Jensen Cowan (pronouns: They/Them) was born July 4, 1997 in Brandon, Florida, and discusses growing up in Socastee, adjacent to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in an emotionally and verbally abusive home. They discuss chosen family and close friends, their relationship with their mother and four sisters in a blended family and what it meant to leave home to start a new life at the College of Charleston, with mentions of being in the Bonner Leadership Program there. Cowan describes the struggles of separating from their family financially and finding a method to pay for school. Working with We Are Family and attending functions of Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA), Cowan felt “discrepancies in maturities” in various groups, eventually finding supportive friends and neighbors to help with personal issues and the need for food. Cowan discusses identifying as queer, nonbinary, and trans, mentions a fundraiser they started to help pay for surgery and speaks of their capstone project to map all the gender-neutral bathrooms on the College of Charleston campus. Cowan notes a lack of response from College administrators on this and other LGBTQ oriented issues, describes the inconveniences and disruptions caused to their college studies by this lack of facilities and speaks to the insensitivity of some faculty and friends in using offensive vocabularies and inappropriate pronouns. Cowan and the interviewer discuss the lack of diversity within Charleston Pride, and the larger LGBTQ movement as a whole, while praising classes and faculty, such as Dr. Kristi Bryan, within the College’s Women’s & Gender Studies program and the positive effect it has had on them and others. The interview closes with a discussion of Cowan’s plans for the future after graduating in May 2019, having earlier mentioned a disinclination to return to working as an educator/camp counselor at Kids On Point (formerly Chucktown Squash), due to the fact that the students there would have known them under a different name.
Charles W. Smith discusses growing up, his adult professional life as a city planner and realtor, his personal life and his work as an activist for LGBTQ rights. His family lived in Orangeburg, Beaufort, Florence and Charleston and he was educated at the College of Charleston and Clemson University, moving to Miami in 1984. His early family life was overshadowed by the illness and death of an older brother. Realizing he was gay, he avoided being bullied in school by staying closeted. In 1987 in Miami Beach, FL, he met Carlos Guillermo Rodriguez. Soon after, Smith told his family he was gay and Rodriguez tested HIV positive. He wanted Smith to leave him, but Smith refused; their families in South Carolina and Colombia, South America accepted them. Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Miami, with which Smith was affiliated as a senior warden, was also accepting and affirming. After his lover’s death in 1995, Smith, who had run for political office, but lost, moved to Charleston, SC in 1996, finding a changed city, which he attributes to Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. We Are Family, a youth-oriented LGBTQ organization had been founded by Thomas Myers and Smith stayed, founding a real estate firm catering to LGBTQ clients. There were a number of bars in town he remembers frequenting; he affiliated with St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, a historically African American congregation opened up to white congregants, many of whom were LGBTQ. Smith and others, mostly non natives, such as Linda Ketner, Jim and Warren Redman-Gress, Carolyn Kirk, Lynne Moldenhauer and Linda G. William, helped found Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA). They publicly confronted a newspaper ad attacking LGBTQ people. This, Smith believes, began the process of removing shame and empowering the LGBTQ community. Smith also describes the “thousand year rainfall event” of 2015 and his marriage to Rob Suli that year, in a Columbia, SC hospital to ensure their rights were respected in the arena of health care. He notes the importance of the internet to LGBTQ people in finding community. He mentions Lowcountry Gay and Lesbian Alliance (LGLA), the lives of Jay Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson in Miami, and two gay men, who wintered in Charleston, SC. They, according to Smith, participated in the gay purges of US State Department employees in the 1940s and ‘50s. He also mentions the ownership of gay bars in Charleston, SC and the conflict over LGBTQ rights that has split the local Episcopal Diocese.
Jamie Nadeau (pronouns: She/Her/Hers) describes her journey to self-realization as a lesbian trans woman and a successful business owner of a hand-press greeting card printing company in Charleston, South Carolina. Born in Nashville, Tennessee into a religious Church of Christ family, Nadeau attended religious schools. Her father, a member of the Potawatomi Nation, and her mother divorced when she was young, and she speaks of trying to reclaim and learn more about her native American heritage. Born intersex, Nadeau retains early childhood hospital memories and speaks of her conservative upbringing where LGBTQ people were seen as “cultural oddities” and trans people were thought “horrific monsters.” Trying to imagine herself as a lesbian in that conservative environment “broke my brain,” and she had to go through the “impostor syndrome” before claiming and becoming comfortable as her true self. Embracing technology and computers long before they were commonplace, she was a young hacker and researched gender identities in cyberspace when others perhaps were still using libraries. She attended Middle Tennessee State University for a year, where and when she first began to explore her identity; she then studied at, and received her degree from, the Savannah College of Art and Design. After her mother’s death, Nadeau vowed she would never wear men’s clothes again and began seeing a gender therapist. She quickly began sharing her status with friends, family and her wife Allison, meeting wholehearted support from the latter, and a variety of responses from others. Nadeau speaks to the various levels of acceptance from the religious community, and from her biological and chosen families. She speaks at length of her experiences in coming out, noting how “soul crushing” being “misgendered” in public can be, and praises the Charleston trans women’s community for being so accepting and supportive, affirming the importance of support groups and loyal friends. Nadeau also describes how she and her wife, Allison, friends since childhood, followed their fascination with printing and design and left their professions to become proprietors of their greeting card company, Ink Meets Paper. There is a brief discussion focusing on Charleston being a safer space for LGBTQ people than other areas of the Deep South, and in response to the interviewer, Nadeau suggest that LGBTQ people should not necessarily focus on otherness, but see the world as she does, a place of countless, diverse narratives, where people are to be encouraged for finding their own way and lauded for their strength in “occupying space” in a world of proscriptions and possiblities.
