Attending the O & E Summit was a profound emotional experience for me. The orientation began by announcing that the Summit was a “safe place.” This was a very powerful statement – the unspoken implication that many places weren’t safe, weren’t places where people felt comfortable being themselves. But within the confines of the Summit, everyone could be genuine. Without the fear of judgment, without the fear of discrimination, without the fear of retaliation. How many times have any of us been in an environment where this was true?
The thing that struck me most at O & E was the strong sense of community among attendees. Of the approximately 3,200 people there, from 31 countries, I would guess at least 80% were Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, or Transgender (LGBT). And I’m guessing most of these 2500 LGBT individuals had gone through hardships that only the LGBT community could truly understand. Although the details may have been different, each had experienced the isolation and pain of growing up LGBT, and the struggle to come- out, and be accepted in a world that isn’t always kind.
Another amazing thing was the candor and authenticity of the people I spoke with. So many shared their very personal stories with me: the inner struggles they’d experienced growing up, rejection by their families, difficulties they’d had in telling the world they were different, the fight to gain the respect and acceptance of friends, family, and coworkers. I was so impressed by their openness, their willingness to share their most painful experiences so that others might gain a better understanding.
And of course, I was in awe of, and inspired by, their courage.
The conference was also filled with so much humor – Gay jokes flying left and right. The special Rainbow Doritos that had been made by Pepsico (a major sponsor) for the occasion were dubbed “Gay Doritos” – hilarious!
I took my 17-year-old daughter to the Gala dinner on the last night. Same-sex couples held hands, transgender women dressed in stunning evening-wear. The comfort of belonging was a palpable thing; the fellowship of being with like individuals. Only months ago, my daughter revealed to me that she’s a lesbian. I belatedly learned of her inner grief and struggles through her childhood. I’m ashamed that I’d unknowingly contributed to her pain. But she’s now embracing who she is, who she’s always been. At the dinner, she told me that even though she didn’t know the people there, she felt so comfortable.
She was home.
And I think that’s the way many feel at OES – Home.