Brandon Pennington

Identity: Gay Cis Male

Current Job: College Access Coordinator with ETSU Upward Bound

What does your identity mean to you?

My identity is multifaceted, to me, I am a Counselor, I am a grandson, I am a son, I am a brother, I am an uncle to 3 amazing girls and 3 wonderful boys, I am a friend to a cluster of strong and supportive people, I am non-religious, yet have belief, I am privileged by being a male, and, yes, I am gay.

For me all of these things contribute to who I am as a person, to what my needs are as a person, to where I have scars from past instances of stigma, to what I need to work on to make sure that I don’t hurt other with my privilege, all of these things make me, me. Being gay is a portion of my identity, it contributes to it greatly, but it is not the first thing I feel that I need to say when I introduce myself.

What has been your experience as an out professional?

This feels as if it should be a much easier question to answer than it is. While growing up it was difficult to even picture myself as a person who was out in general, let alone in the workplace.

Since 2013, I have been out fully in nearly all aspects of my life; however, that does not mean that I do not have an instinctual response to withhold my identity during job interviews or early in a new professional setting with co-workers and supervisors. I have been fortune enough that I have not experience workplace discrimination and for the most part have experienced acceptance in all of my work settings.

Most recently, I worked for a mental health provider in a very rural town where I worked with children; there I chose not to disclose my identity as a gay male to any clients unless I felt that it would be part of the therapeutic process. I also knew of co-workers who were openly homophobic, yes even in a social services profession. Perhaps wrong on my part, I did limit my own engagement with those people.

What type of support have you experienced with your identity?

When I came out to my siblings in 2013, I received overwhelming support. One of my brothers, who was a conservative, disavowed all previous homophobic things he had said or stood for and is now a supporter of LGBT+ rights.

Experiences with coming out varies from person to person but understanding some have a negative view or will not being as supportive as I desire should not impact my ability to find my own happiness within my own truth has been helpful.

Working in therapy something I always told my clients, who were kids, is that you cannot change anything about someone else, you can only change your response to it. Taking that advice to heart myself, I no longer find myself concerned about what support I receive or don’t receive; but rather I work on strengthening the relationships I have that are supportive.

What advice do you have for queer youth?

I have struggled more with deciding what advice I would like to give queer youth, more so than any other question asked as a gay-out professional. I likely have a laundry list of things I would love to say; however, for the sake of brevity and tact I will say that something stands out.

Align yourself with supportive people, who will help to build you up; and help build them up as well. This may mean that facing some hard truths about who is and is not supportive and who isn’t helping you live your best life; that is totally okay.