Five prominent Las Vegans tell their coming out stories

Updated October 14, 2017 - 4:53 pm

There was fear. There was confidence. There was rejection. There was acceptance. Most importantly, there was the proclamation of individuality — and with it, the self-validation so necessary to carry on in this world.

Those emotional strands intersected as notable gay Las Vegans shared their coming-out stories prior to this week’s Las Vegas Pride Parade downtown and festival at Sunset Park:

Brian Paco Alvarez Business owner, arts curator and urban historian

There’s no coming-out pecking order. … Or is there? “Parents are always the more difficult ones,” Alvarez says. “I came out to friends first, then cousins and aunts and uncles, and even my grandmother, and then my parents last. And my father is hard of hearing so I had to come out to him twice.” Multiple declarations — a coming-out rollout — became an Alvarez theme.

Coming-out 1: Last day of high school, 1993, to close friends: “A lot of gay men will come out as bisexual first, and evolve to who they really are. I thought I could soften the blow with people with the bisexual thing. But when you’re gay, unless you’re very bro-y and masculine, the reaction is, ‘We already knew.’ ” Coming-out 2: In 1997, when, with his first partner by his side, he grew more public about his sexual identity. Coming-out 3: Around 2000, when ex-President George W. Bush pushed for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. “That’s when I became more of an activist and said enough is enough. We have to stop this. I really started standing up for myself and who I was.”

Acceptance of who he is came from many quarters, including his parents. “I didn’t know how they would react and you don’t want to stress them out, especially when they’re elderly,” says Alvarez, 43. “But my parents are very open-minded and espouse a worldly view, very liberal.” And yet … “I feel like I have to come out of the closet again with certain people. There are still people who are just not comfortable with that. But I’m not going back in the closet. This is who we are.”

Kristine Kuzemka, Attorney, owner of Kuzemka Law Group

She’s gay. That’s that. “I just didn’t accept non-acceptance,” says Kuzemka, who knew she was “different” at age 12, and, after falling deeply in love with a woman while busing tables at The Flamingo, came out at 17. And what she doesn’t accept, she got plenty of anyway. “I told my sister and then she told my mother and my mother showed up at my house where I was renting a room and created a scene, she flipped out,” says Kuzemka, 55. “They weren’t very supportive. And it was more difficult for her than my father.” Communication between mother and daughter dwindled. Though it took nearly a decade, her mother came to accept that her child flatly rejected her disapproval. At Kuzemka’s commitment ceremony with longtime partner Nancie O’Neill, her mom attended with her other siblings, as well as her father, who read a blessing from a Catholic priest.

“It happened because of me being true to who I was and saying, ‘If you want me in your life, you deal with it, and if not, adios,’” says Kuzemka, whose mother, she says, has since been instrumental in starting the Las Vegas branch of the national group, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (acronym: PFLAG). And she made another emphatic display of approval. “When I lived in Seattle,” Kuzemka adds, “she actually rode on the back of my motorcycle in the Gay Pride Parade.”

Rev. J. Barry Vaughn, Rector, Christ Church Episcopal

Opportunities lost can become epiphanies found. “It was at my 10th college reunion, and I was having lunch with my best friend from college, John — he was also the first person I ever fell in love with,” Vaughn says. “I had been ordained a short while, and I said, ‘I haven’t done any weddings for any of my college friends, so when are you going to get married?’ He took a picture out of his pocket and said, ‘He’s who I’m dating now.’ ”

Surprised? Shocked? Try flabbergasted. “I didn’t know until then that he was gay too, and I think I was an idiot for not realizing it,” Vaughn says. “I was completely closeted and didn’t have sex with anybody in college, so it just freed me up. I realized that I had been hiding this part of myself unnecessarily. I started coming out to everybody.”

