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subfield code a L34-000162 USFLDC DOI0 245 William J. Kanouff oral history interviewh [electronic resource] /c interviewed by Dr. Cyrana Brooks Wyker.500 Full cataloging of this resource is underway and will replace this temporary record when complete.Transcription and timecoding of this interview is underway and will be added when complete. At that time the audio link will be replaced with the OHPi player link (player supporting syncronized audio and full-text transcription).7 655 Oral history.localOnline audio.local710 University of South Florida.b Library.Special & Digital Collections.Oral History Program.1 773 t LGBT Oral History Project4 856 u http://digital.lib.usf.edu/?l34.16
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Cyrana B. Wyker: This is Cyrana Wyker. I am here with Bill Kanouff at his residence in Tampa, Florida. This interview is part of the Tampa GLBT Oral History project under my direction. Today is October 24, 2013. Do I have your permission to record this interview?
Bill Kanouff: Yes.
CW: Bill, can you spell your last name for me?
CW: Great, thank you. Um, so well just start at the beginning. Where were you born?
BK: Cambria, New York, though technically it was in a hospital in Niagara Falls, Niagara County, New York.
CW: Did you grow up in New York?
BK: I did.
CW: Can you describe your family life and what that was like?
BK: We were dirt poor people in a farm community. My father worked in a factory and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. I am one of ten children.
CW: Oh, wow, ten children. So, what kind of factory did your father work at?
BK: Hooker Chemical Corporation. They made chemical compounds.
CW: So, what was a typical day like in your household?
BK: Gosh, thats hard to explain. Um, we had a very structured lifestyle, because of so many children. Dinner was punctually at six oclock. You were at the table or you didnt come to the table. My fathers schedule, you never knew what it was going to be like so he was or wasnt there. Most of the time it was preferable if he wasnt. His concept of discipline is now called child abuse. [Back ground noise from dog] Umbut my mom was June Cleaver.
CW: Joan Cleaver. What do you mean?
BK: June Cleaver. She cleaned house, made dinners. She was the classic woman of that era, taking care of all the kids and household, making sure everything was maintained and taken care of, and dad just provided the financial support for the family. My brothers and I worked the farm. That was very traditional.
CW: Worked the farm?
BK: We had twelve acres. We produced most of our own food. At one time we had chickens, and eggs, and everything. We had a little roadside stand for extra cash. We worked for the neighbors. One time we had cows and we were, us boys, were bartered out to bale hay in exchange for hay for our cows. My mother had a horse to ride.
CW: Oh, wow. Okay. What umyou were born in 1958?
BK: 58 yes.
CW: So um, what years were you working the farm?
BK: At nine years old I started working at the neighbors farms. At our farm, my father gave me an acre to produce all the food for the family when I was eight.
CW: Oh wow. So when you say to produce for the family, um, what kind of, what kind of work does that entail? I guess is what Im asking.
BK: Um, turning soil, planting all the tomatoes, peppers, corn, everything that the family might eat or can to survive for the winter.
CW: Oh, interesting.
CW: So what kind ofso you
BK: Actually, the perk of all that is that because my brothers really didnt want to do that, and didnt want to chip in as much, I was considered one of the favorite sons, but with that also came a lot of responsibility.
CW: So, you had somewhat of a choice as to how you were going to contribute to the family.
BK: More or less, but there was also very distinct things my mother made clear we needed to can and she had to produce to support the family through the winter.
CW: So, this would have beengosh, so this would have been
BK: Early 1960s.
CW: Yeah. Interesting. So what was
BK: The Kennedy era. (laughs) Pre Martin Luther King being killed.
CW: So, what was your schooling like?
BK: Actually, schooling was really good. We went to Wilson Central School, which wasthere were three towns that went to that one school. It was literally twelve miles away. The educational system there was extremely good. Because I was very headstrong and couldnt control my mouth from a very young age, my mother got me involved in absolutely everything the school and the church had to offer to keep me safe and out of the house.
So, I was in every single sport, every play. I was in the band. I was in the church choir. I was altar boy. I did everything, which was wonderful, because as a kid I had opportunities to do all these things.
CW: Is there anything that you particularly enjoyed?
BK: Music and wrestling, I really enjoyed.
CW: Do you want to talk at all about your father or
BK: Uh, there were some good aspects to my father. One is running the farm when one of our neighbors accidently ran himself over with the tractor and asked me to come take over his farm for him that summer, I learned how to run a small business prior to even graduating high school. A small farm is a small business. And for twenty-eight years now I have owned and operated small businesses, and it really gave me a heads up in life and some of the things, but it also, he taught me hard work to make some money.
And my mother, on the other hand, also taught me the importance of giving back to community. She would take us to the retirement home, and we would sing Christmas carols to the people there, and bring them pies, and, you know, all that sort of down-home stuff.
CW: So, when you said, um that you arewell, the rules were that you were at the table promptly at six. Were there any other kind of household schedules that your family kept?
BK: It was very distinct schedules that I recall for myself, but they were all based upon milking cows, feeding chickens, having to go work for the neighbors, sports practice, church choirs. There was very distinct times things always took place.
CW: Thats a busy day. Thats a busy life.
BK: Yeah, I got up at five a.m. and the rest of the household slept in until six.
CW: Do youwas this, um, so this in some way was sort of a chosen responsibility or do you feel, um, that the weight was put on you to
BK: I think it was more of a chosen responsibility, cause I know with that responsibility also came a lot of perks. I could kind of choose kind of what vegetables we had during the summer, what was served fresh, um, I had some options. My mother controlled a lot of what we had to can for the winter, but as far as other options, it allowed me other things. And I had an ungodly huge appetite as a child.
And I could drink fresh milk and raw eggs before I brought it into the house for the rest of the family, and then I would have breakfast with the family, then I would go to school and have the lunch that my mother packed me. And then I would go see Mrs. Burrows and have lunch with her, and then on the way home I used to have dinner at Mrs. Chelowas (Sp?) and then have dinner at our house. And I ate. Im amazed I didnt bankrupt any family. (laughs)
CW: So, this was from the time you were eight or nine, what about sort of your junior high, high school years? The years of your adolescence, what were those like?
BK: There was again a lot of fun. Um, my father didnt like a lot of things of refinement. My mothers family, who consider themselves middle class, would give her tickets to the Toronto Shakespeare Festival or some of the symphony things, and I got to go to all these wonderful things.
In high school I dated this woman, Amy Rutt (sp?), who made it very clear she wanted to be a virgin when she got married, and I made it very clear there was no issue. And in rural farm community its important to have a girlfriend at that time. She and I were study partners, and she was wonderful, and sweet, and she was good family with a boat on the lake. We could sail across to Toronto and lot of wonderful things.
