June 29, 2010 | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Queery: June Crenshaw

Coming out wasn’t easy for June Crenshaw. She was out to her friends and some family and had a girlfriend in high school in her native Tulsa, Okla., but being gay in the Midwest at the time wasn’t cool she says.

“It was not a safe and welcoming environment by any stretch of the imagination,” the 48-year-old Shaw resident says. “It was extremely challenging and I lost a lot of family who would no longer associate with me. I also lost friends. It wasn’t easy at all.”

Despite the hostile reception, Crenshaw stayed in Oklahoma for college where she studied business and computer science. But a mid-’80s economic slump pushed her to look elsewhere for jobs after college and it turned out to be a blessing. She came to Washington for work and has stayed ever since. But the hostile reception she got from coming out stung to the point that she lived a straight life for a few years, got married to a man and had a son.

“He knew my preference was women but we got married anyway,” Crenshaw says. “It really was pressure from the Midwest and wanting to fit in and really thinking we could do things differently. Immediately it didn’t work.” Life was easier in Washington and Crenshaw was in a long-term relationship with a woman for 12 years. She discovered Whitman-Walker quickly upon her arrival and got involved. She’s in her second term as board chair and previously was on the community advisory board of the Lesbian Services Program and steering committee for a black lesbian support group.

“It was just one of the first places that provided a very positive women’s safe space to come and talk to like-minded women,” she says. “I got involved immediately.” By day Crenshaw does system upgrades and installation for Coventry Health Care in Bethesda, Md. She’s single and enjoys working out, shopping, dancing and socializing with friends in her spare time.

How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I have been out for a very long time and I come out every day — it is a lifelong process. The hardest person to talk to about being a lesbian was my son who was 7 at the time. It impacted his life the most and I was careful about protecting him but also living authentically and openly as a lesbian. It is impossible to raise a child to be honest and proud of whom they are if you can’t do the same thing.

Who’s your gay hero?
This list could go on and on starting with all my colleagues on the board of Whitman-Walker Clinic and Rainbow Response Coalition but specifically strong black local lesbians such as Sheila Alexander-Reid, Carlene Cheatham, Darlene Nipper, Donna Payne and Tamara Dunlap-Elkins and, of course, the late Charlotte Smallwood and Wanda Alston. I also find heroes in up-and-coming leaders such as Amy Loudermilk and LGBTQ allies such as Don Blanchon. My heroes are those people that show up and do the hard work every day no matter the challenges or obstacles and those types of people are all around us.

What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
I love to dance and Tracks was a great past place for that but my current favorite is Lace. It provides the perfect mix of a great meal, a relaxing place to have a conversation, great dance music and of course beautiful women.

What’s your dream gay wedding?
Being barefoot on the beach at sunset committing my life and my love to the woman of my dreams. And then a great party full of laughter to celebrate afterwards surrounded by all the important people in my life.

What non-gay issue are you most passionate about?
That’s a tricky question because all issues are both gay and non-gay. For example, equality is not a gay issue — it’s a human rights issues. The right to marry, fair and equitable treatment in the workplace, housing, access to health care and education, are human rights issues and are about fairness. …We are a part of the larger community and are impacted by all these things but we are also disproportionally affected by some issues. That said, I am passionate about the lack of service, outreach, education and support to LGBTQ survivors and victims of intimate partner violence.

What historical outcome would you change?
I would change the death of Martin Luther King. The civil rights movement continued without him but we might have made more progress.

What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
The new popularity with reality television. I can’t seem to look away from the train wreck.

On what do you insist?
Being out in all aspects of my life.

What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
Not much. I am pretty passive/aggressive around Facebook. I use it to stay up to date with friends and family without actually having to talk to anybody.

If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“You Are Never Too Old to Grow Up”

If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Recommend it to all my straight girlfriends who constantly tell me they wish they were lesbian.

What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
It’s complicated.

What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
I would like to see the LGBTQ movement leaders create trusted, supportive networks to mentor our smart, young talented future leaders and to provide the crucial leadership to them that is needed. I think we should partner more around issues to increase our opportunity for success. We have all these silo organizations that could use our collective energy and reduce redundancy and duplication of effort. We need to look for ways to increase civic and community engagement and improve diversity among our leaders.

What would you walk across hot coals for?
A pair of Lucchese cowboy boots and of course, my family and close friends.

What gay stereotype annoys you most?
“Lesbian second dates involve a U-Haul.”

What’s your favorite gay movie?
“The Color Purple” — it had a gay scene so it qualifies.

What’s the most overrated social custom?
To arrive late for an event or activity, not just occasionally but as a matter of practice.

What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Unconditional love

What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That life is so precious, we need to live and be in the moment. And where we are today is not where we will be forever.

Why Washington?
I moved to Washington on Sept. 14, 1985 from Tulsa, Okla. It was a culture shock for me. When I flew into National Airport the first thing I noticed was all the beautiful trees and the second thing I noticed was the diversity. I knew it was the place for me.

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

5 Comments
  • The WWC in it’s beginning was a Gay Men’s Health organization. It shut it’s doors to the ills of all gay men upon the birth of AIDS and became the business that it is today, a business that profits off of AIDS.
    As a result of the WWC turning it’s back on the everyday health of DC’s gay men, donations all but dried up and as they struggle to keep their doors open they have seen the light and will, finally, talk to you if you don’t have AIDS.
    It’s to late though…WWC has alienated so many people/gays, they will never recover.
    Rightfully so.

  • When’s the last time you saw WWC marching in a DC Gay Pride Parade ?

  • Jilly, sounds like you have a personal issue with the clinic. and i really sorry to hear that, because i’m sure you really deserve support the same as I have.
    Unfortunately, with the hundreds that come for help, all will not receive it the way they desire it. this has been proven with most out-reach programs “for profit or not”.
    Myself and a few of my friends received fair treatment at the clinic… i mean after all, it was free service for the most part.
    I’m curious Jilly, do you practice any form of outreach, do you volunteer or donate your services or money to any of the gay & lesbian support groups. Because if you do or did.. you would understand what the real problem is today.
    Free isn’t always free… someone is paying way! first of all.. and second… you would understand the shortage of staff and help that it takes to run these types of service WWC provide.
    So instead of put down the clinic.. Set up and pull in … help with the areas that have you have such hard feeling about being cheated.
    Many organization march in the parade that don’t support the health and well being of gay and lesbian community… it’s a marketing strategy.. FYI, you do there is more to the parade than just being gay or a support..
    But again.. I am very sorry for your lack of support… i can hear you desperately needed it and didn’t get it…
    Peace and Harmony my friend.

  • we have to be thankful for programs fighting to stay in existence. It’s really not as easy as it looks.
    if you don’t like how a program is operating.. step up.. show up to have a voice. and i don’t mean with a spoon and folk… or behind a blog (b!tching and whining) show up tomorrow morning with your sleeves pulled up, ready to work…
    I volunteer, and help is still needed.
    So Please Jilly and all the other people with hard feeling of rejection… step up and volunteer so the next client won’t feel what you felt.

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