THE GAY ISSUE ‌ Friends and Neighbors 

Profiles of gays and lesbians in your community

click to enlarge Katie Higgins fights injustice with a smile
  • Katie Higgins fights injustice with a smile

Katie Higgins

• Soulforce Activist (

• 24 years old

• Grew up in Goose Creek

• Leading an "Equality Ride" bus tour through the South this winter

"I have the unique and fortunate experience of having a lesbian grandmother, so gay issues weren't this weird, abstract concept. I kept it a secret, though, because I knew I'd be made fun of for it. I didn't come out until I was 20. It was always something in my head. Except for my best friend, everyone was like, 'Of course Katie's gay.'

"I wasn't excited to come home and tell folks in Goose Creek. I've been avoided on the street, actually someone I've known since first grade literally tried to walk around me. I'm not really interested in having that battle with people that aren't in my life anymore. I came back to Charleston for a year after college, but couldn't find a gay niche. I felt more of a community in Boone, N.C., with just 14,000 people.

"My organization, Soulforce, is a group that's dedicated to ending the oppression of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community through relentless nonviolence. We were started by Christians and pinpoint religion as the root of homophobia. Every time I tell someone about my job, I have to come out to them. In the South I'd say I work for a nonprofit, because I didn't want to make people uncomfortable. Not that the rest of the country is a gay utopia, but in the South you have to think about where you are and where you can hold someone's hand.

"Our office to plan the Equality Ride is literally in my apartment right now. In 2006, 33 of us went from D.C. to L.A. and back. This year I'll be codirecting one of two buses, pinpointing colleges in the South that have blatant discrimination policies. They force kids into a period of therapy until they literally sign a release saying they're heterosexual, or they're kicked out and have to pay back their scholarships. Someone told on a friend of mine for crying about her girlfriend at West Point, and she has to pay back over $200,000 in scholarships.

"We want to be the first open, friendly voices on these campuses, letting students know it's okay to be gay and Christian. The presidents get letters months in advance to announce our coming, and sometimes they allow us on. Jerry Falwell said he'd rather burn his school to the ground than have us set foot on campus.

"We get so many letters from students at the schools, telling us what it's like to be gay there. At Azuda Pacific in California, they were interested in having a truly Christian discussion, and they gave us buddies to walk around with and let us give presentations. It's impossible to love one another if you think you're going to hell because of your sexual orientation. Two students there posted pictures of themselves with the words 'I am gay' on a free speech zone bulletin board, but the school took it down. Apparently there's a 30-day process you can go through to 'de-gay' yourself.

"I've been arrested three times so far, one for disorderly conduct for speaking too loudly, and twice for trespassing. Hopefully my rap sheet will help me in life. I wouldn't want to work for someone who wouldn't be proud of me for standing up for my family. I plan on going to law school, so it'll be okay." –interviewed by Stratton Lawrence

click to enlarge Jim (at Left) and Warren Redman-Gress' son Christopher is only six, but if he could vote...
  • Jim (at Left) and Warren Redman-Gress' son Christopher is only six, but if he could vote...

Warren and Jim Redman-Gress

• Warren is executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA) and a former Roman Catholic priest

• Co-own RGA Logistics - U.S. Customs Brokers

• Together 21 years

• Moved to Charleston from New York 10 years ago

• Have a six-year-old son, Christopher

• Boardmembers of We Are Family, a support group for gay and lesbian teenagers

Jim: "When we lived in New York, we didn't have to worry about standing up for our rights. The work with AFFA came out of necessity. People forget that we are part of the fabric of the community, not just a statistic someone's talking about. Linda Kettner pulled us together in 1998 and said, 'If there's going to be a change, we've got to do it.'

"We've had very few experiences of antigay sentiment to our faces here. Our church, St. Stephen's Episcopal, is pretty supportive. They intentionally racially integrated themselves, and because they've been through racial issues, they're more open to publicly welcoming gays and lesbians. Jesus said, 'My house will be a house of prayer for all people.'"

Warren: "I was a Catholic priest for 13 years. I had about a leg out of the closet. People knew, but I wasn't really open about it.

