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PUBLISHER R. Anthony Harris VICE PRESIDENT John Reinhold EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Brad Kutner CREATIVE DIRECTOR R. Anthony Harris SALES MANAGER Dan Anderson ADVERTISING TEAM Rachel Whaley, Teddy Gregson, Mark Herbkersman EDITORIAL ASST. Andrew Necci GAYRVA.COM Brad Kutner WRITERS Bill Harrison, Tim Wellington, Brad Kutner, Bethany Frazier, Apryl Prentiss PHOTOS Brad Kutner, Chris Lacroix, Amber Galaviz, Richard Perkins INTERNS Ashleigh Boisseau, Aleda Weathers, Amber Galaviz, Melissa Coci, Sam McClelland, Andrew Johnson, Matthew Leonard, Chris Suarez, Chelsea Gingras, Maya Earls GENERAL INFORMATION e: ADVERTISING John Reinhold p: 276.732.3410 Dan Anderson p: 804.335.8661 SUBMISSION POLICY G Magazine welcomes submissions but cannot be held responsible for unsolicited material. Send all submissions to All submissions property of Inkwell Design LLC. The entire content is a copyright of Inkwell Design LLC and cannot be reproduced in whole or in part without written authorization of the publisher. SOCIAL instagram/gayrva HEADS UP! The advertising and articles appearing within this publication reflect the opinion and attitudes of their respective authors and not necessarily those of the publisher or editors. Reproduction in whole or part without prior written permission from the publisher is strictly prohibited. G Magazine is published biannually. Images are subject to being altered from their original format. All material within this magazine is protected. G Magazine is a registered trademark of Inkwell Design LLC. 8

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16 A Day In Drag 26 Liberace And Me 32 The Queen Of Sissy Bounce 38 A Life Or Death Situation 42 What Works In Richmond 46 Digging The Skeletons Out Of Richmond’s Closet 48 Favorites Of LGBTQ Richmond Poll 56 From Exodus To Exile


G Magazine 2013

Letter from the Editor Hey there, Brad Kutner here, I’m the editor of, and of this issue of G Magazine. Thanks for picking us up, and I hope you’ll check out our website as well. But enough self-promotion for a moment. What you are holding in your hand is the result of love, sweat, and tears. The stories in these pages aim to show Richmond as a diverse, culturally aware, and interesting town. The stories are true and our contributors worked hard to put them together. So take the time to read them, and realize some of these stories were not easy to tell. I was brought in to take over for longtime editor and founder Kevin Clay. And while my goal was never to “replace” Kevin, I think we’ve made similar impacts along the way--giving a voice to Richmond’s LGBTQ community whenever we can. Those impacts, good and bad, have helped us grow as a publication; we’ve laughed, we’ve gotten angry, we’ve held our hands toward the sky together and cried foul at the mistreatment of our fellow LGBTQ Virginians. We’ve watched other states around the country hit milestones in equal rights, while we’ve stayed the butt of jokes on The Daily Show. Only time will tell when and how things will change, but even this publication’s existence, and the success of, show these times, they are a-changin’. So welcome to the 21st century. There’s no time like the present to make a change, and there’s no better person to do it than you. Flip through these pages, read our stories, and see what you can do to help make the world a better place. It may be at the ballot box, or volunteering with ROSMY, but no matter what steps you take, keep moving forward, and remember publications like ours will always be there to prop you up when the fight is right. -BK



Fifteen years later, Matthew Shepard’s story reverberates, calling us to confront hate in all forms.

September 27-October 27, 2013 by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project; directed by Matthew Gardiner

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photographer: Brad Kutner assistant: Teddy Gregson driver: Brian King VMFA handler: Pryor Green Thank you to our models Jack Twist, Magnolia Jackson Pickett Burnside & Michelle Livigne. Special thanks to the Virginia Museum Of Fine Arts (vmfa. org), Bioride (, Shields Market And Joe’s Inn ( for their support.



Liberace AND ME

HOW OUR FAMILY CAME to know AN ICON by JUSTIN AYARS, J.D. photos courtesy of THE AYARS FAMILY “You know what the golden rule is?” Liberace said in his nasal, high-pitched voice as I bounced upon his knee. I was a young child, and we were in my father’s Las Vegas home. “It’s that everyone should be nice to each other,” I said, with a level of certainty beyond my years. “Treat others as you want to be treated.” “No,” he cackled, waving his golden, diamond-studded rings in front of my eyes. “It’s whoever has the gold makes the rules... and look who has all the gold!”


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G Magazine 2013

Władzio Valentino Liberace, who preferred the name Liberace (or Lee when amongst friends), was one of the largest icons of twentieth century entertainment. Dubbed “Mr. Showmanship,” Liberace’s impact on musical entertainment, ranging from classical piano to today’s Top 40 charts, can be seen on stages and screens the world over. To pass him off as a Las Vegas showman undercuts his many contributions to not only the arts, but to gays in the arts as well. But beyond that, Liberace, or Lee as I knew him, was a close family friend and godfather figure.

show business, including Bill Cosby and Jerry Lewis. Other stars, including Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Sammy Davis Jr., and all of the Rockettes, were regular figures in our lives over the years, often as guests at our home. Streisand and my father would share meals and put on little shows in our living room (he went on to help Streisand write a number of songs) while I played with toys by the piano. Of course, at the center of this superstar ring was Lee, the man behind the candelabra who had become much more than a guest in our home.

My father, a classical pianist, conductor, composer and musical arranger, had worked his way through the music and showbiz circuit from the late 1950’s through the early 1970’s. He wrote music for and conducted various symphonies around the world, orchestrated live musical acts at major venues ranging from Radio City Music Hall to the Vegas Strip, and even toured with Elvis Presley as his piano and organ player. Although my father was never the front man of any one musical group during the Rat Pack/Elvis/Beatles heyday, his innate musical prowess led him to behind-the-scenes fame and garnered him an international reputation as a showman in his own right.

Sadly, I was unable to appreciate the rare glimpse I had into mega-stardom. Although the parade of celebrities that came through my Las Vegas home seemed rather normal from my childhood perspective, part of me regrets not being older during those years so that I could fully appreciate the grandeur of the era and my family’s place in the middle of it all.

