By Laura Feiereisen ´20 and Ava Patterson ´20
Mr. Gay Rhode Island 2016 Joe DiMauro talked about LGBTQ rights and mental health with an audience of Bryant students in the Fisher Student Center late Sunday, March 5th. Not one to let a title go to his head, the 22-year-old DiMauro prefaced his discussion by assuring the audience that his victory was not a fancy one, but just an excuse to “wear a crown and sash out in public without getting ridiculed…too much.”
DiMauro’s self-deprecating humor was accompanied by his striking candor when it came to his own past struggles with mental health issues. At one point, DiMauro weighed only 113 pounds. Instead of his friends and peers being alarmed at his clear malnourishment, they frequently told him, “Hey, you look great. What have you been doing?”
He answered: “Not eating. Literally. Anything.”
His response drew laughs from people in the audience, but the stark reality of his interactions reminded everyone of dangerous standards of society, including the LGBTQ community. People go to such great lengths to look thin or stylish, often to the point of self-harm. DiMauro aims to bring light to these issues and provide support for those who need it.
In addition to developing an eating disorder at 18, DiMauro was diagnosed with depression at 16. He also suffered from anxiety attacks and struggled with coming out as a gay man after growing up in a Catholic home. With the help of family, DiMauro benefitted from therapy and has developed a strong support system.
DiMauro noted that studies have found that 42 percent of men with an eating disorder are gay, a very high percentage in light of only 1.8 percent of men in the United States identify as gay. One in 12 transgender people will be a victim of reported hate crimes, and 20 percent of transgender people report that they have attempted suicide.
To get through his struggles with mental health issues, DiMauro said, “what helped me was finding light… Finding light in very dark corners.” He now leads a project called Project Fearless in which he travels to schools to discuss mental health issues with students and talks about how you can use the world around you to take care of the struggles within.
“Find a safe place. If you cannot find a safe place, you should create one… You can create one in your friends.”
DiMauro also told the audience about some of the people who have been influential in his life, particularly LGBTQ community leaders in history. He mentioned Laverne Cox, a famous transgender actress, and Marsha P. Johnson, an American drag queen associated with many historical movements in the LGBTQ community, notably the Stonewall riots.
The Stonewall riots were a series of violent altercations between members of the LGBTQ community and police at a raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. It is considered by many to be the most important event leading to the fight for LGBTQ civil rights in the United States.
A personal hero of DiMauro’s is Willem Arondeus, an openly gay Dutch artist and author who joined an anti-Nazi resistance movement in World War II. He assisted in bombing public records to protect the identities of Jewish civilians. Arondeus was caught, calling out before his execution: “Let it be known that homosexuals are not cowards!”
Despite the immense progress overcoming intolerance and antigay discrimination, Di Mauro noted that there are still laws adversely impact the LGBTQ community. Job discrimination is still a large problem, he said. And, he noted, gay or bisexual men who have had sex with another man within 12 months cannot legally donate blood or organs.
To help attain his goal of improving mental health in the LGBTQ community, Mr. Gay Rhode Island has founded a couple of organizations. ProjectFearlessRI is his social media campaign addressing mental health issues in the LGBTQ community. He has also started a clothing line, Para Dylan, to honor his cousin Dylan, who was tragically killed. The first several months the store was open all profits were donated to the family of the deceased. Para Dylan also allowed him to express his style. Both ventures were made possible by his title and he is grateful for the opportunity to use his time as Mr. Gay Rhode Island to make a difference.
DiMauro’s plans for the future include relaunching his clothing line and he intends to take care of himself, with a well-deserved break!