Glennda Testone is a women's rights and gay rights activist and the current executive director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of New York City. The 34-year-old was selected to lead the LGBT Center in 2009 after a nationwide search, becoming the first woman to run this center and one of the youngest leaders of a major LGBT organization. Founded in 1983, the center is the second-largest LGBT community center in the world after the center in Los Angeles. Previously Testone severed as vice president of the Woman's Media Center for three years and the senior director of media programs at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation before that.
Question: What was the first time you realized you were attracted to a woman?
Glennda Testone: You’re gonna make me blush. I do. I was working for a gay organization. I was in a lesbian bar in Texas – Dallas. And I was up until that point, had a boyfriend and thought I was completely straight and she hit on me. And I remember feeling very flattered and surprisingly interested. She was confident. I think it was the confidence that really pulled me in.
Question How did you respond to these feelings?
Glennda Testone: They surprised me because I have a Masters Degree in Women’s Studies. When I was in graduate school, I lived with a troupe of drag kings and I had been around the lesbian community for years and was never interested in anyone in the community, so when this happened, I thought the question had already been settled for me, that I was a straight ally working for a gay organization, was working for GLAD at the time, and so it surprised me. And I went home and I called my sister and I said, “This woman hit on me, and I don’t know. I think I kinda liked it.” And she was like, “Oh, it’s no big deal. I kiss lots of girls, who cares.” So, and she was straight also, so that was surprising too. I didn’t know about her. And you know, I remember at the time, it was a little – it was probably a little scary and nothing happened that evening. But it got me thinking. And it got me thinking in a very different way. And it sounds cheesy, but I really started – I can remember driving down the street and envisioning my life completely differently; envisioning getting married to a woman and envisioning having a life, but with a woman, and coming home to a woman. And I really, you know, I don’t know. It’s like this door opened that hadn’t been opened before and I thought, “Huh, that could be my life.” And it seemed really exciting and really right. It just made sense.
Questions: How did you come out?
Glennda Testone: I had different experiences I think than most people because I was working at a gay organization and they, for a couple of years, have gotten used to me being you know, the straight ally working for a gay organization. So I had to go there and sort of come out in a reverse sense and say to everybody, “Look I thought I was straight too, but I’m now. I’m actually gay.” And it was surprising. A lot of people were really – I remember being very nervous and very – I felt a lot of, you know, I was proud to be a straight ally and working for a gay organization. And I felt really – I carried a lot of responsibility to sort of educate other straight people and bring people in, and so I felt – I think there was some part of me that felt like I was maybe letting people down and then I got over that pretty quickly and felt, well this is the whole point. This is what we’re fighting for. This is who I am and it’s okay.
There were some people at work that were sort of like, that’s fine, you’re experimenting. Just you know, test it out. Which sort of irked me a little bit because I thought, “No, this isn’t just you know, a fling. It’s like; I really think this is who I am.” So, it just feels that we all have our own biases and assumptions that we carry around.
And then when I came out to my parents. I was very naive and my parents are very liberal. My dad was a retired as a school superintendent, and my mom was a social worker and worked at a black community center up in Syracuse and they were very liberal compared to every other, you know, all of their friends, all of our neighbors. So I thought this would be a non-issue. And they had gay friends. You know, my mom was the person at work who would stand up for the gay guy. And I’ve never heard my dad tell an anti-gay joke or anything like that. And when I came out, you know, I was very surprised because my mother had such a traditional like reaction, and she is not a traditional person. And it was like, “Oh my God, you’re never going to have kids. You’re never going to have a husband and have this life.” And you know, I was like, “Who are you? This is not—I’ve never heard you say thinks like this.” And it took many years for here to eventually become okay with that. So, it was a process and I didn’t expect it to be. So that was surprising.
Recorded on July 16, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller