Jacksonville Opens Its Doors To The LGBT Community

By Taylor Smiley and Doriel Gale-Corley

The month of October is nationally recognized as LGBT History Month, an annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history in relation with the history of various civil rights movements and gay and human rights.

While LGBT Pride Month takes place in June to commemorate the Stonewall riots. The month of October recognizes the impact that LGBT individuals have had on history locally, nationally and internationally.  

In 1994, October became known as LGBT History Month and cities all over have held events and parades celebrating this history. The first week of October showcased the annual pride parade in Jacksonville. Many people and businesses came out to support the LGBT community.

There are a few places in town that are safe spaces for the LGBT community to go to. A safe space is a supportive, welcoming and safe environment for members of the LGBT community intended to be free of bias and criticism. 

Taryn Reigns is the founder of the Closet Jax SpeakEasy, which is a non-profit organization here in Jacksonville that is designated as a safe space to enjoy and create live entertainment. 

Taryn “Love Reigns” Wharwood is also a poet, advocate and speaker. Wharwood recognized that while Jacksonville has one of the largest LGBT populations in the state, she and a friend had a hard time finding a place to go out on the weekends where they felt comfortable in expressing themselves while simultaneously being immersed in the art and creation of others that supported their views as well. A year later, The Closet Jax Speakeasy was born.

Their mission is simple, it states, “The Closet is meant to be a place that LGBT and their allies can come to hang out, enjoy good music, good food and good vibes with a great experience.”

“My name is Taryn C. Wharwood or Love Reigns, and I’m the founder of the Closet Jax. [At The Closet] there’s poetry, there’s music, there’s live bands. We actually have a closet house band called Transpire,” she said.

The Closet Jax Speakeasy continues to host fundraisers and events for the community and their organization, and they are working to expand their relationships with other safe spaces in Jacksonville. They hope to connect with Jasmyn, another local non-profit, for events in the future.

Jasmyn is an organization that has been and continues to serve and support the LGBTQ community for 25 years. In the early 90’s, Ernie Selorio Jr. began Jasmyn at the age of 19-years-old. 

Jasmyn stands for Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network. Cindy Watson is the CEO of Jasmyn, and she helps create a better world for their youth.

“We opened in 1994 as a youth organization and we offered support groups for LGBTQ youth in the public libraries,” said Watson.

“Because we take the HIV epidemic in Jacksonville very seriously, you know Jacksonville has a serious epidemic. In young people, particularly in young gay, bisexual men of color, particularly have been affected by HIV. So we spend a lot of time in the community and on our campus,” she said. 

“Jasmyn supports and empowers LGBTQ young people by creating a safe space, providing health and wholeness services and offering youth development opportunities, while bringing people and resources together to promote equality and human rights, according to their website,” this can be found on the Jaymyn website.

“I have been with Jasmyn for 10 years consecutively. Jasmyn has helped me a lot with housing. Jasmyn is the first place where I encountered other people walking the same lifestyle as myself, and was comfortable to know that I was okay to be who I wanted to be. I actually thank Jasmyn for having the platform that I have this far in life,” said Jonathan Wilcox, a member of Jasmyn.

Lenny Thomas, now a part-time outreach coordinator with Jasmyn, has been a member for 6 years. “Jasmyn has definitely given me that push to be who I am. Jasmyn has definitely been like a second home to me, and it’s definitely helped me to be a better person,” Thomas said.

Jasmyn has positively impacted many people, especially young adults and teens. The organization also helps bring together local businesses and individuals to support equality and human rights through different endeavors.

Both organizations provide more than a safe, unbiased and welcoming environment for young people and adults part of the LGBT community. 

They are given access to services like clinics, development opportunities, a platform to express themselves through various creative outlets and the ability to find housing and employment, as well. 

These non-profits throw parties on holidays that are less lively for some, as well as host events to encourage people to become involved and be a part of the community. When members of this community have no place to go and no one to turn to, they will always have a home with both Jasmyn and their staff, and Taryn’s staff at The Closet Jax Speakeasy.