Peter, Director of Ishtar, Nairobi, Kenya

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Peter, in his own words: “(the situation for LGBTI individuals in Kenya) has really improved for now. I can say that is is unlike five years ago, where you would not find an exclusively openly gay clinic. It used to be hard before, but it is still not easy because when you have a stand alone clinic people fear that you might also out them–if they’re found attending the clinic, people will know they are gay. What I can say generally is, I think in this country (with regards to the) LGBTI community we are much better than most of the African countries. But still, the stigma, the discrimination, the law is still against us. (With) the penal code you can be arrested if you are assumed gay. And (one) might be discriminated on health, or going to school–we have seen people kicked out of their houses by landowners or neighbors thinking that (you are gay). They don’t even have evidence, they just assume that you might be gay. It’s still a struggle.

Generally, (the biggest challenge) is the culture. (People think) You have traveled out of the country, that is why you have brought (being gay) into this country. Or normally our funds come from outside the country, so mostly they say ‘You’ve been paid, you’ve been funded so you can continue the Western agenda.’ So basically I think (the biggest challenge) is the culture and religion.

Basically, the general thing about being an African man, if you’re a man you have to behave like a man. At a certain age you have to start courtship with girls, and after that is marriage, and after marriage is having children. That’s generally on the African continent how they perceive you. A family is between a man, woman, and children.

(With regards to progress) Africa on a whole is really hard. As we all know, in South Africa at least (being gay) is legal there, but we thought once South Africa legalized other countries would start replicating that. But it’s the other way around. We found out they wanted even stronger laws that will criminalize homosexual acts, so it’s really difficult. So I think in Africa we still have a long ways to go. But what I can say as a Kenyan, as far as we are, what we have really tried (working for) is not human rights issues or even marriage, it’s specifically on health. So when we start talking about health issues, people know that if it affects gay people it might also affect the heterosexual community. (Then) they are willing to start listening to you. They are willing to accommodate, they are willing to tolerate.

The biggest health issue for gay men is if you are sick as related to how you have sex to another man, there is a lot of stigma with the health care providers. And if they are willing to help you and to listen to you, they don’t know how to handle your case. So there is a lot of ignorance. And the other thing, especially in the rampant case of HIV and AIDS, the only health promotion that you can see in all the media, all the publications, anything that kids are growing up knowing, is that HIV can only be contracted between a man and a woman. So we have cases of people saying, ‘I didn’t know. I thought when having sex with a man, I’m safe. Because what I’ve been shown has only been man and woman. If I’m a man and have sex with a woman, that’s when I’ll contract HIV/AIDS. So if I’m with another man, I’m safe.’ So with those kind of things, we find that people don’t know if they are at risk or are at a higher risk to contract HIV/AIDS because they don’t have that information and they can’t find that information. So we are trying to bridge the gap and trying to help in that scenario and trying to come up with health promotion that says (gay men) are even more vulnerable, because we don’t see that today.

(The gay community in Nairobi) is thriving and it’s diverse because we find that a culture of Nairobi is that people don’t care what you do. Whatever you do in your house, as long as it doesn’t affect me. So you find that people have an ‘I don’t care attitude, unless it affects me.’ Unlike a city like Mombasa, which is mostly (about) majority. But you find in Nairobi people are busy, doing good to others, people want to make their living, so they won’t mind about my business. And that has made gay people live better in Nairobi, people can live freely in Nairobi. In fact, sometimes I call Nairobi the New York of East Africa. Because if you look at East Africa, Nairobi is more safe than the rest of the cities. You can get health care services, you can go to a doctor and talk about issues and the doctor doesn’t care.

I think for me, and for my hope, I have been fulfilled because I’ve been working for the LGBTI (community) for the last eight or nine years. And I’ve seen a lot of growth, and a lot of impact that we have made for the community. Because what has been happening before for the last five years was we had straight people working in a clinic which is for gay men. And they would not really understand our issues. So for now, what is happening currently, gay people are running their own clinic. So that has always been my dream, and I hope it continues. That we ourselves know the the issues had, we know what is our problem, and we are the people that are going to solve our problem. So that has been my dream and I see now that it is coming up.

So for the country, I hope one day that I will walk freely, I’ll have my partner, I can walk freely with my partner, I can go to a club and dance freely with my partner. I can do whatever other heterosexual people are able to do. Because we find most of these things we do, we hide. We go to clubs and we are kicked out, we bring money to people and they accept us for one month and then they realize we are gay people and the next month they are kicking us out. So I wish one day that we might be protected by the state, that nobody has the right to come and beat me, nobody has the right to come and kick me out of their house, nobody has the right to deny me the occupation because of my sexuality, deny health access because of my sexuality, stigmatize me in whatever situation, I hope one day we can be protected.”

http://www.ishtarmsm.org

Jared, Writer, New York City

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin  Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Jared, in his own words: ” I never knew my biological parents (mother was Dutch & German, father was black) and I was adopted and raised on a rural farm in southern Michigan by an American Indian and Irish family. I had a happy childhood, happier than most. I survived my mother’s two divorces, and being the eldest I was the head of household while mom worked as a single parent. I never begrudged my mother for making me grow up to be a man at the age of 15 as I helped my siblings with homework, learned to cook and took care of the household tasks. I never regretted it either, despite missing out on a social life outside of school. It instilled responsibility and maturity in me, and it taught me that sometimes we have to sacrifice.

