Meet Three Local LGBTQIA+ Icons

Jasmine McKenzie, Michael Christian Góngora, and Cindy Brown tell us why they’re not going to hide their pride

Coming “out of the closet” is a process that starts with personal acceptance. Even afterwards, it can take an individual years to fully settle into their authentic truth among family, friends, colleagues, and society. In honor of National Coming Out Day on October 11, Aventura Magazine asked three members of the Magic City’s LGBTQIA+ community to share their coming out stories. 

Jasmine McKenzie
Jasmine McKenzie

Jasmine McKenzie

Occupation: Executive Director, The McKenzie Project

Preferred Pronouns: She/Her/The Voice/Mother

LGBTQIA+ Identification: Black Transgender Woman

It was at a very early age that I accepted my differences. Since I could walk, I was drawn to elements of the oppositely assigned gender (female): toys, shoes, clothes, and cartoons. My mother had always wanted a daughter and would even dress me up like a baby doll. As I grew older, living with my grandmother and my auntie, I was looked upon as an outcast because of the artistic and creative things I loved to do, [which were] atypical for young boys. For instance, I was never trained to dance or braid hair, however I performed and styled like the other kids (primarily girls) that had been. These were all God’s gifts instilled into me as a young person who was just living in society being their authentic self.

I was outed as gay on October 27, 2003, at 14 years old when my family caught me canoodling with a boy. My family was not aware of the personal sensitivities within our LGBTQIA+ community and felt it was okay to tell everyone in our community that I identified as gay, which wasn’t my full truth. It wasn’t until my eighteenth birthday when my feelings of uncertainty, fear, and clarity finally came to fruition. When those I’d thought may turn on me were turning toward me for help, in that moment I claimed my power and confidence to help others live their truths by living my own truth as a trans woman. Helping others navigate life gave me all I needed to fully live mine!

Since 2008, I have opened my doors to black LGBTQIA+ youth in need of housing, food, and other necessities, which ushered in my advocacy career. My primary focus and involvement are working with Black transgender and nonbinary folks, as the founder and executive director of The McKenzie Project

Michael Christian Góngora
Michael Christian Góngora

Michael Christian Góngora 

Occupation: Former vice Mayor, candidate for Miami Beach Mayor

Preferred Pronouns: He/Him/His

LGBTQIA+ Identification: Gay

Coming into adulthood in the early 1980s, I was aware I was different. I identified with singers and characters on TV and gender-bending musicians like Depeche Mode, Erasure, and Duran Duran more than my schoolmates. 

I have two coming out stories to share: one personal and one professional. Picture it: Mother’s Day at my colleague’s apartment. I’m hosting my family when the answering machine picks up a message from my boyfriend at the time. They say, “Don’t shoot the messenger,” but that’s how I felt when my mother’s questioning went on the attack. I played it cool until my sister essentially blurted out my truth, outing me to my family. The weight lifted off me was enormous and began the lengthy process of healing. It took years for my mother to fully accept me, which was the best part of being my authentic self when it finally happened.

My second coming out came in 2006 during my first run for Miami Beach Commissioner. Even though I was out to my friends and family, I was not campaigning as an openly gay man as I was warned it could hurt my campaign. After I won the first round of voting, I was going into a run-off election with the second highest vote-getter who was determined to bring me down any way they could. My opponent outed me on a live radio show debate. The tremendous outpouring of support I received after confessing that I was gay was wonderful and has allowed me to live my life openly ever since.

Being the first openly gay Latino elected to public office in the state of Florida, I feel a strong connection with both communities. I think being “out” has helped people see me as genuine and authentic—both qualities people like in their elected leaders. 

Cindy Brown
Cindy Brown

Cindy Brown

Occupation: Lambda Living Program Manager at Jewish Community Services of South Florida

Preferred Pronoun: She/Her/Hers

LGBTQIA+ Identification: Lesbian

I was about 12 or 13 years old when I realized I was “different.” I had a major crush on my cheerleading coach. Like most preteen adolescents, hormonal change is very confusing, and I couldn’t pinpoint what I was feeling. I still thought I’d grow up to marry a man!

It took a while for me to understand why I was different. I realized I was a lesbian when I was in college. I never officially came out to my parents; they simply found out. As a result, I was asked to move out of my mother’s house and subsequently, we didn’t speak for years. That was still years before I publicly came out as lesbian in the early 1990s, when I started my career in activism. In 1993, an evening CBS News Miami reporter outed me to the world.

Looking back on our community I see many changes; some are amazing, and some that I wish hadn’t occurred. Anita Bryant’s anti-gay movement had scared me regarding coming out throughout my youth. When the human rights ordinance passed on December 1, 1998,
that was wonderful!

The downside to becoming more accepted and mainstream is that there are fewer spaces we can call our own (only 15 lesbian bars in the entire USA as of 2021). Another side of normalization (like the passing of marriage equality): I see the kind of passionate activism that existed in the ’90s dissolving. Having persevered through adversity in our LGBTQIA+ fight, being outed on TV, and forced to live my truth in an unaccepting world has fueled my career and to this day makes me passionate about making others within our LGBTQIA+ family passionate as well.

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