Pride Month in America consumes the month of June and is dedicated to the celebration and acknowledgment of those with differing sexual orientation identification. While Pride has recently become more well-known, the start of Pride Month actually dates back to 1969.
According to the Library of Congress, Pride Month is celebrated each June to remember the Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan on June 28, 1969. Police regularly raided gay bars, dragging out patrons who were typically banned from entering other facilities because of their sexual orientation; as was such the night police entered the Stonewall Inn.
The six-day protest is remembered as a tipping point that fundamentally changed the nature of LGBTQ+ activism in the United States, the Library of Congress said. Even now, though, those who identify as something other than “straight” face backlash and judgement from the rest of society.
Cheyenne Smith, 22, was previously married to a man before she came out, first as queer and, eventually, lesbian.
“I remember sitting in the corner of my room crying and asking ‘why am I like this?’ and it is the scariest thing when you pray to God not to make you something, but you can’t deny it,” Smith said.
Smith grew up in Hallandale, Florida and moved to Jacksonville with her father, stepmother and husband after she graduated high school in 2017. Growing up, she had only heard of being gay and barely heard the term “lesbian,” she said.
“I just knew I liked girls and that was it,” she said. “I didn’t know there were labels you could put on that.”
She and her boyfriend, who was three years older than her, had been dating since Smith was a sophomore in high school and were introduced to each other by Smith’s father. They married in 2016, one year before her high school graduation.
Smith enrolled in the University of North Florida where she studied psychology and leadership. While at UNF she found out about the LGBTQ+ center at the school during her junior year.
“I remember seeing everyone living free and being so themselves and I was so proud of them,” she said. “But in my own heart, I was so envious.”
After her first visit to the center, she continued going back, she said. After just two weeks of visiting the center, she attended her first pride and knew she felt as if she belonged to this community.
“I knew I had ‘come out’ to myself and that the next step would be to tell my husband,” Smith said. “I remember choosing the word ‘queer’ so I would not hurt his feelings by being lesbian, but also wanted to make sure I did not use the term ‘bi’ because I do not want to be with men.”
Her husband looked at her and said “you are just saying queer because you are just scared to say you’re a lesbian,” she said. “It was crazy he was able to detect that before I was even able to comfortably say that about myself.”
Smith and her husband eventually broke their relationship off in 2020, about one year after she came out to him. She had not yet been comfortable enough to come out to the rest of her family, but her ex took it upon himself to out her to them, she said.
“Most people would be hurt by that, and it upset me because I had entrusted him,” she said. “But at the same time, it took a weight off my shoulders that I did not have to do.”
The experience was not pleasant, Smith said. To this day she has a two-hour recording of her going back and forth with her father and stepmother about her orientation.
“It is them trying to convince me that’s not who I was and me telling them yes, it is, and that I have been kissing girls since I was in elementary school,” she said.
Her biological mother lives in Illinois and tries to be supportive, Smith said, but she frequently slips up and does homophobic things that hurt Smith and her current partner, she said.
“I am no longer in touch with my father anymore because it came to light that he and my husband had been having relations and were manipulating me into being his wife so they could live together and eventually be together,” she said.
The relationship between her husband and father came as a shock to Smith as she put the pieces together, she said.
“It explains to me why he was being homophobic toward me because he had not come to terms with it himself,” Smith said. “I always thought that them being as close as they were was strange, but they just convinced me I was lucky that my dad liked my boyfriend because most fathers don’t feel that way,” she said.
Smith’s ex-husband still lives with her father and stepmother, she said, but she moved out when COVID-19 hit, explaining her situation to the UNF campus and being granted emergency housing permission.
She and other friends in the LGBTQ+ community created a roommate group in the spring where they planned who would live with whom, so they felt safe and accepted in their own rooms, she said. She and her current girlfriend met through this group.
“At the time she was still considered to be straight and never had any homosexual relationships,” Smith said. “When we met, she thought I was cute and wanted to get out of her comfort zone and the rest is history,” she laughed.
Smith and her partner have been dating for nine months now.
“I finally feel free, I feel relieved, I feel ‘me’,” Smith said. “I have learned more about myself since I moved out last summer than I have in my whole 22 years growing up with my father.”
After breaking the codependent relationships, she had with her father and ex-husband, Smith finally explores on her own, she said, stating that she cut her hair and dresses the way she wants to dress.
“If you met me last June and compared me to who I am now, it would be two completely different people,” she said.
Many people have asked Smith if she chose to be in a relationship with a woman because two important men spited her so badly, she said.
“The answer is no,” she said. “I am very open about what happened to me and I don’t have any negative feelings about it. I am going through a divorce right now and if my word can get out and help someone else, then that’s even better.”
Smith graduated from UNF in April 2021 with her bachelor’s in psychology and a minor in leadership. She currently works as a field and advocacy intern with Equality Florida where she spends her days out in the community networking for the LGBTQ+ community.