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‘Be who you are’: Alabamians offer advice to residents struggling this Pride Month

Joshua LeBerte

Every June is Pride Month in the United States. Pride Month is an annual celebration that commemorates the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. The uprising, also called the Stonewall riots, was a series of protests in New York City that galvanized civil rights activists and became the pinnacle of the gay rights movement in the 20th century. The protests gave rise to multiple rights groups in the country from the Human Rights Campaign to GLAAD.

Pride Month is an opportunity for queer Americans to honor the uprising as well as express who they are and be their true selves. The commemoration was first recognized by the U.S. federal government in 1999 as the “Gay & Lesbian Pride Month.” President Joe Biden declared June as “LGBTQ+ Pride Month” in 2021.

Although Pride Month is a national celebration for many, some Alabamians may choose to hide themselves this Pride. Several LGBTQ+ Alabama residents hope to offer advice for people currently struggling on their queer journey. One of these residents is Dr. Heidi Lyn, an animal cognition researcher at the University of South Alabama. She said it is OK for Alabamians to question their identity and to take one step at a time.

Baillee Majors

“A friend of mine shared a post on Facebook that was a turtle that was natural-colored on the outside and rainbow on the inside. It said, ‘Pride is for you too,’” she said. “If you’re not ready, nobody’s going to take that away from you. The goal here is representation. You can be out. You can be closeted. You can be whoever you need to be right now.”

Dr. Lyn said she has always supported the LGBTQ+ community but was never a part of it, until she met her current partner, Jen, while doing research in her lab.

“I was an ally for most of my life, until this one came along,” she said. “I grew up within the community and sort of outside of the community. I grew up in a town that is well-known for its queer culture. Saugatuck, Michigan. It’s like the San Francisco of the Midwest.”

Dr. Lyn grew up during the 1980s and 90s. She said it was hard being who you were at a time when people feared and even hated the queer community.

“I lost a lot of my friends during the AIDS epidemic,” she said. “To see that huge backlash in the community as well [as] see all of the gay-bashing in the 90s… was just horrible and heartbreaking.”

Though gay marriage has been nationally guaranteed since 2015, Dr. Lyn said it is still not easy being what some people consider different, but she still advises everyone to live their truth.

“It’s not a comfortable place to be in this day and age,” she said. “It hasn’t been a comfortable place to be [in] kind of forever. Hopefully, though, you’ll find yourself and find your people. Find your group. Find your support system. That will allow you to take that step out.”

Other members of the LGBTQ+ community echoed Dr. Lyn’s sentiments. Conner Dewees is a bartender at B-Bob’s Downtown, a gay bar and nightclub in Mobile. Dewees said he also had a hard time growing up.

“I grew up in a small, small town of like 500 people. I only graduated with like 50 people in my class,” he said. “It wasn’t common to be gay where I was from. When I did come out to my parents, they were accepting to a point, but they weren’t as comfortable as I really wanted them to be as parents.”

Due to his rigid upbringing and tightknit community, Dewees said it took him a long time to express himself. However, he said there is nothing wrong with moving slowly.

“I was always very, very scared to come out because I have a huge thing where I don’t like people seeing me a certain kind of way,” he said. “I don’t want to be judged in being who I am. It did take me a little bit longer to [come out] because of how I was raised, but if I [can] give any advice for anybody, I would just say take your time and don’t rush into it.”

Baillee Majors

Dewees moved from rural Louisiana to Mobile a couple of years ago. In addition to finding the right community, Dewees said questioning Alabamians should do what makes them comfortable.

“It’s just a matter of going to a [Pride] event here and there, not like being crazy going every week or something,” he said. “Just go to an event, see how you feel about it and just follow your heart. Actually find out what is your thing. Everyone has different experiences. Everyone has to go on their own pace. Be patient with yourself and don’t get frustrated if you have so many questions and, again, ask questions. We love answering questions.”

Champagne Munroe works alongside Dewees at B-Bob’s Downtown, but instead of serving drinks and taking orders, she is on stage dancing. Munroe is a drag queen. She performs at the nightclub for audiences every Thursday night.

“I’ve always been a performer,” she said. “I started doing choir in early childhood and then did theater up until college. Then [I] started going to the gay bars. Finally, they started doing open station out here at B-Bob’s. I had got whatever little Halloween stuff I [had] and then just started doing it.”

While Munroe has performed all her life, she did not reveal her true identity until she was a teenager.

“I was a little slow to come out,” she said. “I came out around junior year of high school. I came out to my friends first, then I came out to my mother. My mother, she really just wanted me to go to church and make sure I had a good relationship with God. I graduated high school and started going to gay clubs… My dad kept asking questions, and then finally he was like, ‘Are you gay?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he was like, ‘OK, well, just stay out of trouble.’”

Munroe offered similar advice as Dewees and Dr. Lyn. She said to never rush coming out, but she also said coming out can be quite liberating.

“You have to make the decision to come out, and you have to make the decision to come out when you’re ready to,” she said. “Don’t let somebody else or let other things influence you to come out. I do encourage you to come out and express your truth and live in your truth.”

Many queer Alabamians may be scared to come out because they fear the judgment of their family members or friends, but Munroe said self-love needs to come first.

“Even if [coming out] means that you might go against some of your family or friends [or] people really close to you, [and] it might go against their beliefs… you as a person will be happier and be able to live your life a little bit better once you do come out,” she said.

However, Pride Month is not only a time for celebration and communion. It is a time for visibility. Some sexualities and identities are not well-known. Many Alabamians said these identifiers deserve attention and that Pride is a great opportunity for this to happen.

Baillee Majors

One of these residents is Melodia, who did not wish to give their last name. Melodia is asexual. Asexuality or “Ace” is a term used to describe individuals who experience little to no sexual attraction from people of any gender. This sexuality is relatively uncommon. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network estimates only 1% of the population is Ace. Melodia said there are many misconceptions surrounding their sexuality and Pride Month is a fine time to correct misinformation.

“Asexual people aren’t really that common,” they said. “You don’t really see that many people who are Ace, but I feel like we’re important because we’re still on the [LGBTQ+] spectrum. Our attraction is still a thing. Just because we’re not sexually attracted to people doesn’t mean we don’t love people.”

Like many other Alabamians, Melodia said coming out can be scary, but it is worse hiding who you are.

“Don’t be afraid. Just go out there and be yourself,” they said. “It’s worth it. You might receive backlash from other people, but there are people out there who will accept you for who you are. It’s always worth it to give it a shot.”

Any Alabamian struggling with their identity and looking for help can visit The Trevor Project’s website at for immediate, 24/7 support and counseling. All counseling is confidential and free of charge. The lifeline for emergencies is 866-488-7386.

Joshua LeBerte is a news intern for Alabama Public Radio.
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