Saturday Conversation: Growing up gay in South Dakota is the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with

By Rich Winter

Several weeks ago I read in the Rapid City Journal, and later in the Associated Press, about the Oglala Sioux Tribe legalizing gay marriage by a vote of 12-3. Gotta say a little part of my heart leapt as I read a very cool story about two women from Rapid City that fought for several years to move this legislation forward.

So, Monique "Muffie" Mousseau, right, and her wife Felipa De Leon actually got married in Pennington County in 2015. The couple has three children and four grandchildren on the Pine Ridge Reservation. So, the pair began petitioning the Oglala Sioux Tribe to change their law and order code. Any time you make a change to a law, it takes time, effort and a lot of real conversations with decision makers.

Guess what: These two pioneers got it done.

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The tribal council last week approved a same-gender marriage ordinance in a 12-3 vote with one abstention. The new marriage ordinance amends marital and domestic law that has not changed on the Pine Ridge reservation since 1935.

Yeah, since 1935!

There was a bigger reason though behind getting this legislation passed. The health and well being of the next generation.

“We are looking out for future generations, for protections and for equality,” Mousseau told the Rapid City Journal . “These foundations of laws have to be in place because we have grandkids. And that next generation coming up, we don’t want them experiencing the same (gay) bashing, we don’t want them to get to a point where somebody says a bad word to them because they like somebody of the same sex and they hang themselves. We don’t want that.”

Ya see it - ‘They hang themselves.

Just saw a note about suicide in South Dakota…

  • A new study shows South Dakota has the No. 6 highest suicide, rate in America with 22.1 suicides per 100,000 people.

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.

  • LGBTQ youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth. LGBTQ

  • LGBTQ youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth

And so, I wanted to share part of my story for anyone whom it might benefit.

Two reasons why I’m writing this ‘coming out’ blog (I’ve been out forever, just don’t talk about it openly)

  • If I can help one person, one kid, one adult then I feel like I owe that to the South Dakota LGBTQ community.

  • And a great social media post from Allan Bertram

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No matter what language we speak, what color our skin is, how much money we have or don't have, or where we live:
1) We All Love the Same
2) We All Hate The Same
3) We All Want the Same for our kids and Loved Ones
4) We All Bleed the Same.

I have such a hard time figuring out why we aren't always treated the Same.

We All Can Do Better, We All Can Be Better, and for our Youth We All Must Be Better!!

Allan Bertram

By Rich Winter

I should have known early on that I was different. Up until the age of 10 I certainly would rather have put together a bouquet of flowers than work in the field or shop on my families farm 15 miles west of Martin. But, eventually I got pulled into the family business and although I didn’t love it, I sure loved coming into fall football camp after a summer of digging post-holes, fixing fence and getting Farm Strong almost every day.

I knew at about the age of 12 that I was gay….Ok, now what?

  • Certainly can’t talk to my friends about this in 1980.

  • Definitely wasn’t going to bring it up at the supper table.

  • Teacher (At Central School, Hell no!)

  • Ecclesiastical leader - HELL NO!

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One of the really stinging moments of childhood for me, as a young Christian man was hearing that I was the most abominable of all God’s Creatures.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)

* If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)

Being a teenagers is hard enough…Wrestling with the inner torment of ‘Am I really the Most Abominable of All God’s creatures' is absolutely hideous. Hearing that was really hard for me…

Role Models - WHERE?

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The only gay character on television (In all genres) in the 1970’s was ‘Monroe’ on the ‘Two Close for Comfort Show’

Monroe was pretty over the top flamboyant and I knew that was NOT me.

And so, as I got deeper into high school, the dilemma in my head (Why do I love sports, is there anyone else like me, What the Hell is Wrong with me?) got deeper.

U can’t fathom the amount of time our LGBTQ youth pray to their higher power to take this away. Do you know what it is like to cry as a teenager, sometimes nightly, about this horrible secret you have buried.

