It's the end of a long, emotional week. Aside from the #ColumbusStrong rally on Thursday night, I've been rather quiet about my thoughts on the tragedy in Orlando, and haven't joined the postings on social media. I spent the week trying to wrap my head around what happened. Processing it all, and how I felt about it. Preparing for PRIDE.
I didn't come-out until I was 30 years old. Before then, my life was filled with wonderful people that I'd met along the way; friends that I had remained close with since we were in kindergarten. I enjoyed going-out and being social, and I loved to go dancing. When I began the process of coming-out, I didn't have any friends that were gay - or at least that I knew of. I was living in Chicago, and I used to have the cab driver drop me off a couple blocks away from the bars so that no one would see me getting out of a cab and going into a gay bar. What would they think??? What would they say??? Roscoe's and Sidetracks were a magical place. Everyone seemed happy - singing, dancing, laughing, and truly enjoying each other's company. Everyone that walked through the door was greeted by one friend after another that was hugging them, kissing them, and smiling at their mere arrival. I'd never experienced anything quite like it in my entire life. What have I been missing all my life? What have ALL the "straight people" been missing???
As time went on, it wasn't long before I was one of those people walking through the door - greeted by one friend after another with hugs, kisses, laughs and smiles. Unless you've been there, you can't possibly appreciate the experience. We were family. This was our safe space. The one place that we could go, completely uninhibited. The one place where we had nothing to hide, and were truly accepted for who we were. And we loved each other. The friends that I've made over the past 16 years have truly become an extended family.
The men and women that lost their lives at Pulse Nightclub were in their special place, their safe space. Singing, dancing, laughing, and truly enjoying each others company. They...were family.
On Saturday morning, as we inflated our balloon for the Stonewall Columbus PRIDE parade, I couldn't help but reflect upon the words that were colorfully imprinted on the white sphere as it hovered over us against the backdrop of a bright blue sky...LOVE makes a family. To those of us in Family Pride Network, it has a very literal meaning, symbolic of the various ways in which our parent-child relationships are formed. But for the broader LGBTQ community, its also symbolic of the love that we share with each other. It represents everyone in our life that has loved us and supported us unconditionally throughout our journey. Our "family".
On Saturday evening, as everything was winding down, one of my friends stopped-by the booth to say hello. We met last year when he had volunteered to help us with the FPN conference in October. It was great to see him again, and I enjoyed catching-up. As he was getting ready to leave, we leaned-over and gave each other a hug - I went to his right, and he to mine. When we were done, he grabbed me by the arms and said "Wait, let's do this again, and let's do it right." We hugged again - it was a longer hug, and a tighter embrace. He went to my left, and I to his. "That's how I like to hug the special people in my life. When you hug to the left, your hearts connect."
Thank you, Ross, for sharing a moment with me that truly captures the essence of how "LOVE makes a family". I felt your Pulse.
- Joe Matessa, President & Co-Founder of Family Pride Network