Melissa Zarda is a graphic designer in Kansas City, Missouri.
Growing up, my brother Don was my biggest role model. He was 7 years older and acted as my protector, looking out for me when some boys were picking on me in first grade, advising me years later on dealing with a contractor who was trying to overcharge me. Despite his tall, athletic frame, he was gentle, kind and eager to help. When I got married, Don walked me down the aisle. Though I always loved him, the dynamic was such that he offered support and I took it. He was the big brother, after all.
Then, in 2010, our roles were reversed when Don was fired from his job after revealing that he was gay. Suddenly he was the one who needed someone to lean on. Don was in his late 20s when he came out to our family during one of his visits back home. I remember him looking at us expectantly after sharing the news, waiting for our reaction. We were all more than ready to accept him for who he was.
Around the same time, Don was also discovering his passion for skydiving, first as a hobby and then as a career. One day Don surprised our mom with a tandem skydive. Family members piled into a propeller plane to watch their jump, and Don had the biggest smile on his face looking at all of us strapped in together. It was so clear that he was in his element.
By 2010, Don was living his dream as a skydiving instructor at Altitude Express out of Long Island, New York. He often did tandem jumps with new skydivers, in which they would be strapped together. On one, he offhandedly mentioned to a female student that he was gay in an effort to make her more comfortable with their close physical contact.
After the jump, he was fired. Read more via Time