Every year in June, rainbows take over the world in recognition of Pride Month.
From rainbow flags in home windows to rainbow merchandise sold at major retailers, the number of people out there supporting the LGBTQ+ community is ever growing.
But it hasn’t always been that way.
For those who may not know, Pride Month was created to commemorate the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969 in New York City. At the time, police routinely harassed and arrested LGBTQ+ people, but gay and lesbian bars provided them some sanctuary. However, after an early morning raid by police on the Stonewall Inn, riots broke out and police were pelted by bottles and other debris. The riots ultimately lasted for days and was spearheaded by transgender people and people of color. It would become a rallying cry and source of resistance and solidarity in the LGBTQ+ community.
And while strides have been made in how society views and accepts people who are different, there is still a long way to go as there are still places in the world (even in this country) where it is not always safe for people to be who they really are.
Pride is more than just being “out and proud.” It also serves as a reminder of the sacrifices LGBTQ+ people in the past have made in order for people in their community now to be able to just exist as their true selves.
‘What does that mean?’
For Josie Fitting, finding her true self began at the age of 21. That was when things clicked in her head that something was not right when it came to her gender.
She was at her girlfriend’s house while her girlfriend was going through some clothes in her bedroom. Fitting’s girlfriend stepped out of the room for a moment and while she was out, Fitting grabbed a bra that was out and put it on under her shirt, initially as a joke.
But when her girlfriend came back into the room, Fitting said the other woman just smiled and found some toilet paper and tiny socks to stuff into the bra. Then after pulling down her shirt, Fitting’s girlfriend positioned her in front of a mirror.
“I don’t hate this. What does that mean?” Fitting said about her initial thoughts at the time.
After that, Fitting — who had been assigned male at birth — stopped giving herself a gender label. She said the moment you give someone a label, they try to conform to that label. But for the sake of others, she said she was gender fluid (because people love labels).
There were days when she would dress more masculine and days when she would dress more feminine. She said at the time, the former was easier but that was because she wouldn’t be treated differently.
“It was not at all [easier] for me,” she said. “It was for everyone else.”
It wasn’t until she was about 27 that Fitting, who was born in Duvall and now lives in Snohomish, had a self admission:
“Six years is long enough,” she said. “I’m female. I’m not fluid at all.”
Once she came out as transgender and began her transition, Fitting attended a support meeting at the Ingersoll Gender Center in Seattle. She also attended a support meeting at PFLAG Bellevue Eastside, the local chapter of the national LGBTQ advocacy organization.
Fitting, now 29, stuck with PFLAG and attends meetings with the organization regularly. She also attends meetings at the chapter’s satellite location in Bothell regularly as well as up in Everett. The meetings are the third Thursdays (Bellevue), third Mondays (Bothell) and third Saturdays (Everett) of the month. Fitting jokingly calls it “gay week” as the meetings all fall within a week of each other.
For Fitting, PFLAG has helped her develop confidence in who she is.
But it hasn’t always been that way. She told me there was a period of time when her mental health declined and she had a plan to end her life — because anything seemed easier than being transgender in a world where people want to kill others for being transgender. Fortunately, her mother and stepfather reached out to her during this time, asking her to move back in with them, which helped Fitting become more stable.
“When you’re coming out and you’re first questioning yourself, typically, you don’t have links to the community,” she said.
A lot of people do not have people in their lives who understand what they are going through and that can lead them to online searches and Fitting said the Internet is not always reliable.
This is why representation is so important.
Fitting said when someone feels there is something different about them, they want to know there are others out there who are like them. And this is not just LGBTQ+ folks. It applies to anyone who is part of a minority or marginalized group.
Supporting the community
Many times, it is not just the person who is coming out who needs support. The people in their lives — be it family or friends — might need help in knowing how to be there for their loved ones.
And that is one way PFLAG can help.
Bellevue resident Laurie (whose last name has been withheld to protect her family’s privacy) , first learned about PFLAG when her son, who was assigned female at birth, came out as a lesbian in the seventh grade. Her son later came out as a transgender man.
“I was feeling a little overwhelmed,” Laurie said about that time.