"In Charleston, we were in a position to speak out. We owned our own business and home, so we weren't worried about losing our housing, which happens here. There's no laws to protect people. You can be fired for being gay.

"It's a difficult place to live, and yet, on the flip side, it's a wonderful place with a great community. People are just now claiming that pride in who they are. People in rural areas still live in fear. We wanted to catapult AFFA into a larger spotlight by advertising positive messages about gays and lesbians on billboards, direct mail, and ads. It's really helped people to come out."

Jim: "When we adopted Christopher, so many issues changed for us. The day before we flew to Guatemala, our attorney called and said, 'You've got to sign something because if something happens to Warren, there's no provision saying Jim would be the next logical person to have custody.' Since the state won't recognize our relationship, they won't recognize me as a parent. Only one of us is listed, and the other is in effect a legal stranger to our child. We had looked at Christopher's picture every day, and prayed for him every night, and it never crossed our minds that we had to go above and beyond to protect him. We've had to fight for our family's rights.

Jim: "Someone asked us if we had seen anyone about the 'vacuum' we were trying to fill by parenting. Is that what you said to your kids when they started having babies? Gay and lesbian people often don't associate parenting with themselves, but that's changing. I would line up with any family out of Good Housekeeping. Our child will grow up freer from gender role stereotypes, knowing that in families people do what needs to be done. A patriarchal society is not built on kids having a broader understanding of gender and work roles. That must threaten a lot of conservatives."

Warren: "Less than 25 percent of families live in a husband, wife, and biological children setting. There's this gold standard that cuts out three-fourths of families. We have our own gold standard, a family that loves."

Jim: "And we are gold, baby!" –interviewed by Stratton Lawrence

click to enlarge Alden (at Right) and partner Kristen share a laugh on the steps of their West Ashley home
  • Alden (at Right) and partner Kristen share a laugh on the steps of their West Ashley home

Joan Alden

• Professor of English atThe Citadel for four years

• Author of three novels, two still in print

• Wrote a children's book for Alison Press about a child with two same sex parents

"I teach English 101 and 102 to 'knobs' (incoming freshmen) at The Citadel. People are often surprised to hear that I'm out in the open at The Citadel. They think of it as this bastion of conservatism, so I'm quick to correct them about that. The Citadel is a very open institution that supports diversity and is inclusive, and I've had nothing but a positive response from department chairs on up. There are no gay and lesbian student or faculty organizations, though.

"I started out as a dental hygienist, then acted Off-Broadway. I've been a Wall Street trader and worked with the state of Ohio's Department of Health. I didn't start teaching until my fifties.

"I've been out of the closet my whole life, since 1969. I usually let my students know that I'm a lesbian on the first day of class when I give my background. I haven't had any negative reactions. If anything it's helped my relationship with students by opening up to the class. Every semester one or two students stay after to talk about something personal in their lives. I don't think that would happen if I wasn't open about who I am. It's my truth.

"I've published three character-driven novels concerning universal themes of loss and recovery, but unique in that the characters are lesbians. The theme is normalizing the lesbian relationship. Alison Press asked me to write a children's book to meet New York City's Rainbow Curriculum, exposing children to alternate family situations through literature. Because of its controversial nature, I was interviewed by CNN and several programs.

"I lost my partner of 16 years to ovarian cancer. I needed to try to start a whole new life in a new environment. My passion for writing transitioned into a passion for teaching. I've been with Kristen for two years now. She owns a brokerage, and we're just beginning to embark on a documentary project together.

"It's our obligation to be out. If you offer yourself with an apology, people will see you as inferior. We always know when someone is ill at ease or ashamed, and we become ill at ease. I think that the world is coming to a point of readiness, where it's a little easier to come out than 30 years ago, but people are still afraid. It's sort of my calling to encourage them to be brave.

"Any amendment that wants to make people less equal is unconstitutional. I believe underneath all of this, it's all about money. They don't want to include us because we'll appeal for the survivor's and Social Security benefits that married couples have. A person's rights should not be held accountable to what they do in their personal lives.

