Ashley’s Journal: Taking Pride in Cary

Cary, NC — Last month was Pride month and usually, it’s a time for many to show their connection to or support of the LGBT+ community.

For me, it was always a time where I would turn on the TV in my room as a kid and see people all across the country celebrating something that I didn’t have the strength, the words or the tools to share about myself yet. As I grew older and gained those things, the experience of Pride month started changing.

In fact, between those days of attempting to nonchalantly watch the nightly news only in June and today, I have come out publicly, met my soulmate and to my very, very good fortune, she recently agreed to marry me. While being gay or straight was not a choice in and of itself, I did make the choice to embrace my true self years ago and in doing so, I gave myself the freedom to be proud of who I am in every month of the calendar year.

New York City’s Stonewall Inn decorated for Pride month in 2018. This National Historic Landmark was the site of the 1969 riots that launched the gay rights movement.

Then 2020 hit. I thought for sure when June rolled around, it would not be a memorable Pride month. After all, June started just days after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minnesota. The country, and Cary, were swept over with emotions and civil unrest on the issues of racial inequity. Plus, the arguments related to the pandemic continued to worsen and create even more divisiveness. With all of this going on simultaneously, I thought it would just be a skip year for celebrating Pride.

To my surprise, 2020 was the most profound Pride month I’ve ever experienced and it’s one I would not have had if I didn’t live in Cary.

It wasn’t due to a vibrant display or rowdy parade. Instead, it was because of something I realized I haven’t had anywhere else I’ve lived— outspoken support directly from local leadership.

As part of my responsibilities to CaryCitizen readers, I tuned in on June 25 to listen to and report on the Town Council meeting. Minutes in, Councilwoman Lori Bush presented the following Ceremonial Opening statement:

“I wanted to take a moment to recognize that June is Pride month. As we know, Cary is a welcoming community, an exceptional place to live, work, play, learn and raise a family and we recognize the importance of equality and freedom and the value of celebrating our diverse community.

As our citizens have seen, we recently moved forward on the creation of a task force to dive deep into human relations, diversity and inclusion here at the Town and we care deeply about this topic. We’ve always looked forward to celebrating our diversity as we have done whether it was culturally at an event or ethnically or spiritually through all of our events and proclamations.

The LGBTQ+ community is part of that and a vital part of all the fields and professions and they contribute a great deal to us having a stronger community in Cary. We’re strengthened by our rich diversity, whether it’s ethnic, cultural, racial, gender, sexual identity, all of those really contribute to the vibrancy of our town.

We also recognize that the CDC has said that LGBT teens are at a significantly higher risk of being bullied, victims of violence and have increased suicide rates. I want our young people to know that are in the community, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity that they should feel valued, empowered, safe and supported in our community.”

In addition to her words, the Town approved daily lightings of the downtown fountain in rainbow colors through the month, chalked multi-colored steps at the Cary Arts Center and hosted a day of recognition for the Stonewall Riots of June 28, 1969. While these displays were appreciated and nice reminders to see while walking down Academy Street with my pup, it was the words in that meeting that truly made an impact in me.

The Cary Arts Center lit up for Pride month in June, 2020.

No matter how much I like to think I’ve evolved over the years to be proud of myself, I still have hateful, homophobic words ingrained in my memories from my childhood. I would hear them from family members, friends, teachers and church leadership. From local governments I’ve been around in the past in North Carolina, I would hear nothing but silence on the topic or a very neutral-toned social media post.

These words and lack therof informed the way I thought about myself for so long. When I listened to Councilwoman Bush’s words, it was almost a shock to my system. I’ve never heard anything like that come from a place of local leadership.

Sure, I’ve seen other governments display flags or share social media posts with words like “acceptance” and “coexist.” I had just never heard words like “valued,” “empowered,” “safe,” and “supported.” I had never heard from my own town that I contribute and that I am a vital part of the community.

When I heard her message regarding teens and Cary’s young people, I found myself even further stunned.

Unless you’ve been in those shoes as a young kid, not understanding why a big part of who you are is so disapproved of, you can’t know the kind of change it can make in the heart of a hurting child. For years I felt alone, an outcast of society and a disgrace to my church family.

It was a long, hard journey (and still is) to get where I am now, comfortable enough to share such an intimate moment with many in my community that I’ve never met. Truthfully, I was hesitant to write this at all, but then I had a thought. What about those young kids that Lori Bush referenced? I used to be one, quietly praying for who I am to not be true and I don’t want any other child to go through that.

It is undoubtedly true that LGBTQ+ people have a tough hand at times, especially in school. We do get bullied, I know I was, and not all of us live to see the other side of all that shame. So, here I am, telling a slice of my story, in a time that is rather hard, divisive and downright horrible somedays.

Just living in Cary since the start of the year, I have come to love so many things — the vibrant downtown area, my kind-natured neighbors, our greenways, the food, the events and the charm. Above all, I’ve come to reflect on what I experienced last month and the thing about being in Cary I am most grateful for is that it’s a place where I’m not ignored and not just simply tolerated, but embraced.

To all who have embraced me, thank you. You play a big part in healing a heart that for a long time has needed some repair.

Ashley Kairis, on left stands alongside her mother, Nancy Kairis.

For folks in the LGBTQ+ community, I will offer one token of encouragement that would have meant a lot for me to hear years ago — you are not alone. You are a child of God created in His image and let me tell you, He does not make mistakes. So, don’t ever let someone tell you that you are one. Instead, pray for that person’s heart. Pray it might be softened and opened enough to see you as a value and an important part of this community.

For parents of an LGBTQ+ child, I will actually give you a token of encouragement from my mother, Nancy. She says, “As a parent of a gay daughter, my best advice is to love your child wholeheartedly with unconditional love. They are still the same child that has grown up before your eyes and realize that it was nothing that you as a parent did or didn’t do that influenced them to love a person of the same sex. We all should be able to love who we love and be happy.”

Story and photos by Ashley Kairis.

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3 replies
  1. Brent
    Brent says:

    Thanks for sharing another great Ashley’s Journal entry! It is heartening to hear affirmation that Cary is indeed a welcoming community that embraces diversity and inclusion. You’re right that we’re all children of God, and your Mother is right: love is love.

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