CW: When you say that its very important in a rural community to have a girlfriend at that time, can you elaborate on that?
BK: There was a single individual that was thought of as being gay and was kind of ostracized. And because of that it was important at the time to blend in, and even though some of the other guys were bragging about their exploits, even if I made it clear that Amy and I were waiting for marriage, it was considered acceptable in the farm community.
Except then I discovered years later when I went back, there was a place called the DuFrains (sp?) Pond where all the bad boys went on the back of the pickup trucks and got drunk. Turns out, and I never knew this because I wasnt one of the bad boys, when they were drunk, they sometimes had fun with each other. But I never knew that, because I never hung with a crowd that did that.
CW: So, when did you leave New York?
BK: Um, actually, I went to college in New York City. I went to originally Concordia Theological Seminary, and I was studying to be a Lutheran Minister. And I was going into the city for theater and entertainment and nightlife, and the gay community. End of my second year, Im not sure if its rumor had it, or if its the fact that my roommate walked in on me with a man, the seminary decided to cut off my scholarships and started witch hunts on gays in the Lutheran church. And I was virtually forced out of the seminary.
CW: Whoa. Okay. Lets back up a little bit.
BK: (makes noise).
CW: (laughs) Thats a lot. Um, so when did you first realize that you were gay?
BK: I didnt come to terms with it directly until my first year at seminary. When I went to seminary, I went and joined the football team, because I had enjoyed sports in high school. And one of the fellow playersand I became very intimate and became roommates for the first semester. I wont name names because he is now the Reverend Doctor (laughs).
CW: I see. So, what was that relationship like for you? Had youyeah, well start with that.
BK: Honestly, it was frightening at first. It made me rethink everything. I felt like I couldnt talk to people on campus, so I actually went to a Catholic priest even though I was Lutheran to talk to him and he became very defensive. And then years later I discover that he was probably also gay.
And it was a difficult period, but it was alsoone of the other guys, that I didnt realize a year before the rumor of me being gay, Roy, was living off campus because they cut off his scholarships and wouldnt let him stay on campus either. But he was so stubborn and bullheaded that he was going to get that degree no matter what.
And at one time he told me that he was virtually blackmailing the seminary by telling them that heif they didnt give him a degree, he would say all the students, professors, and ministers that he had had relations with. But Roy also took me into New York City to the mostseventies in New York, free love. I mean, it was wild and crazy, and a lot of fun. You can imagine. Youve probably seen the movies or read the books.
CW: Well, I want to hear it from you. What was it like in New York City in the seventies?
BK: It was very wonderful. When I left seminary I moved into Chelsea, and Chelsea at the time was where all the poor gays lived that couldnt afford the Village. Now Chelsea is the gay mecca. But it was wonderful. You could be yourself. You could be openly gay at the time. No one cared what you did as long as you did your career or whatever, very well. It was a very open, fun, free period of life.
BK: The pre-AIDS era was rather wild, fun, and what most people might consider decadent, but I consider nothing decadent that if two people enjoy it between themselves and are consensual, its not.
CW: So when you said that you would go to the city for the nightlife. What kind of nightlife did you seek out in New York City?
BK: Anything, dance clubs toWilliam Schwedler, I met in the late seventies. He was an artist in SOHO. He also taught at NYU. And he took me to the gallery openings and art exhibits. He introduced me to both the leather bars of New York City as well as the culture of New York City at the time.
And the exposure that he gave me was absolutely magnificent and just the broad spectrum. New York I think still, but back then it seemed more to me, had everything on earth to offer if you knew where to look, from arts and culture to night clubs and dancing.
CW: That seems like two different worlds. So, youre at seminary school in New York
BK: Actually, by the time I moved in Chelsea I had left seminary. I never completed seminary.
CW: Okay, can we go back to that really
CW: And talk about that a lot more.
BK: Okay, it was not necessarilythe first year there was absolutely wonderful. The second year became difficult. The third year was impossible. And I left before the fourth year.
CW: So, what was wonderful about the first year?
BK: The first year: the independence of being by myself, away from home, near the city, going in forI took one of the classes, which was a Broadway series, and they took you actually to plays and then you discussed the plays in class. And some of the things that they had to offer, and life that they had to offer was for me very nice. One of thethey had a bulletin board for jobs.
The seminary was located in this town of Bronxville, which was very extremely affluent, old area, and one of the guys I met, his wife just wanted to go to the country club and shop, and he was really down to earth, so he hired me as his handy man to go in and help maintain some of his buildings in Manhattan. And justthere were some really good aspects of that.
CW: And the second year?
BK: The second year was the conflict year, where my sexuality and questioning of the religion and sexuality were at odds. And the Lutherans at the time, and probably still today, are not very open and accepting. And I from my childhood had a very different understanding of love, compassion, and acceptance in the bible than the Lutherans were teaching. And it was at odds also with myI was becoming a little wild. My weekends in the city were a little crazy.
CW: (laughs) How were they crazy?
BK: Um, the Lutherans at the time were: sex was for procreation and unacceptable outside of that. I had weekend wild events in New York, and parties and gatherings, and things that didnt quite fit in with that confine.
CW: So um, you said, you mentioned earlier that you were discovered by your roommate, was this during your second year?
BK: This was towards the end of the second year. Roy, who had taken me to city, introduced me to many things, he, my roommate, was supposed to be at his fathers place out in the suburbs, and he arrived back a day early, because obviously he had a fight with his family.
And walked in on us. And next semester he asked for a transfer into another dorm, not even just another room. And my third year they actually placed me in a dorm room by myself, which was unheard of. There was at least two in a dorm room, notthere was no singles.
CW: Hm, so did your roommate ever have a discussion with you after walking in on you?
BK: No, but he told mythe woman I was dating kind of, and it got back to me through her, that she didnt want me hanging out with this Roy, because he was a bad influence and blah-blah-blah, and I would come back from the city after spending weekend with Roy and blah-blah-blah. And Im sure because my roommate mustve told her, because how else would she know, that the word had gotten out.
And I know the president of the college who is alsoReverend Dr. Ralph Schultz, who is also head of the tour choir, their version of glee club, forced me out of the tour choir the third year. And didnt want me in the tour choir, didnt want me sharing rooms with other guys at the seminary. He and several of the other people were very ostracizing to me.
CW: So, um, was there ever any formal action taken against you as a student? Or was it this all sort ofnot subtlebut whats the word Im looking for?
BK: It was a very quiet ostracization of me. The only thing that was blatant was the sudden loss of my scholarships. And I still had my New York scholarship. The top 1% of students in New York got a scholarship if you stayed in New York. And I graduated the top 1% of my class considering there was ninety-two of us in graduation class, that was pretty good. And they cut off all the rest of my scholarship that the seminary was offering to me outside of that.
