Volunteer of the Month: Todd Gordon

If you have been in the LGBTQ Resource Center, you have seen the handiwork of our May Volunteer of the Month, Todd Gordon.

Todd was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma, the joy of his parents and his two older sisters. When just seven months old, his father’s job moved the family to Tioga, North Dakota. “As a kid, I liked the snow,” he recalls, “but I missed my grandma and other family who were all back in Oklahoma.”

Born legally deaf, he worked hard to integrate into his family and life. He taught himself lip reading to augment what he could hear with various amplification devices. When it came time to start school, his mother fought to keep him from being put into the special education class. “At the time, special ed students were isolated in a room by themselves, and there was no integration with other students,” he explained, “and my mother wanted me to learn how to be part of the larger community.”

“I have older Deaf relatives who never really learned to communicate, and at family gatherings they would sit by themselves and no one would be able to talk to them. I’m sure my mom saw that and didn’t want that to happen to me.”

At the age of 19, Todd began to wrestle with questions about his sexual orientation. Hoping to find answers he went to a college library to look up articles on homosexuality. Much to his horror he found articles that referred to homosexual feelings as a psychological disorder. In his heart he knew that his feelings were not wrong, and the books must be. Little did he know that in a few years he would be active in the fight for LGBTQ liberation and marriage equality.

After high school, Todd struggled to find a career where he could use his skills and talents and not let his deafness interfere. “Technology has changed a so much,” he added, “back then there was the TTY for the telephone, and that was about it. Communications were a challenge.”

Because of his proficiency with lip-reading, he decided that he needed to find a profession where he could have one-on-one communication with people. At the time, he had an aunt and a sister who were hairstylists. The creative aspects of the job appealed to his artistic nature and the stereotype of gay men as hairdressers also fueled his decision to enroll in the “Shampoo Academy of Hair.”

Eventually Todd moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota and opened a Hair Salon with a man he was dating. While the Salon was successful, the relationship wasn’t. When he left both behind, he met with a vocational counselor for career assistance. The counselor happened to be a graduate of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and he suggested Todd check out the options the schools offered.

So, he applied to and was accepted at NTID/RIT. As he began making plans to leave Minnesota, through a mutual acquaintance, Todd met and started a relationship with Scott Fearing. Together they decided to move to Rochester.

Enrollment at NTID/RIT began Todd’s second coming out journey. He met other Deaf people and learned more ASL and began to understand Deaf culture and his own identity. RIT’s School of American Arts and Crafts ignited Todd’s passion for woodworking and other crafts. He now shares a workshop with four other graduates and he works as a freelance woodworker, designing custom wood furniture and cabinets. He loves complicated tasks such as reconstructing and matching elements from different time periods in furniture, as well as architectural details. He is a perfectionist, making sure every detail is just right.

Todd has been active in the LGBTQ communities where ever he has lived. His first volunteer job with the Gay Alliance was to haul stuff out of the old building on Elton Avenue. “Seems fitting that I helped to haul stuff into the new building,” he joked.

He has marched in both Roc Pride Parade and the Puerto Rican Parade with the Gay Alliance; he has prepared food for the Ride for Pride fundraiser. (Being a “Smokin’ Okie,” he is known for his smoke house and BBQ skills.)

As the resident handy-person for the Gay Alliance and the LGBTQ Resource Center, Todd has helped to paint walls and hang lights and is responsible for the rainbow-colored doors throughout the Center. The staff and volunteers at the Center all know if something needs fixing, they can call Todd.

Todd says that volunteering has helped him to grow in his own life and by giving back he can begin to repay the kindness that he has received. Todd added that he is “very proud to help the Gay Alliance, and I am thankful that the [LGBTQ Resource] Center is here to provide a safe and inclusive place for others.”

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