Photography by John Fortunato
Pretty much, I always knew I was gay. I came out at sixteen. My mother and father were divorced. My stepfather and I didn’t really get along. He immediately pinpointed my orientation, and would call me ‘faggot’ in my home. It resulted in a physical fight, and I ended up leaving. I was put in foster care.
I moved to Westchester from Nyack last year when I started my job as a domestic violence educator at Victims’ Assistance Services. I went to SUNY Purchase, graduated in ’07, and went right to work at Planned Parenthood in Tarrytown as a community outreach worker. I had done that for a little over a year, and then I switched over to Victims’ Assistance Services, which was also the same thing—primary prevention, going into schools—but instead of talking about reproductive health and wellness, I am talking about gender roles and interpersonal relationships, dating violence, bullying, the power/control dynamics that are set up in our society.
Being gay in Westchester is interesting. There is no gay bar or gay place. The only gay nights are on nights when you can’t really go out. The businesses want to make money on their dead nights. So, primarily, my gay life has been more focused in my professional work. In terms of social life, it’s more going into the city.
For the most part, Westchester is very progressive. Still, at one place that I worked, I was told that the ‘way I walk’ in the office was inappropriate. When I said I took offense to that, I was told I was being ‘oversensitive’ to the remark.
In another place that was supposed to be dealing with oppression, we were sitting in a meeting and somebody turned to me and said, ‘Well you know, I can’t call you a queen, now, can I?’ And no one said, ‘That’s not okay for you to say.’
// As told to Ben Brody
I’m a stay-at-home mom, and Carolina works for a nonprofit organization in the Bronx. I’m from Syracuse, and Carolina was raised in Texas. We got married in Toronto in August 2005. Our marriage is recognized in New York State but not on the federal level.
We moved here from Staten Island in 2006. We chose Westchester because once we had the kids, we wanted an area that was better and safer for raising children. We also wanted our kids to get a good public education.
When people around here learn or believe that we’re a same-sex-parent family, most say, ‘Oh, Okay,’ and that’s about it. I’ve never been hesitant to let people know that I’m not straight.
When I was up for nomination to be co-president of the PTA at my kids’ school, I wanted my sexual orientation to be known; not one person had a concern about that. I’m now the president for the second year in a row.
Our sexual orientation here is a non-issue. We don’t specifically look for only-gay or gay-oriented families to socialize with. We have more straight married friends and straight single friends than gay friends.
The Westchester County Executive’s Office has an LGBT liaison so, obviously, Westchester is fully aware that it has LGBT community members. It brings awareness to all Westchester residents. It reaffirms to Westchester residents that LGBT people live in this county. It makes us inclusive in the population.
The fact that Carmen and Diego have ‘two mommies’ tends to be a moot point. If our kids’ friends or acquaintances ask why Carmen and Diego have two mommies, I tell them that their parents fell in love and wanted to have a family, and they’re fine with it. Families look different, but it’s all about love.
// As told to Jenny Higgons
I’m from Ansonia, Connecticut, which is in the Naugatuck Valley. I’ve been in Westchester about a year and a half now, at Iona. I came here nervous about how I’d be accepted; this is a Catholic college.
I lived in a suite. The girls I was living with were my main concern; I didn’t know how they would feel about me. I didn’t know how to tell them I’m a lesbian, so I got a poster of two girls making out and just put it in the room. When my whole suite came home, they asked me why I got it. ‘Oh well, I’m gay,’ I said. And they were like, ‘Oh, that’s cool. Why didn’t you tell us a week ago?’ They were just interested in me, and totally didn’t care about my orientation.
I’m in the GSA—Gay Straight Alliance—at Iona. I’m sure there are other gay students at the school, but the GSA’s very small—ten people. I’m the public relations chair, so I’m the one making the flags, wearing the gay shirts in support of gay rights, etcetera. I do as much as I can on campus. I don’t go out, at least not in the area around here. I wouldn’t be able to go out with gay people to clubs or bars. And I just don’t know where to go in the city. If I knew of fun gay things to do there, then I would go. And, if I was twenty-one, I’d venture out into the city more.
I’m actually thinking of transferring, not only because of the gay life, but in high school I wanted a girlfriend and a relationship, but that never came. I thought in college it would definitely happen. That’s something that I want to experience, and it’s hard. So I was thinking of transferring to UConn, partly because of its huge gay population.
I was more comfortable in Connecticut. Westchester generally is higher income than my area. I usually associate high income with being conservative or kind of Republican. They’re not as supportive of gay people.
I’m not a stereotypical lesbian at all. I don’t dress like a boy. I’m very girly. I dress feminine. I love makeup and jewelry and fashion. It’s hard to be a lipstick lesbian. What can I do so a girl realizes I’m gay?
// As told to Ben Brody
Mitch Goldberg: We both grew up in Scarsdale. And, actually, our parents asked both of us if we were gay when we were seniors in high school. I think my father was upset at first, but things calmed down fairly quickly. It was hard—it was the seventies, and we were both fairly young. We were Reform Jews. My parents always voted Democratic. They both had master’s degrees, so they were pretty sophisticated, well-educated people.
I began telling certain people when I was a senior in high school. I didn’t necessarily want everyone to know. By college, pretty much everybody knew. I don’t remember it being a problem, but Sarah Lawrence was a very liberal environment. Those were the last two or three years before the AIDS crisis started. It was a very different time.
Summertime 1985, I liked Robert’s car. We both like old cars. It was a beautiful car. He ended up living with me after about two or three weeks. It was the height of the AIDS crisis, and getting coupled up seemed like a very smart thing to do. It was incentivizing.
