In our work at GLAAD, we know the power that personal stories have to shape perceptions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Today we are privileged to have Colette Beighley, the new Director of Communications for the Triangle Foundation, answer some questions and share her story.
The Triangle Foundation is Michigan's oldest statewide LGBT organization. We've been lucky to work closely with Colette as we advocate for fair, accurate and inclusive media coverage across the state.
Michigan’s LGBT community has seen you go from PFLAG mom to a full-time organizer for the Triangle Foundation, to now, Triangle Foundation’s Director of Communications. What inspired you to first become an advocate for the LGBT community and what has motivated you to take on these increased responsibilities?
There were several events that really propelled me into this work. First, when my son Ari came out, I read Rob Eichberg’s book “Coming Out: An Act of Love” and wept through it. I read of the rejection individuals often face when they tell the truth about themselves to those they love. I vowed that would never happen in my family. Certainly hearing about the violence my son had suffered before he came out was life changing for me. I knew that fear, ignorance, and silence were motivating the violence. I decided to live openly so others could be exposed to a family that was loving and proud. I explicitly told my children not to accept anyone’s shame. Then finally after a friend of mine who is a gay man said to me, “It’s really the Moms of the world who have made things better for us (the LGBT community),” I was mobilized. If there were a way to make a difference, I committed to finding out how.
When the Grand Rapids Press profiled you earlier this year, you told the reporter that you were “the mom who never shuts up” about fairness for LGBT people. What made you want to share your story with your community and the world?
Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I experienced culture shock when I moved to West Michigan. This is a tough part of the country and home to some of the largest funders of the anti-gay industry. When we moved here we thought, “This is a great place to raise a family.” I guess that is true -- unless one of your kids is gay; then not so much. Over the 15 years I had lived in Michigan, I’d seen others come out and be met with horrible shame and abandonment. Each one of those individuals left the area. I remember thinking after Ari came out, “This must be why I’m here.” There are so many individuals and families who suffer in silence, and I knew that I could create a larger space for them by kicking down the walls of silence and shame.
What has it been like for you and your family with you being so vocal about LGBT issues in Michigan?
It’s been a double-edged sword. There have been some severe consequences. We’ve lost many relationships and had others seriously impaired. We’ve experienced a devastating loss of income as a result of being so vocal in a small community. I’ve received my share of hate mail. That said, I want to be very clear that the losses pale in comparison to the gains. I live boldly and honestly. I feel that I am completely true to myself and that I’m using my heterosexual privilege to leverage change. The new relationships we’ve formed within the LGBT and allied communities are precious to me. And, most of all, I know I’m making a difference for other families. It is truly a great honor in my life to serve this community.
As an advocate on the ground in Michigan, what do you think about local media coverage of LGBT stories?
The Detroit Free Press does a really good job. Deb Price is a treasure in our state! There is good media coverage going on and I hear from journalists who want to learn more and find ways to be supportive. A lot of journalists are not educated around LGBT issues, especially language, but most are not malicious. The media needs to be educated and that is the job of organizations such as GLAAD and Triangle Foundation. It has been really encouraging to work with GLAAD’s “Announcing Equality” program. We are seeing the attitudes of some publishers change toward printing same-sex marriage announcements. This is progress! The more exposure the general population has to our families, the greater the opportunity to educate and reduce fear.
How do you think LGBT people and allies in Michigan can help get media there to tell more fair, accurate, and inclusive LGBT stories?
On the ground in Michigan, we have a group of volunteers called the Triangle Media Trackers. With the help of GLAAD, this group was created to allow individuals around the state monitor local media and respond to biased coverage in an effort to challenge, educate, and inform. Our Media Trackers are also quick to let reporters know when they appreciate a story that is fair and informative. Our Media Trackers maintain contact through a listserv and are quite effective in their oversight and response. Anyone interested in joining this group can email me at Colette@tri.org.
What’s the most important way LGBT people and allies in your community can help change hearts and minds?
Vote! The decisions made in this election will directly impact the quality of life for the LGBT community. Become informed on the issues, volunteer for a campaign, and help get out the vote!
Come out! Live openly and honestly. Tell your story. You will benefit by being true to yourself and others will have the opportunity to really know you. What a gift!
Find your voice! Every member of the LGBT and allied community can join the journey to equality. You can volunteer for a local LGBT organization; donate to your local, statewide, and national partners in the movement; educate others about the challenges facing the community. Challenge yourself to find out just how much you can do to create change.
Join me and become one more person “who won’t shut up” until we reach full equality for all LGBT people!
You can read more from Colette on her blog: Mostly Sunny with a Chance of Gay