“Byron Lane, before you can expect, you need to inspect.”
His words really struck me. With it being Pride Month, and Father’s Day just passing, I’m taking the time not just to be proud of myself, but also of the family that accepted me even when I expected the worst from them.
I came out at 26, a little later in life than some. I’ve often credited my move to New York and the supportive community that I saw here as the safe place that encouraged me to come out. Looking back, the support I needed was in Louisiana with me the entire time. I just accepted a stereotype about my home state and the family I left back there without giving anyone else a chance — the exact opposite of what I wanted others to do for me.
When I told my dad I was gay, his first comment was “Thank God, we thought you were in trouble” — I hadn’t been in touch with them for almost six months. “We had six of you,” my dad said, “and we figured there was a strong chance that one of you might be [gay].” This conversation paved the way for other family members to come out down the line — including my brother and sister, and my nephew, who is transgender.
My mom took longer to accept it, but her journey defied my expectations too. She took time to process this, and while I was upset about that, I now understand that she needed a minute to imagine her son living a completely different life than she expected. I had 26 years to think about it. She deserved a few minutes.
Not only did my mom accept me, but she, alongside my dad, sister and brother, have since ensured that the family restaurant in Baton Rouge, wich carries my name, will always be a haven for LGBTQ+ people. Just like me with my 4,000+ “kids” that I’ve mentored over the years, my family also has their “kids” at the restaurant — their employees, many of whom are queer and trans.
My coming out story and the way my family defied my expectations is mirrored in the coming out story of Will Copeland, who is Head of Finance and Chief of Staff at HIVE DIVERSITY, the company I founded to create a more diverse and inclusive entry-level workforce.
Will knew he was transgender at a very early age, and when he was five years old he came out to his parents before he even understood the power of what he was doing. Though he was assigned female at birth, Will knew he was a boy, and his family rose to the occasion in ways that defied expectations for a suburban, midwestern family in the 90s.
Will’s parents chose not only to believe their son but to advocate for him to live his life as authentically as possible. This included helping him come out to his very religious grandfather who, to their surprise, immediately accepted Will as his grandson and told the family that if he knew he was a boy, “it must be part of God’s plan.” His grandfather’s name is William, and Will chose to take his name during his transition to honor this unexpected and amazing acceptance.
I, too, received surprising acceptance from my grandfather. I was terrified to come out to my maternal grandfather, a World War II veteran who was a prisoner of war, so I never officially told him. One day, when we were speaking on the phone he asked me how my (now) husband, Matthew, was doing. “Matthew who?” I asked, shocked that he knew who my partner was. “You know, the one you live with,” my grandfather replied. I knew this was his way of telling me he accepted me.
To me, family is everything. My company, HIVE, is a family unto itself, and I started it because I wanted to be a father. I am now, and my son, who shares my name, is named for both of my grandfathers — Byron and Isaac.
HIVE is built around diverse experiences, and part of honoring and celebrating the diverse experiences that I, my team, and our talent have had is accepting not just the challenging things we’ve gone through, but the good as well. At HIVE, we can always expect our talent to rise to the occasion — and we’re making space for others to defy our expectations and do well by us, too.