If you were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and selecting a place to live based on its tolerance of and support for members of the LGBT community, Enid likely would not rise to the top of your list.
There likely are few, if any, communities in Oklahoma — a state touted by some as the “reddest of red states,” — that would be selected solely on the grounds of being “gay friendly.”
Of course, none of us choose where we are born, and a proportionate share of every generation born and raised in Enid has experienced the unique challenges of growing up gay in a traditionally conservative and religious community.
Some members of the LGBT community have moved away from Enid seeking a more accepting environment, while others choose to remain here, working and hoping for progress
Debbie Costello is one of Enid’s LGBT natives who left the community to seek a more accepting city to call home.
Costello said from a very young age she knew there was something different about herself compared to the other girls, but she didn’t understand her differences until her teenage years.
“I didn’t start questioning my sexuality seriously until high school,” she said. “I knew there was something different about me before that. I was never as comfortable around girls growing up. I wanted to hang out with the boys. But, with boys, it was always a ‘buddy’ relationship.”
Even when she began to understand she was sexually attracted to women instead of men, Costello said she hid her sexual orientation from friends and family.
“I didn’t really have any peers I could talk to about it, at least it didn’t feel like I could,” she said. “It wasn’t really open in our community to talk about things like that.”
Costello said she “kept living in the straight world” because of her family’s views on homosexuality, and be-cause of social pressures in Enid in the late 1980s.
“Due to being raised in a Catholic home and my grandmother being a very strong Baptist, that religious background kept me on the path of a heterosexual life,” Costello said.
“If I had been in a more open family with open views, looking back on it ... if I had grown up in a home where we were given those kinds of choices and things had been more open, I would have explored my sexuality earlier.”
Costello didn’t “come out” to her family until after she had moved away to college. She said the revelation she is a lesbian forever changed her relationship with her family, especially with her father.
“I was 21 when I told him, and we didn’t speak for probably eight months after I told him,” Costello said.
She said some members of her extended family embraced her and loved her unconditionally after she came out, while others could not accept her as a lesbian and tried to “cure” her.
Costello said her father died before their relationship ever fully recovered.
“My father passed away and we never really talked about it,” she said. “In the end of his life, things could have been a lot different with him.”
Costello, now a resident of Columbus, Ohio, said that separation from family is what she fears most for LGBT youth.
“That’s my biggest concern for these kids growing up today,” she said. “I lost both my parents and I never got to share my happy moments in life with them. Family, in the end, is really all we have in this life, and we should be able to share those happy moments as well as the sad moments with our family.”
Other LGBT members of the community have found their families accepting and supportive, but still struggled with prejudices and inequities from society.