Okay. This is Max Taintor speaking with Charles Taylor on Friday July 24th, 2020
at 10:00 AM. Set up for the interview. No, interview questions.
So, the script says, "Thank you for sharing your time and the gift of your
stories. We can take a break or end the interview at any point. With your
permission all stories will be archived with special collections at UNC
Asheville and available as audio and typed transcript files. You will be
contacted to review your typed transcription in advance of publication in case
you wish to make changes or corrections."
I have an oral history form that I mentioned to you. So the first question is,
how would you describe yourself in terms of gender, race, ability? As a human?
Gender, race, well I identify with them as a human being, naturally born male.
Never have I wanted to be a trans or be anything other. I'm just a gay male. And
the gender, what'd you say? Race, was it race? Very proud of my Native American
heritage. I'm pretty much what we'd call a main streamer, but in my earlier
days, my early bringing up years, I spent time on the reservation, of course. I
was raised by my grandparents, my grandmother and my grandfather. I think there
was some issues early on in my life with my family and luckily I was never
separated from them. They had the balance of the care and the love and nurturing
of my grandmother and my grandfather, who are my matriarchal grandparents. And
raised I guess basically a strict, staunch Protestant. We went to church and did
00:02:00all that. My grandparents were very strict and strict in their beliefs, too.
It was nothing for us to consult a medicine man or elders of our tribe. People
don't do that no more. A lot of the elders now are dead and gone. I had the best
of the worlds. The Protestant world and then also the Cherokee world. [crosstalk 00:02:37]
Sorry. Can I get a clarification?
What would you say is the difference between a mainstreamer and a non-mainstreamer?
A mainstreamer today is somebody who lives on the reservation that co-exists
with some Cherokee beliefs, they've heard of the beliefs but they don't really
take it to heart. They don't really embrace it. They don't really embrace it.
00:03:00They may be from the reservation, they may be from there, but they're not a
traditionalist or they don't really embrace it. But yeah, I've heard that, I've
heard this. Grandpa and Granny used to talk about that. They don't really
embrace it. [inaudible 00:03:15] really embellishing that. You'd have to be
raised in that and that's at the heart of your teaching. I was taught that. We'd
go to church [inaudible 00:03:28] with Protestant denominational beliefs but it
was nothing for us to go see a medicine man or an elder of the tribe, as well. A
lot of people can't balance that. There's a lot about public issues taught in
the church against that. A lot of people are like, "You've got to have one or
the other. You can't have both."
So you're from Western North Carolina, then?
Yeah. Born and raised in Cherokee, North Carolina. I just live in Buncombe
County, I've been in Buncombe County for the past 20 years.
So what would you say has kept you here?
What would you say has kept you here in terms of living here?
I think number one is the area, I like the area, and then the working
relationships that I've created for 20 years while I have been here. It's the
area. It has to be. I'd say pretty much the area. I like this area, I really do.
I've been in the Candler area of Buncombe County for the past 20 years and have
lived here about nine and a half years. I like the area, I really do. I like
being close to Asheville, too, because Asheville's got, basically... I can get
everything that I need to live a comfortable life. I like Asheville, I really do.
So, what have you noticed since you've been here your whole life? What are some
00:05:00of the more positive or potentially negative changes that you've noticed for our area?
They've actually had an explosion of growth in the area. A lot of new
development has occurred in this area. Migration of new people, new ideas, new
ways of thinking and just a lot of economic development work. Where that's
concerned, it's like a new generation of people and I guess the negative part of
it is I don't see, with this generation of people within the past 10 years that
have influxed into the Asheville area, we've kind of been abolished of the
culture idea, the central ideas of Asheville. I can see that. I can see that
they want to be metropolitan. They want to get away from the archetype of
Asheville that it's traditionally been, mountain goats, Southern Appalachian.
00:06:00That new generation living here don't want that. The higher the buildings, the
taller the buildings, the more modern, the more techno they are, we're starting
to see that, too.
Another thing, too, out here, to make room for the newcomers and a lot of the
people that are coming to this area, to move to this area, is the urban sprawl,
I guess you could say. I see a lot of the farm land that was reserved in
Candler, it's starting to be developed now for housing and those purposes. I
kind of think that's sad. I consider that to be a negative, in fact, where that
is concerned. But for the most part there's a lot of development because the new
folks are coming.
