BY KAYLEE DUFF
The state’s LGBTQ+ community share their coming out stories.
In honor of LGBT History Month and National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11), we’ve collected stories about coming out from the LGBTQ+ community throughout Ohio.
Why are stories like these so important? Because they are us. All coming out stories are special, and our stories are just as diverse as we are. They are happy, sad, joyful, scary, astonishing — and all of them are brave, in their own ways. It’s about celebrating the living history of our lives, and recognizing that every one of us is part of something beautiful.
John Sherman Lathram-Brungs
My coming out story probably is not different than most kids who were born in the early ‘60s. When I was born, the “revolution” had not happened yet. Being gay was still considered a crime and a mental disorder. We had the likes of Anita Bryant, an evangelical Christian, convincing the majority of Americans that homosexuality was a detriment to the institution of family and marriage.
I was lucky to have the family that I had. I grew up showing dogs and started grooming dogs when I was only seven years old. That profession has a large number of gay individuals so I had a large group of older gay men as role models. That said, growing up in the suburbs of Columbus as one who could not relate to girls in a hetero- normal way was difficult for me.
My mother nick-named me Jay and all through school, I was tormented with the name Gay-Jay. High school was dreadful for me. I was teased and tormented daily, except for when I was in choir. Being in musicals, singing and dancing were my respite from the everyday torment I would get from classmates. I was an extremely short, skinny awkward kid who wore glasses and kept a high grade point average. I didn’t identify as gay at this point in my life as I wasn’t sexually mature, but I related to other boys my age as knowing I liked cute, pretty or handsome boys as friends.
I was barely out of high school when I had my first sexual experience with a girl a year younger than I. It wasn’t a horrible experience but the relationship felt empty for me. As I look back on things, I was in denial that I was gay into my very early 20s. My parents, friends and associates all knew I was gay and accepted me for it, long before I was comfortable as identifying as gay.
I spent a good deal of my early adulthood being self destructive because I could not accept the fact that I was gay. Even in the ‘80s, gay individuals could not be “out and proud,” as we now say in the Midwest. I honestly don’t know why I was so hard on myself early on, but when I attended my first gay pride event, which also happened to be Columbus’s first Pride Parade in 1981, I discovered others who were like me.
As we get older, we find ourselves coming out many times. We come out to friends first usually, then family and then professionally. When I sought a position on the North Linden Area Commission and introduced my husband to the rest of the commission, I did it with a degree of trepidation, knowing that I was probably the first openly gay individual and wasn’t sure of the support and acceptance we would get.
This year, I was nominated by my peers to receive the Steve Shellabarger Illuminator Humanitarian award. When I stood up to receive this award and looked out across the crowd to see so many people that I loved and respected where there to support me and the rest of my community, I was overcome with joy and pride. Each person’s experience of coming out is different, but we all want to feel wanted, respected and loved. That is just human nature.
After work with my mother, we ended up at the adult store. Once finished, my mother said, “I love the guys working here because they all are gay and fun!” I said, “Mom, what would happen if one of your sons were to be gay?” She said, “I wouldn’t care!” I said, “Well just to let you know I am!!!”
Lukas Shreve (Ty Erup)
I came out via the United States Postal Service.
I wrote the letters, all about a page in length, after a terrible fight with my mother, which had nothing to do with my sexuality or gender. I went to my then-girlfriend’s house in Urbana, Ohio, and wrote my coming out letters. I told my extended family that I was attracted to women, and also was transitioning from female to male. Dropping those letters in the mailbox directly reflected the dropping of my stomach. I only wished for about five minutes that I could retrieve them. But then the real waiting game started. I sent five letters in total and I would receive 3 letters in return. I received my first response from my gay, antique-dealing uncle from New York City in the form of a “tough cookie” card celebrating my new found identity. The second response I received was a letter from my grandmother, who was more concerned about the medical side of my transition than anything else. Last, I received a letter from my Aunt, who said she would love me no matter what.
Fast forward to the first family gathering since “the correspondence” (which is what I have now lovingly named my coming out). I was met with nothing but tearful hugs and reassurance that I am loved regardless of my gender or who I love.
While my family does not march in Pride parades or fight for LGBT rights, they have welcomed my wife into our family without hesitation, and have made a continued effort to call me by correct name and gender. I could not ask for a better experience.
