“Real life stories evoke a far more powerful response in most people than facts and figures.  You have a story that is as unique as you are. Reach out and share it.”

America's Got Talent: Brody Ray 

Born in the small town of Kearney, Nebraska, Brody Ray knew he wasn’t like everyone else at the age of 3.  He says, “As I started to figure out what made boys and girls different, I realized I wasn’t connecting with my body.  I remember going through the drive-thru at McDonalds and insisting on getting the boy toy in my happy meal.  I would kick the back of my mom’s seat until she said ok”.  Brody came out to his parents when he was 8 after his mother asked him if he felt he should be a boy.  He was diagnosed with GID or Gender Identity Disorder shortly after. 

As a teen, Brody began researching the transition process. He made an appointment at a clinic in Kearny, hoping they would connect him with resources and medical advice.  After sharing his concerns and feelings, the doctor told Brody she did not have any information on the subject.  “She said there was nothing that could be done for me and pushed me out the door quickly.  I never felt more humiliated and lost than I did at that moment”, says Brody. 

In 2010 at the age of 22, Brody started his transition.  “I told my parents I couldn’t wait any longer, and that I would move to California and start my life as a man, or I could stay and they could help me as a family.  My mom broke down in tears because she felt she was losing her daughter.  I reminded her I would always be the same person.  We started our journey together and they’ve been supportive ever since.” 

Brody felt it was important to share his story, and as a talented singer/songwriter he realized the stage could be his platform.  “I try my best to help others understand me in a way that would make sense to them if they had no knowledge or education on the subject.  If they still resist, I simply walk away and continue to focus on the positive things happening in my life.  We cannot live our lives trying to validate ourselves to others.  We ARE valid.  We exist.  This is real.” 

Brody auditioned for America's Got Talent​ this year and appeared in front of a large crowd and the celebrity judges during the final audition round.  The room fell in love with Brody and he advanced to the finals.  When asked if he feels he’s a role model for other trans performers, Brody quickly replies, “I absolutely hope I am!  I’ve had quite a few trans artists come up to me personally and thank me for the inspiration.  That pushes me to succeed more than anything else. I want to show my LGBTQ community that we do not have to live within the societal confinements the world puts on us. We can live happy, successful lives just like everyone else because we ARE everyone else.” 

What was it like to step out onto the huge America’s Got Talent stage and perform?  Brody claims “It was actually very terrifying. But in that moment something came over me and I knew I was in a safe place.  I was able to open up to the crowd and the judges and tell them a little about me. The crowd stood and screamed and cheered for me for what seemed like an eternity. And as my eyes started to fill up with tears and they started to sit down, they rose back to their feet and continued to cheer. I had never felt more loved in my life than in that very moment. And I hadn't even sang yet! I pulled myself together and sang "Stand In the Light". After every big note the crowd roared. Then my final note came and they sprung to their feet.  I've never heard a crowd that loud! The tears started rolling down my face. I knew that I just had the biggest moment of my life. I knew that I was going to be ready for anything. I knew was going to help people through my music.” 

In addition to his television success, Brody recently signed with the well-known management team Buddy Lee Attractions in Nashville.  “They are one of the only known LGBTQ-friendly agencies and are releasing my new single called ‘Wake Your Dreams’ this month”, he says proudly.  Be sure to support Brody on America’s Got Talent Tuesday nights on NBC and visit his website at BrodayRay.com to download his single.

Gary's Story: GLOWS 

I called Gary on a Friday morning, and he chatted with me from his home in Lake Conway, Florida; which is located on the same street as the former Pulse Nightclub.  He tells me the site is being made into a memorial museum, referencing the mass shooting that occurred on June 12th, 2016.  50 people died and 58 were injured with all but one (the shooter) identifying as LGBTQ or an ally.  

Gary said he was bullied a lot in school, but instead of deterring him, it motivated him to focus on his studies and he graduated as valedictorian of his high school class.  He spent many years in the support of our military.  He was granted disability retirement after being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Gary relies heavily on his service dogs and husband Phil to assist him with daily activities, but he remains upbeat with a cheerful attitude and a playful sense of humor.  Now self-described as “retired”, Gary and Phil have a long history of being active within the LGBTQ community. 

