When Leana Silipo, 23, visited a friend in Valley Stream, she wasn’t expecting to step outside to find her car splattered with half a dozen egg yolks. Although she brushed off the incident, attributing it to youths who lived in the area, she couldn’t help but notice that her car was the only one that got egged — and the only one that had a rainbow flag bumper sticker.
The Levittown native said that her coming-out process was very difficult for the members of her traditional Italian family, who are devout Roman Catholics.
“I came out a lot older than other people did, at age 19, because I wasn’t sure how to handle it,” Silipo said. “I was always the girl with a boyfriend, and it wasn’t until I got with my first girlfriend that everything seemed to click.”
Silipo first told her friends at Nassau Community College, where she was studying psychology, that she was gay, after attending a Pride event on campus. It was then that she realized she couldn’t hide her identity anymore.
“That’s when I recognized that there were other people my age who were gay and that they weren’t just some far-off people on the internet,” she added with a laugh.
Although she wanted to tell her family, she was nervous about doing so. At the time, she worked in a pizzeria in Seaford, and knew that if word got out, people would start to whisper behind her back. It was a small town, and everyone knew everyone, she said.
“I had already dealt with anxiety and depression in the past, so at this point it just heightened,” she said. “I felt super-uncomfortable at home because I had to constantly hide things from my family.”
Silipo was also spending a lot of time with her girlfriend, Michelle, who her parents thought was just a close friend. Nonetheless, Silipo added, “They could sense something was different with us. We always stood just a little too close and hugged just a little too long.”
Things got worse before they got better. One day in 2013, Silipo lied to her father, telling him she had to cover a shift at work to get out of going on a family trip to the Bronx Zoo. Instead, she met up with Michelle.
“He found out the truth after he called my job to see if I was really working,” she said. “My dad came home that night and blew up.”
Her parents had finally put the pieces together. “Both of them seemed outraged and downright disgusted,” Leana said.
Her mother was especially upset that her daughter was gay. “To this day, she makes offhand comments about it, saying that it’s a phase and I could still end up with a man,” she said.
For a week, Silipo stayed at a friend’s house to give her parents some time to come to terms with her situation. She also saw a therapist to help with her anxiety and feelings of desperation. Her parents eventually came around and let her move back home, but she still has a distant relationship with them.
“There’s a lot of second guessing when you live in a small town,” she said. “I’m always wondering if people have ulterior motives — if they’re asking how I’m doing or if I’m dating someone, is it because they already know I’m gay? Do they just want to confirm it and keep spinning the gossip wheel?”
Now, four years later, Silipo has introduced her family to her new girlfriend. To her surprise, they were very accepting of her.
“I know everything isn’t going be perfect,” she said. “But I’m not going to move away from the place I grew up in just because of my gender identity. I’ll fight to make it more of the norm.”
Second in a four-part series on gender issues.