My LGBTQ+ Influencers

by T. Mack

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It’s Pride Month, which some people think is an excuse to party and parade march while draped in rainbow flags for a solid 30 days. However, this month is actually meant to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally. I’ll admit that I’m not as educated as I should be on that subject. I’m working on it, though. And I spent the earlier part of this week trying to highlight a few folks in the entertainment industry who I believe are currently having very positive influences in their arenas. However this did seem like the perfect time to highlight a few people from the LGBTQ+ community who have been influential to me personally. So today, I’d like to talk about 4 people, specifically, who have in some way helped shape me and shown me what is is to be your true self and show love and support for those going through the struggle.

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My childhood friend, C.

When I was 12, my family made a big change by switching churches. (For those that don’t know, I’m black and grew up in the American South, where church is the center of life for many in our community. The music is loud, the preaching is long, the hats are big, the food is good, and the services are numerous.) In the new church, I made a fast friend of C, the pastor’s grandson, who played the piano, sang in the choir, and made flowers for all the funerals. C was fabulous, flamboyant, and very out-and-proud homosexual. He was my first gay friend. He’d known he was gay since he was very young. And he had no problem with who he was, no matter who else might. He spent our teenage years (the 90’s) experimenting with his gender fluidity. Back then, we didn’t even know the words for that. It wasn’t a movement. It was just C. It was fun and funny and a little weird. But he didn’t let anything stop him. Not gossipy church ladies. Not family expectations. No teasing or bullies. Nothing. I never tried, but I’m happy to say if I had, he wouldn’t have let me stop him, either. I’ve always been a confident person. I’ve never cared much what people think of me. But I believe had it not been for C, I might have hit a time in my teens where I did. I probably would have gotten to that really bad point that most teenagers do when they’re going through the worst of the hormones and having the hardest time and feeling their lowest and don’t know how to cope. I don’t remember going through that, though. And I think a big part of that was because I was spending too much time with C, whose larger-than-life personality and self-acceptance gave me a great example to follow. It’s 25 years later. C still sings, he’s making spectacular flowers for weddings now, and he’s still expressing gender fluidity. His makeup game is on point! We don’t talk much. But that’s okay. I still carry his influence with me daily as part of the confidence I have in being okay with being me.

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My Co-Worker, D

One of the many jobs I had as a teen was working at a local movie theater. Shocker, huh? Me working around movies? Who would have thought? But I digress. I immensely enjoyed my time at the theater, and not just because of all the FREE films I got to see over the years. I also made great friends. And had a good time working there. But there was one co-worker who was less than fun to be around. While the rest of us enjoyed our youth, failed to take life too seriously, and basically just had a good time, D stayed to himself and spent most of his time grumpy and alone. There were a lot of reasons this could have been the case. Because he didn’t let us, we never got to know D very well. But one thing felt kind of clear to the rest of us. D was in the closet. We were teenagers. Teens spend a lot of time talking about romance and sex and all that other stuff. We tried to engage D. And he was always uncomfortable. Of course, that didn’t mean anything. But something about the way he answered and didn’t answer certain questions, dodged eye contact, and got angry over certain things made us suspect that he was attracted to guys but preferred that we not know it. We all felt that if D would just come out, he’d be much happier, and then we’d all be much happier. In hindsight, I now know that we were arrogant, nosy, and narcissistic to assume anything about D and to make any issues he might or might not have about ourselves. In my defense, we were dumb teens. We outgrew it. But the point is that D had an effect on me because whether I was right or wrong about him, I remember thinking at the time that not living one’s truth must be a miserable existence indeed. And I hated to think of anyone having to go through that. Of course, I now know the scope of how many millions and millions of people have had to do just that and continue to do so, for numerous reasons. And it still makes me sad. This one story did have a happy ending, though. A few years after working with D, I was out with friends one night at the local a local gay club and saw him on the dance floor. His arms were up in the air, he had a smile plastered all the way across his face, and he exuded pure joy. I felt relief. I felt happiness. I felt joy for him. I was so glad to see that finally, finally, he had found a way to live the life that brought him the happiness I’d never gotten to see in him when we worked side by side. I didn’t go speak to him that night. We’d never been friends so it didn’t seem necessary. But I think of him even now every time someone asks with ignorance why gay people need to get married, why trans people need to be correctly identified, or why we need to get involved. I think of D and remember what it looks like to see someone who isn’t able to live their truth. And I continue to fight against the ignorant tide.