They met through a newspaper ad in 1990, each of them writing to the other.  Gary proposed to Phil on Valentine’s Day of 1991.  They were married later that year by Reverend Jimmy Brock at the Joy Metropolitan Community Church of Orlando.  Same-sex marriage was not legal anywhere in the United States at that time. 

On July 6th, 2012 - the first day a countywide domestic partner registry became available in Orange County, FL – Gary and Phil unknowingly became the first couple to register.  Gary said it was a pleasant surprise to have that honor.  Having been in a committed relationship for more than two decades by this point, the registry was a “first step toward actual marriage” in Gary’s opinion.  They finally shared some of the same rights their married heterosexual friends had always enjoyed including hospital visitation, emergency notifications, guardian decisions, healthcare decisions, and funeral/burial decisions. 

Around the same time Gary and Phil began their relationship, they decided to combine their passion for water skiing and their desire to give back to their community.  Gay and Lesbians of Orlando Waterskiers (GLOWS) was born.  Longtime fans of wakeboarding, waterskiing , trick skiing, double Hydrosliding spray wars, and even barefoot skiing; it was a natural fit for the couple.  For over 25 years, they took their boat out onto the water at least once a month, forming a popular niche within the LGBTQ community of Orlando.  The boat trips were open to anyone on any day.  For the price of gas people enjoyed wakeboarding and waterskiing with others from the LGBTQ community.  While they don’t go out as often anymore, Gary said they will accommodate people who request a GLOWS trip whenever possible. 

Despite medical challenges, Gary remains a vital part of his community.  Since last century he has worked within the Orange County, FL school system as a volunteer teacher.  He and Phil attend events at The Center in Orlando.  They enjoy travelling, spending time with their service dogs, and catching up with friends.  Gary lives his life to the fullest and says he is grateful for every single day.

Curtis's Story: Leadership in the Black LGBT Community 

Curtis Lipscomb on Leadership in the Black LGBT Community 

 

Curtis Lipscomb is the Executive Director of LGBT Detroit and the Founder of Hotter Than July, Detroit’s Annual Black Gay Pride Celebration 

LGBT Detroit is a Detroit based nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase awareness of and support to Detroit's dynamic LGBT culture through education and advocacy with integrity and pride. The safe space we have deliberately designed is quite unique in America. 

My Path to Self-Discovery 

My journey to leadership in LGBT Community in Detroit began in my youth. I have been blessed to come out in 1980 when I was only 15. I was extremely blessed to be supported by a community made up of people who supported me in my truth. Humorously, I came out to my 9th grade English teacher at Cass Technical High School, through a journal entry. 

In 1980, there was a lot of social change happening. I came from a very unique and unusual situation, and because of the support of extended family, I didn’t try to kill myself, or do drugs upon self discovery. All throughout my high school years I was never bullied, harassed, or beaten up. I was free and encouraged to pursue a dream of being a fashion designer.. My high school years were wonderful. My school mates from Cass Tech allowed me to be me. We are still friends to this day and our 35th Reunion occurs later this year. 

I came from a single-parent household, so if I wanted or needed to purchase something for myself, I had to work to get the money. My first real job was as an assistant to a Black, gay man named David Eric who had a fashion design studio on Livernois and Outer Drive in Detroit, in an area still known as “The Avenue of Fashion.” Mr. Eric knew what his customers wanted, but he couldn’t illustrate, so I was his artist. My boss treated me respectfully and I was paid to do something I loved to do and was very good at doing. 

Although still a teenager, I was encouraged to go to a party with “older” gay men who were about 20-21 years old (When you’re 15, 20 years old IS “older”!) The party was hosted by Alan Meyers, the brother of Alicia Meyers who had a national hit recording out at the time. Attending this party was another turning point in my young life. Although I had already come out and was comfortable with my sexual identity, at that party I saw COMMUNITY! Sophisticated, well-dressed, people (Black, straight, gay, lesbian, bi transgender and others) were in attendance. I said to myself: “Oh my God! THIS is it! This is home!” That is when I realized that I properly fit in somewhere. 

Although most black and brown people do not want to be separated from family, many are shunned away. I didn’t know it then, but now I realize that I stand on the shoulders of people who made it safe for me to come out in 1980. I stand on the shoulders of our warriors like Bayard Rustin, Langston Hughes, and Ruth Ellis, among many others. Rustin begat my boss and my boss begat me. 

