July 18, 2014 at 1:45 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Transgender Alabama man starts LGBT group in hometown

Lane Galbraith, Mobile, Alabama, gay news, Washington Blade

Lane Galbraith (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

SPANISH FORT, Ala. — It was a typically humid July evening on the Alabama Gulf Coast on Monday when a hostess at Laps on the Causeway, a seafood restaurant that overlooks Mobile Bay, brought Lane Galbraith to his table on the outdoor deck.

Galbraith ate crawfish tails and drank a Corona as the sun set over the western horizon. Tractor trailers and other vehicles on nearby Interstate 10 drove on an elevated causeway across the bay as he and others finished their meals.

“They call me Lane here,” Galbraith told the Washington Blade during an interview at the restaurant, referring to the manager’s support of his decision to transition from a woman into a man. “[The restaurant is] affirming who I am as a human being.”

Galbraith, who grew up in Mobile, in May announced on Facebook that he is transgender.

The 50-year-old who in 2009 founded LGBT Wave of Hope, a local advocacy group that conducts public education and other campaigns out of his Mobile home, told the Blade he felt compelled to share his story with “his community.”

He made the announcement after he received a letter from his counselor that said he had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and needed to begin receiving hormone therapy — testosterone shots twice a month for the rest of his life. The document also told Galbraith’s endocrinologist that his counseling would continue through his transition.

He told the Blade that Alabama law requires a trans person to receive a formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria before they can receive hormone therapy.

“I wanted to tell somebody,” said Galbraith. “I work for this community who I constantly say live your truth. So I had to speak mine.”

Coming out as lesbian in boot camp ‘liberating’

Galbraith attended a Southern Baptist church throughout his childhood and early adulthood.

He told the Blade he is “not necessarily associated” with the denomination, but he remains spiritual.

“I’m thankful for my faith,” said Galbraith.

Galbraith enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1988 when he was 24. He came out as a lesbian when he was in boot camp.

“It was liberating,” said Galbraith. “It was me coming out of a struggle.”

He told the Blade that he did not date anyone while enlisted in the Navy between 1988-1992. Galbraith said the only two people he connected with were heterosexual women.

“Because of my upbringing and respect and all that kind of stuff, I didn’t act upon it because I was like this didn’t make any sense,” he said. “I was young. This doesn’t make any sense because you can’t connect with me because you’re heterosexual and you know that I’m a lesbian.”

Galbraith left the Navy a year before then-President Bill Clinton signed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into law.

He referred to “witch hunts” that sought to kick gay and lesbian servicemembers out of the military because of Clinton’s position. Galbraith said he shared an off-base apartment with a male friend during his last two years in the Navy because people had grown “suspicious” of his sexual orientation.

“He knew my story and he did his thing and I did my thing and we were good roommates,” he told the Blade. “It just kind of got that off of me because people just assumed, of course, because we lived in the same place, but I let them believe what they wanted to believe. It wasn’t my place to tell them my business.”

’I noticed oppression and it was just not okay’

Galbraith, who works in the shipbuilding industry, lived in Hawaii and other states after leaving the Navy.

He lived in Houston for 13 years until moving back to Mobile in 2006.

“I just came here and I noticed oppression and it was just not okay,” said Galbraith. “So little by little it’s almost like I had to educate myself because in Houston I didn’t do any advocate work. I wasn’t oppressed.”

Galbraith said there was an LGBT organization in Mobile when he returned in 2006, but “it just had kind of fell to the wayside.” He told the Blade he decided to form LGBT Wave of Hope three years later after he saw what he described as a lack of education and dialogue.

“I didn’t want to get into the rut of a lot of fundraising,” said Galbraith as a waiter brought the crawfish tails he ordered to the table. “I wanted to gain people’s trust because the truth had been broken over here with this other organization. So my main focus has been just to constantly promote any kind of education piece if possible.”

One of the issues on which Galbraith works is to educate same-sex couples about securing legal protections that ensure their assets are protected and their final wishes are respected. He cited the example of a woman who was dying of cancer whose family did not allow her gay pastor to see her in the hospital.

“The family was like, she never flaunted it (her homosexuality) in front of us, so we don’t want to see it,” said Galbraith. “We’re taking care of her and making her comfortable.”

Alabama’s hate crimes and anti-discrimination laws do not include LGBT-specific protections. Voters in 2006 by an 81-19 percent margin approved a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman and prohibits the recognition of unions between gays and lesbians legally performed in other jurisdictions.

A lesbian woman from Birmingham, who married her partner in D.C. in 2013, earlier this year lost custody of the two children she had with her ex-husband after a Georgia judge ruled in his favor.

“I think after they got married it was when the problems started with the father; him wanting the custody,” said Galbraith.

Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand of Mobile, who have been together for 15 years and legally married in California in 2008, in May filed a federal lawsuit against Alabama’s marriage amendment under which their son cannot receive legal protections and benefits because the state does not recognize their union.

The health insurance policy that Galbraith receives through his employer, BAE Systems, covers hormone therapy and other transition-related care that he has begun to receive.

He told the Blade his mother is on “everything,” but he acknowledged they have disagreements.

“I’m well protected if I pass away,” he said. “I work for a great company that takes care of their employees upon death. The reality is if I put in writing this is what I want, do I want to put that on my mother who does love me, but we don’t always agree on certain things.”

Galbraith added he does not want to overburden his mother and stepfather with executing his end-of-life decisions and put them “out of their comfort zone.”

“My mother is a loving person,” he said. “She’s a person of compassion like me. She’s always welcomed anybody that I’ve taken to the house or whatever, but I think that’s a little much to ask her to do if it came to that. I’m hoping to work it out to where I can give responsibility to people that I really, really trust.”

Alabama Gulf Coast is ‘what I know’

Galbraith told the Blade he left Houston, in part, because he felt “claustrophobic.” He said he also wanted to return to his hometown to be closer to his family.

“It’s the Gulf Coast,” said Galbraith as he ate. “It’s what I know. I love the water.”

He further stressed he remains proud of Alabama and the people — LGBT and otherwise — who live there.

“These are people that are hard-working and they have families,” said Galbraith. “They’re here for a reason. They don’t want to move because somebody doesn’t accept them or doesn’t have tolerance towards who they are and their family they’ve created. They’re here for a reason. They want to be a contributing factor to this city and town and the Gulf.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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