A Rainbow of Voices
By Danae Barnes, April 2016 Web Exclusive.
Without a doubt, the LGBTQ community has moved into the mainstream. And, as a result, the stigma around being "in the life" or "that way" has lessened.
Pride celebrations are no exception to this trend. Festivals were once small affairs but now draw hundreds of thousands of attendees. Musical acts have gone from gay or lesbian stars to contemporary, often heterosexual performers. Corporate sponsors are a regular sight at Pride events. Many festivalgoers are LBGTQ, while some are the simply curious. A big Pride festival can be a wonderful experience, but one that may not necessarily help you find people who truly share your daily struggles and successes.
In this piece, Echo reached out to some (but, of course, not all) groups in the Phoenix area that represent different elements of the LGBTQ community. In doing so, we honor their rainbow of voices, and the work that is still needed to achieve true inclusiveness, acceptance and understanding.
The individuals interviewed in this piece sometimes spoke for themselves, sometimes for their organization. However, a common thread arose: a real desire for acceptance at all levels: self-acceptance, acceptance of others and acceptance by others. Each of these voices make up the rainbow that is our holistic identity, and that is undoubtedly a source of pride this season.
Greg Ward came out in 2000, but quickly went back in the closet.
"Once, a woman asked me if I was bisexual, I was shocked, he recalled. "'How could you know that?' At first, I just told a small group friends. But then, I heard about some of my guy friends making fun of me, and I went right back into the closet."
For years, Ward struggled with coming out. Then, in 2012 he had friend who died of cancer.
"I realized life is too short, I don't want to live that life," he said. "I came out to my mom, and then the rest of my family. Everybody was OK with it, said they still loved me. But I was terrified for years. I made a point to show my family that I loved them – I knew if I needed to come out, they needed to know I loved them."
At that time, Ward said there wasn't much happening with groups in the Valley, so he decided to create a group called Bisexuals of Metro Phoenix, which was mainly online or small social gatherings, to carve out a space for himself – and others like him – in the Rainbow.
Echo: What are the barriers to the community growing?
Ward: The community is closeted, and can be heavily Catholic or Mormon. Or a lot of people who are under the bisexual umbrella don't identify with labels, and they won't go to those groups because they don't feel like they fit in.
Members want a group of people like them, distinct from homo or hetero, because they have different experiences. Those communities can't always identify with being attracted to both. People need to find people like them, that have the same values in their sexuality. They like 'fluid' instead of "bisexual," it helps people get out of labeling each other. Everybody has the right to label- or not label- themselves.
Echo:What do you want people to know?
Ward: When you go to Pride and only hear 'Happy Gay Pride' it can kind of hurt, because I don't always feel included. I'm 100 percent bisexual – straight and gay at the same time. I'm just as gay as a gay man, it isn't just a percentage of being gay inside being straight. It's not a percentage of me attracted to them, it's me that is attracted to them – that's how I work.