Ironically, as an openly gay minister, though disapproval did surface, it wasn’t within the walls of any church. “I was really surprised that I faced more discrimination in the gay community for being an ordained minister than I did in the religious community for being gay,” says Vaughn, 61. “It says to me that a lot of people in the gay community have experienced a whole lot of abuse from religious institutions. But I always tell people I have been openly gay every minute of my career.”

By the way: “I’m single and looking.”

Andre Wade, Executive director, Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada

How to ease the coming-out process? Do it first with someone you trust. “I came out to myself — which is part of the whole coming out process,” says Wade, 42. “I was 26 and out partying. The guy I was hanging out with, I was attracted to, but the conversation in my head was not whether I was gay, but whether I was going to come to terms with it. And I remember going up some stairs in a club and telling myself, this is who you are. There is no getting around it. That was the moment I came out to myself.”

With that hurdle cleared, Wade was taken aback when he finally shared his truth. “My cousin, we grew up together, and when I told her, she was like, ‘It’s about time. I was waiting for you to come out this whole time.’ But I was seeing a girl at the time, and I told her. That didn’t go so well.” Other relationships also shifted. Several high school friends kept their distance. “Some made it clear, and with others, when the relationships dissolve, you wonder, is that the reason? But you know your view of yourself is going to change, and how others view you. It’s a negotiation. You have to say that you’re willing to accept those changes.”

Some changes are particularly difficult. “When I told my parents they were not, and are not accepting of it,” Wade acknowledges. “They have their own view of what it means to be gay and for them it comes out to be a choice. I have a decent relationship with them. But the struggle we have is having solid, honest, authentic relationships with family. It can be a huge struggle to get to that place.”

Pat Spearman, Nevada state senator, pastor of Resurrection Faith Community Ministries

Life in a “glass closet” isn’t easy, especially when you don’t know who’s peeking in. “You had to know but nobody said anything,” says Spearman, whose 30-year career in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps saw her rise to the rank of lieutenant colonel. “I spent my whole military career in fear. Whenever someone said, ‘Hey, the commander wants to see you’ or ‘The colonel wants to see you,’ my heart would jump. For those of us who were out to each other, the code was, don’t date anybody crazy and don’t date anyone who doesn’t have at least as much to lose as you do.”

Yet it was her parallel career as a pastor that moved her to bust the glass on that closet in 2010, three years after retiring from the military. “For people like me who were called into the ministry, I could not continue the charade and feel good about who I was. I felt like I was lying to myself and to an extent lying to others,” says Spearman, 62, who found that church members’ reactions were split. Some were supportive. Others? “Several people came up to me and said, ‘I won’t be back.’ What hurt was that several were people whose rent I had paid out of my pocket. They just walked away like it was nothing.”

Fortunately, the family of the woman who has since risen to Nevada state senator gave her “a priceless gift.” With affection, she cites her “Casanova”-style father, who approved by way of affirming they both were attracted to pretty women. And two weeks before her mom died from renal cancer came this moment: “She said, ‘I have known who you are since you were a little girl. I am so sorry I did not say to you that I love you unconditionally. I am so sorry that I let church people convince me that who you are is bad. And if anybody tells me anything bad about you, I will get up out of this bed and I will hit them upside the head in the name of Jesus.’ ”

Today, she says simply: “I wish I had done it earlier. I hope someone will read this and it will help some parent and some child. I am happy. I am complete.”

Contact Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com. Follow @sborn1 on Twitter.

