What does it mean to be a member of the LGBTQ+* community in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2021?

That’s what The Reader asked members of Omaha’s queer community this Pride Month, requesting they share stories and artwork about identifying as LGBTQ+ in a dynamic — but still conservative — state.

Some of the contributors include a Latinx singer/songwriter who offers lyrics about growing up pansexual in a “machista” household; a musician/writer who opens up about being a young asexual person in Omaha; a queer performer/artist from the Navajo Nation who shows their Pride collection of beaded earrings and writes about inspiring other queer BIPOC through performance; and an activist/therapist who discusses experiencing both solidarity and abuse as a transgender lesbian of color.

The Reader also created a timeline commemorating milestones in LGBTQ+ Nebraska history. Compiled via research and conversations with community members, this timeline seeks to broadcast voices from Nebraska’s vibrant queer community, spotlighting the struggles and strength of LGBTQ+ Nebraskans.

View the timeline below or in a new tab.

*LGBTQ+ includes intersex, asexual, Two-Spirit and any & all other queer community members.

Alex Jochim (he/him his), Photographer and Community Organizer

Alex Jochim | Credit: Alex Jochim

Here We Are

This first large-scale installation of mine, a public art project to be featured at a building on 25th & Farnam, features an image — enlarged from a 35mm film negative — portraying myself kissing my partner. The image is paired with a quote from James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room touching on the great difficulty of acceptance: “Life gives us these [family, friends and partners] and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say ‘yes’ to life.” 

My work was installed on May 29 and 30, and within 12 hours of installation, someone had defaced it! I think this says a lot about the urgency for LGBTQ+ artists and representation in this city. Though the house paint the defacer used came off, for the most part, I’ve intentionally left the remainder of the vandal’s paint job on there as a reminder for the work that needs to be done in Omaha and as an homage to my anonymous collaborator. I also changed the original title, “Here I Am,” to “Here We Are.” I believe the vandal’s contribution proves my piece’s worth. Ultimately, I’m hoping that this piece will create an awareness of, conversation about and urgency for acceptance of LGBTQ+ communities existing in Omaha.  

Install Photographs taken during the initial process of installing the work.

Here I Am | Credit: Alex Jochim
Here I Am | Credit: Alex Jochim
Here I Am | Credit: Alex Jochim
Here I Am | Credit: Alex Jochim
Here I Am | Credit: Alex Jochim

Defaced – Photos taken after the vandal painted over the installation.

Here We Are | Credit: Alex Jochim & Anonymous Collaborator
Here We Are | Credit: Alex Jochim & Anonymous Collaborator

Reclaimed – A photo taken in the process of me scrubbing the paint off.

Here We Are | Credit: Alex Jochim & Anonymous Collaborator

Final – Photos of how the installation will exist publicly for now with the “collaboration.” 

Here We Are | Credit: Alex Jochim & Anonymous Collaborator
Here We Are | Credit: Alex Jochim & Anonymous Collaborator
Here We Are | Credit: Alex Jochim & Anonymous Collaborator

Additional Photography

With photos like these, I document people, places and things that are particularly connected to my world: travels, friends, family, community — including the queer community — and anything inspiring to me. I typically shoot 35mm film with a Canon AE-1, but often utilize alternative film types, cameras or techniques. My photos are more often candid, but sometimes inescapably posed.

“Will Pay For Boat Ride.” 2020, Fremont Lakes, NE, 35mm Photograph | Credit: Alex Jochim
“Mary.” 2019, La Paz, Mexico, 35mm Photograph | Credit: Alex Jochim
“This One.” 2019, Miami, FL, 35mm Photograph | Credit: Alex Jochim

Connect with Alex

Instagram: @jacksonpulloffs

Website: alexjochim.com

Borin Chep (he/him/his), Community Advocate

Borin Chep | Credit: Dafnis Delgado-Arellanes

“What does it mean to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2021?”

When I first moved to Omaha from Kansas City in 2009, I did not feel there was a welcoming environment. At times, I chose not to reveal my identity or disclose my relationship. In 2021, I have those same worries, but they are not as prominent. Sometimes I wonder if this ease in anxiety is due to several years of building bridges within the Omaha community or if Omaha has become a friendlier place for LGBTQIA+ folks. 