CW: So, somehow it traveled through the administrators of the seminary school?
BK: Yes, and through some of the teachers and, um, one of theThomas Greenno, sorry, Dean Green, started doing the witch hunts to cleanse the seminary and get out the evil there. And Ralph Schultz did the same thing withand it turns out they had actually done it the year prior. I probably wasnt aware of it, because they did it to Roy, and I wasnt aware of any of this until suddenly I was targeted.
CW: When you say, witch hunts what do youcan you describe those for me?
BK: Um, individuals that might be going to the city for other things than good Lutheran teachings, and those that might bereally it was gay witch hunting.
CW: Um-hm. So, you mentioned that you were dating a woman.
CW: Linda, throughout seminary school or at least into
BK: The first two years, yeah.
CW: second year. Was that relationship sort of like a beard relationship? Or
BK: It was definitely a beard relationship. Actually, all through high school I had a beard relationship. According to my mother, she knew when I was fourteen. Unfortunately, she didnt tell me until I was out of seminary (laughs). So, all the way My third year, I gave up beard relationships.
Though, um, there was a wild crazy woman that I met in New York, who used to love going to the gay clubs, because she was extremely voluptuous and in the straight clubs the men would be obnoxious, but hanging out with the gay guys, she just loved doing that. So, I took her to one of the dances at seminary and suddenly all the guys were thinking, Woo-hoo, Bill.
But she wasnt a beard, she was just a friend whoand I fully understood why she liked to go to the gay clubs, because I actually went with her to a straight club once and I was kind of her protection, because being a larger male, she had a proper escort that they would leave her alone.
CW: So, your third year at seminary school was the impossible year. So, this would be the year that you lost your
BK: The scholarships and everything else.
CW: So, what was that like for you?
BK: That was a very rough, emotional year, because I also had all my friends slowly alienate themselves. I realized the people that I thought were my friends withdrew. Some later in life came back around, but I can only think of two instances where they did. I was no longerone of my joys I said was singing. I loved the tour choir.
I was not allowed in the tour choir, or the church choir, or any of the other singing venues that I had done in the past. One of the things the seminary also offered was a vocal coach, who was a New York City opera singer. I took lessons with her, because in the Lutheran tradition you are also supposed to sing some of the services, and the loss of that ability to sing, or be on teams, or in organizations was rough on me, and just the ostracization, and alienation from my friends and professors, and things.
CW: Um, did you have friends outside of seminary school that you could sort of turn to for support throughout all of this?
BK: I didnt yet. I had some friends that I wouldwell thats not true. No, Roy was probably a party friend. William Schwedler was probably the only real friend. But most of the people I knew outside of that were party buddies, those that just wanted to go out and dance and have a good time and you know, be wild and crazy and free. Like a lot of college students when theyre in their late teens, early twenties.
CW: So, at what point, um, did you start to see your intimate relationships with men as sort of an orientation or identity?
BK: Probably before 1979, because I volunteered to help with the gay pride parade in 1979. And honestly, because of the gay community in New York, there was a very rising movement of the time of gay identity, so it was easy to understand to be part of that at the time.
CW: How old would youhow old were you?
BK: Very young.
CW: And this was after seminary school.
CW: Okay. So when you left seminary school
BK: Actually, my third year is probably when I started identifying myself as gay.
CW: Okay. Was this a result of sort of the witch hunts and the
BK: No, that was probably the result of going to New York and understanding that my lack of sexual attraction to the women Ive always had in my life was because I was gay.
CW: So, what kind ofso, this was just New York City nightlife at the time during your third year, bars, you mentioned leather bars.
CW: And then
BK: There was also the cultural thing. So, there was a group that I came to know that enjoyed theater, Broadway Theater, and those sort of things. And I kind of cliqued with that group, because I loved theater, and especially Broadway musicals.
CW: So, when you lost your scholarship to seminary school what did you decide to do?
BK: I went to Provincetown for the summer. I worked three jobs. And Provincetown in the late seventies was also equally crazy and wild and very, very gay. And I worked as a houseboy at the Anchor Inn. I worked lunches at the Post Office Caf. And I worked evenings at the Crown and Anchor Dance Club. And because I had a free place to stay where I was a houseboy, free lunch, and worked three jobs, I was able to come up with the cash.
CW: What do you mean by houseboy?
BK: Houseboy, ah, more or less maid. In a bed and breakfast its actually someone that cleans rooms.
BK: You know, when people are checking out, they have to check out by eleven, youd have to make sure the room was all set up and ready for the next guest.
CW: And how long did you do thisjust a summer or longer?
BK: One summer.
CW: One summer. Then what did you go on to do?
BK: I became a waiter. Actually, I almost went belly up, but thats um(laughs). I became a waiter and then occasionally when I needed extra cash I became a bartender.
CW: In Provincetown or did you go up to
BK: No, in Manhattan.
CW: Manhattan. So, you were in
BK: I became a waiter at a gay restaurant in the Village called Clydes.
CW: Wow, thats quite a transition. So, you go from seminary school
BK: To Provincetown to all out gay in Manhattan, yeah. (laughs)
CW: How exciting was that?
BK: It was wonderful, because I worked in a gay restaurant and most of the waiters were my age group, and most of them were wannabe actors/singers/dancers/models, and I started getting involved in that community also. I met a series of kind of wonderful and interesting people. Somenone of it, I think, was bad though there were some bad experiences. They all kind of progressed me in the right direction.
CW: What was your relationship with your parents like after seminary school?
BK: My mother actually came to New York to bring me home, because she thought I wasnt calling or coming home because I was gay. I wasnt calling or coming home because of my father. And she outed me to my entire family before she came to New York to ask me. According to her she knew since I was fourteen.
CW: So what was her reaction?
BK: Hershe was very supportive, except she said that she always wanted her children to have an easy life and being gay would not be an easy life for me. She had a friend she went to theater with and things, Richard, who she understood from him life was very rough, but he was also a generation older than I.
And things were changing. And Richard, one of the reasons he went to theater with my mother is he needed a beard and she needed a proper male escort. Women at the time just didnt go to theater by themselves. So her only negative thing was she wanted her life to beher childrens life to be easy and mine wouldnt be.
CW: What about the rest of your family?
BK: I thought they were very supportive. But my youngest brother Dan, who is thirteen years younger, said that they were all very nice to me to my face because of my mother, but when I left and went back to New York, they were all very backstabbing. And I was never aware of this.
CW: Not at all, so
BK: Clueless. (laughs)
BK: My brother Walter, actually, when he got out of the Navy came to New York City to ask me if I was gay, and then he asked to be taken to the gay clubs. So, at first, I, of course, took him to the very masculine play pool and darts sort of mans club and then slowly worked them towards the sing-a-long musical clubs. (laughs)
CW: So, um, how long did you stay in New York City?
