Gay pride week in Minneapolis: everything is virtual, but we’re not going to miss out on the celebration.
My friends, Braulio and Joe taught me that being gay isn’t just a lifestyle or a choice, it’s just the way people are. While I was in prison, two of my cousins, Jodi and Tommy, came out. Jodi was the first to let their parents know, which then gave Tommy the strength to tell them his truth. They have used each other’s courage to move forward and be proud of who they are. When I heard the news I was happy for them and wanted to reach out to them both.
This is my interview with Jodi:
What does gay pride mean to you?
Gay pride means being proud of who you are, whether it’s “easy” or not. Being proud of the strides our fellow gays have made in the past that created a future in which we can now be more comfortable in our skin, rejoice and celebrate publicly as a community, and even get married in the eyes of the law.
What has your experience taught you?
I feel I have been very fortunate with my gay experience. I have extremely supportive parents, family, and friend groups, which have given me an almost easy experience in comparison to many of my close friends. Therefore, my experience has taught me to be more mindful in all situations. You never know what another person is thinking, how they are feeling, or what they have been through, so being cognizant of others’ experiences and emotions have become a major lesson through gay experiences.
What would you say to your younger self?
Dear Jodi, it’s okay to be gay. I know you think it is wrong, and bad, and makes you different from your friends but it’s truly okay. In fact, it makes you who you are. It helps you become a beautiful, kind, and loving person. You will learn and grow in ways you never thought possible, just by accepting something true about yourself. It’s no different than accepting you have brown hair or maybe like to eat a little too much chocolate. So don’t sweat it, enjoy your life and keep loving as hard as you can because that’s all that really matters in this life.
Does Gay Pride Month or Week have a significant meaning to you?
Absolutely. In fact, Pride in downtown Minneapolis has been canceled this year due to COVID-19 but my friends have already planned a celebration at their house in the spirit of the Pride festivities. It is a time I am able to reconnect with close friends to celebrate our gay freedoms. And to recognize there’s still a long way to go before we, the LGBTQ+ community, have equal rights. It’s important to celebrate where we have come but not forget where we have yet to overcome.
What do you do? How do you celebrate?
I usually go to the Pride celebration in Minneapolis with my sister, my friends, and my parents if they are available. We typically go to Loring Park in the afternoon and walk around, eat delicious food, and participate in the various activities throughout the park. In the evening my friends and I get dressed up and go out to the bars to dance and continue the celebration. The weekend usually ends with the Pride Parade on Sunday, where you get to see all the wonderful businesses and local community support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Do you feel love and support for your choice, now that you are out?
Just to be clear, being gay is not a choice. Not that you meant any disrespect at all, but it is most definitely misunderstood concepts of the gay community. But it was my choice to “come out of the closet,” which is another event that shouldn’t be made into a big deal. Just as I said before, being gay is a part of who I am, the same as the color of my hair and my preference for chocolate. But to answer your question, I absolutely feel loved and supported regarding my gayness.
I apologize. By “choice,” I absolutely meant the choice of coming out.
No need to apologize!
Talk about the feelings when you were in the closet. What did that battle inside you look like? Did you want to come out the whole time? Was it painful?
Being in the closet sucked, big time, because not only was I in the closet to my friends and loved ones, but I was mostly in the closet to myself. It was a constant battle of trying to convince myself I wasn’t gay, constant thoughts of “I don’t really feel that way about her,” or “that was just how I felt for a second, it doesn’t mean anything.”
At the time, I thought it would be easier to ignore and suppress my true feelings rather than loving myself for who I was. No kid wants to be someone who is different from their peers, especially because I was always taught “gay = bad.” It was both a societal concept that was believed and a concept I was taught at home.
I would get extremely frustrated and defensive if someone called me gay or asked me if I was gay because then I would be forced to think about how I truly felt and I never wanted it to be the truth. I wanted to be “normal.” I wanted the gay thoughts to go away. I wanted to feel sexually attracted to a man but it never happened. It took many, many years, but once I realized that part of me wasn’t bad, or wrong, or evil, and I accepted that part of myself, I was finally able to tell my loved ones “I’m gay.”
Who did you come out to first and what year and what was the experience like?
I accidentally came out to my old high school friend via text when I was drunk in college, this was before I had accepted my gayness myself. I remember reading the text when I woke up and immediately texting her trying to explain “I was just drunk, that didn’t mean anything.”