"Those who support the amendment feel threatened. It's a mistaken notion that if you say it's okay, somehow that is going to cause more of that to happen. Being kind to gay people won't create more, it'll make life better for those who are. If it were a choice it wouldn't exist. Why would you choose an inferior status? People are entitled to their bias and bigotry, but they don't have the right to use that attitude to take rights away." –interviewed by Stratton Lawrence

click to enlarge Mitchell relaxes in her downtown home
  • Mitchell relaxes in her downtown home

Sharen Mitchell

• Local acrylic painter

• Waitress at Jestine's

• Winthrop graduate

• Active with AFFA

"My dad was in the Air Force so I was born in Illinois, but my parents are from Edisto Island. I've lived here since 1987. I came out to my mom when I was 20, six months before she passed away from cancer. I had been watching an episode of One Life to Live where Ryan Phillippe played a gay teenager killed by a hate crime. Right afterwards I saw a Montel about gay kids. I was really nervous, but I knew it was time. I just didn't want to disappoint her. But she didn't care at all. It didn't change anything.

"I knew when I was about 18 and found myself kissing one of my friends in the quad at Summerville High School. I've never been closeted about it. Everyone that I know knows I'm gay. I haven't had a bad experience as far as hate crimes, so I've been really lucky. The community of people I surround myself with is really open.

"I work out of my house because I can't afford a studio. I usually paint in my living room, or on my porch. I have a collection up at Rock Aveda Salon on King Street and a piece up at Vickery's.

"I was once engaged to a man. I loved him, but when it came down to it, facing intimacy, I was picturing Julia Roberts. This is not learned behavior. Hanging out with a bunch of gay people is not going to make you gay.

"My niece said something about boys being moms. I looked at my sister, and I'm like 'I didn't tell her that.' But she's five years old and she's down with it. Sometimes I wish people could be more like kids and not get involved so much in their heads with issues and take everything for what it is and realize it's people just wanting to be able to love who they love and be who they are.

"As much as we wouldn't like this to pass, we're in South Carolina, so it looks like it will. We're prepared for that. Our focus is to bring awareness on the issue. If it's going to be a loss, let's make it an educational loss. At least not a landslide. Maybe people will realize there are more gay people in South Carolina than they thought, so with future issues, no matter how small, people will be more aware.

"I can't change my skin color or the fact that I love women. The mentality in this state is so separated from reality. You can't base your opinions and votes on religious movements. It's such a blurred line between church and state. All we want is to know we have security with the person we choose to spend our lives with. It's a piece of paper, but it legitimizes who we are." –interviewed by Stratton Lawrence

click to enlarge Koob and his first love, the piano
  • Koob and his first love, the piano

Lindsay Koob

• Classical director at Millennium Music

• Lead bass in St. Michael's Episcopal Church choir

• City Paper music contributor

• Ex-Army major

• Citadel grad

• Grandfather

"I'm from a fine old Charleston family, with roots traced back to 1672. I'm one of those gay guys who got married earlier in life because that was the thing to do. The word gay wasn't even invented until 1968, about which time I was graduating from the Citadel. I went to see a psychologist, and he said you're sick, but if you find a good woman and get married she might just cure you, so I found a good woman and ruined her life for 15 years.

"I came back to Charleston in the early '90s, after working in D.C. as the chief Germanic analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, based in the Pentagon. I had admitted to being gay in marital counseling and my wife left me, and rather than drag her and my two sons through a very messy investigation that would have resulted in my immediate expulsion from the military, I resigned my commission unconditionally.

"A 40-year-old ex-army major with no experience couldn't get hired in D.C., so I decided to seek my fortunes in Charleston. I was under ruinous child support payments and had to live with my parents until I found my job at Millennium Music.

"I've been a semiprofessional singer at St. Michael's for six years. I don't shout that I'm gay from the rooftops, but lots of people know who choose not to discuss it with me. Fine old Charlestonians just don't talk about such things. There's times where I've wanted to crawl under the pew.

"I'm on track to publish 150 pieces this year, most of them album reviews for the American Record Guide. I live in a mobile home and drive a 20-year-old Volvo, which probably makes me the world's only 'po' white trash' music critic. It's an interesting life.

"I'm currently single. I don't think I've set foot in a gay bar in years. Who wants to date a 60-year-old gay grandpa of the space cadet variety who works 80-hour weeks?