My brother, two years younger than myself, and I were the only children in this celebrity circle. As we ran through the crowds of entertainers at our home and others’ homes (including Lee’s fabulous house), we were oblivious to the number of famous people we happened to trip over. Lee even brought By the time I was born, Las Vegas had us both on stage at Radio City Music established itself as the nation’s enter- Hall for his Christmas show one year tainment capital and my dad had se- (yeah, we were adorable and the crowd cured his position at the top of the en- loved us). All during this time, Lee was tertainment industry. In the late 1970’s, nothing but caring and generous to me my mother, a Washington, D.C. insider, and I thoroughly enjoyed having him attended a Liberace show and was re- around. luctantly dragged backstage to meet the stars. While backstage, my mom Interestingly, it was Lee who would insaw my dad for the first time. It was evitably teach me the most about havlove at first sight. They started dating, ing a good work ethic. Liberace often and before she knew it, she had packed performed five shows a day, each with her bags and moved to the West Coast numerous costume changes, dramatic with my father. There, she found herself special effects and high-wire flying anthrust into the inner circles of the big- tics. Anyone else performing just one of his shows would need a shot of whisgest names in show business. key and a nap after each performance, After my parents were married in 1979, but Lee was always ready for more. He they moved to a big house on the 18th lived to please the audience. hole of the Hilton Hotel’s golf course, in a gated community just one block off Liberace was larger than life. He drove the Las Vegas strip. A few years later, Rolls Royces covered in mirrors onto on the day I was born, Liberace an- the stage, wore the most elaborate and nounced my birth on stage at the Las expensive costumes ever made, and Vegas Hilton. The Las Vegas Sun news- covered himself in jewels that could paper welcomed me into the world as put half of America through college. the newest member of the Liberace He even defied gravity as he flew over his adoring audiences, either dangling Family. from wires or floating towards the balDuring this time, our neighbors in Las cony in a hot air balloon. Lee could Vegas were among the who’s who of work a room like Bill Clinton. In addiCHECK gayrva.COM DAILY

tion to being a virtuoso on the piano and a master showman, he was an expert in the art of engaging others and making his audience feel special. It’s important to remember that while his stage antics and bling certainly added to the show, it was his fingers that were the real magic. And not just because of the rings... although those rings were quite impressive. Not surprisingly, Lee’s private life was very different than his public life—he guarded his privacy and rarely let anyone in. My mother was one of the very few people that Lee actually opened up to, especially after his mother died. My parents’ house had become a kind of escape for the international superstar. Lee was based at the Vegas Hilton (just like Celine Dion is based at Caesar’s Palace), which was right next door to our home on the golf course. Sometimes, Lee would trek the short distance to our place, sneak in the back door by the pool, and enjoy not being in the limelight, albeit briefly. He insisted that people within his inner circle not take pictures of him when he was not on stage (the photos in this article are very rare and I’m lucky that my mom managed to grab a few shots when she could). Lee wasn’t a solemn man, but there were times when I would find him alone, sitting in the corner with a bottle of vodka--Smirnoff--and a glass of ice.  Lee’s journey to celebrity was impressive in itself. Every concert pianist in the 1950’s (when Lee started becoming famous) was known for giving staunch, conservative performances in a black tuxedo. Lee, on the other hand, had a different approach to performing live classical music. Imagine attending a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in the mid-1950’s, where you witness one of the world’s greatest piano players (Liberace) walk out on stage in a gold lamé jacket. That “scandal” began a lifelong career of over-the-top costumes that came to define show business for generations to come. “My costumes are a joke, a $5 million joke. And people love it,” he told one reporter. Rhinestone-covered cowboy costumes, white llama fur with a 16-foot-train.  “I don’t dress like this to go unnoticed,” he’d say.  Performers today, ranging from Lady Gaga and Elton John to Madonna and Beyoncé, have been inspired by the talent and pizzazz of the original “Mr. Showmanship.” Liberace used a single name as a  pseudonym long before 29

Cher, Madonna, or Prince ever took to the stage. 30 years before Gaga’s egg antics, Lee entered the Radio City Music Hall stage inside of a man-sized Fabergé egg. He’d have as many as 30 trunks of costumes with him when he toured, and each costume topped the next. But this man of myth and legend that everyone knew as the world’s highest paid entertainer was very different than the man I knew. To me, he was a hard worker, one who would nearly kill himself for the audience in order to put on a great show. As a child, he would tell me, “Never forget your audience.” Although I did not understand the universality of his words until later in life, that motto was one of the biggest lessons I took from him. Whereas Lee applied his own words on stage, I have since applied them in everything that I do, ranging from practicing law and starting businesses to interacting with others and working to build a better community.  “Never forget your audience” – I hope Lee would be proud that I have taken his instructive words to heart.

delabra. Lee and his relationship with Scott Thorson was a very familiar topic in our household. The movie, which was based entirely on Scott’s memoirs (which, he penned after Lee effectively accused him of being a gold-digger and practically wrote him out of the will) painted an interesting, although incomplete, picture. Lee was a much kinder, warmer man than the character played by Michael Douglas in the movie. Scott (who also happened to be my mom’s best friend in Vegas, since they both came into Lee’s inner circle at about the same time), on the other hand, started messing around and getting into drugs towards the end of Lee’s life, neither of which pleased Lee. The movie, however, did accurately portray the ups and downs of their romantic relationship. I highly recommend that everyone watch this movie in order to get a slight glimpse into the life that I knew back in the 1980’s.

been the best conversation for a child. Later in life, however, my parents told me about Liberace’s homosexuality, and explained how he had taken Scott on as a lover in the late 1970s. Although Liberace’s homosexuality had no impact on me whatsoever as a child, I find it interesting that my own sexuality (as well as my brother’s) is not dissimilar from his.

At the end of the day, Liberace will be remembered for being many things: a brilliant pianist, the defining figure in show business in the twentieth century, a master showman whose style would influence musicians for generations to come, and one of the wealthiest entertainers to ever walk the face of the planet. However, to me, Liberace was just Lee—a very sweet, gentle man whose compassion, generosity, and work ethic helped shape who I am today. I consider myself very fortunate to have been a part of the Liberace FamAt the tender age of seven, though, I ily, to have spent my early childhood was not privy to much information in a world that very few people get surrounding Lee’s romantic relation- to experience, and of course, to learn ship with Scott. I remember Scott be- about the Golden Rule from Mr. Showing around Lee when we were living in manship himself... as I played with his Ok, I have to talk about the recent HBO Vegas, but the topic of homosexuality shiny rings. movie about Liberace, Behind the Can- was never discussed, nor would it have 30

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G Magazine 2013

You walk into the club and there are butts shaking everywhere. The only things higher than the temperature are the sweat lines on everyone’s necks. Big Freedia, AKA Freddie Ross, is dancing or running or twerking on stage at break neck speed, commanding her own dancers and the crowd from her scepter/microphone. Big Freedia (pronounced Freeda) is an earth-shaking force to be reckoned with, and the only thing bigger than her fan base is her stage performance. Freedia is part of a larger New Orleans musical movement called Bounce, which is usually focused on heavy bass beats, loud crescendos, lyrical repetition, and catcalllike vocals. Also, the performers are usually in drag. Freedia, Katey Red, and others like them have helped pave the way for a positive image of black genderqueer performers in the South. The Number 1 Diva (you better believe her), Big Freedia’s message is pretty clear and simple: have a good time, no matter who you are, what you look like, or who you love. But she’s not big-headed, or lost in Hollywood glamour, even with a TV show, “Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce”, coming out on the Fuse Network later this year. When I spoke to her, she was letting her dogs in, asking politely for me to wait for her to holler to get them inside. There’s something to be said for someone who has worked with RuPaul, been an outspoken equality activist, and still walks their own dogs. Which pronouns should I use? Whatever you prefer, I have no preference. Whatever my fans feel cool with. Whoever I’m speaking to, if they say he or she, I’m not offended by either/or. Mostly as she, the fans always, ya know, “Big Freedia, she’s so cool,” it’s always she. I’m comfortable with who I am, I know who I am, and whichever pronoun they prefer to use, it doesn’t matter. What role does your sexuality play when you’re recording and writing and producing music? It definitely plays a big part, because I use my feelings sometimes about me and my boyfriend and our relationship. So it definitely plays a lot into my music, because I’m feeling the things that are happening at home and we live together. It makes me happy sometimes, and sometimes it makes me sad. And I use that in my music sometimes to speak how I feel. Is Big Freedia Big Freedia all the time? Sometimes, when I’m at home, I try not to give all of what I give onstage, because it’s so much energy that I have to give when I’m onstage. It’s like a light switch that I switch on, and when I’m at home I’m kind of laid back and I’m just really relaxed. I’m steady on my grind and working. I go into a different character when I’m on the work ethic of business side of things, I would say that’s when the Freddie comes out. Most people, they don’t like to see that side of Freddie. It’s about the business. It’s not about the bullshit or any drama, just want to stay focused on what I’m trying to do to better my/Freedia’s career, and to keep my face up high and to keep all of my social media steady going. CHECK gayrva.COM DAILY