Heather Shreve (Olivia Jane)
I grew up in a small, conservative town where everyone knew everyone’s business, but I knew I was different. I had strong feelings for my friends and even kissed a few of them when I was younger. However, I didn’t know that wasn’t normal. Plus, I had plenty of crushes. I’d had boyfriends and even dated my pastor’s nephew. No matter how much I tried to convince myself that I was normal, something still felt like it was missing. When I went to college and left the shelter of my small town, I made all kinds of new friends. I realized quickly that I wasn’t straight. I didn’t think I was a lesbian, because I still liked boys, but I definitely wasn’t straight. That year I had my first girlfriend and really came into my own identity. I had contemplated coming out to my family but was worried about how I would be received.
The next summer I went to Pride and Bat n Rouge with one of my best friends. I was in love. I was so excited to share my experiences that I just kind of word vomited everything when I got home. I was sitting at the island in my mom’s kitchen telling my dad all about the drag queens playing softball and my mom was building a BLT on the other counter. Out of nowhere she stopped and looked at me and said, “I have to ask. Do you go to these things for you? Or do you go for your friends?” My mind was racing. I had been writing and rewriting my coming out letter, but I wasn’t ready. I said “I guess a little bit of both?” I will never forget the way she looked at me and just said, “Mmm.” Her tone was so judgmental. It stung, and I was starting to panic. We all sat in silence for about ten minutes, but it felt like an eternity. Finally I got up and went out to the porch and cried. My mom didn’t accept me right away. It took her about three or four years, but she slowly came around. It’s been seven years since then, and thankfully my mom is more involved in my life than ever. My coming out story wasn’t easy, but looking back I know that it made me into the strong pansexual woman I am today.
Jeff Skinner (Jennifer Lynn Ali)
I was 15 years young. I was on the bus on my way to school. I said to my friend Chelsea, “I’m gay.” Chelsea was not the only person to hear what I said. My brother was sitting behind me, and then told my dad. I used to tattle on my brother growing up, so I was not shocked he told our father as soon as we got home that day. My immediate family accepted me but others did not.
Robert Brown (Ava Aurora Foxx)
I came out July 28, 2002 and every day I thank god I did. Growing up, I knew I was different — not just in the way I talked and walked, but just who I was. I hated sports; I loved Barbies, drawing and music. I knew as I got older I had to come out. Before entering high school, I came out on my stepdad’s birthday. I told my mom I was gay and her reply was simple. She said, “I know.” As the tears swelled in her eyes, I knew she wasn’t disappointed, but sad because I would have to overcome obstacles that she prayed I wouldn’t have to face.
On top of my peers not being welcoming, my siblings weren’t either. I occasionally got a busted lip or was attacked in my sleep. I started to feel like prisoner. I would be called “fag” at home and at school, and it became too much. I remember writing letters to my nieces, who I helped raise, telling them I’m sorry, sorry because I was ready to end my life so I could be at peace. That’s something I’ve never shared until now. But one person’s actions saved my life. My youngest brother Isaiah always knew when I was sad and he always sensed my depression. Isaiah was diagnosed with autism the same year I came out to my family. I always felt that connected the both of us.
As I look back on my 29 years of life, I don’t regret the choices I’ve made, the people I’ve loved and the mistakes that have left me permanent scars. My mother asked me when I was younger to promise her that I would make a life for myself. Now, I work full time and also do drag. I love hard, and I keep a small circle of friends who keep me grounded and humble. I’m a son, brother, friend and a person who identifies as gay — and honestly I wouldn’t change me for anything
Like most closeted teenagers, I was terrified to tell anyone I was gay. I felt like I was going to get hate and made fun of but the absolute opposite happened. Once I told my closest friend at the time, I got so such love and support. That gave me the courage to tell more people and more love and support was shown to me. I think the greatest thing about me coming out is gave other closeted classmates the strength to come out as well. By the end of my senior year, half of the guys in my show choir were out and proud. I am so glad I came out when I did and wouldn’t change any part of it.
[My coming out story] is boring. I was kinda always out and experienced no trauma. When I did come out, my mom was like, “Well, yeah… and?”
