Out October: How Was It Being Gay In Bible-Belt Missouri?
Today’s Out October Project post comes from New York-based freelance photographerÂ Charles Ludeke. He shares his process of coming to terms with his sexuality and he also adds a note to all. “Life is what you make it.”
It’s easy to stereotype things you don’t know. Being new to New York, a lot of people are in awe of the fact that I’m from Missouri. Most know nothing of it, let alone where it is. Then when I tell people I’m gay, they’re equally shocked.
“How was it being gay in Missouri?” I frequently get asked.
A fair question.
I grew up in Springfield, which is the buckle of the Bible Belt. And I mean itâ€“Â the BUCKLE. The Assembly of God denomination has its headquarters there (for those unfamiliar, Southern Baptists call them crazy, but they’re not quite fundamentalists.) I’d say at least ninety-five percent of the town is white. For a town of 200,000, it was very white, very conservative, very Christian and very middle-class. My family and I would joke that when a new building was built, it was either a church, a bank or a restaurant. It was a town many people flocked to in search of The American Dream. Maybe for them it was, but for a closeted, non-Christian, non-conservative teenager? Springfield was something else.
Surprisingly enough, when I did decide to come out in my senior year of high school, I had a fairly easy time. Well, besides the typical inner turmoils we endure when finally being honest with others about who we really are.
“You told them?!?!” I remember being so angry at a friend for telling people that I was gay. In my mind, I told that person because I felt a certain sense of trust. I guess in their mind (it happened with more than one friend), it wasn’t that big of a deal. They also didn’t have to live it.
I started realizing I was attracted to men when I was twelve. I had the next five years to wrack my brain over being gay. I struggled with the sexual desires that my classmates certainly wouldn’t relate to. I didn’t talk about how great some girl’s tits were. I also grappled with trying to find some semblance of normalcy (like every other teenager.) In a school of 1,500 students, I’d say less than five were out. At the time, I didn’t feel that I was like the guy who straightened his hair and wore mascara. I was in the top eight at the state swimming championships on multiple occasions, I was on the principal’s honor roll, I was in yearbook. In my mind, I was a lot like any other kid. So being gay, and having only stereotypical associations of what was gay, fucked with my head. But like I said, it’s easy to stereotype what we don’t know. And I didn’t know anything about being gay.
So when my friends told other friends that I was gay, I freaked out. I was livid. Something that I had internally wrestled with for so long, they shared it with others like talking about what they had for lunch. It was hard not to be upset. Thankfully, none of my friends reacted negatively. None. Having grown up in such a conservative and Christian town, I feared the worst (isn’t everything the worst in our minds?) One of my teammates even called me one afternoon because he had heard people saying I was gay and he wanted to hear it from me, he didn’t want people talking badly about me if I wasn’t. When I told him I was, he said he had my back! People can really surprise me. I had so many friends that were there for me. No one harassed me. My friends were still my friends. No one cared. It was all in my mind. I was very, very lucky.
When college started a few months later, I stayed in Springfield so I could swim. During the first week or two, I met some guys that I thought I wanted to be friends with. But I reverted back to my closeted self. They talked about chicks, tits and had bad senses of humor. I even put up a poster of some bikini-clad girl on my dorm room wall! How pathetic. Luckily, I regained my sensibilities quickly. I knew this was regressing the progress I had made when high school ended and over the summer. So I found new friends. That’s when I met Will. He changed my life forever.
For Will, being gay was a non-issue. He was just himself. Like it or leave it. He didn’t try to impress. He just did his own thing. I had an incredible amount of respect for him. I was in awe of his confidence, the love he had for himself and his overall aura. It was contagious. I started being more comfortable with my sexuality, more confident in who I was and I finally shared interests with a friend. No more talking about having sex with women! What a relief. I didn’t have to sit there and act like I cared. Because when we hung out, I did care.
Besides learning to be more appreciative and loving of myself, Will introduced me to gay social outings. We went to some house parties with the small gay community from our school, I joined the LGBT group on campus and I went to my first gay clubÂ â€” S4 in Dallas. I even had my first boyfriend that year! College was such a 180 from high school. It was so freeing.