"A dear friend of mine was diagnosed with AIDS, lived with it valiantly for years, and when the end came, the family wouldn't permit his partner of 20 years to be with him in the hospital. Of course they'd been in a state of denial and had hardly had any contact with their son, but immediately leapt in on his deathbed and took over the whole situation, treating it as if he'd never been gay. I think the damage to his companion was considerable. I'd hate to see that sort of situation perpetuated by the amendment being passed.

"I'm not floundering down King Street in drag on gay pride day. I'd rather get to know people so when they find out I'm gay, they say, 'So what?' It's the only way to change minds." –interviewed by Stratton Lawrence

click to enlarge Lepre (at left) and McKinney are proud of their acclaimed garden
  • Lepre (at left) and McKinney are proud of their acclaimed garden

Mark McKinney and Steve Lepre

• Co-own Sunhead Projects videography company and their Mt. Pleasant home

• Together 15 years

• Own two dogs and cultivate over 100 rose bushes in their yard

• Have been fighting the amendment for two years

Steve: "I moved here from New York City in 1983 because Charleston was a swinging town. We run our own company doing video production for companies, documentaries, commercials, training videos, and graphic design. Mark pulls the morning shift as the meteorologist at Channel 4.

"Through Sunhead Projects, we've done a lot of nonprofit work in the community with Darkness to Light, People Against Rape, Lowcountry Aids Services, and Crisis Ministries. Our documentary Who Among Us, about homelessness in Charleston, won a national Telly award. We worked with Crisis Ministries to develop a video for tenants to view when they first arrive. Many 'homeless' people there work at Charleston Place as maids, or helped to build the new bridge."

Mark: "We met working together at a theatre company. I was born in Rock Hill and moved to New York at 16, then back to South Carolina at 22, when I met Steve. Our families have been very supportive. My parents actually testified at hearings on this amendment in Columbia, but the legislators really don't listen to their constituency. There were probably 300 people there on our side and maybe five on the other, and one senator from Horry County said, 'Let them have their fair hearing and then we'll hang them.' What year are we in? We taped the whole thing and got them saying some nasty things."

Steve: "John Graham Altman loves the phrase 'militant homosexual agenda,' so we made up an agenda, and wore shirts to a party. The points are 'Not to become a second-class citizen of this state or country,' 'Equal benefits under the law,' and 'That our country not marginalize any of its citizens.' "

Mark: "We're like any heterosexual couple, but we're not getting a tax break. The government has no problem accepting our license and taxes from a joint account, but won't allow us the benefits of heterosexual couples. It's just like how unfair it is to pay taxes to the military, but I can't serve.

"This amendment breaks the single subject rule, forcing us to vote on several things at once. Some people might say, 'I'm cool with civil unions but don't want gay marriage,' and this forces them to prohibit unions. If it passes, domestic partnerships and common-law are out, straight or gay. It'll give judges the right to say, 'I know you lived together for seven years and have seven kids, but you're not married so he doesn't owe any child support.' Would the same people voting for this vote against women, or to make black people three-fifths human beings?

"Nobody is going to force any church to marry gay people. If you follow the Bible literally, then there's no more football, no shrimp, no pork, no clothes from the GAP, no cotton. If you can't go 100 percent, then don't use it as a weapon, because that's being a bigot."

Mark: "You have an amendment up like this, and it's like, 'aw shit, if it passes we've got to move – we can't be second-class citizens.' But we love South Carolina. I grew up in the marshes, and we're not leaving. I think that's what they want us to do, but this is not going to force us to leave our home. We care very much about South Carolina." –interviewed by Stratton Lawrence

click to enlarge Ketner (at right) and partner Beth Huntley at home on their porch
  • Ketner (at right) and partner Beth Huntley at home on their porch

Linda Ketner

• Management consultant

• AFFA founder

• Human rights activist

• Daughter of Food Lion founder

"I grew up in Salisbury, N.C. and moved to Charleston in 1983 because I think it's the most beautiful place on the planet. I'm a management consultant, so I could live anywhere with an airport.

