Cowardly politicians, ass-less chaps, and alternate, Mayberry-like universes — Metromix’s conversation with three members of Indy’s GLBT community covered those topics and more. In late May, we gathered Tanisha Neely, a 31-year-old scientist, journalist and mother of four; Bil Browning, 36-year-old blogger, writer and father of one; and Mitchell High, a 32-year-old painter, to talk about the relevance of Pride Week.
Metromix: What does Pride mean to you?
Tanisha: I used to not be into Pride. People went down to have a good time, and that’s about it. This year I’ll be participating with my company (Covance) — we’ll have a booth there — I’m excited to be working with a company that supports diversity and is actually willing to show up at Pride. There are so many real issues that need to be addressed and how we’re treated in the workplace is one of them.
Mitchell: Every year for the last four or five years, I’ve been involved with a group called Indy Boyz, and we’ve always had a booth. We’re able to reach guys who may not know that there are other guys in the city like them. Now granted, it’s a party for me. It’s always the week of my birthday, so I feel like the entire queer community comes out and celebrates with me, whether they know it or not.
Bil: A lot of it is just visibility. I sent out over Twitter, “What does gay pride mean to you?” and the overwhelming response was its visibility, and I can be amongst my own kind without having to worry about somebody being, “Are you too queeny?” “Are you too butch?” “How’s your language?” How’s your walk?” “Oh your hair is so gay”-kinda thing.
M: It’s a safe space.
B: Yeah, whether you’re there to party or you’re there to do activism, everybody feels safe at Pride. They feel like they’re part of one entity. Especially as a community, we’re so segregated.How much racial segregation is there in the LGBT community?
T: Oh, God, don’t get me started on that.
B: It’s the one time of year that people actually come together and act like a community.
Metromix: How much of Pride Week should be about celebrating sexuality?
M: I don’t have a problem with that. I’m advocate of safe sex, and, inevitably, there are going to be hookups.
B: With HIV so prevalent, and with the history among gay men, it’d be really — pardon the French — f---ing idiotic not to. It’s a health issue; it’s a way to reach a large amount of members of the community. We’re so puritanical about sex the way it is. For Christ’s sake, it’s condoms and lube. Get over it.
Nothing personal to knock the Indy Star, but you know the day after Pride the front-page picture is going to be drag queens and the guys in ass-less chaps, And while that’s a part of our community, and we should celebrate that, it’s not exactly representative. After the Indy 500, you’re not going to get the picture of the woman in the wet T-shirt flashing her boobs.
T: I think the front page should be me and my four babies waving our rainbow flags on the side of the road this year, instead of the man with ass-less chaps.
Metromix: Should Pride always exist? Or do you hope for a time when it doesn't need to?
B: Does Black Expo need to not to exist?
M: We all need a time to celebrate who we are so having a day special, just for us, absolutely needs to exist and forever.
B: Unless Barack Obama wins his super majority, and the rainbows and unicorns all come out everywhere, but when is that going to happen?
T: That goes back to the meaning of Pride — yes it is about visibility, but it is also about being with people who are like you.
M: I am gay, I am trans. I have had no body modification surgery, and I’m very proud of that fact. Last year, there was a great photo of me taken. I was wearing a tank top and shorts, I was not binding my breasts down at all, and I walked around all day feeling so free and so proud of who and what I was. It’s a day that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my natural life.
Metromix: What's it like to be gay in Indiana in 2009?
M: It’s a good time to be gay, at least in Indianapolis. I live in Irvington. I live in a very queer community. As I’ve gotten older and as I’ve grown with this city, I’ve seen Pride get bigger every year. And I expect it to get better.
T: My perspective’s probably a little different because I grew up in California. When I moved here in ’99, I thought I had moved to Mayberry.
B: You did, girl, you did!
T: I did. It has changed a lot in the last 10 years, but I have also changed a lot. I used to have this need to be with my own all the time. Ten years ago, I would have wanted to live in a predominantly queer neighborhood. I would’ve wanted to live in a predominantly black neighborhood, too, which kinda doesn’t go because you’re not going to find a queer and black neighbor at the same time.
B: Especially not in Indianapolis.
T: So I was already in trouble. But now, I kind of have blended, and I’m finding that people are not as homophobic as I think even they think they are.
B: I'm going to be the devil’s advocate. I think it sucks to be gay in Indiana, and I think that because we’re like the Arkansas of the Midwest. We still haven’t managed as a state to say it’s not OK to fire someone because they’re gay or lesbian. We’re one of five states left in the nation that doesn't have a hate crimes law. That speaks volumes about our political leadership — that they’re too cowardly to even say that it’s not OK beat up any of the three of us, or kill us, or burn down our house because of who we are.
Metromix: If you could change anything about your lives, what would it be?
T: We’re just at a place where we’d like to see more of the same family rights as anyone else. (My partner and I) want to have another baby. And people say, “There are so many legal ways that you can make this baby yours,” but why do I have to pay out the ass for attorneys to draw up paperwork that if somebody really wanted to, they could poke holes in it?
M: To not feel like I have to fit in any one box. I love to tell people, “You can try to put me in a box, but I’m going to kick the lid straight off because I don’t.”