But I didn’t just hang out with Will and our other gay friends. I was on the swim team, and these were the people I spent most of my time with. We practiced together 20 hours a week, ate our meals together and lived together. Like the friends I shortly spent time with at the beginning of school and with my friends in high school, being with these guys was like being in some weird hyper-masculine fraternity. Guys, particularly athletic guys, are in a constant drive to prove their manliness. Besides their endless talks of women, the stuff they talked about and were interested in didn’t phase me. They were boring. For the first month, I didn’t tell anyone on the team but a few girls. We had our team initiation at the end of September and the guys put us through the team’s silly rituals. At the end of the night, we were in one big circle and the new swimmers had to say who on the girls’ team we would have sex with.
“Oh God,” I thought.
I was last. When they turned to me, I balked in embarrassment. A few encouraged me by saying that they didn’t care. So I pointed to one of the guys and said him. They all laughed. So that was it. I outed myself (kind of.) Another surprising night, none of them gave me shit for it. They just asked how hot I thought they were, and what number they were on my “sleep with” list. Typical guys. I was just glad it went well.
Another unexpected response happened that year (and has occurred since.) One of the guys from that first group of friends I made at school (we were still friends, just didn’t hang out regularly) told me that he was really glad he met me. He explained that before he knew me, he had stereotypical ideas of what gay people were. But, he told me, I was “normal.”
It’s kind of a funny thing to say, and I imagine other people would’ve responded with “What does that mean?” But I understood. It brought me back to my closeted days trying to figure out myself. I remembered not feeling like the other out gay guys at my high school. I felt more mainstream. My friends saw in me what I saw in myself. I do exhibit a fair amount of stereotypes in my own right (my music taste, anyone?), but I am a fairly middle-of-the-road kind of guy. I appreciated his compliment. I was glad I could make a difference just by being myself. Simple enough, right?
Since then, I’ve made it a point to let people know I’m gay. It’s not a matter of “flaunting my sexuality.” I merely want people to get to know a gay person different than what they see portrayed on TV. My sexuality is as different as someone’s skin tone or hair color. It’s a part of us. This is my activism. I’m not a marcher. I don’t hand out fliers. I don’t lobby. I build relationships. I make connections. People will change quicker than laws. It’s easy for people to stereotype and make negative assumptions of gay people when they don’t know any. But when more of us are willing to come out and speak up, then more people will be able to have positive associations with gay people that know and that they care for. It’s up to individuals to make a change.
# # #
Addendum: I wrote this in mid September, before the recent upswing in teen suicides and the subsequent “It Gets Better” campaign. The phrase is slightly misleading. For those who aren’t out, or are out and still struggling: life doesn’t simply “get better.” You have to make it better.
In high school, I had a pretty rough time. I didn’t like or understand my sexuality, I was constantly condescending to people and I had a negative attitude. That’s what made me miserable. So I changed myself. I began to accept the fact that I was gay, I started treating people with respect and I tried my best to find the positivity in every situation. I love to laugh and smile; it completely changed my mood.
Life got better because I put in the effort to make my life better. I found the things in my life that I love and surrounded myself with them. I found the things that weighed me down and rid myself of those. I love my life, but I wouldn’t if I hadn’t taken steps and time to make it the way it is. Like Ru Paul says, “If you don’t love yourself, then how the hell will anyone else?” It’s true. I learned to love myself, now plenty of people love me too. If you want your life to be better, make it better. You’re the only one who can do it.
You can follow Charles on Twitter.
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RIGHT WING EXTREMISM
‘Fail’: Critics Blast Youngkin for Claim Trump Is a Victim of ‘Politically Motivated Actions’ Just Like ‘Parents in Virginia’
Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, a possible 2024 presidential candidate, is under fire after remarks he made Friday morning defending Donald Trump after the ex-president was indicted on what has now been revealed to be 37 federal felony counts related to the Dept. of Justice’s criminal probe into his handling of hundreds of classified and top secret documents.
Youngkin Friday suggested that the prosecution of Donald Trump, which includes Espionage Act charges, conspiracy charges, and obstruction of justice charges among others, was just like the alleged prosecution of parents.
Gov. Youngkin, often wrongly portrayed in the media as a moderate Republican, may have been attempting to invoke the false yet viral far-right claim that Attorney General Merrick Garland was investigating and prosecuting parents for merely speaking at school board meetings. That claim came about after Garland issued a letter asking the Bureau to come up with strategies to address violence and violent threats directed at school board members. Some who have promoted that erroneous claim, including Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, have falsely claimed Garland called ordinary parents “terrorists.”