There is a lot of work that must be done to make sure LGBTQIA+ folks feel safe in this city. Although Omaha is filled with wonderful activists working to make it a place we can call home, there are too many moments where we are subtly reminded we are not welcomed here. My husband and I married shortly after the Supreme Court decision [giving same-sex couples the right to get married], but none of his coworkers know he is married to a man because he is still afraid of losing his job. 

Instead of packing our bags and moving back to Kansas City or another big city, we know the work needs to be done here. It is also imperative to recognize the privileges I am afforded because I am a cisgender male, and that other members of this community are not given the same treatment that I am. Trans folks continue to fight an uphill battle when their right to existence is questioned. But trans folks continue to persist, and the cisgender gay and lesbian folks must continue to remember how our Pride movement was started by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, both trans women of color. 

I am afforded the ability to live a fairly comfortable life now, thanks to the work done by folks who are bolder than I am. It does not mean I am able to sit idly by and allow our trans family to be left behind. I must use my privilege to prop up the voices to which we deign to listen. It’s more than sharing a link on social media. I must show up just as the other members of the community have done. 

Resilient – That’s how I would describe the LGBTQIA+ community in Omaha.

Efren Cortez (he/him/his), Musician & Writer

Efren Cortez | Credit: Chris Bowling

What does it mean to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2021?

Being asexual in Omaha in 2021, just like being asexual anywhere at any time, can feel very lonely. With sex being all over the place in entertainment and casual conversations, it’s difficult to relate to others. I have made friends who are also asexual, but almost all of them were made online through social media or dating apps. My friendships with others who are asexual are much appreciated, as I have people who can relate to my experiences.   

Dating as an asexual person is a different story. Most of the time, I have to explain what asexuality is and that sex is not a thing I’m really interested in. Eventually, that becomes an obstacle and things will end, which is fine as that can be a compatibility issue. But it still makes me feel a little unworthy of a romantic relationship due to me experiencing little to no sexual attraction and sex just not being a thing I really want to have. I’ve only been romantically involved with a few people who also identified as asexual, but just because we were both asexual, it didn’t mean we were completely compatible with each other. There is a better sense of understanding in those relationships though.   

I have yet to go to a Pride in Omaha, so I can’t share any thoughts on representation or firsthand experiences. I’m also unaware if there are any groups or meetups for asexual people in Omaha, but if there are, getting to know people through that would helpful. I discovered I was asexual six years ago, just after my first year of college, but in retrospect, I feel like it’s something I’ve identified as since I was in middle school. I just didn’t know there was a name for what I felt. Because I didn’t have the same thoughts as others my age, or I was uninterested in experiences a lot of people typically have during puberty, I just felt so distant from my peers. Now, I feel very comfortable with my asexuality as I’ve grown to understand the term and my feeling better. I think it would be nice to help guide those who are discovering their asexuality or those who are just curious and want to understand asexual people better.

Black Ring

Black Ring | Credit: Efren Cortez and Rhys Meatyard

“Black Ring” is the name of my upcoming debut EP for my music project, No Functional Purpose. Originally sketched by me in 2019 and drawn digitally by Rhys Meatyard, a black ring is worn on the right middle finger of asexual people.

The title track for “Black Ring” is about my sole experience of going to Pride when I lived in Lincoln. I was at work, but found some time to check out Pride as it was being held a 5 or so minute walk away. Earlier that day, I did see someone walking toward Pride with an ace flag and I just wanted that so bad. I didn’t have anything that showed off my asexuality, like an ace pride flag or a black ring I could wear, so I wanted to see if they would be available at a booth. I was able to go later in the day, but when I got there, the vendors were either already gone or packing up. I was crushed and felt invisible. When I returned to work, my co-worker, whom I told I would be gone for a bit and who was also supportive of my asexuality, clocked out early, so I had no one to share my journey with of coming up empty-handed. I went to my workspace and played my go-to sad-listening album (Four Minute Mile by The Get Up Kids). That day ultimately inspired the title track.