New York City and the AIDS Crisis 

Growing up in Detroit, I didn’t really realize that I was BLACK. It was not until I left Detroit and moved to New York City to attend Parsons "The New School of Design" that race became an issue. While there, I was described as a Black boy from “troubled” Chicago with a knife in my back pocket. I didn’t have a struggle with my gay identity, but my Blackness became problematic. For the first time in my life, I was in the minority. I was one of only five Black people in my class. My sexual identity may not always been obvious, but I was often reminded of my Blackness. 

This was about 1983 and it was the beginning of the AIDS crisis. As I recall, the epidemic hit the Broadway community first, and then the fashion community down the street. There was a known death every weekend. In the early 1980s, the bar was our “CNN,” where LGBT community news was delivered. The news at that time was “who’s sick and who’s not.” There was always a status update at the bar. We watched, helpless, as people shrunk and died in droves. I saw and experienced many of my industry heroes die right in front of me. Being gay took on a new paradigm; now we were looked at as a disease-carrying people. 

Eventually, my best friend from Detroit, Robert Penick III, came to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. I perceived that Robert had a good life back home. He was the apple of his mother’s eye and anything he needed and wanted, she would provide. He was also comfortable with his gay identity. 

We became roommates, and having Robert in New York with me made living in the Big Apple more bearable; that is until Robert found out he may have been infected. Sadly, he was positively diagnosed. I saw my best friend wither away and ultimately, die in my arms. Robert made his transition in May of 1992. He was only 27 years old. His death has and continue to traumatized me. 

I had lived in New York for about ten years by now, but after Robert died, I knew unconsciously that I did not want anybody to have his horrible experience. So I left New York because I did not feel safe. Many of us were walking in a trance. There was no significant support for us. The only support group available at the time was not particularly supportive of Black, gay men. 

I stored up these thoughts in my head as I came back home to Detroit in September and reconnected with my high school mates. I left everything in New York, my hopes and my dreams, and came back home to Detroit. 

A Community Organizer in Detroit 

My salvation came when I met James Drain who later became my boyfriend and introduced me to a support group specifically for Black, gay men. We met every Tuesday night in the basement St. Matthew and St. Joseph church on Woodward. 

That was my saving space. It was called Men of Color Motivational Group (MOC). There were lots of different activities, but every Tuesday night, that’s where we were. But the deaths continued, including my boyfriend James Drain. 

The AIDS holocaust did not stop. It was happening in New York and also here at home in Detroit. Grown men became sick and wards of the state. If you didn’t have resources, you were in trouble. 

I decided that I wanted to contribute to supporting community by helping people share their stories. Some members of MOC re-established a newsletter called the “The Motivator.” It was highly successful at capturing and delivering experiences of the members. The periodical gained acclaim and many sought to obtain one. There were problems, though ... many very petty. Leadership did not support the work, but we continued with our project. 

Later, the publishing world changed; people were now starting to get their information from the Internet. We couldn’t sustain the publication, but we unknowingly were starting to do community development work. 

We removed the project from MOC, put our own money into it, and started Kick Publishing Company. We were part of a new, national Black LGBT awareness era. There was a magazine in California, in New York state, and now in Michigan. All of a sudden, we became national publication.. The magazine did very well. 

Next came the development of the Black, Gay Pride movement in 1995; I co-formed Hotter than July (HTJ) and the first event was held in 1996. We ultimately became the world’s 2nd oldest Black Gay Pride event in the world … stressing cultural development.. 

We developed “Kick” as a non-profit, and called it “Kick-The Agency for African-Americans.” The Black gay youth were doing a dance of that name in the 70s and 80s. It made sense to name it that in 1994. From 1994 through 2010 I did not have a salary. This was all volunteer. 

That was the 3rd big journey of my life, from 2002- 2010. 

From Part-time Activist to Full-Time Leader 

When I moved back to Detroit, I had a full time day job even while I was developing and growing Kick. I was development director for AIDS Partnership Michigan when a unique opportunity presented itself. A national foundation gave us a huge two-year investment. Our board of directors decided to hire a full-time executive director. I recognized that many civic leaders are not paid to work in community. This position I now hold is very unique. 