Throughout childhood and well into my teenage years Superman was my idol, even after I was too old to be reading comics – I still saved my allowance and bought Action Comics, Justice League and others – they were my escape and fueled my imagination. I wanted to be Superman, and could never understand the fascination with a fictional character until many years later. This was also around the time I started writing; I started my first novella and found a new way to escape the churning feelings and emotions that were starting to come to the surface as I started to notice my male peers.

I had told my mother I might be gay when I was 13. She told me if that was the case, we would unpack my birth certificate, she would burn it, I would pack my clothes and leave, and that she would never want to see me again. The next day at school I asked a girl to go steady with me, but the furthest I went with a girl was a kiss on the cheek of my prom date after dropping her off. Five years later I came out again, and that was the day I became a man. I refused to live a lie, to be someone who I wasn’t, and if my family could not accept me for who I was, then it was their loss. I was living with my grandmother, and though she and my aunt came around, my coming out only caused the relationship between my mother and I to deteriorate. She spoke to me once more, coming back to town for an afternoon when I was 19 to sit me down and have a “talk”. The minute she opened her mouth I knew she was going to tell me I was adopted, and she did, and that was the only thing she told me, leaving me to figure out the rest. She later passed away in 2005, and I wish she had accepted my ignored peace offerings instead of wasting all those years over hate and ignorance.

After high school in small town Michigan I had the good fortune to be “adopted” by “the committee” – a small group of gay men in their late 20s to late 30s for dinner parties, game nights – my first time falling in love, first boyfriend, first gay bar. Again in life, I was lucky to have never been bullied for who I was, and was comfortable with my ethnicity and sexual preference in the village (literally) where I was lived as the token black gay man.

I moved to Florida shortly thereafter to Tampa (which to me at the time was a metropolis compared to Quincy MI). It was there that I grew and evolved – fell in love with the beach, discovered leather and BDSM, developed a love of photography, returned to my writing as well as my love of comic books and had a string of relationships that never lasted more than a few years, but still managed to salvage a friendship with each of them, even to this day. It was at this time I created Jared’s World, a Yahoo group (also on Facebook) that over the years has grown to over 5,000 members. It has served as my online family, a group of primarily gay men from all around the world that offered a place to escape after a hard day’s work or a bad day, a place to vent, to share and to be supported through rough times. One person CAN make a difference and this group proves it.

Darker days would follow as I explored the drug, club and sex culture in Tampa – got my ass in trouble a few times but got up, took responsibility, dusted myself off and moved on, head held up. Went to countless hours of therapy to learn who I was and what made me tick, why my relationships failed, and it all helped, it truly did, to gain a better understanding of myself. I was never ashamed for being gay, was never proud to be gay – I just preferred the company of men. Through a quirk of fate I located my biological siblings (my bio parents had passed away in 2001), which was the last piece of the puzzle – my first question was “What am I?” I found out my father was black (hence my skin tone and not the “American Indian” lie my mother had told me growing up), and that my mother was Dutch and German (so THAT was where my fascination with boots and leather came from). At long last, at the age of 34 I had an identity. A somewhat convoluted one, but I was my own melting pot through my families, and that was when I chose the moniker amanofcolours as my online ID, swiping it from an Icehouse record album called Man of Colours – it was the perfect fit.

2008 was the most spectacular year of my entire life. I took a voluntary buyout from my job, bought a one way ticket and boarded an airplane with two suitcases and a dream to New York City. Finally, after all these years of dreaming of living in the Big Apple, my dream had come true. There have been ups and downs, but it was the best decision I have ever made and have never looked back. I have a small close knit group of friends, and I pretty much do my own thing – exploring NYC and its history like a kid in a candy store, snapping thousands of pictures as I hone and improve my work, returning to my writing, growing my eBay boot business beyond my wildest dreams, going to the theater and experiencing so many things I have never done before, and will never be able to do again. My first NYC Pride parade – the energy, the love, the pride – that was a defining experience that made me realize I was indeed proud to be gay. The gay community in NYC is very diverse, yet it has its splinter groups. I still haven’t found my niche, and don’t think that I will, and that is okay. I am just me, and I am just fine with who I am and the man I have become.

A few years back I was sitting in my Jersey City apartment reading a Superman comic book that had recently been released and it hit me. After all these years of looking up to the man who personified “Truth, Justice and the American Way”, I realized why I loved Superman so much. He never knew his real parents, but they sent him away for a chance at a better life, as my biological parents had done for me. Clark Kent and I both grew up in rural areas, had our struggles fitting in, and later we would move to our respective metropolises to work in the newspaper industry. Granted I can’t fly (one day I WILL skydive though), have x ray vision or leap tall buildings in a single bound, but I do have super strength to have made it this far, I have my vulnerabilities, a love and compassion for my fellow man, I have hope for humanity and I can see the good that is in people. It is not my place to judge anyone, because I myself have been judged many a time. If only folks could just accept people for who they are (like I have been accepted throughout my life), the world could be so much better.

