Don’t tiptoe around my sexuality, says activist Linda
For anyone who does not know, Linda Bogle-Mienzer is gay.
Family, friends and colleagues tiptoed around her sexual orientation for years until her then 15-year-old nephew Rakeem woke her up to the fact that it was up to her to hold them accountable.
“He had a project in high school and it was about sexual orientation and sexuality and he had some resistance in doing that project and he came to talk to me about it,” she said.
“I said, ‘What is the basis of your project?’ And he was like, ‘My living with you.’ Right then and there that was a paradigm shift for me. That my visibility was important to people was something that I hadn’t even thought about before. From that moment I’m like, ‘I’m here unapologetically.’”
With her family, while at work with the Bermuda Police Service and in her role as second vice president of the Bermuda Public Services Union she began to “insist that people recognise me and see me”.
“I’ve done various talks. I created my own platform. On my Facebook page I live openly and unapologetically addressing issues around the LGBTQ community and rights of persons,” she said.
“I think by living that way on a daily basis that is where you start your activism.”
She started wearing bow ties and suits that identified “how I wanted to present”. Ms Bogle-Mienzer also insisted her family acknowledge that the woman in her life was her girlfriend, not just a friend.
“This is Bermuda right, so if you get a family that’s automatically accepting – that’s incredible. You are incredibly lucky,” she said. “For most families, including mine, it’s a journey. Initially they gave me the whole religious argument aspect of it. Obviously they had expectations of what they thought my life was going to look like and so they had some challenges around it.
“But I think for most gay people, when you come out you just kick the door down. You’re not tiptoeing around it you’re coming out full force. And so when you do that and you’re committed to whatever the consequences of that looks like, then for the most part people either get on board or they get out.”
Today she is happy sharing her “whole self” – in her frequent posts on social media and in public discussions on LBGTQ+ issues and in her new job as labour relations organiser of the BPSU. It’s what led Bermuda Pride to honour her now, during Pride Month, as part of a larger effort to draw attention to the island’s “trailblazing queer people and groups”.
“It’s an incredible honour,” Ms Bogle-Mienzer said. “For me it says, ‘I see you; we see you and the work that you’ve done in the community.’ That is the recognition that I’ve always sought over anything else – to be seen. And to be seen by your own colleagues and Pride, it means a lot.”
Along with the 2019 Pride celebrations which drew the support of more than 6,000 people, she considers it evidence of how far the island has come in accepting the LGBTQ+ community.
“It was a vision. It was a goal. Even though we still have a long way to go there was a time when we couldn’t even have this discussion. We could not even talk about it. And the fact that we had that incredible Pride experience where we actually walked the streets of Bermuda collectively and said we are here…..to top that and the feelings of that day – for activists, for everybody – it’s going to take a lot.”
With all the work that went into making the event happen, Ms Bogle-Mienzer didn’t fully take its success in, until much later.
“After we finished there was this point when it just literally hit me to where I just broke down in tears, those yucky kind of crocodile tears. It was then that I realised that we had done something that many had said that we would never do,” she said.
“I guess for people that are visible they may not understand the impact of being invisible, of persons telling you daily, threatening you – when you come through Court Street this is what’s going to happen. And so for us to get through all of that without an incident, it just hit hard.”
People responded similarly when she started talking publicly about getting married. Because she wanted her wife to have a wonderful memory of their celebration she made the “very, very difficult decision” to get married abroad.
“It forced me to have a conversation about my wife and consider her needs and the space that she was at at that time too,” said Ms Bogle-Mienzer, who married her wife Christine in 2018. “Nobody wants their wedding to be that type of memory, some type of demonstration. [I wanted] a memory that she could live with even though I’m a rebel. I was like, ‘Bring it on. We’ll have a whole national event.’ But I had to think about what that would look like for her.”
Despite that she has been happily surprised by the support she has received from the most unlikely people. One man fired off derogatory comments whenever she posted anything about LGBTQ+ issues on social media until she blocked him. Years later he reached out, thanking her for helping him to understand.
“Unbeknownst to me he had a son that came out to him and he said had it not been for everything I said he knows that his reaction towards his child would have been totally different. Even though he gave all that pushback, [what I said] actually had sunk in to him. And that is why visibility and showing up unapologetically is important. Because you do not know who is listening.”
Her hope is that people will see her – a Black female and an openly gay union executive – and take heart.
“Visibility is important. It is important that people get to see someone they can relate to in these posts. And even though it’s taken a very long time and it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve stayed the course because I understand the challenges – that people have to have paradigm shifts.
“What hasn’t gone unnoticed by me is that significant organisations in this country have not acknowledged Pride. I think it’s very disheartening that the government hasn’t acknowledged Pride, the unions as a whole haven’t acknowledged Pride. All these things are saying something to your citizens. If you can’t just acknowledge the fact that this is Pride Month then what are you saying to those people? Surely if you don’t want to recognise me you want to be a safe space for your own constituents, you want to be a safe space for your own party members at the very least.”
Follow @bermudapride on Instagram. Follow Linda Bogle-Mienzer on Facebook and Instagram