Can you speak to the history of social progressivism in the area, Like from the
LGBQT perspective? What are some positive or negative changes you've noticed in
Social progression, I think, has been real slow. It's had a very, very slow
emergence. I think a lot of that is because there's been so many restrictions
and inhibitions in the area, a lot from the local folks themselves. Pretty much
if you take a look and you surveyed Asheville 20 years ago, you'd still have a
lot of faith, where the church was concerned. A lot of the prohibitions and a
lot of the inhibitions still have [inaudible 00:07:35] the LGBT community. The
era of inhibition has already been here. It was established here a long time
ago. I'd probably to give hands off to a lot of the newcomers that come to this
area, that move to this area. That progressively allows folks to change the
social issues concerned with LGBT for Asheville itself.
[inaudible 00:07:58] This is how it is, new age. Once they got that train
rolling, per say, I do not think a lot of the local folks jumped on board and
said, "This is okay, this is cool." It's been a fight and a struggle. It still
is, to a certain extent, but I don't think it's as much the anti-LGBT notion,
people that are against that, I haven't seen so much of that, now, in 2020, as I
did in 2010 and earlier years than that. But if there's a large influx of the
new people moving to the area, from various other geographical regions of the
United States, [inaudible 00:08:58] come to Asheville, change its appearance and
change the way they accept the LGBT community as a whole.
What was your experience like growing up in this area as a gay man?
I was scared. You didn't tell nobody. You didn't say a word about it. You didn't
peek at anything. People probably knew it, they could tell I was, they could see
it, they could smell it, they could sense it. You wouldn't get a squeak out of
I do remember the local folks, though, especially the high school that I went
to, Bryson City High School, arrived from the city, and being from the
reservation, too, strike two against you, being Native American and being Queer,
it sucked. Walking down the halls get called, "Faggot", I mean just blatantly
come out and say it to your face. No filter. I just kept that to myself. I knew
I was. I knew that was who I am, but I kept it to myself. I didn't say anything,
00:10:00because I didn't want to create any waves and of course I didn't want any
negative repercussions, too, for being who I was. Because I was going to defend
that, if anybody challenged me, but luckily I never really had much of a challenge.
I had one confrontation and believe it or not, he was from my community, from
the reservation, he was an old member. I had to beat him off me and have a
conflict with him, my own tribal member, believe it or not. Not someone from
back in the city or from the outlying areas, from the res. We took care of that
real quick, though. The only confrontation I ever had.
You didn't trump that, at all, whatsoever. It was kind of like a secret society
thing and you pretty much just kept your ideas to yourself because you knew they
were not accepted.
Yeah, I can definitely understand that from the high school perspective. What
00:11:00about on the reservation? I know you said you had your confrontation on the
reservation, but what is-
It was on the reservation, yeah.
Yeah. What was is the Cherokee view on homosexuality?
Well, we had one or two gay people that were there, that were known, that were
out, basically. Whether they were accepted or not, I really can't speak for
them, to say if they really felt like they were accepted or not, but according
to public notions of acceptance or public [inaudible 00:11:37], "Oh we accept
them because that's the way they are." Nobody ever really said but you could
tell that they didn't like it. This was in the 1980s and the 1990s, when I was
there, when I was growing up, and we just accepted it, those two or three that
were, because they were blatant about it and they weren't going to change.
Nobody really bothered them, I remember that. Nobody really, really bothered
them but they'd say, "Oh, they're one of those," or, "Oh, they're fags. They're
00:12:00the funny people." I remember hearing that but no, I never heard anybody
attacking them or anything or bothering them. I often wondered that, too, in my
latter years before I graduated high school, I thought, "Do they really accepted
or do they just go on living their life and they just don't care?" Or, I guess,
people just accept it for that because for some reason they don't seem to be
being punished or tortured to death, even though the people really don't like
that lifestyle. I just stood back and surveyed how the Cherokee public
interacted with these people and they pretty much left them alone. They didn't
bother them but they would talk and make fun of them behind their back, I do
remember that. They would snigger under their breath when they'd see them out in
public. That was stigmatizing, too. I didn't want people to think that when they
were Queer. I don't want to be thought of like that.
Yeah. Would you say, because you have a little bit of perspective from both,
going to high school in Bryson City, growing up on the reservation, and now
living in Candler Area, would you say that the Cherokee Nation is more or less
accepting than white people?
I would say it's 50/50. I would say that with the generation and the younger
generation of the Cherokee people, Cherokee youth, I'd say people are less than
about 10 to 15 to 20 years younger than me, I'd say 10 years, 15 years, in those
age groups, you begin to see a lot more lesbian population. I guess because it's
on their doorstep, they're just forced to accept it now. There's not as much
prohibition about it with the younger generation as there was when I was there,
00:14:00I've noticed that because I've got friends that have family members now,
grandkids and nieces and people who are gay, on the reservation. They don't talk
about it. You can ask about those folks and, "Yeah, she's on the reservation.
