'You're not bad. You're not unholy. You're exactly what God intended you to be.'
On "Parks and Recreation," Natalie Morales' character, Lucy, was the confident, funny girlfriend every fan was rooting for. Behind closed doors, however, Morales wasn't always the self-assured star she became on screen.
The 32-year-old came out as queer in a new essay for Amy Poehler's Smart Girls. In the powerfully personal piece, Morales discussed the confusion and pain she had to overcome as a teen who found herself attracted to both girls and boys, and why — as an actor who values her privacy — she chose to come out in such a public way.
"I thought I was sick," Morales wrote. "I know I thought something was really wrong with me. I was ashamed and I thought I was dirty."
Falling for another girl in high school was a beautiful thing, Morales recalled, but it also came with an onslaught of shameful feelings.
"I knew that the church said it was wrong and that God said it was wrong (even though I couldn’t exactly figure out why, if it wasn’t hurting anyone). I was told bisexuals were degenerates who are selfish and just want the best of both worlds. I was told gay men are fine because they’re funny and have good taste, but lesbian women are wastes of space. I was told the idea of two women kissing was disgusting.”
Now an adult who's more comfortable in her own skin, Morales hopes her own story inspires all of us to act and think differently — whether we're LGBTQ or not.
Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images.
"The reason I decided to share this ... is because even though me telling you I’m queer might not be a big deal these days, things are still pretty bad out there for people like me," she wrote.
"There are gay concentration camps in Chechnya where people are being tortured right this second," Morales noted of the human rights abuses quietly taking place halfway around the world.
You don't have to cross an ocean to see how bigotry causes real harm, though, she noted:
"In our very country, 49 people were killed and 58 people were wounded just last year because they were dancing in a gay club. Our safe spaces are not safe. I think it’s important that I tell you that this familiar face you see on your TV is the Q part of LGBTQ, so that if you didn’t know someone who was queer before, you do now."
Morales' point touches on an important finding: Research shows that when you personally know someone who is LGBTQ, you're far more likely to support their rights. When we see queer people as fully human and deserving of respect, that means fewer stories like the atrocities developing in Chechnya or the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. Coming out still makes a difference.
"You're not bad," Morales concluded in her essay. "You're not unholy. You're exactly what God intended you to be."
It's a message she wishes she understood a long time ago, Morales said after her essay spread far and wide.