Looking back on my life, I have made some mistakes, but I have no regrets, would never want to go back to change anything, because I would not be who I am or where I am today. As Kylie would say, “I wouldn’t change a thing…” Up, up and away……”

Matthew, Teacher, Brisbane, Australia

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Matthew, in his own words: “I think all gay men grow up under a shadow. There’s always that fear of not fitting in; not living up to expectations; of being different. It doesn’t matter where we grow up, the fears are the same and they come to define us. This is our shared heritage and I think it alters our lens for viewing the world. We understand discrimination, because we live it. We can put ourselves in other people’s shoes, because we’ve had to wear them to go unnoticed. To me, being gay means having a broad-spectrum understanding of the human experience.

I think my greatest success has been coming to know my place in the world. I spent much of my childhood feeling different, but not being able to explain why. But as I grew up, I found my tribe. I think gay friendships can feel more like family than family because that desire for belonging often underscores our youth.

The challenge for us, as a community, is ensuring that we don’t become too complacent. There are still political battles that need to be fought in Australia for LGBTI people. I take heart when I hear my students’ unanimous support for marriage equality. For them, marriage equality is about love. For me, it’s about that kid in the class who needs to know she’s not alone.

I never really got the chance to come out, my parents just sat me down after valedictory speech night and asked me outright. Mum was prepared. She had spoken to some PFLAG volunteers and they had sent her a bulging manila envelope full of brochures. It lay in the centre of the table throughout the whole conversation, while I texted updates to my not-so-secret boyfriend on my Nokia 3210. Mothers truly do always know.

Brisbane used to have a reputation as a bit of a conservative backwater. If you grew up gay in Brisbane, you escaped to Sydney the moment you could. But I think the push factors have dried up these days and we’ve come into our own as a city. People don’t feel compelled to leave the way they did. But after losing generations of gay men to other Australian capitals, the scene in Brisbane is young and still defining its own identity.

I think the best advice I could give my younger self is to be patient and to stop worrying about fitting in. After all, no-one who succeeds at fitting in has ever really stood out.”

Imam, Videographer/Editor, Jakarta, Indonesia

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Imam, in his own words: “Bagi saya, menjadi seorang gay adalah bagian dari sebuah proses hidup untuk menjadi seorang manusia seutuhnya. Tidak ada bedanya dengan seorang heteroseksual ataupun orientasi seksual lainnya. Belum lagi bila dihadapkan pada keberagaman gender. Pada dasarnya terlahir menjadi apa dan siapa, tak lantas menjadikan kita berbeda. Dulu saya menganggap diri saya berbeda. Tapi sekarang, sampai detik ini, sebagai seorang gay saya merasa tidak ada bedanya dengan manusia lainnya.

Di dunia ini, hidup adalah tantangan. Hidup adalah perjuangan. Terlahir sebagai gay, ataupun sebagai hetero, tidak lantas menjadikan kita seorang pecundang yang bersembunyi dari balik perasaan karena kita merasa berbeda. Bukan itu. Tapi bagaimana cara kita untuk melanjutkan hidup, tanpa memperdulikan apa identitas seksual kita, apa identitas gender kita, tapi lebih kepada kita sudah berbuat apa untuk menjadikan hidup ini lebih baik. Dan disitulah tantangannya.

Saya adalah termasuk gay yang memilih coming out kepada teman terlebih dahulu. Dulu sempat ada kekhawatiran untuk coming out kepada keluarga. Ada banyak gambaran ketakutan-ketakutan berlebihan terkait pilihan saya untuk memutuskan coming out terhadap keluarga. Namun yang menjadi alasan kuat saya hanya satu. Yaitu mencoba. Karena bagaimanapun, saya tidak akan pernah tahu kebenaran macam apa yang bakal saya terima apabila saya memilih coming out terhadap keluarga. Tentunya sebelum coming out, saya sudah mempersiapkan banyak hal. Yang terpenting pertama, tentu saja, saya sudah berdamai dengan diri saya sendiri. Siapa saya. Karena percuma saja bila kita memilih coming out kepada keluarga, namun urusan penerimaan diri belum selesai. Dan yang kedua selain penerimaan diri, tentu saja kemapanan. Kemungkinan terburuk adalah diusir dari rumah. Dan solusi adalah bagaimana kita bisa bertahan hidup. Dan saya pribadi yakin, apa yang menjadi pilihan saya bukan pilihan yang salah. Dan ketika membuat pengakuan ke orang tua, reaksinya justru berbalik dari apa yang telah saya bayangkan. Ibu saya hanya bisa diam. Berusaha untuk belajar memahami siapa saya. Dan dia berusaha keras untuk bisa menerima kondisi saya. Dan disitulah tugas saya untuk membantunya memahami kepribadian saya. Dan pelan tapi pasti, sedikit demi sedikit, komunikasi dan sharing informasi terkait apa itu homoseksualitas terus berjalan. Walhasil, tidak ada pengusiran. Keluarga pelan-pelan ternyata bisa menerima. Dan life is beautiful.

