About three years ago, a tall and handsome gentleman moved from Boston to a home in the South Park area of Charlotte. After a lifetime spent traveling the world and living in many places (from New York to Thailand), Dimitri Triantafillakis (Tree-on-da-fi-la-kis) has lived a full life with many rich experiences. He looks forward to what is yet to come.

So, who is Dimitri?

I think Dimitri is passionate and opinionated and very direct. When I worked as a supervisor, the thing I heard most from my staff is that I was very direct and very good at communicating exactly what’s needed. I’m not good at playing my cards close to the vest.

What brought you here to Charlotte?

I visited several times over the last few years. The Boston winters were starting to get to me, so I found a friend of 20 or 30 years in Charlotte to move in with for a couple of months while I found my own place to live.

Are you enjoying living in the Carolinas?

I like being here, it’s been a good experience. It sometimes feels like another country. Culturally, it’s very different than the northeast. Politically, the climate is different than living in Boston and New York. It requires a more open mind to be able to talk to people who have different politics, a different world view than I do. Personally, I feel when I can have conversations with someone who supports a different political party, it helps us to be less polarized and not see “the other” as an enemy. We otherize people a lot. It’s part of the problem of our culture right now.

Are you here as an eligible bachelor or with a partner?

No [partner], not now. I was married to a Canadian man; we were together nine years. We lived mostly in America but also in Canada. We separated and divorced seven years ago and he’s since passed away.

Interesting thing related to being gay. I couldn’t bring him to America because at that time, the laws [in the United States] prevented an LGBT American from marrying an LGBT Canadian. But Canada accepted our marriage as a gay couple – and would allow me as an American to live there and apply for citizenship, whereas the reverse was not true. The irony is, after we divorced the laws [in the U.S.] actually changed federally.

Speaking of gayness, how are you spending Pride season?

In June I got a notice about a board meeting about the Charlotte LGBTQ Elders Group. [That same month] I went to a meeting and have joined the Board of Directors. They [the Charlotte LGBTQ Elders] were in existence for a few years and then the COVID epidemic came about, and things were stagnant for a bit. But now, we’re back, with approximately eight board members and we’re having events. At the Charlotte Pride Parade next month, we’ll have a booth.

We’ve done some stuff historically with nursing homes and retirement communities. During the pandemic, that work didn’t get carried on. We need to reactivate – so we’re exploring all those things, recharging as needed, making sure we’re serving the elder gay community properly. It’s interesting to me that we don’t have an LGBT center in Charlotte, and I want to know why and the history of what happened. How do we come together, all the different LGBT groups of Charlotte – supporting each other.

What do you do for a living?

I am now retired and doing volunteer work. Though I’ve always volunteered – even while I was working.

What did you do for work?

I worked for not-for-profits that primarily helped folks struggling with different issues. I worked in Boston, New York and New Haven, Connecticut.

Early in the AIDS epidemic, I had done some volunteer work in Boston and then decided to move to New York and make my volunteer work my full-time job. I ultimately worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in Manhattan. I was in New York for nine years and worked for GMHC for seven of those years. My next job took me to Boston for three years and then to Connecticut working on behalf of folks with disabilities and challenges like that. Circling back to New York, I served as an Executive Director of an agency that assisted people who were on welfare. We were trying to get people who hadn’t been participating in the work culture jobs. Those that weren’t able, we got help with SSI (Social Security Insurance) and other programs.

Seems like you’ve spent and continue to spend time addressing troublesome issues. What bugs you about the world?

Ummm, I can’t stand the lack of social justice. And then there’s the fact that five percent of the people in America own eighty plus percent of the wealth. I just feel like there’s something amiss in society and democracy, people cannot survive with that type of disparity. You see it in other countries too, but it’s a problem.

Capitalism needs to be contained in a way that it takes into account the structure. [Not] just making money and the more I have, the more I want – which is all tied to consumerism. That makes me crazy. That we’re not thinking about each other or our civic responsibility to each other – but what we can get out of society [how we can profit].

When you’re not thinking about or working towards righting social justice wrongs, what makes you smile?

The human connection. When I connect with someone through conversation – in a very pedestrian way. The people in everyday life, the baker, the people at the supermarket, having good conversations. I love having conversations with those who are thinking about and talking about their connections to the world. It’s kind of a Buddhist thing.

A Buddhist thing?

When I served in the Peace Corps in Thailand, after I finished my first degree, I took a year and studied with an abbot in a monastery. The Peace Corps gave me permission and allowed me to leave my teaching duties [during that time].

It had such an effect on me, living in Thailand and studying Buddhism. I lived in a village where I was the only Caucasian. Not that there was any prejudice but being of a different race among people [of color] also made me know what it feels like to be othered. It’s moments of connection with [those who are] “othered” – that’s what makes me smile. That’s why I’m on the planet, really.

This was 50 years ago and some things have changed, but living there as a 22 year-old on his way to grad school, impacted me in a wonderful way. It’s very wonderful and a struggle to resist the urge to rely on the way we do things in America being the right way. Living in Thailand was the first time I was in a place where white wasn’t the majority and it was very, very good for me to be a racial minority. Connecting with people and making changes within myself, when it happens, that kind of connectivity makes me smile. So, the Buddhist thing in terms of my world view is that we need to develop our consciousness and keep on learning about how we are and behave in the universe.

Looking back on your life, and having learned so many valuable lessons, what advice would you offer to 15-year-old Dimitri?

If you feel that you don’t fit in, and you’re different than many of those around you, don’t give up. You have strength that will get you through those moments of “what am I doing and where do I belong.” To the LGBT youth of today I’d add, don’t take for granted what you have, the rights that you have as a younger gay person. Be conscious, there are people that would like to take those rights away from you, but just keep on keeping on.

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