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Lone Star State of LGBTQ+

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Native Texan Danielle Garza recounts the struggles of coming out in Texas and her journey toward acceptance in Austin.

By Danielle Garza
Growing up in the predominantly white and heterosexual suburbs of the Woodlands, Texas, I was never comfortable sharing my sexuality with anyone, not even my closest friends. There were, of course, speculations about my true sexual preference, but I dodged any revealing questions and conversations in order to prevent feeling shame. Unlike in Austin, there’s a certain mold one feels he or she has to adhere to in that homogeneous culture in which most of the community attends church on Sundays, is upper middle class and lives in traditional, heteronormative family situations. I never had a serious boyfriend, but would date boys every so often, primarily to deter others from thinking I might be gay, but also with the hope that maybe one of them would make me feel differently about my lack of attraction to males. It never worked.

To this day, I’m not sure if the confidence I needed to come out was a result of the city, pop culture or my peer group, but regard- less, I don’t think I’m alone when I say how difficult it can be to come out in the Lone Star State that is Texas. Even in Austin, one of the hippest and most progressive cities in America, many in the LGBTQ+ community still experience some level of discrimination, whether it’s an outright offensive remark or someone clearly not valuing our same-sex relationship or romantic interest. I’ve been out at local bars before, and although having been very frank about the fact that I’m gay, I still come across males who either think I am joking or simply do not care.

I’ve been the recipient of questions such as, “Aww, did some man just really break your heart, sweetie?” or, “Have you always been this way?” and, “Did you ever think that maybe you just didn’t find the right guy?” All these questions could obviously make someone feel that his or her orientation is lesser than and devalued to a certain degree. While this is not something I experience every day, by any means, it is something that occasionally happens that always reminds me, “Oh, that’s right. Austin is still in Texas.”

Having said that, this blue dot in the red sea definitely has an openness and acceptance that is not present in other Southern communities, such as the one in which I was raised. For the most part, I feel comfortable publicly displaying my orientation, and I believe we have made so much progress, which hopefully has a positive ripple effect throughout the rest of the state. As the city continues to grow exponentially, bringing more liberal-minded people here, the LGBTQ+ community has soared as well. Organizations that are in support of it, such as Out Youth, Human Rights Campaign, Austin Pride, Texas Roller Derby and Queer- bomb, have done a fantastic job at providing spaces to support and celebrate members of the community throughout the years, which has helped to keep the progressive momentum flowing.

While Austin doesn’t necessarily have a “gay ghetto,” the community has been very effective in creating queer spaces on its own. This is reflective of the leader- ship and dedication to ensuring a diverse society that Austin is so very well known for. The first queer event I went to when I moved back from Washington, D.C., was the Guerrilla Bar takeover for females, hosted by Where the Girls Go/ATX. I discovered it through Facebook, as I was notified through my news feed that one of my friends was attending. The turnout was very impressive, as I hadn’t been to a similar event in Austin for more than two years, and observed an obvious increase in attendees. I hear wonderful things about the Thursday Night Queer Swims at Barton Springs, as well as the Her Lesbian App parties. The queer-friendly bar on Red River Street, Cheer Up Charlie’s, is a very popular spot my other queer friends and I visit frequently, and I think not necessarily categorizing it as exclusively queer helps with the notion of bringing together those with various sexualities.

In addition to Her, I’ve met other members (Some are my very good friends today.) through other apps and websites, such as Tinder and OkCupid. It’s not uncommon at all for me to initially seek a romantic opportunity with someone I connected with, but then have it evolve into a strong, potentially life-lasting friendship. All in all, the LGBTQ+ apps have provided a wonderful platform to help members find their people, cultivate those relationships and build an even stronger support system.

Looking ahead into the future, I’m excited to see how the community prospers and grows. As a native Texan, I’m extremely proud of how far we’ve come as we hopefully continue to help pave a safer, healthier and more opportunistic path for future members of the LGBTQ+ community.

 

Austin Woman features a reader-submitted essay every month in the I Am Austin Woman column. To be considered for October’s I Am Austin Woman, email a 500-word submission on a topic of your choice by Sept. 1 to submissions@awmediainc.com with the subject line “I Am Austin Woman.”

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