I actually came out, after I accepted that part of myself, to my roommates sophomore year of college (2011, I think). They accepted me with open arms, it was such a wonderful experience. After that, I slowly came out to the remainder of my friends and family.
Most people I told responded with “yeah, I know,” which spun both positive and negative feelings. Positive because I knew it meant they loved me for who I am. Negative because I was still shameful for being gay and if they “knew” then I must have been giving off “gay vibes,” as if “gay vibes” were a bad thing. Now I have no problem telling people I’m gay because in my experience being gay doesn’t define who I am, my character and actions define who I am.
When did you tell your parents and how did that conversation go?
I told my mother via text when I was living in college, at the time I was dating a girl named Breanna and that’s when I told my mother, “Breanna and I are dating.” At first, she took it very hard, asking what she did wrong as a parent to “make me gay.” But over time she has become one of the most supportive people regarding the gay part of me. My father and I have never actually had a conversation about me being gay, he has just always loved and supported me for who I am no matter what, no conversation has ever been needed.
Tommy mentioned that you came out first, what was that like, where did you find the strength?
Once I gained the strength to come out to myself, coming out to my friends and family was fairly easy for me. At that point, I had decided I was good enough for myself, so it didn’t matter what others thought about me. Thankfully, I was met with a great amount of love and support from my friends and family. I hope that me coming out first was helpful for Tom because I know what it feels like to hide that part of yourself and I would much rather “take the heat” first in place of a loved one.
Did you sense that Tommy was gay and struggling with his own identity?
I think I knew Tom knew he was gay, but I never pressured him into telling me. After I had come out I asked him if he was gay, to which he said no, but I think that opened up the conversation between him and myself.
What do you want the straight community to know?
I want the straight community to know being gay isn’t a choice, being trans isn’t a choice, but being a good human being is a choice. You get to choose how you treat others. You get to vote on the policies and laws that are put into place, and you have the ability to educate yourself and care about others the same as you would like to be treated. Equal rights don’t mean the LGBTQ+ community wants more, it means we want equality.
What would you say to those that support you?
Thank you for everything. If it wasn’t for all of the love and support I have received from you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I wouldn’t be a proud, loud, strong, and happy person. So thank you, and I hope I can support you in all the ways you have supported me.
What would you say to those that don’t?
I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope someday you are willing to listen and learn from others who are different than you because I have no doubts you’ll be surprised at what you learn when you open up your heart rather than hiding behind your hatred.
You work in an old school environment. Have you had any issues, in regards to your sexual identity?
I surprisingly haven’t had issues with expressing my sexual identity at work. I am a very loud and open person, not to mention I have “Same Love” tattooed on the front of my arm, so I have no uncertainty upper management knows I’m gay but I have not had any backlash from their knowledge.
I’m a huge Macklemore fan, as he has done so much in regards to my recovery. Please tell me what the song “Same Love” meant to you in regard to validation?
That song says it all! “I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to.” What a powerful message. As I’ve said before, and I’ll say it a million times again, being gay is not a choice.
To have a talented artist, with distinguished public influence, collaborate a song with a gay woman is remarkable. It takes guts to have an opinion, especially when you’re famous, and being able to do so with positive public support is even more challenging.
This song alone has the ability to make positive changes throughout a generation of youth who are listening. Because of that, because of its potential for positive influence, I believe it does wonders in regards to validation for the LGBTQ+ community.
As long as people continue to care, and as long as people put themselves out there for a change in a corrupt and inadequate legal system, we can continue to grow as one united human race; both inside the legal system and in everyday life.
As the song states, and the influence for my Same Love tattoo, “No law is going to change us, we have to change us. Whatever God you believe in, we come from the same one. Strip away the fear, underneath it’s all the same love. About time that we raise up.”
Besides Macklemore, who has been your biggest supporter thus far, and what do you want to say to them?
I’d say my sister (Johanna Bergland) has been my biggest supporter so far. I would like to say thank you for the unconditional support and friendship throughout my gay journey. You have been someone without judgment and I am thankful to have a person such as you in my life. You have helped make this journey enjoyable and fun, so thank you for your love and support.
Who do you think felt freer, you coming out of the closet, or me coming out of prison?
Any closing comments?