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Being Who You Are

A Story of Love, Hate, and Lessons Learned – One Night in Orlando

2020 and 2021 are years that I will never forget. They brought out the best and worst of humanity. There were lockdowns and riots and curfews and so much anger. But there were also many wonderful acts of kindness and great lessons learned by those who were open to them.

I have to say my life has changed in so many ways and one of those ways is that I appreciate the people in my life so much more and I feel truly blessed for who I am, where I live and the opportunities that are available to me.

I was reminded of a story I wrote, but never published, that happened in Orlando Florida on 12th June 2016. I guess I wrote it for now!

Tears streamed down my face as I watched a news report about the massacre of forty-nine LGBTI+ people at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando Florida and a further fifty-two injured.

Young people had gone out for the night, full of joy and excitement to celebrate a friend’s twenty-first birthday, but little did they know they would never to return to their families again.

Other couples and singles were out for a loving night of celebration, not knowing it would be their last.

It was Latino night and dancing was high on the list of reasons why people were there. The club was full of music and dancing.

Individuals and families were changed forever that night.

Then into the room came a killer; a man full of hate, with one thing on his mind, to senselessly kill and destroy the lives of these beautiful fun-loving, innocent people.

My heart just broke as I listened to the families and their account of what happened to their loved ones that night.

What struck me though is that most of the people in the LGBTI+ community have, and still do, experience this type of hate and prejudice most days of their lives and it is this daily political and social discrimination and hatred that caused this event, not just one random radicalized individual.

I too am a gay man and have and do, experience this homophobic discrimination constantly, especially in the world of business. I have been attacked, beaten up, I have had glass bottles thrown at me, I have lost business deals, and experienced many other types of physical and mental pain, all because of who I am.

Tomorrow is Christmas day in my life and my family is coming to celebrate with me. I have a wonderful partner of over twenty-four years, four amazing children and currently eight incredible grandchildren. How lucky am I?

Families in Florida will never experience the same joy I will experience, ever again.

I couldn’t help myself; it was as if someone had split my heart down the middle with an axe, I wept uncontrollably. Everything inside of me wanted to go to Orlando and hug every one of those families that had been affected, but I knew that was impossible. But my tears were not in vain, they were teaching me lessons that would allow me to have a positive impact on the people around me; there were people in my life that needed to be hugged just as much.

So, what did this terrible event teach me?

To be more tolerant – Yes! To be more accepting – Yes! But more than that, to love my life and everyone that is in it, and with everything that I have. To bring my friends closer to me and not allow the busyness of life to delay contact!

Who knows how long we have with the people we love? Who knows what life will bring? It is too short for petty disagreements.

It is also time to do the things that I have always wanted to do. It is time to love like I have never loved before. It is time to stop judging people, because if I want others to not judge me, then I must first stop judging them.

It is time to be happy and make my short stint on this earth meaningful and to leave a legacy of love and acceptance.

It is simply time to reflect and be better.

If this happens, then those lives lost in Florida and the lives of others that have been persecuted for just being who they are, will in turn leave a legacy that impacts all of us.

The victims at Pulse nightclub can no longer make these choices – but you and I can! It is time to write your own story. You are the one with the pen. You are the one who creates the beginning, the middle and the ending. Remember, being who you are does not mean you have licence to do what you want.

Truly being yourself means that you respect others and genuinely want what is best for them. Our focus shifts – self goes out the window when we are truly proud of who we are.

Make it a great story that you are proud of!

So, how will you live your remaining years?

Will you wonder what could have been and constantly live with regret, or will you accept that what has happened, happened, and it is up to you how you move on.

Accept and be who you are and never live a lie to please others, because you cannot reach your full potential without being proud of who you are. But at the same time be compassionate to others because what you put out there is what comes back.

Truly learn to love who you are, and live life like you do, because after all, you are pretty awesome.

Des Penny is the Founder and Director of Marketing of Proteus Leadership

Proteus Leadership is one of Australia’s premier leadership training and development companies. Proteus Leadership provides leadership courses and management training to a range of industries and assists organisations to build positive workplace cultures, implement change and Create Great Leaders. Proteus also facilitates a range of world-class management courses, workshops, conferences and events across Australia and beyond with the sole purpose of bringing leaders together to connect and grow.

“Our core purpose is to Create Great Leaders that will in turn build Great companies and develop Great teams.”

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