First Person: What Gay Pride means to me

By Bill Edgin:

Growing up in Tomball, TX, I knew I was gay by the time I entered high school. But I also knew to bury this secret deep and never tell anyone, as I had been taught from an early age that being gay was a sin in the eyes of God.

I lived in constant fear I would be found out. Did anyone see me glance at the cute boy in my class? Was I butch enough in gym class today?  I had no adults or peers to talk to about the changes occurring in my body — or the feelings for boys that I knew made me an evil person.

I was taught I would be condemned to hell for eternity by the Southern Baptist God who knew my secret. I also knew it would be a source of deep shame for my parents. It is no accident that suicide is a leading cause of death among gay and lesbian teens.

For years I wrestled with accepting who I really was. It was decades before I came out.

I was 29 when I moved to Washington DC, a place far enough away from my parents that I could start exploring who I was. It took me a long time to go into Lambda Rising, the Dupont Circle gay bookstore, without feeling guilt. That was the internalized homophobia that was ingrained in me as a child.

A few months after I moved to DC, the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights took place, on Oct. 11, 1987, and  drew an estimated 750,000 — the largest LGBTQ+ gathering in US History.

I chose to participate, the first time I had done something like this. I cried during the march, I screamed the chants, I was filmed by the Secret Service as we marched in front of the White House. Finally I was in a place where everyone around me knew who I was and loved and accepted me for being who I was born to be.

My parents, my church, and my straight peers were wrong to view homosexuality as a choice. Being gay is the core of my being. I would be gay if I never had sex. I would be gay if I only had sex with women. Just as a straight man can never know exactly what it would be like to be a gay man, I as a gay man could never really know what it would be like being a straight man. We are both males but wired completely differently.

Gay Pride Month is a good time to reflect on how far we have come. The LGBTQ+ community has grown over the past 50 years from extreme repression to contenders on the national stage. We have learned we have a voice. We have learned to love and accept ourselves. We have learned to stand up to bigotry.

And as gay visibility grows, so does our acceptance within our society. Once a straight person personally knows an LGBTQ+ person, they are far less likely to accept a politician or religious leader promoting discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.

Bill Edgin is retired from the IT business. He was legally married to Rob Switala, with whom he has been in a relationship for over 30 years, in 2008. They live in Fairfax County and Rob is a member of Sully District Democratic Committee.

Photo: Bill Edgin (left) and Rob Switala have been in a relationship for over 30 years, and married for 10