Jennifer Gregg is my best friend. Yes, it helps that she is loyal, kind, smart compassionate and empathic, and, it also helps that she is funny as hell and that we both enjoy a good Indian buffet when we can find one. Yet, these are not the reasons Jennifer is my best friend, it’s because she makes me want to be a better person each and every day.
Like many LGBTQ individuals from her generation and from the South, Jennifer’s road to self-acceptance and acceptance from those around her was a rocky road to say the least. She turned this hurt into a fierce empathy to fight for others, to seek out the underdog instead of cozying up to the safe bet, to always look for the person in the corner of a room at a party with no one to talk to, to take the time to genuinely ask people how they are doing rather than a simple pleasantry that is now commonplace, and to bring people together from all walks of life for the greater good, whether through her current work as executive director of the ONE Archives Foundation or when she and I worked together at the LGBTQ Victory Fund to elect openly LGBTQ individuals to office at the local, state and national level.
Pain does not always beget pain. Sometimes pain turns itself into a determination for healing, not just for one’s own self, but for those around you. That’s Jennifer’s creed and roadmap for her life. When I finally decided to quit drinking last December, Jennifer was the first person I called, not because I thought she would have all the answers, but because I knew she would support me through this journey, and indeed she has.
If you’re ever lucky enough to meet Jennifer, take the time to listen to her, to emulate her empathy and passion for others, and, if you’re as lucky as I have been, become a better person through her friendship. As we often say in our community, we get to choose what our families look like. I’m so blessed that Jennifer choose me to be part of hers.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I came out when I was 24. My family was the hardest to tell. I told my mother on New Year’s Eve and was promptly uninvited to my Godfather’s annual New Year’s Eve party. My family and I didn’t really speak for a very long time. We are starting to heal.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
All of us in the LGBTQ community are my heroes. I am lucky to interact with heroes daily through my work with the ONE Archives Foundation, ordinary people who made an extraordinary difference. I am always in awe of our community’s bravery and resilience.
What’s Los Angeles’ best nightspot, past or present?
Catch One. Jewel Thais-Williams not only started a nightclub, she started a movement. I was thrilled to honor Jewel this year with the ONE Archives Foundation’s inaugural History Maker’s award.
Describe your dream wedding.
My dream wedding is taking place this year! My partner and I are getting married on Dec. 21, Winter Solstice. It’s a very small and casual ceremony, with my daughter officiating.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Animal rights and rescue. I am a big supporter of FixNation and Farm Sanctuary.
What historical outcome would you change?
Our 2016 presidential election.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
When Ellen came out. She provided me with encouragement and a sense of safety (although I’m still waiting for my toaster oven). And, I wish I still had my Member’s Only jacket.
On what do you insist?
Honesty and humor. I also need to have water with me at all times.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
The ONE Archives Foundation’s Youth Ambassadors for Queer History’s field trip to Project Angel Food. They learned about the history and mission of Project Angel Food, toured the amazing kitchen, and made holiday ornaments for clients. I love sharing our LGBTQ history with the next generation.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Make everyone queer. What a wonderful world that would be!
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
Energy. Everything is energy and energy is everything.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
The road to justice and equality is a long one that is constantly winding, with detours and roadblocks. Believe in your leadership. When you need support, ask for it; when asked for support, provide it. Stay the course.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
My family, those I love, and those in need.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That lesbians are handy. Definitely never ask me to fix anything. Also, I don’t own any flannel.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
There are so many wonderful LGBTQ movies! “Desert Hearts” is my all-time favorite: a queer film made by a lesbian filmmaker, presenting a positive portrayal of lesbian sexuality. And those love scenes!
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Not talking about sex, politics or religion at the dinner table.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
I was a competitive swimmer when I was younger. I had a big regional meet at Frostburg State, and became really ill with a terrible head cold. I was swimming the 400-meter individual medley. I almost dropped out because I was so sick. But, I forged ahead instead. Not only did I take first, but I beat my personal best time. That was the day I found my inner strength and will power. I covet that moment—that win, and I lean on it often.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
Take risks. Relish in your failures. Embrace change. It’s how you will get to know yourself.
Why Los Angeles?
I love the energy, the creativity, the push for progress. Los Angeles is where the LGBTQ movement really began. We have such a deep history of social justice in LA.