Word on the Street Issue 44, June 2024

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Junior Lee

Growing up, I was always a tomboy–wearing skirts, playing with dolls or putting on makeup was not in my vocabulary. I was playing Call of Duty at 10 years old.

Surrounded by other females at a mental health facility, I realized that a part inside of my body was not satisfied. So, at 13 years old, I came out as transgender. 

Pride to me is embracing yourself without apology or judgment from others. I feel like being you is more important than someone you’re not. I try not to really care about the hate I receive for wanting to be myself.

Growing up in an unaccepting household made me develop a thick skin from an early age. Both inside and outside of my household, I’ve grown accustomed to tuning out the cruel, negative remarks about my identity. No matter what you do, the world will find a way to hate who you are

If you live trying to please everybody else, you’re not going to get very far. I’ve learned to embrace who I am and live the life I want to. While I’ve been able to find a supportive community among other guests at the shelter, there are still many from older generations who struggle to understand my experiences and often question or challenge my identity journey.

Pride enables me to unapologetically honor every part of who I am, pushing past the judgment of those unwilling or unable to extend basic human understanding and respect. My existence is not contingent upon the approval of others. Remaining true to my authentic self is far more important than contorting into someone I’m not.


Pride in the community means that I have the right to love the same sex without being judged for it. When I came out to my parents they said that I needed to be cured and that I was sick and attention seeking. They had the whole church physically pray over me, to drive the demons out. After the praying didn’t work they ignored me and treated me like a household object–a chair seemed to serve more purpose than I did. It hurt me emotionally and I had no outlet. I became very angry and started running away on multiple counts and getting into trouble with the law. 

Pride means to accept the authentic version of me and to not be afraid of being judged by others. Within this space at Interfaith Sanctuary, I have not faced any conversion therapy efforts, which has allowed me to connect freely with fellow members within the LGBTQIA+ community. They have helped me feel not so ashamed of myself because growing up, I was always taught that man and woman should be together. But as soon as I entered the real world, I learned to love yourself, be who you are and love who you want to love.

People accept me for who I am and don’t judge me for who I strive to be.

Bruce Stafford

In the Bible, Matthew 7 says, “”Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Balancing identities as a religious, gay man from Tennessee has been filled with ups and downs. Societal expectations say I should follow tradition – marry a woman and start a family. But that path never aligned with my truth and desires. All I want is the freedom to live authentically.

Thankfully, my grandfather, a devout pastor, accepted me wholly. His open-hearted embrace reinforced that love of any kind should be accepted. 

I often ask the question, “Why do others feel entitled to judge how I was created?

Surrounding myself with a community of individuals at Interfaith Sanctuary who understand the unique challenges of being LGBTQ+ provides me with reassurance to freely be me.

Pride means having the liberty to express my authentic self without fear or shame. Being able to openly embrace my sexuality in public spaces feels really free. It’s a relief to simply exist as I am without facing judgmental stares or ridicule from others. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where LGBTQ+ individuals face judgment and discrimination, but Pride Month offers a meaningful opportunity to celebrate my identity and honor my courageous journey.

While my community has a good support system, the harsh truth is that outside our safe havens, we must remain on the lookout, constantly looking over our shoulders. I’ll never comprehend why simply being myself provokes such offense in others. I’m blessed to have a circle of friends who embrace me for who I am. Their unconditional love and support provide reassurance despite the hatred I have faced in my past.