My College Years 1988-1993
I knew I was gay when I started college, but having grown up in a rural area I didn’t have any real knowledge or experience with the gay community other than what I’d read in books and magazines and talking to my gay uncle. So when I started college, my mission was to seek out gay groups to join.
ODU Gay and Lesbian Support / Discussion Group
The first gay and lesbian group I attended was a gay and lesbian support group hosted on campus. It met on Thursday evenings. After a round of names, there was usually an hour discussion on some topic or another. At a later point, the group was renamed as a “Discussion” group, because “Support group” implied we needed help.
ODU Gay and Lesbian Student Union
Many of the folks at the Gay and Lesbian Support Group were involved in the formation of a new Gay and Lesbian Student Union. In my second semester at college, the group officially began meeting and I was there from the 1st or 2nd meeting of the group onward. Many of the members had activist leanings. At the time, our very existence was an act of activism. We put flyers and posters around campus and they rarely stayed up more than a day. We went on a “stake-out” to try to catch the campus ROTC tearing down our posters. We were there to make ourselves known.
After a few years, the existing leadership graduated. The leadership that replaced the old skipped out. Me and a Lesbian friend named Stephanie worked to get the group back in order. I went on to become the president of the group for a few years and later stepped down to vice-president to leave room for new leaders to appear before I graduated. Stephanie and I wore gay shirts around campus and otherwise made ourselves and the group visible. We hosted events, participated in student organization fairs, put flyers around campus, made pamphlets, and so forth.
This led to some backlash and a rash of anti-gay graffiti showed up on campus and our flyers and posters were frequently defaced. Some of the graffiti pronounced “Kill Fags”. At one point, I even had my life threatened. After one of our Discussion Groups, I arrived at my car to find a group of guys with tire irons standing outside. Luckily, a staff person named Mindy had given me a ride to my car that night and when she saw me safely to my car, the group dispersed. I ended up behind the car on the way off campus and it had a number of far right bumper stickers. I later found key scratches on my car. The campus police and rumor pointed back to a certain member of the College Republican group on campus, but they never had enough on the guy to convict him.
The graffiti continued and I made the evening news and the front page of the local paper. The publicity led to the campus doing more to address LGBT concerns on campus. A committee was formed and this led to a number of advances including the hiring of a graduate assistant to work exclusively for LGBT concerns and also homophobia training for faculty and staff which later turned into a Safe Space training program on campus. Sexual orientation was already part of the university’s non-discrimination policy before the committee was formed. We hoped to get ROTC removed from campus for its anti-gay policy. We advocated for same-sex partner benefits for staff. We asked for a number of other things. Some of them went through and others did not. I graduated and the meetings continued after I left. They were still working to decide on and implement many of the things we asked for. After I graduated, I lost track of what else went through and what didn't.
Sexual Orientation Support Committee
While I was a college student at ODU, I was also on the Sexual Orientation Support (SOS) Committee. This group was mainly made up of straight women staff members from the Women’s Center, health services, and other departments who wanted to make the campus a better place for gay and lesbian students. The group mainly put on homophobia training workshops and forums for classes, but also hosted a few special events related to their mission.
Youth Out United
A few of the founders of the ODU Gay and Lesbian Student Union also founded a gay youth group in the local community. Originally, it was called United Gay and Lesbian Youth (UGLY), but concerns about self-esteem prompted the group to later change its name to Youth Out United (YOU). I came in about the time of the name change. We met on Sunday afternoons at the local Unitarian Church. It was mainly young adults up to the age of 25. The thing that impressed me most about the group, even to this day, is that the group was self-organized. Most LGBT youth groups are part of some program or another hosted by adults in some advocacy organization or another. This group was created and run by the youth. They created their own structure, had officers, and even created a board of directors made up of folks from the local LGBT community. I met my first boyfriend here (Jim is the guy standing beside me in the upper left corner of the article picture). I believe I even served as secretary for a short time.
The group brought in speakers, held discussions on various topics, watched movies, played softball games outside the church in the summer, went roller-skating, and held spaghetti dinner fundraisers, among other things.
Hampton Roads Lesbian and Gay Pride Coalition
While I was still as student at ODU, I served on the Hampton Roads Lesbian and Gay Pride Coalition as a representative for the Gay and Lesbian Student Union. The Pride Coalition was made up of representatives of local LGBT groups and businesses. The main functions of the Coalition were to host an annual Pride Day Picnic in the summer and to host a winter Pride festival called “Breaking the Ice.” The group also organized some political actions including a march on the Norfolk Naval Base in support of Gays in the Military. We adopted a highway too. The Adopt-a-Highway sign was frequently removed or defaced, but we raised gay and lesbian visibility and cleaned the highways nonetheless.
Human Rights Campaign 1994
After college, I had hopes of getting a full-time job with an LGBT rights organization or in some area related to social change. In 1994, I received a canvassing position with the Human Rights campaign. The position was on a commission basis and I would go to various LGBT events and canvas folks to sign up to send letters to their legislators. I only did this for a short while and my hopes of doing activism for a living were quickly met with the reality that these jobs were really in demand and hard to get. My Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology didn’t go far. This was a time when many liberal arts graduates were getting jobs at McDonald’s (or so the joke went). I ended up working for Walmart for a number of years, before going back to school and eventually getting better jobs, though none of them turned out to be dream jobs.
