FORT PIERCE FOLKS
ANTHONY INSWASTY PHOTOS
On the job or advocating for the LGBTQ community and their families, Suzi James uses empathy and humor to meet the challenges of life head-on.
BY ELLEN GILLETTE
Suzi James was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a
mother bear and rainbow-colored cub when a woman
stopped her. “Do you have a gay kid?” the woman
When James said she did, the woman nodded. “I do too,
but I don’t know who I can talk to about it.”
Something as simple as a T-shirt can spark conversations
and make connections.
Although she knew her son, Ben, was gay, James waited
for him to bring it up. She never fretted about it, but was
concerned for his safety and happiness.
“He’d moved and didn’t know anyone,” James says. “So
when he said he was going to a friend’s, I was glad. When
he said it was his boyfriend, my first comment was, ‘Is he
nice?’ You love your children however they come to you. Not
everyone has that positive experience.”
James grew up on Signal Mountain outside Chattanooga,
“The man who developed the area was C.E. James,” she
says. “We lived on James Boulevard. Everybody assumed we
were related, but we weren’t.”
Both parents were musical and artistic.
“I thought everyone had folks dropping by each evening
to sit on the front porch swing,” she recalls. “Such interesting
clients of Daddy would visit. One man did handsprings
down the driveway. Another took over mama’s kitchen and
made food no one could eat.”
Her art dealer father, Doug, had an office in one of the cottages
surrounding their 1910 home and for a short time, an
art gallery in Chattanooga. Her mother was a social worker,
then worked for the state.
“Mama got her master’s degree in 1958, which was unheard