Pride Month celebrates the freedoms that those of us in the LGBTQ+ community have fought to win and recognizes the fight for the freedoms we have yet to win. Pride is an opportunity to share our stories, educate others, and feel confident that our arduous crawl toward equality is real.

As you read my story, I hope that you’ll remember stories from the LGBTQ+ community, as well as those from other communities (you can read about AAPI heritage here) that offer important perspectives and deserve your attention just as much as mine.

Finding a place to find myself

The sky was a piercing blue the day I drove toward the San Francisco Bay from Los Angeles, which I’d called home for 7 years. I’ll never forget the feeling of opportunity I had as I saw the San Francisco skyline. I knew that day—and for many days before—that I needed a new piece of ground.

I’d been looking for my real self for a long time but hadn’t dedicated the space or time to find it. I had very intentionally initiated the move closer to friends and family in the Bay, and I felt that the moment was right.

Living in the closet was painful, dark, and lonely. ‘The closet’ isn’t simply an expression used in common conversation, it’s a state of existence that those of us in the LGBTQ+ community live every day of our lives before we come out. We spend that part of our lives living as imposters in our own minds. And we spend every day after coming out, trying to figure out who we actually are.

So I started to try to find out who I am. I can remember my first date well. I was extremely nervous. We were both new to the Bay but managed to get pizza, watch the sunset, and talk about where we were in our coming out journeys. It’s easy now to recall the freedom I felt in doing just one thing as my real self. And it’s just as easy to recall the loneliness I felt when we eventually broke up.

When you’re not out, you can’t talk to anyone about your sadness, your pain, and your questions—you just hold it inside. All I knew was that I needed to move forward. For me, that meant finding a workplace where I would feel comfortable being myself and find time to process coming out.

Finding a supportive workplace

When I joined Percolate (Now Seismic), I found a work family that surpassed my expectations. We worked hard and collaboratively. Both inside and outside the office, there were many different communities and groups working together to solve problems. We built respect for each other and learned to value perspectives we hadn’t experienced.

I vividly remember one such instance. It came from a colleague who doesn’t identify as LGBTQ+. Their actions stand out as an impactful moment in my coming-out journey.

On July 26, 2017, when transgender troops were banned from serving in the military, it was a frightening day for those of us in the LGBTQ+ community. It showed the fragility of our freedom even after marriage equality became a right in 2015.

On that July day, one of the company’s cofounders—a cis-gendered white male—did something courageous that I’m now asking all of you to do. He acted on his ability to advocate for people who are different from himself. He found a Pride pin in the office and wore it the rest of the week. It was a simple act, but it was a moment I will never forget. His action made me want to give my all to my team and my company, because I was finally at a place that cared about me.

Coming out and finding community

As I slowly saw the support I had from people in my life, I realized I could only find my true self by coming out. I did just that on a trip to Hawaii (apparently all I needed was a nice beach and a mai tai).

I don’t remember most of the day, but I do remember calling my college roommate and telling him what I’d been holding inside for so long. It felt like breaking open the largest dam in the universe and letting flow a torrent of emotions. It felt incredibly good. I started to process my emotions and work to discover the real me.

I focused on my passion for cycling and long-distance sports which gave me space to process. In 2018 I participated in AIDS Lifecycle, an incredible, 551-mile annual bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles that raises money for the Los Angeles LGBT Center and San Francisco AIDS Foundation. I had met several gay friends through cycling and felt like this ride was the perfect way to learn more about my community and do something positive for others.

As I found out, AIDS Lifecycle is much more than a bike ride. It brings together generations of LGBTQ+ people. On the ride, you hear stories of immense loss due to the AIDS pandemic, but you also get to know people from all over the world.

As a gay man, I found the support of a community I never knew could exist. Best of all, the ride gave me a way to bring together the important communities in my life to raise more than $5K for the ride.

I was finally able to openly share who I was with everyone and took pride in the stories I heard, the people I met, and the places I saw. More than a year had passed between the day that I called my college roommate and when I clipped onto my bike on the way to LA, but it was the first time I felt I was the person I wanted to be. I had such a moment of incredible clarity and pride going across the finish line in LA knowing that I’d done what I set out to do.

My coming out doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes struggle with my identity. In the moments where someone asks me if I have a girlfriend or wife; or when I first tell someone I am gay; or have to confront someone about something offensive they’ve said, my stomach still lurches like I never left the closet. But it’s so much better now and I’m so much happier. And I’m thankful that I have found an accepting workplace and a supportive community where I can be myself.

If you’d like to support your colleagues in the LGBTQ+ community, here is my ask. Give them a verbal affirmation of your allyship, donate to a charity during Pride, let them have equal speaking time in meetings, and speak up when you see injustice. Join us to celebrate Pride, because the most important person you can be in your life—and in your workplace—is yourself.