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Cover Story: Young and Gay in Cincinnati

Piecing together a new identity

By Kevin Osborne · June 11th, 2008 · Cover Story
  The Many Faces of Pride
Jason Kidwell

The Many Faces of Pride

Being gay in Cincinnati is easy.

Nearly four years ago, a virtually unprecedented coalition consisting of the mayor, Cincinnati's Catholic archbishop, area civil rights leaders and the CEOs of several locally based Fortune 500 companies pulled together to help the city's gay and lesbian residents. The high-profile group threw its clout behind a grassroots effort to overturn a decade-old charter amendment that had prohibited city officials from passing laws aimed at protecting gay and lesbian people from discrimination or hate crimes.

The amendment ultimately was repealed by 54 percent of voters, a margin of victory that surprised even its supporters.

Rejecting the notion that such protection amounted to "special rights," voters overturned the law despite Citizens for Community Values and other opponents spending more than $535,000 on television commercials urging people to keep the law on the books. The group issued dire warnings that the repeal would lead to a flood of false claims and a slippery slope of polygamist marriages and sex with animals.

Being gay in Cincinnati is hard.

It seemed like just another spring day for James McGee, 43, last March as he walked home along Colerain Avenue in Camp Washington after having bought beer and cigarettes at a convenience store. On his stroll home, though, two teenage boys -- ages 13 and 14 -- confronted a surprised McGee and knocked him to the ground.

The boys jumped on him and began pummeling him relentlessly, possibly with brass knuckles, according to police reports.

As the youths beat McGee, one boy told the other that McGee had AIDS, a witness said. The boy's assertion wasn't true, but McGee did do charitable work for an organization that raises money for AIDS-related causes. After McGee became unconscious, the boys tried to rob him but found no cash in his pockets.

McGee fell into a coma. He never left the hospital and died almost four weeks later from internal injuries and injuries to his head.

A Brooklyn native, McGee worked at the World Trade Center during the first bombing there in 1993. He survived that event but wasn't as fortunate while walking some of Cincinnati's meaner streets.

Like with members of any community, people in Cincinnati who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender deal with a wealth of experiences and emotions in their daily lives. Their sexual orientation certainly influences how they view the world and how the world treats them, but for most it's not the totality of their existence.

Still, sexuality is an important component of life and can often elicit strange reactions from a society that often fears what's different and isn't always so understanding.

To celebrate Gay Pride Month, CityBeat assembled a small group of people in their twenties and thirties for a roundtable discussion about what it's like to be young and gay in the Queen City -- how this status affects their self-identity and whether they feel the city's attitudes toward issues of sexual orientation are changing.

The participants were randomly selected, but a few are familiar faces in Cincinnati's gay community. They included:

· Doug Meredith, 24, who lives in Mount Auburn. Meredith grew up in Northern Kentucky and works as a local coordinator for the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

· Ryan Clark, 23, who lives downtown. An African American, Clark grew up in Batavia and got comfortable with a perception as an outsider by being one of the only black people at his high school. He currently works as a server at Budakhan restaurant.

· Barry Floore, 25, a Price Hill resident who works as an HIV/AIDS counselor at the University of Cincinnati and runs the Queer Cincinnati blog (cincywestsidequeer.blogspot.com). He grew up in Charleston, S.C.

· Marakah Mancini, 32, who lives in Northside. Mancini is a researcher for the Service Employees International Union who grew up in rural Minnesota and also lived in Lafayette, Ind., and Seattle for a few years before moving here.

· Chris Seelbach, 28, an Over-the-Rhine resident. Seelbach is a political consultant and a contributor to a nationally syndicated TV morning talk show. He grew up in Louisville.

What ensued was a wide-ranging and freewheeling chat that veered onto several different topics and sparked lively debate among the participants.

CityBeat: Is it easier to be out in Cincinnati than in your home towns? How would you compare the "gay scene" here with the ones in other places you've lived?

