“Karen Hughes is a woman I was working with. She was a lesbian. We worked at a video store and I would do all the displays. I was so excited because now I had stacks of posters of ‘Sliver’ and ‘Three Of Hearts’ for the display and I couldn't stop talking about Billy Baldwin. I was oblivious – I just thought Billy Baldwin was cool. But Karen could tell what was going on.
One day she starts playing this game with me. She says ‘If you could go on a date with anyone, who would it be?’ I ask if the date’s sexual or non-sexual. ‘Let’s start with non-sexual.’ The answer comes flying off my tongue: Bette Midler. ‘OMG I would LOVE to sit and have dinner with Bette Midler! It would be SO awesome! I bet she has the BEST stories!’
Then Karen asks, ‘How about a romantic date?’ And she gave me so much room to breathe. I remember really taking a beat. I finally say, ‘I think Billy Baldwin.’ Karen closes the cash register, puts up the WE’LL BE BACK sign in the video store window, and says, ‘Why don’t we step outside.’
Karen was so kind. She kept asking me questions. She didn’t criticize me like the other guy who’d say ‘You’re gay and you’re gonna go home and prove me wrong!’ I actually think that guy kept me in the closet a little bit longer.
Karen just gave me this warm space. And I was able to navigate and tip-toe my way out of the closet. On my own. I got to be like, ‘Oh, I think I’m gay. I’m pretty sure I’m gay.’ I had never kissed a man. I had never had sex with another man. And it would be another two years before I did. So there was no magic wand. But she gave me this beautiful gift.
What she taught me was to just go to them and give them a safe space. And ask them questions and let them answer and find their own path. Instead of saying ‘I hear you love Bette Midler, so you know you like boys too, riiiight?!’ That’s not how you help somebody come out. You create a safe, loving space for them. That’s what Karen Hughes taught me.”