Komunitas gay di Jakarta ini sangat beragam. Banyak jenis. Dari yang tertutup hingga yang terbuka. Dari yang kelompoknya orang menengah biasa hingga yang mengkhususkan diri hanya yang punya koleksi prada, whatever lah. Sehingga disitu kadang saya merasa sedih…. Memangnya kenapa kalauhal tersebut benar-benar ada? Karena pada kenyataannya itu adalah pilihan. Toh, di lingkungan kaum heteroseksual pun juga ada yang tak kalah heboh terkait komunitas hetero-nya. Justru dari situ bisa saya tarik garis kesimpulan, kita menjadi (dianggap) berbeda, ya karena kita tidak dianggap sama. Kita (gay dan hetero) akan setara justru bila kita bisa memandang bahwa tidak ada yang berbeda diantara kita semua. Bukan berarti juga orang lain dipaksa untuk bisa memahami kita, namun dari gay nya sendiri malah ingin dieksklusifkan, sama juga bohong. Mau bergabung di komunitas mana, semua ada konsekuensinya.

Kalau kita ingin dianggap sama atau setara, jangan pernah kita merasa berbeda. Tapi merasa lah bahwa kita terlahir istimewa dan diciptakan untuk melengkapi perbedaan yang pada dasarnya satu sama. SAMA-SAMA MANUSIA!”

In English:

“For me, being gay is part of a life process to becoming a human being. There are no differences between a heterosexual or any other sexual orientation. Let alone when we are faced with gender differentiation. At the end, being born as who I am, it won’t make any any difference. I used to think that I was different. But now, until this second, as a gay I feel the same as with other human beings.

In this world, life is a challenge. Life is a fight. Born as gay or straight, doesn’t make us a loser who has to hide behind our feelings because we’re different. It’s not that. It’s how we continue with our life, without care about our sexual identity, our gender identity, but what matters is more on what have we done to make this life better. This is the challenge.

I am a gay who chose to come out to my friend first. I used to worry about coming out to my family. There were so many unreasonable fears when I wanted to come out to my family. But the only thing that became strong was my need to try. Because no matter how, I would never find out what would happen to me from coming out to my family if I didn’t give it a try. Of course I prepared many things because I actually did it. The most important for sure was to make peace with myself. Who am I. Because it would be a waste if I came out to my family without accepting myself first. The second thing after self-acceptance was my ability to support myself. The worst possibility for me was being kicked out of the house. And the solution was how would I survive if that happened. Personally I am sure that my choice was not a wrong choice. And when I did it, the reaction was totally different than what I had imagined before. My mom was just silent. Trying to understand me. She was trying really hard to understand my condition. That’s where I feel it should be my task to help her understand my personality. Slowly but surely, bit by bit, communication and information sharing about homosexuality keeps flowing. At the end, no eviction. My family slowly accepted it. And Life is beautiful.

The gay community in Jakarta is so varied. There are so many of them. From the closeted ones to the open ones. From the middle class to those who only own Prada. Whatever. That’s why sometime I feel sad. So what if those things really exist. Because in reality, it’s just is a choice. In the straight community we can find the same thing as well. That’s why I can make an assumption that we want to be treated differently. We (gay and straight) will only be equal when we are able to see that we are no different compared to one other. Not by forcing other people to understand us. But if we as gays want to be treated exclusively, it wont work at all. No matter which community that you want to join, there will always be consequences.

If we want to be treated equally, don’t think that we are different. Think that we are born in a special way and created with differences which are basically same. Same human being.”

Steve, Masters Student/Activist, Melbourne, Australia

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

Steve, in his own words: “Being gay means I was lucky enough to be born homosexual, to be born into this community that has existed in every cave, village and city for as long as we have existed as humans. Being gay gives me a connection to people I’ve never met, gives me a connection to a rich history, but most importantly it gives me a community that I care and fight for.

Being gay gives me the freedom to choose my own destiny, to be free from so many of the shackles that society dictates to the majority, I thrive in my difference and I believe this makes our entire society richer.

I think I’m too young to call anything I’ve done a success, I’d run the risk of looking a little smug. Living overseas, graduating with first class honors from a top university are all successes, but I have so many other people that I owe for these successes, I wouldn’t be where I am now without the support of other people, so I don’t want to take all the credit for this.

Personally however I think my greatest success is my acceptance of who I am and the pride I now take in who I am. It’s a great challenge to overcome your insecurities, I’ve had many of them, and I continue to have them, but I’ve come to a point where I own my insecurities, and I’ve never been happier.

I like to say we’re always coming out, to a certain degree. We have to come out whether overtly or subconsciously to every person we interact with, our sexuality is such a huge influence on who we are as a person and what our place within society is. I’m sad to say there are certain times I have chosen not to come out in certain environments and keep cosy in a very glittery wardrobe. 
My ‘classic’ coming out was in two episodes, Mum first when I was 13 then Dad when I was 17. Mum’s first reaction was “never tell your father, I don’t know how he will react,” her reaction was one of fear, not of me and my sexuality but fear for how society will treat me. It’s so sad that parents of fags are genuinely afraid for their child because of how heterosexuals will treat them.