BK: Until 1982.
CW: And then where did you move to after?
BK: Moved to San Francisco for my graduate studies.
CW: So, you did return to
BK: I did complete college, yes.
CW: Where did you go?
CW: Oh, much different from seminary school.
BK: And very progressive at the time, and they offered great scholarships for people of poor background and a diversity of community, and they offered me a therapist who was an ex-Vietnam vet gay man, who was also stunningly handsome, which didnt hurt.
CW: Did you get involved with any groups on campus at Columbia?
BK: No, I didnt. I really stayed down in Chelsea, just commuted up for school. I really had immersed myself in gay life, and because of my experience at college, I didnt really want to associate or hang out with any of my classmates there. I had so much more in common and was having so much more fun in the Village that I didnt care to discuss anything with any of them.
CW: Right. So, did you graduate in 1982 from Columbia?
BK: No, 1980 or 81. It might have been the spring of 81.
CW: Okay, and what did you study?
BK: Comparative religions (laughs), since I already had transferrable credits.
CW: Right, okay. Well, that makes sense.
BK: Actually, and philosophy.
CW: Um-hm. And then you decided to go to graduate school.
BK: Yes, but it was more complicated than that. I had some very close friends in the spring of 82 that passed from this mystery disease, including William Schwedler, one of my closest and older friends. And my partner at that time, who was also having professional problems, he was a concert pianist, and saw some of our friends passing, wanted to leave the city. And so we looked at going somewhere else.
Since I neverI didnt have a usable degree. He decided that we should probably look at San Francisco, and so I applied to the universities in the San Francisco area, and went out there. And again, continued restaurant work and went for graduate studies. But the main catalyst was the sudden, the dying of three of our friends all in a period of four months, and this, including my partners ex, and this sort of black cloud plague that was entering New York, was one of the catalysts to make us leave.
CW: So what was, I guess, the mood like in New York City cause before, you know,
BK: In 82 it was still wild and crazy.
BK: I dont think people, except those of us that had friends starting to pass, really understood what might be happening. And we had three friends quite youngWilliam Schwedler was actually in his fortiesbut two of them where in their twenties. And this was a very young group to have this same type of illness and disease hitting them that doctors had no idea what it was. And it was rather frightening to some of us, but the bulk of New York really wasnt seeing or feeling it yet, because it was so new on the scene.
CW: So were there any sort of news stories or media surrounding
BK: There were some articles and they were in the gay publications. Some: be astute look for chaos lesions, pneumonia, certain things. See your doctor if youve had hepatitis or something, it might be related to it, or a new strand of hepatitis. There was all these things going on, and my own personal doctor also did a T-cell count, because according to him, there was something related to the immune system and T-cells.
So, he had that done to check my immune system, which was unusual for the time, but since I had a gay doctor in Chelsea, he was in the heart and hub of the gay community. The perk of having a gay doctor is you can actual go to him and be very open about what your issues might be. Well, that and I over-submersed myself in the gay community. I had a gay dentist, a gay doctor (laughs).
CW: So, then you and your partner make the decision to leave New York City. What was that transition like into San Francisco?
BK: I was kind of leaving everything I knew way far behind, which was odd for me, but I got to meet people and know people rather quickly. I, again, didnt hang out with any of the college crowd. I, again, submersed myself in the gay community, except the restaurants I worked at where not gay restaurants anymore. I was working at straight restaurants, but San Francisco was extremely gay still.
It had a wonderful network of individuals that if something was taking place and you needed a response, there was a phone tree. And if you got the phone call you were expected to call five people, and they called five people, and you got usually two phone calls because they made sure no one was missed through this phone tree. So, you could all be down, you know, twenty thousand people could be down at city hall in two hours. It was really a nice community at the time and very well organized.
CW: Were you involved in any organizations? I know you said that you helped, for example, organize for Pride. Did you
BK: I was a volunteer. I didnt help organize.
CW: Okay, sorry.
BK: Actually, that was kind of fun because I expected, well we expected, a hundred thousand people, but we also didnt realize it was the tenth anniversary of Stonewall, and Boston, D.C., Philadelphiaquarter million people showed up. And we got to a point where the chair of the parade was just like, Get them moving down 5th avenue; We cant fit them in the Village anymore.
And so, it was really kind of exciting to see that volume of people. That feeling of isolation that I had the third year at seminary was totally off set by being one of a quarter million people packing the city.
CW: Yeah, this is New York, New York City.
BK: But back to San Francisco. San Franciscobecause of the three friends that had passed away, I got involved with helping raising funds for Shanti Project, which was a project that helped HIV positive men. I volunteered for every single research study that was available to understand what this new mystery disease was.
I was part of the Don Abrams __(?)__ study, the San Francisco Young Mans health study, and the San Francisco Gay Mens Health Study, and they took blood, and if my lymph nodes were swollen and everything else I was eligible for that other study. And I just wanted to help with this new mystery disease that was taken place.
CW: Was there a culture of fear in San Francisco? Had a culture of fear began to develop?
BK: It had already developed, and I didnt realize that we went from one hot spot of New York City to San Francisco, another hot spot. And there were a lot of people already getting sick also in San Francisco. And thats one of the reasons I volunteered for all these things and helped with the project to help people that suddenly couldnt take care of themselves.
But I also met some wonderful people, and it also made me realize its outside of our community. And one was [redact name at 0:43:00] Native American, really, really wonderful woman. She had leukemia or something that required a blood transfusion and she was positive through that, and she was quite ill but she was also as a Native American free spirited, art style individual in San Francisco, quite a wonderful person.
But it also made me realize this wasnt a gay thing despite everybody saying it was just a gay disease. She had never had a gay relationship in her life. She was a woman, Native American, raised on some reservation in eastern California. And I kind of understood that this was more intense than anyone ever thought; and the gay community as well as politically, they were still saying it was the gay disease. They were still calling it GRID, Gay Retro Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
CW: What was thatwhat was the impact of, you know, hearing and seeing everything on the news say that it was a gay disease?
BK: It made me realize that we as a gay community had to do something about it, that we didnt have the support structure much outside of that community. In 1984 we were organizing a march on the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco at the Moscone Center. And we, I was one of a dozen people putting together this march to have the Democrats realize, it was called March for a Cure, that we need to do research and find out whats going on with this GRID disease and we need funding for it.
CW: And so, was umhow did that march sort of develop? Can you elaborate on that a little bit more about your involvement?
BK: Because of all the research projects I had volunteered for, and the individuals we knew who had passed, and the fact that we were political organization in San Francisco, we had the phone trees, we thought the democrats were our way to get some funding for health research and possibly a cure for this disease.
