let that thought make you smile. 

Coming out doesn’t solve everything. I still struggle with the emotional scars from my closeted years. 

Maybe there’s something wrong with me. But that’s ok. 

Because I am free. 

I am free. 

Ethan Karetsky, Class of 2020

LGBT__Ethan Karetsky.png

I first came out to myself at 20, but I’m still coming out every day. Perhaps I’m coming out to you right now. So here it is – I’m gay! 

It took me a long time to accept who I was. It took 15 years of others telling me what I was – sometimes with encouragement, mostly as an insult – before I could own it as something I wanted for myself, not something others wanted for me. 

Aside from the occasional slur hurled at me on the street (even in Boston), questioning what company cultures will accept me, and researching LGBTQ rights before traveling abroad, I live a charmed, fabulously gay life. I’m fortunate to have a loving family and supportive friends. 

But this is far from typical. As a white, gay, cis-gendered male, I’m shielded from the horrors faced by my LGBTQ family around the globe: corrective rape, family disownment, the death penalty… Imagine losing everything, all for who you are or whom you love. That is reality for millions of queer people. 

You might wonder why the US needs National Coming Out Day in 2018. LGBTQ hate crimes aren’t recognized at the federal level. In 23 states we can be fired for being LGBTQ. Gay men can’t donate blood. We still have so far to go to be recognized and accepted, for coming out to not require courage.  

The simple act of speaking out as a vocal ally, of wearing your support on your sleeve (or your classcard), can change our world. 

Jeff Boyar, Class of 2020

LGBT__Jeff Boyar.png 

“Son, you sound so much better and I need you to know how much I love you.” My dad’s words over the phone after I came out to him as gay will reverberate with me forever. Admitting to yourself that a fundamental piece of you is different than the vast majority of others is hard. It’s even harder to say it out loud to friends and family for fear they may not accept or even understand you. Ten years later, that immediate outpouring of love and support from my father is still the model to me of what makes an LGBTQ ally. 

The term “ally” is often used in association with the LGBTQ community since those who are not part of it still hold so much power in how we as LGBTQ people experience the world. On National Coming Out Day, I challenge everyone (even those like myself who are part of the LGBTQ community) to think about how we can be better allies, especially to those who are further marginalized by society. 

Today is about celebrating the stories of LGBTQ people. But all of us struggle with parts of our identity that may be different from others. Let’s also make sure we become better allies to each other – because a simple declaration of acceptance, support, and love can truly change someone’s life. It changed mine.