'Honored to carry our flag.' First gay mayor of Maplewood overcame conversion therapy before living proud

For Pride Month, the first openly gay mayor of Maplewood is sharing the difficult journey he went through before being able to live his truth and become an advocate for others.
Mayor Dean Dafis speaks proudly to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community, but he says it wasn't always that way.
“We know that representation matters, we know representation is really important, so I'm honored to carry our flag,” Dafis says.
Coming from an old-world Greek family, he says being gay wasn't talked about openly. He says he knew he was different from as young as 8 years old, which was the first time he came out, then again at 12.
“When I came out, my family was devastated…they grew up with a lot of bias surrounding this and they certainly reacted in a very alarming manner,” Dafis says.
As a teen growing up in Philadelphia, his parents made him go through conversion therapy, which was widely practiced at the time in hopes of changing a person's sexual orientation
“I used to go to a psychiatrist once a week, twice a week later on. I underwent electroshock therapy, and it was painful. It robbed me of my childhood, it robbed me of dreaming to be the best that I can be, and it robbed me of my truth,” Dafis says.
On Sept. 11, 2001, in the wake of the devastating attacks on Ground Zero, Dafis says he decided to leave his old life behind both professionally and personally.
“I was married to a woman at the time. I was working right there at Ground Zero. I saw friends jump to their deaths, I saw things I will never forget,” Dafis says. “I got the opportunity to live, and I decided at that moment, that day that I was going to live and that I was going to be authentic and real, no matter what. That was the moment that I accepted myself and that was the moment that I truly came out.”
Today, Dafis isn't just the mayor of Maplewood – he’s also an advocate for LGBTQ+ youth and for banning conversion therapy, a practice outlawed in most states for children but not for adults. Earlier this year, a bill to ban conversion therapy for adults moved forward to the state Senate.
“It is not therapy, it's abuse and I will do everything that I can using my platform to outlaw that,” he says.
Outside of his advocacy, Dafis plans to continue to serve at the local level where he feels he can be most impactful and continue to add to the tapestry of his town.
“I hope that I leave Maplewood a little bit more equitable, I hope that I leave it a little bit more vibrant, and I hope that I've inspired the little ones who are watching us, to do the same, to rise up, and to make their own changes and build their own community,” he says.