So I kind of push into two different from my family, and you know, just be normal and be my everyday person. characters, Freddie and Freedia.

love me and they support me in every way that they can.

Did you come out at an early age? Was it rough coming out to your family, or being young and out in the South and New Orleans? I did come out at an early age--I was about 12--to my mom. No it wasn’t really rough in the sense of family life. I had support from my family, I had a family support system. When I told my mom, it was like she already knew. I’m her child and she can tell different things from her kids, so I definitely have the support of my family. They

The community side of things, on the other hand, just being young, black, and gay, there were definitely going to be some rough and trying times. The community in my area was very poor. There were some challenges that I faced. Being called this, that, gay boy and being picked on, fights, the whole nine yards. I went through it all.

An interesting duality, I’m sure. Trying to find a balance between Freedia and Freddie. Yea, it definitely is, my mom, she doesn’t call me Freedia, and my family doesn’t call me Freedia. The call me my nickname or they call me Freddie. It’s usually uncle or son or brother. My sister calls me sister. She’ll be like “sistaa.” My niece, depending on how she feels, she’ll call me uncle or auntie sometimes, but I just call her “teeny baby.” I try to keep the Freedia away


Even when I first started rapping in 98 and 99, it wasn’t very well accepted

G Magazine 2013

World of Wonder. I saw Vivian, one of the girls in the video, she came with me and they used her in the video. I didn’t know where she was going to be in the video. Everything else was kind of a shocker, and I was happy Where did Andrew Christian models with it. play a role into that video? Basically, it was just a good time Does your music carry a consistent video. Ru was the director of the message? What was it like working with RuPaul? video, so any of the background Oh, most definitely. We can walk Oh my god, it was so amazing and so people that were in the video, I life together no matter what color wonderful. Just a wonderful individual didn’t know anything about that until or creed, nationality, we can all get to work with and to be in company of. actually the video was out. The day under one roof and have a wonderful I’ve always looked up to him as an idol, I shot the video, it was just me and time. We can all party through music so to actually work with him and get a Ru and the production company at and through dance. That’s definitely here in New Orleans. People were shocked because Katey [Red] was the first gay person to come out in New Orleans with his music. And then it transcended from me to Rokka to Lil B to all of us. Then it started to become something that the city started to like, but we definitely weren’t that accepted when we first started.


phone call from him, I was like totally blown away by it. When that project happened I was very overexcited. I went to work and they called me so I was honored to get that phone call.


“She’s not doing anything to help bounce music get to that next level, but now that she has been twerking, everybody’s like, “I wanna twerk like Miley Cyrus.” No, it’s twerk like Big Freedia, because Big Freedia has been twerking before Miley Cyrus.”


G Magazine 2013

That was very exciting and a lot of hard work. Maybe between 50-70 thousand people got to see me. New fans and a new crowd, it was a lot of hard work. A new experience for You have a TV Show coming out on me, and for bounce music. I was very the Fuse Network later this year. excited that The Postal Service picked Big Freedia to be their opening band. What was production like? The production was very fun. In the They are fans of mine, first of all, so beginning it was very nerve-racking, they really love the music. That’s what cameras in my face every day, so I had made it happen. to get used to it. It took a minute for me to put my hands on and be exactly I was freaking people out. Just freaking the direction that I wanted to go with them out. They didn’t know what to expect. There were a few moments. I it. didn’t laugh. I looked off the stage, I I also had creative control over a lot was on stage killing myself, couple of of it, so I was able to steer it in the ladies, she was covering her husband’s way that I wanted to. And I was very eyes and all this when we started excited. So yeah, fun times. We had bumping. Old banshee, she was just some emotional times, we had some not well, she was getting him away fun times, we had a little drama, you from me and everything, it was just so expect the drama. The most important funny. One of my songs is called “Up,” thing is real, and I kept it real and and when the line came up, “Who authentic to New Orleans and what mad,” I was like pointing at her, “She we do here with bounce music. I think mad!” Everybody was laughing. people will be very excited to see it. You get to meet Freedia on a deeper I want you to put one thing up cause I’m clearing this up in my interviews level, personally and business wise. and all of the media. They’re starting You just got off tour with the The to use the word twerking a whole lot, Postal Service, a band that really which is one part of what we do inside doesn’t share much with you of bounce music, is twerking. We use musically. What was that like? How many styles of dance in bounce music, did Postal Service fans respond to which is shaking, twerking, bouncing, wobbling, wiggling, bending over, you and your stage production? busting open, all of that, and I just want one of the Big Freedia messages that comes up under Big Freedia’s roof. That is definitely my message that I’m putting out there.


them to bring that back to bounce music. No matter [whether] they call it twerking, wobbling, shaking, it’s bounce music at the end of the day. They didn’t just twerk it, they bounced it, first of all. Now that Miley Cyrus has made this twerking, so-called, video, she’s doing bounce music, period. And she’s using one of the twerking terms--we use twerking as one of the terms. We’ve used that for a long time. Like I said, I just bring the fuel for the dances that we do, and twerking is one of them. I’m just getting that back around, so that we can keep it within our genre and let them know where it comes from. What was your reaction to the Miley Cyrus video then? I was excited about it. She’s not doing anything to help bounce music get to that next level, but now that she has been twerking, everybody’s like, “I wanna twerk like Miley Cyrus.” No, it’s twerk like Big Freedia, because Big Freedia has been twerking before Miley Cyrus. You’re like the second person I’ve mentioned it to, so you’ll be able to get that out there. It will be in every interview from now on.





G Magazine 2013

“You don’t see a lot of gay people in

Shortly after turning 18, Killian started

your personality. Tattoos are pretty

tattoo shops, especially transgender

pursuing tattooing as a career. His

intimate in a lot of ways. You want to

people, so it was a big deal to me,” said

girlfriend at the time pushed him toward

go to somebody who understands

Abel Killian, leaning on a stool in Lucky

the gig, citing his artistic skills, and

your situation. If you’re a 20-year-

13 Tattoo’s back office space. He stands

before long he was working night and

old gay guy and you see me and you

out in a shop filled with burly dudes

day, seven days a week, for free. “You’re

see Abel...” Knox pointed to himself

with massive beards – he’s short and

getting hazed, it was terrible...” he said – over 6 ft, 200+ lbs, shaved head,

his midnight-black mop top is stuffed

of his early days at the tattoo parlor.

and covered in tattoos. “Not that I’m

under a red Phillies baseball cap. He

After completing his apprenticeship,

prejudiced, but if you go solely off of

couldn’t be over 130 lbs. He’s got chin

he became a full-fledged tattoo artist

looks, which is the only option you

stubble brought on by testosterone

with a chair at Lucky 13 Tattoo. “I don’t have, which one you think is gonna be


know if I’d do it again, but for the sake more understanding?” of tattooing, I would.”






