Coming Out Stories from Local Community Leaders

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01Anthony Timiraos

CEO/President of Our Fund

Yikes!  My coming out story?  Very short and simple - it happened 43 years ago on May 8th.  Came out at the same time with my husband Arthur.  We were both 17, we fell in love and decided to spend the rest of our lives together.  We just turned 60 this year and we are still together.  Time flies.

02Bryan WilsonSunServe

When I was about 6 I overheard my Granny and her sisters discussing their brother’s recent accident in his home, where he lived alone. “This wouldn’t have happened had he not been alone. If he weren’t ‘that way’ he’d have a wife who would’ve called help sooner,” one of my Great Aunts said. Another of my Great Aunts said something I’ve never forgotten, “I hate that him being this way means he won’t have anyone to take care of him once we’re gone.”

I quickly realized that being “that way” meant being gay, and eventually that I too was “that way.” From the onset, the conservative culture of Texas told me to expect from a gay life harassment, loneliness, marginalization, and an eternity spent where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Remaining closeted to my family along with a healthy dose of popularity and fairly masculine tendencies mitigated many of the issues I know my fellow LGBTQ peers experienced; outwardly I led a privileged and near picturesque childhood, but inwardly my soul was tormented.

My Christian faith was and is the most important part of my life, but in my youth Jesus’ teaching of love and benevolent living was twisted into a message of judgment and legalistic thinking. After college, I chose to enter ministry training to overcome the “demon of homosexuality,” but what a personal relationship with Christ led me to was the truth: God lovingly made me as a gay man, Christ delivered me to a fuller life, and my Mom, Dad, Granny and friends all love me because of this, not in spite of this.

Coming out for me made me a better man and strengthened my relationships. I pray your coming out is as positively transformative as mine was.

Happy Coming Out Day!

03Chuck NichollsVice President, Tuesday’s Angels

I came out in Apopka Florida...yes, I said Apopka, Florida, the indoor foliage capital of the world.

I had just finished completing my course work at the University of Florida in Gainesville (yeah Gators!)  and was embarking on my first field work which was a necessary part of completing my M.S. degree for my thesis.

After driving from Gainesville I found this Victorian guest house (looked like something out of a horror movie) where I was to spend the next several nights whereby I would be collecting data from growers in the area for the next several days.  Little did I know my life was about to change forever.

I knocked on the door of the guest house about 10 p.m. The proprietor asked that I wait in the TV room with the rest of the men who were USDA fruit and vegetable inspectors. The room was barely lit and all I could see were boots and the legs of men (in levis) in the shadow of the TV set where a major boxing match was being shown. Having no interest in boxing my eyes were gazing on the 10 plus men that were in the relatively dark room.

The fight was over and I registered at the desk. One of the inspectors asked if he could help take my bags to the room. Naturally, I was flattered and willingly accepted his offer. His mother was housemother at one of the sororities at UF so conversation was relatively easy. I had the distinct feeling he was interested in me but nothing happened at that point.  About midnight he knocked at my door and said he could not sleep and asked if he could stay in my room. That evening was a magical moment for me because in my 22-year history this was the first time I had feelings for a man.

This relationship continued for several months. He knew people all over the state and my research work took me to various locations. I came out fast...very fast!  I loved the attention I was getting especially from all the celebrities and men in Miami.

Coming out was not easy in those days.....nothing like it is today. One had to be closeted and very careful at the University.  Those days were also clouded by The Johns Committee in Florida. The committee was all about exposing gay professional men in academic and business professions. Needless to say I was a survivor and happy that I am alive today to talk about it.

05Jorge Richa

MGLCC, Marketing & Programming Director

I was blessed to have had a positive coming out experience. I attribute this to the great support, love, understanding of family and friends.  While living away from home in the U.S., it was during my twenties that I came to terms with my sexuality and had my first partner.  I was out to our mutual friends and acquaintances.  Coming out to my immediate family and longtime friends came shortly after as a result of me wanting to share with them how happy I was in that relationship, being myself, and accepting my sexuality.