We had a lot of fun in the beginning. We were both in our twenties. We had a more carefree attitude. We didn’t worry much. We bought our first apartment in 1988. I wondered at the time what would it be like. Would the broker be weirded out? It was nothing. It was strictly business.
This past summer, when our twenty-fifth anniversary was coming up, it seemed like getting married made sense. We were hoping we could have the wedding performed in New York, but, of course, it didn’t pass in New York. There was a room at the University of Connecticut in Stamford that sort of looks a bit like a chapel. We had a justice of the peace. I thought, ‘Gee, our mothers have never seen us kiss before.’
The reception was a combination anniversary party and wedding. It was beautiful. We didn’t realize beforehand what a spiritual lift it would give us. Hearing everybody else say how wonderful they thought we were, how beautiful our relationship was, made us think, ‘Wow. It must be true.’ The whole experience of getting married made us step back and say, ‘It really is a wonderful thing that we’re together for so long.’
Robert Mayetta: I’d just graduated high school—we had a family meeting, and the question was, ‘Are you homosexual?’ My parents wanted me to know they loved me no matter what and that I shouldn’t feel I needed to hide it. My family’s been here a long time. It was my great-grandparents who moved to Mamaroneck, so my parents were already third-generation.
It was at college when I started really coming out. I went to Iona College. I was pretty open. It didn’t seem like it was a big deal then. It was the end of the sexual revolution. We didn’t know it was the end. So everything was, in some ways, more progressive. We had a gay group. I didn’t really experience any negativity. Gay rights had made a big progression in the seventies, and then, when the AIDS crisis hit, there was a backlash.
We met locally, just through a mutual friend. It was a casual meeting. I went over to a friend’s house to hang out for a little while, and Mitch happened to be there, and that was it. I would say, of the majority of the people that I knew from high school or college who were gay, most of them are dead. It really hit our age group very hard. Of my circle of friends, I can count on one hand who is left from that era. It was a difficult time.
We didn’t want to have a big wedding ceremony. We were shy about that. It was less embarrassing than I thought it would be. In public, we’re not overly demonstrative.
Marriage wasn’t something we took for granted. When you’re a heterosexual couple, there’s so much in life you don’t even think about. You just take it for granted, getting married. It’s your right; it’s your privilege. It’s part of being a citizen. When Mitch went to the hospital, I had to remember to bring along that proxy—just in case.
// As told to Ben Brody
I grew up in White Plains and am a pharmacy technician at a popular drug store. I’ve been ‘out’ since 1998. I didn’t go into my current job saying ‘I’m gay’ because, for business reasons, I’m testing the waters. If my co-workers asked me if I were gay, I would tell them on a case-to-case basis. They will all probably find out when this article is published, but, by then, I think they’ll know me well enough so that my orientation won’t matter to them.
I’m single now, but spent the past eighteen months in a relationship. I’m looking for a long-term romance. I meet other guys at two places in White Plains: Elements, which has a gay night every Sunday, and Cabo, which has one Wednesday nights. I’ve gone to Manhattan to socialize, but, as I get older, I have less time, so now it’s easier to meet people through local bars, clubs, and friends.
Race is definitely a consideration in the gay dating scene. People are a lot more open-minded in Manhattan. When it comes to racial diversity, White Plains is progressive compared to other cities and towns in Westchester. When gay guys from our ethnically diverse areas get together with gay guys from our mainly Caucasian areas, you’d think our differences would melt away because we’re all in the same subculture, but they don’t. So my dating pool is limited. ‘Race dating’—when someone makes a choice to establish relationships with people of a specified race—is more prevalent and accepted in the gay world than in the straight world. People in Westchester look down on interracial dating. I’ve had a lot of guys tell me, ‘I’ve never dated a black guy before.’
So I have two strikes against me. I’ve experienced racial and sexual discrimination in the workplace as well as the community. Being African American and gay, however, has made me stronger. Despite everything, I love Westchester and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
// As told to Jenny Higgons
I grew up in Queens, was a high-school physical education teacher for thirty-one years, was married to a man in the 1970s, and have no children. I ‘came out’ when I was thirty-three, and I moved to Westchester in 1982. I love this county; it’s beautiful and diverse, with many opportunities and without the congestion of the city.
The best way for me to meet other lesbians is to connect with LGBT organizations such as Lambda Peer Support Services, Inc. [914-514-3220, lambdapeers.org, firstname.lastname@example.org]. It’s an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization that provides workshops, ongoing and short-term support groups, holiday connections, and other programs and activities for the LGBT community in the lower Hudson Valley and surrounding area. It’s a safe place to connect, share, and network. I’ve made a lot of friends through LPSS.
Lesbian bars come and go because lesbians tend not to go out enough to support them. I haven’t been in a committed relationship since 1991, but I do date and enjoy life. I don’t think that my neighbors or the people who live in my town particularly care that I’m gay. I don’t wear a sign; I am who I am. If anyone asks, I’ll tell them.
I don’t know if Westchesterites are more open to gay people than residents of other counties, but I feel comfortable here. Westchester’s LGBT community may be larger than you think. Being gay is not a choice; coming out is.
I’m a lesbian who is also a daughter, sister, aunt, teacher, volunteer, artist, neighbor, and friend. Labeling can stop a conversation when there is so much more to talk about. I’m a happy person in Westchester, and I happen to be a lesbian.
// As told to Jenny Higgons