The matter-of-fact tone Knox uses is

identity is hard to describe for a lot

He started transitioning three years

of people, but for Killian, it was a life

ago, and stayed at work through the who has seen some things. He’s been

or death situation. “It was either come

process. He bound his chest for the tattooing around the country for 20+

out or kill yourself,” he said with a

first year, and in August of 2011, he got

surprisingly positive look in his eyes.

a mastectomy. It wasn’t a hot topic of office spaces were biker bars and

Killian knew he had made the right

conversation at work – he didn’t brace halfway houses. He also remembers

moves to become what he always knew

his co workers with conversations when tattooing was a much more

he was.





commendable, coming from a man

years. He remembers when VCU’s

testosterone conservative art form. “It’s been a good

therapy, nor did it ever pose an issue.

ol’ boy system – bikers and clubs – for

By the age of 16, Killian figured he was

He does think it has had an effect on

a long long time... When I started 20

a lesbian. He didn’t seek support in

his clientele, though. “A lot of people

years ago, I could count the number

high school, but rather buried himself

sent me messages saying, ‘I heard what

of female tattoo artists on two hands.

in music and art. He dated girls, but

you’re doing and I think its awesome.

I’d heard of the first trans tattoo artist,

never felt comfortable in the skin he

Give me a tattoo.’ And it’s awesome,

Ron Ackers, and that was very very

was in. Walking the fine lines of labels

but then there is silence from others.” quiet and not spoken about at all... You

also bothered Killian – “I hate that

Said Killian, “I’ve gotten hate mail once

had a couple of lesbian tattoo artists

term, ‘lesbian,’” he said. ”It sounds like

or twice, but people don’t usually say

on the west coast – but other than that,

a raunchy party name.”

negative things, because people tend you didn’t see it. It wasn’t part of tattoo to be cowards when it comes to things culture.”

When pressed, he referred to his former

they don’t understand.”

self as gay, though he says he’s not gay

Knox also recognized the few inroads

now – he’s a man who’s into women.

Luckily, Killian had a support structure

where LGBT and body modification

Labels still bother him, though. “You

from the people he works with. Bob

crossed. “Early piercing, people who

don’t want to go into a bar and be ‘that

Knox, or Reverend Bob, as he is known started

transgender guy,’ you want to walk in

in certain circles, mans the chair next

and be ‘Hey, it’s Abel!’”

to Killian at Lucky 13. He knew Killian underground





US... In the beginning, all of that was gay/lesbian/S&M.


before he began the transition, but

it’s commonplace, but originally it was

His family reacted in a way familiar

wasn’t fazed by the process. “If I want

leather daddies.”



everybody in the world to let me live

community. “When you tell them you’re

the way I want to live, I’ve got to give

But now Knox sees changes in the

gay, they think its a phase, but when

them the same courtesy,” said Knox.

industry he is proud to be a part of.





you’re physically changing your body,

“The old guys who have hangups are

it’s a little more scary.” But Killian said

While Killian thinks the transition has getting out and fading away, and the

he recognized his parents’ efforts, to a

affected his business, Knox disagrees, younger people are less concerned...

point. “They try and they try, and from

saying that Killian brings a much-

their point of view, they probably think

needed identity to a culture that has a to tattooing – gay/lesbian/trans is part

they are trying the best they can. It’s

mixed history with LGBT acceptance. of that... that society that lives outside

more patience than I have.”

“Every tattoo artist has their own niche,


and it’s defined by your artwork and

The outside culture that attracts people

of society, because they’re still fighting 39


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for rights and fighting for the privileges situation and you have scars from that,

industry she is so very fond of. “I think

that everyone else has.”

it helps promote people’s lifestyles. It’s

it’s way more personal.”

awesome to see this kind of diversity in There





real He plans to get his scars tattooed


incidents at Lucky 13 since Abel started over someday, but he said, “They’re his transition. Knox said it probably has

something I want to keep to myself

Killian kept saying how lucky he was to

something to do with how close the

until I’m ready.”

be where he was – the tattoo shop, the

employees are. “We’re kind of a family.

network of friends he has. “It’s been a

Crossing one of us isn’t a good idea.”

Deslie Crumpton sat in Abel’s chair

With a confident but friendly smirk

getting final touches on the start of and his work shows. “You either respect

across his face, Knox said, “We back

her sleeve tattoo. She and Killian have someone who’s trans, or you don’t.”

each other up, right or wrong.”

a long professional history – Killian gave Crumpton all six of her tattoos.

good ride,” he said. His pride in himself

Respect plays a big role in the tattoo

Killian has scars from his surgery. While

She started getting inked four years world, and in what was probably one of

he seemed fairly open with showing

ago. She walked into Lucky 13 and

the most amazing moments of the time

and sharing his body modifications, he

Killian had an open chair. She became

I spent at Lucky 13, Knox explained why

was still reserved about the marks on friends with Killian as the professional he supported Killian so completely. his chest. “I’ve yet to go to a beach,” he relationship grew, and was a part of

“Coming out as gay or lesbian – thats

said with an awkward smile. “I’m a little his life through his transition. “It wasn’t gotta be rough. But coming out and scared to do it. Not from other people,

really a surprise, he always talked






but you battle with ‘I want people to about it,” said Crumpton, while the tiny

wrong,’ that ‘I need major surgery that’s

know, I don’t want people to know...’ needles marked her forearm.

going to risk my life and my health to

‘I want to be informative, I don’t want

correct,’ that takes some brass balls.”

to be informative...’ you have a choice

Crumpton appreciated not only the

to get tattooed, but when it comes

artistic work her friend was doing, but

to something that was a life or death

also the impacts he was making in an




G Magazine 2013


Ask ten LGBTQ Richmonders what makes us tick and you’ll receive ten different answers. by BILL HARRISON illustration by Marnie Wolford When Lisa Cumbey had lived in her have guessed? As the Rev. Gene

contracted with VCU to conduct a

Westover Hills community for about

Robinson, who rocked the Episcopal community-wide needs assessment

three years, she called a neighbor with

Church’s foundation when he became

to better determine what it is you all

a question about the neighborhood the first openly gay bishop, said,

want from us. Our focus groups and

association. The neighbor’s husband

strategic planning meetings are now

“Those against us are on the losing

answered the phone – a gruff, older side and they know it.”


war veteran. He barked, “Are you

be a one-time thing. It needs to be an



that woman who lives with the other

A critical factor for organizations ongoing continuum.

