Laura Lesburg (pronouns: She/Hers) was born and raised in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. She begins her interview discussing her childhood, coming from a lower middle-class milieu in the assumed-affluent Mount Pleasant area and struggling with her relationship with her family members. She details the ways that she found safety and comfort outside of her family home through a network of now life-long friends, and she details other struggles with religion throughout her childhood. She attended Wando High School, but then moved with her family to Indianapolis, Indiana, finishing high school there and beginning college there. She then lived in Los Angeles, California where she began the process of gradual process of coming out, noting that, coming back to Charleston, she found lesbian roles more stereotypical in the Lowcounty than the West Coast. Her complete coming out, after some difficult conversations with her mother, consisted of just being frank about her life. It coincided with her decision to get sober. Those actions freed her from thoughts of suicide, internalized homophobia, and a numbing of her real feelings. She compares the freedom and the acceptance of herself as a sort of second adolescence, becoming excited about figuring out directions to take in life. Lesburg discusses her family and friends’ reaction to her coming out as well as the difficulties of navigating life as a recovering alcoholic. She also references her limited exposure to queer people as a young person in Charleston, recalls silence on the topic, and negative and/or no responses to the coming out of Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell and the murder of Matthew Shepherd. She refers to the positive impact of shows like Will and Grace and the Russian women’s music group, Pussy Riot. One of the first times she became aware of a large number of lesbians was attending a Women’s National Basketball Association game in Indianapolis; and she also goes into great detail on the gay disco Pantheon, in Charleston, describing its mostly gay male clientele, music, lighting, dress, etc. With respect to the greater LGBTQ+ communities and their challenges, she mentions issues confronting people of color and trans people and describes the idea of “femme invisibility”. Being lesbian, she concludes, has given her insight into what it means to be a minority, out of the mainstream, and it has benefited her in her work as literacy instructor in mostly people of color communities.
Suzanne Groff is an attorney who moved to Charleston in 1995. She begins her interview by contextualizing her growing up in a small conservative community of Lancaster, PA, where she had close family relationships that continue to this day, even though she and her brother and have grown up and now live far apart. The conversation then turns to her coming to terms with her identity and how, initially, she kept her relationships with women secret. As time went on, however, she came out as a lesbian to friends, work, and family. Groff practiced as an attorney in New Hampshire from 1980 to 1995; what prompted her to leave the state was her desire to adopt a child, which was illegal for gay men and women under New Hampshire law. Since South Carolina did allow such adoptions, she and her partner moved here. She found differences between the North and the South arresting, specifically at how unreserved Southerners are in comparison and the personal questions they will ask. While she did have a troubling medical appointment at the Medical University of South Carolina, she found many progressive people in the area, and, despite her fears, her daughter was warmly accepted in public schools despite her difference in having two mothers. Groff describes difficulties she experienced with joining a law firm and the subsequent creation of her own firm and mentions how being a lesbian was once used against her. She was active in the development and growth of Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA) and discusses her legal work here on LGBTQ related issues, such as helping with name changes for transgender clients and her past work in AIDS-related activism in New England. Groff attended the march celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York and reflects on issues such as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and Marriage Equality. The conversation closes on her thoughts on current challenges facing the LGBTQ community.
Lynn Dugan attended Catholic grammar and high schools in New York City. With a lesbian friend, she visited lesbian bars where rigid “butch” or “fem” roles prevailed. She came of age just after the Stonewall Riots of 1969, later befriending some of the participants, as she became part of a community that looked after and protected each other from attacks, some of which she describes. She notes the comradery of men and women in the early gay rights movement, and the accessibility of many future celebrities entertaining in the gay baths and bars. She was mentored by an older gay man, Jimmy Alan Newcomer and she created a marriage ceremony with a woman opera singer at St. Peter’s MCC Church in 1981. She witnessed the start of the AIDS crisis and the work of many women and activists such as Larry Kramer. Professionally, she held jobs in management and sales, drove a taxi, and had her own greeting card company. In some jobs, she had to hide her sexuality. She visited Colorado often before moving to Boulder ca. 1993, participating in the LGBTQ community there. While attending a Pride parade in Columbia SC, she met political activist Charlie Smith, who invited her to Charleston, SC; she moved there soon after and began her involvement in the community, founding the Charleston Social Club, which offered opportunities to many isolated and closeted women. One of the programs, Lezz Fest, produced on the club’s tenth anniversary closed off part of North Charleston and drew 1,000 participants. Dugan was the prime mover in establishing the first Pride Festival in the lowcountry. She and a cadre of friends staged fundraisers for the event which the City of Charleston wanted to sideline. The city of North Charleston, however, including Mayor R. Keith Summey, who served as grand marshal of the parade, supported it, despite the criticism of many local churches. The Charleston Pride Organization event took place on May 15, 2010, and its impact, and that of the evening event held on the Citadel campus, is described in detail by Dugan. In response to questions, she comments on African American participation in the community and ends the interview with suggestions of other issues that LGBTQ community could address, such as the care of its older citizens, a task in which she is involved.