Dad’s first reaction was “I’m so proud of you, you’re an incredible young man and you will achieve great things” (I may be embellishing a bit, but it went something like that). My immediate response was to look at my Mum and say “ALL THIS TIME!!!” But I don’t hold a grudge, she knew no better, and unfortunately parents these days don’t know how to deal with their child coming out. The language around coming out is the same language as that of mourning, or the loss of a limb; “It’s okay, you’ll be the same person in my eyes,” “…well despite this, I still love you.” It’s like, really? Despite what? Despite the fact that your child has now joined the ranks of an incredible community, immediately making them more progressive, empathetic and happy, you’ll still love them? How condescending! There are schools of thought out there that homosexuality is the next step in human evolution, and with technological advancement the idea of heterosexuality for procreation will become null. So to the parents thinking it’s such a sad thing that your child has just evolved into an amazing little homo, shame on you, go bake them a rainbow cake immediately. Less of this “I suppose you’ll have to do” and more confetti at coming outs, please!

I’m an eternal optimist and have found my place in Melbourne’s LGBTIQ community during a period of relevant calm, though this will all change very soon with the inevitable introduction of marriage equality and the changing landscape in the response to the HIV epidemic. So my experience of the community lacks the nostalgia of ‘Club X’ and ‘Bar Y,’ which is so often the frame people view this question with. I have been so lucky to have discovered the community behind the bars (though ironically, it takes going to a bar to find these communities, I know, it’s like Inception). I had to find these opportunities myself, the volunteer work, learning from the old queens I respect so much, surrounding myself by likeminded people and running by my golden rule, “be infinitely kind,” and you will get infinite kindness in return.

I live in a Collingwood bubble, here in Melbourne that means I’m a “Northside gay” and I must have a beard. I’m very lucky that my local bar is one of the world’s longest-continuously running gay bars (The Laird, I highly recommend it) that is rich in history and in community to this day means that I have been well placed to develop a positive identity for myself and an experience of my community that is so positive. Every part of the LGBTIQ community has its stereotypes, for example The Laird is the quintessential hairy-chested, hypermasculine sometimes-leather bar. But nowhere else do I feel more comfortable vogueing it up on the dance floor and nowhere else do I feel so accepted for however I want to express myself. It sounds a bit silly, but in general about various scenes, it’s not about the beard, the six pack, the tan, the politics, it’s what you have inside that really counts, and people will see that and appreciate that. If they don’t, then you’re hanging around with the wrong people.

We have a diverse and rich queer scene here too, think boys, beards and heels, with a reputation for groundbreaking art and performance from Berlin to New York. This is Melbourne, we’re dirty, we lack pretense and glamour, we do ‘different’ and we’re all the more happy for it. Melbourne rocks.

(Advice to my younger self) Listen and learn. Everyone is smarter than you, everyone has something to contribute to you and you have the duty to take it on board and pass it on. I’ve learnt this now, but I wish I knew this when I was a pretentious teenager trying so hard to fit in. I’d say to myself, look at who you really are, stop pretending, stop trying, you’ll become yourself eventually so just stop wasting time trying to be someone else – once you do, you will never be happier.”

Pablo, Student, Seoul, South Korea

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Pablo, in his own words: “You know for Asian people to be a gay means everything will be difficult for you. Work, life, the societal relationships. But I’m proud of being gay, for me I have more freedom. I can face my real mind and to look for a true love. I think a couple doesn’t mean a boy and girl! Two boys sometimes is Better Hahahha .

(With regards to successes) Three years ago I decided to leave my country then went to Spain alone. But I didn’t know anything about Spain and the language. But I arrived there alone. I found all things and after 3 months I can write a text in Spanish and get points from people’s sentence. Hahahha.

(With regards to coming out) It isn’t a story. I just met my first boyfriend and I fell in love. Really really deeply, hahaha.

In seoul it isn’t really good for gay people to live. You have to keep it as secret. Because it will bring some troubles to you, but I never mind it. I just want to be myself.

Advice?? Ummmm just be yourself. Don’t think it’s weird. You should proud of your sexuality. Enjoy your life! ( this is from an American friend. I got many advice from him )”

The Hon Michael Kirby, Former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sydney, Australia

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Michael, in his own words: “I would describe (the LGTBI community in Australia) as still in its infancy. It is emerging, and it is becoming more assertive of rights. But it isn’t all that long ago when in Australia people were expected to be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for being LGBTIQ and when I was growing up that was what was expected. We lived in a world of don’t ask don’t tell. But increasingly in recent years through the action of some courageous people, young people are standing up and some old fogies are beginning to do that too. So it is a new idea whose time has come. It is developing and it will continue to develop in Australia, and it will go on doing so until we have complete equality because inequality is based upon irrational attitudes and non-scientific approach.

Marriage equality is one of those symbolic things that is significant and I certainly believe in that being made available, it is not available at the moment in Australia. Marriage in Australia unlike the United States is governed by the Federal Constitution and is a Federal power. The Federal Legislation not only does not provide for marriage equality, it forbids any recognition of marriage equality by any court or any state legislature in Australia. This was something that we copied from the United States, in the so called DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act in 2004. And until the Federal Parliament changes the law we won’t have equality in this country. However, though it is an important symbol, people can get by without being married. Many people nowadays, including younger straight people don’t get married, and in my own case with my partner Johann, we’ve been together for 46 years and it’s getting a little late in the day for our confetti and marriage celebrations. Indeed, we’re not absolutely certain that if marriage were available we would get married. In some ways that is mimicking an institution of straight society and we don’t feel the need for it, personally, but we certainly believe it should be there for those citizens who want it. In the mean time, there’s a lot of other things that need to be addressed in Australia, for example the exceptions from anti-discrimination law, in favor of religious groups, which allows schools with public funds to be established in Australia, or maintained in Australia, by religious organizations, Christian and non-Christian to discriminate against LGTIQ students.