Connect with Efren

Bandcamp: Efren Cortez

Facebook: @NoFunctionalPurpose

Instagram: @nofunctionalpurpose & @zac_efren42

Twitch: zac_efren

Twitter: @NFPmidwest & @Zac_Efren

Eli Rigatuso (he/him/they/them), Writer, Photographer, Video Producer/Director, Facilitator, Public Speaker

Eli Rigatuso | Credit: Jaimie Schmitz

What does it mean to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2021?

There is no short answer to this question really. Being a queer transmasculine Two-Spirit of the Menominee nation makes it even more complex. Imagine, if you will, being born in 1965, the second child to a native mother and an Italian and Polish father, who were high school sweethearts. At a time when a doctor took one look at a part of your body and made a declaration about you that would take you 50 years to break free of. In 1965 there was no ultrasound technology being used in the U.S.; as a matter of fact, it wouldn’t become widely used here until the mid 70s. So my parents likely chose two potential names, as was traditional “binary” practice back at this time.

I was taught from an early age that I was native but never really taught what that meant. Much of what I saw on TV and in the world happening around me was that natives weren’t real, really. That we were savages and needed to be taught how to be less wild. I was disconnected from my people on the reservation because we were “not like them” and didn’t understand what they had to face. Somehow they thought our lives were different from theirs but from all I have learned over the past five years our experiences are more similar than not. You can’t change the color of my skin. And I was treated as an “other” throughout my lifetime, in grade school and high school. It wasn’t until I went to college that I started to find my voice. But over the years I did ingest some behaviors that caused me further harm in my life.

The world around me dishonored me and taught me at every turn that who I am to my core was NOT right. I knew at a very young age I was something other than a “girl” and honestly could not relate to this thing called the gender binary at all. I didn’t want to express myself femininely. I knew what I liked and what I wanted to wear but because my mother was “colonized” at a very young age she was doing what she had been taught. She tried to force me to fit in the “role” of being female, but I pushed back at every turn until I finally became exhausted by all the work I was doing with very few positive results. Don’t get me wrong; I am grateful to have been born assigned female and socialized as female. I was given the opportunity to learn how to be with my emotions. To consistently seek to understand rather than to be understood. To commit to being someone whose deepest desire is to make a difference in our world. I like to believe we all have this desire at our core.

I know, you are wondering why I am sharing all of this, and to be honest it is all applicable to my journey. All the ways in which I was taught to oppress parts of me. I was raised to oppress parts of myself that were considered unacceptable, wrong, bad, savage or against the way of the “Lord.” I didn’t see it as me suppressing parts of myself; I literally learned to oppress myself to “fit in” and be accepted. Although I was still never truly accepted, and was frequently treated as an “other” and not as a person. Oppressing parts of myself created trauma in its wake. I was taught to judge myself at every turn and consistently compared myself to a standard I would never be able to achieve. I wasn’t thin enough, ever. And was fat-shamed at an early age too.

I don’t fault my mother; she was only doing what she was taught by the colonizers who ran the boarding school she attended. And this learning was something forced upon my people for decades prior. Which is what I began to uncover on a journey to interview my elders with my cousin. The stories they shared helped me realize that we didn’t lose our culture and tradition with the passing of my grandmother when I was 15; it had been stripped from my people hundreds of years prior through forced assimilation and colonization. We didn’t lose our culture and traditions when my grandmother died when I was 15 in 1975. We lost it during forced assimilation and colonization. 

Thankfully I have begun to unpack all of this and the impact it has had on my life. I have been an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQIA2S+ community for the better part of 56 years of my life, and it wasn’t until I came out for the third time in 2015 that I was finally faced with a choice: Heal or die. I know that sounds dramatic, but it is true.

All I experienced came to a culmination in 2015. My resiliency kicked in as I faced so much hate and vitriol at the hands of not only my community but also the folks in my life who claimed to care. My coming out as transgender was the “last straw” for some folks, so to speak. And they all just doubled down on the BS they had put me through for decades. 

