Being LGBT and Homeless

BY ROBERT LEE PAYNE, VOICE VENDOR

I wanted to first thank everyone who supports the Denver VOICE. For those of you who are reading my story, I hope you will be able to see the power of the paper to really impact the lives of the vendors who, for the most part, would not have the ability to work elsewhere. 

When I first came to Denver, I was nervous yet excited because it was a new city with new experiences. I didn’t hide my sexuality, knowing I had already accepted it for myself. I kept an open mind about coming out to other homeless people as well as the staff at the shelters. I worried more about my partner’s safety knowing that he is an at-risk individual due to medical problems. He has Asperger’s, as well as a physical disability from a bus accident.

My partner and I slept at his friend’s apartment at the beginning for a couple of weeks, then at another friend’s a couple of nights. We also stayed in a basement where there was a small room in a property owned by one of our friends in the Capitol Hill area. Also, we stayed in a hotel for about a month until we ran out of money, which forced us into shelters. I always made sure my partner got into the disabled line due to his medical problems. At times we would sleep on loading docks of businesses in the alley or sit on benches all night on the mall when we didn’t make it into the shelter.

At first, I was sometimes cautious at a new shelter because I wasn’t sure how staff would react. When going to the different shelters to sleep at night, I would just say that I was my partner Wilhelm’s caretaker and/or assistant. We did this for a while until it was comfortable for us to open up to security at the different shelters. When we started making new friends, it was easier to open up about our sexuality and relationship. Once everyone in the area was getting to know us, they were more welcoming and accepting because some of them were also in similar relationships with other people. I met other LGBT people at the day and night shelters, as well as other events around town. I shared my story with them about how I became bisexual at a very young age—10. 

My partner and I registered at the St. Francis center here in Denver. This is how we met Strawberry, a.k.a Justin. Actually, Strawberry approached us the next day at the center while playing cards with his friends. He invited us to come play with them. So being cautious wasn’t an issue that time. He knew that we were new to St. Francis and helped us to break the ice, so to speak. We all became friends in a very short time after that. We all fit the same category and clicked right away. We are still friends today, even though Strawberry is living in California, which we helped him do. Wilhelm and I have always been open about our sexual orientation, he being gay and myself being bisexual. At the time we just talked amongst ourselves until we got to know some of the other people and staff members. ■