Content Warning: This story explores addiction. For support, our trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat www.TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting
START to 678-678.
My name is Leah (she/they) and I am one of the many amazing humans that young people speak with when they need support via chat and text: a volunteer Digital Counselor. I am
currently in school studying Gender, Women, and Sexuality and working diligently to better myself.
I was 15 years old when I first began struggling with drug use, the same year I came out to my parents as gay. When I looked around, I didn’t see people like me represented in a positive way. It was a rare occurrence to see anything other than heteronormative characters in the media, movies, and televsion. Unfortunately, when queer characters were on the television screen, they were written in ways that perpetuated harmful stereotypes and contributed to me feeling increasingly uncomfortable about who I am.
Although my parents loved me all the same, I will never forget what my Mom said to me after I came out to her: “This isn’t the path I would have chosen for you. Your life will be harder because of your sexual orientation.” I certainly didn’t know what she meant by that at the time, but that statement seeped into my bones. I felt so alone. There was only one out-of-the-closet same-sex couple at my high school and they were teased constantly. My girlfriend at the time and I kept our relationship from everyone at school and the public.
I did anything I could to try to numb those feelings of inferiority and felt there was something wrong with me. Along with drug use, I struggled with self-harm and eating disorders for many years. It wasn’t until my late 20s that I was able to quit using drugs, stop the destructive behaviors, and begin putting my life together. I earned my GED and enrolled in college. That was four years ago, and I am grateful to say I maintain my recovery today.
Part of my recovery is giving back and having a sense of purpose. I love volunteering for The Trevor Project because I can be the cheerleader and advocate I never had growing up. I want to show our beautiful young people that they are and should be loved, accepted, and celebrated exactly as they are. During Pride month, our unique and shining personalities and identities are highlighted, honored, and celebrated as they should be all year. During Pride, we are reminded that we do belong in society even when it doesn’t feel like we do.
I have learned so much in the past few years in college. I am beginning to understand how our society is set up and for who our institutions are built to serve. I spent many years struggling with internalized homophobia and shame. Even to this day I must be vigilant with my self-care to ensure I am my best self and can spread love and acceptance of our wonderful community.
I will never forget the first time I went to a Pride parade. I was about 24 years old living near enough to Seattle to attend the big event. After struggling to find parking and walking blocks and blocks to make it to the parade, I began seeing people wearing all sorts of unique and stunning outfits (and some people wearing nearly nothing!) There were rainbows, smiling, laughter and love everywhere I looked. I became so overcome with emotions and allowed the tears to flow with a huge smile on my face. For the first time in my life I saw that I was not alone in my queerness. I realized that this aspect of my identity is not something to hide but to celebrate. It was that day that I truly understood that I have something special to offer. We all do.
Sue Cardenas-Soto is a Copywriter at The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and mental health organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people. If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, our trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386 via chat www.TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678-678.