Since I was a child, I have been motivated by an organic drive to dismantle systems of oppression and violence. At 13 years-old, I began organizing my friends and family to register folks to vote against George W. Bush in the presidential election. As I have organized in communities all over the country with different people who have a similar approach, we have explored different ways of combating systemic and structural violence. Our paid work took up most of our time, but it was our conversations after the protests, conferences, and meetings -- whether in hotel rooms, someone’s living room, or in the woods -- were about how tired we have been; the lack of support that leaves us feeling isolated and alone; and, our individual and shared pain and trauma. Having the space to talk about trauma is healing and an act of resistance.
Together, we resisted by fostering spaces of healing that have shifted the dialogue to the ways that white supremacy manifests as internal suffering -- suffering that many go through in silence and shame. Shame about who we are (or aren’t) and what we do (or don’t do). We have resisted by beginning to ask and answer the question: what could the world be if we all shifted the focus to building spaces of healing and restoration for us? We have resisted by creating spaces where we can speak about our trauma, if only with ourselves. We have resisted by choosing to love. We have resisted by creating and expressing.
To that end, I designed a series of workshops to explore internal shame in the form of open letters to themselves in the past, present, and/or future that center the things we have often been made to feel ashamed to say out loud. In the letters, folks were asked share the things that make us feel messy and unworthy. The things that we do (or wish to do) to honor ourselves in those moments. And, the things that we do as intentional (or unintentional) acts of resistance. To be Black, queer, and trans and to choose life is an act of resistance. To take space to explore internal shame is an act of resistance. To affirm your truth is an act of resistance. And, we cannot do this in a vacuum. Thank you to my love, partner, and best friend, Joy KMT -- without you pushing me to take my own medicine and invest in my healing this piece would not exist.
[Originally read at Trans Voices: Open Letters in honor of Trans Day of Resilience/Remembrance on November 20, 2015]
I remember the first time you heard the sting of sharp-tongued words hit the base of your ear drum and offer a resounding, “You are the devil. I don’t want nothing to do with you. Don’t call me.” You were ten & hanging on every last word. Standing in the courtroom with what felt like 1000 people and they were all staring at you. Tears started to well up in your eyes, face turned hot, and I remember you detaching from what still feels like the greatest pain you had ever felt. Your father. The clean cut military reservist and postal worker sporting the darkest 5 o’clock shadow you had ever seen on his face. Smelling and looking like he hadn’t showered in over a week. Wearing a tan jumpsuit and handcuffs around his ankles and wrists. 6 feet and 2 inches tall looking down at your small frame and telling you that you caused all this.
Everything freezes You go numb. I get distant.
You see, you don’t know this yet, but the experiences you have now will impact your ability to see us clearly. Throughout our lives, we will be forced to learn to bear witness to the vast fullness of who we are. Not just the things we’ve been through.. we must commit to acknowledging the emotional and material impact those things had on you.
Six years old. Sitting at your desk, just finished your homework and there was a lighter tucked inside the pen cup.
Lighter meet homework -- the thin, brown recycled paper lit instantly and the flame was moving quickly up the page. You threw the paper down and stomped on it. For emphasis, you ran to the bathroom (just pass the argument coming from your parents bedroom), grabbed some water and a cloth, and attempted to clean the burn on the carpet. All the ashes thrown into the garbage and just two inches of lightly burnt carpet were left as evidence. Just after thinking you had gotten away with it, your parents opened the door to your room and asked, “what’s that burning smell?” Terrified of the repercussions, you say, “I don’t know.” In what felt like seconds later, your little brother, 3 years-old, comes in and says, “I did it.” Your parents are angry and yelling at him and you hear him get beat for you. Three years later, after being forced to sit in the backseat of the car by you yelling the ever-so-serious “SHOTGUN” at the top of your lungs, your little brother blurted, “I never burnt that carpet.” The horror of the truthful revelation hit you as hard as the back-handed slap in the face from your father that cracked the passenger window that one time.