She's got her girlfriend," and they just kind of shrug it off and don't say
anything, don't say much about it.
But I don't think that it's prohibited as much now because you have a larger
proportion of LGBT people that are there on the reservation. They're beginning
to see it in the younger generation. There's nothing they can do about it. I
think that they're not going to scorn at it like they did when I was there, 20,
30 years ago. I don't see that scorn and I definitely don't see that resentment
for that particular lifestyle, amongst the Cherokee people that live there. A
00:15:00lot of the younger LGBTQ they'll tell you they can't wait to leave the
reservation, want to get out of there, want to get away from there. I'm like,
If you're comfortable, would you mind to share your coming out journey?
Believe it or not, I don't really have one. I had a coming out journey with my
friends when I was in college. From 18 years up to abut 22, that was my coming
out. But coming out to my family? I never did. My grandmother knew and one of my
uncles knew. They knew early on when I was growing up. I'm sure my mother did,
as well. She's deceased and my father's deceased, too. I never really interacted
with my father. I was never allowed to go around him.
My mother was very, very, very staunch religious. Very, very fundamentalist
Baptist Christian woman and we just didn't talk about things like that. My
00:16:00mother, bless her heart, she had some struggles in her younger years, too. She
had an accident that left her debilitated. That was related to the flash of the
Devil, she told me, and that, "God is taking that all away from [inaudible
00:16:26]." She was very religious. I had to be very cautious with my mother.
This wasn't my grandmother, this was my biological mother. My mother always used
to want everything that was good for me, so I just went along with her. I
thought, "This woman's had a rough life. I can't put her through any duress or
any stress, for, God Forbid, anything that I would create." So I never told her.
I never told Mum. My mother went to the grave in 2009, she passed away in 2009
and I never told her that I was gay. But she knew. Somehow she knew.
My grandmother passed before she did. Grandmother knew. Granny knew when I was a
00:17:00baby. Granny knew when I was small. She knew. I had one uncle, one of my
mother's brothers, he knew, too. He told me, "I've known since you were a baby.
When you began to try to walk, I knew then." It was never discussed, we never
talked. We just knew.
I never did come out. My coming out years, for me, were in college. That's when
I pretty much fell out of the shell, that shell of all those inhibitions and all
of the stigmas and pretty much I'm like, "This is me, I feel like [inaudible 00:17:44]."
But you know what? I wasn't really, really liberated to be exactly who I was
until I moved to Asheville in 2000 and then I was really liberated in 2011 when
my mother passed away. Then I thought to myself, "I don't have to answer to
nobody now that my mother's gone." Because I had respect. I didn't want to put
00:18:00her through... Like I said, any more duress or any stress, or make her life more
difficult than it was. We co-existed and I allowed her to have her beliefs and I
respected that. We never had that discussion. I never had much discussion with
my mother. My grandmother... It wasn't necessary. I didn't have to tell my
Grandma anything, she knew. She already knew. The rest of my family? They
couldn't care less. They largely regarded... The couldn't care less. That was
the only stigma.
That was my coming out, right there. But coming out with my friends, they were
the ones that really helped me to come out and I think moving to Asheville is
what allowed me to create that buffer zone that was necessary to live the life
that I was at. And I was, the life that was who I would be. I don't discuss it,
00:19:00I don't talk about anything gay or anything like that, with any perfect
stranger. With my friends, we never discuss it. It goes without being said. My
coming out years, I think, for me, from my [inaudible 00:19:22] to when I moved
to Asheville in 2000. I've been here 20 years since. 20 years I've had. The
whole time I've been here, for 20 years, I've lived life as a gay man and I'm
very thankful for that.
It seems like you had a lot of respect and love for your mother. Even though...
Aside from her, you don't feel like you were very close to your family but you-
I was taught early on by my grandmother and my grandfather, God rest our souls,
00:20:00forever treat your souls, I am so thankful for the time that I had with those
people because I feel like they rescued me at a very bad time in my life. My
father was very abusive to my mother and there were a lot of gray areas. I was
kept in the dark a lot. I never knew in my younger years about my father and my
mother and their interactions. My grandparents, for some reason, didn't want me
to have to experience that. They didn't want me to live like that, I think.
Rather than things that were hurtful or harmful or anything like that, the
Native people that I know, especially the Cherokee people, they just don't talk
about it. The problem is you learn to internalize and process a lot on your own.
00:21:00And whether you make extrapolations, whether they're right or they're wrong,
there's no one there to correct you, to say, "It is right," or, "It is wrong,"
"Your thinking was right or wrong." We don't talk about things, per say.
