Celebrating Pride Month with Robert Draper
In honor of Pride Month, a handful of our employees volunteered to share their personal experiences in coming out and what it means to them to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Pride Month is underway, and we will continue to hear more from our Velocity team members who are proud to share their stories. Coming out stories are deeply personal and very emotional. Every story shared is a unique journey, and no two are alike.
The next story in our “Celebrating Pride Month” series comes from Robert Draper, Tier 2, photo support services team member who joined Velocity in 2020.
Can you share what it was like for you to come out to your parents and immediate family? Emotions, thoughts, feelings, etc.
Honestly, coming out to my parents was easy. They found out because I had friends who started coming out, which lead to a very open and honest discussion. My family approached the conversation with me after discovering an online chat room I visited in the browser history on our family computer. My uncle passed away from HIV in the 1980s before I was born, so my father had obvious concerns over that. However, my parents have always been supportive of everything I do. I truly have amazing parents!
Shortly after coming out, I moved to Toledo, OH where I have a lot of family. I believe my mother told some of my aunts by this point, so word started to spread. My first night in Toledo, at a family cookout, my cousin shouted and asked me in front of the entire room if I was gay. The whole room went silent. My face turned beet red, and I reluctantly stuttered, “ye…yeah.” “That’s great!” he responded. So, in one night, my entire family found out. I was so angry that night, but I am thankful now since he saved me many possibly awkward conversations.
Is there something about how your parents handled or took the news about you coming out that you wish they would have done differently? What advice would give a parent whose child is coming out?
I think my parents handled it very well. Apparently, they suspected it for a number of years but kept quiet. I have an older and a younger brother, and all three of us are in long-term relationships. My parents treat us all equally. However, I have many friends who are not quite as fortunate.
My partners’ best friend has been out to his parents for over twenty years. He has been with his partner for six or seven years, and they do not have any sort of relationship with him. I couldn’t imagine not spending the holidays together. He has to decide whether he will spend it with his parents or his partner every year. Nobody should ever have to decide that.
Can you share a situation(s) subtle or apparent that you’ve had to face as an LGBTQ person at work or outside of work?
I have many stories I can share; some are very horrible. Two days after I bought my first car, it was vandalized in the school parking lot with very hateful words. I lived next to neighbors who vandalized our entryway with stickers spelling out some very colorful — and awful things.
However, none of this can compare to the incident that hurt me the most. I was scrolling through Facebook, and my cousin, who I was very close to, posted: “What is an appropriate age to let your kids meet gay people?” I had met her son many times at this point, so I started reading the comments and realized she was asking if it was safe to allow someone who is gay to be alone with her child. This hurt beyond words. My partner and I love kids — we want kids. We have babysat for many of our friends, without incident. This situation shaped the way I approach people to this day. It still hurts.
What does Pride Month mean to you? What inspires you to be you?
I often hear people ask, “Why do LGBTQ+ people get a Pride Month and not heterosexual people?” If you read my stories above, you probably thought they all took place a long time ago. Sadly, this is not true. For those who ask why Pride is necessary, this is why. I have personally been persecuted because I am gay. I don’t think many people can say they have been persecuted because they are not.
What are you most proud of as an LGBTQ person? What do you hope others take away from Pride Month?
It is not easy being openly gay. We have a whole set of issues we have to address that most people don’t even think about. We basically have to “come out” anytime we meet someone or start a new job. I cannot speak for anyone else, but sometimes I feel like I am “too gay” for my straight friends yet “not gay enough” for some of my LGBTQ+ friends. People look at me, a solid 6-foot-2-inch male, and always assume I play football or basketball, but I don’t. I am proud that despite the extra issues I know it will cause myself, I am not afraid to be who I am.
For those looking to learn more and support the LGBTQ+ community, do you recommend any groups, movies, TED Talks, books, etc.?
Toledo Pride is amazing! They are the glue of the Toledo gay community. I also highly urge everyone to do a little reading on The Stonewall Riots. So far, it’s considered one of the demonstrations that sparked the beginning of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.
How can Velocity be more inclusive and support its LGBTQ+ team members? What can/should other companies be doing?
I honestly think Velocity is doing a great job right now. The fact that Velocity is starting this conversation speaks volumes. Also, the fact that there are LGBTQ+ people in leadership roles is very telling. I am proud to be part of an organization that, I am positive, would never deny me a promotion just because I’m gay.
Thank you, Robert, for sharing your very enlightening story with us. We’re extremely proud of all of our team members. We are dedicated to ensuring that Velocity is a place of inclusiveness and an environment where all of our team members feel comfortable being themselves and supported.
Let’s continue to celebrate, educate and share the history of Pride. Here are a few resources to better acquaint yourself with organizations that support the LGBTQ+ community:
It Gets Better Project focuses on retelling the stories of LGBTQ+ members who may have had similar issues coming out.
OutRight Action International is the only LGBTQ+ organization that has a presence in the United Nations. They fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ members around the world.
GLAAD for over 30 years, GLAAD has been at the forefront of cultural change, accelerating acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community. Learn how you can become a friend and ally.