I have always had to fight to be seen, heard and affirmed. Being a member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community here in the Midwest takes on a whole new meaning. I have consistently chosen to stay here because I believe this is where I can make the biggest difference for people like me. Being a member of this community has been a blessing and a curse. Because I have never been a part of the “in” crowd. I have always lived on the fringes, thinking that I was broken. 

Thankfully I know today that I am not broken. As a matter of fact, as my Menominee people believed, Two-Spirit people like me should be held in high regard. If a Two-Spirit person was born into a family, the family was also considered blessed. We held sacred spaces in our communities at one time. I am who I am today because I own myself as sacred, just as I am. 

I have nothing to prove and no one to impress. And my hope is to show our LGBTQIA2S+ youth, most especially those who are Black, Brown and Indigenous, that they too are sacred. 

We all have healing work to do, and I believe if more folks listened to people like me, our world would be a much better place to live. We are all interconnected. When one of us is hurting we are all hurting. 

Perhaps this writing will become a larger body of writing that will be turned into a book, but for now I will continue to shift hearts and minds one conversation at a time. 

Connect with Eli:

Eli Rigatuso is the creator of Speaking of Happy and cohost of Frankly Speaking, both livestream shows that spotlight the stories of queer individuals. The shows run Fridays at 6 p.m. on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook: @SpeakingOfHappy

Instagram: @speakingofhappy

Twitter: @SpeakingOfHappy

Website: speakingofhappy.com

YouTube: Speaking of Happy

Emiliana Isabella Blanco, PLMHP, PCMSW (she/her/hers), Activist and Therapist

Emiliana Isabella Blanco | Credit: Chris Bowling

What does it mean to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2021?

Thousands of threads woven together, all simple and all one-dimensional, comprise even the simplest of fabrics. The state of being human is anything but simple; if a facet of our lives is a thread, and our own experiences are fabric, then the most straightforward life is an elaborate Renaissance tapestry, carefully handwoven and with an inconceivable amount of detail and dimension. In light of this, the reduction of such a gargantuan web of identities as the LGBTQIA2s+ community to a single experience would be folly. It is enough to draw parallels between two individuals, but having different threads, looms and artists procure a similar tapestry? That’s unthinkable.

However, solidarity remains a powerful tool in the lives of marginalized peoples. Having lived my life as a transgender lesbian, and a Latina one with various other identities both marginalized and privileged to boot, I have myriad experiences which mirror those of people with similar identities, as well as diverge from the patterns. This is what makes each and every one of us unique and fuels a strong sense of self, while also allowing us to seek refuge in each other. And in Omaha, Nebraska, seeking refuge and finding our own distinctions is more crucial than in many other parts of the United States.

Having been born and raised in Miami, Florida, and then having moved to Omaha at the age of 16, I have consistently felt like I struggled to belong. Holding an identity aligned with queerness is othering even before one is even aware they are queer – being drawn to things others are not and drawn away from things others are drawn to is a commonality for many of us. Omaha and Miami share one major distinction, which is the cultural value of demanding homogeneity. Put into plain English, conform or be cast out. This is where the concept of queerness thrives; by definition, it is unusual. It is nonconforming. It goes against the grain. Queer Nebraskans go against the grain in Omaha and even more so in other cities throughout Nebraska. While for many of us it is a source of shame, for others, including myself, it is a source of pride. I take pride in going on my path and finding my happiness regardless of the thoughts of others, but I empathize with my queer contemporaries who only want acceptance.

In this regard, Omaha is an oasis in a desert. The same could be argued for Lincoln, perhaps. My heart flips with joy when I drive through my neighborhood and see every single one of my neighbors having some variety of progress Pride flags on their lawns, cars and/or houses. I felt so great being validated by my next-door neighbors offering to take whatever actions needed to help me, a trans woman, feel safe. While this is not to say that smaller towns struggle with nothing but hatred, there is a greater pressure to conform because of the lack of an outgroup; there is no West, East, South or North part of town to vilify. The outgroup becomes, instead, the denizens of the communities and is no longer a part of the gestalt. Dissenters from the hive mind might as well be foreign to their own lands, but Omaha offers refuge.