On Friday, Youngkin tweeted about the Trump indictment, saying, “These charges are unprecedented and it’s a sad day for our country, especially in light of what clearly appears to be a two-tiered justice system where some are selectively prosecuted, and others are not.”
“Parents in Virginia know firsthand what it’s like to be targeted by politically motivated actions,” he added.
“Regardless of your party, this undermines faith in our judicial system at exactly the time when we should be working to restore that trust,” Youngkin concluded, remarks that themselves could undermine faith in our judicial system.
Days before his election, Youngkin also promoted the false Garland claim, even after the Attorney General that same day explained to the Senate Judiciary Committee his letter directed the FBI to investigate not ordinary parents, but people who were organizing attacks on school board members.
Candidate Youngkin appeared on Fox News in October 0f 2021 (video below) and falsely told Tucker Carlson, “What happened today was, of course, Merrick Garland doubled down. He said, ‘No, I’m absolutely maintaining my position that the DOJ and the FBI should be investigating parents.’ Parents who are trying to stand up for their children when there’s been a sexual assault in a school bathroom. We have a board of education and in Loudoun County that tried to hide it from parents, hide it from hiding from the public, and they move this child into another school and then that child again committed another sexual assault.”
READ MORE: DOJ Unseals 37-Count Trump Criminal Indictment – Legal Expert Calls It ‘Egregious’ and ‘Devastating’ (Full Text)
Youngkin made education and “parents’ rights” a campaign issue when he ran in 2021. His opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, during a debate said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” While experts claim it didn’t swing the election for Youngkin, it at least established him nationally as focused on education and “parental rights,” a mantle Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis quickly co-opted.
The Washington Post, alternatively, on Friday focused on Youngkin’s “two-tiered justice” remarks, reporting: “Youngkin’s suggestion that a rich White man — he didn’t actually name Trump — had been victimized by a ‘two-tiered justice system’ drew fierce pushback, with many critics noting the governor’s opposition to the notion that racial and ethnic minorities face systemic racism. The Republican won the governorship on a promise to purge ‘critical race theory’ from K-12 classrooms, though it was not part of any curriculum. Once in office, Youngkin launched a tip line for parents to report on teachers discussing ‘inherently divisive’ concepts in schools.”
Youngkin, who technically is a “populist conservative” but swings far-right on social issues, was quickly chastised for his tweet.
“You know what you are staying is wrong and incendiary. Shame on you,” declared former CIA officer John Sipher. “These charges stemmed from a grand [jury] of Florida citizens. Trump will have access to a Fair process. But instead you spread information to anger and confuse people. You are stoking misinformation and violence.”
READ MORE: SCOTUS ‘Surprise’ Voting Rights Decision Could – and Did – Have Big Implications for Democrats, Legal Experts Say
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes took a different approach, mocking the Virginia Republican.
“It’s the pivot to ‘Parents in Virginia…’ in the third sentence that elevates this to art,” he wrote.
“The moderate, genial suburban dad in a fleece vest suggests that the only way to restore confidence in the justice system is to place Trump above the law,” wrote The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, also mocking Youngkin.
“Youngkin is pro-Trump, as usual–even though Virginia voted heavily AGAINST Trump in both 2016 and 2020. When it comes to Donald Trump, Liz Cheney has more courage in her pinky than Youngkin does in his whole body,” observed Larry Sabato, the well-known professor of politics, political analyst, and founder and director of University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
The vice president of research for the liberal super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, Liz Charboneau, called Youngkin’s tweet an “especially stupid statement when a large portion of your state has a security clearance, handles classified documents, and has never been charged under the espionage act.”
Conservative Mona Charen, a syndicated columnist and Policy Editor at The Bulwark: “So here’s our answer as to whether Youngkin is a man of character. Fail.”
The Lincoln Project’s Michelle Kinney tweeted, “Youngkin twisting himself into pretzel to weave a vaguebook repudiation of Trump indictment and his weirdo anti vaxx anti trans ‘parents rights’ obsession into one tweet. It reads like Veep dialogue.”