"I married right after college, and had a pretty high public profile in the closet. I was president of a shelter and was chair of the mayor's counsel on homelessness, beginning a grassroots coalition in '92 for the housing trust fund bill which took South Carolina from 49th to 6th in the country for decent housing."

"I came out in '94, but had been in a very long-term monogamous relationship. It puzzled me everyone didn't know, they just thought Susan and I were great friends. I had a good (male) friend who I would go places with when there was supposed to be a man and a woman, and people make the assumptions they're comfortable with. I was coparenting Susan's daughter, whose biological father was still alive, so coming out was very dangerous. If he'd taken us to court, he could very likely have taken the child. It felt like an assault on my integrity to not be open about my sexual orientation.

"It was important that I begin to be an activist for my own equality. I'm thoroughly convinced that as an American, not even a lesbian, (gay rights) would be a critical issue to me. Any time we make an exception to equal protection under the law, we endanger America.

"I brought the group together initially to found the Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA) in '98, and then served as president for six years. We had a death threat on a postcard the first week, just vile stuff, but we also get the kindest and most gentle-spirited part of people. When you take something that's unpopular about who you are and expose it to public scrutiny, it's an intense situation.

"I've always been religious, and this was in conflict with my spiritual life for about eight years. I studied and read and prayed, and I really feel being a lesbian has brought me to a much closer relationship with God, because I couldn't take what everyone said at face value. I spent a lot of time in prayer through that struggle, and in doing so developed a much deeper, stronger understanding of God, and of other oppressed people. It's the best gift of my life to be born a lesbian, and the hardest. I'm not sure I would have understood the pain of being other. It's a real gift." –interviewed by Stratton Lawrence

click to enlarge Smith relaxes on the porch of his home/office overlooking the Stono River
  • Smith relaxes on the porch of his home/office overlooking the Stono River

Charlie Smith

• Owns a real estate brokerage

• Ran for the statehouse against John Graham Altman III in 2002 and 2004

• Founding member of AFFA

"I was raised on James Island. I graduated from the College of Charleston in 1981 and went on to graduate school at Clemson before moving to Miami. I've been back here 11 years.

"I remember that as early as 4, I was attracted to other boys. At 9 I knew I was different, and by 10 or 11, I realized that it wasn't going to be very popular. At 10, I was already working my way underground and into the closet. I dated girls to a point, but always broke it off at deciding moments. The next logical step was dishonest. I came out at 27. I met the love of my life, and I no longer cared what anyone else thought.

"I've served on the city planning committees in Miami and in Charleston. In 2004, I got 48 percent of the vote in my run for the statehouse. I've had death threats, one in particular that described how they were going to string me up with barbed wire. You encounter and counter bigotry every day.

"I have a deep faith. I was raised Episcopalian and was senior warden at Trinity Cathedral in Miami, but this diocese left me in the dust. Every time I walk in the door my stomach gets in a knot. There's smart people saying bigoted, hateful things in the name of the Lord. For every Leviticus in the Bible, there's a Second Samuel. King David, on the death bed of Jonathan, said his love for him was greater than that of a woman. You can read whatever you want out of the Bible. I've been a gay man for 47 years. I think I know more about it than the Baptist preacher down the street.

"Everybody seems to think that the 14th Amendment was all about making citizens equal. Of 320 court cases dealing with it, only 19 have had anything to do with humans. The others were to ensure the rights of corporations. If you can get your head around corporations being equal to humans beings in every way, including the right to marry and merge, but you don't think all humans ought to be treated the same under the law, then something's wrong with your head.

"My work with AFFA has been the most important work I've done in my life. Charleston is light years ahead of where it was 10 years ago. The community is much healthier.

"When my partner passed away, he was buried in my family's plot. For Southerners to embrace that is a huge step. He was my family, and I'm not going to allow anyone to tell me he's not." –interviewed by Stratton Lawrence

click to enlarge Schwacke works out of his West Ashley law office
  • Schwacke works out of his West Ashley law office

David Schwacke

• Former 9th District solicitor

• Forced out of the closet in 1997

• Member of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-advocacy group

• In a 10-year relationship

"In July of '97, members of the executive committee of the Republican party had come to my office and started saying, 'We're hearing these rumors you're gay and we don't see how you can stay in office.'