I think the next generation should think of what it can give back to straight society. I do think that on a whole, LBTIQ people have a more realistic attitude towards human sexuality and human expression and experience. And instead of simply going along imitating straight relationships, I think it may be that in the future, young gay people will have lessons to teach straight people. The notion, for example, that you should break up a relationship of many years, simply because somebody has had a sexual experience with another person is something that would strike most gay people as irrational. And therefore, on the whole, young gay people have a more realist attitude. The idea of cheating on somebody, is an idea that has its foundation in ownership, and that isn’t a really stable basis on which to build a life experience.

Time Magazine found that long term living together is good for people’s health. And as you grow older, it’s even better for your health, to have somebody who cares whether you live or die. And the notion of destroying that opportunity on the basis of cheating, is a very old fashioned and rather patriarchal attitude towards sexual relationships. So I think instead of asking what straight society will do for us, I think it’s important for LGBTI, people to think of what they can do for straight society. By example, by research, by thinking, by expression. And that is really picking up President Kennedy’s statement in his inaugural address. “Ask not what America can do for me, but what I can do for America.” Well, LGBTI people should ask not what straight people in the world can do for them, but what they can do for straights.

I was more open about my sexual orientation as I got older. And then HIV AIDS came along and I became involved in both local activities and national activities concerned with the epidemic. I was invited by a very great international civil servant, Jonathan Mann, who was the head of the original global program on AIDS of the World Health Organization, to get involved in the global commission on AIDS, and so increasingly I was engaged in activities for the world wide response to HIV and AIDS. In Australia we did better in this respect than the United States and most other countries. We did that because we had a federal Minister for Health who later turned out to be bisexual, and we had an opposition spokesman on health who was a professor of public health, and therefore just by a chance confluence of these two men, we did better. I got involved in that, that was a kind of code language for my sexual orientation. And most people who were watching understood that. And that was in the 1980s, 1986 and thereafter, but my exact declaration of my sexual orientation came in the 1990s, and at that stage it seemed a natural and proper thing to do.

(To any young person reading the blog) I would say to do what can safely be done to uphold science, to uphold the principles of kindness to one another. And to be honest. It’s a terrible thing in a young person to require them to be dishonest, especially to their parents and to their siblings, and to their immediate family and neighbors and work colleagues. And basically we all know it originates not in some scientific basis, but in the fact that some people get upset if they hear the truth. The truth is that a small proportion of people have a sexual orientation towards a romantic sexual interrelationship with people of the same gender. Well, get over it. It’s important that young people, especially, should try as far as they safely can to be honest and to change the world. Because until now, LGBTIQ people have basically been conspiring in their own disadvantage and second class status by going along with the pretense. The pretense has to finish. When it finishes, we’ll get back to a scientific reality, that this small proportion exists. And we in the world own a great deal to Dr. Kinsey, Alfred Kinsey, of Indiana University in the United States who did the research on sexual orientation in the 1940s and 50s and his publications began the moves to change things and those moves will keep happening until it has been changed throughout the world. Medieval demons in the minds of some religious people, mainly men, will ultimately have to give way to scientific truth.

I’ve been very lucky in my life to have wonderful parents, wonderful siblings, a marvelous grandmother, and fantastic teachers, excellent education opportunities, considerable professional success, and that is the all of me, my sexual orientation is just a part of me, just as in a successful professional lawyer and judge you wouldn’t start a conversation by asking about their sexual orientation. It would be irrelevant and often regarded as impertinent. However, I hope in the area of LGBT issues I will be remembered as somebody who made it a little easier for younger people growing up to be truthful about their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Javier, Santiago, Chile

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

Javier, in his own words: “Para mi ser gay significa aportar y colaborar a generar un cambio positivo en la sociedad con respecto a lo que creen y piensan de la comunidad LGTB. El poder demostrarle al resto que uno es feliz, genera un progreso en su vida y puede llevar una vida completamente normal es gratificación suficiente para no sentir vergüenza de mis preferencias, decirlas sin ningún problema y por sobre todo, poder mostrar quien realmente soy. La comunidad LGTB está regida por muchos estereotipos que son los mas evidentes ante la sociedad y, la mayoría de esta, solo aprecia este lado de la comunidad (Muchas veces crea rechazo). Para mi es gratificante poder mostrar el otro lado, ese lado donde uno siendo gay nadie espera que lo seas ya que rompes con los estereotipos existentes.

