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Abused, homeless and gay: Hurdles don't stop him from achieving success

SAN DIEGO, California -- Gabriel Bristol was born into a poor family, filled with neglect and abuse. Oftentimes his injuries were so bad that he was kept home from school. His life seemed destined to become tragic and misguided, and for a time it was. But Bristol is now the CEO and president of a company in San Diego that is changing the way employees are treated, and it is all because of the misfortunes that plagued him in his youth.

Bristol’s story begins in Fort Stockton, Texas. His mother worked as a prostitute to feed her heroin addiction, he says. Her vices would eventually catch up with her and social services agencies would intervene, removing him and his sister from their home and placing them in foster care.

Eventually Bristol and his sister were adopted by a family living in the village of Spring Lake, Michigan. But what should have been the beginning of a joyous and heartwarming story became a nightmare instead.

In Spring Lake, Bristol’s adoptive parents were abusive emotionally and physically. Subjected to daily physical assaults, Bristol says that often he would be made to stay home from school because his adoptive mother was afraid the authorities would be called if the school staff noticed the large bruises, scratches and welts on his body.

High school was also a place of pain, he said. Bullied and tormented, Bristol was a young gay man living in a place that had no sympathy. Fed up and angry, he dropped out of school in his junior year, boarded a Greyhound bus to get out of Spring, and ended up in East Lansing, Michigan nearly 100 miles east.

There, Bristol said he slept on the streets for several months before meeting his first boyfriend and getting an apartment. This situation was short-lived, though, and Bristol once again boarded a bus to get out of town. But this time his journey would take him much further, and in the opposite direction.

“About one year later,” Bristol said, “I once again put my belongings in a garbage bag and hopped a bus to Hollywood. Again, I knew no one and had no money. In order to be safe I would sleep in parks during the day and stay up all night. I eventually got in to transitional housing for gay and lesbian young adults called Citrus House, which was provided by what was then known as the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center.”

Driven to succeed

Giving up was never an option, he said. The strength and determination to make something of his life became like a friend. Bristol said the abuse and neglect that was so prominent in his past became the catalyst driving him to succeed, and eventually that fortitude would change his life for the better.

“I made a decision that even though I was born to a drug-addicted prostitute, abandoned, poor and gay, I would not let that stop me from living a life full of love, accomplishments and personal satisfaction," he said. "We are only a product of our circumstances if we let ourselves be. If you don’t let your past or your present limit your future, then your future is limitless.”

Finding his place in the LA gay community was not easy at first. He took residence in the Citrus House and slowly shed the effects of influence from his experiences at Spring Lake. The thought of gay people coming together and supporting each other was a foreign concept. But eventually, he would come to understand that the gay community was a collective force, one that shared his pain and one that encouraged his dreams.

“They were disadvantaged, looked down upon by a large swath of society, and marginalized in many ways, yet they remained optimistic and were resilient," he said. "I don’t know if they embraced me as much as they inspired me. I will always be grateful to the Los Angeles LGBT Center for the services they provided me and the opportunities those services allowed me to explore.”

Always the one to defend the downtrodden and persecuted, Bristol remembers that even as an abused child, he would stand up for what he felt was right. Those bold convictions would often be accompanied by physical consequences, but still he endured, giving people the gift of his strength and the power of his temperament.

He remembers arguing with a pastor at bible camp, standing up to bullies who called him a “fag” at school, making fun of his dirty, ill-fitting clothing. His disdain for people who treat others unfairly would be a statement for how he eventually would run his company.

“I’m a feminist who fights against what I call 'institutional misogyny,' even though I’m a male CEO who may benefit from it. I’m a fierce advocate for raising the minimum wage even though I’m responsible for the bottom line of my company. I’m an advocate for veterans and don’t believe we do enough for them, especially when you consider what we ask of them. Because of my own personal experience, of course, I’m also a homeless advocate, especially for those young LGBT homeless kids. In fact, I personally underwrote The San Diego LGBT Community Center’s Rainbow Prom earlier this year.”

When the light bulb turned on

Changing his way of thinking, Bristol decided that it was time to take charge of his life. The horrific events of his past did not have to define the person he was to become. He says that once he figured out he was not coming to an ending, but a beginning, his life began to change.

“The most difficult part of my journey was moving from survival mode to the improvement mode,” he said. “I had to mentally make the realization that I was going to survive, I was going to be OK, and when I got there, I began trying to make my life bigger and make it better.”

Bristol thanks Dr. Barbara Cunningham for setting him on the right path. A San Diego therapist, Cunningham made Bristol analyze his past and use that pain as a stepping stone to start a journey that would lead to a more meaningful existence.

“This is when I began to nurture myself and truly flourish,” he said. “Becoming a successful and recognized CEO was much easier when I began to engage in what I call 'self-cultivation.'”

Building a successful company with more than 300 employees

Bristol is now CEO and president of Intelicare Direct, a customer service solutions company that has grown from 40 employees to over 300, with an expected profit of over $12 million this year.

Intelicare Direct is no ordinary company. Bristol says he draws from his past to build solid relationships with his employees. Intelicare Direct offers full-time employment, above-average pay, and many more perks and services that enrich the staff. He calls this way of managing “commerce and compassion.”

“We are a child-friendly workplace,” he said. “This means if an employee’s childcare breaks down for a few days, we let you bring your kids to work. We’re also a dog-friendly workplace. Any given day, our office will have a few kids running around, playing in our fun room or watching a movie on Netflix, and just about every day there’s at least a few dogs sleeping under desks or roaming around the office.”

Bristol encourages employees to give back to the community by supporting them when they volunteer for organizations such as Operation Homefront, Stand Up For Kids and San Diego Food Bank.

Bristol has settled down now after all of these years. No more Greyhound bus trips across the country to escape. He and his life partner Francis have been together for seven years now and are raising two children, Karly and Gavin, both 12. Bristol says that he adores his children and looks forward to adding more children his family early next year.

“Currently Francis and I are looking to adopt two more children from San Diego County and hope to have our new sons and/or daughters placed with us sometime in early 2015,” he said.

As for the future of his company, Bristol is looking forward to growing that family, too. He says he is focused on opening a third location for Intelicare Direct. His story is so inspiring that others have reached out to him to share it, and he says when he has time to explore that path, he will look into the possibilities.

Bristol’s story is truly one that touches those who hear it. There are so many people who are living like he once did. They are abused, or lost, or think that there is no place that they can go for help, or that their future is bleak. But Bristol has this advice for those that think they can’t escape hardship:

“I tell people that a successful life isn’t without challenges. There are going to be bumps in the road, but they don’t have to be crippling. Usually our so-called problems are only as big as we make them, and their solutions are opportunities for us to excel.”