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L.A. Gay Pride 2012: Organizer Vincent Jones Answers 'What Does It Mean To Be Gay?'

Vincent Jones

Vincent Jones

'What does it mean to be gay?' A seemingly simple question, but one that's not often asked. With Los Angeles Gay Pride starting this Friday, various gay folks give us their answers in a weeklong series.

Vincent Jones is a community organizer who shapes LGBT programs at the Liberty Hill Foundation, where he is a

deputy director and senior program officer. He shares his story and his thoughts:

When I think of what it means to be gay to me, I think of constant

navigation through a series of choices...

A misguided or misinformed few might believe that choosing to be gay

is among that set of choices. I do not.

The stirrings of affection toward male classmates in elementary school when I had neither the vocabulary to describe what I was feeling nor an inkling of comprehension of homosexuality is enough for me to know that I had no choice in the matter.

But life for gay people is filled with choices. For starters, most of us choose to come out.

That is, perhaps, the biggest and most emotional choice. Even the act of coming out involves a series of choices.

First, we are faced with the choice of accepting ourselves.

Then, we choose whom, how, and when to break the big news. Now, in many cases, coming out is a formality, as those close to us "know" that we're gay but have been waiting for us to choose to tell them. In other instances, choosing to come out is met

with violence, a loss of housing, academic distress, or a host of other negative outcomes.

Then after we come out the first time, we continue to choose whether or not to do it in nearly every interaction.

How many of us have been at lunch with co-workers on Monday morning when the conversation turns to the weekend? Do you talk about the weekend trip to Palm Springs

with the boys or the Saturday morning you spent knocking on doors in South Los Angeles to talk to people about LGBT equality? Or, if you have a desk, do you display pictures of your partner?

Many of us choose not to be gay in the workplace out of legitimate fear for negative repercussions. In more than half the states of the union, we can be fired for being gay. And when legal protections against employment discrimination exist, an array of subtle barriers emerge to form a "pink" ceiling that leads many to decide against being their full selves at work.

For example, if you know your superiors are social conservatives - of either party - you might make the judgment call to downplay being gay. Or if you work in a sales environment, you might avoid being fully open with certain clients.

As someone born both gay and black, I find myself navigating similar terrain constantly.

Though politically liberal, black people tend to be personally conservative and more likely to be regular church-goers or religious than the general population. It's important to me to be an active member of my black community. So, I have accepted that I will have to make awkward choices at times.

Early in my career, I chose not to be out despite the fact that I lived with my boyfriend and was out to most of the people in my life.

When I wanted time off to participate in a gay pride-related activity, I decided the time had come to let my co-workers know the truth. Two jobs later, I chose to go back in the closet.

Ironically, I worked for an extremely gay-friendly member of the New York City Council, and gay rights, specifically marriage equality, was one of my areas of legislative responsibility.

For some reason, I never truly came out in that setting, though I'm certain everyone in my office new the truth.

In fact, it wasn't until my first day on a later job with U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer's reelection campaign in 2004 that I truly came out professionally.

I'm sure the fact that I was hired, in part, to coordinate LGBT outreach and worked for a true champion of LGBT equality helped.

Since 2004, I have chosen to be a fairly visible member of our community. I believe that people need to see the full spectrum of who we are and the political moment needs more of us to do our part to truly advance equality for us all.

Now, not every gay person has to navigate the same set of choices. We DO all have the choice to love ourselves. I can attest that it's a beautiful thing when we make that decision.

Jones sits on the boards of Lambda Legal and the LA Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and has helped several candidates win elections and represent their

constituencies. He lives in Los Angeles and can be followed on Twitter @Citizenjones76.

Read essays by Robert V. Taylor, Michael Weinstein, and Tim Sullivan.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.