Our Own Community Press 1997-98
I wrote a few freelance articles for this Virginia-based LGBT Paper during this time. I remember writing an article on the Roanoke Virginia Pride Day and another article on Prime Timers, a group for older gay and bi men.
Tidewater AIDS Crisis Taskforce (TACT) 1997-98
I volunteered for TACT for a number of months around this time period. Mainly I helped put together information packets and sometimes food boxes for AIDS patients. A few years after this I also helped put together a website for Project Hope, an AIDS Awareness Outreach Project aimed at gay youth that was hosted by TACT.
ODU Again 1998
In 1998, I received a staff position at ODU. I had kept up with the LGBT student group which had been renamed Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Students and Allies just before I graduated in 1993. When I joined the ODU staff, I joined the LGBT Faculty / Staff group and also attended many of the meetings and events of the student group. I also helped co-facilitate the LGBT Discussion group for a time. Additionally, I served as the webmaster for the webpages for these groups.
About this time, I started a short-lived gay men’s community group called Knights of the Matrix. We did various activities including hiking and movie nights. Ultimately, there was not enough interest to keep the group going.
In the early 2000s, I had a falling out with the LGBT student group. It hurt me on a very deep level given all the time and energy I had invested in the group over the years. It also hurt me that many people who I thought were my friends and allies didn’t come to my support. I bowed out of the LGBT community for over a decade. It took me a long time before I even felt the hurt had resolved enough to go to a gay bar or attend the local LGBT Pride Day.
My Pagan Awakening – Early 2000s
Two things set the stage for my Pagan awakening in the early 2000s – one was the fallout with the ODU LGBT group which forced me to look for other communities and the other was that my aunt came out as Wiccan and that granted me an inner freedom to explore Paganism. I had been aware of Paganism before this. Some of my college friends had been Pagans and I’d always been interested in the New Age section at the book store. I remember reading paranormal “mystery” encyclopedias from the public library while in high school. I even remember some comic books in my childhood on witches and the paranormal that both scared and fascinated me. Two other things helped with my Pagan awakening – there was a local Pagan newspaper with articles, group and event listings, and other resources on Paganism in my local community and I was contacted by someone looking for information about a secret society which later led me to the fraternal Druid Order that I ended up joining and then leading in my local community.
Order of the Stone Circle (OSC) 2001- 2007
The Order of the Stone Circle was men’s fraternal Druidic order. After my introduction to the group, I started a chapter in my area. We held regular events ranging from workshops to parties to Solstice and Equinox Rituals. We attended local Pagan events and hosted an annual Spring Men’s Retreat.
The group never got to be too big, but we did manage some large parties. The local chapter eventually fizzled out for a number of reasons including: folks leaving the area, one member actively worked against the group behind the scenes, the national group was on a decline, and I just burned out. My Dad started getting sick with cancer about this time too so my priorities suddenly changed.
Exploring the Primordial Male (EPM) 2002- 2009
About the same time as I was starting the OSC group, another Pagan men’s group started in my area. It was called Exploring the Primordial Male. There was an overlap between events and members of these groups. OSC tended to be the more formal group and EPM was very informal. EPM hosted regular events and workshops and focused on “Male Rites of Passage” as its niche in the community. The group hosted rites of passage for soon-to-be fathers, sons of members entering adolescence, and at least one male turning 18. The last few years the group was focused on working through the warrior, magician, king, and lover archetypes.
EPM decided to officially disband rather than fizzle out as one of the primary leaders of the group moved out of the area and the other members did not feel they were able to step up to lead at that time.
ODU Organization for Polytheistic and Ancient Traditions (OPAT) 2007-2011
I served as staff advisor for the Organization for Polytheistic and Ancient Traditions - the Pagan student group on campus during this time period. As is often the case with student groups, they frequently fizzle out when the leaders and doer’s in the group graduate. I encouraged the group to groom new leaders, but unfortunately no new leaders rose up to take the place of the old so the group disbanded. The same thing happened with a previous Pagan student group on campus from the early 2000s known as the Pagan Student Alliance (PSA). I was not the advisor to the PSA, but I did attend and show my support at some of their events.
I wrote a few articles in the early 2000s for the local Pagan newspaper known as Paganet. I remember writing one related to Tolkien and the use of magickal languages.
Merging LGBTism and Paganism
In recent years, I have been more comfortable returning to the LGBT community though there may always be a slight skittishness due to the fallout I had with the LGBT student group in the early 2000s. I’ve resumed attending our local LGBT Pride Day. I’ll sometimes go to the local gay bars, though I’m not really a bar person. I even sometimes attend events of the ODU LGBT student group, though I don’t think they know who I am or what large contributions I made to the group and the LGBT campus community in the past.
I’ve become more comfortable merging my LGBTism with my Paganism. My podcast and blog are good examples of this. I’ve also attended LGBT Pagan events such as Coph Nia. I contribute to both communities in my own way including my writing, podcast, websites, and attending (sometimes planning, staffing, or presenting) events.
Read more about Mel's Current Projects and Involvements.