Pride month is a celebration for everyone under the LGBTQ+ umbrella and its allies. For many in the community, they've spent much of their lives hiding who they were. Depending on where you grew up or what kind of family you were born into, hiding was the only way for safety and survival. People fear what they don’t understand, and, for a lot of folks, identifying as queer is not something the outside world may always understand. Take Lydia Okello, a writer, model and content creator, who identifies as non-binary.
Being born into a Ugandan-Canadian immigrant household, in a predominately white neighborhood, didn’t make their journey a walk in the park. They were already viewed as different because of the color of their skin and "exotic" heritage. Okello also grew up in a religious household.
Hearing contestant stories about why homosexuality is a sin, made it almost impossible for them to want to share their truth with family. They found solace within the LGBQ+ friends they grew up with, and also found the courage to come out and be who they are, with or without their family’s approval.
Below, Lydia Okello shares with us the deeply personal story of coming out as a non-binary person.
EBONY: Sharing a secret like this with family can be scary. How did your family react to your coming out?
Lydia Okello: My family had pretty mixed reactions, I don't think they were comfortable. I had a long-term boyfriend of almost 5 years who I had broken up with. I was raised Evangelical (Pentecostal) and had always been told that being gay or queer was a sin. It was pretty rocky at first as far as acceptance went—I was really afraid I was going to lose them. Over the years, we have worked things out, and it's not a huge deal at this moment.
I'm also a first-generation kid, of Ugandan parents. Being queer or gay is still punishable by death in Uganda—needless to say, it's not something that is acceptable. There were many homophobic factors in my life; it was a bit scary to finally accept myself and tell my family about my identity. I really wrestled with that decision, because I knew once I said it, I couldn't take it back, whatever the outcome.
The world can be cruel. Did you have reservations before sharing your secret with the world?
I did. I spent a few years kind of half in, half out. I was still actively dating cis straight men, and I was also dating those who weren't men. My local friends knew, but my family and hometown friends didn't. I was really scared of being judged. But the wishy-washy moment got tiring, and I had to be true to myself and who I wanted to be moving forward.
How does it feel to be living in your truth in 2023.
It feels amazing! I am deeply concerned by the anti-trans legislation around the world right now; I really am. But as far as my day-to-day life, where I live is quite safe, and I get to have a boring and domestic life—in the best way—with my wife and our cat. I cannot believe how my life turned out. Younger me would be both gooped and gagged. But I think they would also just be in awe of the things we were brave enough to seek for ourselves. And I think that strength comes both from the child Lydia, who knew exactly who they were, and the adult Lydia, who found ways to return to their true self.