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Out October: How Was It Being Gay In Bible-Belt Missouri?

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Today’s Out October Project post comes from New York-based freelance photographer 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 it– 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 club  — 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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News

‘You Better Start Packing Now’: Trump’s Former ICE Chief at RNC Vows to Deport ‘Millions’

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As a sea of GOP delegates at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night waved pre-printed signs demanding “mass deportation now!” Tom Homan, who served as Donald Trump’s Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), promised in a second Trump administration he will deport “millions” of undocumented immigrants.

Homan, who in 2022 accepted a speaking invitation at a white supremacist conference organized by Nick Fuentes, at one point directed his remarks to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

“I got a message to the millions of illegal aliens that Joe Biden released in our country in violation of federal law. You better start packing now,” he warned as the GOP crowded erupted into loud cheers. “You’re damn right. ‘Cause you’re going home.”

Calling Trump – who has appeared with a large bandage on his ear after an assassination attempt Saturday – a “warrior” who’s “gonna make America safe again,” Homan then declared, “I got another message. Another message to the criminal cartels in Mexico.”

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“You’ve smuggled enough fentanyl across this country to kill 148,000 young Americans. You have killed more Americans than every terrorist organization in the world combined. and when President Trump is back in office he’s gonna designate you a terrorist organization and he’s gonna wipe you off the face of the earth.”

“You’re done. You’re done.”

The vast majority of fentanyl “overwhelmingly” is smuggled through official U.S. points of entry by U.S. citizens for U.S. citizens, according to the CATO Institute, which states clearly: “U.S. Citizens Are Fentanyl Traffickers.”

“Only two years ago,” HuffPost on Wednesday reported, “Homan was invited to speak at a much smaller event: the America First Political Action Conference, a white supremacist confab organized by Nick Fuentes, the head of the deeply racist and antisemitic ‘groyper’ movement. HuffPost first reported that Homan was scheduled to speak at the 2022 event, with Homan explaining that his assistant had arranged his appearance and that they may have confused Fuentes’ group with another right-wing group. In his telling, it was only when Homan was actually at AFPAC, sitting at a table preparing his remarks, that he decided to do a Google search for Fuentes’ name.”

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After doing some research at the event, Homan “got up and left” before it began.

HuffPost spoke with Homan at the time, and reported he “reiterat[ed] that he’s not racist. But a few minutes later, he called HuffPost to make a clarification. ‘I’m not saying this is a bad group,’ he said of Fuentes and the groypers. ‘I’m saying I don’t know.’ ”

Project 2025, the Heritage Foundation’s massive 920-page blueprint, has been called “a scheme to put virtually unlimited power in the hands of an authoritarian president, with mass firings of civil servants and the elimination of an independent Justice Department. It would cement in place a far-right, Christian nationalist, ‘biblical’ worldview as the foundation for law and policy.”

It calls for mass deportations, according to The New York Times.

“Besides being cruel,” Washington Monthly reported in May, “deporting 11 million unauthorized immigrants would cause labor shortages and slash national wage and salary income, likely triggering a recession and reigniting inflation.”

Watch the videos above or at this link.

READ MORE: ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’: RNC’s ‘Chilling’ MAGA Chant Echoes Trump – and ‘1930’s Germany’

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‘Wake Up People’: Trump ‘Elevating Criminals’ as MAGA Wants to ‘Wreck America’ Says Expert

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Dr. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, the noted expert on authoritarianism, fascism, and propaganda is sounding the alarm on Donald Trump, MAGA, the 2024 presidential election, and events surrounding the Republican National Convention.

“Wake up people. Trump is the most skilled propagandist in history,” Ben-Ghiat, an NYU professor of history and an MSNBC opinion columnist, wrote, noting he “did not need a crisis or one-party state to get millions to believe he won the 2020 election & see Jan 6 & strongman rule as positive.”

“He built a personality cult & indoctrinated thru disinfo & mass marketing,” she added.

Ben-Ghiat, who is also an advisor to the nonprofit, nonpartisan group Protect Democracy, was responding to professor of international relations Nicholas Grossman’s remarks:

“If the United States loses its democracy, it’ll be the dumbest slide into authoritarianism in history. Others cases had mass unemployment, a major war, something. None have done it with low unemployment, rising real wages, declining crime, and no troops fighting in foreign wars,” he wrote.

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Grossman was replying to international affairs columnist Doug Saunders of The Globe and Mail, who had observed, “For the first time in 23 years the USA isn’t at war. It’s experiencing full employment and rising living standards not seen in decades. Crime and violence are falling to record lows. It’s energy independent. Yet its leading candidate goes on about ‘civilizational collapse.’ ”

Ben-Ghiat also weighed in on remarks by economist Anders Åslund, who had written, “Elon Musk has promised Trump $45 million a month! An extraordinary amount. Why? Because Trump wants to prolong his tax breaks for billionaires – worth circa $4 trillion (!) over a decade. This will break US public finances, but Musk & other ruthless billionaires don’t care.”

“The point of MAGA,” she responded, “is to wreck America so autocrats –Trump’s allies–can prosper. Don’t believe me? Listen to Trump in VA on 6/29: ‘If you have a smart president, they’re not enemies. You’ll make them do great.’ He was speaking about Russia, China, and North Korea.”

She also responded to attorney and SiriusXM host Dean Obeidallah’s post that former top Trump White House advisor Peter Navarro is being released from prison Wednesday and just hours later will speak at the Republican National Convention. Navarro is a conspiracy theorist and fringe economist who refused two lawful congressional subpoenas, was found guilty and sentenced to four months in jail.

