Greenville County, S.C., there exists three self-proclaimed gay bars,
one gay bookstore, several gay-owned and operated businesses and international
corporations that understand the importance of including sexual orientation
in their non-discrimination policies. In fact, some of the larger corporations
(Fluor, Daniel, Michelin) include domestic partnership benefits.
As well, there are several active LGBT individuals in the Greenville area:
a businessman who served on the board of directors for a local AIDS organization;
another businessman who has helped improve urban development and subsequently
provided affordable housing specifically for members of the LGBT community;
a nurse practioner who donates the money she once gave to a church that
asked her to leave to organizations that support equal rights for LGBT
people and an artist who admits she “is inspired by gay themes.” Yet
none of these people want their names associated with the gay community
or — more specifically — in an arena where the straight community
might discover their secrets.
They patronize gay establishments and even contribute to LGBT organizations,
but they choose to do it anonymously. At first look this appears to be
a dichotomy that just shouldn’t exist, but upon further examination,
interviews and observations one finds that being in the closet is a way
of life for a large percentage of gay and lesbian Greenville residents.
Given the fact the county once passed a resolution (in 1996) stating the “homosexual
lifestyle wasn’t compatible with the values of the existing community,” then
why are there so many LGBT people here? Why do they continue to accept
the role of second-class citizen, as approved by their very own government?
The responses I received were disturbing and clearly indicative of the
state of apathy that exists in Greenville’s LGBT community.
One of the businessmen, who refused to let me use his name said, “I
have never felt discriminated against. I live a very comfortable life,
don’t plan on getting married and am happy just the way that I am.”
Said the nurse practioner: “My church once shunned me.” Even
though she confirmed that she attended MCC-Greenville when it was housed
inside of another church, now, she says, “Once they moved, I was
afraid someone would see me going into a gay church — I am not out
The artist said she “didn’t want to associate with the gay
community,” because it “would jeopardize her career” and
that she didn’t believe the issues concernng “bisexuals and
transgender people,” had anything to do with her.
After numerous attempts to contact the mayor and both city and county council
for their opinion or insight as to why their LGBT residents seemingly feel
the need to stay firmly locked in the closet, I received no response.
After that dead end, I decided on another approach: this time I asked what
elected officials were doing to ensure that their constituents could live
comfortably, peacefully and without fear in their own community. Butch
Kirven, co-chair of the Greenville County Council, left me this email: “We
regard all our citizens equally.”
A nice sentiment from Kirven. However, almost 10 years later, I believe
we are still seeing a reaction to the 1996 resolution. Before and since
that time Greenville’s LGBT community has been made to feel unwelcome
in the town they call home.
How can the LGBT community expect to achieve equality from within the closet?
Now is the time for Greenville’s LGBT community to stand up against
the forces that oppress us.
Reach out to groups like PFLAG, MCC, Upstate Equality and Upstate Equality
Project. If we work together, we can make a change in the way Greenville
treats her LGBT citizens and how those very citizens feel about themselves.