I had a face to face conversation with my closest sister where lots of tears were shared.  My tears were of relief as I finally got this secret out and had her unconditional love and support.  Months later it was coming out to my other only sibling.  My concern was how she would take it, I was scared that it could affect my interaction and great relationship I had with her kids.  My worries were unfounded as she confirmed she loved me for who I was no matter who I love.  Then it was the parents turn.  During a business trip back home to Puerto Rico I invited my mom to lunch with the intentions to present her with a long letter that I had written.  She very calmly put it aside and asked me to talk to her about its content.  It was very emotional, the support and comforting words was everything I needed at the moment.

With regards to telling my father, quite frankly, I was concerned about his health as I thought he would have a heart attack after I told him.  I asked my mom to give him the letter that I had written.  That evening I stayed at their house and the morning after I found my father with a very solemn face in the kitchen next to my mother.  He had read the letter.  Without hesitation he gave me a hug and told me he loved me no matter what, that I would always be his son.  He asked for time to better understand and cope with the news.  I could feel him and my mom were struggling with it as a result of their strong religious beliefs and Catholic Church teachings.    With the passing of time, speaking with professionals, and even church clergy, my parents were able to resolve their internal struggles to fully accept me for who I was and how God brought me to this world.

I know that I have been blessed with such positive coming out experiences and only hope that more people have similar ones as homosexuality continues to be more and more accepted in the world we live in.

06Kris Fegenbush

Chief Operating Officer of the Pride Center at Equality Park

I came out in my later 20s.  For years, I had grappled with reconciling my faith with my sexuality.  My father is a minister, and I worked for a faith-based organization.  The process involved lots of tears, questions, late night conversations, prayer, cute boys on South Beach, and the examples of some wonderful gay people of faith that I got to know in South Florida.  A couple of loyal, dear friends stood by my side and loved me generously.  I met some amazing, older LGBT mentors.  They helped rescue me from myself when my thinking became claustrophobic or fearful.

That's why I encourage younger people to seek out older mentors and spend lots of time learning from them. My family surprised me with the depth of their acceptance, love and embracing.  It was tough on my mom, but I’ve learned that I hadn’t given them enough credit.  I had projected my fears onto them.   That's why I now am learning to expect the best in others.

My grandfather always said, “there’s so much good in the worst of us; so much bad in the best of us; it never behooves any of us to criticize the rest of us.”  I’ve discovered that we find what we’re looking for in others.  If people are looking for my faults, they’ll find them quickly.  If I seek what is best and excellent in others, that’s what I find. My family made the commitment to walk down this road together, extending grace where we didn’t understand each other.

To this day, they never introduce my partner of 12 years to others without calling him their “eldest son.”  It makes the world of difference when family and friends offer unconditional love.  We all need to be reminded of the ultimate truth: we are loved more than we know.  I didn’t receive the in-my-face judgment I expected from others.

Who knows?  I may have been the topic of non-approving conversation among some old friends, but I was never invited to those parties.  I think it’s hard to extend judgment and shaming stigma when we come face-to-face with human need at a personal level.  That’s why coming out is important.  It changed not only my life, but the lives of my friends and family.  We all grew along this journey.

07Michael Emanuel Rajner, BSW

LGBT Activist

As a teen in the 1980's, I struggled tremendously as I became aware of my sexual orientation.  I grew up without a gay role model.  The first time I realized there was a gay community of people, it was watching the news and learning of a gay cancer that was rapidly claiming the lives of gay men.

I recall one of my brothers stating, "finally there is something to get rid of these faggots." Words so painful that pierced my heart and left me feeling alienated and ashamed.  I was also at the time struggling to overcome the abandonment by my mother, grandmother and cousin when they all died less than two months apart from cancer when I was 13 years old.

The struggle continued as I entered the seminary and later became a survivor of sexual harassment and abuse by clergy.  It took me more than 10 years to begin to confront the pain from those dark days.

Over the years I have listened to the struggle of other individuals as they shared their coming out.  It is these collective stories that have helped fuel my passion to ensure generations to follow will know there is a loving and compassionate community that affirms and values the unique individual and that our sexual orientation or gender identity should not marginalize us from any of our hopes or dreams.

In my service on the Broward County School Board Diversity Committee, I was proud to help improve policies in our public schools to be a more affirming and safer place for every child to achieve academic success.  This year, for a second year in a row, Broward Schools is recognizing LGBT History Month.  A month where our youth will learn of some amazing people who have not been deterred by their sexual orientation or gender identity.

