This Inspirational, Out and Proud Spotlight brought to you by Nathan Runkle.
Sexual Orientation – Gay
Gender Identity and Pronouns – He
When did you know?
I’ve always known. I remember having my first “crush” on boys when I was 6 years old.
When did you come out?
Officially, at 18.
To whom did you come out first? I really just lived my life.
Once I had a boyfriend, I didn’t hide our relationship. My family found out when I introduced him to them.
How did your closest friends and family react?
My close family (sister and dad) were both very supportive. I know they knew I was gay since I was very young. It wasn’t a surprise to them or anyone I was close with. Some of my extended family, which is very religious, was less supportive. They were judgmental and harsh.
More intimate questions.
How has your life been enriched by the LGBTQ Community?
It’s my extended family. We are all connected and bonded on a deep level. We understand each other, our struggles, and our talents. I’ve found so much love and support within the LGBTQ community. I’ve also found so much inspiration and encountered so much bravery and brilliance.
What are the common misconceptions about being LGBTQ?
There are so many, all rooted in fear and misunderstanding. Rather than give attention or energy focusing on restating these misconceptions, I want to focus on the answer. The answer is love and acceptance. Being LGBTQ is simply part of who some people are. It’s something that should be embraced. LGBTQ individuals want the same things out of life as everyone else: love, companionship, support, freedom, and equality. We want to live in a world where we are judged based on the content of our hearts, character, and actions. Nothing more and nothing less.
Describe the first time someone else read you (for better or worse) as LGBTQ.
I was always a “flamboyant” child. I was a competitive figure skater, did ballet, and loved playing with “girl” toys. Kids, even at a very young age, have amazing gaydar. As such, I was teased, taunted, bullied and harassed from a very young age. I remember being called a “faggot” by older boys on the hockey teams at the skating rink, by kids at school and by neighbors. It always hurt like hell. I couldn’t understand why there was so much hatred directed at me by people who I had only been kind.
Who was your first LGBTQ role model or elder, and how did they impact you?
To be honest, I don’t feel like I had one growing up in the small town in rural Ohio where I was born and raised. It was a very lonely and difficult experience. As I got older, I found most of my support from other gay friends. My peers. We supported and lifted each other up as we came out to our families and communities. I remember Ellen coming out when I was about 13. I was really moved by her strength, courage, and honesty. I also watched shows like Will and Grace and RuPaul. Having out and proud celebrities in the media were really important for me when I was young, isolated, and felt alone. I hope that young LGBTQ people today, in an age of social media and increasing acceptance, find strong, supportive, loving role models easier than I did.
What is the biggest external issue or challenge facing the LGBTQ community today?
Fear. Everything else is a symptom of that. The solution is so simple: love. Clearly, there is still a lot of discrimination faced by LGBTQ Americans – including physical and legislative attacks. It’s important, especially now as we enter a crucial political moment in our history that LGBTQ Americans and our allies unit, speak up, organize, and stay vigilant. Some of the current battles include “bathroom bills” that target transgender people, discrimination against LGBTQ children at schools, “religious freedom” bills that seek to give businesses the right to discriminate, and disgusting “conversion therapy” which seeks to make LGBTQ children “straight” through shame, fear, and manipulation that leads to increased rates of depression and suicide. On an international level, the situation is even worse with homosexuality still being illegal in many countries. We must do everything we can to provide aid, support, and refuge to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in these parts of the world. The US must lead by example.
The biggest internal issue or challenge?
Self-love. As RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else.” He’s right. So many members of the LGBTQ community grow up being told by their family, communities, and society that there is something fundamentally wrong and flawed with who they are and who they love. This breeds a lot of shame, which can make it difficult for us to fully accept and love ourselves, let alone others. I hope our community will start to talk about this in a more meaningful way.
Are there any LGBTQ nonprofits whose work you especially admire?
Locally, I support and admire the LA LGBT Center. They provide life-saving services, ranging from mental health to sexual health, assistance to LGBTQ homeless youth to seniors. I also admire the Human Rights Campaign for their legislative work and GLAAD for their work in the media space.
Who is your personal Queer Hero?
I have lots, but one (which I probably hinted to) is RuPaul. At first glance, too many people, he likely appears as just a beautiful drag queen. But Ru is so much more than that. Drag queens have always been at the forefront of the LGBTQ community, and Ru has been an important part of that. He has brought drag and with it the voices, struggles, and history of our community, to the mainstream. Ru always speaks about the importance to self-love and leading with love in our lives. I respect his heart, savvy, and creativity.
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?
Know you’re beautiful, loved, perfect, and enough. Life begins when we shed self-guilt, judgment, and shame and embrace ourselves exactly as we are. Labels are for products, not people. Don’t worry about fitting into any mold. We can spend so much time trying to make other people happy or trying to make them love or acceptance us, that we rob ourselves of our unique, authentic selves. Once we embrace that, we find peace and attract people who love us for who we really are.
How are you involved in or how do you give back to the LGBTQ community?
So many ways! One is to simply show up in life as an authentic, loving, happy gay human being. But, beyond that, I donate and volunteer with a number of LGBTQ organizations. I march in gay pride parades, am active in political issues facing our community, and every year ride my bike 545-miles to raise funds to support HIV treatment and services as part of the AIDS/Lifecycle. Giving back to our community isn’t only the right thing to do, but it fills my heart.