A Tribute To A Woman Named Helen Louise And The LGBT Community

Monday, March 11, 2019
I've been wanting to write this for some time now, but couldn't properly formulate the words or the message I wanted to share or how it would be taken.  Mr. Biser's opinion piece gave me the courage. 

Helen Louise was my mother's oldest sister and my aunt. They lost their mother to burns over 90 percent of her body when my mother was no older than nine and I guess Aunt Helen was around 13 or 14. Aunt Dorothy was somewhere in between. Although I have no memory of having met Aunt Helen, she named me.
She also gave me her middle name, Louise. Aunt Helen was a woman well ahead of her times. It turns out she was also gay. As I've been told, she was married (in a heterosexual marriage) where she was horribly abused. Of course, the marriage didn't last. She never had any children of her own. 

Aunt Helen was feisty, strong and independent for her time. She rode motorcycles and wore pants at a time when doing so automatically brought about whispers and rumors of someone being 'odd' or 'funny', even when such labels may not true. She was the Betsy Coleman/Amelia Earhart of her day. I found an old picture of her and my grandfather, her father. She was simply gorgeous with her combination of African-Native American looks, with a rumor of possible German-Gypsy from the southern most parts of Germany. 

My Aunt Helen was forced to leave Chattanooga and told never to return. That would have been in the 1950s when she left Chattanooga. For years my mother didn't know where she was. But there were suspicions she had moved up north, like New York. Then in the 1960s, when my oldest brother entered the military and was sent to Germany, on his return he was determined to find Aunt Helen. The ship he returned on docked in New York, and that's where he began his search for her. Instinct told him that's where she likely would be found.  Lo and behold, he found my aunt. She was doing well. She'd landed a job as a live in maid with a then-prominent New York family.  She was doing quite well for herself.  Aunt Helen passed away in the late 1990s. She never returned to Chattanooga, although she and my mother and Aunt Dorothy, living in Virginia (also now deceased), were able to reconnect and kept in touch over the years.

Aunt Helen would be very proud and honored of today's gay, lesbian and LGBT. Unfortunately, for many attitudes haven't changed much over the years since she was forced to leave Chattanooga over 70 years ago and under threats. She wasn't openly gay, but people had their 'suspicions' about her, and that's all it took. A suspicion to bring out the pitchforks and torches. 

I guess my message in telling this story is 1. Be proud. 2. Stand strong. 3. The naysayers will always be on the attack, hiding behind religion or whatever else they can drum up. 4. The fact is many of them have demons they're in constant struggle with. Any attacks on the gay/LGBT community are just diversions so when the attackers look in the mirror they feel they can calmly lull themselves into seeing something other than their own flaws and struggles. 

With love, pride, honor and a tribute to a woman well ahead of her times. 

Brenda Washington


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