Raphael Miranda is a meteorologist with NBC-NY who recently participated in Live Out Loud’s Homecoming Project, a national initiative that sends role models back to their hometown high schools to share their stories with LGBT youth. Here is Raphael’s reflection on the experience:
I was nervous upon entering the halls of Fox Lane High School. It had been about twenty years since I had been inside that old brick building, but the rush of adolescent emotions was fresh and powerful. After weeks of anticipation and anxious buildup, I was ready. I was ready to meet with gay high school students and straight allies, and whoever else wanted to show up. I was ready because now I am out, openly gay and I have been for years, but I was never out in high school. In fact in high school being gay was a source of pain for me, and shame, and most of all isolation. I was the only one in the world who knew my dirty little secret, and I was a very lonely boy. I knew that the opportunity to speak with these kids might make a connection to some of them, so that they might not feel as lonely and shameful as I did, and that’s why I was ready to do the Homecoming Project.
The kids filtered in as my mother Susan and I took our seats, with the GSA advisor and English teacher Peter Matthews supervising the 20-30 or so guests. I sat in front of the room and my mom sat next to me, a little off to the side. I began the conversation by telling the kids that I live as an openly gay man, and I have a job that I love, (where I get to be out on tv!), and that I have a wonderful husband. This is where the first surprise came to me. When I was describing my relationship with Doug (my husband) I started to cry! The emotions were joyful yet overwhelming, and I think I just realized how far I had come from that lonely kid that I used to be. I wasn’t exactly prepared for the tears, so it caught me (and the kids I think) off guard, but I tried to continue without too much of a scene.
Next I discussed what it was like for me in school. I told them how I struggled with my gay feelings and felt constant shame and how I was my own worst “bully”. I used to try to be invisible for fear of being caught. I told myself I was worthless, and punished myself for not being able to change to “normal” straight behavior. When I was describing these dark times, tears came to my eyes a second time, feeling the pain of a sad, isolated youth.
Not wanting to get stuck in the muck of sadness, my next story was a happier one, about coming out. I told a humorous story about getting caught with a hickey from another guy and trying to explain that to my girlfriend at the time, which slowly lead to a mostly happy coming out process. There was nice laughter from the audience, and I could see they were happy for me! The one major glitch for me was my mom. She had a hard time accepting the new me…and it was great to be able to hear her point of view. The kids eagerly asked my mom questions about what it was like for her, and she was an open book. I could see they felt safe asking her questions and it was a warm and open discussion.
As time was quickly ticking away, I then opened the floor for questions, and I was very pleasantly surprised to see that they were ready and willing to ask! At first they kept saying, “this may be too personal but….” So I told them, “you don’t have to warn me, I’m an open book for you guys, and if something crosses a boundary I will tell you.” They asked me how I met my husband, what is was like to be gay at work, if I had been discriminated against, and then the conversation turned political. They were curious about my views on gay marriage, and even wanted to know if I “believed” in bisexuals! I was able to share my views on all these topics, and when I was asked if being gay had ever hurt me at work, I was able to honestly say not at all, and that being active in the NBC affinity group network has been a huge benefit to my career, which I hope will encourage them to network as well. I felt at times like I was “selling” the idea of how great being gay can be…but that’s just my current reality, being gay enriches my life.
My last emotional moment came when we were discussing the “It Gets Better” project and one of the girls confessed to the group that she had been feeling suicidal, rejected by her parents when she tried to come out. She also said that when she found the It Gets Better videos on youtube, it really connected with her, and brought her out of her darkest moments. I couldn’t help but cry when I saw the pain in her eyes, reminding me of my own, but I think I was also crying out of relief, because I saw that she was ok now, and her girlfriend was there next to her, stroking her hand.
I’m feeling emotional even as I write this weeks later, and I can honestly say that the Homecoming Project has changed me forever. The students inspire me, to be even OUTER and PROUDER than ever! I hope I served as a “role model” to these kids, showing them that it’s ok to go through dark and challenging times. If they feel lonely, so did I. If they are struggling, I did too. But look where I am now. I hope they see a thriving, happy gay man with good relationships and a supportive network, and believe that they can achieve that too. I am so proud of them for being so far along their journeys already.
That weekend I was able to do a “shout out” to the Fox Lane GSA on tv when I was doing the weather, and I hope some of them got to see it, even though most were probably still sleeping. How fabulous that I can talk on tv about going to speak at a Gay Straight Alliance at a high-school!? Together we are lifting the veil of shame!
LIVE OUT LOUD’S MISSION
Our mission is to empower, energize and enable Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth to live the life of their dreams through the celebration of the richness and diversity of our shared experience, the visibility of role models and the dissemination of information. To learn more about Live Out Loud, visit their website.