woman?” After a slight pause, she

wishing to remain relevant is keeping

answered, “Ha, yeah, I guess that’s

in touch with their communities. A Ask ten LGBTQ Richmonders what

me.” Not sure how he was going to

nonprofit cannot survive, much less

makes us tick and you’ll receive ten

respond, she waited for the next thrive, without community trust and different




growl. “You’ve done a good job with

support. If folks don’t trust you, they Business Alliance is a great example

your yard. It’s looking real good,” was

are not going to write you a check, of

the response. “Color me surprised,”

and for good reason. Donors are the

said Lisa, pleasantly surprised by

savvy. They want to know where their Foundation, energetic leadership has

this unexpected conclusion to the

money is going, how it’s being spent,


and what they are getting for their by this chamber of commerce to









produced substantial goals caused

investment. An additional dilemma begin maturing into a model of best Who is not surprised at the progress

for local LGBTQ organizations is we

we have made, especially in the last

are often going after the same pot at group describes itself. “Much of our

practices. “LGBT-friendly,” is how the

few years? Ten years ago, who would the end of the rainbow.


have guessed we would be able to

who believe the local economy at a

legally marry in 11 states? Many of us Nonprofits must tell our stories in

grass roots level is more important




continue to be amazed when, without

such heartfelt ways; appealing to than assigning sexual orientation or


prospective donors so they can’t gender identity labels,” says Justin





Richmond City Council introduces say no. This task is easier for some Ayars, Alliance president. The group legislation in an effort to bring about than it is for others. For example,

will soon become an affiliate of the

equality. Even with the sometimes it’s easier to raise money for animal-

National Gay and Lesbian Chamber,

overwhelming challenges we have related causes than it is for homeless

bringing outstanding benefits to local

faced, success is ours.

people. Go figure. So while our public members. Not bad. is hopefully enjoying the services

While many Virginians bemoan our


lack of recognize same-sex marriage,

managers are constantly looking at for

others rejoice, believing the recent

how we can improve.



nonprofit Collaboration









element Rainbow

Partnership. Chaired by Brad Kutner,

successes at the federal level have brought



the group represents about 25 local

to I





organizations. Recent undertakings


include conversations with Richmond


City Police Chief Tarasovic about

complete victory. Even the Boy Scouts


of America and the Pope himself have


extended olive branches. Who would

our community thinks. Last fall, we the creation of an LGBT Community








Police Liaison. Some of the CVRP’s

Memorial Health Foundation to fund Violence Action Alliance, partnerships

requests for this liaison would include suicide prevention programming.

enabled seven local nonprofits to

a booth and speaker at the Pride

establish an assault and partner abuse

Festival, as well as availability for






the year.




when helpline, a toll-free means of assisting



LGBTQ people who may have nowhere

came to Richmond and met at the else to turn. (1-866-356-6998) The Quaker Friends Meeting House. After

group is also working with LGBTQ

For over 38 years, Richmond Lesbian- a joyful service, coffee was served in

youth to expand visions of healthy

Feminist has been a mainstay in the basement. Now the congregation sexuality, keeping








feminists An


worships in a beautiful historic church training





developing for


in the Fan District. Their bold signage providers. Involved in the creation

organization, is there for all to see. God loves

of these innovative projects are the

the group sponsors social events. everybody. Why can’t you?

Fan Free Clinic, ROSMY, Southerners

It’s difficult to locate a local LGBT


event with which RL-F members are





Bob Jones smiles as he talks about Community Foundation, SAGE, and

not involved, according to longtime Primetimers. “If you have friends, you

the Virginia Domestic Violence Action

member Beth Marschak. Along with are rich, and that is the main focus


an active social media presence, the

of Primetimers,” he says. One of the

RL-F maintains their long-standing

original founders of the Richmond Richmond



tradition of regularly mailing a paper

chapter, Jones and his crew strive to



newsletter to members.

reach gay men who are interested dream into a reality. Once again, in








and who would have guessed little old

With all the progress we’ve made, remaining active. “We’ve had opera Richmond, there is still much work to do, and the and bridge groups, and occasionally



Virginia a






leaders of ROSMY know that. If ever cooking classes. We cook it and then LGBT theatre community? Hats off there was an LGBTQ organization who




eat it,” he explains, laughing.


looked the challenge in the eye, and

heart, it’s ROSMY. The much-loved Services institute,



to CCCC and other pioneers who






who now fill the theater on a regular

with Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender basis. Applause to Phil Crosby and

LGBTQ youth and their families for Elders




its his dedicated board, not to mention

over 20 years, is now buying their second anniversary. Addressing the

the talented actors who make us

own home in Richmond’s West End.

laugh at ourselves, cry for others,

needs of the fifty-plus crowd in our

The organization’s executive director, community, the organization offers and think about life through their Beth Panilaitis, sees miracles happen

social and educational events. Recent performances. Bravo.

every day. “Our youth center is the only programs space where [LGBTQ youth] feel free




conversation with FBI representatives So what works in Richmond? A little

to completely be themselves. Many of about how the agency investigates bit of lots of stuff, but one ingredient the youth who walk through our doors

LGBT hate crimes. Social outings are

have attempted suicide, felt isolated

bi-monthly. “We offer art journaling, a deep desire to make a difference.

and alone, or were constantly bullied. regular programs that address health At





healthy and caring friendships. They









all of these efforts have in common is Some do it quietly, while others boldly

do-it- toot their own horns and cry for the

co-chair credit. Together, they add up to us--a

finally feel what it means to be part of Shannon Marling.

strong, vibrant and caring community

a community and have others support

which has already moved mountains.

you.” ROSMY was recently awarded

According to Quillin Drew Musgrave We can do anything and we have the

a $97,000 grant by The Richmond

of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic proof. G Magazine 2013

GENWORTH�SYMPHONY�POPS Ever popular and surprising…

CLASSICAL�MYSTERY� TOUR�– MUSIC�OF�THE�BEATLES� ��th�ANNIVERSARY�TOUR September 28, 8pm Erin R. Freeman, Conductor Imagine The Beatles playing with a symphony orchestra! Experience how it would have sounded when Classical Mystery Tour performs live in concert.




Erin R. Freeman, Conductor Kick off the holiday with sounds of the season with the Symphony, the Richmond Symphony Chorus and Richmond’s own vocal virtuoso, Lisa Edwards-Burrs for a wonderland of music and song!

Steven Smith, Conductor Join us for a one-of-a-kind evening with our hometown, world-renowned virtuoso trumpeter Rex Richardson as we pay tribute to jazz greats Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, and Louis Armstrong.

Erin R. Freeman, Conductor An all-new production featuring the magic of cirque! You’ll be amazed as aerial flyers, acrobats, contortionists and dancers perform gravity-defying feats choreographed to classical masterpieces and contemporary favorites!