Coming out as transgender to my family was easy. They all said they saw it coming. Considering my mother was born and raised in New York City and my father travelled the world with the Navy, I almost expected things to go smoothly. The hardest part was coming out to friends I had my entire life from a small town outside of Youngstown. Though they all knew something was off about me, they hoped it was just that I was a lesbian. Once I told them that I wanted to become a man, they started to pull away. Many would see me out at various locations and all but run from me when they saw me. That is what happens when you are raised in a small town with narrowed views. It’s a town where no one comes out as gay, bi or transgender until they move away. To this day, going home is like going back in time. You never see anyone different. All the houses even look the same. There are still towns in Ohio that have yet to open up to the 21st century; I just so happen to have been raised in one that isn’t the most accepting of who I am.
When I was 19, I went to Kaleidoscope Youth Center. That was the first time I was around LGBTQ people. When I was 20, I went to my first gay Pride festival and parade and joined the Columbus LGBTQ bowling league. Now, I go to a lot of LGBTQ festivals and parades and am involved with the Trident Columbus Leather Club, where I feel very comfortable!
I came out back in the days when I was young. I’m not a kid anymore, but some days I just sit and wish I was a kid again. Back on August 3, 1986, I came out first as Caleb M Goins-Robinson to two loving parents and siblings. Being the youngest of my mother’s and father’s three children, I was their final child. As a young boy, I felt as if I was always an explorer and in search of finding my own identity.
My family told me stories about me trying to grow up too soon. At age three, wanting to follow both of my sisters as they went off to school, I grabbed one of my sister’s skirts, my other sister’s book bag and a pair of Mom’s heels, and proceeded to head to the school bus route my sisters were on. Finding my way to their bus, I entered ready to go, but what I did was embarrass my sisters. One of them walked me back home. So I believe then I was coming out, but my honest debut wasn’t until my big 21st birthday.
At that time I already was living MY life in secret and wanted to tell my family. The conversation wasn’t so bad; I told my sisters first, where they accepted me still as their same little brother. The big conversation with my mother wasn’t as bad, but I dealt with her hurt and pain, and after a year she fully came around. I’m very blessed to have my family’s love and support in all that I do as their gay son, brother, uncle and more.
August 3, 2008, as my drag persona for my first drag performance and having my mom, sisters and friends attend was a beautiful coming out as well. After becoming Miss Gay Ohio, my mother announced this to all this year at our family reunion: “So we all know who the True Queen of the family is, my son Miss Gay Ohio Caleb Mikayla Denise Goins-Robinson.” I’m truly honored that all my family supports all my endeavors.
I was 18, freshly moved out of my parents and just going on my own to see where life took me. I always knew I had a curious side to me, just never took an action to it. I ended up dating a guy for the first time and it honestly was the best relationship I’ve ever had guys or girls. I fell in love, and also had my heart broken for the first time. Throughout all of this, my family had no idea as I stayed away most of the time. My friends all found out when I moved in with him. Still to this day my family does not know, but all of my friends do and accept me for who I am.
Coming out when I did was very different than it is now. I am not saying it was harder necessarily, but certainly with its own set of conditions. I first came out only about five or so years after The Stonewall Riots in New York. There were no counseling groups to offer advice or just an ear to listen. The mainstream media did not run heartwarming stories of people coming out. Harvey Milk was still just a camera store owner contemplating running for San Francisco Supervisor.
I was between my sophomore and junior year at Ohio State and around 21 when I really started questioning my feelings I was having. I went to the only “Gay” organization I knew of on campus: the OSU Gay Alliance. While they were very nice, they were also a bit more political than I could handle at the time. (That phase would not come till a few years later.) A couple people did tell me about some gay bars downtown. So one night I got up the courage and went to a bar called The Cat’s Meow (now tell me you can get more gay than that LOL). It took about 30 minutes out in the parking lot to convince myself to go in. Finally I did and I was surprised to see it was not what I had feared. In fact I felt surprisingly comfortable in there. Over the next several months and years, I ended up making friendships that have lasted to this day.
Coming out to family was a little more difficult. My mother actually asked my sister if she knew if I was gay and she said, “you should ask Val.” Well, she did one Sunday and when I said yes she cried and asked what she had done wrong. I tried to explain to her she had done nothing, but it took a few years for her to finally come around. My Dad unfortunately never did accept it. But before he died a several years later he did say, “Val, I don’t understand this gay thing at all, but you are my son and I have and will always love you.”
Coming out back then could mean losing your house, family and your job. I knew a lot of people who went through that. That is part of the reason in the early 1980s a group of us formed Stonewall Union and organized the first All Ohio Gay Pride Parade in Columbus. But that is a story for another time.
An earlier version of this article appeared in True Q Magazine (October 2018)
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