Soon after we moved to our 2nd office in 2011, it was time to create a Site Relocation Plan and to think about acquiring our new offices, which turned out to be a major development in our growth. It took four very difficult years during the age of the “New Detroit,” but now we are the only African-American, LGBT led nonprofit in the United States that owns its own commercial property. 

I feel it’s important to share the leadership of the purchase, (LGBT President, developener, realtor, search committee) were African American LGBT AND allies. This blessed safe, brave space became a beacon where people could sense excellence as soon as guests arrive through our doors. At LGBT Detroit, our visitors can find support and resources to help them thrive … in a very healthy way. 

This has been quite a learning experience for me. Although I may be solid in my gayness, many are not. I have to work with people who are not LGBT and questioning identity. I continue to learn to meet people who have resources willing to share; learn modern business best practices and learn new techniques on how to seek support. A lot of engagement and communication must continue to occur and try to figure out how to uplift each other. 

Even though we are experiencing a lot of social change, homophobia and racism still exist. They haven’t gone away. LGBT people live in double discrimination. Even if I mask my sexual identity, I’m harassed for being black. 

Leadership takes commitment, perseverance, and trust. With cooperation from the public and private sector; individuals and masses … we all succeed. Gamble and Huff wrote, “ We all have a mission to change the condition.” I believe that. We are all rooted in knowing that we belong to each other and we are one another’s keeper.

Andre's Story: Black History Month 

Andre is the Executive Director of The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada

By the time I was 17 years old, I decided that what I wanted to do for a living was to help people, I had already felt deep seeded rejection by my peers at school and at church, because I was perceived to be gay. The loneliness and isolation I felt was something I knew I didn’t want others to feel. I wanted to “be there” for others, so, I decided to study Psychology to embark upon my journey.

My career didn’t show direction until I came out and eventually do work focused on recruiting foster and adoptive parents in the LGBTQ community, and volunteering for the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) steering committee of Las Vegas. At the time, in 2018, when all of these variables converged, I never imagined that I would go on to work in Washington DC as a policy analyst for the National Alliance to End Homelessness after earning a Masters degree in Public Administration; or that I’d become an advisory council member of HRC’s All Children All Families program; or that I would become an advisory board member of Cyndi Lauper’s 40 to None/True Colors project focused on ending homelessness for LGBTQ youth; or that I’d spend a day with her and others, lobbying Congress and the Administration, and participating in a Congressional briefing alongside her, the President of HRC, and the Center for American Progress, all the while taping an episode of her reality show, Cyndi Lauper: Still So Unusual. And I definitely didn’t see becoming the Executive Director of The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada. 

As a black man you’re faced with many challenges – just because of the color of your skin and all the biases, bigotries, prejudices, stereotypes and discriminations that comes along with it. You add the identity of gay and it brings up additional bigotries, prejudices, stereotypes and discriminations. And on the job, while navigating one’s career and intersections can make for a dizzying journey. 

I can’t point to many instances where I can say I was hugely discriminated against or passed over because I am black and gay, but subtly, I can point to infinite examples – examples that don’t have words, but are wrapped around feelings, instincts and just knowing. Whether its backhanded comments about how eloquently I speak, or how I ‘carry’ myself. Or when I’m told that I’m either not black enough, or just the right kind of black that would allow me to become the ED of The Center. At times I’m digestible, other times I’m dismissed, but ultimately, I am supported by individuals and a community that are rooting for me and the success of The Center. 

I’ve been incredibly blessed and grateful to have had a career that has allowed me to play a part in moving the needle on LGBTQ inclusion and equality on policy and practice levels.  Looking back at some of my proudest accomplishments I must include:

  • Implementing HRC’s All Children – All Families at the Clark County Department of Family Services 
  • Promoting family intervention, across the U.S., as a viable intervention for ending youth homelessness. 
  • Implementing a mandatory all-staff training, at Clark County Department of Family Services, on LGBTQ competencies.
  • Playing a role in the development, advocacy and passage of AB99 legislation, in Nevada, that requires in part, providers and foster parents in child welfare and juvenile justice to be trained on LGBTQ competencies. 