"I said, 'If you're hear to talk about the way I handle this office or do this job, I'm willing to talk to you, but if you want to talk about rumors, we've got nothing to talk about.'

"They said, 'If you are, I just don't see how you are going to be able to prosecute pedophiles.' 'That's easy,' I said. 'Look at the court records and see what's going on.' I knew something was going to happen and the timing was very soon after that.

"There's several ways to gauge the public reaction. First, I didn't get reelected and it was clear the sexuality had become an issue in that. But, you know, it's a two-county race and I won in Charleston. I just lost by more in Berkeley than I won by in Charleston.

"If you go to the core beliefs of the Republican Party, and that's kind of where Log Cabin goes, you have individual freedoms, individual liberty, fiscally conservative, limited government, strong military. Who doesn't want these things?

"I don't know why anyone (on the left) should think that we hate ourselves because we're attempting to do the same thing they are, which is to advance the cause of gays and lesbians, but within the other party. Because at some point, everybody is going to have to get pushed to the middle on this. And if we can help on the right, the people on the left should be thankful or at least appreciative that we're trying to do that. The thing is that the gay left probably know better than we do how hard it is to convince the people on the Republican side. The thing I point out to people every time is, in Charleston County, a gay candidate got the majority vote in a Republican primary. So there are Republicans at least that have no problem with that.

"If that's the case with education, who's to say you can't win some more over? There's historically a very Christian conservative element that has many of the leadership positions in the party, so it's not easy. The biggest battle is educating people that this is not a choice we make.

"One of my favorite signs from a gay pride parade was from a church. The sign read something like 'God is still speaking to us.' They want to say that God said homosexuality is wrong. But my God is still alive. He didn't quit talking at the end of the New Testament.

"One of the things we have to do in the Log Cabin Republicans is start to move people. Christ's message was one of inclusiveness. 'Gay marriage' has that religious way to it. The Log Cabins like to focus on the governmental aspects of it. That's civil unions. We don't want to lose the possibility for two consenting adults in a committed relationship to have those rights in the future.

"It's important to note that, in South Carolina, Democrats are just as complacent about this as Republicans. That's why I think it's so important that we all work together in our different spheres of influence to get people to vote no." –interviewed by Greg Hambrick

click to enlarge The Hiott family outside their Summerville home. Annette, Christina, Luke (3), Lee (16) and Cami (18)
  • The Hiott family outside their Summerville home. Annette, Christina, Luke (3), Lee (16) and Cami (18)

Annette Clark Hiott

• Co-owns Groomers Secret dog grooming business in Summerville

• Together with partner Christina Clark for eight years

• Have a three-year-old child, Luke, together

"I was born in Charleston and have lived here all my life. My partner and I have a three-and-a-half-year old, Luke, whom we conceived together. I was married to a man and had two children, Lee, who is 16, and Cami, who is at Trident Tech.

"I was married to a man. It didn't go very smoothly. I had known all my life that I was gay but had tried to live the normal life to fit into society. My kids were 8 and 10 and I'd been married for 17 years when I finally just told him. It wasn't the smoothest breakup, but no divorce is. I have full custody now, but it cost me $65,000 to protect my children. No matter how wrong he was, I was a target and had to defend myself left and right.

"When I was in high school (Summerville High), there was no one openly gay. You didn't hear of it, so you thought something was wrong with you. My kids were fine with me coming out. I waited about a year and a half to tell my son, who was 8. I've always been very open and truthful with them. Any type of paper they wrote in high school, they would do it on gay rights and things like that, and stand in front of class and say they had two moms. I think with the way things are today they don't really catch any flack.

"We have to pay double health and life insurance, and if I were to die tomorrow, Christina and Luke would not receive any benefits from Social Security. As a two-income family, it's a struggle because we have no rights.

"I'm not pro-marriage for gays, I'm pro-union. When they started using the word marriage, that started an uproar with Christian organizations. Most homosexuals don't have a wild sexual lifestyle. We just want a family and a stable life.

"We're very open and we have a thriving business. I don't have a gay flag on my house or a gay sticker on my car, but I do have an equal rights sticker." –interviewed by Stratton Lawrence


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