And since they had decided to have the convention in San Francisco that year, we thought this was, this is the moment, this is, everything says we need to this now. This is our opportunity, and so we did our phone tree. We did what advertising we could. We got the word out. We let everyone know this was important. This had to be done.
CW: Did you havehow did that sort of organizing take place? Did you havedid you meet on a regular basis, or was it sort of, you know, how you communicate today where you call someone and then you send, you know, emails or memos, or was it more
BK: There was a small group that coordinated the street closures and what we were going to do, and then there was large number of people doing the phone banking and trying to get the word out, and making sure the gay rags had it, gay publications. There was really just a core group of us making sure we had it coordinated to go from the Castro down Market Street to the Moscone Center.
But as far as the networking, getting the word out, that was a large part of the community. That was part of that old networking that was almost intact when I arrived in San Francisco.
CW: How long did you stay in San Francisco?
BK: 1985, I moved back to New York City. For one year.
CW: Why did you move from San Francisco back to New York City?
BK: I love New York. San Francisco, I foundwell, a multitude of things. Now, were going back; 1985, they got the test for HIV virus. They told me in 85 that I had tested positive from the blood from the research projects. And they told me the blood they had taken from me from two years prior also had tested positive, because they had frozen it. And they told me most people with the virus live one to two years, and Ive had it two years at least already.
So, I decided it was time to return to New York. I needed to do what I always wanted to do and my partner, who wouldnt be tested, wouldnt be part of the research project had also decided to leave and go back to mommy. Because whenever he got in trouble, he went back to mommy, because thats the way life was.
So, I decided since I was single and alone again, I would return to New York, and I would do what I always wanted to do. Because I had worked my way through college and everything else in restaurants, I wanted to own my own restaurant. I sold everything I owned and a friend of mine in New York, who was a chef, was not a head chef then.
The only way to do so was to get in the ground floor with somebody who was opening a restaurant. And I had the connections from working in the restaurants in New York, and he had some of the connections and the skill. And we opened a restaurant. It was one of those now or never, because I might not live much longer.
CW: Um-hm. So, what was the impact of getting sort of a positive test result?
BK: It was an urgency in life. You have to do what you want to do and live in today, because you might not have the time to do anything tomorrow. And the first three months was also kind of, almost hedonistic, live for today cause I might die.
CW: Um, so how longso you were in San Francisco for about three months and then decided to move to New York City?
BK: Actually, I took a vacation to New York City.
BK: Bumped into this old chef friend of mine. We came up with the theory and idea. And I called back to San Francisco and said, I have two weeks vacation. You have two weeks notice. And then I sold everything, and started looking for backers and things for our restaurant.
CW: So, what year did you return to New York City?
BK: The restaurant opened memorial weekend of 1985.
CW: What kind of restaurant was it?
BK: It was California nouvelle cuisine, which was just hitting New York City, and because I worked in the restaurants in San Francisco, I knew California nouvelle cuisine, and it was called Sunset Strip. Interior faced west, the Hudson River, and the interior was done in colors of the sunset going down the walls, and quite a beautiful restaurant.
But it was when Chelsea was starting to pick up in gay life, and originally we intended it to be a gay restaurant, but it turned out that the yuppies where buying all the condos and lofts. It was in an old warehouse and we had the loading dock as our front dock. But it was a cuisine that I was familiar with that the chef was happy to do, because it was considered cutting edge for New York at the time.
CW: What exactly is California nouvelle cuisine?
BK: Its new sauces thatraspberry cream sauces that were served with fishes that people thought were very nontraditional. Where you normally do a lemon sauce or caper sauces or cream sauce with fish, this was something very nontraditional, a lot of avocado with the dishes. Just a lot of what now is considered ordinary Americana cuisine at the time it was considered new California influence to the North East.
CW: So how long did you um operate the restaurant?
BK: Eighteen months. And then the investors wanted to buy us out and offered us good money. And my partner who had moved back to mommy had called and said, Come back to me. Ive changed. Im teaching at USF. So I moved to Tampa. Not only that but the sale of restaurant had a noncompetition clause for a year so technically I couldnt really work in the restaurant industry in New York for a year.
CW: Wow, so then you were here 1986, 1987?
BK: December 12th, 1986.
BK: I moved down here on my sisters birthday, which is why I remember the date,
CW: What had you heard about Tampa before moving here?
BK: Not a peep.
CW: (laughs) Nothing.
BK: Nothing, but I had some money from the sale of the restaurant. I had a former partner who had a stable job now, which was for him a change. As a concert pianist he made money, a lot of money, on weekends when he had a concert, if he had a concert. So, his income was extremely unpredictable and inconsistent.
But now he had a constant income from the university, and honestly, I had been with man, at that time, it seemed a long time except for that year and a half we were apart. So, I thought it was time to get back together. Turns out he hadnt changed and we didnt stay together, and we separated ways rather quickly after I got here.
CW: So, what were your first impressions about Tampa?
BK: At the time Tampa had two promising gay neighborhoods: one was Hyde Park and one was Palma Ceia, this neighborhood, that we were renovating and taking over homes and restoring. Compared to New York and San Francisco, the style and quality of life here was very gracious and slow, and in New York and San Francisco its extremely competitive. (dog snoring)
People wanted to live there, so you had to be at the top of your game at all times. Tampa was a much more laid back casual community and you could be if you were at the top of your game. I tried to get a job in restaurant management when I first moved down here. Having managed a restaurant in San Francisco and New York, and having owned a restaurant in Manhattan, owners wouldnt hire me. I ended up working as waiter here and then opening my own restaurant later.
CW: Where did you work as a waiter here? That would be your first job.
BK: My first job was actually at Chavez at the Royal for Helen Chavez. And she also hadshe was city council member at the time, quite a gay staff also at the time. I didnt last there that long before I went on toMoodys Caf had just opened up there restaurant on South Dale Mabry. They moved from Moody Street down to South Dale Mabry.
And I wanted to be more immersed in a gay community, because therewe didnt have the gay neighborhoods as strong as we had in New York and San Francisco, and I thought being back in a gay restaurant would help with that. And I didnt last there very long either, because he thought I was gathering sources to open up my own restaurant, because I kind of was. (laughs)
CW: So, then when you opened your own restaurant, what restaurant did you own?
BK: Eagles Nest restaurant on 15th Street in Ybor. And it was near Tracks, which was the big gay club at the time. It was near the Eagle, actually shared adjoining wall with the Eagle. And it was located well for people going out to dinner before they went out dancing and to the clubs. And I stayed opened until four a.m. so that they could come there for breakfast before they went home.
CW: So what was the gay community like here in the mid-late eighties when you moved here?
BK: It was kind of a small town version of what New York was in the seventies. I dont think Tampa had seen the impact yet of HIV that we had in New York or San Francisco. Parts of the community were very good here as far as gay neighborhoods, but as far as a lot of the activities and things I found it a little lacking.