“Trump’s agenda, as with all autocrats, is to replace rule of law with rule by the lawless,” Ben-Ghiat replied. “Elevating criminals to positions of prominence within the party is part of that.”

In an interview published Saturday in The Guardian on the threat of authoritarianism in America, Ben-Ghiat warned: “It is a democratic emergency.”

Ben-Ghiat is the author of several book including “Strongmen: How They Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall,” and “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present.”

READ MORE: ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’: RNC’s ‘Chilling’ MAGA Chant Echoes Trump – and ‘1930’s Germany’

 

 

 

 

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‘What Caused Trump’s Injury?’: Campaign Silent as Attempted Assassination Questions Mount

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Four days after a 20-year old registered Republican shot at Donald Trump at an outdoor campaign rally, killing one man and wounding three others including the ex-president, questions continue to grow as the Trump campaign stays silent.

Trump on Saturday appeared to touch his ear, which moments later was seen covered in blood. The Secret Service is now under investigation. Trump had enough time to mouth “fight!” and pump his fists at the crowd, giving photographers the opportunity to take what are being called “iconic” images of the shooting. Trump even repeatedly demanded agents wait for him to find his shoes before pulling him to safety.

A CNN transcript shows Trump saying four times, “Let me get my shoes.”

To date, not a single physician who treated Trump at the local hospital has addressed the press with any medical information on the 78-year old who this week officially became the Republican Party nominee for president.

The New York Times on Tuesday reported U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX), the disgraced former Physician to the President, said he traveled from Texas to Bedminster, New Jersey to be with Trump at his private golf course, arriving at 4:30 AM Sunday. According to The Times, Jackson “replaced the dressing on the former president’s ear on a flight to Milwaukee for the Republican National Convention.”

Jackson told The Times, “The bullet took a little bit off the top of his ear in an area that, just by nature, bleeds like crazy.” That was the extent of his medical remarks.

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The Daily Beast adds Jackson spoke to far-right wing commentator Benny Johnson on Monday.

“Jackson was not at the rally in Pennsylvania, but previously said his nephew attended and was grazed by a stray bullet while sitting in the former president’s ‘friends and family’ section.”

“It was far enough away from his head that there was no concussive effect from the bullet, and it just took the top of his ear off,” Jackson said.

The Trump campaign has not released any medical reports, nor has it cited or directed reporters to Congressman Jackson’s remarks.

“So journalists who demanded detailed medical information about examinations of President Biden just… don’t care to hear from any actual medical personnel about the injury sustained by the former President Trump after an assassination attempt? This is insane,” declared civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill Wednesday morning. Ifill is a professor of law and the former president of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund.

“I have many questions!” responded MSNBC anchor Joy Reid. “Like where are the medical reports? What caused Trump’s injury and what was the injury? Sheapnel? [sic] Glass? A bullet? Where were the three attendees who were shot seated or standing relative to Trump? Why was Trump allowed to stand and pose for photos, fist pumping for nearly ten seconds while asking about his shoe when there could easily havs [sic] been additional shooters? How did the gunman manage to get on the roof of the building WHERE THE LOCAL POLICE WERE LITERALLY INSIDE?”

Reid wasn’t done.

“More questions,” she continued, “does it make sense that a 17 year old who three year[s] later is a member of a far right gun group donated to any political organization, let alone @actblueorg??? Has the organization verified that? And where is this supposed ladder? Did he seriously bring a five foot ladder with him and his AR? Really? And why haven’t authorities released information about all three civilian victims, including a schematic of where they were standing or sitting?”

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Questions have swirled about a report of a $15 donation to a progressive group on January 20, 2021 – the day Joe Biden was inaugurated President. According to Snopes, a report that that donation came from a different Thomas Crooks, a 69-year old, are false.

“Thomas Crooks, the 20-year-old man who attempted to assassinate former U.S. President Donald Trump, once donated money to a political action committee aligned with the Democratic Party,” Snopes reports the claim, deeming it true.

Political commentator Bob Cesca on Wednesday quoted from this NBC News report that reads: “A Trump adviser on Tuesday declined to answer specific questions about the former president’s injury, telling NBC News that any statements about Trump’s health, his condition and medical care related to his ear would come directly from the former president.”

Cesca asks, “What’s he concealing?”

“Exactly, replied attorney and legal analyst Jeffrey Evan Gold.

“5 days after the event
No medical briefing.
No medical reports.
No doctor has come forth to even be interviewed in any publication.
Never seen anything like it in any mass shooting.”

“It has been several days since Trump was injured,” observed national security attorney Brad Moss Wednesday morning. “No medical reports. No statements from doctors. Nothing. And the media is barely talking about it, instead discussing an imaginary ‘pivot’.”

Former Republican U.S. Congressman Joe Walsh said, “No medical reports. No doctor’s statements. No information at all on the Republican nominee for President who was shot & injured four days ago. That’s just wrong. Shitty job media. If it were the Democratic nominee who’d been shot, Hannity, et al, would be blowing a gasket.”

Dr. Nick Mark writes: “The media silence on this is deafening. Did he have a head CT? What did it show? Did he have stitches? Tetanus shot? The NYT ran nonstop stories about Biden’s health after the debate but can’t be bothered to report on the health of someone who was literally shot in the head?”

RELATED: Was Trump Hit by a Bullet or Not? Calls Mount for Campaign to Release Medical Records

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