Solomon Dean has been Deputy Director of Day Services for The Open Shelter for over 25 years. He sat down to share with us about himself and how he helps others.
“I identify as a black gay man. I have known I was gay since I was 5. I found out about myself when I moved to Columbus 32 years ago. I come from a religious family. So it was kind of taboo being gay. I have a couple of gay cousins. I always thought gay people were dressing up at night. That was my perception of being gay. I didn’t find out about that until I joined the Army when I turned 18. I was in Germany and found out a little bit about gay people. When I went back home, I identified as being straight.”
“When I moved to Columbus, I met the love of my life in 1991. He taught me and showed me a lot about being gay. There’s more than one aspect. He told me how to identify myself. So identified myself as a black gay man. When I met Leonard, I came out. My family knew I had a partner. I am accepted. My family does accept me. That was a hurdle I got over. At first, my mother didn’t like it. She didn’t like that I was gay and that I was dating a white man. One of the obstacles I faced was being true to myself. I learned I had to be true to myself before I could be true to anyone else.”
“There is no place for transgender people to go in the Columbus shelter system. Housing is a problem that society needs to cross over. Gay people want housing. Don’t put me somewhere there is a bunch of straight men or straight people. You have to get to know someone first. I am probably not going to come out and tell you I am gay. Don’t put me in a homophobic atmosphere. There needs to be a place where someone feels comfortable.”
“I am the person people see first when they come into The Open Shelter. I usually ask them how they want to be identified. Once I get to know someone they feel comfortable with me and open up. There are gay and trans people who come through here that have opened up to me because they feel comfortable talking to me. Once I talk to them and tell them my story, they feel comfortable. It’s about getting to know them. That is one of the things I love about my job. We take the time to get to know the person. They are not just a statistic. We treat them as a person.”
“Shay identifies herself as a woman. She had a lot of problems when she was in the shelters. She also had a lot of problems out on the streets. Somebody tried to beat her up one time because she was just being herself. It’s all about being yourself. Once you feel comfortable in your skin, you can be yourself. She is very comfortable in her skin.”
“I go to the Pride Celebration every year with my nieces. We have a lot of fun. This is something I have been dying to have The Open Shelter do and finally this year we are doing it. It means a lot to me because it is a big stepping stone for me. I can shed some skin and walk and be proud of who I am. Also, this could help in getting the word out about us and get new donors.”
“We welcome everyone. We try to help everyone. I’ve been doing this for over 25 years. It’s been a learning curve. I used to be in that box, where I was treated differently. Working here, it shined a light on a lot of different things. Being gay is just who I am.”