Location: Burlington, VT
Written by: DJ Doran
TAKE NOTE: This post was written while DJ & Joey were on their RV roadtrip across America. Sadly, their trip ended before it really got started. No worries, Shelly & Lucia are taking the Connextions Out n About Roadtrip to new heights, exploring one RV park at a time!
We arrived near Burlington Vermont under a bright autumn sun and made our way to the local Wal-Mart to park for the night. It is amazing how many places will allow you to park overnight for free if you just respectfully ask them for permission. Anyway, as I found a suitable parking space for Priscilla away from the general parking area we shut down the engine and prepared to go inside to chat with the Manager. We figured while we were here we would do a little shopping for food and provisions, which I think is the reasoning behind Wal-Mart allowing RV’ers to overnight there. It is always an interesting experience entering any Wal-Mart and this one was no different. After a brief conversation with the Manager and our minds at rest about parking there overnight we proceeded to shop.
When we arrived back onboard Priscilla, Joey busied himself preparing dinner as I sent emails to my contact, John, at RU12. www.ru12.org. I wanted to firm up that we were meeting on Sunday for the hike to Snake Mountain but also to arrange a meeting the next day to introduce ourselves to each other. After a few short email exchanges we agreed to meet the next day at their offices in Burlington. With work done and dinner almost ready I called it quits for the night and Joey and I settled into a quiet evening onboard Priscilla.
The next day we drove the short distance to Burlington to meet with John. The days had been filled with glorious sunshine throughout our adventures in Vermont so far, and today was no different. As we approached the offices of RU12 for our meeting with John and Mike, we were excited to meet some new friends and talk about our adventure and the hike on Sunday. We wound Priscilla through the narrow streets and turned down toward the waterfront. As is always the case when driving Priscilla, finding a parking space is a bitch, but lady luck was smiling upon us once again as I shimmied her back and forth into a space that just barely accommodated her length and girth without blocking anyone in!
Meeting John and Mike was amazing and Joey and I immediately felt comfortable and welcomed. We chatted about the RU12 and GLAM organizations www.glamvt.org and their community work for the LGBT community and beyond. While Joey was chatting with Mike and couple of other guys in the office I had a chance to chat with John alone and listen to his coming out story. John explained that he was going to be a part of a panel, sharing his Coming Out story after a viewing of the documentary titled “The Worst Thing About Coming Out” http://robschmidt.com/worstthing/ by local filmmaker Rob Schmidt. John and Mike invited Joey and I to accompany them to the showing and to stay for the panel discussion afterward. We gratefully accepted and made plans to meet John there.
During the walk over to the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center www.mainstreetlanding.com Mike, Joey and I chatted about what it was like to live in Burlington. When I asked him why there were no gay bars in Vermont, his answer surprised me. He explained that Vermont was so accepting of the LGBT community that there really was no need to have separate “Gay” bars.
We arrived at the theater and walked into the second floor lobby filled with people waiting to see the film. Mike introduced us to some of the guests and especially to Kim Fountain the Executive Director of RU12 and we briefly chatted about our adventure and her role with RU12.
Joey and I followed Mike and John and a few of the guests onto the balcony overlooking the waterfront and took in the sheer beauty of the landscape and a few moments later it was time to enter the theater. We sat among an eclectic group of people, each there for their own reasons. After a few introductions by the filmmaker, the documentary began. Joey and I sat there and watched as people from all walks of life shared their stories of coming out and how it had impacted them and others around them. Some were funny and positive, some were disappointing and others were downright sad and troubling. I found myself welling up with emotions as more than one of the people on the screen connected with me and my own Coming Out story. I glanced over at Joey and could see that he too was affected. As the movie continued, I reflected on how lucky we both were to have the love and support of our family and friends.
When the movie was over we had a chance to wipe our eyes and chat a bit before the panel sat down and the discussion began. As some of the people left that auditorium we decided to move closer to the front for a better view and to be part of the discussion. As the panel explained some of the components of the film and answered questions from the audience, we listened and learned. There was so much that I did not know about the struggles within the LGBT community. As each panelist spoke about their own struggle and answered and discussed points brought up by the audience, I anxiously waited for our new friend John to tell his story. His parents were and are religious zealots and his coming out story was nothing like Joey’s or mine. It was neither filled with love or acceptance and in fact he was ostracized and ridiculed. He explained how he was a good “Christian Boy” and had tried to be straight. He tried to follow the path that his parents had laid out for him and his faith directed. John explained that he and his parents are not close but that he is hopeful that someday that will change but also accepts the fact that it may never change. What makes this story truly amazing is Johns courage, love and strength to be true to who he is in the face of such adversity. His mother attended the film and panel discussion, not to support her son but rather to see what he was going to say about her in a public forum. She has actively campaigned against LGBT rights and causes and little did he know that one of the speakers on the panel, State House Representative Joanna E. Cole http://openstates.org/vt/legislators/VTL000233/joanna-e-cole/ was one of his mothers arch nemesis on LGBT rights. John Chagnon is, in my opinion a REAL hero and someone who can and will affect the lives of the many people he will touch including Joey and me, just by being John.
Joey and I left the event feeling like we had been changed as human beings by what we had just experienced and amazed how our journey across America continues to expand our heart and mind as we get to know the people of the LGBT community.