That said, Omaha is no paradise. For an oasis, the well might not yet be running dry, but the lushness is constricted and stifled by the ever-present aridity of Nebraska Nice’s silent judgment. While this often results in stares, double takes, passive-aggressive avoidance, ostracization and outright abusive rhetoric behind closed doors, the silence sometimes turns into a cacophony of violence. Every queer Nebraskan knows about Brandon Teena, or about the countless assaults and incidents of harassment outside of The Max, [a gay club] in downtown Omaha. This is an invisible burden on each of our shoulders, unseen by those outside of our communities.

For all that we have in common, however, my experience at the intersection of both lesbian and trans woman has been peppered by myriad responses from my fellow “countrywomen,” so to speak. I have had cisgender lesbians and sapphics misgender me, refer to me and those like me as a science experiment, and even insist we are just straight men trying to impose penises on them (even though all this particular trans lesbian wants is her hand held and cheesy picnic dates). I have encountered heterosexual trans women with whom I have a clear disconnect, as I’m not “queer enough” due to my pronounced distance from queer ballroom culture. I have had people of all varieties of queerness also impose some degree of racialized verbal violence on me, an experience which many if not all Brown, Black and/or Indigenous queer people in Omaha can empathize with.

All in all, I have had to find a home, a chosen family with a very specific group of people, as camaraderie based on one shared experience isn’t enough. Queerness is not the be-all and end-all of social ties (sorry, straight people, we don’t want to date your queer friends or be best friends with them just because they’re queer). We build some solidarity in the struggles we face and in the same refuges we find, but sometimes in our rancor and fury of beating feet to that same refuge, we find ourselves stepping all over each other. This is nuance; this is the complexity which drives individual perspectives, struggles, joys, successes, failures, heartbreaks, laughs and overwhelming fears. The individual threads, all different; the artists, all different; the pieces, all different; but the artwork emblazoned on the tapestries? All in that same, familiar, queer shape.

JohnCarl Denkovich (they/them/theirs), Nonprofit Professional, LGBTQ+ Leader, Chairperson of the Omaha Mayor’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Board

JohnCarl Denkovich| Credit: Michele Zephier / Michele Zephier Photography

What does it mean to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2021?

​Being LGBTQ+ in Omaha in 2021 looks very different depending on the power and privilege afforded to the sum total of one’s intersecting identities. It’s important to understand that our experiences look very different from one person to the next, because as a population we aren’t a monolith. But, being LGBTQ+ brings with it an undeniable burden, whether that is attempting to exercise equal rights in health care and employment, or seeking justice in cases of discrimination or acts of violence. There is also a unique reason to celebrate and be celebrated as an LGBTQ+ person in Omaha, not simply for being LGBTQ+, but because this population offers rich contributions in time and talents to our diverse Omaha community.   

Connect with JohnCarl:

LinkedIn: JohnCarl Denkovich

John-Paul Gurnett (he/him/his), Artist

John-Paul Gurnett | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett

What does it mean to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2021?

I don’t think much about being queer in Nebraska because I’ve always felt like an outsider. Omaha is NOT an easy place to be LGBTQ, and people who leave have every right and reason to do so. I was very blessed to have a supportive family, and I have seen how fear and homophobia tear families apart. I love being able to create community and affirm everyone’s identity. I think people in Omaha assume that they have to be resistant to progress because that’s who we’re supposed to be? Which I’ll never understand because I am being exactly the person I am supposed to be. I wish others would do that more.

Weekly Queer Nite Posters

At Benson’s The Sydney, every Thursday is Queer Nite: an LGBTQ+-inclusive space I co-founded with my friends Katie Hayes and Marisa Mixan, along with Zach Schmeider at The Sydney. It really has been a team effort. What follows are posters I design and push out on Queer Nite’s Instagram (@queernite) each Thursday. As a graphic designer, I enjoy creating event posters and flyers that are colorful, exciting and witty.

