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LGBTQ in the capital, Part I: Coming out and early struggles of the community

Posted: April 28, 2013 - 12:14am  |  Updated: April 28, 2013 - 2:20am
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Sara Boesser visits with her mother, Mildred, in March. Mildred Boesser helped found PFLAG Juneau (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians & Gays) to support her daughter.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Sara Boesser visits with her mother, Mildred, in March. Mildred Boesser helped found PFLAG Juneau (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians & Gays) to support her daughter.

LGBTQ in the capital - Part I

“An average straight person assumes someone they’re looking at is straight,” Marguerite Lauri Crawford of Juneau said. “Unless you know me, it would be easy for the average person to assume that I’m straight, because I think that’s what the assumption is for the average person.”

In Juneau and around the world, straight may be the societal norm, but there are people who represent an entire spectrum of sexuality and gender identity.

Ricky Tagaban, also of Juneau, came out to his brother and his parents when he was a freshman in high school. But he said, “It’s totally a lifelong process, every time I meet new people I have to come out, or not, I have to gauge whether it’s ok to or not.”

Coming out, whether for the first time or the 50th, isn’t easy.

“I’d say at a very young age I knew I was gay, and I think it was really obvious to a lot of my peers, as well as my family, that I was gay.” Kimberly Hubbard Crawford said. Kimberly grew up in the Anchorage area but has lived in Juneau the past few years. “As far as coming out goes, I was very fortunate that, since it was so apparent when I was growing up, that it was just really obvious. I think I started having sexual interactions and dating without coming out, so when the actual issue arose, “Well are you or aren’t you,” I was like, “Yeah, well, isn’t it obvious?” I think the reason it took me so long is I wanted to get into my own skin before someone could tell me I couldn’t do it.”

Marguerite didn’t come out until well into adulthood, “I did end up eventually coming out and when I did that, it was really well received by everyone that I know. There were only a few people who reacted negatively, and to the extent that they reacted negatively, now they have different opinions since they’ve continued to be in my acquaintance and now that they know Kimberly. They’re incredibly accepting of our relationship and, I think, gay relationships in general, now that they’ve seen that we’re just normal people.”

Maureen “Mo” Longworth didn’t identify as a lesbian until she fell in love with her partner, Lin Davis — they said their dogs brought them together. Lin had known since a young age but, growing up in a conservative household in Ohio and teaching in the Bay Area of California in the 1970s during a time when people were talking about disallowing gay people from teaching, she tried to keep her sexuality hidden. At the time they met, Lin and Mo were both in relationships, Lin with a woman, Mo with a man. They lived on the same street and walked their dogs in the evening. After a year, when they were both single, they decided to date.

Sara Boesser said she was afraid to even look at a book on homosexuality until she was in college, and the book listed the prison sentence for homosexuality in all the states.

“I was a minister’s daughter, girl scout... an excellent student and —” Mildred Boesser added her daughter was Valedictorian of her class, and Sara continued, “And to think I could go to prison was very startling.”

For Sara, the hardest part of coming out was coming out to the community, knowing she risked losing her job, that there were no protections.

“It’s shocking to see how many people were viciously opposing simple things like ‘you couldn’t be fired from your job for loving somebody of the same sex’ ... and people do get beaten up here (in Juneau) and people do lose their jobs and people do get badly treated, but I think I was fortunate and I’m grateful. I’m very grateful in this town that I’ve been able to be this kind of out and active and lived to tell the tale.” Sara said.

She said she had it easy with her family, even as a minister’s daughter.

“For me, coming out, it’s been easier than most people because I have such an accepting family. I also don’t have the religious attack that some people have from their religions. I have religious support and family support and friend support, so I’m very fortunate to come from the family I do.”

While Sara’s Episcopalian minister father and their church were welcoming, some sects are not as open to homosexuality. When Ricky came out, he found his family’s religion to be a barrier to accepting his sexuality.

“January of 2005. I was hanging out with my brother Joe and I thought he was the best first choice to come out to. And then I came out to my parents that night,” Ricky said. “(Joe) was confused. Everyone was really confused. My family is really religious and I was really religious as a little kid, because I was taught that, and he just had a million questions. “Can you still be a Christian? Are you ok?” He didn’t see it coming at all.”

He said his parents expressed they were sad when he came out. Over time, he said, their relationships have evolved but, he added, “Sometimes I don’t know what the difference is between coping and denial. I think I’ve come to terms with how religious my parents are, but most of the time that means just not talking about it.”

Edmar Carrillo’s experiences coming out ranged from emotionally challenging to laughter inducing, looking back anyway.

Edmar said he knew he was different from a pretty young age, when he was more interested in playing games with the girls than the boys, but it was actually at the prompting of another student that he really thought about his sexuality.

