Hey fam! I am so excited to introduce you to our next highlighted speaker from the Pride and Joy Summit, Kalyela Josephs, also known as "Coach K". Kalyela is an Inspirational Speaker and certified Life and Performance Coach who uses holistic strategies to improve the well-being of others. On a personal note, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Kalyela in person and working with her in Pride and Joy Foundation as a co-facilitator in our suicide prevention workshops. You know how some people just have an energy that lets you breath deep, let your hair down, and enjoy being your true self around them? That’s totally Coach K. We met for what was supposed to be a quick dinner while I was in her hometown for a speaking gig. Four hours later, we were shutting the place down because we just could not stop laughing and talking. I tell you what, after being so isolated for two years, that dinner with Kalyela filled my soul! And I wanted to give you a taste of that so I give you, Kalyela Josephs.
Thank you for the Pride and Joy and you all for having me here. And I just wanted to take an opportunity to just share a little bit of a story about myself that in all hopes that many of us can relate to.
I was in a dark place, depressed, filled with anxiety. I was working three jobs, trying to make ends meet. My relationships were falling apart. As I just ended a long term partnership with my girlfriend. My mom and I started to grow apart because she had a hard time accepting that I was gay. She had deep rooted beliefs that being queer was wrong, which came from her religious upbringing and the country she lived in. My parents are from Panama. And at one point it was illegal to be queer. Although this is not the case anymore, as a country has made some progress, the laws had already shaped her beliefs. We couldn't even watch a queer movie with before her eyes will be beaming through the side of my eyes with disappointment. She will come visit me from time to time. And I can remember on this one visit, as we were having dinner.
She stopped and asked, "Of all the things you can choose to be in life, why would you choose a gay lifestyle?"
"Really a gay lifestyle?! I can't even use the bathroom in peace before somebody walks in and thinks I'm in the wrong place.I can't be myself at work. Much of less going to church and not feel judged. Ma, you can't even look at me with proud eyes. To answer your question, no, I wouldn't choose a gay lifestyle."
That's caused me so much pain. I was trying to get her, have her, get a good glimpse of what's in my world. What I go through day to day. But it all seemed like it went through one ear and out the other. I not only lost myself. (sigh)
She said, "I will come back when you've changed your life. Because who you are, is not who I brought into this world."
I not only lost my appetite, I lost myself and I was about to lose my mom. This was like salt on a wound. As I was already having an inner war with my sexuality, had nowhere to turn, I felt abandoned, felt like an outsider in life. And every day I was waking up with no sense of direction. I needed a compass. Where do I go from here? And I started to search for answers, picking up books and reading and reading and reading some more. And the books had this common theme around purpose or finding one's calling. And I posed questions to myself. What is my purpose? What am I here to do? What am I here to be? What makes my life worth living? And how will I know when I found it?
Days later, as I was surfing on the TV, I caught a PBS special with a speaker, Richard Leiter, was talking about purpose. And he's sharing with the audience of how one can find their purpose by tapping into their passions and gifts. I was inspired and the lightbulb went off. That's it! That's exactly what I want to do. I want to help people find their purpose: What makes them get out of bed in the morning?; What were they created to do? to be? and get closer to their Creator. Closer to their Creator, wait, wait, wait. One minute, I must have forgotten the middle. Queer and God cannot coexist. Like many of us, that's what we're taught in church, right?
One morning I had a heaviness on my chest. When I felt like my only escape was to talk to my Creator. With tears of frustration, I cried out, God you know my heart. And you know my truth I want to help people find purpose and grow spiritually. But how can I help people find purpose if I don't even feel worthy to live my own? You're gonna have to show me. You're gonna have to tell me.
I sat silently. And I heard a still small voice: Tell your father who you are. With one eye open I looked around my house because I know I'm the only one in here. Tell your father who you are. I can't tell my father who I am. He'll have a heart attack. Plus, I told my mom I would never tell my father. The voice came again. Tell your father, who you are. You know what, I'll call my brother Stacy. He'll let me know if I'm crazy or not to tell daddy.
Hey, bro, I've been having this weird feeling. Something's been on my mind. And I want to tell daddy that I'm gay.
Sis, why now? Daddy's old. Let It go. Live your life.
I know. I know. I know. I know. But hear me out. I can't let him leave this earth without knowing who I am.
You know what Sis? I can't argue with that. Follow your heart.
See years went by without seeing my dad. Because I was ashamed of who I was looking at me. I was no longer the little girl with a pink bow on her head. I picked up the phone and with shaking fingers I called. And heard his raspy voice on the other end. I tried to make small talk as long as I could. But I knew what I had to do.
Daddy there's something that I have to tell you.