I'm very thankful for them, though, that I pretty much [inaudible 00:21:19].
"You had a wonderful experience with your grandma and grandpa," I said, "Yes, I
did. It was rudimentary. They didn't have a lot. We were very poor." But I said,
"One thing that I was taught, I was taught a lot of respect and then number
two," I said, "I was taught, basically, how to survive. How to make it." I said,
"That was basically what was taught to me." I said, "All in all, my
grandparents, growing up with them, Grandpa died when I was 14 years old and
Granny died when I was 28. Basically, 14 years with my grandmother and then 14
00:22:00additional years with my grandmother. She died when I was 28, about to turn 29."
And I said, "I'm thankful for them. They saved my life, basically. They gave me
what I needed to survive. I'll always be grateful to them for that."
Would you say like you felt you- [crosstalk 00:22:29]. Oh, sorry, go ahead.
Okay. And I just feel like I owe my life to them. They saved my life, they
really did, honestly.
Would you say you lost any friends or family members as a result of living your life?
Yes, I have. I've lost three cousins, actually, and this was early on in the
1990s. One, she was a prostitute, and the other two were normal homosexuals. But
00:23:00they had moved away and lived away from here when I was younger. In my younger
years, when they all returned home and they were sick. They all came home to die
and they just struck me funny, too, in those early years. I thought, "Is that
what people do? Do people move away from here to live that life or to feel that
life or to follow that life and then they just come home when they're sick?" I
was stigmatized by that, too, when I was in college. I'm like, "Is that how it's
supposed to be?" But I was too scared to ask questions about that because I was
afraid that if I asked a lot of questions about their lifestyle, them living
away and then coming home and being sick, then I would probably reveal something
about myself, something like, why would you question that? Are you like that? We
00:24:00didn't go there.
But I remember those three people, in general. Two of them had lived in Atlanta
and one had been everywhere. She was in [inaudible 00:24:12] geographical
locations. My mom moved out of town when she was [inaudible 00:24:20]. God is
not pleased with that lifestyle. God is not pleased with those kinds of
lifestyles. You need to think about that. My mom was telling me that I need to
think about how I live or what, but she didn't say that, when they would bring
somebody home. Somebody would come home, they'd be sick and next thing you know,
they were dead, they were dying. This is why. [inaudible 00:24:48] I just can't
begin to comprehend it.
But I remember losing two cousins that died from HIV but I remember they all
lived away from here. They didn't live here. They didn't live in Cherokee. They
00:25:00didn't live in Asheville. They lived away in big metropolitan areas, Raleigh,
I'm going to pivot back to life growing up. When you were growing up and then
when you first moved to Asheville, what was gay life back then like? Were there
places to go? Were there local resources or groups or support groups?
No, there wasn't. There wasn't any of that. When I moved here in 2000, we had,
basically, Smokey's, which is a bar on Biltmore Avenue, then you had Hairspray,
right behind the federal building, then you had Scandal, then you had Onion
Rings, you had those four bars.
As far as support groups or any of that, you probably had WINCAP, but god
forbid, nobody wanted to be seen going in that building, either, because they
00:26:00knew what that was about, people who had HIV or resources for HIV for gay
people. They didn't want to be seen coming out of there. There weren't many. I
joined a group like in 2006, 2007, called Closer, and it was just a group of men
who'd meet on Tuesday night, we'd meet at the All Souls Cathedral, down in
Biltmore Village and that was about it. If there were other gay groups or gay
organizations, I wasn't aware, they weren't advocated or advertised.
When I moved to Asheville, though, that was basically it. The gay clubs where
you socially interacted and then, like I said, the little group, the little
00:27:00private group that you had to request to join and that was called Closer. We met
on Tuesday nights down at the All Souls Cathedral down in Biltmore Village. That
was it as far as gay advocacy was concerned.
What about before you moved to Asheville?
Before I moved to Asheville? Never heard of anything. I never heard of anything.
[crosstalk 00:27:29] Cherokee and West Carolina? No. Absolutely not. No. There
was none of that. You were on your own.
Then, when I went back to teach, I taught at Western Carolina from 2005-2008, I
noticed they had a LGBT organization, organized by the students, then, when I
taught there, 2005-2008, which was called Pink Flag or LGBT. It was a group
00:28:00there because if you wanted to be on the faculty there, you could go to
training, and it was just about safe zones. I'm like, "Oh, we have progressed.
I've been gone 10 years from this university and [inaudible 00:28:13]. We've
already got LGBT designations here, we've got them holding Pink Flag, and now
we've got safe zone training that you can attend if you want to."
