In the inaugural episode of Shining Through the Clouds, we chat with Claudia, a resilient nonbinary parent of color living in rural Indiana. As the founder of Steuben Pride, Claudia has dedicated their life to creating safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth in the face of adversity.
In this episode, we discuss the handful of laws threatening LGBTQ+ youth and families in Indiana, the daily challenges of being a nonbinary parent in the middle of America, and why Claudia remains determined to stay and make a difference in their home state. Their story serves as a testament to the power of resilience, community, and the unbreakable spirit that shines through even in the darkest clouds.
Listen above as we embark on a journey of courage, empowerment, and unity in the midst of adversity, featuring stories that inspire us to stand firm and create a brighter future for all.
We are living in a day and time where we arguably have the most queer representation in media than we’ve ever had. Marriage equality has just been codified into law. Drag and ballroom culture have taken over the mainstream. There are clear strides that have been made in the journey to be fully seen. We’re here. We’re loud. We’re proud. And yet, never before have we seen such organized and blatant attacks being made on queer and trans people. Reproductive rights have been stripped away in most of the country. Trans people are viciously under attack in states like Florida and Texas. And, drag queen story hours are met with guns and threats of violence. So, how do we hold this tension? How do we hold onto a sense of hope? What activates us, and what do we need people to know about our stories, about our community, about our families? This is Shining Through the Clouds, exploring the impact of political targeting on LGBTQ+ life in America. I’m your host, Eric Fleming. Join us on a journey into the lives of queer families. Hear perspectives and stories from voices that we don’t hear too often. Queer people from rural middle America and from the deep south. We’ll meet people like Jayden, a genzer living in Ohio with two lesbian moms.
Watching them be able to express their love was unlike any marriage ceremony I’ve ever been to. I think it meant a lot more because for so long they couldn’t get married. If they had wanted to, they couldn’t. I can’t even imagine not being able to marry the person that I love.
Couples like Todd and Jeff who have been fighting legislative battles for decades.
You can feel the anger and the frustration that our community has. But, we are seeing people that are volunteering more, donating more, really getting more involved, and we continue in our activism. And when we’re out leading by example and really trying to get people involved…
And families like Scarlet and Crystal’s who just wanna live a normal life.
We are not big on political things. Like, listening to it every day. Because I feel that the more we listen to it, the more scared I feel and the least I know about it. At least I know that I’m feeling protected, that my kids are fine. We try to also talk to our kids, like if people say things at school or talk to us so that way we can help them understand our life.
Okay, beautiful people. We have a treat. I want to introduce you to our producer here. Luna Malborough. Luna. Hey, how are you today?
I’m doing good, Eric. It’s nice to join you.
I’m happy you’re here. You’re someone who always has really interesting perspectives and thoughts that really ground a conversation. So, I wanted to bring you in to ask you why do you feel like this conversation is so important. You know, what are you seeing? What are you noticing?
Over this series, we get a chance to do something that I rarely hear and see, which is hearing and listening to the voices of families of LGBTQ+ families directly to really hear from them how everything floating around is impacting them. Right now, so far in the year 2023, we’ve had 1,300 bills being drawn that specifically attack LGBTQ+ people and families, right? This is up-to-the-minute tracking from Equality Federation, that’s really been doing a lot of work, seeing the things that are happening on the ground and raising those alarms. But this is the thing. We have all of these bills being raised to politically target LGBTQ+ people, but that’s not it, right? We also have, like, like you mentioned before, the intimidation of folks at drag shows. We have people shooting cans of Bud Light in response to having a trans person be represented for that product.
We have people throwing tirades at Target and really shutting down and trying to shut down Pride apparel. So I feel like there is a sense, even outside of things that are going on politically, there’s a real sense of questioning safety. Is it safe for me to actually live and be in the United States of America right now? And I think that that’s something that a lot of people that are straight or are allies aren’t really thinking about because I don’t really hear them talking about that. And it seems like many people are quite comfortable right now while so many people are fearing for their lives. And I have questions around that. I have questions around what it’s like to be comfortable when so many people are fearing for their safety and what it’s like to be silent if you deem yourself an ally to LGBTQ+ people.