I'm gay Dad. I'm gay.
Felt like the whole world was on pause. All I can hear was the old replay of a Yankees game in the back and the wrestling of his beard. I could sense he needed a moment to take it in.
And what would come next? I didn't expect.
"Yes, I'm here. You are my baby. And I will never turn my back on you. I want you to have a peace of mind and a peace of heart."
At that moment, I knew God heard me and was speaking to me through my Dad. I felt like a ton of bricks fell off of me all at once and I could finally breathe again. See I've been carrying those bricks from the age of 14. When most 14 year olds are gossiping about their secret crush, I was trying to keep my gayness under the radar at my Christian High School. It all started with a late night phone call with my first girlfriend. You remember those days? Staying up way past your bedtime? Like you didn't have to go to school the following day. And the call will go a little bit like this: No, you hang up. No, no, no, no, you hang up. No you hang up. Okay. Let's hang up on 3, 1-2-3 Click. However, I bet your phone call wasn't recorded and taken to the principal's office next morning.
The next day felt like I was on Channel Nine News. The principal went on a hunt for me. Pulled me out of class. Walking me down the hallway of shame, I didn't know what was going on. My heart was pounding. He sits me down.
He says, “I have a recording that I don't think you want me to play. I just have one question for you. Are you gay?”
I had one of those vortex moments where my life flashed before my eyes. My mama could not find out that I'm gay. Definitely not like this. Basketball, basketball. I can't lose my scholarship! This is my life we're talking about here. I have no choice, I gotta deny it.
So in my most convincing voice said, "Me, no I'm not gay."
He said, “Good. Because you know that's against the rules. Now I have to expel you. In fact, let me make it easier for you. I don't want to see you around this girl anymore.”
Well, that didn't take much, because after a few weeks, she shared with me that her mom thought I was a bad influence and was sending her to another school to separate us. Filled with a broken heart, shame and guilt, I now had to skate through the rest of high school hiding my true feelings for girls in fear of losing it all. I can't risk that.
At our weekly chapels, when the invitation was made to get right with God, with anxiety of sweaty palms, I will make my way to the altar. And I will just have one simple prayer: God change me from being gay. Now this wouldn't be the last time that relationships are a crossroads between my faith and my sexuality.
A heartbreak can shake anyone's faith, and I had a rough heartbreak. I was in love with this beautiful woman. We were like missing puzzle pieces put together. Every Sunday we will lay in bed and talk about our upcoming plans for the week. But this Sunday, plans were a little different. I expected our usual conversation. But she was short on words. Words weren't needed. As her face looked cold and a tear fell from the side of her eye onto the pillow.
Before I can ask what was wrong, Her voice cracked, “I, I know you want to be married and have kids. But I can't be the one to give that to you. I can't come out to my family. And I don't think I ever will. I've been feeling like this for some time now. And I don't want to hurt you. I don't want to keep you holding on. I can't do us. I can't do this anymore. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry.”
Unlike my 14 year old breakup this felt like I was trading late nights on the phone for a dream of having a family. All I can hear was the voice of my best friend's mom on replay: A relationship will never work with a woman because it's not Gods' desire. Was she right?
I knew no self help book would get me out of this heartbreak. I knew I needed something, someone, to step in and I turned to therapy. I had strong faith and a connection with my Creator. But yet my faith and my sexuality was in question. My therapist listened and passed me the Kleenex when I cried. Because God became now the source of all my problems: why this relationship didn't work out, why my mom and I are strangers, and I am unhappy being gay.
She suggested, "I want you to write down every question in every feeling you have. But here's the catch. I want you to go somewhere different. I want you to get out in nature."
I listened. And I went out to the mountains to hear the spirit's guidance, because I needed answers and I needed answers now. Where do I go from here? Comforted by trees, I sat on an old bench covered in X and O initials, and I journaled. That was my way of talking to God. And the questions began to flow: Did this relationship not work because it's not your will? Do I have to be straight in order to be happy? Just tell me this: Why Am I gay?
But guess what? There was no burning bush, no sign in the sky. There's a spiritual saying, if you have faith of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. But where is my faith to move this mountain of pain? I went down from the mountains. And here comes the signs from the Divine via the Uber drivers. Over the next couple of weeks as I travel for work, I was greeted by three queer Uber drivers. What are the odds? Like most drivers they wanted to make small talk. Me not so much at 4am, request in my eyes, I just want to catch my flight, but I sat in the back and listened.
There was one driver whose story changed my life. They shared that their move to the city was a result of being kicked out of their home for being gay. Family wouldn't take them in.
And they had to move into a homeless shelter where they faced abuse day after day. Through the rearview, I can see the pain in his eyes.