You are not a liar. Yes, I remember that being your first big lie & the reaction & I know that we have lived our life under the impression that, like your mother said to you that night, “once a liar, always a liar, & God hates a liar.” All you could see was the fire and brimstone you would be forced to face for the rest of eternity. Now, I don’t even believe in Hell, yet we still feel the swelling wave of panic that overcomes me at even the smallest discrepancy.
Later that year, Little Dave, our favorite cousin, was killed in a gang shooting on Federal Street. Grandma Irene, his only parent, lost her mind. No, literally, she lost her mind. Yes, you were only six, but in your six year-old reality she was running back and forth on the concrete in the middle of a thunderstorm after she got the news. I remember her tossing you to the ground and you trying to keep up with her as she ran out the front door of her tiny shoebox apartment in Allegheny Dwellings. You were responsible for holding her 6 foot 1-inch frame down on the couch and you had failed. Within the next month, grandma went from working for the Mayor’s Office, selling Avon, serving as a ward captain, and just being your grandma to someone you didn’t even recognize. She had changed. She was angry and sad all of the time and she couldn’t remember who anyone was. For some time after Little Dave died, you and grandma shared a bed that she later fell out of and it felt like days later she had a stroke, was diagnosed with advanced diabetes that led to glaucoma and blindness, and could barely move.
Michael David, you blamed yourself. Your grandma did not get ill because you let her get off the couch that night. Your grandma did not lose her mind because you were unable to keep her safe. You were six years old. You needed to be held. You deserved it. Michael David, you witnessed more violence in that night than some people experience in a lifetime. You are not irresponsible. You are not selfish. And, you do not make people sick.
Ten years old. You skip school with Mark and Brandon for the first time to drink beer and smoke spliffs outside the church down the street. At first, the beer taste nasty and you hate the smell of weed. Mark and Brandon are laughing as you are choking on the smoke. About 20 minutes later, you were slumped on the steps and feeling euphoric, so they told you to follow it up with a Newport. When your mom found out you were smoking she said, “go on ‘head and smoke, it’ll be the hardest habit you ever have to quit.” You laughed. And, we still smoke. Every time she sees you she makes mention, “ugh, you smell just like a smoker”. Laughing, she says, “you stink.”
Michael David, alcohol will get you caught up in a lot of trouble in college. And on some days, blacking out will be the only thing that saves you from taking on your own life. Alcohol has been a tool that will scare you more times than you’d like to admit.
The 24-pack of Milwaukee’s Best that always sat on the front porch;
the Seagram’s lime-twisted gin that he sipped from throughout the day;
and, the drunken apology that he gave after the first time he beat you out of your sleep.
When it comes to substances, we have to learn to navigate them in a way that doesn’t destroy everything we have worked so hard to combat. Alcohol helped you navigate an almost all-White girls school for four years in college in a neighborhood where you were regularly chased by the police for suspicion. Alcohol helped you navigate feelings of shame and isolation about your Blackness, your transness, your queerness, and your femininity. Alcohol was there when your father showed up at your apartment to “fight you like the man you wanted to be”.. sent you text messages and voicemails that were only repetitions of your birth name, slicing into the very fiber of your body with every syllable.. and, alcohol was there when you called him and said, “I won’t let you hurt me anymore. And, I won’t be there to bury you.”
Michael David, it is okay that you blocked his number and still look to see if he has called 4 and a half years later. It is okay that you wonder if he still reads the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette every day and comes across your name. It’s okay that you wish you could see him smile about the work you are doing. Michael David, you do not have to prove that you are worthy of love by working ten times harder just to make it half as far. And, it is okay that you miss him. It’s okay that you want him to love you, even now.