And so in this conversation, as we’ve spoken to all of these different families, we’ve heard again and again from folks about the importance of allies speaking up about the importance of it. Not just being LGBTQ+ people that speak to their experience and that challenge and push back on all of this targeting that we actually need to bring more people along and to hear more voices. And so I’m really hoping that this series will illuminate some realities for people that I don’t know if people know. And I also think if you’re a queer person or an LGBTQ+ person listening to this podcast series, I hope that you hear the reflections of other folks and other states. And I hope that it gives you hope and helps you feel connected. Because what we know right now that we need more than ever is community is connection and is the strength of chosen family.
Community, connection, and the power of chosen family. These themes are very present in the next clip from Claudia. Claudia is a non-binary person of color living in rural Indiana. They founded an organization that supports and provides safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth. In this clip, we hear a lot of frustration and pain, specifically around gender expression and bathrooms, which have been a huge topic of conversation in the news and the media as of late. Claudia has been kicked out of the bathroom or prevented from entering four times within the past month. Four times! Imagine. So this clip gets into that a bit, and we hear why they choose to stay despite the challenges, despite not feeling safe on a day-to-day basis. Why is it important for them to be a figure in this community? Take a listen.
I’m the founder and president of Steuben Pride. It’s a pride group here in Angola, and we helped the GSA from high school. And whenever I get asked something like, what do I think about the bills that are happening? I always say I am 42 years old, and I still struggle when I go to a rest area because I don’t know where I should go. And all I need to do is use the bathroom. I don’t care about anybody else. I don’t care about who’s in there. The only thing is I worry about is my safety, and it shouldn’t be that way. So if I’m 42 and I’m worrying about this, I don’t wanna imagine a 12-year-old or a 17-year-old. It breaks my heart that we’re not seeing it from the right perspective, and we’re focusing all our energy in something that should not need our energy.
We should make it safer for these young kids. We grew up in a different era, and it was harsh. So now when I see these kids that can’t even speak in their own household because they’re, they don’t feel safe, and then they go out in public, and they still can’t feel safe in schools. I mean, we’re pushing our youth to places where they shouldn’t be to look for safety if all these bills that are about to pass, and my biggest fear is the state I’m in, we’ve lost some from Indiana. They’ve moved away, and their first thing is, how do you stay? We’re straight and we’re leaving because of this and you’re staying. And my answer to them is, if we all go, what’s gonna happen with the youth that is out here? I mean, are we all to abandon them? I mean, I, I fear the bills, and I, I’m, I’m losing hope that Indiana’s even gonna do any kind of approach to better than ourselves as a state. But we have to stick around. And the same way that I, that I’ve talked to adults that are straight allies, I know that we can make a difference. I I’m not gonna run away, I’m not gonna turn my back on those kids that are hopeful for something.
I love this conversation with Claudia because we get a lot of context around how legislation is impacting families, the community and our youth. We talk briefly in this clip about a bill passing through the Indiana Senate that would require teachers to send written notification to parents or guardians notifying them of their child’s pronoun preferences and other markers of gender expression. Not even considering the child is ready to come out or not, not considering if it’s safe at home for them to be out. Let’s hear what Claudia has to say.
I really don’t understand what a teacher has to do with letting somebody, you know, just shining them out. I wasn’t ready to come out until I was in my living in my own in a different state. I already, I was able to come out just because I wasn’t under my parents’ roof. Not because they were violent, but because they weren’t gonna give me the same love that my other siblings were gonna get because they weren’t gonna understand it. It’s already hard enough what we go through growing up in a family, because I’ve always told kids, it’s not only your experience, it’s your parents’ experience. They have to understand also, they’re going through a transition as well. You know, I mean, they have their own scars that they have to heal just like, like we do in our community. So when a teacher can’t just out somebody that’s scary, that scares me.
