Candace always knew that she was different. Growing up, she developed crushes on girls- not boys like she was expected to. But, it wasn’t until the late 90’s while watching an episode of Ellen DeGeneres’ self-entitled sitcom that it finally “clicked”. She heard a word used on the show that seemed to perfectly sum up what she was feeling: gay. At first, Candace was relieved that she was no longer alone as she had once believed. However, she quickly became dismayed when she realized she’d have to “come out of the closet” to her entire family, which included devout Catholic grandparents and a mother who wouldn’t take the news well. Candace figured she could “soften the blow” by defining herself as bisexual. As anticipated, her mother, Suezette, was shocked and devastated and decided to consult friends for advice. They convinced her that Candance was just going through a phase and would soon revert to being straight again. However, just a few years later, Candace revealed she was a lesbian thereby confirming that this was a “phase” she would never outgrow.
However, Candace didn’t know the plot twist that awaited her. In 2003, Suezette decided to come clean about her own secret she’d been keeping from her daughter for years. Through tears and bated breath, Suezette revealed that she was HIV positive. It was now Candace’s turn to be shocked and devastated and she cried uncontrollably. It wasn’t until later that day that things began to make sense; like the fact that Suezette had been a volunteer with HIV/AIDS organizations for years and had demanded Candace get involved too. Unbeknownst to Candace, for years, Suezette had been slowly preparing her daughter for the day that her mother would “come out of her own closet”.
In the months to come, the mother and daughter team would “come out” to family, friends and the rest of the world. And to their surprise, those devout Catholic grandparents- the very ones they were convinced would shun them- lovingly embraced both their daughter and granddaughter after hearing their news. It hasn’t always been easy but they assert that their lives have been much better since accepting and proclaiming their identities. Today, Candace raises HIV/AIDS awareness among Trinidad’s gay community and Suezette has just been named Executive Director of the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). The two are each other’s biggest supporters and neither of them would return to living in the closet for anything in the world. Both are proudly walking in their truths and, every day, encouraging others to do so too.
Their touching story reminded us of Ash Beckham’s brilliant and inspirational TEDx Talk in which she defines a closet as nothing more than a “difficult conversation.” Therefore, closets are not just rainbow-colored; they come in all varieties. If you or someone you know is struggling with a secret, have that difficult conversation today. Everyone deserves to live in his or her truth.