I always knew I was “different” as a child. I preferred Barbies to G.I. Joes, tried painting my own nails, and enjoyed playing with girls more than boys. Unfortunately, I wasn’t raised with the best parental guidance. My father told me that if his child ever grew up to date black people or turned out to be a “fag,” he would disown me.
My parents divorced in 1986, the year I was born. The woman my father remarried knew I was gay, but it was an unspoken subject. I used to dance professionally and loved it. I had the pleasure of sharing a stage with Lindsay Ridgeway, from the Disney hit show Boy Meets World (she was Cory’s little sister), but my stepmother put an end to that because only girls were allowed to dance. Later, my stepmother started calling me “Travina" to tease.
With the abuse at home, I leaned on friends and made their families my family. It was the best decision I ever made. It gave me the confidence to finally tell my relatives.
While attending a religious high school, I saw kids get zip-tied, be bullied, and even have their teeth knocked out if they weren’t “cool." So I stayed closeted to maintain my popularity. For three of my four high school years, I knew I wasn’t completely happy because I wasn’t myself. But the last semester of my senior year, I decided enough was enough.
I came out and lost no one in that transition. I was accepted at school, and my friends loved and supported me 100 percent.
The next step was telling my family, which terrified me. Who wouldn’t be when you heard words like “fag” as a child? I told my mother first when I was 20. She already knew, she said, promising it wouldn't affect our relationship or how she loved me.
Then I waited two more years to tell my father because I couldn't imagine telling a man who once said he would disown me for being gay that I actually was. Shockingly, my father told me he'll always love and support me, and that he was happy I told him because he also knew.
My relationship with my dad improved slightly throughout the years — until I got married. I’ve only spoken to my father a handful of times since my wedding. I couldn’t figure out why, until my youngest brother told me that my dad brought up that I changed my last name to Turner and how upset he was that I did. He asked my brother if I was the “bitch” in my relationship.
While this disheartened me, I was fortunate to have a father-in-law who supported my relationship with his son. A memory that will always stick with me is the day I asked my father-in-law for his son’s hand in marriage. He told me, "I don’t understand why the hell it matters who you love and who you marry? In the police force we didn’t walk into the job or crime scene and share that we're dating or married to a woman. That's your private business, and this is part of what's wrong with the world these days.” Needless to say, this was one of the best moments in my life. It gave me the confidence to be who I really was shamelessly, and fearlessly.
My story is one of the catalysts that drove me to lead a nonprofit called Executive Pride, the LGBTQ workplace equality organization. I realized we still struggle for equality as members of the LGBTQ community, and especially within the workplace, which is why Executive Pride recently launched the “Pride Inside” initiative to help raise awareness and tackle the issue of intolerance and hate in the workplace.
I ask everyone to sign the “Pride Inside” pledge. By signing the pledge, you’ll be a valuable part of a powerful network of companies, business leaders, and employees that are working to unify and amplify the voice of the LGBTQ community in the workplace, and beyond.
For National Coming Out Day, I encourage everyone to not view this as coming out but rather that you’re really embracing who you truly are. People need to learn to love each other for their authentic selves, as humans, not whatever “acceptable versions" our dysfunctional government and religions have instilled into our brains. If you're going to come out, then stand strong with those who support you, and never be afraid to be you.
TRAVIS KELSO-TURNER, a Las Vegas resident, is the executive director of Executive Pride, the LGBTQ workplace equality organization. Kelso-Turner is also the administrative director at MacFarlane Group.