Michael David, you are not your father. Today, you are the father to five stunning, striking, and divine beings who challenge you each day to be the highest form of yourself. You don’t always get it right. So, no matter how many times you call Aunt Betty Jean and she says, “boy, you sound just like your father,” even after you told her that you hate it when she says that, you are not him. You have an opportunity to be better. You have an opportunity to choose love. He may not have showed you the love that you wanted, but you have an opportunity to be the father to five children and shower them with the love that you always wanted. You have already chosen love. You are using your pain as a catalyst to manifest spaces like this one right here. You chose to leave a job that didn’t serve you. You chose art. You chose to start an organization for queer and trans people of color in a country that believes you shouldn’t exist. You chose to stop toxic relationships for the ones that embrace the full you.
Michael David, I love you and I’m proud of you. Keep challenging, keep pushing, and keep loving. You are worth it.
Ignite Talk at the Women and Girls Foundation's Crossroads Conference on Tuesday, March 10, 2015.
I wasn’t “out” at work, so there were a lot of things I went without. Without health insurance that covered my health care needs. Without the safety, security, and freedom of living unapologetically in my truth. Without the support of my identity. THE ONE THING I DIDN’T HAVE TO GO WITHOUT WAS THE SUPPORT OF MY FRIEND, IAN. In January 2013, Ian really wanted to help me raise money for a surgery I so desperately needed so he suggested I start an online crowd source fundraiser for me to have chest reconstruction surgery, which cost $6,100. When the account was created, it connected to my email address and contact list. Within hours, emails about my trans identity and need for funds to pay for my medical needs had been sent to almost 7,000 people who I had known as long as 25 years.
I was petrified. I feared what people would think about me. Would they think that I had lied to them? Was I obligated to tell folks about my gender identity? Did it really matter? I had learned that it did matter. In fact, I knew that the group experiencing the highest murder rates in the World were, and are, trans women of color. And, trans men of color occupy the highest suicidality rate in the World. I was afraid. Afraid to be out in a system that had done its best to reign me in, take away my power, and strip me of my innate identity.
In truth, White supremacy has sown seeds of violence and erasure in the lives and experiences of people of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ individuals. Policy and legislative platforms have intentionally neglected to protect and serve these same communities -- as the individuals creating these policies reap the harvest of benefits on the very back of our maimed, exploited, and pillaged bodies.
As a Black and Native American man of trans experience, it is imperative that I acknowledge my full identity and live unapologetically in my truth as a man who stands at the crossroads of 7 syllables called intersectionality. The very fibers that compose my cultural identity are the basis of everyday systemic violence for me and people who look like me. Over the past several years, I have grown to understand that the Western culture in which we live and operate was designed – designed by men who do not look like me and had the intentionality and awareness to ensure that this system, a system built on genocide and forced free labor, would not provide the tools and resources for queer and trans people of color to thrive, excel, and be affirmed in their identities.
With that in mind, I invest in community by providing tools and resources for healing and restoration to deliberately shift paradigms and design initiatives to build sustainable change and to contribute to the movement and motivation of young people. Young people are our future; our health care providers, guides, humanitarians, teachers, ministers, activists, and leaders. And, it was with this vision that Garden of Peace Project was born -- to uplift, uphold, and empower the narratives and lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals and to address the lack of education, employment, healthcare, and housing, and the violence that impacts us all. When Garden of Peace Project was founded, our focus was activism and advocacy. It didn't take long for us to see the pain and trauma that has been inflicted throughout the community.
12: The average age a trans child is thrown away from their home
30.6: The average of the 12 trans women of color murdered between June 2014 and December 2014
50: The percentage of trans patients who report having to teach their doctor how to treat them. Imagine, going to the doctor with diabetes or high blood pressure and the doctor asking you what your treatment plan should be.
For the first two years, Garden of Peace Project was self-funded -- this is not sustainable, nor a long-term plan. With contributions and actions of solidarity from our community, Garden of Peace Project will continue to celebrate and honor the lives of queer and trans people. The lesson I learned from Ian was that I don’t have to tackle life’s obstacles alone and that I cannot continue to do this work without financial resources and tools. I have to speak up and speak out about my needs and the needs of the community. The way internalized White supremacy is set up looks like internalized shame, fear, and insecurity.
