“As painful as it was, it just kind of feeds you as to why it’s so important to do what we do.”
These are words from Gwyn De Amaral, Pride of Monterey County President referring to discrimination he had felt firsthand a decade ago.
At the Prime Steakhouse restaurant in the Bellagio in Las Vegas, a nearby table harassed Gwyn and his party. After bringing the situation to the staff, there were no consequences for the harassers.
“That was actually a very frightening experience, because it’s one thing to be bullied in school and you know it’s not right, but you presume someone is going to take action on your behalf,” Gwyn says. “But as an adult to go into an environment that was an exclusive restaurant at that hotel and to be treated that way and to be allowed by their staff to continually be treated that way even after we brought it to their attention – it was like a flashback to junior high and high school but without teachers or someone looking out for you.”
Gwyn adds, “That can happen in any place.”
After a clearing breath, Gwyn finds the silver lining: “The great thing that came out of that though, one of the guys I was sitting with, his partner was the Vice President of Coca Cola; and they were going to do a conference in Las Vegas at that hotel… They changed the location.”
In another instance, Gwyn recounts: “A couple of years ago I was a victim of a hate crime and I was able to put the guy away in prison.”
Despite the homophobia he has encountered in his life, Gwyn admits he also sees the progress towards greater acceptance.
“There’s more awareness,” he says. “That type of behavior will not be tolerated and there will be consequences.”
The struggles Gwyn has overcome became the driving force in his work as Pride of Monterey County President:
“It makes me more aware as to what needs to be done in our community and its kind of what also feeds me to do what I try to do in our community, to put out a bridge for people… that they have a place to feel safe and feel accepted and just thrive in their lives and own themselves.”
Pride of Monterey County has run events to support the LGBT community including picnics, a Valentine’s dance and an annual ladies golf invitational. They are helping start a group called Blue Star, an action group for gay and lesbian families in the military and their supporters, which started after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed.
Gwyn explains how important these events and groups are to the community:
“When you can step back and think none of these people knew each other until we had this event and we all came together to share it. And that’s truly rewarding, because in Monterey there’s not a lot here to offer to the GLBT community as far as clubs. So we can have an event to bring people from different socioeconomic groups together, different ethnic groups together.”
Gwyn describes the Monterey area as “a wonderful climate of acceptance.” He says, “because of where we live socioeconomically, its not an affordability area for some individuals who are served in larger cities because they have more funding and larger programs.”
To find out more about the Pride of Monterey County, visit their Facebook page here.