What I’ve come to learn to accept is how important it is to others that as a gay black man I am the ED of The Center, because with that brings hope to others; faith in others in an otherwise unjust system, and pride in someone that looks like me.

Karen's Story: I Am A Queer DACA Recipient 

My name is Karen Fierro, I am twenty-two years old, I am queer, undocumented, and unashamed. I currently serve as the Community Assistant at the Tacoma Rainbow Center, a local LGBTQ resource center in Pierce County, Washington. I benefit from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) but not for much longer. Rarely are the intersectionalities of sexuality and documentation addressed; however it is impossible to have a conversation about my story without turning to these complexities. I was part of the first wave of young people to apply for DACA in 2012. DACA for me meant a short term solution when I was most desperate to find clarity in my life. 

The addition of DACA in my life made it possible for me to find employment at my university's admissions office and keep myself from weighing down my family financially. I based my college career off of the idea that DACA was only the beginning of a journey to citizenship. It allowed me to have a sense of belonging while having a chance to grow like most people my age. Most importantly, it allowed me to look beyond my education and imagine myself as a lawyer giving back to the community.

I felt comfortable to come out as queer two years into my college journey because I believed I was safe from severe consequences. I felt proud of the person I was becoming and I wanted to stop hiding myself from the people I loved. I came out to my family shortly after and I became a disappointment. My whole family’s reputation seemed to be placed on my shoulders. Being a Latina lesbian placed a mark that did not take into consideration my personal success. Without realizing it, I was being pushed back in the shadows by my family. It all became too much to handle my senior year of college. The xenophobia and homophobia that the current administration has revealed made it incredibly difficult to find self-worth. 

On September 5th, 2017 the Trump administration ended DACA leaving millions of young adults vulnerable to deportation after March 5, 2018. I will lose my DACA status on September 25th, 2018, with it I will lose my sense of safety and the possibility of being a lawyer, giving back to my community. In May 2017, I earned my bachelor’s from Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. I don’t know what my future will be when September comes next year. 

I fear that my efforts to advocate on behalf of my community have left me vulnerable to deportation. It also places me in a country that is dangerous for LGBT folk. I fear of what United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will do with my and my family’s personal information. We need legislative relief that will not make us or our families vulnerable to deportation. It is up to our representatives in Congress to not back down from a clean bill that doesn’t continue to fund enforcement of the border patrol and increase the number of ICE agents hunting down our families. DACA gave us a temporary defense but our communities are vulnerable and in need of support once again.

Maurice's Story: I Am A Transgender Soldier 

President Trump says that Transgender people serving in the military will distract the force from fighting and winning wars. He says people like me are a burden that harms readiness. Let’s be clear, the only thing that will ensure success - or failure - on the battlefield will be the side that fights better – or more appropriately - adheres best to the principles of war, and which one does not. I spent nearly twenty-three years in the Army, all of them knowing I was Transgender, and unable to do anything about it. I could have been a better officer had I the opportunity to transition. But that could not happen in the age of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” So, partly to cope with the gender chatter going on in my head, I focused on being a good officer.

Part of what kept the gender chatter at bay was a rigorous study of military science. I memorized the range distance of small arms, mortars, and artillery. I poured over maps of our battle positions in Germany. I could recite the blast radius of a fragmentation grenade, how much weight my soldiers could carry for a five-mile hike, calories needed to fuel their performance, and how much rest they needed. I studied the greats of military history. From Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War to Vegetius, to the Maxims of Antoine-Henri Jomini, to On War by Carl von Clauswitz. I perused Sun Tzu, read Rommel, Liddell-Hart, and Fuller. I learned about the science of operations from Tukhachevsky, Manstein, Guderian, von Mellenthin, and Grant. I even tried reading Che Guevara. Their victories heeded firmly established military principles. If they ever overlooked those principles, or when their nations did, they lost battles, and wars. Principles like: Objective, Offensive, Mass, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Security, Surprise, and Simplicity1. From squad level to national strategy all these principles have meaning. They may articulate how we fight. Yet they never answered for me the reason why. Why did I fight? The answer, for me, came from re-reading our country’s foundation documents. Among them the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence. For me it answered a fundamental question: Why was I willing to have my life taken?