Barry Floore: Speaking as someone who grew up in the Bible Belt, it's funny because I came out in high school and got to be the "gay kid" in high school, which is always a fun position. I was playing to that stereotype throughout my years. I never got to experience a gay scene in Charleston until I came to Cincinnati. This is like freedom up here. Charleston, even though it's a fairly large Southern city, it's only got three gay bars and one gay organization, and there's only one Pride (event) for the entire state of South Carolina.

So it's kind of like this is freedom for me, this is exciting. There's always so many things going on and there's always so many people out. In fact, one night, even at a smaller bar like Bronz or Little Bit, there's enough people there that it would be considered a big event in Charleston.

It's the Deep South and people aren't as out as they are here. You also get a lot of transient people there, a lot of people coming in from out of town.

Marakah Mancini: I didn't start coming out until I lived in Indiana. My experience (growing up) in rural Minnesota was that things in general were so closeted there that I don't think I understood myself at that point. I would say just overall, being in a city -- whatever city -- makes it easier to be out. I wasn't even aware that gay people really existed until I got to college. It's been easier for me here in Cincinnati. Certainly it's easier to be out in Seattle than it is here. It's safer.

Chris Seelbach: I came out the day after I graduated high school and moved here three months later, so I never really experienced being out in Louisville. I didn't make a conscious decision to come out. (His parents questioned him about it.) When I was looking at colleges, I specifically looked to see if colleges had gay/straight alliances. Xavier didn't, and actually my first choice was going to be Centre College (in Danville, Ky.), which actually had one. But when I came to visit Xavier and thought about it more, I knew Xavier was in the city and I just loved the atmosphere there. It felt like college was supposed to feel like. I knew it would be easier in a city than in the middle of nowhere.

The people who were surrounding me there, they were great. Xavier's a phenomenal school and was totally accepting from Day 1, even though the administration wasn't necessarily and there wasn't anything in place like a gay/straight alliance or any sort of protection or even acknowledging that there was a gay community.

Everyone I ran into, from Jesuit priests to profs to teachers, were 100 percent understanding. Going through a lot of tough times, especially in freshman year with my family, I remember a nun who was teaching a religion class you have to take at Xavier and, just knowing there was something going on in my life that was different, she pulled me aside after class and said, "What's going on? I want to hear about it," and then giving me the number of her gay friend and telling me I should talk to him. There were so many instances like that. It's an amazing place.

Ryan Clark: I came out when I was 14 years old, in middle school. I was very blessed to have a wonderful mother who is open-minded and had a very, very open attitude about people and thoughts and backgrounds and religions. So, I had a safe space already. Now, living in Batavia -- not so much. I was considered the "gay kid" at my school as well, but the "gay black kid." There were already two minority labels I was struggling with.

Coming to UC for school, it was pretty much the same thing. I always felt like I was on the outside basically looking in. I didn't see a lot of people who looked like me, I didn't see any other black gay people around my age that were going through some of the situations I was going through.

I think when it comes to clubs or bars, yeah, we have those, but I think when it comes to (a sense of) community, it's definitely lacking. I personally think there's more to life than gay bars, even though I'm always at them (laughter) but that's because there's not a whole lot more to do. When I go to places like Cleveland or Columbus, there's an actual community there. There's friends, there's get-togethers, they go beyond just going to (the) RainbowCincinnati.com (Web site). There's always something going on, and they're not afraid to color outside of the lines. I feel that's what lacking (here).

Finally, for the first time, I really feel like I've found my niche and a community where I belong when it comes to the gay world, but that was a long, long process. I feel sad for people who are African-American or another minority that may be gay because I don't think they know where they fit in here because -- and I hate to say it -- it's just so white. For some people, that's a struggle.

