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It gets better

A local take on the national project to save gay youth

Photo: Photos by Carlos Amoedo, License: N/A

Photos by Carlos Amoedo

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Toward the end of my sophomore year, I dropped out of school without my parents knowing it and basically ran away to Florida and worked at Disney, got a job as a Jungle Cruise host at Disney. Of course, it was full of gay people, but even then in 1974, everybody wouldn’t go around yelling and screaming that they were gay, and I wasn’t in on the code words. There was a lot of pressure, though, because everyone around me was dating. I pretended to have girlfriends – or I did have girlfriends but didn’t want to do anything with them. But then a Mormon came to work on the Jungle Cruise in the summer of ’75 and we became really good friends. He started telling me about his religion, and it was well known because he was Mormon he wasn’t to have premarital sex. He was a really likable guy and he got along with everybody. I converted and became a Mormon for no other reason than to have a viable excuse as to why I couldn’t sleep with the girls I was dating.

So I went to Utah. While I was out there I had a longstanding affair with a man who was just about to go on his two-year mission. And he had told me he was not going to confess that he had sex with another guy. I went and told the church that I had sex with this guy. So I ruined his mission. And they put me into a counseling program. I went in and, talking to the psychiatrist that they have, and I never say the word ‘gay’ and I’m not using the word ‘homosexual,’ and I’m saying things like, ‘Well, I did this with this person.’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘You cannot be helped, you will not be helped, until you say the words: I am a homosexual.’ He said, ‘Can you do that?’

So I said it, and at the moment I said it, I knew it was true. And like in a heartbeat there was complete and total clarity that I was and no one had the right to make me feel bad about it. Fortunately, I had this moment within days before my old roommate Marcia was flying in to be with me. The church’s very strong decree to me was that I should ask Marcia to marry me. We became engaged and sent out announcements. And she was already on her way to Utah to be with me when I suddenly decided this is all bullshit! On the very day she arrived at the airport I told her I wasn’t going to marry her and she said, ‘Oh, thank God!’

I just immediately made plans and came back to Orlando and swore never to be involved in organized religion again as long as I lived and have not. And it got better.

Trish Duncan, 38

CEO, Black Pride Orlando

I knew from a young age, probably like 4 or 5 or 6 years old, that there was something different about me. My family is from Jamaica, and one thing you understand growing up in the Caribbean culture is that homosexuality is unacceptable. It’s just not tolerated, not even a little bit. Really strong words were used, not necessarily from my mom and dad, but from other family members. ‘Kill the gay men, rape the lesbians,’ pretty strong stuff. When you’re growing up and you’re hearing that and you know already that you’re different, it doesn’t really give you a vehicle to be open about who you are.

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