There Has Always Been A Strong Sense Of Community Here!

Though we live in what many would classify as a small town, Missoula has a great sense of gay community.  It seems to have always been that way.  Of course Missoula being the gay mecca of the region if not the whole state.  I feel an overwhelming pride and joy to have been part of such a remarkable community in such an extraordinary place.  When I first moved to Missoula in 1980 to go to the University I was not quite sure of my actual sexual orientation. I knew what I desired, but was not sure how to get it.  Gay was taboo, something not talked about with no visible signs.  Though my desire at that age was strong my revulsion was stronger and kept me at bay in actually seeking it out.  After several years I finally began to venture out and meet a guy whom eventually become my first partner.  Much to my amazement he was connected to a community that was quite strong and prolific.  He manned an office on the third floor of the Wilma building overlooking the marquee of the theater, for an organization with a community center called “Out In Montana”.  Hanging with him in that office I began to meet many others that were alike and finally felt like I had found a place I belonged.  This group was quite active with meetings and all sorts of organized activities.  There were picnics in the parks, house parties, nights out with the boys, movie nights where we actually when to a theater, all sorts of things constantly organized.  I quickly gained a vast body of friends and become a part of a community where I felt completely supported.  There were annual events on Memorial Day that would become a weekend long party sort of event that would closely approximate a modern day pride celebration, with organized dances, theater events, and a talent show.  What a great time and place to come out and find my own sense of identity.

Though the world has changed and we now interact in different ways, mainly though social media, I still feel that feeling of community around me.  Perhaps it’s just that I have been here for so long that I just know so many people.  A week or so back I went to the Gay Men’s Chorus annual Christmas Event and it was like stepping back in time.  There were several hundred people in attendance and I knew most of them.  This is a place where people’s hearts and souls are open to each other.  We still have an active community center, we have FDH & Associates, a gay community based health organization, and every thing seems to be thriving.  I see what a strong healthy community we remain after all these years.  Missoula is like  a wonderful melting pot.  There seems to be very little fear and anxiety here, where we are not judged, but are encouraged to be tolerant of each other despite our differences.

I left Missoula for many years, working in many places, an exotic dance boy in Dallas, a very popular bartender in DC at one of the hippest bars, and many years working in theater, not staying very long anywhere in particular and never did I find of community as strong as Missoula.  I now laugh when I overhear the young kids say, “I can’t wait to get out of this place” and I typically whisper in their ears, “yes but don’t let what is here pass you up”.  This is the time of your life and savor every moment.