Historian, professor, Holocaust expert Dr. Waitman Wade Beorn tweeted, “Hey dude, the Pentagon is literally in your state. Maybe stop in and have a chat…”
Watch the video above or at this link.
Watch Live: Special Counsel Jack Smith Holds News Conference After Trump Criminal Indictment Unsealed
Special Counsel Jack Smith will hold a news conference Friday at 3:00 PM ET, after the U.S. Dept. of Justice unsealed its 49-page 37-criminal count indictment against Donald Trump. The indictment also names a Trump aide.
Legal experts reviewing the indictment were stunned at not only the level of detail but the manner in which Trump treated classified documents, including allegedly storing them in boxes on the stage at Mar-a-Lago, in a bathroom, a shower, and a bedroom.
Former Dept. of Defense special Counsel Ryan Goodman, now an NYU professor of law, calls the indictment “devastating,” and concludes: “Extraordinary risks to U.S. national security. Foreign adversaries would pay tens of millions for that info.”
READ MORE: ‘Disgraced’ Trump-Appointed Florida Judge Initially Assigned to Oversee Ex-President’s Criminal Case: Report
Smith, who was appointed by Donald Trump as an acting U.S. Attorney, also prosecuted war crimes cases at The Hague. he also was the head of the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section.
Watch video of his full news conference below or at this link.
WATCH: Complete statement from Special Counsel Jack Smith: “Today an indictment was unsealed charging Donald J. Trump with felony violations of our national security laws as well as participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice.” pic.twitter.com/llUlrvpVe4
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 9, 2023
This article has been updated to include full video of the completed news conference.
'EXTRAORDINARY RISKS TO U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY'
DOJ Unseals 37-Count Trump Criminal Indictment – Legal Expert Calls It ‘Egregious’ and ‘Devastating’ (Full Text)
The U.S. Dept. of Justice has unsealed its 37-criminal count, 49-page indictment in its case against Donald J. Trump, which includes the previously unknown and damning charge that the ex-president showed classified information to people who were not authorized to see them. One legal expert says America’s enemies would pay “tens of millions of dollars” for the classified documents.”
The indictment includes a Trump aide known in previous news reports as Walt Nauta.
“Dissemination is a much more serious crime,” former top DOJ official Andrew Weissmann said on MSNBC, referring to even allowing someone to see classified information.
READ MORE: ‘Disgraced’ Trump-Appointed Florida Judge Initially Assigned to Oversee Ex-President’s Criminal Case: Report
Two of the critical passages alleging dissemination:
“In July 2021, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey (‘The Bedminster Club’), during an audio-recorded meeting with a writer, a publisher, and two members of his staff, none of whom possessed a security clearance, TRUMP showed and described a ‘plan of attack’ that TRUMP said was prepared for him by the Department of Defense and a senior military official. TRUMP told the individuals that the plan was ‘highly confidential’ and ‘secret.’ TRUMP also said, ‘as president I could have declassified it,’ and, ‘Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.'”
“In August or September 2021, at The Bedminster Club, TRUMP showed a representative of his political action committee who did not possess a security clearance a classified map related to a military operation and told the representative that he should not be showing it to the representative and that the representative should not get too close.”
Politico’s Sam Stein points to this photo in the indictment that allegedly shows dozens of boxes of documents “stacked on the ballroom stage at Mar-a-Lago.”
Trump, for a period of time, stacked boxes from his time at the White House on a ballroom stage at Mar-a-Lago pic.twitter.com/uEO9WMrH2j
— Sam Stein (@samstein) June 9, 2023
Another damning passage of the indictment states:
“The classified documents TRUMP stored in his boxes included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack. The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods.”
Former Dept. of Defense special Counsel Ryan Goodman, now an NYU professor of law, calls the indictment “devastating.”
“I have looked at all prior prosecutions under the Espionage Act and have never seen egregious facts like this,” hew writes. “Trump ‘stored his boxes containing classified documents .. in a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom, and a storage room.'”
Goodman concludes, “Extraordinary risks to U.S. national security. Foreign adversaries would pay tens of millions for that info.”
Special Counsel Jack Smith will speak to the media at 3 PM ET.
Read the full indictment below or at this link.
The United States of Americ… by ABC News Politics
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