CW: When you say activities, what are you referring to specifically?
BK: Healthy, positive intellectual gathering places for the gay community. And I had found that in bookstores and poetry salons, and that sort of stuff in New York and San Francisco, art openings that were very distinctly gay art openings in New York and San Francisco. There was a lot of art, culture, literature, and life that was non-club oriented in New York and San Francisco, and I found that that really wasnt here yet.
CW: So there were just a lot sort of gay clubs and then residential neighborhoods?
CW: When you said that Hyde Park was sort of a gay neighborhood, um, what was it like? What wereis it similar to what it is today with everything onbusinesses on Howard and
BK: No, actually, no when I boughtthats probably too far down the line. Hyde Park had been broken up, a lot of those big old homes had been broken up into multiple units for living. We as a community were restoring the homes back to private residences. Howard Avenue was really a 1940s and 50s sort of post-war business district. We had Whaleys market that had a dirt parking lot and (dog snores) there was Berts Hardware.
I used to flip houses. Youd go into Berts Hardware and this old man youd show him something from a 1920s house, and hes Oh, yeah. I got that in the back, and hed give you an exact replica of what you were trying to find. And we slowly turned Howard Avenue into sort of a gay artsy district in the early nineties. And then like most places, we gentrify a neighborhood and then the yuppies move in behind us.
And Hyde Park is now extremely wealthy. And even when I bought this house in the late eighties, Hyde Park was getting expensive, so those of us that couldnt afford or didnt want to afford Hyde Park were moving other places. Like Palma Ceia, we were taking over next. (dog snoring)
CW: So, um, what was a typical day like for you?
BK: I was really workaholic, especially when I had the restaurant. After the restaurant burnt life changed, but I have always been a go-getter worker.
CW: You said the restaurant burnt. What do you mean?
BK: I had an adjoining wall with the Tampa Eagle, and there was arson in the building. And I got a phone call at six a.m. that there is black smoke billowing from Ybor, and it looks like its coming from your building. And indeed it had jumped to my roof and it burnt my restaurant down with it.
BK: The bar wasnt doing so well. And there is still some question as to what or how it burned. The fire sensors and alarms had been turned off. The skylight had been broken in. And a fire had been lit in the stairwell lighting up both floors of the Eagle.
BK: And they dont know what or how it actually was done. It could have beenmost of us actually thought it might be the owners, but it could have been a hate crime. It could not have been. None of us really know.
CW: Was this after hours when the
BK: Six a.m., it took place after the club was closed. But the fire investigator thought it was odd that certain things didnt correspond with what they were told. So, there was an ongoing arson investigation. Unfortunately during that time, there was also a tying up of my insurance money, because if it was arson, they were going to go after, the insurance was going to go after, the person who did the arson for loss. So, my funds were tied up for quite a while.
CW: I see. So, um, lets get back to your restaurant for a second.
BK: Again, gay restaurant. (laughs)
CW: Um, what was it like? Did you do a lot of business?
BK: I did a good dinner crowd and I didhonestly I made more money on the two to four a.m. breakfast crowd, because you make more money off of eggs and toast then you do off of an entre. And I had some bizarre dishes like a caviar and sour cream omelet, which everybody loved, but I used a really inexpensive caviar and minimal amount of it. And you could sell it for premium because, you know, people are having caviar after being out all night.
CW: So, um, you said, were youdid you stay all day there at the restaurant?
BK: It was only open evenings.
BK: So, I usually arrived for deliveries around noon, went home and took a nap, and then continued on to late night. On slower nights I let my chefI was general manager. I had a chef that could run the business, or I had my front of house manager, who could run, oversees waiters and things, that could run the restaurant. So, I would sometimes leave it. But I also had a partner at the time who thought I was going to kill myself, because according to him, I was working so many hours and so hard that I looked ghastly.
CW: So, what did you do in your spare time when you werent working, even though that seems to be small amount?
BK: Again that was only a year, year and half of my life. Honestly, I worked twelve plus hour days.
CW: Wow. So, um
BK: Not unusual for me.
CW: No. (laughs)
BK: No, because I waswhen I was, even when I was in seminary I worked in the evenings and weekends, and studied and went to college. When I was in New York, I was going to college, working. I, at one point, after my mother passed away, I was working two jobs, so I could send money home and try to support my family. So
CW: When did your mother pass away?
BK: Um, must have been about 1980.
CW: Um-hm, okay. So, um, did you have a goodafter your mothers passing, did you a good support system still with your family?
BK: I was very, very, and still am very close with my sister Lorna. And she and I are exceedingly close, and we kind of took over as parents of the family. My older brother and sister were married with children of their own. My sister Lorna was recently divorced and we kind of always have been the responsible ones in the family, so we sort of took over.
CW: Oh, okay. So, um, when you moved here to Tampa, and after your restaurant was burned, thats when you started flipping houses?
BK: No. Well, yes and no. I started flipping houses, but I also started a leather shop.
BK: Its an industry I knew. I could do it with very minimal financing, which I did, and um, it was a niche that the community needed at the time.
CW: What was the name of your leather shop?
BK: Originally, it was Eagle Shop, but then when my partner and I parted ways, it had to be reincorporated. So, now its Hog House Leathers and has been for the past twenty plus years.
CW: Oh, so you still own
BK: I still own that, yes.
CW: Where is it in Tampa?
BK: At 2606. Its inside of a club.
CW: Okay. 2606. Where is that located?
BK: 2606 North Armenia. Its the oldest continuing leather fetish club, gay leather fetish club in Tampa.
CW: Oh wow. And whenokay, well well start from the beginning. So, you decide to open this leather shop, because you felt that it was sort of a niche that was missing from the community. Did it dowas it really successful?
BK: It was moderately successful, but because of my connections and things, I also discovered having started that business that there was a prejudice and bias within our own community. So, I also decided to enter leather contest, and I became Mr. Florida Leather. And I used that title to speak and promote the diversity with our own community, because for some reason our community really wants to see that white collar, all American boy next door, and forgets the extreme diversity within our community.
CW: And were back. We were talking about your leather store.
CW: Um, how old were you when you opened the leather store?
BK: Late twenties.
BK: I was probably twenty-eight or twenty-nine, twenty-nine.
CW: Um-hm. What kind of things did you sell there?
BK: Its a leather fetish store, so the clothing, fetish items.
CW: Did you make these sort of clothing in house, or did you order it from other places and then
BK: A large portion I ordered from other places, because there were skilled craftsman that were a lot better than I could be.
BK: So Id rathermy attitude is provide the best quality and youll have consistent costumers. If you have something substandard, they wont return.