But when I was a student there in 1991-1994, absolutely not. There was not that.
You didn't even dream that.
You had a support group with your friends, though, at least?
Yeah, I had a support group with my friends. But while we were at school we were
strictly business. We didn't talk about it either. We talked about our
lifestyles amongst ourselves but in a group of social friends, no. It was not
accepted. [inaudible 00:28:56] West Carolina's not very progressive, at all,
00:29:00where LGBT is concerned. I'd say within the last 10 years it's become more
progressive than it had in the years before.
What do you think's attributed to that progression?
I think just an alarming rate of people just rising above that and seeing that
they want social acceptance of their lifestyle. I think folks are like, "It's
time for a change." It seems like within the past 10 years. I will advocate
this, I will say this much, in the past 10 years, it's more like the hypocrisy
of the church itself, and I'm not going to name organizations or denominations,
but I'm just going to say that I've heard of Reverends here, and I'm not going
to say who, but it's shifted in the past 10 years, that a lot of people in the
general public, in the community here have just about thrown the curtain down on
00:30:00these churches and their hypocrisy and the hypocrisy type practices they use
against people. There's an awareness. Where that started, I have no clue, but
whenever that became a reality, the hypocrisy, to reveal the hypocrisy, then the
LGBT began to lessen their stigmas about who they were.
I'm thinking we saw that about 10 years ago. And like I said, there was a large
influx of people moving to Asheville from other geographical areas outside of
Asheville, it's what started that notion. This younger generation now, now they
have equality of marriage back in 2016, that just solidified "you can be who you
want to be now."
I'd seen a lot of changes before 2016 but I thought, "Something, something's
00:31:00going to change. Something will have to." And then whenever equality of marriage
was passed in 2015, then people became pretty [inaudible 00:31:14] that we're
okay but you have to struggle still. It's still there but socially, though, I
think that pretty much they respect the LGBT community a lot, for now. From what
I see you don't see too many attacks in this area. Not too many people raising
much animosity for the LGBT community and the people within the community, as
well, I think that they're... I wouldn't say totally in acceptance but maybe
just intolerant. That's what I see.
I'm going to ask the opposite of this question in a second, too, but what would
you say were the biggest struggles you had growing up LGBTQ?
Being socially stigmatized and being unaccepted. Back then it was the generation
00:32:00before me and that was probably the biggest thing about it, but also to think
that you had to go away to live your lifestyle and come home to die. That was
what stopped me in my tracks and from then I had to really, really think about
that, but then when I left the reservation and went to [inaudible 00:32:28] and
was back and forth to Asheville, the fringe, well, this ain't so bad, but then
again I've got my family that comes to church in Asheville, I've got to pay
attention then to their needs and their wants. I was unable to live my life, per say.
I was happy to be with my friends at college and then being here, back and forth
to the Asheville area, I was getting my feet wet, being exposed to the gay
lifestyle of Asheville, is what it once was. I'm happy with that but then I'd
00:33:00always say, "Well, I've got to go home Sunday," because I'm having dinner or
we're having a 21st or something like that.
My personal life [inaudible 00:33:19]. I'm not going to lay in their lap. I'm
not going to do it. I just don't do it but amongst my friends I would.
I'm going to ask you a question that's off script, because it's something that I
like to ask my gay friends. If you could have taken a pill when you were younger
to make you straight, would you have taken it and what about today?
Would I have taken it? Probably, because the influence to not be gay or not be a
part of that lifestyle were so mandated, I guess. To maintain the normal state,
00:34:00not put my grandmother through that, not put my mom through that, for my family.
I hate to think of my family being attacked because of some virtue or some
notion of a gay lifestyle that I carried, that they'd have to suffer for that.
Yeah, I'd do it for them. I would.
Now? Absolutely not. I'm in Asheville. I'm not in your face. I wouldn't change
anything now, knowing and understanding what I know now. Absolutely not.
How would you describe the turning point from those two mindsets?
The turning point, I think, was basically that when I was able to break away
from, number one, whenever I moved here, began to rent my own place, began to
00:35:00live here, began to get ingrained in the Asheville community and the LGBT
community itself with my friends, then I'd tell myself, "This is where I want to
be." [inaudible 00:35:22] I think I found the [inaudible 00:35:24] where I want
to be. Embark on that, six years, stick in this area and just be who you want to
be. Be who you've always wanted to be. But I knew it was here, though, because
Asheville had a thriving gay community, way back in the 1990s, way back,
probably way before then and I got a taste of that and thought, "This is where I
want to be." That's why I decided to stay and drove a stake through the ground.
