June 18th, 2021
By Katie Campbell, Director of Collaboration & Outreach
Pride month is a very special month for me. June is my birth month but, more importantly, it’s a time for me to celebrate with my LGBTQ+ community. To celebrate living our authentic lives no matter what that looks like – whether we’re in the closet, out and proud, or anywhere in-between.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt “different.” Growing up in a small town in the South had its challenges, but then again, growing up queer in any town can have its challenges. The process of understanding, defining, re-understanding, and re-defining the feelings of loving differently than the people around you can feel never-ending – and exhausting.
Don’t get me wrong, I was (and am) surrounded by loving family and friends who have supported me. I am one of the lucky ones. Not just because I have the loving support of the two-legged variety, but because I have had the opportunity to form strong and unconditionally loving bonds with four-legged companions as well. When I was a child and young adult, I connected with my family’s dogs in a way I simply couldn’t with other human beings.
On particularly hard days, when I felt I didn’t belong and questioned why I was created differently, I found companionship and acceptance from my pets: Sheka, Misty, and Nicki. Their ears became my diaries knowing I could tell all and my secrets would be kept. Their eyes saw me for ME with zero judgement…no matter how I presented myself. Their fur became the soft and warm blanket that comforted me when the world seemed to be too much. And their wagging tails and warm welcomes offered me the reassurance that all would be okay. With these three best friends and companions, I felt safe. I felt that I was enough. This was so important to the younger me as I was learning to understand and navigate the world as someone who was different.
The family dogs were attentive listeners who gave me the chance to share my feelings without rebuke. Without judgment. Without shame. Without fear. I was worthy of their love. You could say they taught me how to love others and, most importantly, how to love myself.
For me, identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ community is ever-present. The “coming out” process never ends. I live it every time I use a public restroom, introduce my wife to someone new, or just enter the public arena. My work finds me traveling to new places all over the country which is a “work perk,” but I do ask myself before every trip, “Will I be safe? Will this community welcome people who look and love like me?” These are nagging questions that exist just below the surface. Ever present. Beyond frustrating. Always exhausting.
I am proud of who I am, and I am very much loved, supported, and surrounded by so many magical and wonderful people – but coming home to my dogs and cats means the world to me. They are my constant and quiet companions who provide safety and comfort. And I still need that.
The path to equality and equity is still being paved, and the pets in my life continue to provide me with unconditional love. They continue to teach me about patience, humility, and understanding. I will forever be grateful for the animals that have been a part of my life, for they have helped me love me. The authentic me.
I’m always here to lend a listening ear and a helping hand. Much love to my LGBTQ+ community.