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My High School Friend, S

During high school, one of my best friends was S. S was smart, funny, kind, and fiercely loyal. She came from a devoutly Italian Catholic family and was an out-and-proud lesbian. As you can imagine, there was some conflict. However, S didn’t let any of it slow her down. She was active in the LGBTQ+ community (as much as there was one in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama in the 90’s). She dated regularly. And she was open about telling her story and helping other people understand her “alternative” lifestyle (that was the lingo back then). S was the best. She was awesome in a lot of ways. Though I found out much later that she was also troubled in ways that didn’t show on the surface.  She struggled secretly, as many LGBTQ+ teens do, with anxiety, depression, and more. Despite our closeness, we lost touch after high school when we headed in opposite directions for college. For 16 years, I searched for S on the growing internet and in budding social media. I skipped the high school reunion, though, and later found out that many classmates feared I’d died, including S, who was looking for me as well. Finally, someone started a Facebook page for our graduating class and added me. I got a message from a guy named E who hoped I would remember him from back when he’d been a girl named S and been one of my best friends in high school. And just like that, I had my high school friend back and now, my first transgender friend as well. It turns out that though S was out and proud as a lesbian, that wasn’t who she truly was. She just had no idea what else there might be for her. During college, she discovered that she was not the only person who’d ever felt like they were in the wrong body, like they were born the incorrect gender, that they could not be true to themselves as the gender they were assigned at birth. After college, S became E and has been on an incredible journey of discovery and activism ever since. From E I’ve learned about a completely different aspect of the LGBTQ+ equality movement. I’ve been able to ask questions (respectful questions that don’t invade his privacy or the rules of social decency), and I’ve begun to understand the struggle from a transgender perspective. I’ve also been able to take this new knowledge into conversations with others who do not know anyone with a perspective such as this. I’ve been able to grow as a person, as an advocate, as an ally, and as a friend. Also, I’m just really glad to have my friend back. From the moment he reappeared in my Facebook messenger, I have not cared a single bit what gender he is. Seriously… Zero f*cks given. He is my friend. He’d been missing for 16 YEARS! And now he’s back!!! For that, I’m eternally grateful.

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My Sister Geek, Taylor.

This person is one with whom you may actually be familiar. About two years ago, I became friends with a young lady at my job. It turned out we made a great team as well as great friends and we’ve been both ever since. As I’ve gotten to know Taylor, I’ve learned many things about which she is passionate. One of those things is diverse representation in literature and media. For this, she is a strong advocate. She is vocal about it. She speaks on the subject frequently and makes certain to financially and socially support projects that represent diversity. While she supports all forms of diversity–racial, ethnic, and otherwise–she is especially vocal on the topic of LGBTQ+ diversity coming to the forefront of mainstream media. Taylor is truly a straight ally of the LGBTQ+ community and has showed me over the last two years what it means to be so. Through looking to her example, I now understand that it means more than supporting those close to you who are part of the community, though that is part of it, of course. It also means more than simply believing that the LGBTQ+ community should have equality and occasionally voting for someone who might help them get a little more of it. Being a true straight ally to the LGBTQ+ community means being outraged and outspoken on their behalf. It means standing with them even when they don’t ask. It means using your voice, platform, funds, and resources to further their cause because you realize that their cause is your cause as well. It means giving vocal and financial support to take LGBTQ+ out of the “alternative” and “independent” realm and into the mainstream. Being a straight ally means fully taking on the struggle of the LGBTQ+ community as your own.

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I am trying to follow Taylor’s example to become a true straight ally of the LGBTQ+ community. I believe reviewing these lessons I’ve learned from people in the community is part of the process. I believe speaking up and telling the story of how the community has helped shape me and make me who I am is a start. I believe recognizing the ways I am better for having been influenced by my LGBTQ+ friends is significant. I believe saying “Thank you” to these individuals is important. I also believe that every day will offer an opportunity to be better. Here’s hoping I recognize each of these opportunities and take each one.

 

Happy Pride Month!

#Pride #PrideMonth #Pride2018 #LoveIsLove #LoveWins

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