ActivismEditorialEqualityGay PrideGenerations of PrideHomophobiaLesbianStonewall50Women

Removing the Mask

by Haviland Stillwell

Though fake news is on the rise, and is so often accepted as truth, the LGBTQ+ community has been battling false narratives since the beginning of time. The amount of propaganda and misinformation that has continually and continuously been spread, masquerading as “news” and “facts” is astounding. Presidential Candidate Marianne Williamson says “The only way to defeat big lies is with big truths.” 

Marianne Williamson/Photo by Elisabeth Granli

So here’s a true story.

I’ve always felt that being LGBTQ+ was a responsibility; an opportunity to teach the world about compassion and love. My first experience in the LGBTQ+ community, years before I knew I was part of the community, was through activism.

When I was twelve, I performed in a play about a little boy who was HIV+, meant to be a benefit for an AIDS awareness and research organization in Atlanta. In doing the play, I was suddenly around many adults who happened to be in the LGBTQ+ community – folks who were helping out, because they’d learned that you help your family in times of crisis. I learned about LGBTQ+ history, and about how simply to live honestly was an act of rebellion. It seemed so wrong to little me that people had to hide who they were, simply to be safe in the world. I learned that you were either in full support and full action, or fully wasting your voice, that could be helping people. There is never an in between when it comes to equality.

A large part of my understanding was that there seemed to be straight up lies from anti-gay organizers, that had been sold as truths. And somehow, they’d been extremely effective in shaping not only laws, but in shaping people’s brains and hearts. (Sound familiar to America 2019?) 

That summer, I was staying in Savannah, and I read an article in the teen section of the local newspaper with “real talk” about AIDS awareness. In the piece, labeled as a factual article, not an opinion piece, it stated that if you lived a “moral life,” that you wouldn’t contract HIV. Well, little me was ENRAGED. A fire rose up inside me, the same one I have felt many times since then, telling me to do something. I wrote a letter to the editor, saying it was irresponsible to publish a piece full of misinformation and hateful opinions, targeted to teens, being positioned as an educational article about a disease. This was wrong, I stated, and they should immediately retract the article and publish a fact based article, minus the condemnation. And then I added, people with AIDS deserve our kindness and our compassion. And your readers, even kids, deserve your respect. 

This was risky, and I knew it. Most of my family was conservative (minus my parents, thank God). I was well aware that my Dad was a very public city official, and though he’d been a lifelong Democrat…well, politics is politics, and the south is the south. I knew it would get published. And it did.

I called my grandmother the day after it was published to tell her goodbye – I was heading back to Atlanta for 8th grade to begin. I was the apple of her eye, her namesake, and normally, she’d be practically singing when she heard my voice. But on this particular call, she was distant and cold. (Side note – I need you to picture/hear the voice of Blanche Devereaux)

“Are you okay? Are you sick?” I asked, concerned.

“No. I’m fine. I just can’t believe you’d do this to me.” 

“Huh?” Genuine confusion.

“That…article. In the…paper. Everyone…everyone is going to read it.” She said, in melodramatic despair. I took a deep breath, deflated, but charged forward, seeking the opportunity.

“Well…I hope a lot of people read it and it makes a difference. I hope it makes the paper more responsible about what they publish, and I hope it makes people who read it think about being more kind. We have to take care of each other.”

She didn’t speak to me for six months. And I just thought about how many people were punished (and continue to be) for standing up to misinformation, for showing compassion. I hope people were impacted positively by my speaking up. I try to live my life this way, and I know that I still have so much to learn. My grandmother eventually “got over it,” and I like to think that maybe her heart grew a bit – that maybe I showed her a different way – a deeper way – to love.


Living our lives with purpose has such an ability to expand not only our own individual lives, but quite tangibly everyone around us. And as we all know, truth is on the attack. Please don’t sit on the sidelines. Let’s all be in the field, cheering each other on. 

When lies come at you wearing a mask of truth, forgive the liars for their ignorance. Help them remove the mask. But make damn sure they walk away having been informed of the big truths. And watch that grow.


(Main photo: Haviland Stillwell, Photo by ARTHUR MARROQUIN // ABM PHOTOGRAPHY)

Enjoy the multi-talented, Haviland Stillwell and read bio HERE  

Follow Haviland on social media: @haviland on Instagram, @havilandstillwell on Facebook, @MissHaviland on Twitter


Previous posts from theOUTfront series, “Generations of Pride”

Keith Haring, Our Street Artist to the World 

Sankofa, an African American’s Ancestral messenger of Pride 

Celebrating the Groundbreaking Gay Novelist, Journalist, and Poet who became Best-Sellers 

Darkness to Light… Stonewall’s effect on the Mental Health Profession 

Listen to the Luscious Music of Gay Tea Dances 

Celebrating STONEWALL 50 with Generations of Pride 

Be part of STONEWALL 50 wherever you are by telling your story of Pride on social media using



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