As an indigenous person, it is imperative that I embark on the journey, both as an activist for the community and as a Soul in my personal life, to dismantle White supremacy as a collective and cooperative that operates with the full knowing that ten pair of hands investing in and manifesting both literal and figurative spaces where queer and trans people of color are empowered to be brave enough to live in their authentic truths and speak power to their destinies. Revolution looks like leveraging your positions of power and privilege to contribute our work. If you can financially support us, do so. If you can spread the work about Garden of Peace Project, do so. We each have a role. This is what standing in solidarity with this fight looks like.
Over two years later, I know that I made the right decision -- and I never imagined that I would feel this liberating. The decision to live as my full Self means that I live in each day organically; knowing that I am a majestic, holy, and royal King with the capacity to speak truth to power and lay claim to what I chose as the calling to my life before I came here. Fighting for liberation is the evolution of Self and majesty of Spirit.
What does your liberation look like to you?
Tonight, I heard the loud crash of the strong ocean tide collide with the shore of the sand
And.. And, I swore I heard him call my name
And, I stood to acknowledge him
Acknowledge the timid little boy who is holding out his arms in hope
Hope that you will grab him, pick him up, hold him tight, and never let go
Hope that you always be there
Hope that you will cherish him and tell him how royal he is
Hope that you will acknowledge him
Well, I will acknowledge him
I know that I left you alone and that you were scared, and, and..
I know that you begged me to stay, and..
I know that you kept me up many nights..
The nights when you were hollering for me to turn around, and
And, eventually you gave up
Tucked yourself in the corner in the fetal position just, just wanting to be loved
Just wanting to be loved
To be held
To hear the words, "I love you. I love you so much. I love that you are funny. I love your smile. I love the twinkle in your eyes when you talk about your passion. I love that you care. I love that you are you."
"Yes, I love that you are you."
"I love everything that you are."
I know what you wanted to hear
I know that it crushed you to never hear those words
I know that you are starving and that you have been deprived
And, I know that there aren't enough bottles or plants on this Earth to keep you numb
Self-love is the intimate transformation of circumstance into restoration
The evolution of pain into healing
Loving oneself is a revolutionary act of courage
..And, an act of resilience
Loving oneself is moving away from the pain
Loving oneself is shifting from necessity to desire
Loving oneself means releasing your shackles before you release theirs
We have been gifted with options
Free will means you have a choice
To live in fear or To operate in divine command
Self will never be at peace with the confines of shame and judgement
Your soul cannot just simply move on
For the oppressor's power relies on the shattering of the soul
As the soul expresses that it is in pieces, one will not realize that they are truly whole
We are whole
We are the intentional cosmic manifestation of Spirit on this planet
.. The essence of breath and the light of the Moon
We chose and were chosen
We are expansive
Our reach knows no limits and heart knows no bounds
We are endless and infinite
Beyond space and time
Everything and nothing
And, standing at the line
Tonight, I heard the loud crash of the strong ocean tide collide with the shore of the sand
And.. And, I swore I heard him call my name
and today I woke up to the sun kissing my face. As I sat out on the balcony, I heard my Self saying that I yearn for deeper relationships that allow me to show the weakest and most vulnerable parts of myself. I yearn to grow in love, self-love and external love, that stretches and challenges me beyond my wildest imagination. I yearn for a World that encompasses love in the most beautiful, intricate, and dynamic ways. I yearn for a love that heals, not wounds. I yearn to love and be loved in ways that look past my indiscretions, push me toward a soulFULL experience, and defy the confines of what comprises me and seek my soul's purpose and existence.
What an honor and a privilege it is to welcome a new year, a rebirth, surrounded by light and love. In rebirth, I find God, I find Universe, I find the Source. A reflection of my Soul's core. I'm ready to embrace this new year in the spirit of internal and external healing. Internal healing means healing me and me healing in the spaces, both plainly and abstractly. External healing meaning ushering in healing throughout the community around me. As I walk into 2015, my top priority is to honor me; my thoughts, feelings, intuition, desires, and love.
