September 20, 2011 News & Features » Cover Story


Letting Go 

The road to saying, "I'm gay." Richmonders share the stories that changed their lives.

click to enlarge Mac Pence and Jeff Wells, the co-owners of Maury Place at Monument, were married two years ago in Boston. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Mac Pence and Jeff Wells, the co-owners of Maury Place at Monument, were married two years ago in Boston.

At last, my love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song

— Etta James

My partner doesn't want to dance.

"At Last" plays at our friend's summer wedding. Young and old join in, but we sit this one out. We are staying off the dance floor to avoid the stares we received at the last reception we attended.

In that moment, I feel disappointed, heartbroken, angry — and alone.

Coming out isn't a one-time event.

Unlike skin color or other physical traits, for most of us sexual orientation is easy to hide. But then there are those moments in life — at a wedding reception, enrolling a child in day care, joining a gym, going to the doctor or renting an apartment — when coming out can come up when you least expect it.

We asked a dozen people to share their coming-out stories — stories as diverse as their backgrounds. And many people stepped forward. But perhaps what's more telling are the stories of those who declined.

Some influential Richmonders you may know are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. Yes. Folks who run Richmond.

Even today, when living openly as an LGBT person has become more mainstream, why decline to tell your story here? Some worried of potentially alienating customers or expressed concerns over their partner's job security (yes, in Virginia you can get fired for being gay — sexual orientation is an unprotected class). One cited her pastor and family telling her that discussing such private matters just wasn't a good idea.

One beloved community leader was an activist in his youth. At 18, young and newly out, he would have jumped at the chance to tell his story. Today, he's certainly not hiding in a closet, but he says that in his position, his ambiguity works for him.

click to enlarge Kevin Clay is editor and publisher of - SCOTT ELMQUIST

At that deeply personal moment when you experience that self-realization and first speak the words, "I'm gay" — for me, when I was 17 — a powerful weight is lifted. It can be the most defining moment of your life.

Coming out isn't about pushing sexuality on others. Nor are you trapped in a label. It's part of living a full and robust life. And perhaps we don't give enough credit to loved ones. We don't give enough credit to complete strangers.

Everyone deserves to dance with the one they came with. — Kevin Clay, editor and publisher of



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