Writers, being chronically unfunded and underemployed, are no strangers to self-promotion. Tell your poet-acquaintance that you're starting a magazine, and you might suddenly have a poet-friend. Tell a meek memoirist that you met a literary agent at the bar, and watch him grow 6 inches taller. And pity the good soul whose Uncle Ed is an actor in Hollywood, for she shall be inundated with bad screenplays.
Odd, then, when a local group solicits writing of any genre for an upcoming anthology with the editor visiting churches and community organizations, and going online to invite novice writers to share their stories and receives all of 20 submissions.
Actually, it's dismally predictable when the group is OutWord, a local writing circle for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (GLBT) people, and the stories it seeks to publish are about growing up gay, coming out at work, parenting a gay child and other themes that would be unremarkable in other cities of comparable size.
OutWord is one of many groups sponsored by the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Community Center (also called the Pride Center), and it is led by a woman named Rebekah. She asked that only her first name be used in this story, for fear that her employer might be displeased with an employee who made her sexuality public.
"It's a fear that a lot of people live with in this town," Rebekah says. "[Colorado Springs is] kind of ground zero [for] discrimination against gays and lesbians."
Meeting with me in a busy caf, Rebekah sends her eyes to the door every time a customer enters. Several times during the interview, she asks that the digital recorder be paused for a moment so she can speak more freely.
"I just know there are a lot of people who won't submit to the anthology," Rebekah says, "because, even with a pen name, they are afraid somebody will figure out it's them."
Conscious of the irony of what she's saying, she adds, "And yet it could be so liberating for them."
Rebekah's precautions reflect anxiety felt by many in Colorado Springs' GLBT community. One of the organizations she visited to drum up submissions was Inside/Out Youth Services, which serves young people who are "gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or questioning," according to Deborah Surat, the group's executive director.
When responding to my telephone inquiry, Surat is guarded at first.
"You're from the Independent?" she asks. Upon being answered in the affirmative, she responds flatly: "You're calling from an out-of-state area code." (My cell phone.)
In person, Surat is much warmer, but she is honest about the difficulties gays and lesbians face in Colorado Springs.
"There are people who do not feel safe in coming out in their workplace here," Surat says, "and who have had retaliation when they have come out. Those kind of things ... are still happening."
This explains why Surat is still deliberating after heading the organization for more than a year whether or not to put a sign over the front door. And it explains why Inside/Out offers martial arts classes to GLBT youth.
"If they do get cornered in a dark alley, they will at least have some ability to protect their vital organs," Surat says.
Not all conversation related to the project is so ominous.
"There is a sense that we [in the GLBT community] have to be more assertive," says Ryan Acker, executive director of the Pride Center, "but I think it also means we have to be more creative."
Rebekah hopes that OutWord's first anthology will be a product of and further engender that creativity. Though the group hasn't yet set a publication date, it has set a price (free) and a target market: libraries, schools, virtually anyone interested in reading with an open mind.
"What we're doing is appealing at a human level to what humans appreciate: literature, beautiful words, poetry," she says. "Trying to come at a different angle than anger and protest."
All the same, she willingly admits that she is less concerned with aesthetic perfection and more concerned with providing a venue "for people to rise up and be a leader in telling their truth." She doesn't feel those truths are meant solely for the GLBT community, either.
"We're just hoping true, honest, simple stories about human experience will touch people's hearts, and maybe demythologize gay and lesbian and transgendered people," Rebekah says. "We've all been children, we've all had first loves. ... We're trying to start a dialogue."
She cites her older brother, now deceased, who was also gay, as an inspiration for the anthology.
"He was never allowed to live his life as a gay person," Rebekah says. "He never had a relationship. He was often beaten up because he looked and walked and spoke in an effeminate way. He had bosses who sexually harassed him. I really in my heart dedicate this to him ... I know he would smile on this project.
"Maybe it will give somebody a chance to live more fully," she says, "[a chance] that he was denied."