It’s horrible…

Ya wanna fight it, Ya wanna fit in, be normal, but deep down you hear the gay slurs that slither through high school are you know that if ‘THEY’ knew that your life would become hell. Everyone thinks ‘Gay’ is the lowest of the low. Your’e gay, that’s gay, HOMO…queer boy….I was lucky in some ways…good at sports, fairly popular, decent student…No one knew or could tell?

There were a lot of people that were less fortunate than me. In rural towns across South Dakota I feel for boys that are feminine in environments that aren’t accepting. That kid is tormented, daily. Tease the gay boy, make fun of that lesbian girl, OMG is that person transgender (STARE, STARE SOME MORE…giggle and walk away.)

You wonder why the suicide rate is high amongst the LGBTQ Community

About a month ago I got up early in Lander Wyoming. Wore the same shirt from the night before, a Gay Pride shirt. I was up about 5:30 a.m. and as I walked to the convenience store for coffee, I felt that old what if somebody notices or what if someone says something fear creep in.

Wanted to share just a couple of things before this turns into a book.

In the fall of 1985 I walked on to the University of Wyoming football team. A few years later I was scorched with the news that University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard was beaten, tortured and left to die. The details were graphic and I remember thinking, wow, that’s scary and terrible.

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Shepard was beaten and tortured by two men from Laramie Wyoming.

They crushed his brain stem and Shepard suffered four skull fractures from the blows of a .357 Magnum.

1988…It’s still scary!

Wanted to close with a couple things.

After first moving to Mission in February, 2005, and after thwarting the advances of the local ladies (Jenny, Shyloe, Heather, Roberta jk) I had someone tell me that in the Native American culture gay people are thought to have two spirits. Wow, a group that actually recognizes people like me as a real thing…

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Wikipedia: Two-Spirit is a modern, pan-Indian, umbrella term used by some Indigenous North Americans to describe Native people in their communities who fulfill a traditional third-gender ceremonial role in their cultures.

To the young people out there from the LGBTQ community….I get your pain.

No matter where you live, no matter your station in life, there are people like you. You are not alone…And in some cultures, you are revered…Your life matters!

If you can’t find someone to talk to…Talk to me…

To the Parents:

Seems like my mom at one point went to her pediatrician when I was about 38. She, like a lot of parental figures struggle with blaming themselves. She even broke down when explaining her son was gay and that she thought it was in some way her fault.

NOT the Pediatrician told her!

I get it, there are no handbooks on how to handle this? What are you supposed to say to your child? I have questions, where can I find someone to talk more about my gay, bi or transgender kids?

A lot of people feel strongly about some of these issues.

All I can possibly advise is love your children for who they are…Ask them questions, stay engaged in their lives and Love them and try to understand that what they are going through is 2-million times tougher than what you’re dealing with.

Be Kind!

To the General Public:

To the kids that get this far….I would so love if you stopped dropping the HOMO/FAGGOT, GAY slang that permeates high school. To kids that don’t do that, stand up and help those that can’t help for themselves.

The next time you see a transgendered person…Stop staring, stick your hand out and say hello what’s your name. No matter how different something or someone seems like, that is a person across from you…

A person that just wants to feel ok and a person that has hopes and dreams and is smart. I really feel for transgender folks…That has to be so hard…The discrimination for jobs and housing and college, and the torment from staring and insensitive people….

Then remember what Coach Bertram said earlier.

1) We All Love the Same
2) We All Hate The Same
3) We All Want the Same for our kids and Loved Ones
4) We All Bleed the Same.

I really enjoyed getting to meet more east river parents during the summer tournaments I attended. I get a lot of strange looks when I tell people I write for Sacred Hoops and the Todd County Tribune, BUT, live in Salt Lake City.

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Here’s WHY:

I’m wearing the Raiders hat and my partner Javier is on the left.

We’ve been friends since 1992 and partners since 2005.

Javier grew up in Chile.

This is not written for anyone to pat me on the back…(Honey I’ve been out a long time and I’m not going in anytime soon - gay humor).

I really wanted to paint a picture of what it is like to grow up gay in small-town South Dakota. Seems like there can be some real conversations on how to help a segment of our population that struggles with ‘their’ reality.

The suicide stats are real…How can WE do BETTER?