Coming out in Albert Lea

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 17, 2001

A trained speaker, administrative assistant at a Gay and Lesbian programs office, and facilitator of a coming-out group, Cardona was recently recognized for his efforts to bridge the gap between gay and heterosexual communities.

Sunday, June 17, 2001

A trained speaker, administrative assistant at a Gay and Lesbian programs office, and facilitator of a coming-out group, Cardona was recently recognized for his efforts to bridge the gap between gay and heterosexual communities.

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&uot;I think it stems from being the only out gay kid in high school, being the token queer,&uot; Cardona said. &uot;I definitely do feel like a liaison sometimes.&uot;

Cardona is the 2001 recipient of the Southeast Minnesota Award, a $500 scholarship from the Philanthrofund Foundation’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered (GLBT) Educational Scholarship Program for his work on GLBT issues.

He has always been open about his sexual orientation – as co-editor for the ALHS student newspaper he often talked about GLBT issues in his columns. But Cardona said being gay didn’t define his relationships with other students in Albert Lea.

&uot;I feel like I had to be pretty open about myself, and if I didn’t make it into a big deal – other people wouldn’t,&uot; he said. &uot;For me it depends on attitude, whether you’re accepted. I always surrounded myself with people that were going to be accepting anyway.&uot;

&uot;If you kind of have an attitude that people are going to have a problem with it, and you’re going to be discriminated against, it’s kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy,&uot; he said.

Cardona was actively involved in an informal group of GLBT oriented people in Albert Lea, but in Minneapolis, where he attends the University of Minnesota as an Italian major, he has immersed himself in GLBT and Latino/Chicano studies. It has helped him define himself and put his early experiences in a larger context, he said.

&uot;I know when I was (in Albert Lea), I didn’t really think about life in general, but now I’ve been gaining some perspectives,&uot; he said.

Culturally Cardona describes himself as a Scandinavian-Latino. His mother’s parents are Norwegian and Dutch, his father’s parents are Latino. It takes a lot of energy to be biracial sometimes, he said.

&uot;My whole life I’ve been trying to make a lefsa taco,&uot; Cardona said. &uot;It took me a while to realize that I can eat a taco, or eat lefsa, but not necessarily at the same time.&uot;

In Minneapolis, Cardona is a student administrative assistant at the Queer Student Cultural Center (QSCC). He helps plan events like freedom to marry day, coming out week and pride week. He is facilitator for QSCC’s coming-out group, helping other GLBT students be open about their orientation. Coming out is a constant process, even for him, Cardona said.

&uot;10 years from now, I’m still going to have to come out to a co-employee,&uot; he said. &uot;They’re kind of issues you have to deal with all the time.&uot;

During the school year, Cardona speaks at Fraternities and Sororities about being a GLBT oriented person, and answers questions the students may have. The organizations took it upon themselves this fall to address their own homophobia, he said.

Most of the time, people don’t try to be insensitive or homophobic, Cardona said. They just don’t think about it.

&uot;It’s kind of a matter of people stepping back and thinking about what they say,&uot; he said. &uot;I’m sure I say a lot of things that could be offensive and I don’t really think about it.&uot;

There is a taboo against homosexuality, especially in smaller communities, said Stephanie Shea, ALHS Guidance Counselor. Shea sees a lot of casual harassment in the halls of ALHS, but said incidents generally go unreported.

&uot;I think there’s still, at some level, there’s some harassment that goes on,&uot; she said. &uot;But kids don’t tend to report it because that’s the fear of not narcing on people, and the fear of retribution.&uot;

Shea attended an open door conference for educators, clergy and family to understand homosexuality and how to support gay youth. A pink triangle sticker on her office door indicates her office is a safe place for students to talk about their sexual orientation, but no one has ever approached her on the issue.

&uot;I think there’s such a stigma to it,&uot; she said. &uot;People are still afraid.&uot;

If a student were questioning their sexuality and were to approach her, Shea said she has a file of information in her office about regional support groups, but would not recommend they come out while in high school.

&uot;For teenagers, especially for adolescents it’s probably best for them not to be out, to be open about their sexuality, even heterosexual kids,&uot; she said.

Cardona said he won’t move back to Albert Lea, but will always have ties here through his family. He values the social involvement and career opportunities in larger areas too much. Gay people tend to leave smaller communities when they are young for those reasons, which is too bad, he said. It makes it harder for the 10 percent of people in Albert Lea Cardona estimates are GLBT oriented.

&uot;It just keeps the closeted kids closeted.&uot;