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Tickets on sale NOW 1.800.514.ETIX (3849)




Surely you’re aware of Richmond’s status as a mecca for US History. However, beneath the common tales of wars, presidents, and prohibition, there’s a more personal past to the River City. Just like any American city or town, Richmond’s gay and lesbian history carries its own interesting stories, people, and lively places. Before Babe’s, New York Deli, and kickball tournaments, the lesbian scene of the past started slowly but emerged as a bold force which has paved the way to make RVA a tolerable city for LGBT residents. Like many in the younger generation, I’m guilty of taking things for granted. For example, holding my girlfriend’s hand in public, being out at work, even wearing pants. Yes, pants. At one time, wearing them was a sure sign of lesbianism, and could get you thrown out of some college classrooms. Oh, how far we’ve come. Richmond’s lesbians and gays faced a tumultuous road throughout the decades of hiding, repression, and badass strength. In the mid 1800’s, well before Tobacco Row was converted into bourgeois living spaces and VCU’s campus invaded the surrounding city, 46

lesbian history was quietly happening. Documented accounts of bold women who dressed in men’s clothing to serve as Civil War soldiers and officials were some of the first inklings of a lesbian presence in Richmond. Some of these ladies who were gay kept it quiet, but were typically strong figures in the suffragist and abolitionist movements. Unsurprisingly, being out in this era wasn’t easy, but it didn’t stop women from falling in love; many lesbians shacked up with their companions and kept to themselves. Fast forward to the mid-1900’s, when Richmond’s queer scene became more confident after New York’s Stonewall Inn riots proved a positive catalyst for change. Bookstores, bars, restaurants, and remote hideouts became common spots for ladies to gather to share support or just have a grand time – single or not. The contrast between Richmond’s current handful of LGBT establishments and decades prior, when there was a plethora of hangouts (not all relating to alcohol), is hard to believe. At that time, in order to meet like-

minded women (and lovers), you had to put forth the effort to find them. Labrys Books, Richmond’s first women’s bookstore, opened in the Fan in the late 1970s. It quickly became a place for women to convene and form a community, well before the days of Meetup and ebooks. Labrys closed in 1981, after only four years in business, but within the same year, WomensBooks opened on East Main Street. However, it also closed just two years later. Throughout this era, bars, dives, and restaurants were obvious hangouts for lesbians, but most had a high turnover rate. Smitty’s was a laid back joint for sporty ladies to let loose in the 1950s. A few years later, and under different management, the same space was renamed Leo’s and became a prime hangout for gay men. In the late 70s, it was renamed (yet again) to … the Male Box. Unfortunately, an alleged-rivalgay-bar-owner-shootout occurred, and the Male Box closed its doors. Lots of history for one little building that now sits on South Sheppard Street. G Magazine 2013

If you wanted to take a short trip west, Tanglewood (now Tanglewood Ordinary) in Goochland County provided a safe haven for ladies to flock after sporting events (bowling and softball were hot at this time). Here, both lesbians and gays gathered to dance and socialize in peace. The late 60’s proved to be a highly discriminating time for the queer community and their favorite watering holes. The Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC) board revoked and shut down several establishments because they were deemed as meeting places for homosexuals. Sounds frightening, right? Like we’re contemplating ways to take over the world. After a handful of these occurrences, the gay community grew a pair and the first protest against these revocations took place in 1975.

Mulberry House today.

Nicki’s, a lesbian-owned Italian restaurant, sat across from the Byrd Theatre and transformed into a secretive lesbian bar when the sun went down. Nicki’s was like In-N-Out Burger’s secret menu--the good stuff wasn’t publicly known. Not only did you have to know about it, but you also had to get approval to be let in. A “closed” sign on the front door was an indication that the party was going on inside. To enter, you’d need to knock, then wait for someone to peer at you from inside and decide if you were fit to enter. Although Nicki’s served as a safe haven for women to meet and connect with one another, physical affection between women was rarely shown. Beth Marshak, a Richmonder who was a patron, recalls, “It was fairly conservative, as far as what people would be able to do … you couldn’t dance. You really would not have shown affection much there.” Even in the safest places, women still guarded themselves. Nicki’s closed their doors around the same time that Babe’s opened. On the other side of town in Church Hill, there was Lulu’s, an exclusive bar geared towards black lesbians. This was a place where you had to know someone to get in. Talking with Marshak, she refers to Lulu’s as a “nip joint” – nope, not a strip joint, as I had envisioned. Instead, it meant Lulu’s served single liquor drinks illegally. Back in this time, if you wanted a liquor drink from a restaurant or bar, you had to purchase a bottle and drink from it throughout the night. It was like a more annoying and less sexy version of bottle service.

Tanglewood Ordinary CHECK gayrva.COM DAILY

Communal living in the Fan? Check. I discovered Mulberry House after a few minutes of research and was instantly mesmerized. The commune, founded in 1972, actually consisted of two houses on the corner of Grace & Mulberry Street. The folks who resided here were diverse in sexual orientation and gender identity. Everyone living under the Mulberry roof embraced selfexpression, shared household duties, and even referred to themselves as “The Mulberries.” Several powerful figures in the LGBT community lived here, including Gloria Norgang, a powerful activist involved with Richmond Lesbian-Feminists and Womens Books. I’m not sure what bathroom lines were like there, but the whole concept seems kind of appealing in such a time of repression. Activism was extremely powerful in the post-Stonewall era. Lesbians, feminists, gays, and straight women all united in the fight to raise awareness towards a number of issues. Several groups were formed, and often met in each other’s homes, bookstores, community centers, and parks. Richmond’s first gay pride festivities took place in June 1979 and included a parade, picnic lunch, and formal dance at a nearby hotel. With the help of the Virginia Historical Society, I was able to uncover several flyers for past Pride events, and quickly realized that technology has transformed the flyer aspect of promotion into tweets, email blasts, and social network updates. In digging up the past, I wondered whether we as a younger generation have lost touch with our roots. Discussing this in my conversation with Beth, I was a bit surprised when she told me she didn’t think so. As we talked, I understood that there is activism, ongoing awareness, and a strong LGBT community. Times have changed, and although Richmond’s LGBT community still doesn’t have it all (marriage equality, workplace protection, etc.), we have more now then we once did. Activism operates through different channels, a strong majority through technological means. When you post a status update, sign an online petition, or show up to an event, you are taking a stand. Richmond’s gay community didn’t come together overnight, and the more I’ve studied our city and talked with those who have a history here, the more I get it. Behind everything we have now are stories of people and places that brought us to where we are today. 47

FAVORITES OF LGBTQ RICHMOND We asked, and you responded. G Magazine’s Favorites Of LGBTQ Richmond is brought to you by you, the reader. It’s good to see people supporting local business, and it’s exciting to hear the opinions of our community. If you run a local business and would like the honor of appearing on our next Favorites Of LGBTQ Richmond list, take steps to reach out to Richmond’s LGBTQ crowd. We’re always looking for someplace to eat, drink, and have a good time, and we take notice of you when you take notice of us.


