Kevan Gardner – Coming Out

“Sales clerks are not dumb.”

I was five when I moved [to Spokane County]. I graduated from North Central High School in 1982. Then, in 1983, I went to Guatemala for a year and a half [on a mission]; then I went to Utah to Brigham Young University. I was a theater major. I came out in 1987. I didn’t graduate until 1991. The whole time I was there I was the only “out” person that I knew on campus. There might have been somebody else [who was out] in another department or something. I just didn’t know them; it’s a big institution. But there were tons of closeted gay men. I only knew a couple of lesbians, because it was such a closeted culture. I’m sure it still is. It probably hasn’t changed dramatically. The only reason that people would get together was for sex, so there wasn’t really a real reason that I would know any lesbians. It’s funny because lots of men—well, at least half of the men that were contemporaries of mine in the theater department—have come out since those years.

I was not actually out to myself and in the closet publicly for very long at all. Within a year, most everyone knew I was gay, once I came out to myself. I just don’t like to expend too much energy editing my life. It’s just energy wasted to me. I’m not sorry that I did it when I did.

My family was freaked out when I told them. They were crying and stuff. It was difficult at first for them. Very difficult. Especially since the Mormon Church teaches this whole thing that the family is the eternal unit, is more important than any other. It’s more important than the institution of the church. And that the family stays intact from this life to the next life. Assuming that all members of the family live righteously, they can all go to Heaven together. But, you know, according to Mormon dogma I won’t [go to Heaven]. That is what is really hard for Mormon families.

We talk about gay issues all the time and they are actually quite surprisingly liberal for Mormons. They always have been, but they’ve become more liberal in the last few years. My dad came to that conclusion much quicker than my mother. My mother, it was really hard for her to let go of that sort of grieving. I just said, “You work on your salvation and I’ll work on mine. I am not worried about the way that I communicate with God. Let’s just work on our own lives and we’ll just see.” I mean, they know I’m a good person. My parents, I think, have issues with the church’s stance on [homosexuality] and even some on other social issues, even with some issues of reproductive choice.

I’m super out. I work for a queer organization. I’m a big old drag queen. I do all these shows. I’m always shopping for stuff and I’m very up front when I’m shopping. I don’t go, “This is for my big sister who is the same size as I am, miraculously.”  No. I say “I’m doing a show and I’m looking for a pretty gown.” Ka-ching. Ka-ching. They get excited. You know, sales clerks are not dumb. They know that drag queens probably spend more on gowns than women do. They just go “Oh!” I have had more sales people, when they realize that I’m a drag queen and I’m shopping in their store, give me some pretty good attention. I do notice that when I go further outside of the city . . . I think NorthTown [Mall] is still okay, but sometimes in the Valley, when you go out in there, it’s still a little bit more removed. Spokane is not hugely urban, but there is certainly more of an urban feel than out in the suburbs.

I think it’s great the more people that can be out, because it does help the movement. I think there are definitely times when people are not out and they probably could be. I remember, at Pride Foundation we got a thing from a donor in Seattle. He was like, “It has to be anonymous and everything” and “blah, blah, blah, blah,” and nobody at work knew. Well, he works for Bank of America. I was like, “Bank of America is a major donor to us!” It doesn’t make any sense. “Bank of America is not going to fire you because you’re gay.” It wasn’t even because he was gay. It was because he gave us money. “Your business is giving us $10,000 year!”

Definitely there are times when it is not safe, particularly [for] young people. It depends. There are true places where they would be in danger of either losing their job or certainly having repercussions in the work place.

Legislation doesn’t change people. It’s not a panacea, but it does do a couple of things. I think it makes us feel safer. It also says something about the value system of our state. I think that everybody picks up on that. “Oh, of course it’s wrong. You can’t mistreat someone because they are gay.” I thought it was a huge thing to finally get [the anti-discrimination law] passed after twenty-nine years.[1] [Laughs.] I think that those things help.

I think it’s a mixture. It truly isn’t safe for everybody to be out, but I think there is also our own fears.

 

[1]A reference to Washington state’s anti-discrimination law of 2006.

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Source: Interview with Maureen Nickerson on 20 November 2006.