Hello. (Ahem.)

My name is Pam Swisher.

(“Hi, Pa-aaam.”)

And I am … a gay-friendly-aholic.

When Louisville creates an environment friendly toward us LGBT folks, it not only improves the quality of our community as a whole, but it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside that leaves me wanting more, not unlike those pictures of interspecies cuddling. Gay friendliness is a powerful tool that shows the strength, compassion and progress of our city. Plus, it’s good for business.

Louisville is a gay-friendly city.

In 1994, as a 14-year-old girl in Louisville, I got my first taste of gay-friendliness from my family when I came out. They said to me, “You don’t have to hide anything from us.” That sent my braces and glasses wearin’, Peppermint Patty lovin’, rainbow-belted ass searching for my next fix of that sweet acceptance. But back then, I thought the only gay people in the world were Melissa Etheridge, k.d. lang and Richard Simmons, so I figured I had to hit up my straight peers in dark alleys and under streetlights for some sort of covert gay support. Every homosexual character I had seen in a movie had been re-converted, shunned or worse. No one at my high school was out. So I braced myself for an onslaught of difficult situations as the word spread through the hallways that I liked the ladies.

But no one threw stones at me — not even a spitball. From the cheerleaders and football players to the band geeks, math nerds, sulking stoners and other stereotypes in my high school, I found a surprising supply of open acceptance of my sexuality. I never even had an aggressive encounter at my locker or an anonymous homophobic exclamation between classes. When I took a girl to prom, I was met with genuine smiles and typically bad ’90s dancing (shout-out to Waggener Class of ’98). If anybody had a problem with it, they sure didn’t come to me, and that felt progressive.

How was this possible when we didn’t even have Ellen Degeneres to light the gay way? I had the foundation of an immediately accepting family, a path that had been traveled by those who came before me, and I was lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing people. The compassionate, supportive and intelligent people of all orientations who were around me provided a cushion, or rather, a force field of gay-friendliness. And I still can’t get enough of it. I know that my good experience as a coming-of-age lesbian may have been uncommon, and I have certainly been subjected to discrimination over the years, but I continue to find myself surrounded by a growing population of gay-friendly folks in Louisville.

Now, in 2009, it is not uncommon to see a gay couple holding hands, walking down Bardstown Road, Frankfort Avenue or wherever else, being all gay and stuff. We have an increasing number of organizations and businesses run by accepting individuals, and queer professionals abound, from therapists to plumbers. There is a thriving, productive and diverse LGBT community in Louisville today that feels no need to apologize for who they are, and with no need to hide it. And, while we do still live in an age when gay friendliness needs to be encouraged and rewarded, and much work remains to be done, to Louisville, I say: Keep it up, because it is starting to pay off.

Here’s a shout-out to the Fairness Campaign, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary of building an inclusive community (and to LEO for putting it on the cover a couple weeks ago). Props go to the Pride Festival, gay and lesbian bars, support groups, and newsletters for LGBTs. Can I get a what-what for all the employers in Louisville who follow through with their equal opportunities? Here’s a shout-out to Heine Brothers Coffee for supporting the gay community by allowing me to be my budding little lezzie self years ago. Shout-out to all the inclusive churches in the city, like Unity of Louisville and Highland Baptist Church, and to the “Church on the Rocks,” led by the Troubadours of Divine Bliss at the Monkey Wrench, for being down with us homos. Shout-out to the Nachbar, Day’s Espresso & Coffee, and all the other businesses who welcome a flow of gay and lesbian regulars. Word to all the grandmothers, fathers, daughters, sons, moms, nephews-in-law twice removed, aunts, uncles, landlords, your sister’s mother-in-law’s sister, mail ladies, neighbors, pets, and ancestors who are cool with the gay.

You are feeding a healthy addiction that encourages us all to be ourselves authentically. Thank you.