Brett, in his own words:“Being gay is my sexual identity. Being gay plays a large role in the choices I make politically. I am not a one issue voter, but gay rights and marriage equality are extremely important.
The biggest challenge that I have had is recovering from pneumocystis in 1996. I spent 7 weeks in the hospital that summer. The biggest success is the recovery of my immune system after protease inhibitors were created in 1996. Perfect timing.
The gay community in Little Rock and central Arkansas is like most areas now. There is still some discrimination, but for the most part gays live, work and play along side everyone else. We’re in the same struggle as most states over marriage equality and waiting to see how far up the courts it goes. Was a beautiful summer here going to weddings of same sex couples.
I came out at 19 while in the Navy. A buddy in boot camp said he knew I was gay and took me to my first gay bar in Orlando, FL in 1982. I really never had any issue after that. My family gave me hell over it for a few years, then they got over it.
I would tell my younger self to relax and don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Chris, in his own words:“Being gay doesn’t mean a great deal to me. It doesn’t define me nor does it have any present, significant impact in my life. Simply put, being gay only predicts who I am more prone to connect with on an intimate level and who I prefer to spend my life with, nothing more.
The single greatest challenge I have had was maintaining a healthy, optimistic outlook on life while preserving a positive self-esteem and the confidence to succeed in the endeavors I am most passionate.
I think I spent a great deal of my childhood attempting to fit the mold of a typical southern Arkansan and was never taught or encouraged by any of my superiors to maintain a sense of personal identity and to also be proud of it. After I graduated high school, I saw that much of the time spent trying to adhere to others’ expectations prevented me from being who I was meant to be and that years of denial had countless negative effects.
With that being said, one of the greatest successes I had in life was tuning out the negative self-talk that persisted despite countless attempts accepting myself. This didn’t happen until recent years and the fight to balance self-constructive-criticism and positive self-talk is a challenge I still face today.
Other successes in my life are what I consider to be quite generic: I put myself through college with merit-based scholarships and earned two bachelor’s degrees while graduating with honors, have achieved my childhood dream of traveling, studying, and living abroad, earned my master’s degree and law degree, maintained long and healthy relationships with those that are invaluable to me, discovered exactly what it is I want to do with my life and how I want to grow and develop as I mature and grow older, etc. etc. It’s easy to recognize challenges, harder to acknowledge successes.
My coming out story is long and complicated. I “came out” at 16 when close friends were unable to keep a secret and one of the adults in my life who raised me read my journal. Initially, the process was far from ideal. I had grown up as a religious and spiritual individual. I also grew up Southern Baptist.
At 16, I was convinced that my faith and my God would “heal” my “problem” and had no trouble agreeing to reparative therapy. Twice a week, I drove 2 hours to a small city in northern Louisiana to attend an individual therapy session as well as group therapy. The group sessions reminded me of what AA meetings must be like. “Ex-gays” they called themselves despite the inherent characteristics and mannerisms that suggested otherwise. I spent nearly two years praying and attempting to refocus my attraction from men to women. Though I was willing to oblige my therapist when he suggested electroshock therapy, the adults in my life who were raising me at the time did not support my decision. Looking back, I think my willingness to do anything it took to be “normal,” even though it had been suggested by others around me, quite simply became too much for their continued support. My dad suggested I discontinue therapy immediately.
Though it took another four or five years for my family to fully accept me, the small community where I lived in southern Arkansas did so rapidly and with ease. I maintained all of the same friendships, was still elected to student council, on homecoming court, elected editor of yearbook staff senior year, and not once called a derogatory slur or treated differently. Other gay youth in the town were not nearly as lucky and the fact that I received such support still baffles me to this day.
Nearly eleven years later, my friends still support me and my family welcomes me at any time. Lately, I’ve been taking my boyfriend around my father – the most reluctant to accept my sexuality. Though time has eased him into the fact that I date guys, I have also finally found a guy that connects with my dad. I have to hold back smiles as I watch them interact with one another. “I’ve finally made it,” I think to myself.
(Advice I’d give my younger self) Focus on your wants and desires and no one else’s. Focus on what you want to do and not on what others expect you to do. Focus on who you want to be, not who others want you to be.”
Ivory, in his own words:“As a 20 year old male, being gay doesn’t really mean anything to me to be honest. I’m pretty sure I’d feel the same way on a daily basis if I were straight. The only thing different is liking a guy or a girl. At the end of the day, “Gay” is just anther label. We are all human. Doesn’t matter if you are white, black, man, woman, gay or straight.
In my life I’ve had many challenges. Primarily, coming from a very low income home. I had to learn how to survive at a very young age. I had to also overcome school issues. I was very shy in primary school. I refuse to do work and got a warning that if I didn’t start showing improvement, I would be transferred to “special” classes. Obviously I changed and began to preform a lot better because I knew I had no problems learning. I had to step it up and with a lot of help, I am now on my way to my 3’rd year in college and I also have a very good job. That’s what happens when you never give up.
The gay community in Little Rock is very interesting. We don’t have a big openly gay cast but most of the locals for the most part support us. We normally have no problems in public other than a couple of occasional “Sighs” and “frowns”. But nothing too drastic. For the most part, we don’t have that much drama. We all know and love each other. We’re pretty much one big happy family.
I came out of the closet April 30, 2013. I had a boyfriend at the time and we decided it was too hard to hold a relationship and be in the closet at the same time. But if we came out, we had to come out with a bang. That day we took a photo us kissing each other and posted it on Facebook. After 24 hours it received 1.1K likes and over 350 comments. We were overwhelmed of how many people saw us and heard about us. News spread all over Little Rock. We would go to parties and people we didn’t even knew would run up to us asking us questions and says they were big fans. But, we knew the news would spread to our families. I returned home that summer expecting a lot of disappointment. I walked in the door and my mom was smiling. Her exact words were. “So when will I get to meet my soon to be step son”. I was in tears. My mom accepted me being gay. I was so afraid that she would be upset at me. It turns out that all of my family accepted me as well. It was a huge sign of relief.
If I were to give my younger self advice, It would be to never take anything and anyone for granted. I would tell me to listen to how others feel and don’t be selfish. I would also tell him to never give up on anything and always strive for the best things in life because he is worth it and so much more.”