08Judge Rand Hoch (retired)President and Founder, Palm Beach County Human Rights Council

It seems as if before I became really well known locally as an LGBT activist, I was always in the process of coming out to someone. My favorite coming out experience happened back in 1984.

During the summer between my second and final year of law school, I clerked for a prominent real estate law firm in Palm Beach County.

When I accepted the job, I negotiated a two-week break in the middle of the summer so that I could attend the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.  Back then, political conventions were televised gavel-to-gavel.  So I assumed that the firm’s partners knew that the convention only lasted 4 days and that I would be spending the rest of my break enjoying all that San Francisco has to offer.  I also assumed that they knew I was gay and just didn’t want to address it directly.

During the summer, the firm has several social events and I never brought a woman along as a date.  Again, I assumed that the firm knew I was gay.

The firm liked my work and at the end of the summer, the managing partner offered me a position as an associate upon my graduation from law school the following year.

This was unexpected, because job offers are usually made in the fall following a clerkship.  So, I had to make a quick calculation.

The legal work I had done during the summer wasn’t very interesting.  But the job was in Palm Beach County where I wanted to be and it paid well.  And I had borrowed a lot money to get my law degree.  I thought if I was going to have settle for boring job just to pay off my loans, then at least I should be able to be open about my personal life at work.

So I asked the managing partner, “How is my being gay going to affect my chances of becoming a partner 5 or 6 years down the road?”

I watched all the color drain from his face.  Then I watched the color return as he said “This firm has never had that problem before.”

This was not a good sign.

He asked how my being gay might have an impact on the firm.

I replied that I didn’t intend on asking male clients to dance at the Christmas party, but, if there was a firm party without clients, I would like to be able to bring along my significant other – if I was lucky enough to have one at the time.

He told me he would discuss this with the other partners and get back with me in a few days.

When I did not hear back within two weeks, I called and asked him how the discussion with the partners went about the job offer.

He replied, “We never offered you a job.”

Obviously, this was not a firm I wanted to work for anyway.

This put me in an awkward position, because during job interviews that Fall, potential employers were bound to ask me why I wasn’t going to work for the firm I clerked for that summer.  I wanted to say that I was offered a job and I declined.

Ultimately, I convinced the managing partner that if anyone inquired, he had to tell them the truth: The firm was pleased with my work and I was offered the job, but I decided not to work there.

I ended up working for a labor law firm in Palm Beach County, representing unions and employees.  And I got very involved in LGBT politics.

Years later, having served as Florida’s first openly gay judge, I returned to Palm Beach County to mediate employment disputes.  I was very pleased one day when I got a call from the law firm I had clerked for a dozen years called and asked me to mediate one of their cases.

On the day of the mediation, most of the attorneys I had worked for, stopped by to say hello.  They let me know that they had followed my career and they were pleased with the work I was doing.

When the firm celebrated its 25th anniversary ten years later, I received an invitation to the celebration.  It was addressed to “Rand Hoch and Guest.”

09Robin Schwartz

Executive Director of Aqua Foundation for Women

I was 21, living in Gainesville, going to college and dating men.  A good friend of mine suggested we go to a gay bar because the music was good.  I loved good music so I said ok.  I had never had a conscious thought about being gay or even having an attraction to women.  Off we went.

After that night for reasons unknown to me at the time I went back to the club without my friend.  A woman came up to me and asked me to dance with her.  I said “I’m straight.” She said, I asked you to dance, not @!#*.  Off we went.  And from that day forward I kept dancing with women.

Within months of being back from college and living in Miami with my dad, my mother called me.  She asked me if “I want to be a boy or a girl?” I had recently cut my hair very short and apparently my brother had told her he was suspicious. This may have been because he had caught me in bed with a woman!  He didn’t catch us having sex, but she was in the bed, and that was all it took.

After explaining to my mom that I don’t want to be a boy she asked me to come see her.  I asked her to not tell my dad.  When I got to her house my dad was there.   They told me they love me.   They offered to send me to a psychiatrist.  I told them there was no need.  I was comfortable with who I was.  They said ok and off we went.  Eventually they grew comfortable too.

A few years later I came out at work.

