At a tender age, she became convinced boys only wanted one thing – sex. After she lost her innocence and got turned off by boys’ aggressiveness, she gradually moved toward the gay lifestyle. Despite a church upbringing, she turned her back on God and eventually became a prominent gay activist and the publisher of Venus magazine. “I didn’t know how to handle attention from men and boys,” recalls Charlene Cothran. “I was tall for my age and fully developed at nine-years-old.” Her parents divorced when she was three and the absence of a father left her hungry for affirmation from the opposite sex. “I wanted a guy to really like me.” But when she discovered that most of the boys she met wanted one thing, it turned her off.
“I decided no more of this,” Charlene recounts. She says she closed her heart to boys at 14 and fell into a trap in which lesbianism felt like a “safe alternative.” In doing so, she drifted from her upbringing in a traditional Baptist church. “I learned the Scripture; I learned about Christ and the cross and His redemptive power. I believed it.” She had once been a youth leader in her church. When Charlene went off to college in the ‘70s she felt like she was “outside the covering” of the church and she began to explore gay clubs and gay culture in the Atlanta area. “Little by little I gave more and more of myself, my thought processes, and my belief system to the gay lifestyle.”
At the same time she embraced lesbianism, she wanted nothing to do with the straight world. “My mother couldn’t tell me any different. My friends praying for me couldn’t tell me any different. If you weren’t gay or bisexual I didn’t want to fool with you at all.” After college, Charlene began to produce private social events for black lesbians in Atlanta, which were very successful and drew a large following – including many pillars of the community. Ten years later, she launched Venus magazine. Aimed at African American gays and lesbians, it gained a multitude of subscribers throughout the world. More