My name is Rob Sheridan, and I am a gay man. The fact that I can write that sentence confidently still blows my mind each time I write it.

My father was raised in Rochester, New York in a strict Irish-Catholic upbringing, the only boy of six children. He was a very smart man, and I’d like to think good-looking, as I’ve grown into an almost identical 25-year-old version of him. He was also a horrific bigot, racist, and homophobe. Growing up, we couldn’t go to restaurants that were “too dark” (i.e. any amount of people of color), going to church was mandatory twice a week (the kneeling kind), and heteronormativity was strictly enforced. I was also the only boy among 3 children, so the “fact” that I was straight and the only remaining male with my last name, gave me an important task. It was my duty, as it was my father’s, to marry a nice Catholic woman and have children, and refuse to let them be themselves—as it is tradition.

Eventually, as I went to public school and met other people that weren’t white and Catholic, I came to understand my father’s worldview was wrong—that acceptance and tolerance for others is not only the morally correct thing to do but the easiest. I realized that skin tone does not influence anything. I learned that non-masculine men are valid and exist. I learned that I was attracted to other men. And I learned that it’s okay that I don’t present a certain way, and that my experience as a gay man is valid even if I still cling to a leftover toxic notion that it’s important for me to be straight-passing—that it’s important for me to be able to hide who I am in order to be more widely accepted. I held these new beliefs of tolerance and acceptance both for myself and others, and anti-supremacy deeply, but for longer than I’d like to admit, secretly.

During a particularly bad family disagreement, my mom said the words her kids were hoping to hear, “I would like a divorce.” We were kicked out of our strict church for breaking a sacrament, and my dad moved out. He took comfort in his generationally imposed alcoholism, and a couple of years later passed away alone in the world.

After my dad died, I came out of the closet to my family, and my mother’s (whom I love very much and who is very supportive of me) first response was “Don’t get AIDS.” She’s learning, as we are all each day. Shortly after, both of my siblings, older and younger, began gender transitions. My mother was suddenly the only non-LGBTQIA+ member of my household and learned what it truly meant to be an active ally.

I am very thankful that Snow and OHG have reinforced for me through initiatives like Stories of Change that diversity is not only necessary for continual progress but something to be celebrated and shared with others. Each time I send an email this month with a rainbow in my signature, it almost brings a tear to my eye.

Rob is an Account Manager at Snow.