Los Angeles Gay Pride starts up on June 8, and we thought it's a good time to ask, 'What does it mean to be gay?' In a weeklong series, different gay folks will answer that question.

To kick it off, we have Robert V. Taylor, the author of A New Way to Be Human. He is an openly gay Episcopal priest who fought apartheid in his native country of South Africa. His mentor over the years has been Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Taylor now lives in Seattle:

I've discovered that my spirituality is informed by being gay as much as being an out gay man shapes my spirituality. Gay, spiritual, and fully alive is a choice about how to be human…

To be out, proud and thankful for it does not come easily to many LGBT people. I recall the shame I felt as an adolescent struggling with my sexuality. Surely the messages that religion tweeted about us could not be true? The agitated righteous anger of so many religious people was my clue that religion was huffing and puffing to conceal a more generous spiritual path.

In my teenage despair I thought it would be easier to end my life. I collected a handful of Paracetamol pills from the jar my mother kept, squirrelling them under my pillow for the night when I would end it all. On the night my shame seemed overbearing I took the ten pills I'd collected and said, “I hope you'll still love me God.” I was surprised to wake up the next morning as my mother called out to ready me for school.

'To be ready for school became a metaphor for going beyond my fears readying me for a different path. I've never forgotten my thankfulness for being alive that morning. I still had years of work ahead to accept, love and be proud and thankful for the gift of being gay – a journey whose truths I would never have known otherwise. It's given me a lifelong passion for every person to have the love and courage to embrace their identity.

That thwarted attempt on my own life left an indelible mark of wanting young LGBT people to have role models and mentors so that they will not harm or take their own life. Even with the seismic shifts in the acceptance of LGBT people, the struggle to come to terms with sexual orientation is still a minefield for young people who are bullied and harassed for who they are. I can give back by being proud and sharing the resources of truth that keep me ready to be enlivened.

I've learned that courage is not about the celebrated triumphs of those we lionize. Courage is about love which begins with self-love. That's a lifelong journey for many. I began to pay attention to the spirituality of love and compassion that knew no exclusions. It terrified me at first but I intuitively knew it was an invitation to love that embraces all – even me – including our sexual identity.

My own well-being was not visible on the GPS of my life back then. My young adult involvement in the anti-apartheid movement was rooted in justice and inclusion for all. Except for myself! To discover well-being is to seek happiness. Not the happiness presented by what we consume or own, but the happiness that is discovered in eternal truths about our own beauty and purpose in life.

Along the way I've discovered that the arc of my own story, like that of every other person, reveals spiritual wisdom and truth. It emerges when I stop compartmentalizing my life and see that all of the wonder, shame, regret and joy of life form a narrative that allows me to be compassionate about my story and life. Our story is not a series of unrelated experiences but a vessel of spiritual insight inviting us to live in all of our magnificence.

In naming my love and sexual orientation it points me to the invitation to live an intentional integrated life in which every facet of my being is cause for thankfulness. Spirituality is not disembodied – it is revealed with each embrace of our identity.

The courage of self-love, our own well-being, the spirituality revealed in our story and thankfulness about human sexuality is not a treasure for us alone. I need others to claim those same truths for themselves – then the celebration and journey of being at one with me as a gay man makes spacious room for others. It is a generous, joyful and enlivening choice about being who you are. How will you choose?

Robert V. Taylor is also a blogger for Huffington Post and chair of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation.

Read essays by activist Michael Weinstein and candlemaker Tim Sullivan.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

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