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For 37-year-old Candice Reisner of Jackson, coming out was a stuggle that ultimately cemented her pride in herself and the LBGT community. She marks her coming out by the day Ellen Degeneres came out.
“Jackson county is – wow, it is a right wing community, and the ’80s weren’t that accepting,” Reisner said.”I went with the norm, I guess.”
And the norm for a woman coming of age in 1987 was to find a man and settle down. Reisner did just that. She spent eight years with a man, and from that relationship came her two children. Both are now teenagers, and Reisner has full custody.
But the battle to gain custody was an uphill fight, she said, peppered with troubles because of her sexuality. “This is the birthplace of the Republican party. Down in our courthouse I find the lawyers and judges are always owing each other something,” she said. “My attorney said point blank ‘Candice, if you were straight it would have been done already.’ I went ahead and was myself and it worked.”
The break up was difficult as well, and her male partner did not take her newly-revealed sexuality well. But now, the two are friends and laugh at the difficulties surrounding her coming out.
She was scared of coming out to her family as well – but thankfully, the results were much different. Like most LBGT people, Reisner feared the reactions from family.
Her grandmother, whom she said raised her, was the one person she feared telling the most. “I was worried about what my grandmother would say because she raised me,” Reisner said. “I just didn’t want to disappoint her.”
So Reisner beat around the bush by pointing out celebrities her grandmother liked, that Reisner knew were gay, like Rock Hudson and Rosie O’Donnell.
Finally, she told her grandmother. “It was more me being worried,” she said. “We had the bond that was strong enough that I had hoped for that it didn’t matter.”
“I have always felt I had to do something for the community,” she said. “My first pride was in Lansing… . It was in 1998. That was my main passion, when I felt that there might be a possibility the pride might not even go off. That was the main reason I stepped up.”
And step up she did. With no non-profit experience, the kitchen training manager at Applebee’s in Jackson went from volunteering her band to performing last year, to stage managing and eventually being elected senior co-chair for Michigan Pride.
Her overall message to the entire LBGT community is to stay strong and together. “I would have to say don’t be afraid to take part in our community. Don’t think that you don’t have enough time. I write music, play drums, work 40 hours, and co-chair Michigan Pride,” she said. “I would urge all the gay community that it is time that we all come together. That way we maybe can be a voting force in the state of Michigan finally.
“We need to be united, not divided.”