G Magazine 2013

FAVORITE Theatre Production La Cage aux Folles It was hard to miss praises for La Cage. Our own reviewer, Jen Maciulewicz, might have put it best: “Expressive and delightfully over-the-top, it is never dull when Les Cagelles are on stage.” La Cage washed over Richmond like a black wig on a Liza impersonator, but this drag show had a bit more to it than just an old queen belting classics. La Cage spoke to a diverse audience, and the Richmond Triangle Players hit the nail on the head (a feat they are no stranger to) with this production. RUNNER UP: Next To Normal HONORABLE MENTION: Beauty Queen

FAVORITE Local DJ Amy Alderman DJ Amy Alderman is a household name for many of Richmond’s LGBTQ community. If she’s not at one of Richmond’s gay bars, she’s spinning at a local fundraiser, helping spread awareness for a good cause. And with 20+ years of experience, she knows how to get feet moving. Make sure to say ‘hi’ to her before she heads to San Francisco. RUNNER UP: Eric Clary HONORABLE MENTION: Bruce Mason CHECK gayrva.COM DAILY


FAVORITE Drag Performer Michelle Livigne Ladies and gentlemen, please clear the aisles! Michelle ‘Cuz I’m Edgy” Livigne is about to take the floor. It could be her fierce attitude, her mesmerizing eyes, or maybe her dreadlocks, but no matter what, our readers have spoken, and Ms. Livigne is your new GayRVA Queen. RUNNER UP: Natasha Carrington HONORABLE MENTION: Monica Duvall Farrah

FAVORITE Clothing Boutique Rumors Its no surprise Rumors won our favorite Clothing Boutique category - some of the hippest threads and best prices can all be found in the same place. Be sure to support these local thrift-queens, and take a gander at the staff who are also pretty easy on the eyes. RUNNER UP: Need Supply Co. HONORABLE MENTION: PIECES BOUTIQUE 50

G Magazine 2013

Most Important Local LGBT Story SB 701 It’s been a crazy year for LGBTQ people around the country, and while many states got the honor of passing marriage equality and taking other positive steps through their state legislature, Virginia continued to lag on all fronts. SB701, a bill that would have given equal workplace protections to state LGBTQ employees, failed to pass. Special thanks to Gov. McDonnell for taking steps to remove those protections we’ll keep an eye on this when the General Assembly meets next year. RUNNER UP: VCU Coach Fired HONORABLE MENTION: Jacob Haley Name Change

FAVORITE Ethnic Food Kuba Kuba Kuba Kuba brings us to a place we wish we could vacation to - the smell of fine meats, breads, and cheeses fill the air, and boisterous laughter comes from all sides. Everyone has a good time at this corner hot-spot in The Fan. In our humble opinion, their unique Cuban fare is some of the best in town, and it looks like our readers agree. RUNNER UP: THE NILE HONORABLE MENTION: Farrouk’s HOUSE OF INDIA CHECK gayrva.COM DAILY


FAVORITE Bookstore Chop Suey Chop Suey Books is a Richmond staple. From novels to graphic novels and everything in between, there’s no better place to pick up the best and most classic reads. The friendly and informed staff are sure to help point you in the right direction, but even just wandering the stacks could lead to some literary inspirado. RUNNER UP: Fountain Books HONORABLE MENTION: Book People

FAVORITE COFFEE SPOT Crossroads COFFEE We love a good local brew, and it looks like our readers do too; Crossroads Coffee and Ice Cream provides the pickme-up GayRVA readers need, and variations on new coffeebased concoctions that give the bigger corporate coffee shops a run for their money. Not to mention some of the best cream-cheese variations in town. RUNNER UP: Lamplighter ROASTING CO. HONORABLE MENTION: Lift COFFEE 52

G Magazine 2013

FAVORITE PLACE FOR DATE NIGHT The Jefferson “Elegant” doesn’t begin to cover what a date at the Jefferson is. One of a handful of five-star hotels in the nation, the Jefferson is fit for any queen (and housed one on the Queen of England’s last visit!). If you’re looking to impress your mate, consider wining and dining them here, and give them a night they won’t ever forget. RUNNER UP: JOE’S INN HONORABLE MENTION: TARRANT’s

FAVORITE PLACE FOR BEER Capital Ale House Nothing washes down a burger like a beer, and no one does beer quite like Capital Ale. With an overwhelming variety of beer options and several locations around the Richmond area, you’re always close to the restaurant our readers described as the best place for a beer in RVA, So be sure to stop in and have a pint --- and tell them GayRVA sent you. RUNNER UP: PIE HONORABLE MENTION: JOE’s INN CHECK gayrva.COM DAILY


FAVORITE American food Galaxy Diner With the retro decor, a vast late night menu, and strong drinks, Galaxy Diner could have been a shoo-in for best American Food--and nothing says “America” like fried pickles. We prefer ours with a chocolate shake and a shot of whiskey; luckily Galaxy can make good on all these requests. RUNNER UP: Village Cafe HONORABLE MENTION: Sidewalk

FAVORITE Gay Bar Babes of Carytown Shake a tailfeather, get rowdy, or enjoy some gentle piano tunes - Babe’s of Carytown has it all, and it looks like it’s all GAYRVA readers need. With one of the busiest Saturday nights in town, and a patio and volleyball court that provide hours of entertainment on their own, Babe’s stood out at this years reader’s pick. RUNNER UP: NU NIghtclub HONORABLE MENTION: BARCODE 54

G Magazine 2013

FAVORITE Bartender Liz McGaha Perhaps it’s her smile, or the vodka and Red Bulls, but GayRVA readers have a thing for McGaha. She’s been slinging hooch at Babe’s of Carytown for 12 years. “I’ve learned a lot - and the people, the people who come in are really great.” Looks like those people feel the same way about you, Liz. RUNNER UP: Crystal Atkins HONORABLE MENTION: Travis TayLOR

FAVORITE PLACE FOR WINE Can Can Brasserie Richmond’s fine-dining mecca, Can Can Brasserie, mixes the best of Richmond with the best of France: patio dining in the heart of Carytown, and enough wine options to make your head spin. Nothing says a Sunday afternoon in Richmond like a glass of wine and some people-watching at Can Can. RUNNER UP: 2113 BISTRO HONORABLE MENTION: AMUSE CHECK gayrva.COM DAILY



by APRYL PRENTISS illustrations Ally Hodges There was a distinct moment when I knew that my quest to be straight was over. Having already attended an ex-gay ministry, I now led one every Monday night. I taught about the value of strong, healthy relationships, good boundaries, and learning to replace my sexual identity with my religious identity to please God. I participated in highly emotional activities geared around confession, seeing each other through God’s eyes, and gaining the strength to suffer the life of celibacy or chosen heterosexuality. We broke mirrors, burned the names of those who had hurt us and those who we were tempted to sin with, and physically nailed our attractions and brokenness to a wooden cross. We cried together, prayed and sang through our tears, desperate for God to change us. We built community-strong and intense bonds with those like us from which we derived support and solace. But when we were about halfway through the 16 week program, I began to realize that I could never do what I was teaching others to do. Our ministry was geared towards 1825 year olds who were experiencing what we would call “emotional or relational brokenness.” These terms meant that participants struggled to enter into and maintain healthy, godly relationships due to damaged ways of relating. Poor boundaries, long term effects of childhood abuse, absent mothers and fathers, mothers and fathers whose expectations were too high, drug/alcohol/pornography use, and same sex attraction (SSA) all fit into the category of things that might contribute to broken ways of relating. The ministry existed as a mixture of education, counseling, and the building of a community of accountability, to help the participants learn to relate in healthy ways. SSA was not the primary focus of the group, but those of us who professed it were quickly focused on as needing intense intervention. Since our ministry was geared toward younger participants, we endeavored to be dynamic and fresh. For instance, we wrote the names of people who had hurt us and who we thought had caused our brokenness on pieces of rice paper and immersed them in water to watch them disappear. We wrote 56

