By Alex Orué
In 2003, shortly after my parents announced they were getting a divorce, I was with my father and my two little brothers on a father-son(s) weekend. I saw a gay couple walking down the street in Mexico City, ignoring the judging eyes of people like my dad. Seeing two loving men — unashamed and in public — gave me hope, but I also got the message from my dad that it wasn’t safe for me to say so just yet.
Six years later, I left Mexico to attend college in British Columbia — and to find an accepting community far away from the judgment of my friends, family, and faith. While exploring a small library in Vancouver, I discovered Dan Savage’s book The Commitment. It was the “it gets better” message I needed to hear. It convinced me that I deserved a happy life, even if Catholic guilt told me otherwise.
I came out to my family and close friends on Skype a year later. My mom actually asked me if I was gay… and made sure I knew she would love me no matter what. She insisted I talk to my father… my very right-wing father, the same father who suggested that couple we saw happily walking down the street needed help to get cured and a love their families “didn’t give them”.
Still, encouraged by my mother, I spoke with him two days later. My boyfriend at the time held my hand through one of the most terrifying moments of my life, just out of camera view while I was unsuccessfully navigating the words I’d rehearsed for two sleepless nights. I didn’t want to cry. I wanted him to know I was happy… happy to be me and to feel the love I missed out on in my teenage years. He must have sensed the terror in my voice — the first thing he said was: “Were you afraid to tell me this?”
“Yes, terrified,” I said without delay. He apologized for having talked so negatively about LGBTQ+ without realizing he was talking about his own son. He said he needed time to unlearn this behavior because he was the one in the wrong, not me. Every year since I returned to Mexico, he’s been right there by my side every Pride, alongside the rest of my family.
Years later, I brought my parents to meet Matthew Shepard’s parents at an event hosted by the US Embassy in Mexico. It was there I learned, for the first time, that my mom had spoken to my father before I came out to him so he would choose his words carefully. Judy, Matthew’s mom, had done the same with his father Dennis, when, years before, Matthew had come out to them by phone.
My struggle was mostly internal. I needed to lose my Catholic faith and make peace with my own sexuality. Ultimately, I was shown nothing but love and support, but I knew that others didn’t have it so easy.
Shortly after I came out to my parents, while doing a remote internship for The Stranger, I became the first person outside of the United States to share my It Gets Better story – and the first to do so in another language. My story was included in the New York Times bestselling It Gets Better book, which ultimately set me on a path to where I am today — the Global Programming Coordinator for the It Gets Better Project and Executive Director of It Gets Better Mexico.
Every day, I get to work with extraordinary people from all over the world and ensure that teens in my country and other Spanish-speaking nations have access to out and proud role models. The It Gets Better Project’s Global Affiliate Network now spans four continents and six languages with a major presence in Latin America. As we mark the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, I am reminded of the impact of our work through the testimonials of others who, just like me — a shy, gay, Mexican-Catholic boy — found comfort in the It Gets Better Project’s arsenal of inspiring stories — including those in my native language and from my culture. After all, that’s the reason I decided to share my own story: to reflect what I wanted to see growing up… someone like me!
– Alex Orué is the It Gets Better Project’s Global Programming Coordinator and the Director of It Gets Better Mexico.