Don't Walk With Your Head Hanging Down

Enrique Franco

The definition of pride is: a high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct.

The word "pride" standing alone can be viewed as someone coming off as a conceited, pompous, self-righteous, egotistical person. But, when you marry pride with words like honor and courage, it takes on a very different look.

I can remember this one kid when I was a junior in high school. He was a very skinny, frail, pale-looking, white boy. He was cute, too. I'd see him in the halls from time to time. I guess the way he dressed and carried himself reflected everyone's impression of him. We all knew he was gay. He just had to be. He'd always cheer with the girls during football games. His mannerisms were overly dramatic and feminine. His electives drew an even closer picture. He was in the drama club. He performed in choir class. He took art classes. I mean, he made a very good impression for himself.

Everyone in school seemed cool knowing that he was gay. That was until he decided to come out. Now, I remember that he didn't just decide to come out. He was getting sick and tired of the petty rumors and talk circulating. He was sick and tired of getting picked on. His hand was forced. The way in which he did it was bold. He wrote an article about the issue and submitted it to our school newspaper. The head teacher in charge allowed his story to be published. It pretty much went downhill from there.

I think, about a week later, I found out that he was in the hospital. Apparently, some football players weren't cool with the notion of having an openly gay kid in our school. They found him and isolated him. They beat the living crap out of him and put him in the hospital. When I found out about it, I can remember feeling really bad for him. I also thought to myself: Well, it kind of is HIS own fault for what happened. He just should've kept his mouth shut. What was he trying to pull anyway?

He came back to school about a month later. I can still remember how hurt his body looked. His face was covered in bruises. He wore a cast on one of his hands. He limped a little, but walked on through like nothing had happened. His body may have looked defeated, but his eyes said another thing. His eyes told me that he had lost his fear.

"He was simply saying: _Yes, I am gay. Please let me be who I am._ That's it. Bold and full of courage."

Looking back at that incident today, I can honestly say that I view this kid's motives differently. He demonstrated genuine courage in doing what he did. He was proud to be gay, but also humble. His pride demonstrated no connection to boasting or arrogance. His pride had no ties to conceitedness or egocentricities. When he was forced to come out, he wasn't saying: Hey, that's right, I'M GAY. LOOK AT ME. I demand respect and affection from ALL of you. No, he was simply saying: Yes, I am gay. Please let me be who I am. That's it. Bold and full of courage. Proud to have the intestinal fortitude to come out. Proud to live his true life openly, knowing what some of the consequences from ignorant and stupid people might be. Proud to refuse to continue to live in fear.

All of those feelings and emotions ran through ME that day I left the U.S. Army. I remember having to sign out on my last day at Fort Hood, Texas. I had to pick up my release papers, including my DD214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty). It read: Honorable Discharge. That day, I woke up bright and early at 6 a.m. I showered up and put on my DCUs (Desert Camouflage Uniform) for what would be my last time. I professionally placed my sergeant rank on my chest. I slapped on my boots and laced them, tucking the excess shoe strings in my boot. I adjusted my beret onto my bald head and drove out towards Killeen.

The last office I had to go in and sign out of was the JAG (Judge Advocate General) Liaison Office. I got out on a Chapter 15 (Homosexual Conduct). The officer informed me of my rights and that I could never appeal this should I try to reenter the Army. I already understood this. At this point, it all was merely a formality to me. I was just happy to have that Honorable Discharge in my hands.

"I want my pride to shine through with courage and humility. There are no limits to demonstrating pride, if we can live our lives with such qualities. We will be better for it, and so will those who see us."

I can remember walking towards the front door. I calmly clicked my pen and signed their form at the front desk. As I headed towards the door, I was approached by a female Army Captain. I immediately thought to myself: Great, here it comes ... What's she going to tell me? Bye fag or something like that. How should I react? I looked around and noticed a bunch of Soldiers hovering over their desks. They all were staring at me. She opened the door for me and extended her right hand. She told me, "Thank you for your service."

I was surprised and thanked her. I shook her warm hand and left the building. It was a sunny day that day. I left that building and headed towards my truck like nothing happened. A young Army Captain was walking by me. Without hesitation, I rendered my salute. "Good afternoon, Sergeant. How you doing?" he asked me. I smiled and replied loud and thunderously to him, "HOOAH, Sir."

And that was how it went. No parades, no lavish exit dinner, no great speech to be heard. Just me hopping in my truck and getting ready to start living my life. And that's how it seemed when that young kid came back to us at school. He went on to his classes and did his thing. I like to think that my coming out, like his, was full of a quiet, humble pride. I am a firm believer that a person is defined by how he/she lives their lives. How they conduct themselves speaks volumes to EVERYONE that is watching. That kid was a trailblazer. I am a trailblazer.

I am proud of who he is and who I am. But I want my pride to shine through with courage and humility. There are no limits to demonstrating pride, if we can live our lives with such qualities. We will be better for it, and so will those who see us.

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