Norfolk native Jasmine Johnson has a lot to say about family.
As she transitioned, she found that affirmative families were often not necessarily of blood but born out of shared experiences.
“It’s not that my family wasn’t accepting,” she said. “I still lived with my parents, but to find myself, I shared another house with a group of people that we call family, other people who showed me the lifestyle, the streets, and they threw me in headfirst.”
This was 20 years ago back in the days before the LGBT Life Center existed when there was no organized housing assistance for the community.
The house was run by Jasmine’s mother, a member of the black queer community who devoted her time to helping those with coming out. The gay mother tradition has its roots in the early Eighties as the AIDS crisis began. In fact, Jasmine, at 39, is the latest in a long line of Norfolk’s gay mothers.
“My mother asked me to join the family, and today she has over 30 kids,” Jasmine said. “She was the one who taught me how to become an independent mother, that I could do my own thing. She saw that I had the potential. And her mother, my grandmother, taught me more than my birth mother ever did.”
That’s the philosophy she has applied as a gay mother to the 12 boys that she has mentored.
“I have always strived to encourage them to be better people, and they thank me from time to time because of it,” she said. “Like the one that’s living with me now, he’d rather stay with me because he’s more comfortable with me.”
Jasmine admits that initially her birth family reacted to her new role with some envy.
“My direct my attention span shifted from them to my boys, and I was in the lifestyle,” she said. “But they understood it when I explained that this is what I wanted to do to help others in the lifestyle.”
Jasmine takes her role seriously because so many in the queer community cannot find love or support from their birth family whether it be because they don’t agree with the lifestyle or simply just don’t understand their unique needs.
“When family members are being negative and or disrespectful or condescending, I can go to this family for that uplifting support and confidence. I can talk to them about things that by birth family can’t understand because they don’t live in the lifestyle,” Jasmine said. “They’re like my psychiatrists.”
Jasmine’s experience as a mother began when she was 22, which she says was early by most standards. Although she says she was still working through her own issues at the time, she knew that she could put that experiences to good use.
“I stepped out into the light, and a lot of people looked up to that,” she said.
Jasmine is excited about her recent purchase of a three-bedroom house in the Norview section of Norfolk for her and her son. The third bedroom is available to whomever needs it.
“A person can go through something very quickly, and they don’t know who to turn to for a safe space,” she said. “I’m glad I can offer a safe space for a few days to get allow someone a chance to get on their feet.”
Her work as a Community Navigator at the LGBT Life Center compliments with her work as a gay mother. At the Center, she’s helping the LGBT community connect with community services, either through the Center or with an outside agency.
“You know how the saying goes, even when you’re not working, you’re always working?” she asks. “My work hat never turns off. It’s always on.”
This article appeared in the January 2022 Edition of Outlife757 Magazine and is part os a continuing series of profiles people doing the work in our community. Jasmine has since moved into her new home and continues her work in the community and with the Life Center.