Ever since he came out on national television on his family’s reality show Mathis Family Matters, Greg Mathis Jr. has been riding high and living a life that is rooted in truth and love. Overcoming years of negative, religion-based influences and the fear of disappointing those closest to him, Mathis is leaning into the joy of queer Blackness and inviting others to celebrate with him.
Later this spring, the breakout reality star is headed to Houston to appear at the Black Queer AF Music Festival, presented by The Normal Anomaly Initiative in early May.
Mathis, whose father is Judge Greg Mathis from the syndicated courtroom TV show, admits that his coming out was a very vulnerable experience. “When I was in the process of doing it, it wasn’t necessarily [my] idea to come out on national TV, because it was like a real-life thing for me. [I experienced all of] the real-world feelings that I think a lot of gay and queer people go through. I was really coming out to the entire world. On the show it shows that we released a public coming-out video, and that was about four months before the show aired. So that part of coming out was very personal and real, because it was a real thing.”
The public response to his coming-out episode indicated to Mathis and his partner, Elliot, that his public coming out would have ripple effects far beyond their inner circle. “Once the show aired, we were blown away by the impact it had on people—[especially the show’s] focus on my relationship with my father and how positively he responded. That was the part that I knew would have an impact, but I had no idea that it would touch so many people.”
Mathis was encouraged by the twofold nature of the fan feedback he was receiving. “We got such an outpouring of support, with people telling us that we had helped them in their own lives. Parents were saying how it helped them interact with their children in a better way. There were also people who were on that journey of coming out themselves. They said we gave them the confidence to really be themselves.”
To fully appreciate where Mathis is today, one must acknowledge the emotional hurdles he had to overcome to get to this point. “I grew up in the Church of God in Christ, which is not necessarily an affirming church, particularly when it comes to queer folks,” he explains. “Depending on which church you go to within that denomination, you could hear sermons like I did when I was growing up. The pastor stood in the pulpit and taught the entire congregation some pretty graphic things. I was 5 years old, and the pastor told us that it is wrong for men to have sex with men. I don’t think any kid should have to hear that when they’re going to church. Sermons should be about love, community support, and all the things that Jesus talked about. When I was younger, I would go home after church and pray to not be gay anymore. I would pray to God regularly. Aside from the trauma that that created in me as a child, I had a fear of being rejected by my own community. I don’t think I ever feared my family rejecting me, because I had an uncle who was gay and I’m really close with my father. It was more the community’s perception, and the shame that would bring on my family, that really made me hide my sexual orientation for such a long time.”
Mathis is determined to use his notoriety to create positive change in the LGBTQ+ community. When he was invited to participate in Houston’s Black Queer AF Festival as a keynote speaker and forum host, he saw it as an excellent opportunity to do just that.
“One thing that’s really important to me is celebrating the positive aspects of our community. I think a lot of times we get caught up in our trauma. What I really appreciate about this weekend festival is that it will be a time to celebrate, have fun, and let loose, which I think we deserve.”
The event, which takes place at the Stampede Houston nightclub, will be a celebration of Black queerness, and Mathis is eager to get the party started. “I’m really big on Black-boy joy. As much as we’ve been through, and as much trauma that society places on us, we deserve to celebrate with each other,” he says. “I think what I look forward to most is bringing positive energy to the weekend and really celebrating our community, our culture, and everything else that we have to offer.”
His passion for creating safe spaces for all who identify as queer is a cornerstone of his community advocacy work. “A lot of the work I do revolves around HIV—not only because my uncle passed away from HIV, but also because it’s ravaging our community,” he explains. “I used to work in healthcare policy in the US Senate, and when you look at the numbers, almost half of new HIV cases are Black men. We have a lot of work to do when it comes to that particular issue. The medicine is there, the science is there to really eradicate HIV transmissions, but the awareness is not. That’s something I’m really passionate about and have been doing a lot of work on. It was really nice to see The Normal Anomaly incorporate that issue into this festival.”
Reflecting on the support he wishes he’d had at a young age, Mathis says, “Growing up, I didn’t know anybody who was gay, except for my uncle. I didn’t really see a lot of stuff on TV that reflected my community. Times have changed a lot, which is such a blessing.”
Mathis’ ultimate message to Black youth, as well as to anyone going through the coming-out process, is one of hope and affirmation. “The first thing I always say is, ‘You are loved.’ I know that’s cliché, but I think that’s important because those are the words that I would have wanted to hear. You are loved, and there’s a huge community that is waiting for you, and that loves you.”
What: Black Queer AF Music Festival
When: May 3–7
Where: Stampede Houston, 11925 Eastex Fwy.