Being Gay 'Then' Versus 'Now' in Castro Valley: Not So Different?

On the eve of Castro Valley's first-ever gay pride rally, residents talk about what it's like to be gay in this town.

Blog and Facebook posts show growing acceptance in Castro Valley of people who are "out" about being gay, including anecdotes that contrast the 1980s and as late 10 years ago with today.

Although things have changed, of Castro Valley's first-ever pride rally scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23 (tomorrow), said that in some ways, nothing is different.

"I wouldn't have told anybody I was gay in high school," said Frank Ciglar, a class of 1986 Castro Valley High School graduate. "I was scared to death that I was going to get beat up or nobody was going to talk to me again. It was a constant struggle every day: 'Is somebody going to find out who I am or what I'm like?'"

'Surreal moment'

He talks about "that surreal moment" when he has to make a decision.

"Still today, people assume you're straight. You have this moment inside you when you say, 'When is it appropriate to tell them I'm gay?'"

Ciglar is now 43 and has a husband. Ten years ago, his boyfriend of 10 years died in a car accident. Ciglar's friends and family knew that both of them were gay, but his boyfriend's friends and family did not.

They found out at the funeral and were disappointed, not because he was gay, Ciglar said, but because they didn't get a chance to express the completeness of their love for him. "They said, 'We wish we had known.'"

'No big deal'

Around the same time, in the 2000-01 school year, Blair Hansen, then a 15-year-old sophomore at CVHS, came out first to her best friend and then to her mother. Eventually, the word was out. "It was kind of no big deal," Hansen said. "Everyone was pretty much accepting and loving."

"I think it may have been because I was so comfortable with who I was. If anybody said anything, I never found out about it and my friends never told me," she said.

Judgmental stares

Hansen, who is also lending her support to the students organizing the rally, said that she sometimes encounters people who stare at her and her girlfriend when they are out together in Castro Valley, exuding judgment though not saying anything.

"It’s very weird to be stared at and to be judged, and to feel that," she said. "It’s not hate. It’s just .. how can I describe it ... just non-accepting judgment and, I guess, ignorance. I can feel the ignorance and the judgment. It’s the weirdest feeling in the world."

She thinks it's harder for boys to come out. "It's easier for girls because girls are more open, and I think men are more willing to accept two girls together because it’s not a threat."

Friends who no longer speak to him

Frankie Canto, the 17-year-old whose idea it was to hold Castro Valley's first-ever pride rally, said he was "terrified" when he came out, but it was "not as horrible" as he thought it would be.

"I had a lot of friends who are religious who don’t speak to me any more," he said.

He first told his best friend at the time, then more friends, who told more friends.  

Finding self-acceptance

"I felt vulnerable," he said. "I felt really weak. I felt like everybody was thinking about me, but in reality nobody was. It was really all in my head."

He learned to cultivate a self-acceptance that is undeterred by what others think.

"I don’t have a problem with it, but if you have a problem with it, it’s yours. I’ve learned to think that way," he said.

'Tell at least one person'

Asked what advice he'd give to someone who was afraid to come out, he said, "I definitely think they should come out to at least one person. You shouldn’t keep it a secret for long."

His opinion is based in part on what he's heard from older people who are gay but waited many years to come out. They have said they felt alone and frightened too much of the time. 

"I think it's good to come out earlier so you can be happier," Canto said. "When I came out, it was way better than I expected."

'Being there for people'

Canto's friend and rally co-organizer, Johna Murch, also 17, said her reason for putting on the rally is to create a loving atmosphere for people who are worried they won't be accepted as they are.

"I just want people to have the ability to be comfortable being themselves," she said. "For me, it's not so much about fighting people who don’t believe in us but more about being there for people and letting them know we are OK with them as they are."

Billy Bradford, a Castro Valley resident and for gay rights, wrote an about how he came to volunteer his help for the students' rally.

'Nothing remarkable or threatening'

In it, he said: "We want the same things in life that you want. In my neighborhood there are four gay households—one couple is legally married with children, one couple just has cats, but there is nothing remarkable or threatening about any of us."

Everyone interviewed for this story spoke of fear, a perception of Castro Valley as conservative but loving, and a desire to create a safety net for people who feel scared and alone but not of any attempt to influence the thinking of those who don't accept gay people.

"In my opinion, I think there are always going to be people who don’t accept other people," Hansen said. "I don’t think there's a way to necessarily persuade others."

'Open, loving and kind'

Now 25, Hansen said her approach has been to treat others well. "As long as you are open and loving and kind to everyone, what can they say to you?"

Murch, one of the 17-year-old organizers, said, "When I was growing up here, I thought Castro Valley was a closed-minded, conservative place, but as I got older I saw a lot of the LGBT community online, and then some my friends came out," she said.

"I know people who aren’t cool with it, but I don’t think people realize how much support there is in Castro Valley," Murch said.

'Things have changed'

Here are excerpts from the comments left on the , when David Ashton, the host of the page, brought up the subject:

“I graduated in 2001, and NO ONE was gay in my class. Of course they were, but they couldn't come out because of the homophobia. .... My little brother went there 4 years later, and said he had 4 gay friends in one class. Things have changed...” -Debra Marie Jauss

“I have sad and bad feelings towards CV in my day...a close chum of mine (class 85) was teased and taunted mercilessly for being relatively out. I pray that that has changed in CV. Great (but upsetting) question.” -Kim Major

Ciglar said he expects Saturday's rally to be a grassroots display among friends and family who want to show love, acceptance and support for people they care about.

Speakers, musicians, neighbors

In a publicizing the event, Bradford wrote: "This grassroots event will feature speakers, musicians and a group of people who understand that our gay friends, family members, coworkers and neighbors deserve the same love and respect that we all wish for."

Castro Valley Rainbow Rally

Date: Saturday, July 23

Time: 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Place: Castro Valley High School - Senior Lot

Link to Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=212650075446539 

David Ross July 24, 2011 at 04:23 PM
I'm not denouncing my own pride. What I'm getting at is that if I was to call for a Caucasian Pride Rally I would be called homophobic, racist, and other derogatory terms. The "salad bowl" view of America I think is dangerous. What has happened is that we now have a nation of hyphenated Americans rather than one homogenous nation that recognizes all Americans as Americans, period. No African-Americans, Asian-Americans, just Americans. We will never be a nation where all are treated equally as long as we hyphenate people.
Alex McMurray July 24, 2011 at 09:13 PM
I think we've hit a dead end here, folks.
Lauren Edwards July 25, 2011 at 03:50 AM
Good conversation, everybody. Thanks for keeping it both interesting and respectful. Acknowledging each other's point of view helps keep things civil. Really, it's not so much that people want to talk; it's that they want to be heard. This is a good place to do some listening and ideally, some learning. Wouldn't it be great if we mostly saw constructive problem-solving and information-sharing in the comments. Ranting tends to push people away. Not nearly as persuasive as respectful listening.


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