My answer? It’s the equality thing - because, central to those documents, is the notion that all people are created equal, and that in the United States, everyone expects equality of opportunity. When I was in the Army all our operational planning hewed as close as possible to the applied working of each principle of war. But the one principle every day started with was, the Objective. Be it battle or garrison, every task every day started with a mission. Seizing an enemy held town, or hill, was an infinitely more consequential mission than being assigned to erect a new flag pole on the parade ground. Yet both are missions that have their own complexities, require clarity in directive, a chain of responsibility and command, selecting the right people for the job, selecting enough people for it, and making certain everyone from the commander down to the newest private understands the objective of the mission, or the task at hand. 

So too does a nation have objectives. Among them is the job to promote equality of opportunity where structures that hinder it exist. American power is both hard and soft. Our hard power is in our tanks, aircraft carriers, bombers and fighters. Our soft power is in what we are prepared to fight for. It’s in our people, our history. And this is where President Trump’s tweets on Trans military service hurt the most. For he has endorsed an idea asserting America will not offer equal opportunity to some of its citizens. His tweets on Trans men and women serving in the military reveal a fundamental belief that he considers people like me unworthy. Our enemies both foreign, and domestic, seize upon his tweets to create greater wedges of separation among us and our nation, even within our own families. 

Our politics is a never-ending dialectic about the nature of our common American objective. This country was founded on the belief, eloquent in its simplicity, that all of us are created equal. Our history is filled with the struggle to extend that equality to all. Often bloody, always hard, we wrestle to perfect that idea. The great men and women we celebrate from our history have all contributed to the perfecting of that foundational notion. President Trump may dent it. But he cannot kill it. Only you and I can do that by giving up. 

Welcoming Transgender men and women to openly serve in the military demonstrates to the world what we, as a nation, believe, that all Americans have value, that all Americans are considered worthy of being trusted to fight for the Constitution. I do not know the outcome of this struggle. I won’t say that Trump’s policy pronouncements will soon be reversed. But what I do know is that Americans are a fair-minded people and they will eventually demand fairness.

Dan's Story: Just Call Me Dan 

(Written by Tanya Witt for Center Action Network) 

Dan and I met through mutual friends in 2014. Quiet, gentle, intelligent, with a dry sense of humor; Dan is firmly embedded within the Long Beach LGBTQ community and loved by many. As both a client of and donor to the Long Beach LGBTQ Center, Dan shared her life story with me and explained why the Center holds great significance for her. 

Born into a large Catholic Hispanic family; Dan realized early in life that she didn’t fit a traditional female mold. Dan recalls watching her mother change a sibling’s diaper and asking, “How do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?”. Dan’s mother got flustered and didn’t answer the question, asking Dan to leave the room. In that moment - at an extremely young age - Dan realized she was different. It was the first of many moments of discomfort. 

Years later against the advice of her siblings, Dan wrote a letter to her parents telling them she was a lesbian. Her father took the news reasonably well. Dan’s mother refused to speak to her for three years although they became very close prior to her mother’s passing. As many LGBTQ people do, Dan struggled after coming out to her family. In addition to adjusting to the newness of being publicly out during a time when marriage, adoption, and joining the military were illegal for the LGBTQ community; Dan realized the term ‘lesbian’ didn’t fit how she felt inside. 

Depression and hopelessness were constant companions. Dan sought help from the Long Beach LGBTQ Center. Utilizing the counseling services there, Dan gradually came out of her shell. At that same center Dan took her first HIV test, joined a chat group, and attended social activities. Dan survived a critical time in her life in part because of the support and services offered by the Long Beach LGBTQ Center. 

She also became more confident. While many people dislike the word ‘queer’, Dan embraces it. “It’s an umbrella term including so many of us. And none of the pronouns fit me,” she said during our interview. “I feel like I’m more than one person if someone uses ‘They’. When I hear ‘She’ it makes me cringe. When people use ‘He’ I just chuckle”. We agreed on ‘She’ for the writing of this piece but ultimately Dan is most comfortable being called ‘Just Dan’. 

Dan wears male clothing and keeps her thick silver hair short. I asked if she would consider transitioning and she replied, “No way. It’s fine for some people but not for me. I don’t believe in elective surgery, so I’m stuck with what I’ve got”. Stuck with it? Meaning she’s still not entirely comfortable in her own body? “Is anyone? This is what I have so I’ll work with it, but no…..I’m not entirely comfortable.” 