Uno de mis mayores desafíos fue poder aceptar e integrar a la comunidad LGTB. No lograba entender como hombres podían ser tan femeninos o mujeres tan masculinas, al punto que no me involucraba con ninguno de ellos. Me di cuenta que esto estaba mal porque es un tipo de discriminación, ya que si yo, siendo gay, discriminaba a otras personas gay, ¿Cómo podía esperar un cambio inclusivo en la sociedad? ¿Cómo esperaba que me aceptaran a mi?, y si bien yo me siento muy bien siendo como soy, el resto lo es siendo como ellos quieren ser. Me di cuenta que el respeto por los demás es muy importante y uno no puede pretender que el resto de las personas sea como uno quiere que sean. Fue muy difícil cambiar el “switch” mental por como me criaron.

Al venir de una familia muy cristiana y de mormones, otro de los grandes desafíos fue hacerles cambiar el “switch” a mi familia que ser gay es malo. Ellos pensaban que yo al ser gay iba camino a la autodestrucción y que era algo como un “castigo divino”. Fue cuando tome la decisión de demostrarles todo lo contrario y la mejor forma de hacerlo fue mostrandoles lo feliz que soy y lo bien que me hace. Entendí que el miedo y la ignorancia sobre el tema hace que el resto actué de forma no muy agradable y comprensiva. Actualmente hay muchos mitos sobre el tema.

Actualmente la comunidad LGTB en Santiago va tomando mayor participación en actividades y en la sociedad. Me es muy grato ver como hay una evolución en el pensamiento colectivo, generado por la comunidad. Antiguamente era casi un tema tabú, ahora hay leyes que mejoran nuestras condiciones sociales, jurídicas (es casi como estar casados) y nos protegen en caso de discriminación. Ahora tu puedes ver por la calle, o en lugares públicos, parejas del mismo sexo tomados de la mano y dándose un beso confidente. Esto es un gran paso para Chile! Se que nos falta mucho para llegar a países desarrollados donde hay mejores leyes y mucha mas confianza, pero se que de a poco vamos hacia allá, juntos vamos logrando y exigiendo que así sea.

En este momento trabajo en Groupon LatAm y la empresa tiene una excelente iniciativa. Se trata de un grupo interno que se llama Pride Latino (en Instagram: https://instagr.in/u/grouponchile #PrideLatino), donde la propuesta que busca el grupo junto con la empresa es materializar la diversidad con acciones concretas en la oficina. Donde con celebración, progreso, orgullo, amor y comunidad todos se puedan sentir representados e incluidos.

Mi historia de como salí del closet, no fue la mejor. Para mi era un mundo completamente nuevo y desconocido, y por miedo a lo desconocido lo oculte a todo el mundo, comencé a pololear y a hacer mi vida como si nunca nadie lo iba a descubrir. De repente mi familia se entera por una carta que descuidadamente deje en mi habitación y ellos no lo tomaron de la mejor forma, ya que en parte les había mentido. Fue una situación muy impactante y aún la recuerdo como si fuera ayer. Me echaron de la casa y me fui a vivir con un amigo. No los culpo ni les guardo rencor ya que actuaron como cualquiera lo hubiera hecho con miedo y desconocimiento. Luego de todo lo sucedido me di cuenta que hubiera sido mucho mejor si hubiera tenido la confianza suficiente para haberles contado. Luego de unos meses lo conversamos tranquilamente y entendieron que estaba muy bien, entendieron que si estaba tan bien no era malo y me apoyaron completamente. Ahora tengo la confianza suficiente para poder llevar a alguien y presentarlo a
mi familia. Fue una evolución necesaria que llevo años de trabajo y por sobre todo, se que tengo una familia maravillosa que me apoya y los amo.

El mejor consejo que le puedo dar a la gente joven es que no tengan miedo en mostrar quien realmente son y por sobre todo respeten para que sean respetados. Soy un convencido de que la familia es lo mas importante que tenemos y con el trabajo suficiente pueden contar con ellos siempre. Si son gay y nadie lo sabe, no se lo guarden para ustedes mismos, busquen apoyo en alguien de confianza, ya que a nadie le hace bien guardar un secreto tan grande, independiente de tu condición sexual.”

In English:

“For me being gay means to contribute and collaborate to create positive change in society regarding what society believes and thinks of the LGBT community. Being able to show the rest of the world that one is happy, enables progress in life and leading a normal life is rewarding enough, not to feel shame for my preferences, to say to everyone without any problems and above all, to show who I really am. The LGBT community is governed by many stereotypes that are most evident in society and many see this side of the community (and often creates rejection). For me it is gratifying to show the other side, that side or being gay that nobody expects, helping to break existing stereotypes.
 
One of my biggest challenges was to accept and integrate into the LGBT community. I could not understand how men could be as female as a male or female, to the point that I did not involve myself with any of them. I realized that this was wrong because it is a form of discrimination, because if I, being gay, discriminated against other gay people, how could I expect an inclusive society to change? How do you expect me to accept myself? And while I feel great being as I am, the rest are still as they want to be. I realized that respect for others is very important and one can not expect other people to be how you want them to be. It was very difficult to change the mind “switch” that I was raised with.

Coming from a very Christian family and Mormons, one of the biggest challenges was to make them change the “switch” of my family that being gay is bad. They thought I was going to go down a gay road to self-destruction and that was something like a “divine punishment”. I decided to prove the opposite and the best way is showing them how happy I am and what good it does for me. I understood that fear and ignorance on the subject makes the rest act not very nice and in a comprehensive manner. Currently there are many myths about it.
 
