Growing up as a cis-gender gay man in Puerto Rico was not easy. Plain and simple, there were no youth resources, acceptance, or, in my opinion, role models for a queer person. As a young adult, I began to hear rumors of an LGBT center here, a support group there, but they were never accessible enough to use their services. However, there were times when, with many sacrifices, I was able to participate in activities, but only as a spectator. What a surprise I received when, upon moving to the city of Reading almost 2 years ago, I was able to experience how easy it was to be a part of this LGBTQ+ community and the city.
On June 19, 2019, I moved away from the only home I had ever known. When I got here, I knew that I wanted to be part of the community, and I knew that needed a community. It only took sending a message on Facebook and making a call, and I was already participating in events of the LGBT Center and Reading Pride. How much pride, joy, and relief I felt! How different it felt to be supported by strangers… Maybe Reading isn’t Berks and Berks may not be Pennsylvania, but Reading is the place that allowed me, for the first time as a queer person, to feel at home.
This does not mean that there’s nothing more to be done. There is still a lot of work ahead! This is the experience of only one cis-gender gay man and does not represent the experience of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. We must ensure that there is fair treatment for all LGBTQ+ people. We need to make sure there is work and home protection throughout Berks, not just Reading. We must provide welcoming spaces for everyone, no matter who we are, where we come from, or what we look like. We must use our voices when there’s unjust silence but also know when to listen to the raised voices that have historically been silenced.
By Johnathan Rodríguez-Báez, él/he/him