Five Years In, Thanks for Following

It’s a milestone anniversary, but we’re only just beginning.

I missed our anniversary. On April 12, 2020 OUT in Michigan City turned five years old. COVID-19 has us all distracted. I was aware that the anniversary was coming up and I wanted to throw a huge party with our logo on everything. I had hopes of raising money for Michigan City PRIDE Fest 2020 by making our anniversary party a fundraiser. Yet here we are, like for so many people life is on hold. It’s like we’re fly’s stuck in amber watching the world go by without us. PRIDE events all over the nation are being cancelled including the iconic San Francisco and New York PRIDE events. I haven’t heard what’s going to happen in our hometown but I don’t have high hopes.

John M. Livelsberger interviews LGBTQ rights activists Steven & Joshua Snyder-Hill. Photo Jack Foos-Gordan

I started OUT in Michigan City five years ago after a visit to Indianapolis. My husband and I traveled to Indy so I could get an interview with LGBTQ rights activists Steven Snyder-Hill and his husband Joshua for an LGBTQ online news magazine based out of Chicago and we participated in a protest march during the weekend of the NCAA playoffs. The march was in protest of the newly signed Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I had never marched in protest before, but what I found in Indianapolis was a community that pulled together. The energy and love in the air moved me and was so palpable you could almost reach out and touch it. By the end of the day I got my interview with the Snyder-Hills but I brought back to Michigan City so much more.

We have a large LGBTQ community here in Michigan City and in the surrounding communities, yet why weren’t we organized? So I started OUT in Michigan City. I wanted our community informed on what law makers in Indianapolis were doing. I wanted us to have a sense of community and I wanted us to support and love one another. Lot’s of city’s have a “gayborhood,” Michigan City is one big gayborhood and it was long past time that we pulled together as a community and showed our PRIDE in our city and each other.

From Left, Jayda Pill, Wilma Fingerdo, and Dena Richards. Photo: Facebook

In the five years since we went live others in our community have had the same idea. Michigan City’s LGBTQ community has arrived and we’ve become an oasis in Northwest Indiana where we can live and love openly and I could not be anymore prouder of my adopted hometown. We now have LGBTQ friendly business’s, those businesses are suffering because of the social distancing restrictions, yet there’s hope. Drag queens Wilma Fingerdo, Jayda Pill, and Dena Richards are helping support Fiddlehead Restaurant and it’s employees by running take out orders to waiting cars on Saturday afternoon. Because of them giving a few hours of their time Fiddlehead sold out of food they last two Saturdays and can remain open and pay their employees. There’s the love and sense of community I was looking for five years ago, as I figured it was right in our backyard this whole time.

Protesting RFRA in Indianapolis. Photo: John M. Livelsberger

Despite what’s going on in the world OUT in Michigan City is going to keep growing along with our LGBTQ community. We we first started we were just a Facebook page. Now you’re reading this on our website outinmichigancity.com. We’ve also started a podcast called The Bent Edge. It’s the Region’s first unapologetically gay podcast. Where as OUT in Michigan City is news oriented and serious The Bent Edge is irreverent and witty where no subject is off limits. So, to the over 1,655 people that ‘like’ or ‘follow’ us on social media, thank you, we hope you stick with us for the long haul, our story is just beginning.

Please give OUT in Michigan City a like on Facebook as well as The Bent Edge Michigan City only unapologetically gay podcast with new episodes weekly. The Bent Edge can be heard on Apple Podcast, Spotify and other platforms.

Coronavirus, The New New Normal.

A health crisis that could have been handled in a competent way at it’s onset, instead President Trump is carrying on the Reagan legacy.

I’m having a hard time finding balance. I want to be there for my community in a positive way during this health crisis but the other part of me is very angry. OUT in Michigan City has over 1600 followers on our Facebook page. People from all over the world have visited our website and we just launched our podcast “The Bent Edge.” I want readers and listers to be informed and entertained. I would like nothing more than to make people laugh or give someone something thoughtful to think about. I want to make people feel good no matter who they are. We would like to be a positive voice in the darkness. Yet, I can’t seem to get over my own anger right now and I don’t want it to bleed into other peoples lives and bring someone down even further. So, I’m going to get it out. I’m going to do what I always do, exercise the angry demon that invades my soul from time to time by writing it out.

