“Just be yourself.”

This three-word phrase is spoken to us as young children and haunts us well into our adult lives. As a sulking teenager, your parents likely told you some variation of this expression when battling teenage angst and insecurity, but often was met with groans and eye rolls. 

They are words of encouragement and reassurance meant to uplift you when the mere idea of being in your own skin feels unbearable, like a curse. 

But what happens when you’ve been told for most of your life that who you are isn’t something to be proud of? That your identity is invalid and something to sweep under the rug? Be yourself, but not that.

Think about it. The ability to be yourself without castigation is not something everyone can safely do—it’s a form of privilege not all are afforded. (28 states still allow companies to fire their employees for being gay or transgender, by the way.)

I recently spent a weekend at a marketing conference for queer undergraduate students in New York City called Out for Undergrad (for those who don’t know, queer is the umbrella term used for gender and sexuality minorities.) Yes, it was as fabulous as you could imagine.

The theme for the weekend was authenticity—particularly in our professional lives, and how it ultimately relates to our overall happiness in life. We attended workshops, mentor groups, and speaker events that revolved around the importance of breaking down the barriers between oneself and the rest of society. Allowing yourself to be. In that, they also addressed the difficulties we face when we decide to go into the real world sans our heteronormative masks.

As queer individuals (and marginalized identities in general), this is undoubtedly an uphill battle. Experiences in our lives have told us that in order to succeed and feel safe, we have to cover by camouflaging with “straight-acting” behavior. We’re taught to evade our true selves in order to survive. It’s as exhausting as it sounds, but often we have no choice. In order to live safely amongst the masses, we must quiet down our appearances, shift our voices down a few pitches, and refrain from using one too many Ru Paul references.

It sounds like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, right? Fortunately, there is. My spirits were lifted as I spent countless hours with my queer family, sharing our own experiences of rejection and disbelief, but those too of hope and a better tomorrow. We laughed. We cried. We danced to Whitney Houston and Tove Lo on rooftops. It was a community gathering in its purest form. 

And at Black Sheep, this is our strong suit. 

We are passionate about making others feel at home in our space and give a shit about embracing those who are different. Here are some action items you can enact in your own organizations and communities:

  • Reach out to your colleagues, peers, friends when you notice a change in their attitudes and/or demeanor. Reassure them that this is a space where they are welcome.
  • Call someone the hell out when they same something inappropriate. Educate them on why said thing should never be said.
  • Host and/or attend community events that recognize and give a voice to marginalized identities. 
  • Include your pronouns in your email signature. This is a simple one, but has so much power in making LGBTQ+ individuals feel welcome.

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” Brené Brown


>Evan, @forevan21