At age 48 I became the Executive Director of Aqua Foundation for Women, a non-profit focused on the wellness and equality of LBT women.

10Stephen J. Fallon

Executive Director, Latinos Salud

When SFGN asked me to tell my story for National Coming Out Day, my memory flipped through the decades the way we used to flip through record album covers.  Remember those?  So picture this: when I came out, Madonna was that new artist who had just hit number 1 with “Like a Virgin.”  People were genuinely asserting that another new breakout performer, George Michael from Wham, couldn’t possibly be gay.  My friends and I were making “mix tapes,” wearing Drakkar Noir cologne, and trying to look like extras from Miami Vice in our Z Cavaricci pants.

This was so long ago that the big gay bar in Boston had no signage, no velvet rope, no thumping music to hear from blocks away.  You entered the plain brick front of “The 1270” discreetly, having parked in a dark and sketchy lot a few blocks off the backside of Fenway Park.  That’s where I nervously approached my soon-to-be first boyfriend while he danced to Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love.”  When she sang “Knew you’d be a vision in white / How’d you get those pants so tight?” I decided that he was and they were.

I dove into his coconut scented lip gloss, and adored his almond shaped eyes.  Mutual attraction was about all we had in common.  I was the white kid from a preppy college in the suburbs; he was the Caribbean guy who’d just moved to the States, now living in a cramped “flat” on a crime-ridden street in Dorchester.  He’d chain-smoke whenever his mother would call from Barbados to condemn him with Biblical quotes about gays.

Yet for seven months, he and I snuck kisses and clutched each other’s bodies on the sofa in his apartment (where he was not out to his roommate).  We rarely went anywhere else.  No one was openly gay back then, it seemed.  We were careening down the bumpy road of our first gay relationship with no map, no tour guide, and no brakes.  But in our scared and desperate ways, we fell into a beginner’s version of love.

Hang on Marty McFly, we’ve zipped “Back to the Future”!   The new Pope just proclaimed that Catholicism has better things to do than harangue people for being gay.  A few months back, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.  While there are still plenty of hate-filled hallways in our nation’s schools, there are now also oases of acceptance for guys and girls coming out today.

So it’s easy to assume that the ancient Coming Out stories my peers and I tell are sepia-toned recollections of an irrelevant bygone world.  Still, every day at Latinos Salud ( ) we meet newcomers to South Florida’s gay scene, young and middle aged, who emigrated from countries that still mock or resent the “maricon,” the “puta,” the boy who walks like a “pato” (a duck).  Only now, these guys can find a safe space to come out and forge their identity in a foreign land.  In South Florida, Latinos Salud, the Pride Center, and SunServe provide a tour guide and a road map on National Coming Out Day, and every day.

11Toni Armstrong Jr.

Co-Founder of BLAST (Bi, Lesbian and Straight Together) Women of the Palm Beaches

Childhood love for Mouseketeer Annette Funicello - had to hide it. Lust for junior high gym teacher - could barely abide it. Stonewall happened - I embraced it. Out as a special ed. teacher - refused to erase it. Family knew - elderly neighbors too. Huge Lesbian Capricorn Parties in Chicago with legendary Tracy Baim - vampire tequila slammers were the name of the game. Went to Canada with Janis to legally wed; our moms gave us away - what more could be said? Promoted lesbian women's music, and helped form GSAs.  Now building lesbian community in Florida - OUT OUT OUT 'til the end of my days!

12Tony Plakas

CEO, Compass

Coming Out: It sounds like an event. But it isn’t – it’s a process. Our Compass kids taught me that over the years.

If there was a moment, it was on a very specific day – in a very specific way. In 1999, after I had worked at Compass for two years, I forced my reluctant husband and my awesome Golden Retriever to take a picture of our “family” on our front porch for a news story. In the height of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, The Defense of Marriage Act and a world so horrible; a picture of a gay family on our front porch was an act of activism I underestimated - epically.

I came out on the front page of the local section, when newspapers had a front page for which they could be proud. There we stood: my man, my dog, and me. Proud.

In 1999, the U.S. decided to report same-sex households, and my friend Ron Hayes did us justice. He was a reporter. I thought doing the story was an obligation, because of my role, so I did it.