CW: Right, right. And did you, um, work there throughout the day, or did you hire somebody else to kind of
BK: It was in a bar, so it was only open at night.
CW: Oh, okay.
BK: So, I worked there at night. I also had part-time employees, so I could kind of take time off, but then also because of limited hours also freed up lots of my time.
CW: Okay. So, its a store thats in a bar, so its only open during bar hours.
BK: During bar hours. And I only opened it during the busier bar hours.
CW: Right, okay.
BK: But I also financially wasnt making what I wanted to, but because I had good connections, I also started the importation of European items as well as the European latex, which latex was barely hitting the scene in America. And so I had a huge importation and distribution business.
BK: As well as flipping houses and everything else.
CW: Right, right. Oh, so, your shops only open a certain amount of time so you were able to sort of
BK: Do everything else.
CW: Do everything else you wanted to do in thewith the flipping houses during the day. That makesso you werent concerned at all with, I guess, people being intoxicated and then messing up the store.
BK: No, there is a subtle, proper way of handling people, so that thats not an issue.
BK: And people will get intoxicated, but if you gently curb them back into reality most of them are very respectful. And if theyre not respectful, there is a polite way to remove them from the store.
CW: So, someone could really go to the bar. Theyre having drinks, cocktails, whatever, and they could come in and purchase whatever they
CW: whatever they want.
BK: Or, they could just run in and purchase something if they
CW: Right, right.
BK: Because I alsothe store opened at nine in the evening, but the bar didnt get busy normally until eleven. And at nine to eleven a lot of people, the white-collar professionals that were a little more closeted of their idiosyncrasies, would dash in and get their things when there were less people there.
CW: Um-hm. Okay. And the shop would closewhat? Three a.m.? Four a.m.?
BK: Um, two a.m. weeknights, three a.m. on weekends.
CW: Um-hm. Okay.
BK: So very limited hours, which gave a lot of time for other things.
CW: And you mentioned earlier that there was some sort of backlash within the gay community about opening leather bar, or the leather shop, sorry.
BK: Turns out, especially in the south Tampa primarily white-collar community of the gay community, selling fetish items was a taboo thing. And I was almost ostracized by some of the individuals that I had known for a while, because suddenly I was It wasnt reputable like owning a restaurant.
CW: Um-hm. Okay. Didwhat was the advertisements like? Whatdid you advertise your shop in magazines?
BK: The local publications, and there were several national magazines at the time, Drummer magazine, Bound and Gagged, several of those that were gay magazines that I could advertise in for my importation and distribution.
CW: Um-hm. Okay. I guess Im a little nave with this question: So, these magazines are strictlyare they gay magazines or do they also sort of cater to the
BK: Theyre gay fetish magazines.
CW: Um-hm. Okay, okay. Um, so in your spare time, what was your typical day like?
BK: Honestly, based upon whether I was in the middle of a project of doing a house or driving through the neighborhood, because at that time anything south of Kennedy was really good for flipping and if you could find a house that had an original owner or someone that hadnt properly maintained it, you could make good returns on it.
So, I was either in the midst of doing a house or I was looking for a new house, or I was making through my shipments were coming through customs properly, because there was sometimes issues with customs. And then if something once it came through customs, I had to provide all the people that were waiting for inventory. But it wasit was actually kind of a nice time, because I had for the first time, instead of a rigid schedule, I had more lucrative time.
CW: When you say issues with customs, what kind of issues?
BK: Customs could hold up things from coming through based upon the customs inspector that might have a personal problem
BK: and since these were coming primarily through Miami by sea, because its heavy, ifand I shouldnt generalize, but I assume based upon their own religious or being sexually uptight, they would find issue, and they could hold up to six weeks my inventory.
CW: Oh okay, for the shop.
BK: For my importation and distribution, for my wholesaling.
BK: Which was more lucrative than the shop itself.
CW: Did you, um, did people know that you owned this store? Just sort of around, just everyone in the community or
BK: I am very open in everything. Im one of those, If you dont want to know, dont ask.
CW: Did you findwas anyone sort of judgmental or
BK: There were a few individuals that were judgmental. More people enjoy diversity of play than you might think. And with an intellectual individual, frequently they also want variety in their play, so they usually do so. I find many of the people that want to expand their sexual experience are also extremely intelligent, that they want to not just expand their mental stimulus, but also sexual.
CW: And you didnt get any sort of, I dont know, negative responses personally
BK: I did.
CW: You did, okay.
BK: I went to join the business guild, which is the association of gay and lesbian business owners, and I was told at the time that my business was not indicative of the type of business that they wanted to have as part of the guild. And Bob Pope told me later on that that did not comehe was president of the business guildhe said, That was obviously from the secretary or somebody else, and he would not have said such a thing.
CW: So, what kind of businesses were they looking for?
BK: Actually they were primarily gay and lesbian professionals, who were networking, Accountants
BK: Attorneys, but there was also some businessmen with it, and women.
CW: Okay. And then when your store, or Im sorry, when you and your partner at the time split, and you said the store had to be renamed, reincorporated, it stayed in the same location then.
CW: Was that the only sort of leather bar in Tampa?
BK: Oh, actually, when we split our division of the business wasbecause I was to do the mail order business, because all these national publications that people saw that I was wholesaling wanted to do retail. So, I was doing not just the store, but also the mail order and the importation and the wholesaling.
CW: So, were you sort of the only connection in Tampa for these types of items or latex and
BK: At the time I was, yeah.
BK: Actually, at the time I was the only connection in America for the European latex. So, all the latex fetish clothing that were becoming quite prevalent even in the straight community, I was the only importer of these, and most companies didnt want to go through the hassle trying to import a small quantity. They would rather just buy it from me with my markup.
CW: Oh, so you reallyand this all sort of blossomed out of you seeing kind of, um, where the community was lacking and just being like, This is what we need. And then it grew into this.
BK: And I was also part of the leather community, and I had gone to some of the leather gatherings and events, and I also knew the stores of New York and San Francisco. And there had been a small store at one point in Tampa, and the owners moved to Atlanta, because it was a larger market. And so, that store didnt exist anymore, and so suddenly there was a gap and a hole set to be filled.
CW: So, when were you Mr. Leather?
BK: 1989, I was Mr. Florida.
CW: Whats that like? Where do you go to compete for that? Was it here?
BK: We had a local competition in Tampa that all the regionals went to Orlando for the final competition, and then the winner of that went to San Francisco for the Mr. Drummer contest, and then Chicago for the International Mr. Leather contest.
CW: Oh. So, did you enter into the contest just to promote the business, or where you also interested in being Mr. Florida Leather?
BK: I was in the contest to promote leather awareness and acceptance and diversity in our community. My partner at the time, I didnt know it, was really pushing the business through this at every event and everything we went to. He was really pushing our mail order catalogue and those sort of things.