That in itself... I tell myself, too, "The sedentary lifestyle, the quiet
00:36:00lifestyle, basically the straight lifestyle of where I come from, I could return
to that any day if I wanted to." Here I am 20 years later.
So, what are some of your favorite memories of your LGBTQ journey?
Journey? Number one- [crosstalk 00:36:31].
Yeah, just of your gay journey.
Oh okay. Number one, I guess is just creating friends who I felt like I could
trust. People that weren't from here. People that were going to college there at
Western Carolina that were from other areas, some as far away as Virginia, some
as far away as Raleigh. Just people who were different, different mindsets. I
sought that, that people with the different mindset.
And then number two was, I think, liberation. Liberation to think and adapt to a
00:37:00life that I felt was conducive to me. I was able to think outside of that,
"You're going to hell," or, "God is not pleased with that," or... I was like,
there's got to be more to life than that. Is God that stigmatizing? And then
number two, just to meet people from other places that thought outside of the
box. That thought outside of that, they didn't live their life just surrounded
by fears and stigmas of the church. Not to say that God is not important but I'm
just saying, my God, to live a life of fear, I didn't get it. At a young age I'm
like, "That is not what I want. That is not me."
Also, I think, was basically just liberation of just being able to be free in
who I was, who I wanted to be. I think that was really important. I think that
was one of the reasons why I was [inaudible 00:38:18]. I needed to.
Did you have any gay role models growing up or do you have any today?
Did I have any gay role models? I knew who they were and I would talk to them
and I wanted to be friends with them but I was scared. I didn't want to be seen
with them. I didn't want to be seen. It was interesting, my mother didn't want
that lifestyle for me but she was friends with those people. That made no sense
to me, either, at a young age. I'm like, "What's the difference?" I'm like, "She
talks to them and doesn't seem to have a problem with them." In her younger
years she partied with them, too, before God took that all away from her, she
partied with them. Heaven forbid, though, that her son be like that, oh no. No,
00:39:00no, no. That was reflected in a few things for me as well.
Gay role models? I was too scared to have role models. I didn't have any but I
was very, very, very taken by, in the early 2000s and the late 1990s, I was very
taken by how accepting the gay community in Asheville was. I embarked on that. I
liked it, I really did.
Were there any particular individuals? You don't have to name them, but any
prominent gay figures?
Yeah, there were two or three of them. There were two or three. Most were
lesbians, they were female. I was an only child, I had no brothers or sisters,
no siblings. I've always seemed to have stronger friendships with females, in my
00:40:00early years I did. Now, it's both male and female. But in my early years, I
think it's because I always wanted a big sister, I think that's why a lot of my
role models were lesbians. There were two in particular who I really, really,
really... I liked them because they were comfortable with who they were. To me
it seemed like they didn't have to impress anyone. I enjoyed that, I liked that.
I was like, "I want that freedom. I really want that freedom one day."
Do you still talk to them today?
No, they moved away. They live in another area. They lived their lives. We used
to keep in touch but we don't keep in touch as much as we used to. Maybe they
00:41:00[inaudible 00:41:04] let me let my wings grow and get my feathers without them.
[inaudible 00:41:08] on my journey, as well. But I was thankful that they came
along because they really helped me a lot. Let me see my worth as to who I was.
Did you find any discrimination within the gay community once you felt you were
a part of it, being Native American?
No. Believe it or not, I've not ever... I have never felt that here in
Asheville, amongst the gay people here in the Asheville area itself, I've never
felt that. Now, I have been discriminated against for being Native American and
being LGBT by folks who were from away from here. They try to figure out my
race, they think I'm black or they think I was West Indies or a slave... A
00:42:00slavery type notion about me or anything like that. If anything, you look
Polynesian. You look like you're a Polynesian. I tell them, I said, "[inaudible
00:42:14] understand it out there," didn't want to hold it against them. I'm
sure it wasn't. They weren't being depredatory and a lot of it is just a misunderstanding.
A lot of discrimination that I have felt here in Asheville has been, partly, I
think, from some of the neighborhoods here... Some local folks here, not as
much, but there's a lot of tourists in the area here from the LGBT tourists that
come to Asheville. They [inaudible 00:42:53] think that they're better than us,
anyway. That's the only time that I've ever really felt that.
But amongst the Asheville people themselves, the local folks, never.
Okay. So, I'm going to ask a couple questions about support services. Obviously,
you're not old enough to have participated in any civil rights movements from
the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s- [crosstalk 00:43:28]
I was born in 1971.
Yeah. So, do you think anything is missing in Western North Carolina to be more
inclusive or what do you think we can do to improve our region for the LGBT community?
