"My proudest moment is when I packed up my life and moved 2,000 miles from Massachusetts to Utah to attend the University of Utah.
I told everyone I was going to Utah because I wanted to ski while going to school and I wanted a new adventure. That was mostly true, but the main reason was that I had a secret burning inside me.
I was a closeted teenager that was terrified of anyone around me finding out I was gay. I was so scared of rejection from my family and my friends that I wanted to go as far as I could so that I could create a new life for myself in case the life I had known would crumble. I also figured it would be harder to be sad when skiing the best snow on earth and backpacking through some of the most stunning scenery in the world. My family and friends growing up were not homophobic but I would hear comments and jokes at the expense of LGBTQ+ people, and some of my catholic family did not hold back their disapproval of Massachusetts becoming the first state to pass marriage equality. I was so afraid of them knowing the real me that I decided I would give myself the space to really be me.
I look back today and I am proud of taking that leap because I have created a life in Utah I am proud of. I finished at the University of Utah with a Bachelors in both Urban Planning and Environmental Studies — two of my greatest passions. I stayed in Salt Lake City to work in the solar industry because I wanted to be a part of the energy transition and be a voice for public lands. Over the years I have seen how lucky I am to live in a city with such a vibrant and diverse community of fellow LGBTQ+ — people who are unapologetically themselves, who won't back down from fighting the good fight, who can send it off a cliff into fresh powder during the day and still serve drinks at night.
When I look back at that move I made eight years ago I also wish I could somehow go back and find that scared closeted teen back in Massachusetts to give him a big hug and tell him that everything would get better.
I wish I could tell him that the people he feared would not love him for who he really is love him more now than ever before.
I wish I could tell him that he would get texts from his mom telling him about how inspired she was seeing the Harvey Milk exhibit in the San Francisco Airport.
I wish I could tell him that the only thing that scared his dad about having a gay son is the people who may want to hurt that son.
I wish I could tell him how his friends from childhood text him regularly to ask questions about the LGBTQ+ community so that they can be better friends and allies.
I can't go back to let that 18 year old version of me know how amazing things would turn out, but I can take pride in knowing that I took that leap without knowing how good it would be." -Tom
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