2014 was a year; by far, one of the toughest years that I can remember from recent past. Through all of the trials, I learned so much. Universe will teach us the lessons that we need; the easy way or the hard way -- depends on what we need. At times.. well, most times, I can be stubborn. (Hey, I'm a Capricorn-Aquarius cusp, so.. it's a part of my celestial makeup) Despite the pain and trauma of 2014, I'm grateful. Most of all, I'm grateful to have learned that I can ask for the support that I need; there are people who support, love, and encourage me to keep going. There were so many laughs and smiles throughout the year. By a long shot, one of the best events I've ever attended and had the honor to host was #BlackTransRevolution in 10/2014. 30 Black Trans folks manifesting healing, restoration, fellowship, and action in my hometown -- I'm proud that GPP, as the only Black- and Trans-led organization in Southwestern PA, was a cohost of the event. The summit was phenomenal, healing, and restorative through the fellowship that was manifested in the space. Throughout 2014, I met some of the most amazing people and had many experiences that opened my eyes to new possibilities. At the same time, in 2014, I took myself "down to the eraser". By mid-December, I was drained and worn out. For last two weeks of the year, I meditated and mostly just took time to breathe. I, finally, asked for help and I watched as folks poured into my life.
As I leap into 2015, I am dedicated to continue taking what I've learned from 2014 and putting it into action.
As a soul, I always hear things literally and figuratively, meaning that I like to see the small picture and the big screen. As I was asked to think about police brutality, I can’t help but, in the small picture, think about the three times that I’ve been pulled over in the past two weeks. And, how the day after I was pulled over in Squirrel Hill and asked, “what I was even doing over there?”, I stood at the Mike Brown rally in front of the City-County building where three White male officers stood across the street and one of the officers had his hand on his gun the entire time. As a 26-year-old Black and Native man, I allowed the fear from this officer’s stare succumb me and refused to speak on the mic.
In the big screen, as a writer, I know that my pen has power. As a speaker, I know that my words are mightier than the sword and my voice is commanding. My demeanor, my skin, my walk, my stature, my perceived gender are all identifiers that increase my chance of death to 2 in 3 by a police officer. The system in which I live oppresses me and my very being. By third grade, 85% of young, Black males are reading below the third-grade level. Yes, this system wants to push you out and kill you off.
And, yes, all of these things are true, painful, and traumatic. When you live in a constant state of pain and trauma, it is imperative that you have spaces and access to spaces where you can express the pain and trauma. Where do we, as Black men, go to receive healing, restoration, and fellowship? Where can we go to express our deepest pains and traumas? Some of us go to church. Some hit the basketball court. Many of us find comfort at the bar or in a substance. For me, I find solace in my fiancée and my mother. For many of us, we find solace in our partners and our mothers.
When I zoom out, I know that we, as men, especially men of color, we find ourselves to be in roles of protection for our sisters, as they bear the brunt of oppression so that we can stand on top of patriarchy. I’ve been called somewhat a feminist. As a graduate of Chatham University, a school prided for women’s right and education, I learned that my masculine privilege had afforded me many opportunities that my sisters struggled to never receive. While White women earn $0.76 to dollar of White men, our sisters of color collectively earn $0.61 to the dollar of White men. When I say women, I acknowledge ALL women. As a queer-identified man of trans experience, I must shout from the top of the mountains for my trans sisters, your trans sisters. Our trans sisters face a 1 in 6 chance of being murdered before the age of 31 – the average age of the 6 trans sisters who were murdered in cold-blood this summer was 30.6.
We are being killed. We are being killed. We are being killed.
In the United States of America, from 2008-2013, there were 94 reported murders of trans individual – 95% were trans women of color. Where is the protection? If White women of non-trans experience were being killed at rates this high, there would be an uprising. My brothers, where are we?
We are being killed.