President Trump addresses concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic.

One of the reasons I’m angry is because I just got into a war of words with a Trump supporter, which is not unusual. This particular Trump supporter did not like it that I called the president a “low life con-artist,” referring to his handling of the pandemic in which we find ourselves. This man was offended by my opinion of the president. He claimed, “That low life con artist has done more for this country since I have been voting than any of the other idiot presidents.” My knee jerk was to tell this person to fuck off which I kind of did, but my other reaction was this. I calmly explained that two years ago President Trump dismantled The National Security Council’s Pandemic Response Team. I then pointed out had the President not taken this action we may have been able to avoid the pandemic. He’s response was; “I am sure he thought it was just another worthless government agency collecting paychecks.” Really? That’s your defense of President Trump? I have no doubt that the government has overspent for agencies that we don’t or didn’t need in the past, but an agency that is in place to protect the health of the American people from a global pandemic is not one of them. The Pandemic Response Team is like your home or car insurance, you pay the fucking bill every month and hope you don’t need it. You don’t cancel it because your house has not burned down yet.

AIDS Activists protesting then President Ronald Reagan’s handling of the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s

I’m also angry because this is taking me back to the 1980’s during the onset of the AIDS epidemic. You notice that you don’t see a lot of gay men especially the older generation freaking out over this. I was a teenager in the 80’s and in my early twenties in the 90’s when AIDS was still a death sentence. Coming out of the closet can be scary, but in those days if certain people found out you were gay there was a good chance you would be made out to be a villain because of your sexuality. All the sudden people who didn’t understand what being gay meant thought that all gay men had AIDS. Lot’s of these men were beaten in violent confrontations or ostracized from there families. After being diagnosed many of these gay men were disowned and left alone to die. Can you imagine, alone in the hospital or worse in a back alley somewhere homeless and abandoned dying of a disease that no one understood and that had no cure. At the time this was “new normal” for the gay community. This new normal was all encompassing. Our government didn’t care that gay men were dying. 

President Ronald Reagan and his administration did everything thing they could to ignore AIDS. The government did NOTHING to help the sick. 39 million people have died of AIDS since the onset of the epidemic in the early 1980’s. Right now at this very moment everyone now knows what it’s like to be living with a virus that has no cure and coping with incompetent government leaders, and a current president that claimed during it’s onset that this pandemic was a hoax conjured up by political enemies. As I write this Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that the state has had it’s first death because of COVID-19. Had the Reagan Administration did the right thing during the AIDS crisis, which was to protect Americans that just happen to be gay, whole communities may not have been wiped out. President Trump is taking us all down the same road that the Reagan Administration took the gay community down. I had hoped that road was closed forever. 

I can’t speak for the entire gay community I can only speak for myself. As a proud gay man, I don’t wish the gross incompetence, neglect and fear that our community experienced on anyone. COVID-19 IS NOT AIDS and some people will recover others may not. As with the AIDS crisis I blame the mishandling of this crisis on an incompetent president with no understanding or compassion for the people he’s supposed to be serving. No one deserves to live through this uncertainty once. Some of us are living through it twice, first with AIDS and now COVID-19. 

We will not get through this as a LGBTQ community or a straight community, we will get through this as a human community and when the dust settles and it’s all over we will hold those elected officials responsible. 

Be safe and be kind to each other and remember we will come out on the other side of this, hopefully as a better and kinder community.

Gay & Straight Coalition Jazzes UP Michigan City

Former Associate Directory of Public Engagement for the Obama Administration, Matt Nosanchuk, speaking at a jazz brunch hosted by Northwest Indiana Gay-Straight Coalition.

