(Editor's note: This is a first-person story written by LPGA player Mel Reid. It originally appeared on LPGA.com)
I don’t think my goals are different from yours. I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. I want to have a positive impact in my little corner.
Because I’m a professional golfer, my avenue is the LPGA Tour and the Ladies European Tour. From the smallest gestures, like walking a few steps out of my way to sign an autograph or speak to a young fan, to something more lasting and substantive like speaking out for equality in matters of gender, race, or sexuality, I feel a duty to use my platform to promote positive change; to use my voice for things I believe.
That isn’t always easy. For years I kept the fact that I am gay away from the public. Those close to me knew – friends and family, people I could trust. But I didn’t speak out. I told myself it was because my sexuality was nobody’s business, that no one would care and that I would be shining a spotlight on myself. I told myself that I didn’t want people to think I was preachy or militant. But the truth is, I was nervous about going public.
Like most people, I don’t seek out conflict. I want to be liked. I enjoy the company of others. I’d like for people to think of me as a good mate, someone who is fun to be around. In my mind, I feared that coming out as openly gay might change that dynamic, might keep people from feeling comfortable around me. It might scare sponsors away or cause my pro-am partners to look at me differently. It seems irrational to think that way today, but it is a fear shared by many people in the gay community.
Thankfully, I was lucky. I received a lot of positive feedback when I went public. People commented on how happy they were that I had found my voice and that I felt comfortable sharing my story. Far from being a detriment, I think people feel more comfortable around me now than ever before. So, my journey was relatively easy, in no small part because of the wonderful support system around me.
That’s not always the case. I am close to people who have lost friends or had family members reject them because of their sexuality. It is so sad. They are the reason I speak out. They are the reason I found the courage to put my passions into words, to stand up for equality and, hopefully broaden minds and open hearts.
I also know what I don’t know. With all that is going on today, I know that I can no more speak to the struggles of the black community than a straight man can understand what it’s like to walk through life as a gay woman. That is when education becomes critical. I don’t know a great deal about the prejudices and injustices my black friends have suffered. But I do know that the farther away you stand from a problem, the simpler the solutions seem. Only by getting close to an issue – talking, studying, listening, learning – can you connect with people and find solutions.
When you have a voice, you have to be brave and also vulnerable. You have to accept the things you don’t know and be willing to educate yourself. Recently, I faced some backlash when I noticed that the high-profile televised matches for COVID-19 relief had no women. Some people lashed out, implying that I thought the events weren’t worthwhile. That is the problem with trying to make a point in 280 characters on social media. Of course, I’m not against fundraising. I commend those guys for stepping up and doing the right thing. I also think those matches would have been better with a couple of women out there. It was good television for a worthy cause. It could have been better. Both those things can be true. I believe them. That’s what it means to have a voice. You have to remain strong in your convictions.
Right now, people are scared. They don’t know what to say in this volatile climate, so they don’t say anything. With all that is going on, it’s important to empathize and embrace those who are different than you – those who look different, who think different and who love different.
I want everyone to understand that people struggle with sexuality and loving the person they love. You might not get it. But hopefully you can be more understanding, less judgmental and appreciate all the sacrifices everyone else has gone through to allow us to be where we are in 2020.
That’s my message every day, not just during Pride month. It might not change the world, but if it opens one heart to a new friendship, opens one mind to a new way of thinking, I will have left my corner a little cleaner. No one could ask for more.