Updated: Mar 26
Growing up, I was like every typical teenage boy in the USA. I hung out with friends, played videogames, and I said homophobic jokes and slurs when I was with my boys. This all changed when I was hospitalized after a suicide attempt at the age of 17. During that hospitalization I met a kid named Luis. When Luis arrived, AJ, my roommate, asked him, “Why are you here?” Luis replied, “I’m here because I tried killing myself because I’m gay.” It truly broke my heart to him utter those words. I could only imagine what he had to deal with to get to that point. Luis and I ended up being such great friends that when he left the hospital, I was the only boy left in the unit, and I cried. Meeting Luis was the catalyst that shifted my view on homosexuality.
After meeting Luis, I felt a shift inside my soul. I would compare it to when I became a born-again Christian a couple of years ago. I was truly a different person. From that moment on, I vowed to never use another homophobic slur again. Although I had a few slip-ups along the way, like when I got upset at Luis over something and I called him a “f*ggot,” I have been able to embody equality and refrain from using homophobic slurs.
They say you are a product of your environment and what you witness growing up dictates your actions and the type of person you will become. This is true for me because of the homophobia, judgment, and racism I witnessed in my own family. Their behavior and ignorant comments made me think, “Why are they like that? I don’t want to be anything like them.” One of my cousins in the Dominican Republic had a high-pitched voice when he was a little boy and that caused some of my family members to make comments like, “He’s going to be gay when he grows up.” For the record, he is not gay. Even if he was, why does it matter? In my first published essay, I talked about questioning my sexuality (as a hetereosexual-identifying man). I was excited to share the news with my cousin in the Dominican Republic. His response was, “What’s wrong with you?” No congratulations or any kind of support. I was disappointed not only in a lack of encouragement but at his response. What’s wrong with you? As if being gay or bi-sexual means there is something wrong with me.
I remember moving into my gay landlord’s condominium when I lived in Los Angeles in 2015 and he had tears in his eyes telling me how people teased him for being gay and poor when he moved to the USA from El Salvador. I felt his pain just like when I met Luis. I heard my landlord’s voice shake with fear and nervousness. I assured him he had nothing to worry about. I told him, “I represent equality,” as I showed him my Human Rights Campaign keychain.
A friend told me a story about how his mom was discussing a family member and she said, “Thank God he’s not gay because that would be embarrassing for the family.” One of my closest friends who I’ve known for over 10 years called me a f*ggot. I was disappointed by his choice of words. I called him out and he apologized. It upset me that he would call me that because his sister is a lesbian. All I could think was, “Come on man. You know better.” Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, dealt with so much homophobia and hate when he was all for love and equality. How ironic that we deal with the opposite of what we believe in?
As a product of my environment, what I witnessed growing up, and continue to see and hear to this day, encourages me to continue to embody equality. The city I’m from and a lot of its residents made me into the loving, respectful person I am today. My environment made me into an LGBTQ ally and propelled me to share my stories so I can be a voice for others. I love my family and friends but I wish they see what I see. All I can do is pray for them and remember what my friend Sixto, who was born in the Dominican Republic but now lives here, told me, “It’s up to us as the new generation of Dominicans to be that change. It’s up to us to start the change.”
Although sometimes I feel like I was born into the wrong family, I look at it as a blessing in disguise because it’s allowed me to be the man I’ve always dreamed of being. I know when people talk to me they understand I represent love, respect, and most importantly, equality. I am in the constant process of always practicing forgiveness and healing towards my friends, family, and the people around me. They’re only human. All I can do is be a role model and hope they learn something from my way of living. Nowadays, people use words like progressive and liberal to refer to people who support equality and open-minded ways of thinking but I don’t like those words. How about we get back to using the word that describes all of us? Human.
Richard Brea is a LGBTQ ally living in Lynn, MA. He is a former Angelino who re-located back east to be closer to family and pursue higher education. Richard is happily attending Bunker Hill Community College as a Psychology Major. He is presently employed at Lahey Behavioral Health as a Young Adult Peer Mentor where he uses his lived experience with anxiety and depression to provide support, counseling, and hope to youth. It is important for Richard to share his story because as a Dominican man, he knows his African-American and Hispanic peers seek help at significantly lower rates than Americans do. Richard's writing has been featured in This is My Brave, BPD Central, Across the Margin, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), and Freud & Fashion.