On Sunday June 2nd, in Michigan City’s historic Uptown Arts District the Northwest Indiana Gay Straight Coalition hosted a Jazz Brunch to help raise money for Michigan City’s 2nd annual Michigan City PRIDE Fest. For those who are not familiar with the NWIGSC it is a fairly new non-profit formed just a few years ago that according to the groups website is “​A community based organization-fostering policies, initiatives and activities that create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for the LGBTQ community in Northwest Indiana.” The charity brunch was attended by Indiana State Senator Mike Bohacek (R), who co-authored Indiana’s newly passed hate crimes bill and guest speaker Matt Nosanchuk, former Associate Director of Public Engagement of the Obama White House. Jazz music was provided by the Bill Boris Trio.

The Bill Boris Trio as they perform during the Jazz Brunch at the Uptown Center.

In his opening remarks Mr. Nosanchuk commented on the 50th anniversary on The Stonewall Riots, marking the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. “The memory of Stonewall and what it represents led to the emergence of the first Pride Parade in New York on its first anniversary.” Michigan City has become the leader in Northwest Indiana for its inclusion of the LGBTQ community as it sees more and more former members of Chicago’s LGBTQ community leave the city to pursue a life in the “Region.” Michigan City gives new and life long residents the appeal of living on Lake Michigan, but without the inflated cost of living that you find in Chicago, yet living here allows easy access to everything Chicago has to offer.

As its already large LGBTQ community grows, Michigan City is now one of the many smaller cities around the nation that hosts its own PRIDE festival and was the first city in the Region to do so. Historically the LGBTQ population here has been large but under represented and far from organized, but recent years have seen organizations like PFLAG open a chapter here. PFLAG offers support to families and members of the LGBTQ community and is also a sponsor of Michigan City PRIDE Fest. As important as PFLAG is to offer support to the community at large, organizations like NWIGSC are just as important because they will be advocating real change in the laws that concern the LGBTQ community as well as pushing for real policy change locally and in Indianapolis, policy change that will have a lasting effect on this community.

Addressing the audience Michael Jefvert, who is a member of NWIGSC board, commented that when he was originally from Indiana and upon graduation from college promptly left the state. He along with hundreds of other young adults that just happen to identify as LGBTQ leave the state because they do not feel accepted in the city or town that they grew up in. How many talented and creative people who just happen to identify as LGBT or Q has Michigan City and the surrounding communities lost because of laws or policies that promote and foster old prejudices? Prejudices that make people feel excluded in their own hometown. Prejudices that can lead to violence against members of a marginalized community.

Organizations like the Northwest Indiana Gay-Straight Coalition and PFLAG are needed and those organizations are on the front lines of bringing real change and real understanding so that maybe one day we won’t lose talented, smart, and creative young members of our community to cities like Chicago, New York, or Indianapolis.

As 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots our community reflects on the progress that we’ve made and the progress we have yet to make. As more and more conservative states enact so called “religious freedom” laws, which are largely created to give businesses a license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community grass roots organizations like the Northwest Indiana Gay-Straight Coalition will have the backs of the LGBTQ community they represent and the ears of the policy makers who make the laws that have a lasting affect on all of us.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, How the VA Failed a Gay Marine

Long Before ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, LeRoy Kloss joined the Marines to serve his country, but it wasn’t his sexuality that got him discharged it was a heart condition. This is his story.

Long before those who enlisted in the US Armed Forces could serve openly and long before ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ was even heard of LeRoy Kloss was serving proudly in the US Marines. It was a different time back then, you could be dishonorably discharged from the military just for being gay and living your truth. The threat of a dishonorable discharge did not seem to bother LeRoy, he served his country from June 1983 to October 1991, “A friend and I joined on the ‘buddy program,’ I was tired of go no-where jobs,” he told me, “so I thought why not?” I had honestly no idea what I was getting myself into.” LeRoy was just 23 years old. I brought up the fact that he must not have hated it since he served for so long, “It turned out to be the best thing I ever did for myself. Beyond a steady paycheck I learned something valuable, something I didn’t have going in, self discipline.”

LeRoy Kloss shortly after he joined the Marines. Photo: Facebook

So many men and women who were LGBT at that time served with the fear and anxiety of being drummed out of the military, it was a fear that LeRoy didn’t share. “I didn’t flaunt my sexuality, there was a lot of ‘closet space,’ some people knew, but as long as I wasn’t flaunting it I was left alone. Looking back I never had that fear. It’s surprising, even to me.” LeRoy had long term plans to stay a Marine, but as fate would have it wasn’t his sexuality that forced him out of the military.