Richard Little (pronouns: He/Him/His) describes his youth and education, his founding and running a gay bar in Charleston, South Carolina, attending medical school, and his professional work as a senior investigator at the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institute of Health. Born in Union, South Carolina, he attended Christ School, a private boarding school in Asheville, North Carolina, where he impacted student programming and where a research project of his prompted the state to take action on water pollution in Pisgah National Forest. After some experimentation in high school, Little came out as gay while attending Tulane University in New Orleans. After a brief stint in graduate school, Little moved to Charleston, where in 1979 he opened a gay bar, Les Jardins, more commonly called LJ’s, in the then-desolate Market area. Little describes some of the other gay bars in town and notes that his private club offered a place for both out and closeted LGBTQ patrons. State liquor laws mandated the necessity of incorporating as an eleemosynary institution, and LJ’s became a major supporter of the Spoleto Festival, gaining praise for the club and the gay community from Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. and others. He describes the evolution and growth of the club, its parties, programs and members, speaks of the Alcohol Beverage Commission’s anti-gay harassment, describes a court case regarding that, and mentions speaking to the Charleston Police Department about its harassment of gay men at the Battery, a cruising spot in Charleston. In 1984, opting not to franchise, but to close, the club, Little decided to attend medical school. He faced anti-gay bias at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston but found a welcome at the University of South Carolina Medical School in Columbia. Little was elected President of the American Medical Student Association and in a public venue confronted South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster for his homophobic comments, instead of addressing the topic of infant mortality. He speaks of early poor care of HIV patients in Columbia, a situation he tried to remedy and how “the good old girls’ network” brought him to the National Cancer Institute where he became head of the AIDS oncology center. In his work of almost thirty years, he has had patients he knew from LJ’s and from his hometown, and he mentions how difficult it has been to deal with so many losses over the years. But changes in HIV care, and changes at MUSC in Charleston, are signs of progress and the interview ends on a hopeful note.
Taylor DeBartola tells the story of his upbringing in Peachtree City, Georgia, a town he describes as “very conservative.” He discusses the competitive relationship he had with his younger brother who is close in age, as well as the role that religion played in their early life. DeBartola reflects on the way that he revealed his sexuality to his family, and the period of time where things between them were rocky, discussing the ways in which he had to be patient and allow his parents to “take their time” to accept him. Taylor then talks about his “chosen family,” and the way they all met at Dudley’s, a popular gay bar in downtown Charleston. He details the ways he sees gatherings with gay men changing in recent years, moving from public spaces to more private locations such as personal residences. Taylor also discusses gay married life in the South, later noting that he and his now-husband were “engaged when it was not going to be legal,” and stressing that young people should educate themselves on gay history, especially the HIV/AIDS crisis, which he stresses is far from over. He also talks about the ways that particular books shaped him and his desire to learn more about gay history, mentioning Harlan Greene’s Why We Never Danced the Charleston. DeBartola then describes the impact that artist and activist David Wojnarowicz has had on his life, and the ways that he has tried to trace Wojnarowicz’s and his partner’s time spent on a trip to Charleston. Finally, Taylor talks about his experiences being an openly gay College of Charleston student.
At a “Unity in the Community” Forum sponsored by the Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA), Reverend Robert Arrington answers questions posed to him by female impersonator/performer Symone N. O’Bishop and members of the audience. After introductions by emcee Regina Duggins (aka Gina Mocha), Arrington speaks of his personal life, conditions in the lowcountry, and the development and evolution of his open and affirming Charleston Unity Fellowship Church. He describes growing up in Durham, NC, and living in Rochester, NY, before moving to Charleston, a place he finds not as progressive or easy to live as elsewhere. He mentions a dysfunctional childhood, being misdiagnosed with learning disabilities, and recalls various phases of his life, including being married to woman, being a female impersonator, being HIV positive for thirty years, and the love he now shares with his husband, stating that they were the first “out” African American gay male couple in the area to have a house built for them by Habitat for Humanity. Most of the interview, however, focuses on the growth of his church, his plans for it, and the need to be completely transparent in all aspects of one’s life, including one’s spiritual life. He and O’Bishop discuss the behavior of some closeted LGBTQ church goers, who hide their sexual and emotional lives to worship under ministers who preach against homosexuality. The only “out” African American minister in the area, Arrington describes his church as Pentecostal-related and its policy of accepting every one of every sexual orientation, identification and race. He responds to an HIV-positive transgender woman of color asking how to find a loving relationship; he and the interviewer also discuss sexually irresponsible behavior and strategies for finding a life partner. Prompted by other queries from the audience, Reverend Arrington agrees that there is a need for more coordination with his church and the community it represents with other agencies in the area. An audience member comments further that there must be a new attitude regarding such participation: instead of asking to be included, one must demand that inclusion. The interview ends with Chase Glenn of AFFA and others describing programs and initiatives of related interest in the area. A call for action results with applause at the comment that this forum may mark a new direction for one of Charleston’s marginalized communities.