Edmar said he was “with this relatively new friend, she had just moved into town, and we were trying to be cordial to each other. We’re sitting at the table and she asked me, “Hey Edmar, how long have you know that you’re gay?” and I was like, I didn’t even think about it before that, and it just hit my like a brick wall, a lot of things make sense now.”

He came out to friends first, one by one, and some cousins who were near his age. The toughest friend to come out to was his closest friend.

“He was in the locker right next to mine and I had to have one of my girlfriends help me out with it. We took one of these rainbow air fresheners and we hung it up in the back of my locker, then I opened my locker. Actually, first I told him, “I have something important to tell you, and I don’t know how you’re going to take it, but here it is.” I brought him over to my locker and was like, “See,” and he was like “What?””

The friend went through a list of observances, wondering if he was supposed to notice the smell or the abundance of books — the rainbow air freshener was not sending the intended message if it was noticed at all.

Edmar pointed out the rainbow air freshener. His female friend tried to get the words out as well. Finally, Edmar mustered the courage to say the words “I’m gay.”

“And he said, “Oh. I’m not surprised, but I really wish you’d told me sooner.” And I think it wasn’t the fact that I was gay, but the fact that I held out telling him for so long. I think he was really offended that one of my other friends knew and he didn’t,” Edmar said.

It wasn’t until college that Edmar breached the subject with his parents. He was suffering from a back injury and depression while a student at the University of Alaska Southeast and said he just had a breakdown one day. His mother pleaded with him to tell her what was wrong and after retreating to his room, he decided to tell her.

“I finally thought, if I’m not going to do it now, I’m never going to do it. I went over to her room and knocked on her door and she asked, “What?” And I told her, “Mom, I’m gay.” And she was like, “No, no you’re not, it’s just a phase. You’ll move on,” and I was like, “No it’s not, I’ve been gay for a very long time, I’ve known this for a while. She kind of brushed it off again. I said, “Mom, I’m gay, I can’t stress this enough. This is important to me.” I don’t think we ever resolved that... we’re fine now, but when that was going on, I don’t think, we didn’t have a serious conversation after that.”

Edmar didn’t say the words to his dad, though he assumed his mother told him. The closest they came then was during a car ride. His father asked, “Is there something wrong, do you need to talk to me about anything? You know I love you, right?”

Edmar said he knew his father knew, but he didn’t want to tell him.

Richard Carter and Devyn Reece both had positive experiences with coming out to their families.

“I waited until I was 18, so I came out around Thanksgiving of 2011. And, I mean, it was hard for me but it was easy for my family. They were accepting and everything was fine. It was like nothing really changed,” Richard said. He had a boyfriend already and introduced him to his parents the following winter break.

“My mom is really really open and loving around anyone, so she of course ran toward him and hugged him and was screaming, like, “I want to adopt you!” So, it went really, really well, which was fortunate,” he said.

Devyn said his mother still has the letter he wrote her when he first came out. There was some crying initially, but never anything but support.

“My family is ridiculously supportive, sometimes they advocate when I don’t even want it,” he said with a laugh.

While some, like Marguerite, have said they can pass for straight, some don’t even try to pass.

“I wake up everyday and I know that there will be people who don’t agree with my lifestyle,” Devyn said.

“I’ve never gone back into the closet, not even a little, and I don’t think anyone should have to do that,” Ricky said. “I think monitoring your behavior, even straight people could do that more often ... A lot of people who are against marriage equality or just homophobic in general, they say, “We just don’t want it thrown in our face,” but you see straight PDA all the time. Every day. It doesn’t even register as PDA because it’s just the dominant culture.”

Rei Radford has come out more recently as transgender. Born Haley, Rei said he is “more comfortable with saying “I’m Rei, I was born a girl, but I’m a guy,” or I don’t even mention the girl part.”

There’s another layer to coming out as transgendered, or intersex, because many people don’t understand the terms or the concepts.

“There’s a huge thing where someone knows what gay is, it’s a pretty universal term, “I’m gay, I like other men” or “I’m lesbian, I like other women,” but when you say transgendered, there’s not much of a communication about that in our culture. It’s kind of like, that’s a guy, that’s a girl, I’m pretty sure people know what cross-dressers are, but I’m not sure if everyone knows that people are born in the wrong body.” Rei said.

Rei said friends have mostly transitioned to saying “he” and “him,” and that people who haven’t yet aren’t being malicious, they are just still getting used to the change.

“I imagine it’s kind of difficult for my mom in that way, because I was born a girl, she had a girl, and for 19 years almost she had a girl, or so she thought, and it’s a huge change for everyone else who’s not me, I guess,” Rei said.

Rei identified more with male peers and had more male interests at a young age, he said, “It’s a little hard, when I was really young, when I was in kindergarten, when I was in grade school, when the boys would kind of reject me because girls are icky at that age, and when girls are icky and girl includes me, and I thought girls were icky, it got really confusing to me at a level that I couldn’t even comprehend yet.”

