Riley Murray is a self-identified butch lesbian Gen Xer who has been living in the Charlotte area since 2005. Originally from Santa Barbara, California, she ended up in Charlotte as a result of a mixture of things, she offers. “But the biggest thing was [when] I came out here for work. Flying in during the fall, it was so beautiful. Plus, I’ve always been a bit of a nomad and this felt like home.”
With that, the Charlotte area (living in Kannapolis for two years and later moving to Charlotte) became home for her and her children. “I have two daughters,” she beamed. “They were teenagers at the time. They’re grown now 30 and 33 years old. They both have four children [ranging in age from two to 13 years old].” These days, Murray is a grandparent, raising one grandchild who lives with her, while continuing to be a vital member of our community.
In 2007 Murray married her wife Dee for the first time. “And then we did it [again] legally in 2015, the year it became legal in all states. We were married that very week,” she recalls happily.
“I met her at church. I joined the church choir to meet girls. I figured if I sat in the choir, I’d get to see everyone walking in. The funny thing is, another girl took me there.” Murray paused for a moment before bursting into laughter “Actually, all I know was that God led me to that church to meet my wife. When we finally got together, we dated for three months before I got the nerve to kiss her. She was fragile [having recently lost her partner] and special. I knew she was special and I knew I wanted more out of this relationship then just a roll in the hay – so I gave her time to heal, time for us to get to know each other better.”
Easygoing, charming and devoted to her wife, Murray is at ease talking about love, her involvement with Charlotte Pride and her quest to find comfort and acceptance with her ethnic identity.
Early on during our interview, however, Murray made it clear she wasn’t in the mood to talk about infectious plagues or politics. “Ask me anything, ask away, but I don’t wanna’ talk about COVID, Monkey Pox or Politics, that’s not me. I know a lot about it – I just don’t want to talk about. Doesn’t mean I’m an asshole, just means I don’t wanna talk about it.” So, we didn’t. Instead, we continued to delve into some very interesting aspects of Murray’s life we couldn’t help but share with you.
Murray is currently Vice President of Charlotte Pride, but she wasn’t always. “I’ve been with Charlotte Pride since 2005 (when the organization’s name was Pride Charlotte) doing logistics. So, in other words, I ordered stages, tables and chairs, assisted with the layout and made sure that the food vendor (we only had one back then) was placed appropriately. Everything you see at the festival; I do all that. For a long time, it was just me, we didn’t have staff back then. Now we have staff, so now I have help and I do more of signing off on invoices and providing oversight. Today, I’m the VP of Charlotte Pride. I’m in charge of the parade but I’m behind the scenes.”
In two years, it will be two decades that Murray has worked with Charlotte Pride – as the organization’s mission statement says – assisting in the mission of “creating programs and activities to enrich, empower, strengthen and make visible the unique lives and experiences of LGBTQ people in Charlotte and the Carolinas.”
In the meantime, Murray is actively preparing to pass the torch by training people to take her place. “Hopefully they do it bigger and better than I did.” When Murray isn’t working on a Pride event, she makes here livelihood as a supply chain supervisor. “I’m in logistics,” she said with glee. “It’s my happy place.”
But what about those buzz words [acceptance with her ethnic identity] you’re probably still waiting to learn more about? No worries, we didn’t forget. For anyone with a staunch need to categorize or identify individuals by race or ethnicity, Murray’s visual appearance may present a challenge. Even she acknowledges she felt the need to embark on her own personal journey of self-discovery.
“I was adopted, my parents are white – so for most of my life I identified as white though I was always told I was Black. My dad was superintendent of schools and I was in a program called Upward Bound.
During the summers, I lived with Black teachers and counselors because my parents wanted me to know my culture – things they couldn’t teach or just didn’t know. It wasn’t until I moved to the south that I was “told” by Black people that I was Black.
At that time, I wasn’t ready for that chapter, the next step in my life [was] finding out who I am…ethnically. [I’ve since learned that] technically, I am bi-racial. Fifty percent Black, and fifty percent white. So now I embrace who I am. Do I still struggle? Yes, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, I’m human and we all bleed the same way.”
So, what does matter to Murray? Her wife. If you ask Murray what makes her smile, she points to her wife without skipping a beat. She also shared her experience with another journey – the road to finding sobriety.
“I’m five years sober this year,” she says. “I started on that road August 17, five years ago, when I went to Vegas to get sober. I was probably an active alcoholic for two years – but drank for five years.”
Wait, Vegas to dry out?!
“Yes. Vegas has the biggest sobriety block, as large as a New York City square block of NA, Tweekers Anonymous, AA, just about everything,” she explains.
Murray continues with a message she hopes will resonate with the many who are struggling to find their way back from substance abuse issues.
“Everybody hits a bump. It is okay to hit bumps, and you can still be successful after – there is light at the end of the tunnel. When you’re in that tunnel, you can’t see it, but I’m proof, I’m now on the other side of it. There are a lot of people who drink alcoholically in our community and I want them to know, it’s okay to reach out for help.”
When wrapping up our latest installment of Our People, if we’re talking to a senior member of the community it’s not uncommon that we ask our interviewee to share a few words of wisdom for the younger set.
Murray decided to touch on a topic many older LGBT community members carefully avoid and others just don’t want to argue about. “Stop using the Queer word,” Murray says. “Generations [before you] have fought hard for the word not to be used. When I look at my generation and generations before me, I can’t forget – that’s what was said, screamed, as they were getting the shit kicked out of them. There’s been too much hate, too much hurt connected to the word Queer and you can’t erase it. [For me] there’s just no way you can take that back.”