She didn’t know what to do, but then she learned about PFLAG. Laurie attended her first meeting in Bellevue in about 2002 and since has served on the chapter’s board for eight years and is a former board chair. And while her family may not need as much support as they did in those early days, Laurie said the local PFLAG community is a warm source of love and caring, and they helped her embrace her child, saying she has her biological family as well as her PFLAG family.
For Sandra McMurdo of Kirkland, PFLAG has also helped her and her son find community.
“After the 2016 election, I knew my gay, transgender teen and I needed more support and community,” she said.
She said PFLAG has given both of them the strength to be patient with some family members who eventually came around to being supportive.
“Now, my son will be starting college in the fall, and a new chapter in his life, and I will continue to be a part of our PFLAG family and help talk to the newbie parents who are where I was four years ago,” McMurdo said.
PFLAG Bellevue Eastside was founded by Jack and Frankie Bookey of Clyde Hill in 1996 as an outgrowth of the Seattle chapter, where the couple initially attended meetings after their daughter came out to them in 1980.
Prior to that first Eastside meeting, Jack said they put out notices and spread word throughout the local communities. Dozens attended that first meeting.
“It was a happy occasion,” he said.
In addition to starting the PFLAG Bellevue Eastside, the Bookeys helped organize the national organization’s conference in Seattle in 1994.
“Somehow, we got chosen to be the head of the conference,” Jack said.
He said they put out the call to all of the different local LGBTQ+ organizations and everyone answered and helped them with the event.
“It was a very galvanizing event for [the Seattle LGBTQ+ community],” Jack said.
Since its humble beginnings as an offshoot of the Seattle chapter, Frankie said their chapter has “grown a lot.” She also noted how much more accepting people are of LGBTQ+ people, specifically mentioning Gay Straight Alliance clubs in schools.
“That helped a lot of kids,” she said.
Jack added that when people are more tolerant of members of the LGBTQ+ community, they tend to be more tolerant of others who are “different,” whether they are people of color or people who practice a different religion or have different politics than them.
But PFLAG and other organizations like it are still needed because a lot of people are uninformed. The Bookeys said these organizations give people more information to be more accepting and understanding of LGBTQ+ people.
In addition to offering group and one-on-one support, PFLAG Bellevue Eastside also has educational programming during its monthly meetings. Laurie said the first hour of the meeting is for support circles, while the second hour is for speakers who talk about a specific topic. She said their meetings are always structured this way so people can come for the portion (or both) that meets their needs and interest, adding that not all PFLAG chapters’ meetings are structured this way.
Fitting has also made it her mission to educate others on the transgender experience — this ranges from other transgender people going through transition to medical providers.
“We tend to be educators for our doctors,” she said about transgender people.
A big part of this is Fitting’s blog (marshlabs.blogspot.com), in which she chronicles her transition journey.
“I couldn’t find that,” she said about learning about what it really is like being transgender.
She also works with a counselor who has transgender clients and is “basically there as a resource for the clients.” This looks like anything from discussing the side effects a person might experience while on hormone therapy, to figuring out how to find swimwear.
When Fitting mentioned the latter, I realized how much I, as a cisgender woman, took for granted fairly commonplace and everyday activities. I mean, shopping for a bathing suit is not a particularly fun activity, but at least I don’t have that extra layer of being transgender.
In addition to educating others, Fitting said since she began her transition, she has been given a new lens on how she sees the world. While she is a white person, she said she has friends of color and transgender friends of color who have told her the discrimination transgender people face is similar to what people of color face as they are discriminated for their appearance and their community.
Fitting has also experienced discrimination and prejudices from others because she is a woman.
As someone working in the predominantly male IT world, she said she never had her tech knowledge questioned until she started passing as a woman. She recounted a story in which it took one of her male colleagues about five times of questioning her expertise to finally accept that Fitting actually knew how to do her job.
“It was pretty frustrating,” she said.
I wasn’t sure how to respond to her story except to shrug and say, “Welcome to the club.”
For more information about PFLAG Bellevue Eastside, visit pflagbellevue.org.
Windows and Mirrors is a bimonthly column focused on telling the stories of people whose voices are not often heard. If you have something you want to say, contact editor Samantha Pak at firstname.lastname@example.org.