crop unrecognizable black man wearing lgbt ribbon on arm
For many LGBTQ people, Pride Month is the only time they know they are loved. Credit: Anete Lusina

You likely know at least one person who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or who wants to be more than “just friends” with humans of the same gender. In fact, if you gathered 50 of your family members, neighbors, church community, and coworkers in a room, it is likely that three to four of those people are LGBTQ.

It is also likely that those same people are experiencing depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide, especially if they are between the ages of 13 and 24, the possible ages of your siblings, nieces, nephews, grandkids, or play cousins. If you care about any of the people named above, you should care about Pride Month. 

Why should you trust me?

Well, I know all this because it is part of my job as a psychiatrist. People like your coworkers, neighbors, and fellow worshipers trust me with secrets they are too scared to tell anyone else. I am also a Black woman who loves women but was too scared to tell anyone for a very long time. 

Dr. Kali Cyrus. Photo provided by Dr. Cyrus
Dr. Cyrus says even those who are not LGBTQ should care about Pride Month. Photo provided by Dr. Cyrus

I grew up believing I was defective, like something was deeply wrong with me. As early as 12 years old, I knew the stakes were high if I could not force myself to like boys. In my religion, Primitive Baptist, it was made clear that I would go to hell while everyone else I loved went to heaven. I wore the dresses, kissed boys in high school, and ignored anything that felt like desire toward girls. I obsessively worried about coming off as “gay” around anyone. In front of my mother, I made sure I sat with my legs crossed like a lady. On the school bus, I kept track of how close I sat next to the girl next to me. At lunch, I made sure to chime into the conversation about how cute boys were to avoid suspicions that I found girls cute instead.

I did not feel safe sharing my feelings with anyone. I started having panic attacks, stomach aches from anxiety, and dissociating from my body’s needs before I started college. There was no Pride Month, flag or gay pride on display. The only lesbian I saw on television was Ellen DeGeneres, whose show was canceled after she came out of the closet. 

The first time I ever learned about Pride Month was in college. But by then, the damage was done. Triggers from my childhood still haunt me today in adulthood. For example, I still obsess about whether I look too “manly” in a black tie outfit, if straight women feel uncomfortable around me, or whether anyone who identifies as Baptist secretly thinks I am going to hell. Sometimes, I have truly believed that hell might be better than feeling all these things. With the help of medication for anxiety and depression, I can push these worries aside most of the time. I learned not to expect being liked or loved by people, even if they were Black like me. 

Over time I realized I needed to learn to love myself more to shut my brain off and absorb all the love I received from others with any identity. 

The Trevor Project conducted a national survey examining the mental health of LGBTQ+ young people.

If you are not white, Christian, a native English speaker, born with legal status, or physically abled,  you probably deserve your own pride month. Schools, hospitals, and institutions in America were generally created for people who look like our founding fathers. Unless you resemble George Washington, there is a good chance you have been treated unfairly in one of these spaces. Discrimination in any form hurts. Homophobia hurts, just like racism, islamophobia, and xenophobia.  In a perfect world, this hurt would be repaired by creating equity within institutions. But in this world, sometimes recognition is all you get, like a Black History or National Deaf History Month. Pride month is that for the LGBTQ people, and for some it is the only time they are afforded the opportunity to celebrate whoever they are and whoever they love. We should care about Pride or any month that recognizes the shared struggle between people who face discrimination because they don’t look like George Washington. Sometimes, it might be the only support we can offer each other. 

So what? 

For many LGBTQ people, Pride Month is the only time they know they are loved. Even if you don’t believe in psychology, you know what it feels like to be sad, unwanted, or like something is wrong with you. Day to day, a little worry or sadness may not seem so harmful but it adds up over time. Your nervous system, the part of your body that tells you when to run from a tiger or anything dangerous, is activated every time you feel nervous. When you hear a racist or homophobic comment, your nervous system is activated even though there is no threat of physical harm. In these moments your heart pumps faster to circulate blood. Your body releases more glucose for energy. The cells that fight infection get weakened. Over time, heightened feelings of worry can increase your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, or increased inflammation. You may turn to alcohol or drugs to take away the feelings, or eventually see suicide as the best option which is the case for the 41% of LGBTQ 13 to 24-year-olds.

What I want you to do for Pride Month

This June, show at least one gesture of love to someone you know who is lesbian, gay, queer or trans. Learn the difference between L-G-B-T-Q-I. Give someone queer a call to tell them you are thinking about them and leave it at that. Call them by their pronoun or name — the name or pronoun they tell you, not the ones you think are correct. Say, “Happy Pride Month” like you would say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Eid Mubarak.” Watch a TV show or movie about LGBTQ folks. Read a book or listen to a podcast about Pride. Remember, you too may be treated unfairly because of one of your identities.

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