That tells me that people like us, that have groups that have support groups, we’re gonna have a lot of work on our shoulders because if our suicidal rates are high, they’re gonna skyrocket. And it’s all because of somebody saying, I don’t want my kid to turn out like these kind of groups. So we’re gonna have to pass laws that will keep our kids safe. And all I say is, we’re still here. We’re not going anywhere. It doesn’t matter what kind of laws you pass, you know, it’s, it’s just a natural thing that happens. We’re just in love with somebody that you don’t understand. So I fell in love with somebody that was a female and I was born in a female body. That does not change me as a person. I, you know, I still have the same goals and the same dreams as anybody else that is a man and a woman in a relationship.
Stories like this are really important. As someone who lives in New York City, this isn’t my day-to-day reality. I’m very removed or had been very removed from the stakes of the attacks on LGBTQIA+ folks in other parts of the states. This next clip grounds us in the fears and realities of what people like Claudia are dealing with. We hear the impact of these attacks and the weight of the emotional loss and stress.
I’m fearful, I’m scared, and at times I’m tired because it seems like we’re constantly fighting. We are constantly, if if it’s not one thing, it’s, it’s a equality, it’s marriage equality, it’s trans bills attacking our kids. It’s hard, hard to the point that, how do I explain to my kid? I mean, I had a hard time explaining to him when I had to, uh, write a letter to our senator due to the equality act, the marriage equality. I mean, I had to explain to him, Hey, guess what? If this law passes by my adoption towards you is totally gone. So how do you explain to your son, Hey, I can go out in public, I’ll have to have a top surgery in order for me to walk down the street with you and feel safe so everybody can identify me as a male, or I can’t pick you up from school because I can be a danger to, to other kids.
There’s so many emotions towards all the laws, uh, to be honest, uh, personally, and like I said, I fear for myself, but I think I can survive because I’m in, I depend on my own income. I depend on my own household. But there’s a lot of young kids out there that don’t have that luxury. Our family has been exposed, our family has been well known in the community. And when, when we first started, like she said, we, we dealt with a lot of discrimination. Little by little, it’s getting better. It’s improving. It hurts me because in reality, my family is in second place. Why, why do I say that? Because if, if meetings are happening, if events are happening, I have to be there. My family has to tag along to put together a pride event. It doesn’t, it doesn’t happen in weeks. It happens in months.
The day of the pride event, I hardly see my family. So yes, I’m sacrificing even their wellbeing, I should say. It’s a small community. So yes, my family is really well exposed and I know they probably see the other side of, of my objective and I feel terrible. I feel terrible. But I, I always remind her, you know, lately our events have been growing, right? We started with not even a g Ss a here in the high school, uh, that started I think a couple years ago. So they go to all the events, obviously. ’cause I need hands. I need somebody to help me pass the chips or do something. Um, so she’s seeing the kids grow too. She’s seeing the audience. And when we come back from those events, I always tell her, thank you. It’s, they’re growing. We’re reaching out. You know, am I gonna look back when I’m 70 or 80 and look at her and say, why did you stick around? Yes, I will ask that. Because it just takes somebody to truly love me to stick around with my weird, crazy ideas of, it’s not good, but we’re gonna stay anyways, <laugh>. So it, it is a constant battle. It’s stressful at times and that’s, that’s the part where I’m at. It’s tiring. And there’s times you wanna give up just because of that. Because I would like to just enjoy my family just from the bleachers and not actually be, be putting together the show.
Now I know we just heard a lot from Claudia, but we will be back to hear more from them and their partner Rosie. Rosie is a person I think that perfectly illustrates why considering intersecting marginalized identities is really important. She’s a woman of color, an immigrant living in rural America, and English is not her first language. Notice we haven’t even talked about safety and queer discrimination yet. There is a lot here. We are only just beginning to scratch the surface of all of these queer stories we have to tell. See you on the next episode.
Family Equality is creating a world where everyone can experience the love, safety, and belonging of family. As the leading national organization for current and future LGBTQ+ families, we work to advance equality through advocacy, support, storytelling, and education to ensure that everyone has the freedom to find form and sustain their families. This has been a Joy channel production in partnership with Family Equality. Our executive producer is Luna Malborough sound designed by Sean Braley, music and Music. Designed by Will Clemens of Ill Will Rhythms Incorporated, story production and hosting by yours truly, Eric Fleming. Thanks for listening.