We are now Free2Be
We are the Free2Be Safe Anti-Violence Project,
The Free2Be LGBTQ Resource Center in
Huntsville, Alabama, Free2Be Radio,
and Rocket City Pride!
Growing up gay in Alabama was not easy. I never used the word gay to describe myself, not even in my own mind. I was taught by my parents and my church that being gay was wrong. Of all the sins that were out there (and there were plenty!) being gay seemed to be among the very worst. I lived with feelings of guilt and shame and spent long hours hiding and trying to pretend I was not who I really was. This led to extensive one on one sessions with my parents, painful sessions with a counselor, and eventual my willing admission into an Ex Gay facility in Kentucky.
My time in the ‘pray the gay away’ facility has had long reaching negative affects on my life. The promised ‘cure’ of being free from the ‘demon’ of homosexuality was a tempting offer. The hope of a ‘cure’ led to my willingness to open my mind to the most abominable accusations against me as a person I have ever experienced. The rules (curfews, mandatory bible study/prayer sessions, hard labor, lack of sleep to name a few) were difficult, but the systematic psychological degradation of my personal identity had the greatest negative impact on my well-being.
For six months I allowed my spirit to be progressively beaten down. I was told I was rotten and worthless. When I cried because of the pain I was told I needed to ‘press in’ or to ‘go lower’ and always that I was ‘in the right place’. When my right to speak was taken away I sat in silent contemplation of how they were leading me to believe that the person I am was inappropriate. After graduating I went through a long period of depression and despair because I was realizing that I was still gay. I felt hopeless.
Later, when I got a chance to move away from home and begin a new life in Indianapolis things changed forever. Away from the influences of home, I was able to start thinking about my life and who I was. If things were not changing, maybe it was because they were not supposed to change. I began to fill my life with people who were unconditionally supportive of me. After a few short months of living free from oppression, being exposed to positive influences and finding accepting friends I decided to Come Out.
Coming Out was difficult after so much effort to ‘remove the gay’ part of me but being true to myself felt more right every day. It was incredible when I no longer had to fear that people would find out my deepest secret. I was able to act, think, and simply exist as the person I have always been… the gay man God created me to be. The freedom to be open and honest about my sexual orientation was exhilarating.
I gained strength from many others who had made the Coming Out journey before me. When I connected with old friends I was often surprised with how accepting they were of my ‘new’ identity. I survived this dark journey and my new life is progressively getting brighter. I am ready to receive the amazing future that is ahead of me. Whatever damage had been done to me in PLM is now undone and I couldn’t be more ready to embrace my true self.
Living an authentic life since that time has been challenging… at times difficult… but overall completely wonderful. Learning to be me… truly me, is the best feeling in the world.
– Joseph Henley
My name is Joan Bohlman. I am a Transgender woman.
When I was 16 years old I attempted to end my life. I was in a coma for 3 days. After this I bounced around treatment facilities. I eventually found myself in a residential treatment facility in Utah where I stayed for 13 months. At that time I had no understanding of what it means to be Transgender or the concepts of Gender. I was confused. I knew things were not ‘right’. I thought perhaps I was Gay but thinking of myself as Gay did not bring me any peace of mind or body.
When I was in college I had my epiphany. My epiphany was the result of someone else coming out to me. This led me to a profound realization regarding the discontentment that filled my life. If this person had not come out to me I do not know how long it would have taken me to begin the process of truly understanding myself. Another person’s courage moved my life in a new direction where my life became valuable to me. This experience saved my life.
On this day of Transgender Remembrance we gather to remember those who have left us but it is also a day for us to remember that I have nothing to hide. We have nothing to hide. We must stand up together and be proud of who we are. We must be a beacon for those in the darkness by standing strong to let those that are lost know that they are not alone. We must be an anchor standing with them in the storm to prevent them from drowning. If we are strong for others they will be strong for us.
It is easy to ‘blend in’ for many Transgender men and women. Blending in is a source of inexpressible solace. However, at the end of the day we must be willing to step up and be visible. Every Transgender person is a survivor and it is our responsibility to help those who are still struggling. We are here today to honor the memories of our family, friends, and colleagues.