Mikayla Drost begins by describing her childhood in Lugoff, South Carolina. She did not grow up in a religious household but, through a friend, began attending Mormon (Church of the Latter Day Saints) services and events. She found contentment and many positive experiences within this community, but details the shunning visited upon a friend of hers within the group who came out as lesbian. In her town, there was not a very visible gay presence, and the one woman neighbor suspected of being gay was the object of derision and disrespect. Drost, who describes herself as bisexual, but prefers the term “queer” due to negative associations with “bisexual”, always was aware of her sexual orientation. Upon leaving home to attend the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics, she found a larger more accepting community and it was easier to come to terms with herself and others. Her breakup with another woman sparked her coming-out to her parents. In college she enjoyed being a bit different in her sorority and she speaks of there being little pressure on her of how to act once she came out. She remarks that she often deliberately presented in stereotypically lesbian manner, allowing her to assert her identity without having to verbalize it. She replies to questions regarding how her generation’s views on gender, sexuality and reproduction differ from those of her of her parents and she states what she sees the challenges facing the LGBTQ community. She specifically mentions many trans issues and comments on her politically active life, in which she regularly contacts her elected representatives on a variety of environmental and other issues.
Regina Duggins tells the story of her childhood in metropolitan New York, growing up in a tightknit family with her strong connections to religion and the surrounding community. She describes her traumatic experiences with men at a young age, and how this relates to her more positive connections and relationships with women throughout her life, including several long-term romantic relationships. She also recounts her early activism, in which she formed a dance team in her apartment building to prevent other young girls from experiencing the sexual abuse she had. In discussing two of her siblings who died, she notes that both were LGBTQ and lived closeted lives; her brother died of AIDS. She raised five children, sons and daughters of her siblings, and was the first of all of her family to openly declare her identity as a proud black lesbian. Family connections prompted her to move to Charleston, SC in 2010 with her children, and her mother; here she has continued her activism, motivated by the closeted communities and pervasive racism of the area. Her education, experience and persistence led the leaders of Charleston Pride to offer her a spot on the board. Despite the challenges she has witnessed in Charleston regarding racial discrimination and discrimination against the LGBTQ community, she believes change is coming and has faith that she will live to see a day when a new generation succeeds in creating a world in which love wins.
Linda Ketner is a strategic planning consultant for mostly nonprofit organizations; she and her partner Beth have been together for almost twenty years. She grew up in the small town of Faith, NC, eventually moving to Raleigh and finally, Salisbury, NC. Ketner recalls realizing her sexual identity at about age twelve and asking her mother about girls marrying girls. Her mother’s strong negative response prompted Ketner to learn more; she looked up “homosexual” in her local library and found literature that was even more discouraging. A series of events led her to live a double life: one “supposedly straight” and the other, her hidden true self. In college, Ketner began her first relationship with a woman while simultaneously dating men in the hopes of finding one with whom she was compatible. This eventually led to a number of broken engagements and a marriage that ended when Ketner could not deny that she was a lesbian. After years of living in secret, she and her partner occupying two separate nearby houses to allay suspicion, Ketner decided to come out. Some others, however, advised her to remain closeted to prevent “damaging” many of the progressive causes with which was involved. Ketner describes the process of telling friends and describes the family ceremony that included her partner Ginny, Ginny’s children, and a host of other invited guests, who ended up fully supporting them. Her mother, whom Ketner took care of for years, eventually was won over, as well. In 2008, Ketner ran as a totally “out” candidate for US Congress; she describes that and how she and others founded Alliance For Full Acceptance (AFFA) in Charleston, SC and SC Equality, in Columbia, SC. She mentions Tom Meyers and his organization We Are Family and discusses the work of AFFA and SC Equality on such LGBTQ issues such as HIV/AIDS awareness and on other public, religious, and law enforcement topics. Ketner discusses her curiosity as to what might survive death; and the interview concludes with her assessment of challenges facing the LGBTQ community today. She particularly notes the troubling policies and attitudes of President Donald J. Trump, and the lack of strategic planning necessary for progressive movements to sustain themselves and survive.
Josh Langdon Hooser grew up in Pea Ridge, a small town near Huntington, West Virginia, which he describes as “very conservative.” During this interview, he discusses his childhood, with mentions of being bullied in school until he switched from theatre to sports, his experience coming out, what led him to settle in Charleston, some experiences at the College of Charleston, including being excluded from a fraternity, his marriage, and his work as a lawyer focusing on LGBTQ clients and issues. His coming-out experience, in which he called a “family meeting,” began a process of acceptance within his family. He describes the judgements directed his way by Democratic and more liberal members of the LGBTQ community, due to his being a Republican, yet he also explains how he tried to impact the Republican Party and some of its candidates on social LGBTQ issues, noting that he was active in the John McCain Presidential Campaign and served on a statewide board of South Carolina College Republicans. He worked for the Human Rights Campaign in West Virginia, and details the attitudes he encountered from a very religious woman state legislator on LGBTQ issues. He also discusses some discrimination and resistance he and his fiancé encountered while planning their wedding and describes the culmination of factors that led to his decision to plan to relocate his practice from Cincinnati, Ohio to Charleston, South Carolina. He refers to the importance of both biological and chosen families, and how he and his husband plan to start a family, contrasting the issues gay men face in that field versus those faced by lesbians. He describes many of the legal issues confronting LGBTQ people, due to conflicting state and federal laws, and is particularly sympathetic to the difficulties of trans people. In replying to the interviewer’s questions, he sums up difference between his “millennial” generation and the generation that came before and the one that is coming after. He mentions many legal decisions and social shifts that have impacted LGBTQ communities, and sees fragmentation and intersectionality as one of the biggest hurdles facing the LGBTQ community today, particularly in respect to race and gender.