I went to an all-white high school, so I was kind of already in the know (snaps fingers) about how to fit in, but when you're coming from another area that's more diversified and you come to Cincinnati, where it's so conservative, that's where people get frustrated. That's when you end up with people leaving or staying in the closet or keeping it on the down low or just keeping it inside altogether. I'm always seeing people who aren't necessarily at the table.

Doug Meredith: I grew up around here and went to Catholic schools my entire life. I was kind of like how Marakah felt: I had no clue what gay was. I mean, it's not even a matter of denying it to myself -- it's like it was a question I couldn't even frame for myself, let alone getting an answer.

I came out when I was 18, in my second year of college. I only came out then because there was an LGBT alliance. They did panels, and one of them was for one of my classes. That was the first time I had an opportunity to question and started adjusting my internal framework and thinking, "This really makes sense and that doesn't." It took me a lot longer than it should have. I grew up in an accepting family, but it was one of those things that was so accepted that no one really bothered about it. Everybody had friends, everybody had extended family members who were gay, but it was such a tiny deal that it never registered for me.

I would say my experience, once I came out, was really smooth. I got involved with different organizations and quickly got hooked in. I think a lot of that is because I drove myself into it. There wasn't anyone taking my hand and guiding me through the process. I basically plunged straight in and found the different opportunities that were out there for me. Some of that came down to the Internet and doing research.

CB: Do you think that many gay and lesbian people put too much pressure on themselves about what it will be like when they come out and the reality often isn't as difficult as they had imagined?

Meredith: That's hard to say.

For me, I put too much pressure on myself. But I have seen so many folks who've strode into a situation expecting their families and friends to be completely open and tolerant to them, people whose family and friends were open and tolerant to other people, who really were very shocked. It's different when it's your kid, when it's your brother or whatever, it changes the game. I personally feel it's much safer to err on the side of caution, especially for people who have so much dependence on their family structure.

Floore: I have written quite extensively about that this is not the gay community I signed up for. I like to quote myself (laughter). When I came out, my impression was so 1970s sexual revolution and 1980s AIDS activism that to walk into a community that's finding its health and all of these efforts at "hetero-normitivity" and corporation-building, I've been disappointed.

The funny thing is, it made it OK for my parents to accept that I am gay. All of that other stuff scared them about what it meant for them to have a gay son. Gay meant AIDS. All of this normalization has made it safe for them. Now my dad sends me e-mails saying, "Hey, did you hear about California's gay marriage ruling?" Yes, Dad, it's on the listserv. We all get it (laughter). It's made it OK for them but, y'know, one of my bigger things in being younger and gay is I'm still trying to justify in my head that kind of gay community I thought I was signing up for and what really is out there.

I envisioned more Pride parades filled with men in leather and drag queens -- big drag queens with big things and feathers and glitter and glamour and less fathers with strollers. It's nice that they're there and I'm glad that all the churches are participating and everyone is supporting and loving, but it's just not as fun (laughter).

CB: Doesn't that reflect the philosophical divide between general gay culture and the queer movement: whether you should strive to be part of the mainstream and be accepted by society as a whole or embrace your strangeness and "otherness" and remain apart from traditional views of gender, family and sexuality?

Meredith: There's also the concept of queer being an all-encompassing label. It's definitely something that's rising. I think it's more about shifting the mainstream to that place where labels aren't so confining. You have the ability to build yourself without this overarching label of "gay," "lesbian" or "bisexual," that you can be dating a guy now and then and dating a woman later if that's how your life takes you. Society needs to get over itself.

Mancini: That's one thing I really struggled with when I moved from Seattle to Cincinnati. I identify as queer, and I came here and no one within the gay community seemed to know what that word meant (laughter). I felt like it was a very label-driven community where you had to put yourself into a particular box. I feel like that's probably the outcome of just the fact that the queer community in Cincinnati hasn't progressed as far as in Seattle. It involves a feeling of freedom and not boxing people in as much.