I'm not real sure. It's a little divided on that question there because... I
00:44:00don't know, I just don't... I never realized... I'm going to use this as an
example. I never realized that the LGBT community in Asheville itself, was as
large as it was, until... What year was that? 2016, when Pulse happened, Pulse
Orlando. Man, there was just an outpouring of people that descended on O.Henry's
and at that place that night I was like, "There's this much LGBT community
here?" But at any other given time, minus the tragedy, I've never seen these
people. I've never... They're all claiming to be LGBT but I'm like, "Where are
they on any other given day?" That's what opened my eyes up to it then, that
00:45:00Asheville, the gay community, to me, it just seems real divided. It just seems,
I don't know, it's just not a flourishing gay community, I don't think. It's got
variations in what people value, it's got variations in what people like, you've
got variations in who they want to emerge, who they want to be as far as gay and
lesbian are concerned.
Where I'm concerned, I'm like, maybe I haven't concerned myself with the bigger
part of Asheville, outside of my little group that I hang with. My friends that
I've been friends with since I've been here. Maybe I need to venture out and
explore and see what variations in the gay community exist out there. But I'm
like, whenever Pulse, Orlando passed, I'm like, "This is the gay population of
00:46:00Asheville? Wow. These are surprising numbers." But on any given night you don't
see these people.
For the most part though, a lot of it today... The gay community in Asheville,
I'm going to say this to you and I don't care if anyone gets mad or not, but the
gay community in Asheville has gotten really snobby. Very, very selective in who
they want to hang with. I blame social media for that and everything like that.
People don't interact, they don't have that... A lot of this younger generation
will not have that social interaction that I had, having to actually meet them.
Not meet them through some kind of device or telephone or the Internet, we
didn't have that back then. You actually sat down and physically met with them.
This younger generation? No clue. They have no clue about that. And no
personality to support that or a desire to want to meet face to face.
That's what I see. That's the trend that I see, now.
I can see that. It makes sense to me because the younger generation of gay
people are growing up without the fear that older generations had to grow-
They don't have to have those fears. Those stigmas are gone. They are protected
by law, now. They've got federal laws that protect them. We didn't have those
back then. We didn't have those 20 years ago. That was still, quote unquote,
"rolling down the tracks" for generations to come.
Is it still a struggle though? Well, of course it is because they're still gay.
They're still lesbian and gay, this younger generation. Of course there's still
a struggle. We're in that struggle together, we've all been in it. It's still
not accepted. It's just an area. It's tolerated but it's still not totally
accepted, oh no. If there weren't so many federal prohibitions against anti-gay,
00:48:00anything, if there weren't laws to protect them, we'd probably be hearing more
about gay bashing and gay people getting hurt and that would happen more
So, I'm glad that they have enforced the law in this area, that we're not going
to let that happen. I am thankful for that but cohesiveness in the gay
community? It's diminished. It's not what it was 20 years ago, absolutely not.
I'm not sure we'll ever see that again. God forbid another tragedy, like we did
see with Pulse, Orlando. I hope that doesn't happen to any others. Tragedies
like that bring the community together, because we did see a lot of closeness
and togetherness when that happened, but I'm like, it should be that way all the
time. I know people have their own lives, too and people's mindsets and thinking
00:49:00have changed, which that being said, people being who they are.
It reminds me of when you go to a family member's funeral and it's the only time
you get to see your whole family and you think to yourself, "Boy, it sucks that
the only time we can see our family is when someone dies."
That's exactly... You're exactly right. And that's what I think that the gay
community has become. It's sad. We've not emerged too far from, like I said,
that 20 year baseline that I established the story on, we've deviated away from
that, from that cohesiveness. But I don't know where the distractions are and I
can't... There's too many variables to try to extrapolate where did the
variation occur that allows for separation within the community, or does it
occur and at what time did it occur, that the community separated?
I still remember that night... I still remember that feeling of being at
00:50:00O.Henry's, at the bar, they wanted to do a vigil, for the people who were the
victims at Pulse, Orlando. Man, there was an outpouring of community. On any
given night, what do you see there? You don't see these people. Where did all
these people come from? But they're all considered to be Ashevillians. Of
course, there were a few from out of town, too, but right here at home, folks.
I'm like, "Wow." I was impressed.
So, I have two questions left to ask you, and I really wish I was a better
interviewer so I could weave them in nicer, but one of them goes back to the
idea of growing up. I wanted to ask if you could speak towards your mental state
growing up. Would you say that you were very depressed growing up, that you were
kind of happy, that you were indifferent?