Currently the LGBT community in Santiago is taking greater participation in activities and in society. I am pleased to see that there is an evolution in collective thinking, generated by the community. Formerly it was almost a taboo subject, there are now laws to improve our social, legal (it’s almost like being married) and protect us in case of discrimination. Now you can see down the street or in public places, same-sex couples holding hands and giving a confident kiss. This is a big step for Chile! We still lack a lot to reach the status of developed countries with better laws and a lot more confidence, but we are slowly getting there, together we are achieving and demanding much.

I currently work at Groupon LatAm and the company has an excellent initiative. This is an internal group called Latino Pride (in Instagram: https://instagr.in/u/grouponchile #PrideLatino), where the proposals seeking the group along with the company’s diversity materialize in the concrete actions office. This is a place to celebrate, progress, feel proud, love and have community and everyone can feel represented and included.
 
My story of how I left the closet, was not the best. To me it was a completely new and unknown world, and a fear of the unknown that was hidden from everyone, I started hiding and making my life as if nobody was ever going to find it. Suddenly my whole family found a letter carelessly left in my room and they did not take it the best. It was a shocking situation and I still remember it like it was yesterday. I got kicked out of the house and went to live with a friend. I do not blame or hold grudges because they acted as anyone would have done with fear and ignorance. After everything that happened I realized that it would have been much better if I had enough confidence to have told them. After a few months we talked quietly and understood each other very well. Now I have the confidence to take someone and present it to
my family. It was a necessary evolution that took years of work and above all, I have a wonderful family that supports me and I love them.
 
The best advice I can give to young people is to not be afraid to show who you really are and above all respect to be respected. I am convinced that the family is the most important thing I have and with enough work I can have them forever. If you are gay and nobody knows, do not keep it to yourselves, seek support from someone you trust, because no one benefits from keeping a secret of your sexual condition.”

Vince, English Teacher, New York City

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong

Vince, in his own words: “February 6, 2014 was a special day. I met Kevin Truong at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 42 Street in New York City to be photographed. Participating in the Gay Men Project and being photographed in the theatre district of the Big Apple are important to me. I live in Philadelphia, but my life as a gay man began in Times Square thirty-four years ago.

I am sixty-eight now, and on my thirty-fourth birthday I stood in line on 47th Street for two-for-one tickets for a Broadway play. A girl friend met me there. She brought a birthday cake, and people in line sang “Happy Birthday” as she lit the candle. After the show we went to “Uncle Charlie’s,” a gay bar in the Village. She asked if I was gay. Well, six months later in Philadelphia I had my first sexual experience with a man. His name was Jimmy, a great guy and still a friend. When he embraced to kiss me, I remember thinking, “This is what it’s like.”

All of the years before that first sexual experience I was afraid to admit that I was attracted to men. The fear drove me crazy. But admitting that fact to myself was a first step to being a better man. No need to describe the years which followed in any great detail. My life is much like thousands of others who lived through the eighties and beyond. Close friendships were established, boyfriends came and went, and many, many died. But the man who mattered most in my life, my partner and best friend for twenty-three years, made me a “mensch.” In Yiddish, the word simple means to be a real human being. Our life seemed perfect for the first eight years. Of course, that was on the surface. We had the house in Philly, friends, jobs, supportive parents, and each other. But like any other couple, we had hard times, bad moments, frustrations, disappointments; and over our heads hung the fear of AIDS. In 1990 we decided to be tested. I tested negative, and Jon, my partner, was positive. His results came back on the eve of my forty-fifth birthday. He had planned a special birthday for me: a weekend in New York, two Broadway plays, a nice dinner, a romantic evening together. That never happened, but the next sixteen years did. How Jon became positive never mattered. How to live did. The years were tough, but he was the Energizer Bunny. He kept going and going. Jon was my life partner no matter what happened, and many things did. He died in 2006, and like the moment he received the phone call to tell him he was HIV positive, I was there to hold him and love him when he died.

Today, almost eights years later, it’s hard to believe that we could be legally married if he were alive. Unfortunately not in Philadelphia, but that too will happen. Life is good; people are wonderful; and the advice I have for a younger gay man: confront your fears, go after your dream, and be a “mensch.”

Andreas, Project Manager, Cape Town, South Africa

photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
photo by Kevin Truong
Andreas, in his own words: “Being gay means having the opportunity to be more accepting of others.

Continuous challenge is learning to accept myself, to trust in the process called life. One of my greatest successes has been finishing a masters while recovering from a barrage of illnesses I picked up whilst traveling in India.

Coming out was gradual – took about 5 years, starting with accepting myself to telling my father. Some of my extended family members still don’t know about my sexuality, maybe that will change now. I’m lucky in that all the responses were positive – everyone was supportive and accepting (although most didn’t see it coming!).

The Cape Town gay community, much like the rest of South Africa is socially and geographically divided. I only know middle class gay men who live in suburbs; we share very similar stories. I wish it would be easier to meet more gay men from different backgrounds.

I would tell my younger self to keep away from trying to do things right.”