Out and Proud – Reflections on Pride Month
June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month and as we kick-off the month filled with parades, tea dances, marches, and other festivities around the world, I find myself reflecting on how Pride all began and why it was all necessary in the first place. I am struck with thinking about how far we’ve come and how much work we still must do. I also think about our Chill youth who identify as LGBTQ+, many of whom still lack the love, support, and acceptance that they all need and deserve. This is one of the many reasons that I am incredibly proud to work as Chill’s Global Vice President of Marketing and Development. My work at Chill allows me to make a difference and gives me an opportunity to give back to kids who struggle like I did when I was growing up. I’m driven every day to provide our participants with experiences that will help them grow, feel challenged, and help them feel accepted in the boardsports community regardless of their identity.
History of Pride
For those that may not be familiar with Gay Pride, it first began to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. The Stonewall Uprising was a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. June 28, 1970 marked the very first official Pride Parade in New York City which was organized by bisexual activist Brenda Howard and a committee she put together – the parade and its supporters marched from Greenwich Village to Central Park. It was thanks to these efforts that the LGBTQ+ community has been able to gain equal rights and protections by law. In fact, we’ve come so far since 1969 that in June, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriages legal in all 50 U.S. states. Lately, there have been many attempts to roll-back laws that protect the LGBTQ+ community and ensure equal rights. Like many other minority groups around the world, we must continue to advocate for those who face discrimination.
LGBTQ+ Youth Today
Youth today still face many challenges when coming out to family and friends, including bullying and hate crimes, and many contemplate, attempt, or commit suicide all because they aren’t accepted for being their true, authentic selves.
As a gay man, I faced many of those same struggles. I didn’t come out until I was in college and it took much longer to come out to my family – I was in my 30’s. Thinking back on my experience growing up, I was called names and struggled to fit in. I felt alone and scared throughout most of my time growing up because I didn’t know anyone else who was gay. My biggest hope is that my work at Chill will have a positive impact on youth who are struggling with acceptance and that Chill will continue to provide an environment where participants can come and feel a sense of belonging and community that accepts them for who they are.
I’ll never forget a Chill participant who attended the Burton US Open with us one year in Vail, Colorado. As the week went on, he gravitated toward me and opened up about his strained relationship with his family, about not being accepted, and about fitting in with other kids and not having many friends. I saw myself in that young man’s eyes and I kept telling him that it gets better. I wanted him to know that I had been in his shoes. By the end of the week, I saw a complete transformation in body language, and self-confidence. I felt happy that Chill was able to give him the tools he needed to believe in himself and realize that anything was possible and that he was going to be alright.
This is one of the many reasons that I take so much pride in Chill’s ability to reach so many youth and provide support in a variety of different ways. Some impacts are big and obvious while others are subtle but no less impactful.
When I joined the Chill Foundation and the Burton Snowboards family, I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in as an openly gay man. Would I fit into the snowboarding culture? Would I be accepted? Would I be able to come to work and be myself, make a difference, and build upon my career? These were all worries that I had, but seven years later, I can proudly say that I have felt accepted and supported since my first day. I’ve found the boardsports community to be accepting and my Chill and Burton family have made me feel welcome. I’ve been supported in my career growth and been provided with some incredible opportunities throughout my time at Chill.
I’d like to end with a challenge. If you’ve read this post to the end, think of at least one person in your life who identifies as LGBTQ+. At some point this month, have a conversation with them – ask them questions about their childhood, what it was like for them to come out, and what their journey was like. Let them know you value them, that you support them, and that you accept them. I hope that I will see the day when people in our community will no longer need to “come out of the closet” – that being straight isn’t just the default and that when kids are growing up, there will no longer be an assumption of straightness.
Jeff Morton (he, him)
VP, Global Marketing & Development
The Chill Foundation
Pride was started by trans and gender non-conforming folks of color. Chill stands in allyship and solidarity with the Black and LGBTQ+ youth, families, and communities we serve.