Which is why Dan continues to patronize the Long Beach LGBTQ Center. “I prefer to be around like-minded people. They are more accepting. When I’m in public I get stared at a lot. People are trying to figure out what I am. I often feel like I’m being judged or made fun of when I’m around straight people.” 

Dan especially enjoys the yearly Qfilm Festival but frequently attends other Center events as well. She is also a long-time monthly donor. Dan hopes to have a role in bringing even more diversity to the Center. She would like to work with Executive Director Porter Gilberg to create a butch/queer support group. More programming for women only is also on Dan’s wish list. 

When I asked Dan for some final words of wisdom she said, “I want to tell other LGBTQ people that it DOES get better. To seek the support of their local LGBTQ center because they are so necessary for those who are struggling with thoughts of suicide, isolation, anxiety, and depression. There is a place for you here.” 

***The photo used for this story is titled “birthday selfie with tequila”. It was taken on Dan’s birthday – June 12th, 2016 – the same day as the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shootings.

Robert's Story: I Came Out Later In Life In Nebraska 

I've lived a large part of my life looking for community, for a sense of belonging and wanting to be a part of something bigger than myself.  I was an Asian orphan, adopted during the years following the Korean Conflict, to an American farming family in rural Nebraska. I grew up feeling different. I was a farm kid who went to town school. I was a Protestant who went to a Catholic high school. I went to a fundamentalist Bible College but was not raised in a fundamentalist church. 

Oh, did I mention that I was gay? 

I tried the "cure" that was offered at the time. I was married to a lovely lady for almost 30 years, had both biological and adopted special needs kids, and went to church every week. Yet I never felt I fit in anywhere. 

When my wife passed away I came out. The groups I had been part of quickly disappeared or disassociated themselves from me, including much of my family. And then I found Outlinc, a open, affirming and welcoming group to all people who offered, among other things, a volleyball group once a week. I went - nervous as all get out - and soon discovered a joy that I had never felt before. I felt completely accepted as I was, no explanations needed. I had found a place that I belonged. That was almost 6 years ago. I still go and attempt to play volleyball every week. I feel like a mother hen to the young folks I know. They have offered me love and acceptance in a way that I will never understand. But I will be forever grateful and thankful for their friendship! 

I’m sharing my story with the hope that it helps others.

Jaden's Story: I Nearly Ended My Life Before Coming Out 

My story of coming out was one that required me almost ending my life before having the courage to face the truth. Since I was 17 I have been in mental health counseling. While I had some of the more common difficulties anxiety, depression, and codependency, it was not till I looked at my drug and alcohol recreational use that I realized I needed a clearer view.

For many years I used drugs and alcohol as a self-medicating process to cope with deeply repressed emotions. When I finally reached my “rock bottom” at 30 years old, I was able to find the help I needed. I entered into rehab and over the course of my recovery many hidden truths were revealed. I woke up and realized I had no identity. I identified with everything on the outside and did not look within. What others labeled me, how my family saw me, what my friends said I was like. In my wholistic healing process I have learned what is my biggest challenge, and how to work on it. Self acceptance, has been at the core of my recovery process. I had many beliefs that I learned over the years that caused me to feel shame and guilt for being who and what I am. 

In the first year of my recovery I learned that not only was I a miracle for surviving addiction, I was also a miracle for surviving being a Transgender child. After learning that approximately 43% of Trans youth at the time were committing suicide, I now know I have to make it through. This purpose driven life is determined to make some changes. I attended school for Massage Therapy with the goal of helping myself and those who follow with body dysphoria. 

I thank the local Persad Center for helping me make this grade. Their support had a profound impact on my courage to face the challenges of being out in an educational environment. Now I am working on Recovery Specialist Certification so that I can also bring my experience of that to the community. One of the key points for my health was my step into volunteer work with the Washington County Gay Straight Alliance. In this process I have found amazing beings of all types with beautiful stories of coming out. Being able to give back to those who had similar difficulties has meant so much and had an immense impact on me and my well being. Right here, Right now, There is nowhere else I’d rather be.