CB: One of the things I frequently hear from gay people who visit Cincinnati from other cities -- like New York and San Francisco, but also places like Columbus and Indianapolis -- is that they don't feel a sense of gay community here. How does Cincinnati compare to other Midwestern cities in that regard?

Clark: Cincinnati seems so sectional to me, like everybody has their place. We say we want to come together and be so loving and accepting of everyone, but when I go to certain bars or certain places it's always the same crowd. And when someone does come in who's totally different, everyone stares them down like they have the plague.

I'm trying to figure out why we say we want to be open to everybody but when someone new does try to step in we don't know how to deal with that. With that, I think we're dealing with our own insecurities because we really aren't as diverse as we say or think we are. When we're presented with that challenge, we don't know what to say or how to act, so instead of trying to understand that person or their background we kind of just ignore them. We stay in our little circles, we turn our heads, we look away and try to pretend they're not there.

I deal with that myself. I always try to check myself and make sure I don't stay in a certain category or just deal with certain types of people. I'm going to go and try to keep on experiencing different types of people, because if I just stay in a certain space then I'm just going to know what's in that space and not learn anything new.

Seelbach: I definitely feel a very, very strong gay community in Cincinnati. I can't imagine feeling a stronger community anywhere else. Maybe that's just me. I know a lot of people don't feel that. I feel it socially, professionally, organization-wise -- I think it's there.

I also think that every gay organization in Cincinnati that currently exists has problems diversifying themselves. All of them get caught up in the "this is the white male organization" or "this is the queer organization." All of them, I think, strive to make themselves more representative of the community, but it is very, very hard. I've seen all these different organizations go through tons of steps to try to recruit and get more people involved, but it just doesn't happen. I don't think there's any simple answer for that. They are out there, and I do believe these organizations are trying.

Mancini: I honestly think that's the universal issue with any sort of volunteer organization, whether it's gay or not. I've been a part of many volunteer organizations that had problems with that, trying to branch out.

Meredith: I also think the statement (from visitors) is unfair, coming from people from New York, San Francisco or wherever. Cincinnati doesn't have a place like the Castro District or Greenwich Village or Chelsea, a place that is "gay." Technically, we can talk about Northside or maybe going up Ludlow (Avenue in Clifton), but it's a very thin strip....

Seelbach: I take exception with that. I do not think Northside is gay. It may be lesbian, but it's not gay (laughter).

Meredith: But I think a lot of people have that perception, because there are some bars there. We don't live together as a community. There is no queer heartland where everybody is sort of forced to live together because the ability to be "out," in the larger scheme of things, is a relatively new development in Cincinnati. So these enclaves that all of these cities developed in the '50s and '60s we never had a chance to, because really this community got kick-started in the '70s and early '80s.

We suffer from the same thing the rest of Cincinnati suffers from: It's so sprawling that the sense of community is hard to hold together. Where we're living means so much and changes our priorities. If you get a random sampling of the queer community, we all have hugely different priorities because we're all in hugely different places.

Clark: You mentioned the "ability to be out," and that phrase stuck with me. Whenever I meet someone I'm interested in, I always ask, "Are you married?" My friends always ask why I say that. It's because the ability to be out, for some men, means the ability to walk into a gay bar. That's when they're out. As soon as they leave that place where they're safe enough, they go back to being "straight."

In Cincinnati, I think some people are only out in a certain place where they feel comfortable and they put the ring back on their finger after they leave and they go back to their regular life. I think that's something Cincinnati deals a lot with. Some of you may not notice it as much as I do.

CB: Developing that line of reasoning further, do you think Cincinnati is an inviting place for gay people?

Floore: I don't think it is more or less than any other particular city. We're not seen as a gay Mecca, which ironically Columbus is (laughter). But it's funny, I have a friend in Columbus and he says, "Everyone in Columbus talks about how much they want to go to Cincinnati every weekend." Well, everyone here wants to go to Columbus or Louisville. It's like, these are not necessarily gay hubs that we're heading out to. The grass is always greener somewhere else.

