Brittany Williams grew up in Stephenville thinking she was the only person like herself.
The daughter of a preacher, Williams, a lesbian, said she grew up in the “very conservative, traditional town” never talking about homosexuality.
While her brother came out to her parents when he was 15, Williams said it took her until she was 21 to tell her parents the truth after they found out about her relationship.
Now 25, Williams decided to unite the Stephenville LGBT community. She started a private Facebook group in February, inviting a few friends that she knew were gay and encouraging them to invite others.
Over time, the group grew in size and attendance at socials and dinners thrived. The group now has 100 members as of Monday.
“We became family overnight,” she said.
The group was initially intended as a social group because the small town about 100 miles southwest of Dallas has so few options for the LGBT community, she said. But after a group of students from Tarleton State University asked for the group’s help with reorganizing the college’s Gay Straight Alliance, Williams said the group grew and adopted the name STRIDE – Stephenville Tarleton Recognizing Individuals in Diversity and Equality.
About a month ago, some members went to Williams to ask for help with changing the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, formally called TPT or Texans Promoting Tolerance. She said about 60 percent of STRIDE’s members attend Tarleton.
Aside from having poor attendance and few events, Williams said the GSA’s name was not welcoming enough of the LGBT students who seek refuge and acceptance by attending.
“We didn’t like the word ‘tolerance’ because we’re already tolerated,” she said. “We want to be accepted, so we’re working on a new name.”
One of the members also wants to start an LGBT fraternity at Tarleton as well, but Williams said that may take about a year to start.
Despite the history of the Tarleton administration canceling a production of Terrance McNally’s gay-themed play “Corpus Christi” two years ago, Williams said the group wants to help the college come back from that and create better relations with the LGBT community.
“We’re trying to come up back underneath all of that and to make our voices heard that we’re here,” she said. “We know there are going to be some disagreement from the community. So, we’re just preparing ourselves for whatever comes our way we’re going to stick together as one big group.”
Williams said that while her family now accepts her being gay and has embraced her efforts to bring the Stephenville LGBT community together, she is thrilled with the fast success of the group and the barriers it has already begun to break.
“It’s just awesome that there are people here that are like us. We’re all one big group and we’re here to support each other,” she said. “We all have the same kind of story. We come form a small town. We don’t feel really accepted in this town, but now that this STRIDE group has started, it’s like a comfort zone.”
One things the group has made Williams realize is that her success can be anyone’s success in a small town.
“You’d be surprised where there are LGBT individuals,” she said. “If we can do it, any small town can get any kind of group started.”
Anyone interested in joining the private Facebook group can email group organizers at LGBTStephenville@gmail.com.