I had absolutely no idea the consequences. But I am still proud of that picture, even though I had no idea I was being brave at the time. I remember my dog more than my man, not because I didn’t love Jamie; but just because Tash seemed so proud of us. He looked happy; happier than I could have looked at the time. We were a family.

We have an ongoing joke at Compass. We never ask if an applicant is “gay.” However, applicants always volunteer their sexuality – who wouldn’t? We are one of the largest gay and lesbian community centers in the country.

Everyone; and I mean everyone, says the same thing: “I couldn’t be more out.” I laugh. It is one thing to be out – but when you put it on your resume, you mean business.

Working for Compass, even if you’re not gay, is a statement. In my opinion, it’s a beautiful statement. It’s says, “It’s as good as it gets,” even when being gay isn’t always easy.

I never really felt I had to come out because everyone I have ever loved told me they loved me and couldn’t imagine a world where being gay would make that change – in any way.

When I told my dad, his response was, “you know I love you no matter what.” No fight, just love.

But I really came out when I met the love of my life; when I met Jamie, because I wasn’t going to let anyone or anything come between what I felt for him. I knew instantly I wanted to be with him for better or worse, in sickness and health, and for richer and poorer.

I’ve seen people say they’ve come out, but I’ve seen more people aspire to find a life free of shame. And the best part is the moment we realize no one who matters to us ever wants a reason to stop loving us unconditionally - not even when we tell them we don’t fit their norm.

Coming out isn’t about leaving a closet – it’s about realizing the people who love you never want you to hide your true potential, and they will do anything to help you achieve it. It’s a true testament of love – and love, really, is what coming out is all about.

13Victor Diaz-HermanExecutive Director at Pridelines Youth Services

I came out at the age of 26 after several years of exploring my sexuality secretly. You’d think that having lesbian moms and a gay uncle would have helped me embrace my sexuality at a much earlier point in my life, especially growing up in a family where the generation before mine paved the way for acceptance. But my coming out experience was anything but easy; it was a tumultuous internal struggle.

I’ve always been more effeminate, my interests were never those traditionally associated with masculinity, and I always had more female friends than male. Truthfully, it was obvious to most of my family and friends that I was clearly repressing my sexuality, and oftentimes they’d ask me about it – it would drive me crazy.

As a young man I hated being predictable, something I’ve come to embrace as I’ve matured. I was always bothered by the fact that so many people assumed that I was gay. I felt as if I wasn’t being given the chance to determine that for myself and I didn’t want to make such a defining statement without first being sure that I wasn’t going through a phase or without experimenting with both sexes to be certain of my feelings.

Additionally, I was concerned about my family. I feared that some of my family would disapprove of me based on their religious beliefs. I feared that they would blame my mothers for “making” me gay. And, I think the greatest fear of all, was how my parents (moms) would react if, and when, I came out. This is likely the reason I chose to come out to my friends first, then to my cousins, and finally to my parents.

Looking back, I was creating a safety net of supportive friends and family to fall back on in case my coming out to my parents didn’t go well.

It turns out that I didn’t have to actually come out to any of my parents. One of my cousins decided to tell my moms that I had a boyfriend.  That evening they casually asked me over dinner. I was surprised by their reaction when I confessed that I was in fact dating a man; they expressed concern for me. My mothers grew up in an era where they lost friends to HIV/AIDS, when being gay meant that you had to hide your sexuality by day and turn to bath houses and nightclubs at night, and when people were being assaulted if they were “out” in public.

They didn’t want me to experience any of those things, but they loved me unconditionally regardless. Like my moms, my dad also asked me if I was gay after several months of knowing that I was in a relationship with a man. His response, when I confirmed that he was correct, was that he just wanted me to be happy.

I am truly blessed to have been raised by supportive parents, in an accepting family, and to have amazing friends that never turned their backs on me. As a result, I realize now that my struggle was an internal one that lasted 26 years, it was based on perceptions and conclusions that I was creating for myself which perpetuated my fears. Coming out is a unique experience for each person. I think that’s why I enjoy being the Executive Director at Pridelines Youth Services, because I am in the privileged position to help young LGBTQ individuals throughout that process, our staff and youth members are a safety net for each other, embrace each other for who they truly are, and support each other when family and friends may not.

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