He gripped the wheel and went on: “This was the toughest time of my life. Going from shelter the shelter with only a trash bag of clothes. Going to bed hungry on a hard cold floor. All because they didn't have any more beds. whoof. It was not easy. But you know what pulled me through? Writing letters to God every night. I still write those letters today to see
how far I've come and to keep going.”
As our ride came to an end, the crust in my eyes turned into tears. He helped me with my bags, rested his hand on my shoulder, said, “Something's on my heart and I have to tell you this” (sigh) “no matter what you go through, always be yourself. And in the moment when you feel like you can't face the world, maybe write a letter to God some time.”
On my flight to Lincoln, Nebraska, I decided to take him up on his offer. I pass on the pretzels and the club soda and wrote a letter to God in all hopes to get some type of answers. After I touched down, my coworker and I decided to get a bite to eat. We found one of those Hail Mary parkings right in front of the restaurant. But for whatever reason he had this bright idea, let's get some more steps and park a few blocks down. Not something a starving person wants to hear but I'll let him win this. We parked, and as I'm getting out of the car, I'm dropping everything keys wallet ,just everything. And as I'm picking up my things, and I look up, I saw a beautiful rainbow mural that said God loves all. As if I needed a bigger message, was in total awe, the divine read my letter! God loves all. All I can do is grab my heart to say thank you. Thank you.
When I returned home, I received the call from my mom stating that she wanted to come visit. I was a little taken aback given the last conversation that we had. But all I could remember was the mural's message: God loves all. Angry to the visit, she arrived. We went out for dinner. Her poise was different. Her words were softer. She looked at me with different eyes.
She reached across the table and grabbed my hand and said, "My child my love. You don't ever have to change you are who I brought into this world."
It took me years to come to know that my queerness is beautiful. And God could love me as I am. Remember, God loves all. And through this entire experience, from surviving high school, coming out, to my dad healing, from a breakup, and reconnecting with my mom, I was reminded that when you seek divine guidance, you can unite your spirituality and queer identity. This time last year my Dad died of stomach cancer. I love my daddy. And I'll have many memories of him. And one of the greatest gifts he's given me outside of life was the words of our call: Have a peace of mind and have a peace of heart. I know that he will want me to share those words with you. Have a peace of mind and have a peace of heart.
On your queer journey, you may experience challenges. And spirituality can serve as a guiding light if you allow it. It can be thought of as the essence of yourself, something greater than yourself. The thing that puts breath into your lungs, moves the clouds across the sky. It is the divine love expressing itself as you quilted in queerness. We may all give it different names. But when you connect with that higher power, ask for guidance and listen patiently for a whole new world opens up to you. Following that guidance may take advice of Uber drivers, maybe an art course and a song, a book that falls off a shelf, or maybe a queer woman like myself sharing their story with you today. I used to say, I didn't choose queerness. But I've grown to believe we chose each other. The thing that I've viewed as painful, has now fueled my life purpose in helping our queer community experience spiritual freedom. In the moments that you're facing doubt in questioning your higher power on your queerness. Remember, queer and God can coexist. I offer you this peace today. Love and freedom comes with knowing that you are created queer on purpose. Thank you.
Y'all, I'm gonna be real here. And I'm just gonna chat at you, without a script or anything. Because I feel like this is what we need right now. You know, Coach Kay, shared her soul with us and dropped so much wisdom. And often people ask me, I think because the origin of my career is my TED Talk, where I talk a lot about religion. And so people often ask me, Are you still religious? After all that happened? And I'm really happy to say that, well, no, I don't feel like I am religious. I am very spiritual, more spiritual and more connected to my higher power than I ever was when I was reading scriptures every day and praying on my knees every day and trying to live life as I thought God wanted me to. Instead, now I find the divine within me, I find my higher power my source within me and I realized that it was never external. There was never someone that I needed to pray to. There is never someone I needed to beg for love, you know, or intervene with judgment. The Divine is within me, and that feels so incredibly good. And then when Kalyela taught us about how we are queer on purpose, this isn't a mistake. This isn't an anomaly. This isn't just different from mainstream society. And so we need to deal with all the ramifications of that. I was made queer on purpose, I am queer on purpose. And there is power in that. And every time I access my queerness in non authentic and beautiful way, incredible wisdom comes forth. And I am so appreciative of that. And so grateful for people like Coach K, who helped me see that within me when I can't see it myself. I'd love to hear from you on how this talk affected you and what you thought of it. And what do you think? Are you queer on purpose? Are your loved ones queer on purpose? I'm so interested so get in that blog post or in that social media post tag me and let me know what you think. I appreciate you fam. Be good to yourself.