Troy Coalman(He/Him) is Director of Donor Impact, Wellspring Family Services in Seattle, Washington, a position that encompasses his personal and professional passion. His current role encompasses strategic vision for individual fundraising efforts, oversight of Wellspring’s grant program and data administration. He is also a member of the organization’s Operations Team and executive sponsor of the newly formed LGBTQ+ employee resource group, Queerspring.
Troy’s two-decade plus career in fundraising has spanned all facets of the sector. He has worked with causes ranging from the arts, education, domestic violence, LGBT activism, homelessness, economic development, and community building from Seattle to Florida, Philadelphia to San Francisco. His career also includes extensive experience in public relations, marketing, and advertising.
He has served the fundraising sector on the Board of Director of the Association of Fundraising (AFP) Professionals Advancement Northwest and on committees with AFP International. He has published on the subject of accessibility and is an outspoken advocate for the blind and disabled community. Being a gay, legally blind, bi-racial executive, has opened the opportunity to become a passionate motivational speaker within the intersections of access, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Troy is a native Washingtonian having grown up in Kirkland, attending Lake Washington High School and Seattle University. After a 20 plus year residence in San Francisco, Troy and his husband Alejandro returned to Seattle in 2013. They love exploring the Northwest and delight in the urban setting of Seattle’s Chinatown where they are proud residents. In Troy’s spare time he devoted to fitness, food, and friends.
When you came out the first time, what made you feel safe to do so?
Coming out for me was complex, and not entirely my choice.
I had finally reached a point in my life where it felt like I was hiding who I was, and I literally could not take it anymore. My entire life I had already felt different and was treated differently because I had a disability (I am legally blind). I had spent a lifetime being bullied and facing adversity on that front. But I knew I was different because of whom I was attracted to. I felt that as early as I can remember, but it took until I was 21 and lots of internal turmoil to come out. It felt like I was a volcano of confusion and I had to let it out.
The first person I came out to was a dear friend at the time and one afternoon I made the decision to come out of the closet. We went for a long walk and broke down into an emotional mess, she said I could tell her anything. So I did, through my tears and fear she held my hand and said, “your amazing, being gay is who are, I love you and those that truly love you will be there for you”. In that moment, my life changed.
Yes, I had only come out to one person, the next step in coming out was not by my choosing. My sisters decided to tell my parents over valentine’s dinner a month after I had come out to my friend. I had told them I thought I was gay but had not yet confirmed it to them. I was living at home at the time, but had not gone to dinner with them, I was with my boyfriend at the time. When we all came home, I was confronted with, “so are you gay?” A sick feeling fell over me, strangely enough no anger towards my sisters, they figured it out. My mom was hysterical and crushed. My dad on the other hand was very calm and made sure I knew he loved me. He said, “mom will be okay, this is hard for a parent to hear”. After talking for a long time, she called it a night. I went to my room and wrote a ten page letter that in essence said, “I am still you son, I am the same person, I am gay and I love you”, it just took 10 pages to say that. I left it where she would see it the next morning. When I came out for breakfast, she sold me to sit down and said, “I will always love you, I don’t understand, but it doesn’t matter as long as you are loved and you are okay”. This was a-typical for my mom, hysterical for 24 hours and then, let us move on. After talking she simply said, “when do I meet him” and “do does he love you?”.
From that point forward I was OUT, flaming for all the world to see. I was freed from the chain that had bound me for my life up until that point. In both cases ultimately love made me feel safe, but deep seeded fear kept me from being open until then.
How do you ally yourself with others who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community?
By being Present and Participating. You can not be supportive and align yourself with other by being quiet and hidden. You must put yourself out there, take the risk of being seen and be vocal. On the same token you must be respectful and compassionate. Every person, every story is different so you must be “present” and “available” to hear the need and respond accordingly.
