It’s Pride Month, and Justin Sylvester just celebrated being part of the LGBTQ community at New York City’s Pride March Sunday.
In doing so, he also celebrated how far he’s come in his own personal journey. After all, just 13 years ago, the actor and E! “Daily Pop” co-host hadn’t even told his mother that he’s gay.
While sitting in for Hoda Kotb on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna Monday, Sylvester shared his coming out story, as well as the surprising role “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Kyle Richards played in it.
"I grew up in a little town called Breaux Bridge, Louisiana," he said. "It is a beautiful and sometimes scary place, depending on who you are. It’s very segregated and not the easiest place to grow up as a young gay man."
Sylvester was still a child when he first faced ostracism and cruelty for simply being himself.
"I knew from the age of 5 that I was different," he recalled. "I was Black and gay in all-Black community. And I was also Black and gay at an all-white private school. I used to run through the woods to escape the kids that tormented me when I was growing up."
And even though no one said it, he believes everyone knew why he was targeted.
"My whole family knew that I was being bullied because I was gay," he explained. "I think (my family) were just in denial about it. I was in denial about it. Growing up that way, it’s one of my one regret in life. I wish I had not only accepted myself earlier, but I wish I wouldn’t have denied who I was."
As he grew older and started his career, the now 35-year-old allowed himself to shed that denial around certain people.
"My first job was working for Kyle Richards," he said of the gig he landed as her personal assistant. "She was on 'Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.' I started with her from Season One, and during Season Two, someone had a 'Gays and Gals' party. She sat me down and she said, 'I really want you to come with me, but I know you’re not out to your family. And if you do this, the schtick is up."
But that's not all she said.
"If you do decide to do this," the reality TV star continued, "I will be with you every step of the way."
So, he made his mind up. While parked outside of West Hollywood’s Sunset Tower Hotel, a 22-year-old Sylvester called his mother.
"It was the hardest call of my life, but the greatest call of my life," he said, looking back on it now. "That moment changed my life forever because, for the longest time, I was hiding my real dream. I knew I could never be in front of the camera because of the shame I would bring all my family."
But living his truth openly, finally, changed all of that for him.
"If someone had accepted me earlier, maybe I could have been here faster," Sylvester considered. "But I look at my journey, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. This is a story about courage. It’s a story about redemption. And it’s a story about beating the odds."