The isolation of feeling broken and the embarrassment that comes with not being socially ‘normal’ are two of the hardest things a Transgender person has to deal with. It is true that we will always be a minority; however, we need to be visible in order for others to understand us. The taboo toward Transgender people which damages us is deeply rooted in our culture but it is not something that is impossible to overcome. We have witnessed this with LGB people. It is my hope that some day blending in will no longer mean hiding.
Tonight and every day we must look at the tragedy of those we have lost to suicide and violence. We must refuse to let it continue. It may be hard for some of us but by taking action we can ensure a better experience for those who will join us and follow us as Transgender people.
Thank you very much. I love all of you.
Transgender Day of Remembrance 2014 at the Free2Be LGBTQ Resource Center in Huntsville Alabama.
- Beryl Kessio
Editor’s Note: Beryl is a student at Sparkman High School which is in the Madison County school system. (Harvest, Alabama) She is Editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Crimson Crier.
History has been made at the school with the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance, and I am proud to call myself an Ally. After the long announcement read by Erin Coggins introducing the club, students and even teachers seemed confused about the motives of the club. “What is a Gay-Straight Alliance and why do we need one here?” they asked.
In essence, a GSA is a school club in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, straight and questioning students converge to discuss significant issues that we all face in a safe, accepting atmosphere. One firm rule of the GSA is that students are never to ask another student to discuss their sexual orientation unless he or she volunteers that information.
Sorry to disappoint those who thought we would be traipsing through the halls with rainbow flags and glitter bombs parading our sexualities. We have a more savory mission: we are advocates for all students; maintaining a safe learning environment in our school is paramount to the club, along with promoting acceptance and awareness throughout the community.
We need this club now more than ever. Our school’s motto—excellence our tradition, diversity our strength—embodies the need for the GSA; we are a school filled with voices aching to be heard.
In many parts of the word, it can be deadly to be anything other straight. Even here, there are unspoken hindrances placed upon those who identify with certain labels.
It seems that the odds are stacked against LGBTQ youth. Bullying is a staggering problemfor those who identify as or are assumed to LGBTQ. According to a 2009 survey by the CDC, of more than 7,000 LGBT students aged 13–21 found that in the past year—because of their sexual orientation—eight out of 10 had been verbally harassed and six out of 10 felt unsafe at school. Suicide rates among LGBTQ youth are especially high compared to other groups. Even as our understanding of human sexuality evolves, there is one thing everyone can agree on: students can never reach their full potential if they are targets of hatred and insolence. All of this points to the need for safe environments in which youth can be themselves without fear of reproach from their peers.
Today, we have labels for every subset of human interest— “Directioners,” “Whovians,” “Potterheads” and “Deadheads” are a few. There are endless boxes we can check; we as a society categorize ourselves to oblivion. Do not misunderstand; labels provide us with a collective culture we can identify with. There comes a point, however, when we must ask ourselves when our inherent urge to classify does more harm than good. When it comes to sexuality, labels are often misconstrued. They oversimplify. No label captures the deep, innate complexity of what it means to be a human being.
In the GSA, we call each other Allies. I am an Ally because I choose to illuminate the shadows cast by ignorance. Allies transcend those labels that are placed on us, allowing us to interact without bias or pretense, without judgement or condemnation, because before we are straight or gay, we are people.
The school has a place where all students, regardless of identifier, can show solidarity by celebrating the characteristics that make us beautiful individuals, and that is something I have no shame in being a part of.
(Republished with permission of the author)
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Located in beautiful Huntsville, Alabama Our Space Community Center is the home of GLBT Advocacy & Youth Services, Inc. We are a comprehensive 501 (c)(3) agency serving Alabama and the Southeast through advocacy services and public awareness on issues affecting the GLBTQ community. We support and promote social justice, equality, and inclusion in order to create a safe and healthy community for everyone. Please visit our CommunityLink Calendar for events at the Center.http://glbtays.org/calendar.html
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