The Sebastopol Area Senior Center provided a virtual safe space for individuals who shared intimate stories of discovery, joy, pain and fear June 11 over Zoom at an LGBTQ panel.
About ten individuals from the Sonoma County community virtually met Friday to hear from five panelists who shared their coming out stories, discussed what it means to be an ally and addressed representation. The Sebastopol Area Senior Center provided a confidential space for all to share stories and ask any questions.
Out of respect, we will do the same at the Community Voice; we will not identify any individuals from the meeting nor any specific details of their candid and revealing accounts.
Every letter of the LGBTQ community was represented on the panel. However, a significant portion of the discussion revolved around the transgender community and the process of transitioning.
“I was running to her, not from him…the packaging may have changed, but the contents remain the same,” one of the panelists shared in the retelling of their journey to transition.
While many of the panelists come from different backgrounds, locales and generations, their tales overlapped with many shared similarities.
All the panelists' stories were filled with adversity, but they were also teeming with love, triumph and joy.
“The light is at the end of the tunnel. And let me tell you, it’s beautiful,” the same panelist said.
But many of them also shared the pain and fear they’ve experienced. Some endured severe bullying and others were outcasted by family members. More were forced to conform to gender norms and developed depression and anxiety as they kept it all built up inside.
“I get to live in the world with a lot less fear now,” said another panelist about how their mental health improved after they came out and began to transition.
The panel also discussed how those who want to support the queer community could be a better ally.
“I think an important part of being an ally, in any case, is knowing when to take a step back and leave space for folks to speak, to listen to them, listen to their stories, and to do what you can to uplift those stories and uplift the folks in that working regardless,” said another panelist.
Lastly, the group discussed how the queer community is treated —and represented — in West Sonoma County and the rest of the county at large.
For the most part, the panel agreed that Sebastopol, Rohnert Park, and the directly surrounding areas have been accepting of the queer community for a long time and that has continued to this day. But others on the Zoom call thought the farther northeast you head that may change.
In the group, some said they do see a good representation of the queer community in local government. Still, others felt there is much more work to be done.
One panelist pointed out the lack of LGTBQ community centers and the significant disparity in representation of the BIPOC queer community, including Friday’s panel.