Ryan, in his own words: “I often equate being gay to having a heart condition. Our hearts are so big that the extent of the lives we live – our work, our activism, and way we show love to one another is filled with a level of passion and creativity that’s far and beyond most mainstream expectations. Yes, while what makes me gay is my unquestionable attraction to men; being gay is taking this ever growing heart and putting it to good use.
(With regards to challenges) I’d say issues around self-acceptance. Which I’m fortunate to have moved forward and triumphed.
I love living in DC. It’s a big city filled with small towns, and the gay community intersects every neighborhood within – making ours a united and present force in an ever evolving city. DC is large enough to find a community you’re comfortable with, yet small enough not to be overwhelmed. When I arrived as your typical bright eyed intern and later returning for good, the focus was being out in the office – being present and upfront with your colleagues around your everyday life. To see so much change in 15 years – where Supreme Court Justices, cabinet secretaries and members of Congress reference their gay and lesbian staffers in changing their hearts and minds around issues of equality -shows the power of being present. It’s often the advice I give new residents – Be Present. This isn’t a city where the community greets you when you arrive, it’s up to you to reach out, connect and get to know others.
(With regards to coming out) Completing an internship, I was giving a tour of the city to a group visiting from Nigeria. We arrived in downtown DC in the midst of a traffic jam and I was forced to scramble to avoid any delays, so we trekked to Pennsylvania Ave., blocks away from the White House. I had no idea the traffic jam was due to DC’s large and popular Gay Pride parade – a first for me, and certainly the first for 30 West African youth workers experiencing their first full day in the United States.
I guided the group to our destination; awkwardly explaining drag queens, dykes on bikes and PFLAG to DC’s newest visitors. Arriving at our destination and later returning to our tour bus, three members of our party broke out into tears, sharing with me and their colleagues what a fortunate gift they were given in arriving to this country on this day. Seeing the truest form of American liberty, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in a way no aged document or glowing monuments could every do.
To them, the emblems of Freedom, Justice and Liberty were the PFLAG moms, drag queens and bikers marching with pride and demanding their nation do better. In that moment, and later in quiet reflection, I came out to the most important person in my life…myself. Later coming out to friends and being outed to family actually made the best out of bad situations – in time. Yet, I always go back to that tour as a turning point. One that makes me aware of those who still struggle with coming out, our outreach to them, and this country, ever fighting to become a more perfect union.”