Charleston was just rated last year as one of Out Traveler's "Hot Places to Go," and I was like, "Really? I've lived there. It's not that good." I don't think it's all one way or another. It's a line that we feed our legislators that we're dumbing down cities and scaring people away by not offering equal protections. I don't think that's necessarily true. We're not seen as a city negative to gays, but they're not seeing us as a positively gay city either. We're not San Francisco or New York, but we're not Birmingham, Ala. I'm allowed to say that -- I've been there (laughter).

Meredith: For heaven's sake, most people don't think about Cincinnati, period (laughter).

Seelbach: Cincinnati gets a bad rap. A lot of people expect if you're gay you should have these people at your doorstep who say, "Be part of our community, this is your week planned out." I think the community is there if you seek it out, and put time and energy into becoming part of it.

But just like everything else: It's going to take a lot of effort, a lot of risk-taking, putting yourself into situations that you may not be 100 percent comfortable with at first. If you do those things, I think you can find a pretty strong community.

CB: There seems to be a perception among some people that it's easier to be gay in Cincinnati if you're a white male. Do you think that's accurate?

Mancini: There is definitely a strong lesbian community in Cincinnati. I feel it's very much saturated in Northside. It is hard to compare with other cities. I actually had a co-worker from Chicago one time say she was surprised there was a lesbian bar in Cincinnati at all, and she couldn't believe it when I told her there were three. She wasn't even sure if there were any exclusively lesbian bars in Chicago.

I didn't find it that difficult when I moved here. I'd heard that the lesbian community here could be that way, but that wasn't my experience at all. I also tend to feel very safe here, particularly in Northside and Clifton and certain areas. But I also know there are women who feel very uncomfortable and very unsafe even, who have actually been attacked. I tend to look more middle of the road, more on the feminine side. That may be part of the reason I haven't had the problems some others have had.

Seelbach: I know I'm a white male but, to me, it seems like it's easier for masculine men and feminine women in Cincinnati than it is a matter of gender or race. It's harder for feminine guys and masculine women. People are scared of what they're not like. When they see a woman who's very butch, that scares them. They can't relate to that.

Mancini: Even when we're talking about just walking down the street, me -- as a relatively feminine woman, not super-feminine -- I feel safe. I know women who don't look feminine but otherwise are exactly like me who feel very unsafe and have been attacked, and they feel it's because of their appearance or perceived sexuality.

Clark: See, I strut down the street like Carrie Bradshaw (of Sex and the City). You'd have to be clueless not to notice I was gay (laughter). Honestly, I feel kind of privileged to have met the people I've met, so I feel comfortable wherever I am. A reason I do strut down the street is to let people know "I am who I am. I will not be ignored. You will have to see me. I am very flamboyant, and I will not change for you. So get used to it or go somewhere else."

Seelbach: That is admirable, because you're going to get a lot of grief from some people.

Clark: I've learned how to deal with it. You carry all that baggage with you every single day. I'm not waving a flag that says, "I'm gay." But if I did, who cares? I mean, why lie? I hear, "You can't do that in Cincinnati." Who says? Is there a way I'm supposed to act in Cincinnati?

CB: Have you ever felt unsafe anywhere?

Clark: Not usually. I do feel unsafe -- and this is kind of sad -- I feel unsafe around African Americans more than I do white people. In the African-American community in Cincinnati, gay is still looked upon as a really negative thing. "You can't be a strong black male and be gay." I think a lot of African Americans here still see it as a white male disease. That's why I think the DL (down low) situation is completely different for black men than it is for white men. It's totally different.

I only feel threatened when I'm around some members of my own race. You see them walking down the street showing off -- they're strong, they don't want to be touched, they're cussing. Secretly, some of them turn and look when they see me swishing down the street. When I am leaving the bar and walking back home, some of them will come up to me when I'm alone. It's messed up.

