Embracing Who I am: A Personal Journey of LGBTQ+ Acceptance - Mulwade Foundation

Davide Paladino, Mulwade Foundation Trustee & Treasurer, shares an intimate and inspiring story…

My Journey to where I am today: A reflection on hardships, growth and overcoming.

Picture it – Switzerland, 1981 (pun intended as I am referencing Sophia Petrillo – played by Estelle Getty – in Golden Girls). I grew up in a small village in the countryside, with a conservative-minded population that rejected everything that didn’t follow the norm (and certainly negative towards individuals attracted to the same sex). Fear, stigma, and ignorance prevailed over the LGBTQ+ community, which was also defined by the HIV epidemic that raged through the world.

I was bullied a lot in school. Not only because of my introverted character but also because I acted in a different way – so they said. I also remember my first days at work as an apprentice at a regional bank. Every employee was aware that certain things are not to be asked, nor told. I felt as if every move and action I intended to do had to be thought through, almost calculated, to ensure no red flags appeared. Being openly gay was regarded as an offence with the potential of job loss. Imagine the outrage it caused in a small village like the one that I lived in…

You might ask, why I am writing all of this?

All my childhood and most of my teens I struggled to find my identity while hiding in the closet and torturing myself every day with the same question – What if it’s just a phase? Equally, I knew what the answer was but the circumstances around me were just unbearable and wouldn’t let me admit the obvious.

Along with my inner battle came a little joy in working in the finance sector. An industry that was led by prejudice, gender stereotypes as well as an old-fashioned and less inclusive mindset. Eventually, I found solace when I started to work as a flight attendant and for an industry, that seemed to be ahead of the game when it came to diversity & inclusiveness.

As I conquered happiness with myself (over money), the change helped my career flourish without having to hide aspects of my identity. Fast forward to my current situation, I feel blessed to be working for a company that supports and embraces diversity and the wide spectrum of our community, with all its beauty. Being able to debate, laugh and express emotions genuinely with my colleagues and friends, without even having to think about it, is liberating. Feeling inclusive and being respected is even more empowering.

While the aviation industry seems to be ahead of the game when it comes to Diversity and inclusion, there are many other professional industries operating in less open-minded corners of the globe which are lagging far behind. In my job role, I am able to use my time to volunteer for the Mulwade Foundation – an organisation with the aim of creating lasting, positive change by assisting and empowering individuals experiencing trauma associated with deliberate and reckless HIV transmission. We do this through raising awareness and challenging HIV-related stigma, and through a combination of strategic partnerships, innovative programs, and an unwavering commitment to address one of the most pressing social and educational challenges of our time.

We must continue the hard work of fostering inclusivity and diversity in all corners of society, advocating for change, and challenging stigma and prejudice. By sharing personal stories and supporting organisations like the Mulwade Foundation, we can create a lasting, positive impact and pave the way for a more inclusive and accepting world for everyone. Let us embrace Pride not just during this month, but every day, as we strive for a future where love and acceptance know no boundaries.