Queer Nite 027 8.1.19 | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett
Queer Nite 012 4.18.19 | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett
Queer Nite 056 2.20.20 | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett
Queer Nite 047 12.19.19 | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett
Queer Nite 028 8.8.19 | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett
Queer Nite 074 6.25.20 | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett
Queer Nite 10 4.4.19 | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett
“Pride or Die” Event Flyer | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett

Where we left

The following is a collection of photos, titled “Where we left,” taken during Queer Nite in 2018 and 2019. My process is very organic. I am lucky to be surrounded by other amazing queer people who inspire me to be myself every day. For photography, I prefer candid shots. I find myself in beautiful situations constantly and have learned to listen to that voice that says, “take the pic.”

Babygirl, 2019 | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett
Dawaune, 2019 | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett
Jochy O, 2021 | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett
Katie, 2019| Credit: John-Paul Gurnett
Revel, 2019 | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett
Take it Back, 2019 | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett

at once and 0:01

The below companion pieces were first on display at the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards Nominee Showcase, at the Roberta & Bob Rogers Gallery. A show I curated at the Split Gallery, titled “All My Friends at Once,” was nominated, and these pieces were made in honor of the nomination. The show featured over 20 local LGBTQ+ artists.

at once | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett
0:01 | Credit: John-Paul Gurnett

Connect with John-Paul:

Instagram: @johnthenpaul

Twitter: @johnthenpaul

Website: johnthenpaul.com

Mr Little Cat (they/them/theirs), Performer & Artist

Mr Little Cat | Credit: Anonymous

What does it mean to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2021?

I prefer the acronym of LGBTQIA2S+ as that includes 2 Spirits/Two Spirits for the Queer Indigenous people. 

Being Native, I don’t see much representation of myself in art, politics and pop culture. I most definitely don’t see many Queer Natives in those fields. When I got heavily involved with my community in Omaha through the art scene (I am a performer who does burlesque, drag, and poetry and story slams), people both online and in person expressed admiration for seeing a fat-bodied, unconventionally beautiful and Queer Native person living their life. My simple existence gave them confidence … they don’t see us (Queer BIPOC) existing on stage. Nebraska holds so many white spaces that it doesn’t allow BIPOC people to comfortably or safely be in these white spaces. But we have plenty of BIPOC performers willing to be in those spaces because they have talent and a love for the arts. That itself is an act of dismantling segregation.

I always felt I wasn’t special as a result of how people treated me because of my marginalized identities (Native and Queer). Yet when people from shows and online expressed their fondness for me and celebrated over me, I soon realized that what I do isn’t only a fun performance for people to enjoy on a night out. It creates a boundless impact, and the people are a witness to that. They acknowledge my position. I then acknowledge my purpose and role. To sum it up, a person told me that, in Omaha, “I can only think of two influential Queer Natives: Eli [Rigatuso] and you.” When someone tells you that, it makes you reflect on how your actions and presence hold significance. People say that Omaha is a small city, and it is. The Queer community is even smaller. I love the Queer Community in Omaha. I feel like I know most people. They’re like family to me. We have each other’s backs. 

Beaded Earrings – May 2020 Pride Collection

I’m from the Navajo Nation. Dinétah in my language. I love how our flag has a rainbow in it, representing sovereignty. Nááts’íilid is the word for rainbow in my language. We have stories about the rainbow people and sacred places that resemble rainbows. I had fun making these earrings and seeing colorful, pretty colors come together in my creations. I know what these colors represent to LGBTQIA2S+ people and myself, and my Queer heart is gonna explode of rainbow happiness to know people are going to wear these earrings with such Pride. 

May 2020 Pride Collection of beaded earrings. | Credit: Mr Little Cat
The Navajo Nation flag, which features a rainbow. | Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Flag originally designed by Jay R. Degroat in 1968.

Connect with Mr Little Cat:

FaceBook: @cariberricrunchwithraisins

Instagram: @disarmingallure

Jewelry Instagram: @mlcxjewelry

RIKÉ (he/him/his), Singer/Songwriter

RIKÉ | Credit: Carlos Aguilar

What does it mean to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2021?