Not every person is in a safe space place to be “out” and their true authentic self. It is important to help create a safe place for them and held them or provide resources. Sometimes it is as simple as a hug and a shoulder to lean on. Being LGBTQ+ and coming to your true self is a journey, everyone is at a different place in the journey, we must support each other no matter who we are and where we are at.
Let me share a story from many years ago that illustrates my point. I was working for San Francisco Pride and attending an annual LGBTQ+ job fair at the community center. I was there to promote opportunities to volunteer with Pride. I noticed through out the day an older gentleman walking back and forth in front of my table. Finally, I decided to engage him in conversation and ask him if he had ever considered volunteering with us. He was startled and quickly shuffled away. He would later come back and apologize and go on to explain he really wanted to volunteer, but he was scared. He was in the closet and was severely harassed by his employer for being femme. He had come to the job fair to look for a new job but was scared to even be at the community center. I invited to sit and talk, he broke into tears when I asked to share his story, he reply was “wow someone cares, someone isn’t going to beat me up for who I am…” and so on. It was my role in that moment to simply be present and let him know that, YES someone cares, and it will be okay. For so many in our community it is not okay, and we need to help them feel safe and loved.
How do you educate people about the LGBTQ+ community?
I share who I am, I share about my community, I am not silent, and I ensure that anyone who will listen knows our stories. Educating people about our community is imperative. You can only break down prejudice and bigotry by educating others and opening their eyes to the reality. Through out my whole life I have been a passionate advocate and educator. I seized every moment I can to talk one on one or in groups. I have spoken in front of groups from 10 to several thousand and I will always take a mic and preach the glory that is love, equity and equality.
In my professional life I am out and proud, I am heavily involved in diversity, equity, and inclusion work with an emphasis on service to the LGBTQ+ community. I have been fortunate to lead Pride efforts for my originations in multiple cities. One of my greatest joys has been to start LGBT efforts that remain strong when I move on to other organization. This then creates the space for organization to really live the values of DEI and educate others about the struggles, challenges, and joys of the community.
I also feel I educate others by just being my true and authentic self. During pride I express myself and the glory that is the rainbow of a community. I put on my high heeled boots and headdress and march the length of the pride parade for everyone to see. My goal is to break down walls, open lines of communication and create an opportunity for others to follow.
How do you educate people about intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ community?
This is a fascinating question because there are many riffs within the LGBTQ+ community. Often challenges have existed brining gay men and trans together, bridging an understanding between the gay community and bi community, etc. As a gay man I am all about unity and we share in community march towards justice and equality. It should not and does not matter whether you are bi, trans, whatever! To help educate people about where we intersect and become community I have been heavily involved as an advocate and leader. I have served on boards within various communities to be a voice for unity and healer. I have marched in the trans march, the bi-march with my brothers and sisters. I have stood up against hate speech and provided shoulder for anyone who needs it.
We also owe it to our community to tell the truth and educate others about the truth of our history as well. What is often left out is reflecting the true diversity of our community, not just our sexual orientation, but the beautiful rainbow of culture, race, and religion. We must remember and celebrate how trans women of color started Stonewall and how the many voices silenced over the years have given way to proud voice!
What resources would you recommend for LGBTQ+ youth who have questions?
Coming to discover who you are today has so many more resources than it ever has in the past. It is important for young people to know you are NOT alone, that we are OUT HERE for you. There are some great resources via the internet and hotlines where you can find someone to talk to. It is scary, it is hard, but it is not impossible, and you do not have to struggle by yourself. Some of the resources I’ve worked with that do amazing work include:
- Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
- The Trevor Project
- It Gets Better Project
- Gay Straight Alliance Network
- Lambert House (Seattle)
- Gay City (Seattle’s LGBT center)
- Emerald City Metropolitan Community Church (Seattle’s LGBT non-denominational church)
What did you think your life was going to be like after high school?
I could not wait to seize the world after high school, I was excited for what lay ahead, I could not wait to break free from school like any teenager. The new world ahead also meant that I could leave the bullying behind that I faced through out school. Being gay was under the surface, being disable because I was legally blind was out for all the world to see, I could not hide that.
