This Inspirational, Out and Proud Spotlight brought to you by, Ken Ballinger.
Gender Identity and Pronouns
He, him, his
When did you know?
It’s funny, as I’ve gotten older and reflect, I feel like I knew something was different as a young kid, but growing up in a small town I was not exposed to anything other than people identifying as straight.
When did you come out?
I was 17 when I came out to myself, 19 when I came out to my close friends, and 20 when I family came out to my family.
To whom did you come out first?
I think it is important to say myself. As a teenager I was often teased as being gay or name calling in more derogatory terms, but frankly whether I was in denial, I just didn’t know or even felt safe to say out loud; until I was able to tell myself and be true to myself.
How did your closest friends and family react?
Overall it was very positive reactions. A few family members took a little longer to process my coming out was more than a phase.
More intimate questions.
How has your life been enriched by the LGBTQ Community?
When I turn 21 I moved to Los Angeles. I quickly understood how privileged I was to then live in a city where the LGBTQ community was large and full of resources and support. Not to mention living near West Hollywood gave me a strong sense of community and belonging.
What are the common misconceptions about being LGBTQ?
I believe there are many misconceptions about each letter of LGBTQ and certainly even some between identities. For me, two of the most misconceptions I’ve dealt with is regarding suggesting all gay men are flamboyant or acting/not acting in an assumed way; as well as assuming gay men, or perhaps just me, wouldn’t know how to drywall, frame, tile, or other ‘manly’ actions.
Describe the first time someone else read you (for better or worse) as LGBTQ.
This one is a tad more complex for me. As I shared my experiences as a teenager, the aggressiveness and bullying type of experience made me feel much more in denial or that I should be ashamed. As I matured and became more comfortable/confident I began to tailor my approach, mannerisms, and tone in specific ways depending on my audience. I don’t mind being read, I think everyone has a right to their own assumptions and perspectives, but when they become resistant to the truth about someone else’s person, then it becomes an issue.
Who was your first LGBTQ role model or elder, and how did they impact you?
I don’t about my first or if role model is the appropriate term, but in my early twenties, I met a friend of a friend. He was in his early 40s at the time and had been with his partner 10 years or so at the time. He was probably the most influential person in my life for years to come. He taught me the value of loving yourself first, that being gay didn’t mean I had to be, act, or look a certain way. He was always and still is a great sounding board for me to express my thoughts, wants, and desires with. He’s supported me in my relationships, community efforts, and professional development. We may not talk as frequently as we used to, but when we do, it’s as if no time has passed at all.
What is the biggest external issue or challenge facing the LGBTQ community today?
Not in the sense of a biblical marriage, but equality overall. As many do, I struggle with the global lack of acceptance of humans for the simplification of being different, and not just towards the LGBTQ community. My stance is less about communities, religion, or race- it comes from a place of being a human and treating other humans equally.
The biggest internal issue or challenge?
Perhaps the need to feel like you must label yourself. We all do it, but why? And it’s not an LGBTQ thing, it’s any time society places a label on a specific population, even with positive intent, for no reason at all. We, humans, did this to ourselves and have now enforced this behavior in our everyday life and continue to do so with all generations and those to come.
Are there any LGBTQ nonprofits whose work you especially admire?
I spent many years with The Trevor Project, the nation’s only LGBTQ youth suicide prevention crisis line. I was a Suicide Counselor for many years, saving several lives, and impacting so many more. I am passionate about this work because words of “it gets better” are not always true in every community across the nation. For some, it may never get better and they may never get the sense of community to make them feel accepted. I also have worked with Los Angeles and San Francisco’s Gay and Lesbian Centers for AIDS research and support. Even has a HIV negative person, there is so much hateful stigma about the AIDS/HIV community even within the LGBTQ community. Many people assume it only happens in the LQBTQ community, but it doesn’t. So spreading awareness and educating all is very important to me.
Who is your personal Queer Hero?
There is an amazing man I met at The Trevor Project many years ago. We worked very closely together on developing the training program for onboarding new counselors, he later became the Call Center Manager and after obtaining his LCSW he’s the volunteer Clinical Director and continues his work in the LGBTQ community. During that time, he had, in my opinion, the two most powerful words on the closing of every e-mail: Fight On. The words “Fight On” were symbolic in the work that we did, the life that we lived, and the tragedies of the on-going equality movement. To me, “Fight On” meant more than fighting for what we believe in, but to never give up and to never settle; to encourage others to do the same. That each road we may be presented with is only hard when we do it alone. If we Fight On together with the support of each other; together we can make a difference.
Do you have any advice for young queer folks who may still be defining their identity, coming out, or learning how to be their authentic selves in the world?
Call me. Call The Trevor Project, call the nearest LGBTQ Center, just don’t keep it internalized. At the same time, know that it is okay not to be “out” there is no rule that you must come out to anyone else, but always be true to yourself even in secret or to a complete stranger from The Trevor Project.
How are you involved in or how do you give back to the LGBTQ community?
I continue to mentor/consult with counselors from The Trevor Project. It is very emotionally challenging work and even the counselors need someone to talk to.