by Daniel Sernicola
As the Arch City prepares for its 35th Annual Pride, bulbs in a hue of rainbow colors shine brightly from the arches on High Street and rainbow flags flutter in the wind. June is a month when we celebrate inclusiveness, love, and LGBTA+ pride. However, many of us are feeling spiritually wounded. The events in Orlando leave us with feelings of anger, hurt, and confusion. How could this happen? Why did it happen? How can we have pride when faced with such tragedy?
As a LGBTA+ community, we’ve spent most of our lives living in fear and aware that we are at risk. The Orlando shootings demonstrate that this fear is valid and very real. Many of us are reminded that the shooting could have taken place at any gathering or event. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been out or how far down the road of self-acceptance and love we’ve traveled, we are always aware of the fear within.
Over the last few years, things started to change. The fear started to fade making room for the hope of our lives getting better. Public opinion started shifting about LGBTA+ rights and equality. Things were getting better and we felt like we could breathe again. However, our hearts sank and we could barely breathe through the tears as the news of the Orlando shootings began to spread. Our community aches and comes together in mourning.
We yearn for a more peaceful world, filled with loving families, safe neighborhoods, and resilient communities. We continue on as we come together hoping for the change we have longed for to establish a peaceful presence. Psychologist, Viktor Frankl states, “The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitudes.” We won’t let them take this away from us. We know that change is possible and hope exists.
In 1969 we had the Stonewall Riots where police raided the Stonewall Inn and arrested many, sparking the LGBTA+ rights movement. Police raids on gay establishments were common in the 1960s. Today, in the aftermath of what transpired in Orlando and Los Angeles, police in cities across the country are increasing security at Pride festivals and coming together to protect us and ensure our safety.
In 2004, Ohio voters told us that gay marriage is not welcomed in their state. 11 years later, the month of June became especially meaningful as the Supreme Court struck down state bans on gay marriage. Today, we can marry the one we love and have our marriages legally recognized across the US.
Personally, I’m reminded of the football player who was one of my main tormentors when I came out as a 17-year-old in a small Ohio town in 1996. I’d see his face and my heart would sink, knowing I was about to get bullied by being called names, pushed into the wall, and then left to pick up books and papers that he scattered over the entire school hallway. A few years ago, he contacted me on social media and memories of his abuse came to surface. I didn’t want to hear what he had to say, but something within told me to listen. He told me a beautiful story of how his heart opened after he met a girl who later became his wife. When faced with being on the streets, a gay couple invited this girl into their home, parenting her through her teenage years. He stated that if it weren’t for their generosity, he probably wouldn’t be married to her today. He went on to apologize for how he treated me and shared that memories of regret still haunt him. His heart changed.
In the book, Upside, Jim Rendon shows how the suffering caused by traumatic events can become a force for dramatic life change, moving people to find deeper meaning in their lives and driving them to help themselves and others. This is evident in much of the work of The Yoga on High Foundation, specifically the work in our own community with the Kaleidoscope Youth Center.
The Kaleidoscope yoga program began by community coming together to create a safe environment where the youth can experience freedom in their bodies and minds. Through support from The Yoga on High Foundation and the Columbus community, we’ve created a trauma-informed yoga program for LGBTA+ youth, targeting positive body image, self-acceptance, and anti-bullying. The program started coming to life when members of the Columbus Coyotes, an inclusive rugby team in Columbus, came together on Wednesday evenings at the studio for yoga classes and all proceeds were set aside specifically for the program. Several members of the yoga community came forward with donations and performers, Virginia West and Nina West, along with their audiences, added to the funds.
Michelle Jordan, Center Program Coordinator for KYC states, “More than anything, our young people need and deserve a safe space to feel comfortable in their bodies, something they are denied in so many other spaces.” Over the course of our yoga sessions, we saw tremendous growth in our youth. They grew in strength and flexibility, sure, but most importantly, they expressed using yoga as a coping skill and to reduce stress. In fact, many youth expressed that their weekly yoga class was the “highlight of my week” and “when I felt calmest.”
She continues, “Many youth who were initially very body conscious and anxious became more confident and comfortable over the weeks, and most beautifully, perhaps, was seeing our youth meditate quietly together, encourage one another, and laugh hysterically together– which is encouraged by Daniel and Jake. They have skillfully created a warm and affirming environment that our youth look forward to each week.”
Teaching Kaleidoscope yoga is an honor and privilege for us. We are encouraged by the hope and love we see in the eyes of each youth. Often times, as we are teaching, we look out at the group and see a reflection of our younger selves in them. It’s the difficulties we faced as youth ourselves, from coming out to bullying, that fuel our passion for the program.
The day after the Orlando shootings, we were faced with teaching yoga to the youth and offering space for them to share what they were thinking and feeling. Some expressed fear and uncertainty, while a few offered hope for change. They reminded us how the end of each of our classes together ends by saying, “Namaste: The light, love, and energy inside of me bows to, and honors, the light, love, and energy inside of you.” When asked how we can take this off our mats and into the world, they simplified the statement by saying, “Just be kind and treat everyone how you want to be treated.” We discussed how one gunman changed the lives of thousands of people with evil and one person can change the lives of thousands with compassion. This is a powerful truth often forgotten in times of tragedy and there’s a great amount of hope in our youth. They are the future of our humanity.
In the words of Buddha, “Teach this simple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.”
Practice empathy towards others. See the beauty in others, see their divine energy, see the life that’s alive in them and connect with it.
Be a peacemaker. We can be united or divided. It’s a choice and humanity’s duty to use our intellect in combination with our heart to bring peace. Through our speech, we can heal or hurt, create joy or suffering, and open or close doors. As the song goes, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”
Be generous with your gifts and talents. What is your gift and what are you willing to offer of yourself to a world that is hurting? Find what makes you come alive, and then do that. The world needs more people who have come alive and share their strengths.
The LGBTA+ culture has come a long way, but we have a way to travel on our journey towards peace. Change is possible and it starts with you. Know that you maintain within you the power and gifts to bring about change. Start the radical change you want to see in the world by sharing your Pride.
Pride is empathy. Pride is being a peacekeeper. Pride is sharing your gifts. Pride begins with you.
Daniel Sernicola, along with his partner, Jake Hays, co-teaches yoga classes through the Kaleidoscope Youth Center. To support that program financially, please click here. You can earmark your funds specifically for their project. They also teach Sekoia for Men at Grow Yoga; click here for more information on those classes.