In 1994, my cousin David Battle III,15 years old, was killed on Federal Street in the Northside. The pain of his death swiftly hit my family. We now had a shared experience with so many of our brothers and sisters. As a community, as a racial identity, we have a collective pain and trauma of loss – loss of body, loss of agency, loss of voice, loss of power, loss of family. What spaces are you creating for the conversations about our pain?
We are being killed.
As my sister, Joy Kmt speaks, “our pain needs a witness”. We need to bear witness to our pain and trauma. Our trans sisters are queens, mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, and majestic. It is not their job to tell us about their body or make apologies for being who they are. It is our job to teach our children to do better. It is our job to instill the message that all people deserve to live.
We are being killed.
It is not my job to educate about me to simply have a right to my life. We are fighting for our survival in a system that debates whether my identity is ethical or “if God made me this way”. My life is not up for debate. My right to live my life is not up for discussion. And, as man at the center of a 5-star intersection of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, and so much more, how dare I stay silent in live in the shadows while I bear witness to my sisters perils. The same sisters who hold me, both literally and figuratively. We have a duty to stand up against domestic violence. We have an obligation to speak out against patriarchy. We have an onus to be protectors and providers.
As patriarchy has uplifted the Black males to a position of power, it is imperative that we use our positions of power to uphold the narratives of our sisters. We are being killed. For our collective survival, we have to uphold Kandy Hall, Mia Henderson, Islan Nettles, Marissa Alexander, Cece McDonald, and countless other sisters who have been impacted by the issues that are disproportionately affecting all of us in different ways.
As a man, it’s essential that use my time to speak about coming together. Queer, non-queer, trans, cis, heterosexual, etc., we have to see that if you are chains, I cannot be free. We are fighting for our lives and we cannot be silent. We cannot choose to prioritize whose life means more. We have to step up. We must do better. We must speak out.
And, in the style of my sister, Lourdes Ashley Hunter, I would like to ask everyone stand, gather in a circle, and hold hands with your neighbor, turn to your left, and one at a time tell your neighbor, “My liberation depends on your liberation.”
Get the language correct -- we choose to physically transition our bodies to match what we see because the masses are too ignorant to get it. I didn't choose to become a man and I wasn't born a female. I was told that I was a female at birth, forced to assimilate, rejected that notion, and then chose to make a physical transition to allow folks to see what I always saw. My body does not define me, I do.
.. of burying young Black bodies
.. of living with the fear that comes with walking out of my front door
.. of driving with the fear of the police
.. of watching White people cross the street when they see me
.. of White women clutching their purses a little tighter
.. of thinking that I'm going to lose my life before age 30
.. of my chest hurting and sighing to relieve the pressure
.. of living in a World that tells me I'm worthless
.. of imagining that my parents and partner will bury me
.. of being anxious
.. of living in heightened trauma
.. of feeling like my value doesn't matter to anyone who doesn't know more than my skin color
.. of wondering what people will remember most about me if I leave this Earth too soon
.. of deciding my experiences based on the level of pain I can endure on a given day
.. of the scowl the White mom gives when their White child smiles at me
.. of folks only speaking about my body
.. of ignorance and bigotry
.. of not having a space to grieve all of these losses
.. and, then being called angry when I let a little of my pain out
.. of being pushed out, cast away, and being forced to live in the margins
.. of being tired
Over the past several days I have learned that I yearn for deeper relationships that allow me to show the weakest and most vulnerable parts of myself. I yearn to grow in love, self-love and external love, that stretches and challenges me beyond my wildest imagination. I yearn for a World that encompasses love in the most beautiful, intricate, and dynamic ways. I yearn for a love that heals, not wounds. I yearn to love and be loved in ways that look past my indiscretions, push me toward a soulFULL experience, and defy the confines of what comprises me and seek my soul's purpose and existence.