Life
MAGIC fashion convention showcases men's clothing trends
The MAGIC fashion convention has come to Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to showcase some of the hottest clothing trends for men. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Army medic’s Afghanistan story told in new book
The graphic novel “Machete Squad” is based on journals written by Las Vegan Brent Dulak.
Las Vegas man talks about losing his wife
Dwayne Murray, 37, lost his wife, LaQuinta while she was at Centennial Hills Hospital. A jury awarded him $43 million last week after it said the hospital failed to perform the standard of care in administering a drug for her sickle cell disease.
Barber sets up shop in grandfather’s old shop
Andres Dominguez’s new barber shop is filled with memories of his grandfather, who ran the El Cortez landmark for more than 30 years. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Life and times of a 90-year-old horse player
Leo Polito of Las Vegas describes meeting legendary jockey and trainer Johnny Longden on the beach at Del Mar. Mike Brunker/Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Learning the history of singing bowls
Presentation at Summerlin Library teaches residents about the history of singing bowls (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learning live-saving techniques in Stop the Bleed class
Leslie Shaffer, an AMR paramedic, shows how to control bleeding during a Stop the Bleed course at the Summerlin Library. The class is designed to teach anyone how to control and stop life-threatening bleeding. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vicki Richardson speaks about on the power of art
Artist and arts advocate Vicki Richardson talks about the power of art to inspire and challenge. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DressCoders pairs tech with haute couture
DressCoders is a startup focused on haute couture garments. The company uses illuminated thread that is washable and can be sewn right into the fabric. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2019: Brava infrared oven
In cooking with the Brava infrared oven,there’s no preheating. the bulbs can reach 500 degrees in less than a second. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sinks Merge Style And Utility
Study could determine cause of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s diseases
Dr. Aaron Ritter, director of clinical trials at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, discusses his research on how inflammation in the brain impacts Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. (Jessie Bekker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holocaust survivors talk about tragedy and friendship
Janos Strauss and Alexander Kuechel share their perspectives on life. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'Siegel Cares' Santa delivers toys to kids at Siegel Suites in Las Vegas
Siegel Cares, the charitable wing of The Siegel Group, delivered toys to families at their apartment complexes in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Revisiting “Christ the King” sculpture
A longtime admirer of the sculpture at Christ the King Catholic Community in Las Vegas shares her perspective. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Terry Fator Christmas House
Arguably better than a hotel holiday display, is Terry and Angie Fator's home located in southwest Las Vegas.
UNLV Winter Graduation Packs Thomas & Mack
UNLV's 55th winter commencement ceremony included approximately 2,146 undergraduate and graduate students who recently completed their studies. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Build-A-Bear comes to Reed Elementary School
Students participated in a Build-A-Bear-Workshop at Doris Reed Elementary School in Las Vegas, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.
Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the LVRJ
Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center art depicts names of God
Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center founder Sharaf Haseebullah talks about new diamond-shaped art panels featuring some of the 99 names of Allah at the main entrance the Las Vegas mosque. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holiday poultry with Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine
Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine explain the different types of poultry available for the holidays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Catholic Charities hosts early Christmas meal
Students from the Bishop Gorman High School football and cheerleader team helped to serve food at the Christmas meal sponsored by the Frank and Victoria Fertitta Foundation at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada on Sunday. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Incarcerated Christmas
This is the fourth year HOPE for Prisoners has worked with the Nevada Department of Corrections to create a Christmas for prisoners to visit their families. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2018 Homeless Vigil
Straight From The Streets holds its 23rd annual vigil to remember the 179 homeless individuals who died in Clark County this year.
Getting through the Holiday blues
Psychologist Whitney Owens offers advice on keeping your mental health in check during the Holiday season in Henderson, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military program gave meal kits to 200 families at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10047 in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. It all started with a chance encounter in a supermarket in Utica, N.Y., near Fort Drum. A soldier, his wife and infant had a handful of grocery items they couldn't afford. A Beam Suntory employee picked up the $12 cost for the groceries. The program has grown from providing 500 meal kits to military families in 2009 to providing more than 7,000 nationally this holiday season.K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @KMCannonPhoto
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women at WestCare Women Children Campus in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Former 51s manager Wally Backman chats about new job
Former Las Vegas 51s manager Wally Backman talks about his new job with the independent league Long Island Ducks during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 10, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside the kitchen at Springs Preserve
The staff of Divine Events do party preparation in the kitchen at Divine Cafe at Springs Preserve. With nine parties the following day, this is a particularly busy time for the crew. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
ad-high_impact_4
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like