Hi, my name is Todd Gloria, and I was born and raised in San Diego. I’m a third-generation San Diegan and I now serve as the mayor of my hometown.
I was probably about four or five years old. We were living in a small duplex on Apache Street in the Claremont neighborhood of San Diego. Very, very small apartment, really, for my parents, my older brother, and I. My mom was a hotel maid. My dad was a gardener. And one of the ways we made childcare work in our family was that my great-aunt, upon my birth, came to San Diego from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and then stayed with me for years.
My earliest memories of her was that she was hardworking. She had a hardscrabble life from Oklahoma. She actually was missing fingers because of the manual labor that she did throughout her life. At this point, she’s in her 70s or thereabouts, and we would spend the day cleaning the house.
One day we were on the floor in the bedroom that I shared with my brother and my aunt was instructing me to clean the railings that the closet doors ran on. The door that swings back and forth. Well, those railings could get dirty too. And she’s like, “Well, we need to clean this. We have to clean every inch. And wouldn’t your parents be so happy when they come home from work to see a nice clean house?”
I thought that sounded like a brilliant idea. I wanted to do anything to make my great-aunt happy, my parents happy, everybody happy. And I think about growing up and getting older and doing everything I could to make my parents happy. And that became a really important factor when I came to the understanding that I was different.
I knew this somehow was something I should be embarrassed of, something I should be ashamed of, and something I should surely never tell anybody. But my insurance policy against someone ever finding out was just being the absolute best kid I could possibly be. Get the best grades, be involved in absolutely everything under the sun, never ever cause any trouble, certainly not bringing any attention to me.
My insurance policy against someone ever finding out was just being the absolute best kid I could possibly be.
So I would clean my room because I was never going to have my parents go in my room and say, “Go clean your room.” I wasn’t going to have them interact with my teachers any more than they needed to. All they need to know is I was getting an A. And that perfection was how I chose to try and navigate who I was in a world that even without saying it directly to me, I understood very clearly was a world that was not going to be kind to me. And the older that I got, the other kids got older and they started to notice things and they started to realize exactly what I was, maybe even before I had the vocabulary to explain who I was.
So as the best little boy in the world, of course, I became student body president. And my senior year of high school, I remember running our student council meetings, dozens of students crowded into a classroom, all sitting around this large podium that I commanded as the student body president. Standing there at that wooden podium, I’ll never forget it, and calling upon one of the other students who asked me the question, “Where are you going to be this weekend?”
I said, “I don’t know. Why do you ask?”
And he said, “Well, because I’m going to go out gay bashing this weekend and I’d like to know where you’re going to be.” Naturally, kids started laughing, snickering, commenting amongst themselves, and it was really embarrassing. And I simply carried on with the meeting. I didn’t acknowledge the comment and went about doing my job because that was what I’m supposed to do.
So as difficult as that day was, I just kept my head down and kept doing the work. That allowed me to go to the University of San Diego on a full-ride scholarship. And what was helpful about that was that allowed me to be able to support myself. I got a job, I started working for the county of San Diego, I started getting a paycheck, I had a car, and I started to feel like I could take care of myself if the worst were to happen. And the worst, of course, being coming out and my family rejecting me.
And after a while, you get so tired. So I chose to tell my mom first because I believed that she would be the most accepting. And I remember her being really afraid for me. I think what it was was she was afraid of what would happen to me, particularly in that time. This is in the 1990s. I think she was worried about HIV and AIDS. I think she had all kinds of notions because she didn’t know any gay people. What was she to know? It wasn’t necessarily the warm embrace that I was hoping for, but it wasn’t the rejection that I certainly feared.
The funny thing was I left my dad to the end and my dad is like any straight guy. He had some of that locker room talk that certainly sent signals to me as a kid that maybe he wasn’t going to be the best ally. So I remember he was working in the yard. He had his back to me, and I stood there for a long period of time. It was very awkward, I think. Eventually, I just blurted out the words, not the words, but the words, “Dad, I got to tell you something.”
I remember him getting up, turning around, hugged me, and said, “I know and I love you.” And I’ll cherish that memory for the rest of my life.
Today, they’re my fiercest advocates. They don’t miss a pride parade. They come to me about months in advance like, “You know it’s on July 22nd, don’t you?”
I’m like, “No, I don’t know that. I’m too busy working. What are you talking about?”
I think in a lot of ways, since that day of coming out to my family, life has just gotten better. And it’s not to say that I’m different. I am still the guy that’s going to clean the tracks of my closet door. It’s always going to be immaculate. You can come to my house right now, it’s going to be clean. But I continue to be a perfectionist and want to fix things and clean things up and please other people as a motive about service, not about deflection. What I’ve found is that life is just better and that I don’t have to mask my identity, I don’t have to use my perfectionism as a shield, but it’s actually integrated into who I am and I’m better for it.
I was at a high school recently and this young lady came up to me after I spoke about voters and voting and whatnot, and she just very quietly said to me “I’m a member of the family as well.” And she just smiled. And I can’t imagine having done that when I was her age. But I hope that she saw the mayor of her hometown being who he is, accepted for who he is, and maybe that gave her a sense that she, too, could be accepted for who she is, and be celebrated and be successful.
I hope folks trust in themselves enough to be able to live out their dream and be who they want to be, understanding that some of those things that you might have been using previously to keep yourself safe can actually be redeployed to actually make you successful and, more importantly, to make you happy.