Happy Pride! To celebrate Pride month, we talked to Actress, Activist & #AerieREAL Role Model, Samira Wiley, about her journey to self-acceptance & her advice for anyone trying to find their way.

Tell us about your journey to self-acceptance and who was there to help support and shape you along the way.

My journey to self-acceptance is a very personal story, as everyone’s is. No two stories are the same. It’s funny in my own journey, I got to a point in my life where I was convinced that I accepted myself in every single way possible and that I was fine and could be an example for other people. But I think life can show you that sometimes what you think is not exactly what is going on, and being in a relationship with my wonderful wife Lauren, having our journey to self-acceptance be somewhat parallel [showed me that].

It was easy to see for me that my journey was sort of limited to my private space, to people I let into my world, to my family, my friends and how I express myself in the world. But when it came to work and to my public self, as to how I thought the world saw me and to people who could potentially give me jobs saw me, I wasn’t as out and open and accepting of myself. I think that having Lauren also working in the industry, she was a real example to me of what is possible. That I don’t have to just feel comfortable with myself and people I feel safe with, but I could expand my ideas of what that could be and that I didn’t have to hide myself privately or publicly because there was this concept that people wouldn’t hire me or maybe people would think of me differently once they worked with me, any assumptions people would make.

I think I found real power in Lauren’s example and in understanding the fact that actually if potential people I would be working with or associating myself with couldn’t accept me for who I am, then at the end of the day, I’m not sure I want to work with those people. This journey, like I said, is a very personal one and I am just happy that my paths crossed with someone as wise as Lauren Morelli.

The struggle is REAL. What are some of the biggest challenges you face today and what do you do to help change the status quo?

The biggest challenges that we face today stem from the myth that was sold to me when I was younger – it was thinking that the world didn’t need me or that I needed to hide, and so the thing that I really try to hold onto is knowing that the biggest change that I can do with my platform is to be visible, is to show the world that “I’m Here and I’m Queer,” but that I am happy about it and that I am proud of it. I love who I am, whenever that negative voice tries to creep in – my biggest challenge is trying to hold onto loving myself and to knowing that is the truth. There are so many other voices that are saying things that are lies, honestly. The light that the LGBTQ community has brought to this world shines very, very, very bright. It puts a smile on my face and on so many people’s faces, and I try to fight it but please know that this light is important and it’s not going anywhere.

What you would say to your younger self? And to those who are trying to find their way?

I would say that to me or to any other person, that the world needs you. There is this myth that we aren’t needed, that we should be discarded. Not only are you OKAY, not only do we accept you and champion you…we love YOU and the world needs your stories and visibilities. Don’t ever tell yourself anything else, because if you are living in a world where you don’t feel safe and hide yourself, then you are actually depriving the world of your actual beautiful self and your gifts, we need that.

If you’ll be in NYC on Saturday, 6.29, join Samira, Nico Tortorella & Edith Cruz for an AE x Aerie Pride Panel! Get more info & RSVP here.

Today & always, we stand with our LGBTQ+ community & allies. In honor of Pride month, we’re donating $10,000 to The Trevor Project, a non-profit focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender & questioning youth. Through a toll-free telephone number, it operates The Trevor Lifeline, a confidential service that offers trained counselors. Learn more about The Trevor Project here.

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