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A Safe Place
At My LGBTQ Group Home, I'm Accepted for Who I Am
Donalay Thomas
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When I arrived at Rodney Street, a big brownstone group home, the staff accepted me in a way my own mother never did.

My mom, who adopted me when I was five months old, never accepted my sexuality. She raised me in a strong church background and always said things like, “Donalay, you can’t serve two masters!” (By this she meant I couldn’t like God and women.)

Eventually I got put in a residential treatment center where my peers abused me. The staff didn’t protect me. One time I woke up in the hospital after a boy hit me in the head with a 20-pound weight, which left me with a seizure condition. My life was a living despair.

At Rodney Street I finally learned what it feels like to be free, to breathe in possibilities.

I knew right off the bat that Rodney Street was all about respect. When I got there, two staff asked if I was hungry. I noticed a smell I hadn’t smelled in a while—home cooked food.

Then this one staff, who had a short haircut and male clothing, asked me, “Would you like to be called ‘he?’ If so, what’s your male name?” I said I was fine being a she. Then this person said he wanted to be called “he” and that his name was Ryan.

The residents there made me welcome, too. I came to Rodney Street from a detention center. One resident who had been upstate knew I had probably arrived without clothes and asked me, “Yo, fam—you got clothes to wear?”

She gave me some of her clothes and told me I could keep them until I got some of my own. All the kids in the house seemed friendly and wanted to know what I was about.

Then I met my program manager, Danny. He’s a gay man but is like a mother to me. He’s there whenever I need a friend or parental guidance. He understands how lost I feel and has helped me find my way.

By listening to me and encouraging my writing, Danny has shown me how to take down the wall of my anger, brick by brick. He also praises me. “Donalay, your writing puts me to tears,” he’ll tell me. Before, I never believed in talking to someone else about my pain. But I can even talk to Danny about my love interests and how to handle being attracted to another resident.

After I moved in I decided I didn’t like one staff, Shonda. She reminded me of my mother. But then Shonda surprised me.

When I called my mother to wish her a happy Valentine’s Day, my mother mentioned that she had just returned from my godmother’s burial. No one in my family had told me my godmother had died!

image by Joshua Hector

I believed I wasn’t told because no one wanted me to show up at her wake in my best black male suit, sharp tie, and sexy male shoes. No one wanted to see me as I was—a masculine-looking lesbian. I was so hurt in so many ways all at once.

I told Shonda I was upset that my mother didn’t tell me about my godmother’s death in time for me to go to the funeral. “Since you remind me of my mother, can you give me a reason she would do something like this?” I asked.

“Donalay, your mother has her issues surrounding your sexuality,” said Shonda. “You may realize that pleasing others will mean you can’t please yourself. You may have to let go of your mother until you get your heart and mind intact.”

Shonda made me think about how my mother refuses to acknowledge how much she hurts me. Because I want my mother’s love and acceptance, she still has the power to make me feel bad about my sexuality. Shonda helped me build myself up to get past all the sadness and hurt I feel because my mother rejects me.

One day I was in front of my group home when my mother drove up and asked me to come over to the car. I was scared that she saw me smoking a cigarette with two other residents and would be mad, but I went over to her. My mother’s eyes went right to the rainbow pride beads of my bracelet. She snatched them right off. I looked down as they skittled to the ground.

“You think I don’t know what this means, Donalay?” My mother was angry. “You can’t live with one foot in the door of God’s house and one foot out.”

“Why can’t you understand and love me for me?” I asked. “Why can’t you be my mother? Why do you have to be my critic?”

She drove off. My pride lay on the ground while my tears fell. I was embarrassed that she spewed her hate in front of my housemates. I felt angry, ashamed, and insulted.

Danny helped me deal with my mother’s rejection. “Donalay, let it go,” he said.

To have such a wonderful person in my life and to have such a caring staff team mean so much to me.

My mother used to tell me, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

I’m stronger now, but not because my mother and other people have hurt me so badly. It’s because I now have people who are here for me, and who accept me for who I am.

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(FCYU-2005-11-13)

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