CB: Do you think most straight people view the gay community as homogenous and believe all gay people act the same when, in fact, it reflects their own community in that there's subcultures within subcultures, with all the good and bad that brings along with it?

Meredith: Hell yes, that's half the headache.

CB: What would you say to a young gay man or lesbian who was thinking of moving to Cincinnati and sought your advice?

Mancini: It depends on where they're moving from. If this young person was coming from the very small town where I grew up, population 600-plus people, I would say, "Absolutely. This will be a great place for you to experience a broader community and be exposed to the world while you find yourself." If this person was coming from New York or San Francisco or Seattle, unless they really wanted to get away from those places for some specific reason, I would probably say, "Stay where you are." It would depend on their reasons.

Clark: The only time people say they're moving to Cincinnati is because of their job. It's not like, "Oh, I want to move to Cincinnati." I think the only reason a young person would come here is if they're pursuing a DAAP career at UC or going to CCM -- those are all really great schools. I would personally tell them, "Stick with me. I've been there, and I'm still learning and growing. We will find and do things together and you will find your niche. It may not be mine, but I will stick with you and I will help you find your comfort zone."

I think a lot of people who don't know anyone don't know where to go, and that's a terrible feeling. I personally don't think people are all that friendly here just in general, not just in the gay world. I think it's a Cincinnati thing. It's not a friendly place.

Floore: You're right. If they're coming from Macon, Ga., or Jacksonville, Fla., I'd tell them, "Come, come, come, please. There's safety here, there's freedom here, there's something here for you. And if it's not here for you, it's within a two-hour drive. There's not a lot of hate crimes here." I've seen so many people run screaming from this city in search of something bigger and better and brighter and, in the end, it's kind of sad to see them go because I think we can make something here, but you do really have to take that initiative.

So would I recommend someone move here? If you're willing to take some time and effort to try. If not, you're probably not going to be very successful here.

Clark: I agree that you have to invest something of yourself, that it's not all going to come to you. That's one of the reasons I'm staying here. When I graduated, I thought I'd move right away, but then I wondered, "Why do I want to give up?" I do believe the community is here, we just need people to support it.

Meredith: If you're from a small town and you have the option to move anywhere, I would ask, "Why are you looking to move?" If you're looking to find a niche where you can be safely gay and open and have the ability to mold your own life, Cincinnati is fine. You can find that place. It takes a little bit of searching, it takes a little bit of effort, but you can build a life here.

If you're looking to come to Cincinnati and be "Gay 24/7!" and always doing something "gay, gay, gay, gay," you're going to be bored. You're eventually going to come to a point where you decide you're either going to make your own way or you're going to wander off somewhere else. If you're looking for a huge club scene that's always doing something big and wild, if you're looking for a community that's always going to be feeding you events that you can go to, it's not going to be here. If you're gay, here is good. If you're entire life is gay, you could struggle.

Seelbach: It depends on what type of experience you want. If you're moving here for a job, you absolutely should be excited about what lies ahead. I guess I disagree with the other people here, but I do think there's always something to do.

Floore: There is a lot out there that's bad and ugly, and you do have to sift through and figure out who are friends and who aren't.

Meredith: You have to have connection-building. This is a "friend of a friend" community. There are a lot of small events that are open and you can wander into them if you know about them, but you're not going to know about them if you're not a friend of a friend.

Seelbach: That is how you meet people here. I don't know if it's like that in other cities but it seems that's the main way in Cincinnati.

CB: What's the one thing you would change about Cincinnati's gay community, if you could?

Seelbach: I would love for us to be able to elect an openly gay person in Cincinnati or have someone who is elected decide to reveal their sexual orientation.

