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Notes from the field: Greenville is an open and inclusive community for all

By Anthony Thompson, Board Volunteer, YMCA of Greenville

As LGBTQ+ youth, we are taught that big cities are a safe haven where we can feel free to be who we are. For many, including myself, this rang true. Growing up, I never felt that my hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, could offer me the lifestyle that the larger cities promised. It was just too small. I would never meet another guy and I felt suffocated, so I devised a plan to get out: law school. I joined YMCA Youth in Government, participated throughout high school, went on to major in political science and eight years ago, I set off to graduate school in Atlanta.

As a young gay man who was slowly discovering his sexuality, Atlanta might as well have been Disney World. There were gathering spots and even neighborhoods full of people who openly identified as LGBTQ+. There were men holding hands with other men and women raising families with other women. Finally, I felt comfortable in my surroundings! Others took notice of my newfound confidence and while in Atlanta, I met an amazing guy who I now call my husband. Ironically, we got married in South Carolina because marriage equality had not yet made its way to Georgia.

A few years later, my husband and I started thinking about adoption and began considering a life in Greenville to be closer to family (a move that I never would have imagined eight years prior). We naively thought this would mean giving up our LGBTQ+ community, but we quickly found the opposite to be true. We met countless people who identified as LGBTQ+ — they were just not as open about it as I found in Atlanta. There was no “gayborhood” per se, although the Village of West Greenville was slowly becoming a gathering spot for the LGBTQ+ community and allies alike. There was no plethora of rainbow flags lining the streets, but the community was there. They were lawyers, doctors, shop owners, and construction workers. They were single, married, and divorced. They had kids and were kid-less.

Moving to a smaller city taught me that people who identify as LGBTQ+ are truly everywhere and could be anyone. My challenge now is to find balance between my personal comfort level of openness and what I believe Greenville needs. I never wanted to be a poster boy for the LGBTQ+ community, but I think openness is exactly how Greenville and other smaller cities can move forward. We need to create more open and inclusive spaces because if LGBTQ+ youth could see themselves represented in the community, maybe they wouldn’t be so desperate to move away in order to be themselves.

Imagine my joy when I discovered that the YMCA of Greenville — the same Y that helped me leave this small city — is doing just that. Through its participation in the LGBTQ Inclusion and Equity Initiative, a national collaboration between YMCA of the USA and the Biden Foundation, the YMCA of Greenville is becoming a leader in creating inclusive, welcoming spaces for LGBTQ+ youth.

As a new member of the Board of Advisors for the YMCA of Greenville, I hope to make this even more of an intentional focus. I hope that through this work, those struggling with their sexuality, like I was many years ago, will know that they are not alone and that there are others like them — not just on television and in movies, not just in big cities like Atlanta, San Francisco, or New York, but right here in their hometown of Greenville.

About the author

Anthony Thompson is a real estate consultant with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Greenville, SC. He participated in various YMCA Youth-in-Government conferences throughout high school and now volunteers and serves on the Board of Advisors for YMCA Youth-in-Government.

About the YMCA of Greenville
The YMCA of Greenville is, and always will be, dedicated to building healthy, confident, connected and secure children, adults, families, and communities. With a focus on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, the Y nurtures the potential of every youth and teen, improves Greenville’s health and well-being and provides opportunities to give back and support neighbors. Founded in 1876, the Y serves more than 70,000 people annually through programs that include Afterschool, Resident Camp and Day Camp, Aquatics, Youth and Adult Sports, and Health and Wellness. Programs are offered through four family branches, as well as the Verdae YMCA, Y Camp Greenville, Judson Community Center, and Hollingsworth Outdoor Center. The Y is also home to Y Teen Services and the SC Youth in Government program.