Pride Month is an important time for reflection. It allows us to celebrate who we are and what has been accomplished, and it provides a meaningful opportunity to contemplate the direction society is headed on the long and often difficult road towards progress. Simply put, Pride is a celebration of our journey – all that is both tough and good.
I have experienced some of the highest peaks and lowest valleys life offers in my (brief) 48 years of existence. I spent nearly two decades as a dedicated public servant at the forefront of some of the nation’s most challenging issues. I served as a key leader for one of the world’s busiest airports, and I currently operate a prominent Southern California public affairs firm. I am surrounded by the wonderful company of loved ones, talented colleagues who inspire me, and clients that push me to learn and grow each day. Life is a blessing.
Along with this – and a critical part of my story – has been a profound struggle with self-identity and coming out as a gay man.
Today, I am proud of who I have become and strive to be. But, embracing my sexuality has been a difficult process, consisting of periods of depression, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol abuse. After years of concealing my identity, I am now a confident, openly gay man.
I grew up in Arcata, California, a small community of roughly 18,000 in Humboldt County. As a kid, I learned that being gay was wrong – a sentiment I carried with me for far too long. My Catholic high school expected me to act in conventionally “male” ways (i.e., play football and take a woman to prom) and I was teased for my perceived lack of masculinity. A widespread misconception that being gay was a choice permeated my adolescent years, both at school and at home, causing me great turmoil.
For as long as I could, I portrayed an inauthentic façade. I dated women and acted the part of “normal” to fit in. I never truly felt myself. Simultaneously, I began to channel my passion for public service and formed volunteer groups to engage my community on important issues; a separate component of my identity developed – my passion for government and service – that has never waned.
My Breaking Point
I hit a breaking point in my twenties. I began working for U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and moved to Washington, D.C. During this period, I attempted to come out but never found the courage. The few people I came out to didn’t embrace me, and I was afraid of how, and if, my family would accept me. I never felt more isolated.
To numb the pain, I turned to alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms. I fell into a troubling cycle of depression and questioning my existence, causing me to leave Senator Feinstein’s office with a heavy heart and the feeling that I had hit rock-bottom. I recall nights in D.C. often waking up from blackouts asking myself, “When is this going to change? When is the pain going to stop?”
Years later, after a move to Los Angeles and endless turmoil, my life changed after an elected official from Riverside shared with me his struggle with addiction and sobering up. I thought my life was done, but that conversation was a spiritual awakening that changed everything. With his support, I started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, which ultimately saved my life. While not as widely known as it should be, AA as an institution strongly supports acceptance in the LGBTQ+ community. During this critical juncture, I re-claimed my sexuality and owned who I was: a proud, gay man.
A New Chapter
Things finally began to change for the better. Contrary to the desire of other staff, Senator Feinstein asked me to return to her staff. To this day, I cherish our long-lasting friendship and the fact that she believed in me when few others did. I am forever grateful to her.
Working in a variety of key roles, ultimately culminating as State Director, I was fortunate to interact with and advocate for LGBTQ+ communities across the state and nation. I will never forget helping to develop Senator Feinstein’s position on California’s Proposition 8, and her evolution of supporting marriage equality instead of civil unions.
In the Senator, I found an advocate intimately connected to and concerned with my experience as an openly gay man, as well as those of the LGBTQ+ community more generally. I admire Senator Feinstein’s integrity and willingness to do the right thing, even at a potential political cost. Because of her and other mentors, including Lorri Jean, former head of the Los Angeles LGBT Center and titan of LGBTQ+ rights; Roz Wyman, a trailblazing Los Angeles icon; Jeremy Bernard, former White House Social Secretary under President Obama; former Judge Katherine Feinstein and Tom Mullen, former Riverside County Supervisor, I live a proud and productive life as an openly gay man. To give back and to support others on their journeys, I became active with the Human Rights Campaign, Equality California and other LGBTQ+ organizations which help ensure equality and dignity for all.
I wholeheartedly believe that purpose provides meaning in life, and I am driven to have a positive impact on others. Looking back, two of life’s great gifts to me have been sobriety and being an openly gay man. For others who struggle with their identity, addiction, or self-esteem, my experiences testify to the ability, resilience, and endless possibility of the human spirit.
Becoming sober 20 years ago provided me with newfound purpose and transformed me with an enlightened outlook. I live in the present, am excited for the future, and relish the incredible opportunities life provides. I have dedicated myself to public service and the political and policy mechanisms of our governing process – I fundamentally believe in the power of government to be a force for good. To me, the promise of democracy is the always present hope that better days are on the horizon. Though there is much to accomplish regarding LGBTQ+ rights and equality, I am deeply proud of the progress achieved and the momentum I feel going forward.
I am proud of who I am today.