Coming OUT is often a long and painful process for many. We all need mentors and role models to aid in the process. Below is a list of people who are my heroes and sheros. Some are folks I know personally and others are famous individuals who inspired me.
Doyle Richmond (AKA Auntie Doyle)
This southern gentleman from Memphis is one of the most courageous people I ever met. Unlike many gay men in the South growing up in the 60s, he was unable to hide his "gayness." Doyle oozes southern belle! With his brilliant wit, gift for storytelling and singsong sugar accent, he glides in a world that is often hostile towards gays. Soon after I came out, Doyle adopted me as his "play nephew" and spent many hours listening to my struggles as an "adolescent" adult gay man. Doyle is always full of hope, encouragement and love. He once told me, "Remember, you are a diamond, a bright sparkling diamond, and even a diamond sitting on top of a pile of shit is still a diamond!"
There is no evidence that this 19th Century British poet was a lesbian, but anyone reading her famous poem "Goblin’s Market" will have to wonder at the eroticism in it. There is evidence though that her society and family oppressed her because she was female, and it is quite possible she experienced sexual abuse as a child. Her poetry, with its deep spirituality, original rhyme scheme and honesty inspires, instructs and invigorates.
To lose a son must be a dreadful thing, but to lose one through the hateful crime that Matthew Shepard succumbed to is a nightmare most parents cannot even imagine. Judy Shepard is a warrior and light bearer for GLBT people everywhere. Her soft, still voice is shaking this nation one heart at a time. I heard her speak in Memphis in 1999, and I am still shaking.
This crucial member of the rock group Queen died way too young. His sexy, brilliant performances shine in video and audio of the groups many hits. At a time when GLBT people were only just beginning to step out of the closet, Mercury’s unabashedly flamboyant beauty gave us a star to set our eyes on and a soundtrack for our lives.
I worked with Roy when I struggled to be ex-Gay. Years later when I finally came out, Roy was the first person I called. A skilled educator, a brilliant artist and a sage commentator on life, especially the gay life, Roy gives brilliant advice. In spite of severe personal set backs through the years, he will not give up in this life. (He also designed this web site! He is so clever.) www.roysteele.com
At a young age I first heard the story, "The Selfish Giant" written by Oscar Wilde. The simple moving spirituality mixed with the longing for love settled into me and became part of my young psyche. It was only later that I learned of Wilde’s homosexuality, his marriage, children and the persecution he suffered as a gay man. How someone suffering so much could write such beautiful and hilarious works of literature attests to the power of the human spirit that refuses to be snuffed out.
Rev. Pam Walsh
This female pastor of the Safe Harbor Family Church, a gay congregation in Jackson, MS, is serving the church "dab smack" in the middle of the lion’s den. Her church does not advertise its location because of the dangerous attacks they will face from homophobes in their city. Pam, with her broad smile, insightful preacher’s mind, and eyes that well up with tears whenever she hears of another’s pain, is a champion in the heart of the Bible belt. She along with her congregation are strong and courageous, even if they say they are just "a little ole church in the middle of no where" They are changing the world.
Rev. Tim Meadows
Tim is the most affirming man I ever knew. When he meets you, he finds something good about you and affirms it to life. As a minister of Holy Trinity Community Church in Memphis, he has endured death threats, church financial crisis and the needs of many broken people. His faith in God and others is unshakable. His great works are many, but to me his greatest work is the way God uses him to unbind people and set them free to live and move and have their being.
I never got to tell Helen that I was gay before she died in 1992 when she was only in her early 40’s. We worked together first in a pitiful alternative school in Alphabet City in NYC and then at an alternative to incarceration for youth offenders. She was a woman who lived life fully, enjoyed good food, and longed for passion, never allowing the lack of it make her bitter. She taught me how to appreciate the creative energy of a transgendered student attending our school, unfolded the mysteries of the lower East Side before it was the "In" place to be, and most importantly, inspired me to strive to become a student-centered teacher.
Although the guardians of his estate refuse to admit it, the Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes, was a gay man. When he wrote about not being able "to sit at the table" in his poem, "I Too, Sing America," he was not just referring to prejudice he experienced based on race, but also within the Black community because he was gay. He prophecies in that poem that he will one day be recognized by those who reject them. He proclaims, "Besides, they will see how beautiful I am and be ashamed." (Langston Hughes' typewriter appears on the left.)
Creative, bold, honest, zany and at times unstable, Rufus Wainwright is a musician who writes and performs music that moves me deeply. His languid, dreamy voice and revealing lyrics probe many places both GLBT and non-GLBT find challenging to explore alone. As an artist and a gay man, I see him as a kindred spirit. After one of his concerts I actually offered a marriage proposal to him. As he signed the tee-shirt I just bought, he responded, "Sure, we’ll get a nice house and a dog." I still have to collect on that promise.