If you’re familiar with our Bowling Green stores or our nonprofit organization in general, you may be familiar with Joshua Jones, our regional manager of retail for the west region.
What you don’t know is his story of pride and perseverance that led him where he is today.
Joshua was raised in Cave City by a single mother with a strong religious background. He’s always been attached to her and took after her in that he was kind, openhearted and sweet. As he grew up and continued to blossom into his outgoing self, he noticed those traits were different than some other boys.
“I just didn’t think about it as a small child,” he said, “I just wasn’t into what other typical boys were into. I liked style. I liked fashion. I liked decorating.”
Because of their difference in interests, Joshua had more girlfriends. He said he was bullied but felt like “it was part of life.”
“I really didn’t know how to deal with it as a child but continue to be that happy child,” he said. “I’ve always had that humor. But with that humor, I’ve been able to hide that darkness. That’s what got me through it.”
At age 13, he said he not only continued to have differences in traits, but he started to develop feelings for other boys. Coming from a religious background, he felt those feelings were wrong at the time. He said he tucked them away and continued to try to be himself.
“I never really knew what being gay was,” he said, “except I had heard what it was, and it was bad. I come from a strong religious family, so I knew where that lifestyle was going to lead me.”
He met and dated a girl for a year and a half in his mid-teens. When they broke up, he said he had to do some soul searching, which led him to reach out to some openly gay friends. Their biggest piece of advice was to spend time “with others like him.”
When he was 17, they took him to Bowling Green to hang out with their friends. As it turns out, he was going home.
“I didn’t really know what he meant by ‘other people like me,’” he said. “That one night, I know I met over 100 people. And come to find out, those 100 people that I met that night were like me. I finally felt where I fit. … Everybody was everybody’s cheerleader and everybody’s support system. There was no judgment. It was a safe space. I felt at home.”
While Joshua finally found a place where he fit in, he was never interested in a relationship. But someone who was interested in him felt rejected by him and outed him to his mother, even though Joshua had a time and plan in place to tell her himself.
“I was prepared, and he took that away from me,” he said. “I had an hour to get home. It was just a really rough few days for (us). Coming from a religious background, I was doing everything she was against. We really struggled at first.”
He said there were a lot of quiet times between the two after that. But after a few weeks, he said, she began to come around. He decided he wanted to move to Bowling Green, and three months later, his mom followed. She’s been supportive ever since and has even been a safe place for Joshua’s friends.
“My mother has been exactly what a mother should be,” he said, “and that is protective, strong, understanding, willing to learn, accepting her child for who he is and continuing to be a woman of strength. My mom, she’s definitely been my rock.”
He said he was “set free” after that, even though he knew some family and friends wouldn’t agree with his lifestyle. But he didn’t care. Because his mother always told him he could be and do anything he wanted to do and, “You can’t let the noise distract you,” he said.
Those words of encouragement have shown in his professional career. He landed good opportunities at a young age. He was a comanager at 19, a manager at 20. But he was still searching for his professional “home.”
Then came his rock bottom.
He spent time in Nashville for entertainment and as a result became involved with recreational drug use. He lost his job and soon after was arrested on a misdemeanor.
It was around the new year, so judges were away, and his name, “Josh Jones,” was also the name of a familiar criminal in the area at the time, so judges refused to see him for 12 days.
While he stayed 12 nights behind bars, he said he again had to do some soul searching.
“I realized at that point I had hit rock bottom,” Joshua said. “I had no job. I was in legal trouble. I lost everything I had. Not only was I broke, but I was broken. I not only let myself down, but I let my mom down and the ones who cared about me down. I had to figure out how to make a second chance of life.”
That’s when he changed his name to Joshua, officially, and started fresh. He addressed his problems head-on, which included a 2003 diagnosis of depression and high-functioning anxiety. He also regained his spirituality.
He still needed a second chance at employment, which led his mother, who worked at Goodwill for 11 years, to recommend a job as a store manager.
“Everything I’ve been through ties back to Goodwill and that second chance,” he said, “the opportunity to prove that where you went doesn’t mean you’re going to stay there. It’s your journey. You have control to do what you want to with it.”
He was hired two months before he was 25 and spent more than 10 years as a store manager. He was promoted to regional manager six years ago.
During his time as a store manager, he met a man who changed his life. They were married this past March. And in addition to being a husband, he gets to be a father, something he said he never thought he’d be.
Joshua is celebrating 25 years of coming out this year, and his story has truly come full circle, as he’s continued to give back to the community by serving as a mentor and a safe space during his time producing and doing business for shows in the area.
“I consider that a blessing,” he said. “I’m blessed that people trust me enough to be able to come out to me and help me talk through situations they may have. I’ve always wanted a safe person to be a safe place. And I still provide that. I know things they would never share with anyone else, and that’s OK.”
He was once searching for his home and now, he provides that and more for others, including some Goodwill employees.
“I’m very grateful Goodwill is an equal opportunity,” he said. “That is amazing, the love and support we have in the company.”
Once a child who kept his emotions tucked away, Joshua said he never thought he’d see the day where so many allies come together in support, not judgment, during Pride Month. He said he was always confident he would find his spot, and after all this time, he’s still himself.
“What defines me is being the person I am, personally and professionally,” he said. “I’m still human, I just live a little bit differently than other people. And that’s OK. Fourteen years later, I live in a home with my husband, our son. We have three dogs. We work. We have a normal life like everyone else does.”