I would say depressed. I was depressed because I was struggling from an early
00:51:00age of wanting to live in two worlds. I wanted to live in... I wanted to be who
I was- [crosstalk 00:51:10].
Yeah, three worlds. Who I was... I grew up in two worlds. The second world, I
guess, would be in a mainstream society that's everyday I'm confronted with, and
then growing up, I'd never been taught by my grandparents, as a Native person,
being Cherokee, and maintaining that and maintaining all of that and not wanting
them to ever be... I was taught to never be ashamed of that, and I never wanted
to do anything that would be shameful upon that.
I was depressed. I just remember hating going to high school because it was in
Bryson City, I couldn't stand Bryson City. Now, you talk about discrimination,
and hey, that's where I learned right off, right out in the open, these people
00:52:00don't like your ass. They didn't care to tell you, either. They didn't care to
tell you how they felt about people from Cherokee, they'll show you. I hated it.
How did you cope?
How did I cope? People just left me alone. I had very little problems. I didn't
have any problems with nobody. Of course, the kid walking down the hall maybe
whispered, "Fag" "Queer" or "Cocksucker", like that. I knew I was stuck there
because my mother pulled me out of the school at Cherokee when I was in the
fourth grade, fourth or fifth grade, I can't remember, because they classified
me as a Slow Learner, "Oh that kid's off." She got that letter and she put the
letter down on the table and she said, "That's it. Next year, you're going to
public school." From fifth grade on, until I graduated 12th grade, I fulfilled
00:53:00my educational requirements at public school. Talk about social stigma. And I
didn't have any say in that. She told me, "You're going to pubic school next
year," and that's where I stayed. They didn't like people from the reservation,
Number two, to be queer, or them know that you were queer or kind of suspect you
were queer, oh hell, even worse. Even worse. So yeah, my younger years were
depressed. By the 10th year in high school I was like, "I want out of here. I
want to quit this." I only stayed in high school because my grandmother talked
me out of quitting. She said, "You need to go on to school. Finish this. I want
you to finish. Make something out of yourself," that's what she told me. Those
words stuck with me and I finished because of her and went on to successfully
get a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. So I have to say "thank you" to
00:54:00her. She encouraged me. She saw me graduate from undergraduate school. She was
already gone when I went to graduate school. But she would have been proud of me
just the same.
That's awesome. And I'm going to end the interview on a lighter, more positive
note. What is the best advice that you would give LGBT youth today, based on the
lessons that you learned throughout your life?
Well, they're kind of divided because number one, they won't ever have to
struggle the same as we did. They probably won't be confronted or have people
disrespect them, blatantly, because of who they were, because of their
lifestyle. I don't think too many of them will have to be faced with that.
But, on another note, where that is concerned, the younger generation, I think,
00:55:00though, it can be a little bit more blatant in certain areas where it's
concerned because there's a lot of violence and violent acts that have been
evoked upon the LGBT community presently, for who they are. But they probably
won't ever go through that day to day, social struggle of being stigmatized,
being ostracized for who they are and being verbally told to be... People
laughing and scoffing in your face because of who you are. I don't think they'll
ever have to go through that, I don't think they'll ever have to live through that.
But I think, also, with the LGBT community today, the battle has been fought,
it's been won. Equality of marriage established and solidified a lot of
protection for that community, so the stigmas that they have upon them, today,
00:56:00are minimal compared to what I had to, and what other generations before me were
faced with. I don't think the struggle... It's that reality no more.
The struggle now is just protecting yourself to keep from someone attacking you
or enforcing those protections and maintaining them. I'm not sure that some of
this younger generation knows to value or even appreciate that. I really don't,
because many of them haven't had to go through the social struggle of being
stigmatized and being the same stigmatization that I had. We're speaking a
difference of 20-30 years. This younger generation, like I said, I just don't
know whether they value or appreciate all that has been established for them. I
00:57:00think that we need to teach awareness of that, that they need to maintain that.
I don't know whether any of those Supreme Court rulings have been overturned
or... I'm sure that somebody will try to.
But if anything, I think a struggle would be, number one, to be who you are,
protect yourself. And then number two, to maintain all of those freedoms and all
of those liberties that have been established for the LGBT community thus far.
Embrace them. Appreciate them. Be appreciative of them. I'm not sure that
awareness is there. [inaudible 00:57:41] at times to see who you are, but also
be mindful that things could be a lot different. Pretty much, the younger
generation, you got the best of who you are and who you represent.
Awesome. Well, that was all the questions that I had for you, Charles. I really,
00:58:00really appreciate you sitting down for me for an hour to talk and share your story.
Would you mind... I'm going to stop the recording now-