National Coming Out Day, held every year on Oct. 11, was celebrated at "Our Stories, Our Voices," which featured social mingling and a program of speakers sharing their coming out stories at the Near South Side offices of Affinity Community Services.
Throughout history, Black LGBTQ and same-gender-loving people have been faced with adversity and many of those stories were never shared. "Our Stories, Our Voices" aimed to address that silence through an evening of storytelling and sharing.
The LGBTQ speakers ranged in age from their 20s through their 60s. Antonio King, the administrator for the LGBTQ Health and Outreach Program of the City of Chicago Department of Public Heath, emceed.
Sponsoring organizations were Affinity Community Services, the Brave Space Alliance and the Chicago Black Men's Caucus. Affinity Director Imani Rupert-Gordon joked with Brave Alliance Director LaSaia Wade and Caucus board member David Dodd, "We call ourselves the 'ABC's."
Aavafa Payne spoke about her coming out in the early 1970s and how she found a clinical book on homosexuality at the public library when she was 15. While bowling with her family the book fell out of her jacket pocket and was noticed by two women who she did not know. They told her that she might enjoy a place called The Daisy Patch on Granville Avenue that held a "no-alcohol teen night." Payne went and eventually gravitated toward LGBTQ activists including Vernita Gray.
Michael O'Connor spoke about growing up in the rough Chatham neighborhood in the 1970s and how he learned early that Black gays were not welcome in white gay bars. He spoke about how the bars would demand an active passport for entry, adding, "If you were not white, male, and didn't have money, you were invisible."
He also spoke about how difficult it was with the added burden of Black gay men discriminating against each other. With those seeming disadvantages, he educated himself and began his activism work.
Lee, a trans man in his 20s, spoke about growing up rural Ohio where there, "is a church on every corner," and how he was shielded from any depiction of an LGBTQ community. Attempting to come out to his family, he was greeted with Biblical quotes and confrontation until he went away to college at Kent State.
After a series of bad relationships, Lee accepted his attraction to women and also started his trans process. Now in Chicago for work, he closed his story by saying he was trying to find his community.
Wade spoke about her evolution despite a divided home where her mother was loving and accepting and her volatile father was a strict Catholic. Figuring out that she was gay, her mother accepted her but gave her strong advice: "Before you tell me who you are be sure you know who you are … ."
This led to her transformation which, though met with acceptance by her mother, ignited rage in her father and was the lynch pin for them getting in a fist fight and him pulling a gun. After several more confrontations, with bullets being fired, Wade and her father were able to establish peace and Wade continued her inner and outer transformation.
"I perceive myself as a 'goddess,'" she said at the start of her story. Wade is not only the director of the Brave Space Alliance but is founder of The TNT J Project in Tennessee, a member of the Trans Liberation Collective, and the first trans woman in Illinois to he honored during Comptroller Susana Mendoza's Women's History Month.
There were more stories at the event, many of which spoke on the importance of a supportive and loving family and friends, the difficult task of self acceptance, and finding "your tribe."