Celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride: For Reno Associate Degree in Nursing Instructor Jay Brownson, Coming Out Proves to be a Powerful, Empowering Next Step
When Jay Brownson walked onto Carrington College’s Reno campus back in 2013 for the first day of his Registered Nursing program, he knew his life was about to change.
Little did he know just how many changes the future held.
At the time, Jay was married to his high school sweetheart, and the father of two sons—with a third on the way. He was 22 years old and weighed 380 pounds.
Fast forward eight years: Today, at 30, Jay is divorced, weighs 180 pounds less—and is openly gay.
In fact, one of the few things that hasn’t changed is Jay’s presence on the Reno campus. But instead of being a student, he’s now a popular instructor in the school’s Associate Degree in Nursing program. He also works full-time at Renown South Meadows Medical Center as a house supervisor, overseeing the operations of the 150-bed hospital’s day shift.
We talked with Jay about the importance of coming out, embracing change, and living openly.
Your life is very different than you were when you arrived at Carrington eight years ago. What has that journey been like for you?
There were times when it almost felt overwhelming, but I feel like whatever challenges I experienced have been worth the result, which is living the life I was meant to live. I left my marriage, had weight loss surgery and lost a lot of weight, completed my master’s degree, began teaching, got a job I really love at a hospital, and came out as a gay man. It hasn’t always been easy, but I can tell you it’s very liberating to own your truth and be who you are.
Why do you think coming out is important?
I’ve never believed that it’s critical for people at school—or anywhere else—to know that I’m gay. But it is critical that I don’t feel a need to hide that fact. My sexuality is only one sliver of who I am as a human being. I’m grateful that the awareness and understanding about sexual identity and fluidity has increased in recent years. I think that’s largely the result of people feeling safe and comfortable enough to tell their truth and share their stories.
How did you come out at Carrington?
It was a gradual process. At first, I only talked with a handful of colleagues, but it didn’t take long before everyone knew. The good news is that it never felt like some big bombshell. I think it was probably most surprising to some of my former instructors, who had always known me as a married father. Fortunately, I think our culture has progressed to a point where it’s not some shocking revelation as much as it is another piece of information about a person.
Has your sexual orientation ever been an issue or a topic of conversation with your students?
I can only recall one time where I suspected that my sexual orientation might have been an issue. One particular student had deeply held religious beliefs, and while he never directly said anything negative, he was unusually distant and aloof. Considering I’ve interacted with hundreds of students over the past two and a half years, that’s not a bad track record.
Do you consider Carrington to be an inclusive environment?
I do. For me, Carrington has been a place where differences are respected and embraced.
Is there anything you’d like to see changed or improved?
I think there’s always room for growth. I’d love to see LGBTQ+ clubs started on all of our campuses. I also think that in our nursing programs, it would be valuable to develop a presentation that focuses on how to more effectively interact with, and treat, LGBTQ+ patients. For example, if you’re caring for a lesbian who is married to another woman, that person isn’t her ‘girlfriend’. She’s her wife. Something as simple as the words we choose can make a huge difference in a patient’s experience.
What is your relationship with your ex-wife like these days?
My ex-wife is a wonderful woman, and the grace she’s displayed over the past few years is more than I could have ever hoped for. We had our first son when we were both 18. Everything I felt for my wife when we were together was real, so we have a strong foundation for this unique friendship and co-parenting relationship we’ve created. We’re both now in new relationships and are very happy. Raising our sons is a priority that we –and our respective partners—share. My ex told me the other day that she thought my partner has definitely become the ‘favorite adult’ of one of our sons—and I’m pretty sure she’s right!
Was coming out to your sons difficult?
I thought it would be. But surprisingly, it wasn’t. Not long after we told the boys that we were getting divorced, my ex and I were taking the boys out to eat. They were 9, 7 and 3 at the time. My middle son said that if we each remarried, he would then have two mommies and two daddies. My ex and I looked at each other and we both knew it was the perfect time to begin the conversation. I told my son that if I ever got married again, it would be to a man. He got very quiet for a moment and then asked, “Would you love him like you love mommy?” I told him that yes, we would love each other—and him—very much. That’s all he needed to hear. In that moment, I knew we were going to be okay as a family.
Why do you think Pride Month matters?
It’s an opportunity to start conversations that might not otherwise happen. A student recently wished me a happy Pride Month. She explained that her husband had recently come out as gay, and that she was bisexual. Another student asked what I thought were the unique challenges LGBTQ+ people face when accessing health care. These kinds of conversations are much less likely to happen when people are living closeted lives.
Have you attended Pride parades or other events?
I haven’t, and I probably won’t this year. After everything I’ve seen at the hospital throughout the pandemic, I’m still not eager to be in big crowds quite yet. I’m more of a homebody anyway, but I really do value the awareness and visibility that comes from parades and other Pride Month events. I’m sure that one day I’ll go and have a great time, but I can definitely wait another year for that to happen.