June is Pride month, a chance to celebrate self respect, love and the assertion that, as a gay man or woman, you have the right to exist as you are without justifying your happiness to anyone else. It’s a month, a weekend, a parade of freedom and celebration. These coming-out stories offer a glimpse at what it can mean to come out of the closet as an African American, before the nation elected its first black president, when Oval Office support for marriage equality was a mirage on the horizon. Here is 26-year-old Jamal Brown’s story.
One of the most defining times in my life . . . was coming out to my mom. I grew up in a single-parent household with my mother in Sacramento, and my mother and I shared everything. We grew up on public assistance, on welfare, for some time in my early teens, so I was her rock and she was my rock.
For the longest time, I knew I was gay but I didn’t have a term for it, but I knew it was bad. I knew it wouldn’t be socially acceptable, or so I thought. And because of that, the idea of hurting my mother, and seeing her experience pain — she had been raising me on her own with barely any help and I did not want to add one more layer of pain in her life.
I actually came out to some close friends and relatives before I even came out to her. I was out to the entire community at Dartmouth before I came out to my mother. I didn’t come out to her until after a whole year of college. And I definitely intended to come out to her at some point that summer. I just didn’t know when.
I had accepted myself, loved myself, but I was still so scared about coming out to my mom because I did not want to lose that. . . . At the same time, coming out is a very bold act of self-love. In that way, by coming out, you’re also knowingly taking a risk that you may lose these other people in your life, so I was prepared for that. It just happened one night in July 2005. It spawned from an argument and I was so scared and she just asked me, “Are you gay?”
I paused for a second, and I said, “Yes.” There was this palpable silence between us. And I remember leaving the room and the next morning, I woke up and she had prepared breakfast for me. It was Sunday morning. We really didn’t talk about it afterward for the next few days, but her act of preparing that meal for me was her way of saying, “I love you.”
That meant the world to me. She is my greatest supporter and champion. She is the third oldest of nine children. She is from Savannah, Ga. and she was born during the Jim Crow era of the South, and so she had experienced a great deal of racism and prejudice throughout her life, and I witnessed that. It was not just during her childhood and segregation. It was also well into her adult life. Seeing that, and seeing how she was mistreated because of the color of her skin and because of her gender -- in a way, added to my hiding my sexuality and silencing myself. While there was the internalized homophobia that I had and the fear of being ostracized by society, even more than that was the fear of not only alienating and ostracizing my mother, but causing her grief.