“It’s every Marines dream to be a drill instructor, it’s the ultimate head trip, make more Marines.” he told me when I asked him what his long term plans were if he would have stayed in. “I turned down the Warrant Officer Program and Officer Candidate School because I wanted to be a drill instructor first.” LeRoy failed a routine physical for Drill Instructor School, he found out that he had a bad heart, his valves were failing and needed replaced, he was only 28 years old. LeRoy was barred from combat and wasn’t deployed to Operation Desert Storm because he was on medical hold. The US military takes care of their soldiers, LeRoy was treated by the best doctors at Bethesda, Walter Reed, and The National Institutes of Health. When it came to staying in the Marines he held out for as long as he could, “Even though I wasn’t supposed to, I ran everyday day,” but a medical discharge was inevitable and then the reality of VA doctors began to set in. “When it was decided that I needed surgery the first time, they wanted to wait six months, even though my valves were failing.” Two weeks later he was finally allowed to be admitted to Northwestern where he was told he wouldn’t live 6 months. “When I went for surgery I was barely strong enough to walk into the hospital, I literally got thru the door and collapsed into a wheelchair.” At only 37 years old, LeRoy had two open heart surgeries. The day after he had his valve replacement LeRoy had an aortic aneurysm.

After surgery and recovery the reality of the situation sank in, the Marines was LeRoy’s home and his life, now that was all gone, “Not knowing what I was going to do to support myself was kind of scary, I did nothing for a year after I got out.” But they say once a Marine always a Marine and even though LeRoy didn’t wear the uniform anymore he moved passed his grief, he managed to pull himself up by his boot straps, he found the strength to not only heal but move on with his life. LeRoy found a niche and for the last 23 years has been working as a conductor for South Shore Freight Railroad.

In August of 2018 LeRoy found out that once again his heart valves were failing and he was no longer able to work. Surgery has to be delayed due to stents being placed into his heart to unblock his left anterior descending artery. Because of that surgery LeRoy has to be placed on blood thinners for six months, then off of them for two weeks before they can operate. The insurance LeRoy gets through his employer will cover his medical expenses but since he’s not able to work he’s exhausted his entire savings. Sick pay from his job ran out on April 29th and he’s recently had his truck repossessed. LeRoy has a medical discharge and a disability rating from the Marines and he is eligible for a temporary change in status so he can collect disability pay to help with his living expenses, but the VA botched his claim for a benefit increase and the doctor evaluating his situation has yet to submit her paperwork. He’s even called the White House VA hotline, but still he cannot get the help he needs. Not knowing where to go from here LeRoy swallowed his pride and asked for help with a GoFundMe Page. LeRoy Kloss is a veteran with a very serious heart condition and he’s about to get his utilities shut off because of a lack of support and as well as what some people might say is incompetence by the Veteran’s Administration. LeRoy isn’t the only veteran that this country has failed to look after and protect.

X-Ray of LeRoy Kloss after angiogram.

LeRoy has been getting a lot of attention lately from close friends and a the tight LGBTQ community in Michigan City and Northwest Indiana, yet he hopes that his struggles will bring attention to others, “I’ll take all the exposure this thing can get, not just for me, but for other veterans having issues.” When asked knowing what he knows about how hard it’s been for him to get proper health care coupled with all bureaucracy and ‘red tape’ that goes along with the VA, would he put on the uniform of a Marine all over again, “yes I’d do it again and I’d recommend it for anyone who needs direction or goals in life.”

Click to donate to LeRoy’s GoFundMe page.

Please join local entertainers Welcome to the Other Side as they host a benefit in LeRoy’s honor Saturday May 11, 2019 at Mugshots Lounge 1901 S Woodland Ave, Michigan City, IN 46360. The Doors open for this 21 and over show at 8pm show starts at 10 pm. There will also be a silent auction and all proceeds go to help KeRoy Kloss. Cover is $12 at the door.