Lori Lever (She/Her/Hers), PRIDE Chair: Although I had experienced various crushes on women in high school, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I found myself actually kissing another woman. I kept this to myself for a couple of years until I was able to come to grips with my new reality that I was gay. It was a tremendous struggle and I was trying so hard not to hate myself -- if you hate yourself for who you are, you certainly can't expect others to love you for who you are. And for someone who typically wears her heart on her sleeve, this was a particularly lonely time for me. Ultimately, my mom was the first person I told I identified as a lesbian, and I was beyond relieved when she said, “I don't care if you love a man or a woman, as long as they deserve you.” And although I've been very blessed in my life with the love and acceptance of family and friends, not everyone is lucky enough to have a loving support system. I can’t stress enough the responsibility we all share in supporting and embracing our LGBTQ+ youth as they go through this sometimes lonely and painful self-discovery process.
On a professional level, early in my career, I made a conscious decision not to tell anyone that I was gay. I didn't want anyone to attach any labels to me right away, but instead wanted them to get to know me before forming any opinions. It was in 1993, before marriage became legal, that my then girlfriend Terri (and now wife of 27 years) and I decided to have a commitment ceremony. I was celebrating this huge event in my life, a lifelong commitment to this amazing woman I loved with all my heart, and I just didn’t want to hide myself anymore. So I told people at work … and wouldn’t you know, they threw a bachelorette party for me; totally 100% supportive. Now older and wiser, I am open and proud about my sexual orientation in both my personal and professional lives. There is no longer this need to make a huge announcement. When I encounter new people now, it’s like, I’m married to a woman … take me or leave me as I am.
Robert Shields (He/Him/His), PRIDE Career Lead: As a kid, I always knew I was a little different from other boys my age, and I didn’t want to draw any extra attention to myself or speak up for fear of being outcast. And even though my uncle and his “partner” of 40 years were always welcome at family gatherings, I never felt comfortable in my own skin. I kept living a heteronormative lifestyle all throughout high school, just trying to fit in and convince myself it was just a phase.
My freshman year of college was where I experienced my “gay” renaissance: slowly allowing myself to open up and befriend an amazing group of gay men who I felt comfortable being my true self around. When I finally got the courage to tell one of my best childhood friends that I was gay, I was relieved for her quick embrace and reassurance that she loved me no matter what. Fairly shortly after, I came out to my parents. I was so relieved when they told me they loved me and that my happiness was all that mattered to them. That was a real turning point in our relationship; it strengthened our family bond, knowing I would never have to hide who I was anymore. Fast forward to today, where I’m celebrating a blissful 9-year relationship with my loving husband Joe. Of course, my family seems to like him more than they like me, but it doesn’t faze me, because our families treat us with the same love and kindness that any spouse, or human being, should be treated with.