Ronald Molina-Brantley, Berkshire Bank

Pride Month is not over just yet; it’s just getting going. So we are pleased to be back with you. As you all may know, this week, we raised our PRIDE Banner in Pittsfield, and we also opened our new REevx LAb in Springfield, MA. We are delighted to join the VP and Reevx Relationship Manager and Team Leader, Ron Molina-Brantley.

Ronald (corner right) and his family.

Good afternoon Ron, it is a pleasure.

Good Afternoon!

Ron, could you take a minute to explain what exactly Reevx Labs is?

Sure! Reevx Labs’ mission is to bank the underbanked with dignity and close the wealth gap. We do this by targeting communication of Reevx’s mission to underserved communities and hiring staff from and familiar with underserved communities. Then we can provide products and services to markets that have traditionally lacked access to capital and banking services.

Thanks that is an incredible endeavor. So, I will now kick off our interview for the PRIDE Profile series. Ron, here is the first question; mind you, it is a big lead in question. When did you first realize you were LGBT, and when did you begin telling others?

Well, I’ve known I was a part of the LGBTQ+ community for almost as long I can remember. I remember first coming out to one of my friends in 6th grade. I remember this story like it was yesterday; I was nervous and extremely excited. I called on the phone and told him, “I think I’m gay,” it was silent for a few seconds, which felt like an eternity. I suspected he was gay, which was one reason I came out to him first. Once the silence ended, he told me he was happy for me. Although I was secretly hoping he would confide in me as well, that didn’t happen. Fast forward 10–15 years, he ended up coming out to me. I realized that everyone’s coming-out timeline was different from mine, and I needed to respect that.

That must have been a very anxious moment for you. Along that line, what were early coming out experiences like for you?

My early experiences were a little lonely. I was the only openly gay kid through middle school, so I never really looked inward for support. I wouldn’t have known where to go for support, at least not until high school. As I looked back, I lived two different lives, one full of openness of who I am and the other a little closeted. I didn’t officially come out to my parents until High School, around 16, and it wasn’t intentional. My parents found a paper I was writing for AP English, something to Research on Adolescent Homosexuality. My stepfather later confronted me. He mentioned that I made my mother cry, and that’s not fair to her, and they would not accept my lifestyle in his home. So, I took that to heart and moved out the day after I turned 18. Unfortunately, after my older brother passed unexpectedly, my father looked inward and changed his view almost overnight. Since then, He has come a long way toward accepting me.

Ron, are you out in the community? At work? With your family? With friends and neighbors?

Yes, I am out within all of my circles, family, friends, work, and community. Currently, I am also looking to be more involved within the LGBTQ+ community. I think it’s important for young African American boys who may have a similar story to mine to understand that it’s possible. Love is Love!

How important is it to you to be out with these different people/in these different environments?

Being visible in my community, work, and social circles as an openly gay male is extremely important to me. My husband and I have two Boys, a Six and a Four-year-old. It’s important that I show my boys that being gay, having two dads is ok, and families come in different shapes and styles. I must be proud of who I am, and if I am not, my kids will not be, and I will not allow that to happen. As a military spouse, my right to marriage began with the repeal of Don’t ask Don’t Tell. So being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community is who I am and who I’ve always been. It’s pretty unfortunate that the government still does recognize us as equal. As a gay black man, I face systemic racism, homophobia, bigotry, and as a community, this type of hate must end. We are all equal; we are all free to love whomever we love! So, if being out and proud as a gay black man within my community helps one kid through their identity struggles, it’s all worth it.

How have homo/bi/transphobia and/or heterosexism or cissexism affected your life, and your family and how have you dealt with this?

I am an out, gay black man! If I allowed all the racism, bigotry, ignorance, just to say the least affected me as it did when I was younger, it would be challenging to have a favorable view of this country. I am incredibly fortunate to live in Massachusetts; albeit it’s not perfect, it’s a lot more inclusive than other states in the US.

Willful ignorance, sports, and some narcissistic tendencies helped me navigate the world. But, as I’ve gotten older, I need to be proud of who I am. I have two boys that watch everything I say and do, and I have a group of friends and family that I love dearly to keep me balanced.

So you have said you have a great support group of friends and family. What are some other coping mechanisms you have used to face discrimination/rejection? Which ones have proven to be most beneficial for you, and have you personally been discriminated against for your sexual orientation or gender identity?

I have my husband, who always seems to find the right words to say. I am fortunate to have not faced blatant homophobia, at least not from a social standpoint; legally, it has been difficult to navigate the gestational carrier process. You hear stories all the time about discrimination. As of 2021, 13 states still ban gay marriage. We must do more; I must do more for my LGBTQIA+ family. To this day, Black Trans women are killed* at such a high rate, and we rarely hear anything about it in the mainstream media.

*(Globally, 350 Trans Individuals were killed in 2020, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring report. According to Human Rights Campaign, forty-four were killed in the US; a majority of them were black trans women. Additionally, trans women of color make up four out of five anti-trans homicides, the HRC said.)

Can you briefly describe some of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people who are important to you in your life?

My husband and partner of 16 years is my rock and my most fervent supporter. I have a circle of LGBTQIA+ friends, most of whom have kids, and we all look forward to adult conversations while the kids play. And finally, our family includes my parents, who have come a long way and continue to learn and be supportive.

Ron, it has been a delight talking with you and finding out so much about who you are. Again, we thank you for your candid conversation.

It was my pleasure.