The journey to one’s realization of their identity is unique and can take many different forms. There are many theories about the process of LGB identity development. Of course this process is different for everyone, but some researchers have tried to better understand the experiences of the LGB community by developing theories about the steps involved in this process. Dr. Anthony D’Augelli developed the Model of Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual Development. In this model there are six steps to achieving one’s identity in the LGB community. I’m not here to go over the steps one at a time in painstaking detail, nor am I here to help you figure out what level you are at. I am here to talk about the last step in this process, step 6: entering a lesbian, gay, or bisexual community.
This step isn’t as simple as it sounds. It is not simply becoming friends with people in the LGBT community, nor is it about attending the popular lesbian function happening this weekend. This step is about committing oneself to social and political action in order to benefit the community. This step isn’t necessary for one’s identity development, and most people in the LGBT community do not ever enter this stage of development. Achieving step six can be risky. It may mean risking your job by being out in your workplace, or being out in other situations in which there may be negative repercussions. But those who do progress to this step decide to serve our community and reach out to others to make this a safer, more welcoming place for the LGBT identified.
Last week our community lost someone who not only lived her life in this final step of identity development, but touched the lives of many in order to bring understanding and support to the community. I met Christina Santiago in April of 2011. We were brought together by a mutual friend to talk in an LGBT panel at a high school. During the panel discussion, I listened as Christina candidly spoke to the students about her childhood, the passing of her mother, and her decision to confide in her aunt about her sexuality. She left no question unanswered and shared her personal story with the kids in order to bring them a better understanding of what one may go through in their journey of self discovery. As she spoke, the faces of the kids changed as they began to feel a sense of understanding about the strength it takes to be true to yourself, even if it means you may lose people in your life. The initially excited and restless kids began to soften as they heard her speak from her heart and share her life with them. She touched these kids that day and gave a face and a story to the words lesbian and gay. The kids poured out their hearts after our panel sharing their personal stories, and then further shared themselves in letters and cards we received after our panel discussion.
In the months to come I continuously ran into Christina. Pride was approaching and I saw her at the Dyke March where she immediately hugged me and asked how I’ve been. She exuded a genuine interest and caring for others. I felt that, even though we had only met that one time, she was genuinely happy to run into me again, and she cared. She is one of the rare people that care about everyone else with genuine concern and love. I ran into her again while we were walking in the Pride Parade. We briefly joked about how we all of a sudden kept seeing each other everywhere. And again I was greeted with a huge genuine smile. Then I saw her again at BackLot that weekend. This time I was instantly reminded of the smile that was on her face when she had told me about planning her wedding with her partner, Alisha. As she introduced me to her future wife I had the privilege of seeing the love that beamed from her as she talked about her wedding.
Christina was an inspiring role model for the kids we spoke to, whether they identify as LGBT or not. She was a role model for the community and a community resource for so many. Part of what Christina shared at the high school that day is that she did not have the opportunity to come out to her mother before her mother passed away. But I am sure she is with her mother now, and knows how proud her mom is of her for all she has done for us as she watches the legacy of Christina Santiago take form.
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Dawn is a Chicago area native and loves the city she calls home. With a strong passion for both the field of psychology and LGBT issues, she strives to combine the two through gender and sexuality research. As the Women’s Outreach Chair for the Illinois chapter of the Human Rights Campaign she reaches out to the lesbian community to further their involvement in the fight for equality. Whether putting on fundraisers or spreading the word about equality at local festivals, she is always thinking of new ways to serve the LGBT community. When not doing research or fighting for equal rights, she loves to take long walks around the city, enjoy the street festivals, go camping, and hunt for the best Persian food in Chicago!