"One day you will find your people, who will be there for you and understand you. It took me 20 years to find mine and it was worth the wait," said Lee Piechota of Luzerne county. Piechota grew up in a house that was not accepting of him and now he finds himself flourishing in an environment that accepts and loves him for who he is. Pride Month looks a little different this year, the pandemic has forced people to celebrate at home rather than attend Pride celebrations that usually happen across the globe. However, a celebration it is none-the-less. This year for Pride we wanted to share Piechota's story to highlight how an accepting household can help LGBTQIA+ youth's mental health, and self-esteem immensely. We will also be debuting our brand new tip sheet that features tips for parents on; What to Do, Say, and Research to make your LGBTQIA+ Child Feel Loved & Heard.
When asked what Pride Month means to him Piechota said; "It's just a reminder that we don't have to stand for intolerance that is often shown to us and that I, as a queer person deserve just as much respect as anyone else. It is a huge reminder that I am not alone. There are people out there like me and that is such an easy thing to forget." Pride Month serves as a time to reflect back on all of the incredible individuals who fought hard to get the community where it is today, as well as a time to unite and celebrate the uniqueness of every member of the community.
"I grew up in an abusive household. I didn't come out, they found out, through going through my phone and social media. After that, things were not good. My father let me know that I was not accepted, at all. There were times where I feared for my safety and I repressed my identity, and I told myself it was fine," said Lee when thinking back on his childhood. "Everything escalated when I went to college and I decided I wanted to come out. I went home for a short period of time during the summer and it became clear to me that I was no longer safe or welcome there, and I knew I didn't deserve that." It was during this time the people who would later become his family had offered Piechota a place to live and his stuff was moved in that week.
Shortly after moving Piechota was diagnosed with PTSD. "My brain had decided it was time to finally process everything that happened to me in my house. We really didn't talk about mental health, it was something you took a pill for and shut up about. In this house now everybody has been very understanding and they either know what it's like or are just very supportive and patient with me. I can never be thankful enough for that," said Piechota. He notes a massive improvement in his mental health and has never felt more safe or comfortable. With this newfound love and acceptance, Lee has not only become a happier person but he is flourishing in a number of ways. "My GPA has gone up at by at least .5 points and I am able to work on a lot more of the stuff that I didn't have the energy to do before. I am really letting myself enjoy things. I feel so much better."
Lee's story is a testament to how important it is for LGBTQIA+ youth to have people in their corner. " If you don't have anybody that sees you as somebody of worth how are you supposed to value your own self-worth?" asks Lee. "I will say, there were days in my previous circumstances that I experienced suicide ideations. There were days where I didn't think I would make it another day. Everybody would try and force me to act and behave in a certain way that wasn't me and it wasn't comfortable. It was agonizing. Since I left the house I haven't experienced suicide ideations like I used to. Yes, I have had my bad days but I don't really think about that anymore. That is such a relief."
This Pride Month we wanted to create a resource that parents can use to make LGBTQIA+ youth feel loved and heard when they do come out. As we can see from Lee's story this is such an essential part of ensuring that our children feel comfortable to fully be themselves, and in turn, be ultimately happy. Like all of our tipsheets, these tips for parents come directly from members and parents of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The tip sheet starts with the very important disclaimer that being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community does NOT mean that you have a social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenge. However, we can see from Lee's story that societal, and sometimes family, stigmas can impact the mental health of LGBTQIA+ youth.
Last year during Pride Month we spoke to Lexi Hunter, a young transgender woman, who shared her insights on how to protect your a child's mental health during the process of them coming out. This can be a very intimidating time in the life of a child. Lexi encouraged parents to start with love and follow up with research and actions. Our tip sheet breaks down what parents can do immediately following your child coming out. These tips range from: Don't panic, you won't know everything, to thank your child for sharing their authentic self with you.
The second half of the tip sheet details how important it is to use the correct terminology, why you should do your research, and where to start. "It's the same thing as respecting any situation, isn't it? If you're talking to anyone whether it is about religion or LGBTQIA+ you will want to use the right words," said Lee. He went on to mention how essential it is to listen to how your child identifies and identify them the same way. "If your child is nonbinary or bisexual and every time you always say; "oh you're just gay right?" You are being very dismissive. You are taking the easy way out."
While asking questions rather than assuming is a good thing, do not use your child as an LGBTQIA+ encyclopedia. Put in the work and show your child that you want to learn everything you can about how they identify. If you feel like you or your child might benefit from a support group, try and find a virtual one or one in your area. Look at laws that may impact your child or medical procedures that they might choose to undergo in their future. Be knowledgable about the community and continue to learn. At the bottom of the tip sheet, we have listed a number of reputable resources to get you started.
In a number of our articles this month we have talked about being a good ally. Like the advice, we shared previously it is important to amplify and listen to the voices and stories of the community you are trying to support. In our article; The Psychological Toll of Raising African American Children in Today's World we heard from two black parents who shared the best way to be a good ally was to educate yourself and be actively antiracist. The same ideal goes for being an LGBTQIA+ ally. Lee encourages people to never allow instances of hate speech or inappropriate words pass by unchallenged. "Don't laugh it off, let them know it is unacceptable."
During this Pride Month celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community. Continue to educate yourself and help to educate others. Watch the video below to hear the story of the first openly queer pageant winner.