Taking on the challenges and benefits of coming out as bisexual in an uncertain environment, junior Isaiah Bates, vice president of external affairs for USF’s P.R.I.D.E. (People Respecting Individual Diversity and Equality) Alliance, has used his role within this organization to help those struggling in expressing themselves.
Bates discovered who he was early on, during his middle school years. For him, however, it was the people in his life that impacted his identity the most.
“I think a real pushback for me was that I didn’t ever want to disappoint my parents, or my father specifically,” he said. “It was a challenge inside because I always strive to be excellent and I feel like I’m a strong person. With that being said, I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I want to be the person who’s able to create change for everyone.”
Bates said he often tried to distract himself from his identity, fearing any disappointment from his family. Bates continually steered the conversation away from who he was when he spoke to them until expressing his true self became the only option that made him happy.
He felt pressure at times to keep his identity hidden because he attended an all-boys middle school. Eventually, he found the courage to tell close friends about his true identity, but it took a few more years to discuss the topic with his family.
After coming out to his parents in high school, Bates learned how to overcome the stress of not living up to certain expectations by utilizing the confidence and power within himself.
“It really has been hard, but now I wouldn’t want to be anyone else,” he said. “I truly think being queer is so special, and it gives you so many perspectives on the world. It allows you to hear so many different ideas and experience so many different lifestyles and backgrounds. [It] allows you to find a sense of purpose and self.”
Bates attended a performing arts high school, making the transition of coming out a bit easier because many students were out as well. He said he is currently pursuing a degree in philosophy and plans to get involved with politics.
“I strongly believe we need more queer, Black and overall marginalized voices in positions of leadership and power, and I want change as well as to be the one to create the change,” he said.
Now that he is out, Bates uses his experiences to provide positive support for LGBTQ students on campus who are either struggling with their identities or are looking for a safe space. He provides support to these students through his leadership role in the P.R.I.D.E. Alliance.
Bates joined the organization when he was a freshman and has witnessed the impact it has had on students for three years. From making personal and emotional connections with students to educating them on important topics in the LGBTQ community, Bates believes the power of the organization lies within the sense of community it harbors.
“We have that personal impact,” he said. “For the more emotional and mental side of things, we have our support groups. We talk about ways to connect with the community and ways to feel better within yourself. However, it’s very important for us to let everyone know that although there is a topic, you can talk about whatever you need to talk about.”
The organization goes beyond providing emotional support for students as it also takes pride in its inclusion of important educational topics.
“We also talk a lot about sexual health. I think it’s huge in the queer community to destigmatize sexual issues because a lot of times, especially when you’re younger, you’re taught that being queer is wrong and anything related to sex is kind of taboo,” he said.
“So, people explore that, but they don’t explore it in a healthy way. So we partner with [the Office of Multicultural Affairs], the Counseling Center and quite a few people to make sure we have all of the information right.”
As vice president of external affairs, Bates is involved with advertising the organization to the student population and ensuring students feel safe to attend meetings or support groups. Upon interacting with students, he said he believes his energetic and welcoming personality allows students to feel more comfortable reaching out if they need help or advice.
“I always try to stay positive, and it’s been pretty effective,” he said. “I personally have heard quite a few testimonies from a lot of people calling me to say ‘Hey, thank you so much, you really made me come out of my shell.’ I try to at least be comforting, to be someone who anyone can come to, and to be the best leader I can be. I try to be someone that anyone can come to talk to, whether they are out or not.”
His welcoming actions have not gone unnoticed in the community. Ravin-Marie Perkins, social media and public relations officer for the P.R.I.D.E. Alliance, recalled the moment they recognized Bates’ efforts in ensuring everyone felt accepted, including themself.
“When I first transferred to USF in January of last year, I didn’t know a soul. At that point, I had never been a part of a LGBTQ club and was curious to see what it was all about,” Perkins said.
“Soon after, [P.R.I.D.E. Alliance] hosted a speed friending event, which is speed dating but for friendships. Isaiah organized the entire event, making sure we were on schedule and having fun. He even invited me to grab food with some of the members after the meeting ended. At that point I knew I wanted to be a part of P.R.I.D.E Alliance and make members feel as accepted as I felt that night.”
Perkins also admired Bates’ ability to always be that comforting person he strived to be for people beyond simply fulfilling his duties within the organization.
“For the in-person and online support groups, Isaiah has been an empathetic figure, providing a safe space for everyone around him,” Perkins said. “His open attitude makes people more willing to open up about tough subjects, and he knows how to mediate tough conversations or keep conversations on track when they take a left turn.”
Senior Louis Otero said Bates had personally helped them through difficult times and has experienced the openness and kindness that Bates strives to exemplify.
“Isaiah has provided safe spaces for members to talk about personal issues and is always available to be that comforting presence one needs in hard times,” Otero said.
“He was there for me when I was going through a tough time after I had just come out to my mother, not only as a leader but also as a friend for me, giving me a shoulder to lean on.
Bates hopes for a future where everyone feels comfortable with who they are, which is a main point in his mission as a leader on the P.R.I.D.E. Alliance.
“I want [LGBTQ youth] to completely and utterly be comfortable with who they are, from the minute they even think about it,” he said. “I also want the youth to be OK with being fluid. So one day you might feel this and the next day you might feel that, and that is OK.”
While coming out has allowed Bates to not only find personal support but also support others in his organization, he strongly recommended only doing so in a safe space and when the time is right.
“A lot of people feel pressure to just come out just to be out, even when it is not a safe situation,” he said. “Please do not do that. I think it’s important to find safe spaces. Find a safe space, whether it be online, a comforting music type or a comfort TV show.”
Bates said one’s safe space can also be a person, and he believed finding community and comfort in those surrounding you is important. In finding his comfort person, Bates said he can always rely on his roommate.
“My best friend and roommate, literally, is my favorite person in the world,” he said. “I love them to literal death and they’re my safe space. I could literally be hanging off of a volcano, but no matter where I am, if they’re with me, I’m good.”
Bates hopes every person finds the confidence to fully express themselves without fear of sacrificing their success.
“I know it’s kind of cliché, and I’ve spoken to a lot of the older queer people as well in the community, but a lot of times queer people feel like they can’t be completely out and still be successful in life,” Bates said.
“I want them to know that is in no way true, and with anything that you want to do, your queerness is only going to add to it. Queerness is power, and queerness is family.”