Why I need the center

Peter Larson

I grew up in Chicago and have spent most of my career working for banks and wealth management institutions in Chicago, Minneapolis and, now, Milwaukee.

The word “gay” was not acknowledged when I was growing up, but the word “homosexual” was – and I knew the term was not positive. I was oblivious to any gay community and only associated “gay” with people hanging out in men’s rest rooms, not anything positive. You knew better than to be out because it wasn’t safe. Actually, it was pre-unsafe – it was simply denied.

As a young man, I lacked confidence in myself. It took me a long time to realize I could be a fully functional adult and live out, but even after that realization it was still difficult. After I came out to my father, he didn’t speak to me for the last 15 years of his life.

I was a pastor’s child and, knowing I was different, I grew up with a sense of being very oppressed. It took me a while to realize I was born privileged: white, in an educated family, at a fortunate moment in history. I don’t feel guilty about being a white, educated male. I am in a position to help others, to share and be of service to others; and so I ask myself, “How can I make a difference for those who have not been blessed in these ways?” Working with the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center is a way for me to share my blessings. 

I do have some selfish reasons for being involved in the center. For example, I think I would have been more successful if I’d been fully out earlier in life. I am now a bit jealous of people who are not starting their professional lives under the burden of feeling oppressed or unsafe. 

I was a heavy smoker until about eight years ago. I think that if I’d had a place where I felt safe, like the center, I could have looked at my health sooner. I had friends whose lives were destroyed by cocaine and meth. I think that the center provides us a place where we can help the LGBT community learn to avoid unhealthy behavior.

I’m on the center’s board because it sustains and saves lives every day. We know that the center helps prevent youth from drinking and drug abuse, and I believe the center saves hundreds of thousands of tax dollars each year by creating more healthy people. The center is a good investment. 

I get a great deal out of my work with the center. I’ve met lots of people and have learned so much from the volunteers and board members – especially since the new changes that have taken place in the last 10 months. We now have an amazing team of effective people, and they help me become more effective and engaged. I feel privileged to work with them. 

I urge you to be involved with the center and become part of this amazing place where you can be yourself and help others become their best.

Peter Larson has an master’s degree in economics, finance, accounting from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He serves as treasurer for the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center’s board of directors.