Can you believe that it’s been almost ten years since I came out to you for the first time? I clearly remember that day. You dropped me off at school and I handed you my coming out letter. All day, I was checking my phone, hoping that you had said something. My heart felt like it was in my throat. I kept thinking, “You shouldn’t have given her the letter.” I knew that you were conservative and a Christian who had grown up in the church. At first, when you didn’t say anything for days, I became fearful. I wondered what you had been contemplating. I had seen a documentary when one guy’s parents sent him to shock therapy. I felt like I was preparing myself for the absolute worst. After a few more days, I started to get angry. “How dare she not say anything when you are revealing yourself to her?” I thought. When I marched upstairs to your room to ask you that very question, I heard myself quietly whisper, “Ma?” “MA,” I heard myself shout louder. Then, in my normal tone I asked, “Did you read my letter?” When you responded and said you had read the letter, you were a little too calm. After you talked to me and said that this may just be a phase and you weren’t going to allow me to be gay in your house, I felt disheartened. Then you told me that you would “always love me, no matter what.”
We had our struggles over the next two years as I began to rebel in a number of ways. By the end of my junior year in high school, I knew that I was going to Chatham University, in Pittsburgh, and I ran there every time I got the chance. Being surrounded by folks who were just being themselves kicked open a breadth of possibilities for my identity and I felt safe exploring myself there. When I left to begin my undergraduate studies, I thought for sure we would never have a close relationship. The first couple months of classes, I would get so angry because I so badly wanted your approval. I knew that you told me that you loved me no matter what, but I wanted you to be the parent shouting your pride from the rooftops and embracing me like only a mom can do.
At the end of my first semester, it felt like we would never make amends or see eye-to-eye. I knew for sure that we would never talk again. When I cut off contact, you gave me my space. I know that it was one of the hardest times of your life, but that space allowed me to become confident in me. You always told me that you were proud of me and that you believed in me – my coming out didn’t change your belief that I was something great. As I struggled with my identity, I didn’t have a true concept of who I was and I needed the space to figure that out. It took years for me to get to a true place of understanding and I’m so grateful that you bore the pain of my growth process.
I know you are reading this letter and thinking, “I can’t believe that he is saying all of this.” I’m saying all of this because I want you and everyone else to know how grateful I am for your unconditional love. Your unconditional love is as a raw as the words of this letter; your unconditional love for me means that you have sacrificed, given of yourself, and shed tears for me. The time that I took to uncover my true Self was the gateway to my real relationship with you. During that time, I was able to assess and understand that you are my mother and so much more. You are a strong, Black woman who grew up in a small, rural town in the segregated South – a woman who grew up in the Church of Christ Holiness U.S.A. – a woman who was the last-born child of ten – a woman who is a survivor and taught me the definition of survival – and, a woman who sacrificed time and time again for me to have a better life.
Ten years ago when I came out, I never imagined that I would have the relationship that I have with you now. As I have watched you go from talking to listening, I have seen you open your mind to all of the complexities that create each individual’s unique identity. And, now, you are giving others advice about how to support their LGBTQIA child, or loved one. Every time you come to Pittsburgh for a Garden of Peace Project event or you just tell me how proud of you are of me, I smile because I remember just how far you have come. Sometimes, I feel like the proud parent -- the one who gave you the tools and resources to open your mind and explore the World. I’m so happy to have you as my mother, my guide, and one of my best friends. Thank you for challenging your own fundamental beliefs and continuing to love me. You are truly an example of a parent’s ability to love unconditionally and selflessly.
Thank you. Thank you for always being here for me. Thank you for loving me for who I am – your first-born son. Thank you for your sacrifices and your embrace.
I love you, ma. Happy Mother’s Day!
Tune in tonight as my mother, Michele Riddick-Hamilton, talks about her journey to acceptance through love, gives advice to LGBTQIA children about coming out to their parents, and shares her perspective on the Black church of 2014.
To contact Michele Riddick-Hamilton, please email questions, comments, or concerns here!
Taken from Garden of Peace Project's Blog of Blurbs
Michael David Battle
As a lecturer, writer and advocate, Michael David Battle’s vision is to ignite others and move them to action through courageous conversations, exploring vulnerabilities, and collectively manifesting spaces of healing and restoration.