Being LGBT in St. Louis

“Everyone says to ‘be you’ until the you they never quite imagined, shows up. The you who goes against the grain, stands for what you believe in, and loves in an unapologetic way that feels most natural to you.”- Alexei Shaun

There are a great deal of organizations that have been created to support the lgbt+ community such as PROMO, which is an organization based in Saint Louis, Missouri as well as in 4 other neighboring regions. PROMO has promoted equality for all Missourians for about the past 30 years and they’re absolutely great at providing a safe space for lgbt+ individuals. Meeting up a few weeks ago for an interview with three of PROMO’s staff members Mandi Kowalski, Dan Stewart, and Greg Faupel gave major insight into this organization. As we dived into more of an open discussion, Dan stated, “PROMO truly serves as a point of advocacy and really working on a legislative level in order to protect lgbt Missourians. Over the last number of years kind of in light of the new legislation and who we have in the White House, we’re really seeing a strong emphasis and effort towards growing grassroots. Knowing that yes we’re in Saint Louis and things can suck as an lgbt person in terms of job protections/housing protections, but we have people in rural Missouri who may not have the opportunity to even be out to anyone at all. As Mandi was saying we have really made a concerted effort of making sure we can reach and touch people on a personal level, in addition to having our presence in Jeff City and really kind of fighting on a macro level of different legislations that can be harmful to our population.” These are crucial steps for furthering and building more civic participation, as well as growing community awareness.

If you ever find yourself wanting to support the lgbt+ community then volunteering, donating, writing letters to legislators, and calling legislators to become more involved with the political spectrum are a few key ways to help out. Now if you find yourself having concerns or questions in regards to your gender identity or sexuality, just know there’s no absolute necessary decision that needs to be made right away. Nothing is set in stone, it’s okay to be your authentic self and if you’re in need of gaining a stronger support system look no further than PROMO (as Mandi mentioned). In time PROMO can help you feel more at peace with being yourself, being kind to yourself, and not feeling as if you need to be fixed.

It’s easy to feel out of place in a world that often has a closed mind towards someone who doesn’t seem to fit within the frame of societal norms. Everyone says to “be you” until the you they never quite imagined shows up. The you which goes against the grain, stands for what you believe in, and loves in an unapologetic way that feels most natural to you. Love knows no boundaries. Love knows no gender and devastatingly it took the mass shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse last year for the hashtag #loveislove to surface. Love is love hits home for people all around the world who strongly desire and sometimes struggle to simply be themselves.

Finding your way in life is sometimes stumbling and fighting through all the roadblocks. In the case of being apart of the lgbt+ community it’s often the stares you get when you’re out and about like being snuggled up in the park with someone of the same sex as you, walking hand-in-hand, or simply giving them a kiss on the cheek. It’s generally never anything overly affectionate, yet even the slightest display of affection from couples within the lgbt+ community tends to upset a great deal of people. I remember these “elephant in the room” situations or wherever I may have been at the time all too well growing up as a teenager in Saint Louis. To top it all off, the intersectionality of being a POC within the lgbt+ community seemed to be shunned even more especially when I was younger.

Over time I’ve become incredibly comfortable in my own skin, even when I hear the negative whispers or get the stares of distaste that can be felt from across a room without ever locking eyes with the person who disapproves of my attraction towards a woman. However, as time has passed, the lgbt+ scene here has also grown a lot since I was a teenager. There are more safe spaces which is nice to see and people in general are a bit more open-minded. Of course this isn’t the same case or thoughts for others in the lgbt+ community.

As we finished up the the interview the discussion got deeper when Mandi and Greg also gave insight about the Saint Louis lgbt+ scene. Mandi stated, “Coming from a cis white perspective, my day to day life is very easy. I can pass by most people and not think of what I am in relation to the world. I’m very normal right (laughing) ? On the outside. I also think Saint Louis in comparison to most other places in the state is a more comfortable space for people to be out and be visible in their communities; with that being said there are a lot of different layers of oppression that people in our community have to deal with, so it’s not necessarily an easy space to be out in for everyone. I also think it’s not an easy city for the community to be cohesive in. I think there is a very prevalent amount of purposeful segregation and underlying racism that exists. I don’t necessary think the people in our community, in the gay community think those things I can’t speak for all of them. But it’s definitely prevalent in our city as a whole.”

Piggybacking off of what Mandi mentioned, Greg said, “One of my goals is to make sure my biases are conscious biases and I understand that there is something there obstructing where I want to go. I feel like sometimes there is an unconscious emphasis and bias towards specific members of our community and I think it’s really prevalent. Someone growing up on the scene with lgbt and living out in the suburban area and then coming to the urban area; being back in the day (gosh it so weird saying that term back in the day in the late 90’s) it was not cool in my area to be out. It was just not the thing, so I had to find my community and where it was at and the only avenue I kind of knew about was the bar scene. I do find that sometimes our bar scene…And it’s a great area to meet in, but I wish there were more places that we could make progress as a community without maybe alcohol involved like going up to our legislators and calling legislators or writing letters. Really realizing that the lgbtq and just everybody in our family is really our family and I feel like especially ever since the passage of gay marriage I’ve witnessed this backing out of progression of lgbt rights if that makes sense.”

The lgbt+ movement surely has made major milestones throughout the years and the constant battle for true equality is far from over. There are organizations worldwide and even as close to your backyard fighting, bringing awareness, and creating safe spaces for those in need or in search of finding where they belong within the lgbt+ community. It could be your daughter, your brother, your cousin, your friend, or anyone close to you in need of such organizations. You never know what another person is going through. If all you can give is your time to listen and have an open conversation with someone who is apart of the lgbt community then you will take steps in bridging the gap of often misplaced fear for the need to be “normal” and being at peace with staying true to oneself no matter the standards society sets. Opportunities are all around you to take a stand, volunteer with a lgbt+ organization, or make that call to our legislators to further enhance protection for the lgbt+ community. As one of my favorite quotes states, “Now is as good a time as any.” It starts with any of you reading this article. There’s a breath-taking beauty in being the you no one quite imagined. Always hold tight to who you are.

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