Op-ed: Run With Me

By Nicole Ehrlich

Originally published on Advocate.com September 16 2013 4:05 AM ET

I began working with Lady Gaga back in 2009 on her “Poker Face” video as her creative producer, helping her bring her dreams for the video to life. I was excited and inspired to be collaborating with an artist as brave, innovative, and empowering as she is. I am a firm advocate for female strength and empowerment, so coming into each other's lives has been an inspirational and inventive blessing for me.

Since then, we’ve worked together on almost all her videos, including her HBO special, ABC Thanksgiving special, and Google Chrome commercial. It’s all been very exciting and very fun, and yet we strive for more. Gaga is a true visionary who has been able to extend her influence beyond the stage and the screen to philanthropy. 

Along with her mother, Cynthia, Gaga started the Born This Way Foundation in 2011 to forge a braver and kinder world for youth. As a lesbian and loving mother, I have adopted the foundation’s mission as my own. This year at the New York City Marathon, I will run in the name of the Born This Way Foundation. I run for the youth who struggle every day to find their voice; who seek courage and support in things greater than themselves; who are afraid to be who they are. I run for them in hopes that they find their own truth and embrace it wholeheartedly without any fear of being shamed, abandoned, or harassed. I run for those who need support in any way, shape, or form. I run for the inspiring leaders who pave the way for a kinder and braver world. 

I am now in the middle of a challenging but candid journey as I prepare for the marathon, which takes place November 3. My lifestyle and diet have changed drastically. No matter what time I finish work (and sometimes that can be 2 a.m.), I wake up at 4 a.m. to run. I have cut out sugar, gluten, and dairy, and although some days I fall off, I try not to get down on myself and pick myself right back up. It has definitely been an adjustment, but I want to continue this commitment in hopes of inspiring others to take action for the things they believe in.

I am lucky enough to have a very supportive and open-minded family. Their mantra was always “Be who you are” and “Be the best you that you can be.” They ingrained in me that anything — even the impossible — is possible, and they were by my side if I needed them. Yet it was still very hard for me to come out to them. I was afraid I would disappoint them. I was afraid that my sexual orientation would create some kind of drama in their lives, and they didn’t deserve any negativity surrounding them. But to my surprise, coming out to them and my amazing brother was no different from talking about which college I wanted to go to. Initially, this was something new to them, and a little confusing. There was a lot of explaining that I'm gay “for real,” even though I always had a boyfriend.

Today, every member of my family is an advocate. Even my uncle came out to us and his parents because he saw how our family embraced me. It's difficult to imagine how it may be for some people to come out without a tolerant and receptive family. That's why the Born This Way Foundation is so necessary. I wish it existed when I came out — with that sort of resource, maybe I would have come out a few years earlier.

I 've been “married” (we haven’t done this legally since the law passed) to a beautiful woman for 15 years, and we have two happy and healthy sons. The ability to be completely open about who you are to those you love is something I wish was available to everyone. Truth and acceptance should be a standard of living. The progress is within our grasp, and I want to do everything I can, including running this marathon, to take us one step closer to a more open and tolerant world, especially for today’s youth.

The tools the Born This Way Foundation provides helps our youth transition into their own truth in very positive and empowering ways. The Born Brave Bus Tour is a huge, immersive experience that uses technology and strong local ambassadors to connect to young adults all over the United States. It functions as a youth drop-in center and initiates campaigns against bullying and homophobia. It provides a safe place for the local youth to come together and express their feelings and opinions in a respectful and supportive environment. Change begins locally, and these local groups are dedicated to making positive changes where they live.

We should all be conscious of the effects we have on one another: how a tweet can produce love or produce hate, how the smallest remark can make someone feel welcome or completely alone, and how a smile or hello can enrich someone’s day. I am dedicated to running this marathon to raise the awareness of community and connection. So I sit here writing, pleading to you all, run with me! We all crave love, acceptance, and support. Together we are a force that can bring these positive changes into the world and unite within our hearts to better the community and world around us.

NICOLE EHRLICH is a creative producer, CEO, and mother of two boys. You can follow her on @EhrlichNicole or her website ValisStudios.com. Donate to her running efforts on CrowdRise.com