As a Pansexual Male, it means understanding the intersections and history that have allotted me sanctuary that many in the LGBTQIA2S+ community have yet to feel. As a performer and Community Service Advocate, it means taking up space where there is no queer influence and creating space to amplify those who need to be heard. As a queer person of color it means addressing and expressing the struggles queer people face within the combined Latinx and United States cultures. And as a Queer Son, a Queer Brother and a Queer Friend, it means knowing that you are not subject to the family you are born with; a healthy family can be a chosen family. All that being established, as a member of the city of Omaha and the state of Nebraska, being queer means knowing some of the coolest, most understanding, accepting and forward-thinking individuals. Individuals that are so influential by merely existing.

Much of the music that I have written so far has been influenced by my friends and my identity, from my first single (“Colors”), which presents the story of my experience growing up with my toxic and estranged father, to my latest release (“Journey”), where I poetically talk my friends down from feeling self-doubt. In each song I attempt to capture a specific emotion that I share with the audience.

The picture presented below is a shot I took of myself during a friend’s project. The light came in rainbow, and this photo (with some editing) would become the cover for “Colors.” The lyrics for “Colors” (below) tell the story of my journey to discover my voice in a “Machista,” homophobic household. Trigger warning: Explicit language and parent-child conflict. 

Colors | Credit: RIKÉ

“Colors” – By RIKÉ

The kitchen table
I would never raise my voice 
Never explaining 
I never had a choice 
Kept you complaining
But you said I was your boy

So much potential 
You thought inside your head
But too much error
A part of me is dead
I never spoke up
I’d hide away instead

All the love that I had for you
Respect that was mad for you
Never held up
Was not enough
Couldn’t believe it true
And now that I’m standing here
Your face staring in the mirror
That wasn’t love

Stop holding me
Down from my shoulders
I just can’t breath 
There’s no moving forward
I need you to know
that I’m nothing like you
While you’re black and white
My colors still shine

I’m afraid 
Of the look on your face 
When your stomach turns 
And you say
That you’re just afraid 
Of people and their words
But I can’t
Help feeling like a mistake 
Yeah it f—-ing hurts
I’m tired of tiptoeing at your pace
Cause it’s getting worse

All the love that I had for you
Respect that was mad for you
Never held up
Was not enough
Never believed it true
And now that I’m standing here
Your face staring in the mirror
That wasn’t love

Stop holding me
Down from my shoulders 
Cause I just can’t breathe
There’s no moving forward 
I need you to know 
that I’m nothing like you
While you’re black and white
My colors still shine

I take it hard
I fall apart 
That’s not my plan
Not up to par
Can’t be a man
And have a heart
But I am a man ’cause I’ve grown
Now a better man with a voice
Just not the kind that you know
Wouldn’t f—ing give you that choice
And you know I’ll always be here
No matter what the crowd says
A f—ing Q–er
A f—ing beautiful mess

In the end I don’t know
Where you want me to go
‘Cause when he kisses me deeply 
I feel right at home
And you can’t tell me that’s wrong
No you can’t tell me that’s wrong

Stop holding me
Down from my shoulders
‘Cause I just can’t breathe
There’s no moving forward
I need you to know
That I’m nothing like you
While you’re black and white
My Colors still shine

From the smile on his face
To the look in his eyes
That look’s not for you 
That look is mine

To watch the “Colors” music video, click here.

Connect with RIKÉ:

Apple Music: Riké

FaceBook: RIKÉ

Instagram: @rikerikemusic

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Website: solo.to/rikerikemusic

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From Nov. 2020 – Aug. 2022, Leah reported on social justice, including employment equity, economic justice, educational inequality, and the experiences and history of Nebraska’s LGBTQ+ community. Although she’s now pursuing a PhD in Communication, Information and Media at Rutgers University, Leah remains a diehard Reader fan and wholeheartedly supports all things Reader. You can connect with her via Twitter (@cates_leah).

From Nov. 2020 - Aug. 2022, Leah reported on social justice, including employment equity, economic justice, educational inequality, and the experiences and history of Nebraska's LGBTQ+ community. She originally...

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