Southern Exposure: A Coming Out Story

Mark Mitchell talks about growing up gay

Portrait of Mitchell as a young boy. C’mon—the jacket was a dead giveaway.

“Mark, are you gay?” his mother asked hours before his father’s funeral. “I was basically dressing her for the ‘event,’ as we called it. I turned to my mother and asked, ‘Is that what you’re wearing?’”

That was more than 25 years ago, when shy 16-year-old Mark Mitchell, a native of Memphis, was very much in the closet. He lied to his mother that day. But as fate would have it, the truth came out five years later.

“I was standing on my front porch with my boyfriend at the time,” says Mitchell, “kissing. Much to my mother’s surprise, she opened the door. There was a loud gasp.”

Flustered, he rushed into the house after her: “All she could say was, ‘All right, now are you gay?’ And of course my answer was, ‘Yes.’”

Mitchell describes it as his “Steel Magnolias moment.” “After that day, we were best friends,” Mitchell, now 43, says. “She always put her two cents in on my boyfriends, that’s for sure. But I was one of the luckiest guys, coming from the South and not being thrown out of my house after I came out. This was not always the case.”

Today, as a Philadelphia ambassador to the Trevor Project, Mitchell wants to make sure other young people have the same support coming out. The lifelong Elvis fan (Mitchell’s mother graduated in the Class of 1953 from Humes High School with the King) is reaching out to schools to support gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

“We’re beginning the conversation,” says Mitchell, who now makes his home in South Philly, “to educate those who are struggling about being open.”

This is the first in a series of coming out stories exclusively for G Philly. For a copy of the latest print publication, please visit LGBT-friendly businesses throughout the region or sign up online for a free, limited-time subscription by clicking here.

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