My name is T.J. Mannix, I’m from Boca Raton, Florida.
I realized once I had an inkling that I was gay, I realized that if I won awards and if I got trophies and if I got honors and if I got recognition, then nobody would ask any questions about why, about why I wasn’t dating anyone or have any questions at all about my sexuality. And also the busier I was, the less time I had to think about it.
I finally started going out. And eventually I ended up going to some of the bars in Miami. And on this given night I went to this bar in Miami and did what I always do which is to drive by it without looking at it because of course if I looked at it, someone would know that’s where I was going. So I would circle around and then I would go in. Back then you wouldn’t park where people could see you when you go into a gay bar. You wouldn’t even try, you would never walk into the front door.
So I went out for a drink, I was at this bar, and all of a sudden the lights get thrown on and police swarmed in and they said there was a shooting nearby and they, that everybody here had to put your hands up, and that you’re all suspects. And they marched all of us out the front door, and around the front were all of the police cars and they made all of us line up all along this main highway so we were bathed in spotlights and I was terrified. One, because I hadn’t been in any trouble with the police but I didn’t use the front door. I was still very much dealing with my own stuff and very much in the closet and I was terrified. And then when they put the spotlights on us and people would walk by and they were saying things like, “Oh, don’t worry ladies, these faggots don’t want anything to do with what you’ve got.”
And I remember thinking, “I can’t…I can’t be here.” And I was freaking out. I was worried about someone driving by and seeing me. I ended up getting the attention of one of the officers and I said, “Hey, no problem, do what you gotta do,” I said, “I just came out for a study break, I’m taking my finals at the University of Miami. I just want to know if I’m going to go home tonight.”
And he went and he talked to one of the other officers and then he came back and he said, “Get the fuck out of here.”
And my Irish skin was beet red and just from fear and from being shaken up and also just feeling really guilty because I’m the one that got away, and I’m the one who didn’t have to stay there, and they looked like they were settling in for a nice, fun night. And I lied, I didn’t have an exam, I didn’t have a final.
It’s strange, just that one thing, that one day just kind of shook me to the core because it made me make choices. It made me make decisions. I had to figure out what this was and I had to be able to look this guy in the mirror and say, “Are you going to hide from this for the rest of your life? Or are you going to stand up for yourself?”
And I also realized that I can’t stand up for anybody else if I don’t stand up for myself. And if I don’t raise hell when someone says something, if I’m complicit, I’m just as bad as they are. From that night, I had to draw a line in the sand and say, “This is not acceptable.”
I was working in television news down in Miami. And a cameraman came in from Fort Lauderdale from the gay pride parade. And I remember he came in and he was like, he was talking about all those faggots that were lusting after him and hitting on him and I just remember sitting there at my desk and I was writing for the news and I just, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. And I remember just shouting across the newsroom, “Why don’t you keep your bigoted words to yourself, not everybody here is a Klan member!”
Everybody looked at me as soon as I said it and then they all looked at him and he just kind of melted into a puddle on the ground. I just remember like, that’s, that’s what that moment…that’s the only thing I can do when I think back to that moment when the cops were threatening us outside of that bar. The only thing I can do is say something. The only thing I can do is not put up with it.
That incident with those cops is a part of my life. And that defined, that defined part of me. If you’re pissed off, then use that to get you through it. If you’re afraid, then hold on to the fact that you know who you are. And they can’t take that away from you. They can try to embarrass you, they can try to hurt you, they can try to do anything, but they can’t take away your identity. No matter who you are, you don’t deserve that. I didn’t deserve that. Nobody deserves that. And you’ll be stronger for getting through it.