Meredith: It's always disturbed me how dependent so many people in our community are on the bars and what that leads to. I'm not saying that the bars themselves or the people who own the bars are bad, and I'm not saying drinking is bad. I am saying when the major social outlets of this community are alcoholic establishments, it leads to some ugly things. I have concerns for my friends about where that leads down the road if you can't moderate your own behavior. So my wish would be that we had more open and available social outlets that didn't revolve around drinking, smoking and, in some cases, doing drugs.

Clark: I would hope we could become friends or try to understand someone who's not in their inner circle. Once you start to talk and meet people who don't look and act like you, you're going to have a new perspective. Of course, your friends are always going to have your back, but why can't you have more friends and let more people into your inner circle? It makes you a more well-rounded person. I used to be afraid of drag queens....

Mancini: I'm still afraid of drag queens (laughter).

Clark: Now two good friends of mine are drag queens. I never would've met with them or talked to them and they could've been my friends for years, but because of my own fear and my own notions I never met them before. I don't see them as drag queens anymore, I see them as people.

CB: What do you think it says about Cincinnati, if anything, that we've had a few gay politicians elected to public office, including at least two mayors, but they wouldn't acknowledge their sexual orientation publicly?

Seelbach: That's a really controversial question in the gay community. For me, I don't think it says a lot. If you run for office, I believe you're putting yourself out there. I think those particular people have very personal reasons and they're not general, and I respect that. But I wish there were mayors who felt they could come out.

Floore: I think it does say something about Cincinnati that even though how open a secret it is about those politicians it's never come out and it's never brought up. Nobody says anything. It's unbelievable to me.

Mancini: It says a lot about both the gay community and the straight community in Cincinnati, that prejudice does exist. My wish would be someday we wouldn't have to have this discussion because it's no longer a controversial issue.

Floore: I just wish people would come to stuff and do something and get involved. The rest of us who are involved have to go to everything, just to make sure someone shows up. I'm talking fund-raisers and really any non-bar event. I wish people would find something else to do.

Seelbach: It's just not going to happen, people. There is no getting around the bar scene. It's been there for hundreds of years, and it's not going to change.

Floore: I'm not saying the bar scene is bad, it's just there is so much more going on that I wish people would attend, for groups like PFLAG and GLSEN. I feel compelled to show up at every little thing because they're such good organizations and I'm afraid no one else would.

Clark: Here's something I don't see in Cincinnati, and my friends get mad at me because I'm all about PDA (public displays of affection). I don't see gay people holding hands. They only show affection in gay bars, and it makes me so frustrated. We want to be accepted so bad, but when we're in a relationship and we're dating someone, why not show it? You can see them all the time, people holding back.

When I'm thinking about dating someone, I ask, "Will you be comfortable holding my hand?" I need someone that comfortable. Straight people have that privilege and don't even know it. If we don't seek that out, we're still in some way saying that we're less. That's just not fair to me.

CB: There was a news article recently about a lesbian couple that was kissing while watching their child's Little League game. Another parent complained, and the couple was asked by the coach to stop kissing or leave the game.

Seelbach: That's why people don't do that -- they just don't want to have to deal with the uncomfortable situation that comes with it.

Clark: Sometimes people have to deal with uncomfortable situation to make any progress.

Seelbach: Yes, that's why you're awesome because you are willing to do that.

Clark: Everyone gets too comfortable and they aren't willing to fight the fight. Sometimes you have to raise people's hair. We need to jolt their perception about the way they think things are.

Mancini: Well, you are out in Cincinnati every moment of your life. Some of us are out in Cincinnati when we're at the bar or when we're talking to a reporter or with our friends but may not really be out when we're just walking down the street. There are different levels of being out. Some of that's automatic and some of that's not. There are different levels of the way we choose to live our lives, and there are different levels of what makes people feel safe. So there's being out in terms of being in the gay community and there's being out when interacting with the straight community. Those are very different things.

I know people who have been attacked. Being gay in Cincinnati has to do with more than just the gay community because the experience of being gay involves the entire Cincinnati community. ©



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