Letting Go of the Stories We Create for Ourselves
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: Do you come out to everyone you meet or let them assume whatever they want?
Glennda Testone: Yeah. I traditionally do come out to everyone. And there is so many ways I can come out. You know, professionally gay, I’m personally gay, I’m pretty gay. And I actually enjoy that because I think a lot of people look at me and you know, if they don’t know me at all, may assume that I am straight and I sort of like challenging their assumptions and say, actually I’m not. And I have a girlfriend and I run an LGTB organization and you know, I’m an activist for other LGTB people. So, I either talk about my job, talk about my girlfriend, talk about being a big lesbian, you know, all of those. And I really you know, it’s usually not even something that I think about.
But when I was first coming out, it took me a long time to tell my girlfriends from high school, like my friends who were girls. And I think it was exactly what you were talking about, it was about really letting go of the stories that we create for ourselves. And I was the Homecoming Queen, I was the Prom Queen, and you know, Student Council, and Class Secretary, and all of these things. And I didn’t realize that narrative was sort of influencing me and created my image of myself. And I think telling them was – it felt really scary because it felt like shattering everything they thought about me and saying that I was something different. And I worried that they wouldn’t accept me, and I had a generally, you know, I didn’t have an experience where people weren’t you know, “Stop talking to me,” or anything. And I was worried that they might.
And I think I was more worried about you know, I think it was my own internal homophobia and hesitation sort of projected on them, that I was worried that they would look down on me. And when I did come out to them, it was, you know, as soon as it stopped being an issue for me; it wasn’t an issue for them. Like as soon as I got comfortable really being who I was, I noticed that all of them are fine and accepting and embracing and it’s not an issue. So that’s been really great.
Question: Is there significant overlap between the women’s movement and the LGBT movement?
Glennda Testone: I certainly think that, you know, this is probably the toughest question for me. There are certainly – there is certainly an overlap in terms of issues. Women face a lot of pressure around gender expression and certainly get punished if they step out of line, whether they’re straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender normative, there’s a certain pressure on women to really fit certain molds and be very clear about our gender and our sexuality. And so I see a lot of overlapping issues. I wish there was more overlap between the movements themselves. Sadly, I think it’s pretty siloed. There might be some gay or bisexual or queer women working in the women’s movement, not necessarily on those issues. There might be, and there are, straight women who work in the LGBT movement and I don’t see the feminism brought into that as much.
So, at the center, we actually had a program called Causes in Common which built bridges between the Reproductive Justice Movement and the LGTB Rights Movement. And it was really exciting and it was a rare moment where there was an overlap and there was a conversation about we’ve got common enemies. The legislation and issues, they impact us both. When we’re talking about health care and reproductive rights and access, this really impacts LGBT people if they’re trying to build a family. And so I wish there was more collaboration.
Recorded on July 16, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
At first,Testone feared coming out to her friends would shatter the narrative she had created in high school. Looking back, she calls that fear internalized homophobia.
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