Coming out not easy, but it gets better

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Miki Spies of Durango stunned her friends and family when she told them she is gay. She encourages others to find the courage to come out and to speak out about gay rights.

Her straight friends joke about their jealousy. They tell her she had everything a straight girl could dream of. And then she forfeited it all.

“I did,” Miki Spies says. “I had this really great husband. Beautiful children. But obviously there was something missing for me.”

It was a shock to many in Durango when she made her revelation public 2 years ago that she is gay. She explained the situation to her husband and kids, and got a divorce. She remains tight with her two teenage children and now lives with her partner, Nancy Allen.

Since Spies came out, she’s been an advocate for gay rights. She says she’s trying to make it easier for those who follow, to give them courage. Her hope is that one day it’s not such an ordeal to come out, and that they shouldn’t have to live with the secret that she did. That’s why she wanted to go even more public with her story, to have people read it in the local newspaper.

Her main message is that it will get easier.

“I would say the first year or two when you come out is hell. It’s hell,” Spies says. “It does get better. But it is very difficult in the beginning.”

There are support groups that can help. One is 4cGLAD, The Four Corners’ Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Diversity.

“Coming out for anyone can be a long and difficult process,” says Greg Weiss, chairman of 4cGLAD’s board. “It is happening more often now that homosexuality is more accepted in the general community – especially older people who have fought their sexuality for so long.”

Spies, 44, says she knew she was gay when she was 10. Growing up in Durango, then Grand Junction, she wasn’t exposed to a gay community. She thought she was alone in her feelings, as, she says, many gay people do.

“But, the boys liked me, so I just went with it, you know? And I ended up falling in love at age 18 with my ex-husband.”

Miki and J.R. Spies became well-known around Durango. They worked with Christian youths and started a youth-oriented church at the Durango Stadium 9 movie theater. So when Miki Spies came out, emails and gossip flew furiously.

“For the most part, the community has been very accepting,” Spies says.

Some people act like they don’t see her, some give her dirty looks, some have been supportive.

“I found out who my friends were,” she says. “And that was like a gift, like a special gift, to know who would really stand beside me.”

Some treat her as if she’s changed.

“I’m the same person. I’m just more honest now.”

Some would question why she stayed in a relationship for 24 years if she knew she was gay.

“I was married, and I’m a loyal person,” she explains. “We were happy. We loved each other very much.”

But as she struggled with her sexuality, finally the need to be “authentic” overcame her other concerns.

“It’s kind of like trying to hold a beach ball under the water,” she says. “At some point you just can’t keep it down anymore. That’s why a lot of people my age come out.”

In hopes of helping those struggling with coming out, and those who are being bullied, particularly in schools, Spies has become active with 4cGLAD and One Colorado, a 2-year-old statewide organization that advocates at the Legislature and in communities for the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered population.

It was 13 years ago Oct. 12 when Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was tortured and murdered in a field near Laramie. Since then, “We have seen incredible strides in society’s embrace of the LGBT community,” says Jess Woodrum, deputy director of One Colorado.

People are getting to know family members, friends and neighbors as gay. These are people they love, whatever their sexual orientation, and it changes people’s perspectives, Woodrum says. Still, gay people fear going public.

“People are still terrified to come out to a co-worker and employers for fear of losing their jobs,” Woodrum says.

Earlier this year, One Colorado was instrumental in passing a state antibullying law. On May 13, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law a bill that, among other things, requires school districts to create antibullying policies. The law points out that bullying happens not only at schools, but through cellphones and social websites such as Facebook.

According to a statistic provided by One Colorado, 61 percent of LGBT students report feeling unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation. Eighty-five percent were verbally harassed, 40 percent physically harassed and 19 percent assaulted in the last year.

Weiss, with 4cGLAD, said the issue needs to be continually addressed, especially in rural areas.

“Bullying of any kind can’t be accepted,” said Weiss, who moved to the Durango area from New York City.

Spies is not one to keep opinions to herself, as anyone who knows her is aware. She spoke as a panelist on the issue last month at Fort Lewis College and at a rally in Farmington to protest antigay graffiti. She plans to keep speaking out, and to encourage others to do so.

“How are we supposed to change the culture if we’re not willing to put ourselves out a little bit?” she asks.

Count on Spies to keep putting in her two cents’ worth in support of the cause.

“I definitely feel called to be there for people when they come out,” she says. “I definitely feel called to help bring some understanding on the issue. We’re regular people. There’s nothing to fear.”

johnp@durangoherald.com. John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.

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