kindness, forgiveness and love. There was no need for chastisement as the structure of the program naturally encouraged self-chastisement. Those moments of confession were preceded by hours and days of anguish and self-hatred at my own weakness. Self-imposed shame and guilt over my failure followed. I had grown accustomed to this cycle. As a participant and then a leader, I struggled to stay emotionally positive when I failed to show the healing that I thought I’d received. Dealing with these failures led to some of the darkest nights of the soul that I have ever had. Failure cycle - hatred for letting God and my community down, confession, guilt and shame, shaky freedom, failure    misnomers given to us by people who were intentionally or unintentionally hurting our image of self on mirrors (mine were things like “tomboy,” “unladylike,” and “too strong to be loved by a man”) and then put the mirrors in a burlap bag and crushed them with hammers. Many of these things had a cathartic effect. Some of them even felt empowering. All of them upped the intensity of the experience and forced the participants to focus deep within themselves to work out their supposed areas of weakness. An integral part of ex-gay programs is to build a quick and powerful community through emotional worship and small group mentoring. This concentrated community ideally becomes the participants’ source for support and encouragement. Building of accountability through confession was key. No one was forced to confess, but the pressure to live authentically did exist, and the most direct way to an authentic life was to practice confession. As a participant, I confessed sexual acts, sexual thoughts, anger at God for creating me with SSA, and even frustration with the process of the ex-gay ministry. When I failed in my quest for celibacy, I had to confess to multiple people. I did most of this voluntarily because I believed I could be cleansed of the sin I’d just committed through confession. Most often, these confessions were met by

The moments where I understood my life would most likely be the above cycle on continuous repeat were the ones where I did actually wonder if life was even worth living. I was 25 at the time, and had been grappling with my sexuality and faith for years. I was exhausted. Things changed for me, however, when I began to watch one of the participants that I was responsible for try to grasp her future struggle in light of her SSA. Ashley was a 17-year-old kid whose father had suggested that she enroll in the program because he recognized that she had homosexual tendencies. She had not fully opened herself up to her same sex attractions. In my mind, this would be the factor that saved her. My journey had been so hard because I had experienced relationships with women and had, undeniably, felt the emotional/ spiritual connection that had been missing from my relationships with men. I poured myself into “saving her” and, as I had been taught, pressured her into coming to the realization that to be spiritually pure she needed to pursue relationships with men or, at the least, work through her SSA and be celibate. I was telling a 17-year-old kid to be celibate for the rest of her life if she couldn’t make it work with a man. The same message had been given to me G Magazine 2013

as a 23-year-old. Because I’d been born with SSA, my life could still be spiritually pure through celibacy. I faced a life with no emotional/physical affection or intimacy. The church and Jesus would meet these needs in a holy way and I would feel the void less and less. Though I continued to grieve about it, I forced myself to swallow this reality. I wrestled with it at night, at holidays, in times of extreme loneliness. I cried out to God and leaned on my co-leaders at the ex-gay ministry. Even after the program was over, I begged to be heterosexual, as I could not imagine never being able to experience a normal love relationship. I had set my mind to the idea that this was my life, and hoped my faith would sustain me. Yet, when I began to verbalize this message to Ashley, something inside of me started to well up with anger. I found myself asking, “If we’ve had these feelings since we were young, and we believe we were created this way, why would a loving God create us this way only to deny us the joy of a loving relationship with another human being?” I had dismissed this question with the typical Christian answers: being born with SSA is like being born with the genetic tendency to be an alcoholic, so you must work to deny it any power in your life. As a leader, it became increasingly difficult for me to transmit this message to a 17-yearold. She continued to reaffirm that she wanted to be free of SSA and I counseled her accordingly. But it felt like I was condemning her to life of loneliness and struggle—the same kind of life I was living. Truly, that was the beginning of enlightenment for me. It just felt wrong to paint this picture of life to a vibrant kid. These feelings and realizations continued to grow over the remaining weeks of the program. Of course, they brought with them intense feelings of guilt and self-hatred. Though exgay programs aren’t intentionally designed to make you hate yourself, it is an inevitable by-product. I hated the natural part of me that was a sin. I hated the fact that because I was “defective” and could not envision having a deep relationship with a man, that I would be lonely for the rest of my life. Watching Ashley start to develop that same self-hatred at an even younger age sealed the deal for me.  


The program ended. Ashley went off to school and I left for six weeks on a mission to Serbia. There, away from the community of the ex-gay program, I made my peace with who I was and with my spirituality. For me, it was a simple realization: The God that I knew was not a torturer. He wouldn’t create me this way only to pull the proverbial rug from under my feet and leave me starved for human connection and companionship—a need that is inherent in all human beings. By experiencing another culture that loved God as much as I did, but lived their lives far outside the tightly constricted and confining definitions of western Christianity, I realized that the God I knew was bigger than the subjective rules I’d been taught. In the fields of Serbia,

my questions about the Christian religion, and those that could quickly distanced themselves when they realized I was actually going to pursue same sex relationships. Some people lashed out in anger and said horrible things. Mostly, I think people couldn’t reconcile who I was evolving into with their beliefs. This included Ashley. One of the hardest post-enlightenment conversations I had came four months after the program had concluded, when I told Ashley that I was in an amazing relationship with a woman. It was a heartbreaking conversation. I know the hurt that comes when a leader has let you down, and I knew there was a chance that she would never speak to me again. However, months later, she did reconnect with me, and told me that she had found her own peace. She is now happily married to her wife of five years, Hannah.

Almost ten years after my experience with an ex-gay ministry, I am free. When I look back on the years I spent in turmoil because of the conflict between my religion and my sexuality, I feel regret and anger. The ex-gay program was a huge part of that. I am grateful to have had that experience, as it ultimately led me to freedom--just a different kind of freedom than it advertises. From the recent apologies by leaders like Alan Chambers and Randy Thomas of Exodus International, I recognize that they have acknowledged the pain that their programs inflicted. However, neither has truly grasped the message of freedom for those in the church who have same sex attractions: You can love who you were created to love and still be a spiritual person. surrounded by sunflowers as tall as LGBT living does not equal a dark life me, I connected with the God I knew of struggle and unhappiness. Yet an outside of those confines, and it was a ex-gay life guarantees these things! beautiful thing. It changed everything My hope is that the progression about my spirituality—not just in the of belief and acceptance (not just tolerance) that has been occurring area of SSA. in the brave factions of religion who That was the beginning of my have asked the same questions I enlightenment; the beginning of a did will become pervasive in the journey out of darkness and self- religious community. Truly, so many hatred into a journey of struggle of years of conflict and darkness could a different kind. I was rejected by be prevented with a message of many of the Christians who had loved acceptance. me, but I had started my journey to freedom and authentic love. The first As for me and Ashley, we stay in year was the roughest. In one fell touch. We don’t speak of the program swoop, I went from being an insider in very often due to the pain it brings the Christian community to a distant back, but we are grateful to have been place on the outside looking in. Many through it together, and to have found weren’t able to engage with me on our freedom. 57


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G Magazine 2013

G Magazine #2 Fall 2013  

GayRVA's G Magazine is the LGBT magazine for Richmond, Virginia! The publishers behind successful culture rag RVA Magazine bring you a brand...