In many ways I was prepared to come out of the closet because I already faced the challenges that someone who has a disability faced. Yet I also knew I was different and my attraction to men complicated my view the future. It was also the early years of the AIDS epidemic in 1986 further pushing me into the closet.
I dealt with it by pushing aside the fact that I was gay, even though it was something that haunted me every single day. I chose to focus on going to college, not dating, not taking part in the community, but fully immerse myself in my studies and family. I chose to look at the future professionally, not personally. to hide from who I was. I had a limited personal life at that time because I found it confusing and terrifying. I excelled at academics and was popular enough in school (but that still stop the bullying) that I could keep up appearances. Through it all I never really felt truly present though and often had an undercurrent of fear. I thought maybe once I entered the real world, I would feel a greater sense of freedom, but that would take many more years to realize.
Through it all and throughout all my life I did feel a strong sense of hope. Hope kept me moving forward even in the darkest of moments.
What tips would you have for people questioning their gender identity?
My best advice is to not go through it alone, seek out someone to talk to and share your thoughts. Fine a friend or family member who can walk the walk with you. Look at resources in the LGBTQ+ community to support you if you are not sure you have someone you can rely upon. It is critically important to not do this alone and you do not have too.
I would also say learn to love yourself and trust yourself, being true to who you are will carry you farther than anything else I can say. Know that when we say “it gets better” it does and there are people and resources out there to support you. Do not let fear hold you back there is simply too much life ahead not to explore it to it’s fullest potential.
I wish I could have come out earlier and been able to not go through all the pain and feelings of loneliness that haunted me my entire youth.
What tips would you have for people questioning their sexual orientation?
- Be yourself and be true to yourself as best you can. As Mama Rupaul says “how are you going to love someone else, if you can’t love yourself”, those are wise words and no truer words have ever been spoken.
- Talk to others and find support. Many schools have chapters of the Gay Straight Alliance, PFLAG and others so you can find someone to talk to if you do not have someone close already.
- Keep a journal, I wish I had learned this early on. Particularly when you first start the journey. It is a great tool to be honest with yourself and start to explore your thoughts. It also serves as a wonderful tool to look back and see how far you have come.
- Read, listen, and watch, there are so many books, videos, and resources out there to help you understand what you are going through. There are many social media and online resource sites to learn and read about the journey. When I was going through discovery and coming out, I found it so helpful to read what others had experienced, it helped me not feel so alone, that there were others out there just like me.
How do you stay resilient in the face of negativity and stereotyping?
With time you learn to let this roll off and know that hate is hate! Loving myself and enjoying my life also give me the strength to get through all the negativity that surrounds us. I don’t ignore it, but I also try and not immerse myself it. It is okay to feel sad, and mad, but more important it to be resilient and rise above the hate.
What is your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ representation?
I would say the Pride Flag! I had an opportunity to work withy Gilbert Baker, the creator of the original flag several years ago in San Francisco. This experience gave me a very deep respect for what the flag stood for. While each color of the original flag represents something different about the community it was really designed to provide an umbrella for us to unite under. Today the flag has been expanded upon to be more inclusive of bi and trans members of our community as well as our black and brown brothers and sisters. I will admit it took me a while to get used to the new flag, but now I embrace it for the glorious diversity it and we represent. I look forward to seeing the inclusive flag flown more and more.
What are your hopes for the future of the LGBTQ+ community?
My hope for the future is Equality! I am hopefully for a day when the LGBTQ+ culture is celebrated and that our uniqueness is interwoven into the fabric of society. I hope for a day when we aren’t fearful for our freedom and justice. We have come a long way, but in the last few years we have slipped backwards, and we have a long way to go. Unity, equality, and freedom can be reality, but for today we take it one win at a time.
Is there any advice you would give to the LGBTQ+ teens of today?
Easy … Be Proud, Stay Loud and NEVER BE SILENT!