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Sepi Shyne, Iranian-American lesbian, explains what Pride means to her

Sepi Shyne

Sepi Shyne speaks during the Human Rights Campaign’s Pride Breakfast on June 9, 2019, at Cafe Vinadore in West Hollywood. Photo: Sepi Shyne.

(For June, which is designated LGBTQ Pride Month, Q Voice News features a series of interviews and first-person essays under the theme What Pride Means to Me. Q Voice News launched the series last year. Check out 2019’s essays on What Pride Means to Me.)

Pride has always been my sanctuary.

When I came out, there was no sanctuary at home. As an Iranian-American immigrant, coming out to my family was difficult. The Iranian culture is marriage oriented and is very homophobic.

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Having marriage equality in the U.S. has helped move the needle within the Iranian American community, but in Iran, the punishment for homosexuality is death.

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Kissing a girl

In high school, there were a group of boys who started harassing and stalking me. They would follow me around in the mornings, calling me a “dyke.” When I finally reported them to the school counselor, she told me, “Sepi, you should go in the middle of the quad and kiss a boy. That will show them they’re wrong.”

But after kissing my first girlfriend, I knew I was a lesbian. Kissing her made me feel the magic I had seen so many times in romantic comedies.

In 1994, at 17 years old, I decided to come out to my friends. When I turned 19, I finally came out to my mom.

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My first Pride

I will never forget the magic of my first Pride. I was 18. My girlfriend and I decided to go to San Francisco Pride. As we were exiting the 101 freeway toward San Francisco, we saw a huge sign that read, “Home.” At that moment, I looked at my girlfriend and said, “We are finally home!”

San Francisco Pride is where I felt at home. I needed that safety because my hometown of San Jose was not accepting.

San Jose problems

During my second year of college, I was sitting with my girlfriend at the time in a San Jose coffee shop that was known to be “gay friendly.”

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While we held hands, we were getting rude looks from the new manager. The next thing I knew, a police officer and the manager were standing over us. We were shocked and frankly terrified when the police officer said, “The manager doesn’t want your kind in his establishment. You have to get up and leave,” as he blew a kiss and winked at me.

We ran out in a hurry and drove around town in tears. We felt powerless. We decided that day, that we would never be powerless again. We both decided to go to law school to learn the law and stop this from happening to others. We both attended Golden Gate University Law School in San Francisco.

Pride

I have attended every Pride and have been a dedicated LGBTQ+ civil rights advocate ever since.

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Pride is the place where I am surrounded by love. The place where all my fears disappear. It’s a celebration with my chosen family. My sanctuary. I’ll continue advocating until everyone has the sanctuary that Pride has given me.

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About the author

Sepi Shyne

Sepi Shyne is a an Iranian American attorney, feminist, LGBTQ advocate, and a candidate for West Hollywood City Council. She serves as an appointed business license commissioner with the City of West Hollywood and an advisory council member for the Los Angeles County Assessor’s office.

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