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My Story of Becoming a LGBTQ Ally

Strength-based, compassionate therapy for members of the LGBTQ community

I am an ally and have been an ally to the LGBTQ community from birth.

I grew up with two loving uncles and their community of friends, which felt like a family. I also got to know the LGBTQ community through my family’s business. As a “tween”, my parents and uncles opened their first gay bar in Chicago called Christopher Street at the corner of Halsted and Cornelia (the neighborhood today is called “Boystown”). If you know or are interested in history, you might recognize the name Christopher Street since this is the street in NY where the Stonewall Riots broke out in 1969, which began the gay rights movement!

The atmosphere of acceptance and belonging at Christopher Street was similar to the bar in the TV show “Cheers”. You know the song:

“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came…”

This was a time before culturally sensitive language (which I do appreciate today even if I am not an expert in it!), yet in spite of my not knowing the most up to date terms, I loved my uncles and the LGBTQ community, and they loved me. The words just didn’t matter. It was how I felt about and interacted with the community and how they treated me (like family) that made the difference.

As a tween, I felt torn between my positive feelings about the LGBTQ community and wanting to fit in as a tween. I was bullied (as all middle schoolers are) because of my family’s business and wasn’t as equipped as perhaps children are today in standing up for themselves and their community. Because this was a time even before GSA’s were popular in high schools, I don’t recall “coming out about my family’s businesses” until college. I remember a breakthrough conversation I had with a gay student in the cafeteria line in which we were both testing the waters to see if the other person was an ally. I think we were both so excited to talk openly to one another that it was one of my favorite moments in college (in spite of the terrible dormitory food). As Brene Brown says, “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”

By the time I went to college, I had experienced shame mixed in with pride and a heart full of love for the LGBTQ community. My biological Uncle Steve passed away from AIDS while I was in high school, and many other men were sick or had died as well. It is heartbreaking to lose just one relative you love, but even harder when it extends to a community. I feel a little relief when I think about how lucky I am to have had such an amazing uncle, and to have been able to pass on my uncle’s middle name to my son and hope my son emulates some of my uncle’s greatest qualities.

Strange how life goes on after a significant loss… My father and other Uncle Pat along with another owner next opened a gay dance club called Vortex, which had the best dance music in the city. Some years later, they opened a gay leather “kink” bar infamously called The Manhole (in the location of Christopher Street), and thankfully I was in college at this point versus middle school! However, even as an adult, I found that I had to again find my inner security with my parents’ business since I didn’t know anyone in this “alternative” community (outside of my family and the other employees at the bar).

My family’s final business was a combination restaurant and dance club. The restaurant was called Rhumba, a swanky Brazilian place with delicious cuisine that had “dueling Carmen Mirandas” and a lip sync performance by the winner on a veranda high above the tables during the meal. At around 11PM, the restaurant converted into a dance club called Fusion.

Today, I feel a great deal of pride in my parents and uncles for creating positive meeting places for the LGBTQ community (admittedly more focused on men) at a time that needed these meeting places more than today (with the online world and alternative meeting spots). I also feel a well of sadness when I think about the community we all lost. I am grateful that today’s LGBTQ community is growing stronger, gay marriage is legal, PReP (HIV prevention pill) is available, allies and more LGBTQ individuals can be “out”, and hope that someday the LGBTQ community will be as loved and accepted as people feel about their own family- biological or of choice.