For those who come out, there can be justified fear. Being open about one’s sexuality or gender identity as part of the sexual minority opens people up to judgment, bullying and even violence.

Kimberly experienced a lot of negativity right at home, “I’d say at 10 my grandma would make derogatory comments ... For me it was scary, it was really scary to think I’d be hearing this my whole life if someone like my family has no problem calling me those names.”

For some, it wasn’t too bad, Edmar said he experienced some heckling and negative comments, but never felt he was in danger.

“It was just heckling really, I never got pushed up against the lockers like you see in (the television show) Glee or whatever,” he said.

For Devyn, there was that kind of bullying.

His family has moved around from time to time, and he said when he moved back to his hometown in high school, some boys “made fun of my hair color, shoved me into lockers and told me they’d kick my ass.”

He reported the behaviors to a counselor and said it wasn’t addressed. He was assaulted a year later. Though he hadn’t come out yet, he knew it was aimed at his perceived sexuality because of the language they used.

Devyn is concerned Juneau “has a significant issue with bullying.”

There are twitter accounts at the high school and middle school level that are used for spreading gossip and rumors.

The accounts “said thing that were gossip, rumors, that could be painful, but nothing near the middle school level,” he said. “At the middle school level it’s absolutely disgusting: no remorse, no holdback, and if anyone called them out it would elevate.”

He said the high school gossip account used initials, but the middle school account would use full names. There are also apparently accounts used to spread gossip about different groups, including Alaska Natives.

Ricky said that when he was involved in the Juneau-Douglas High School GSA, there was even an event that got concerned parents and youth together to talk about the bullying issue, though he said he only recalls experiencing one issue with someone using a slur as a student.

But bullying and disrespectful behavior isn’t isolated to middle and high school, people reported issues at the university level and in the larger community, though most have agreed that Juneau is a pretty open and welcoming place.

“Really the only issue I’ve encountered is derogatory terms, which have kind of lost their meaning and I don’t think people even realize why they say things anymore, so I don’t really think it’s an attack toward me,” Richard said. “People just say things, they’ll call (something) gay, or if two bros are playing basketball together at the Rec Center, they’ll call each other the ‘F’ word if they miss ... It’s an attack on masculinity. Gay men especially are assumed to be feminine, flamboyant sissies, so if you can relate someone to that, it’s insulting.”

Ricky recalled a time when his father tried to introduce him and an adult friend of his.

“One time my dad introduced me to his friend, and he didn’t acknowledge me except he was like, “What’s with your scarf?” and I think that was very homophobic the way he couldn’t see past that,” Ricky said. He brought it up with his parents and they asked “What was he supposed to say?”

“I can write you a list.” Ricky said, “Say anything, just say something.”

Mo, as a doctor, said she has met a number of people who have talked with her about their experiences, including a young woman who said she had shown affection with another woman in a Juneau restaurant and was kicked out.

“There are times when me and my ex-partner — and there were certain restaurants, I think downtown is kind of more liberal — but there are places in the Valley where he would want to put his arm around me or kiss me on the cheek or something and, it was more uncomfortable because they are places that I grew up going to, so the waiters and everything know me, and I just didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, and I know they don’t see it very often,” Ricky said.

The choice to be out and open about one’s sexuality is a tough one every day. There were people who chose not to participate in interviews for this article for fear of losing their jobs or other consequences.

“And it’s what keeps people from wanting to have a conversation out loud,” Mo said. “I have to admit I feel trepidation about putting something out, even though I’ve been in the paper before, but I know there are going to be people that’ll read the story you put in that probably don’t know this piece about me, that I’m living a married life with a woman, and you know, the fact that that’s even a thought that I have before meeting with you, it’s a shame.”

The fear of coming out and being out can manifest in different ways. Some choose to be quiet, though Sara examined the consequences of staying “closeted” in her book “Silent Lives: How High a Price?” And Mo pointed out their higher incidence of depression and suicide. Ricky said he knew people who used drugs to cope with the emotional turmoil. Despite these difficulties, it still seems better than in years past.

“It’s a much more welcoming world for young people and I’m thrilled about that, it’s part of what all of us activists have worked for, a safer and more welcoming environment for the next generation.” Sara said. “That’s where you see that people under 30 are 80 percent supportive of gay marriage or something like that, and people who didn’t hear anything positive about us growing up, people in their 70s and 80s, that’s why it’s harder for some of those folks to come around, because they grew up with only the stereotypes. The stereotypes are not right.”

Issues for the LGBTQ community don’t stop at interpersonal interactions, at an institutional level, there are rights and privileges not provided to people who fall into the sexual minority. From the sex listed on one’s driver’s license to the right to marry, from health benefits to protection from being fired — what’s being denied?

 

Part II

Profiles and acronyms: Who makes up Juneau’s LGBTQ community

 

Part III

Adult struggles with government and society

 

Part IV

Progress and community

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