CW: Okay, cool. So, then can you sort of describe your experience as Mr. Florida Leather? Is that sort of like a
BK: It was actually kind of wonderful. I gotbecause I finally I had acknowledgement that I was informed and moderately eloquent on a topic, I could talk to people in a non-judgmental open manner about the diversity within our community, and the diversity of even in the fetish community of peoples enjoyment and individual turn-ons.
But I also got to travel nationally, and like I had done with the Shanti project raising funds for HIV, in the leather community it seemed to be hitting, HIV was hitting more prevalently than in the community at large, so I was able to go and do fundraising. And I took the opportunity toI raised a quarter million dollars across the country that year for HIV relief.
BK: I was very proud of that.
BK: But because I had the title, it was easier to get the draw of people if you were going to Omaha, Nebraska.
BK: Which I did.
CW: Um-hm. Right. So, um, can you describe the contest for me?
BK: Yeah, the contest actually was multifaceted. First of all, it was looks. You had to have full dressed leather. Then there was the bar leather, and then, of course, the jockstrap competition. So, a lotsome of what was based upon body, but then you also had to do a fetish fantasy, but because it had to be in public stage, it had to be within the confines of that. And then you had to do your answer and question in public speaking portion of it, where you had to show that you had knowledge of the community, and that you could be eloquent enough to present our community in a positive manner.
CW: What wereyou said because it was in a public place you had to abide by the confines. What kind of considerations did you have to keep in mind for your, sort of, performance?
BK: Um, definitely no genitalia.
BK: And even in some venues you had to make sure that you didnt have even pubic hair that could show by accident.
CW: Because that would have been public nudity? Or violate that
BK: Florida had veryand probably still hasvery strict nudity laws where men especially, they were more uptight about men showing midsection areas then women. Women could go to the beach in apparel that a man couldnt go to a bar in.
BK: Without being arrested. And we had to make sure that we were well within those confines, so that the people that were doing the contest as well as the establishment hosting, it wouldnt possibly have any issues or conflicts.
CW: What establishment hosted the contest?
BK: Um, 2606 hosted the one here.
BK: The one in Orlando was hosted by Parliament House.
CW: Um-hm. Okay. And they asked youwhat kind of questions did they ask you for your public speaking section?
BK: You know, I dont recall the actual questions. But I remember my public speaking portion was based primarily on my experience in the store, that we all have our own niche and thing, and we cannot be judgmental within our own community for people who have different likes than others. Your proclivity might not be that of another. We have to respect and honor people of all types.
CW: So, the Mr. Florida Leatherthe only thing in my head that I am sort of comparing this, sort of, like the womens pageants that we see on TV. Was your title sort of a year before they
BK: Very much so kind of like the womens pageant, but in the gay male leather fetish community.
CW: Right. So were
BK: And the communityand the questions werent broad spectrum like they are for like a beauty contest, they were very geared at your knowledge and ability to speak on behalf of the leather community.
CW: Interesting. So then what
BK: But they also were, because they expected your appearance to be a draw also, they did a portion of it based upon your appearance.
CW: Um-hm. So, how many places did you perform or go as Mr. Leather?
BK: Sixteen different cities.
CW: (Laughs) In the South and, you know, all
BK: All across the country. But honestly, because I was Mr. Florida, and I didnt hold the national title (phone rings)Im letshould I turn that off?
CW: If you need to get it, you can grab it. Its
BK: Its Will. No, Im not going to get it.
CW: So, were you able to go back to New York and back to San Francisco as Mr. Florida Leather?
BK: I went to San Francisco for another contest. But as far as a fundraisingoh actually no, thats not entirely true either. I raised twelve hundred dollars in San Francisco, but that was the weekend of the actual contest, the international contest, and they had a charity fundraiser auction, and I raised twelve hundred dollars.
But because I was Mr. Florida as opposed to California, which is a huger, or New York, which is much larger, I was not a large draw for that type of community. Places like Columbus, Ohio, Omaha, Nebraska, I was a bigger draw, because I was Mr. Florida and they couldnt necessarily get a Mr. New York or California or something.
BK: So, some of the medium to smaller cities I was able to be a bigger draw and raise more funds.
CW: Okay, I see. So, the year that you won Mr. Florida Leather, was that the first year that there was a contest here in Florida?
BK: Thats the first year Florida had its own region. Prior to that they had the southeast which includedbut Florida had grown in the gay community so large at that point that they gave Florida its own region and population.
CW: Oh, okay.
BK: Well, because of Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville, we had grown into such a distinct area that they no longer lumped us with Alabama and Georgia.
CW: Okay. So
BK: But the year prior to that, they did lump us with Georgia and Alabama, and I think maybe Mississippi.
CW: Um, so when your store was re-incorporated and renamed, and it stayed inwhat was the leather community like in Tampa?
BK: At the time it was actually a very vibrant leather community. And part of my New York experience was the old guard leather community, where you were trained and taught by older members of the community in safe, sane techniques, and when I arrived in Tampa that was still style of passing down your knowledge and skills to somebody else, so that they could also play safely and sanely.
CW: (inaudible comments about dog barking)
BK: Or in this case squirrel (laughs).
CW: So, did you go to any other gay spaces in Tampa? Any other bars or nightclubs?
BK: Not as far as my business goes. I did other, other events and things in other bars, primarily to create awareness of the diversity in our community.
CW: Okay, what other bars did you um, go to?
BK: Well, there was Baxters at the time, whichwell, actually, Baxters is still around in new positionthe Jungle, um, Renes. Whats the other one on Kennedy? I dont recall.
CW: Where these all, sort of, in one area, or would you say they were sort of scattered throughout the city?
BK: At that time there was thebecause of Hyde Park and Palma Ceia being the gay neighborhoods, and the Howard Avenue slowly becoming the gay and artist commercial district, most of the gay bars were sprinkled along Kennedy Boulevard.
CW: Um-hm. Okay.
BK: Though there were, another sprinkling in, the big dance clubs were in Ybor, but theoh, I wish I could remember the name of it. Anyhow, there was a bunch of other clubs that were along Kennedy, because they were all convenient to the Hyde Park, Palma Ceia district.
CW: Okay. I see. Im picturing it in my head. So you andso have you been flipping,
BK: I think it was 92 or 93 that we had another little bubble here burst.
BK: And so I stopped for a period of years and then started up about four or five years later.
BK: And then I stopped in 06, 05, I stopped two years before the bubble burst, because I was predicting another burst of that bubble, having been through one burst of the bubble, except it kept going past what I predicted, so when it burst, it really did burst like major. If everyone had backed off at two years prior like I had, it wouldnt have been so bad.
CW: What do you mean, um, there was a bubble burst?
BK: The real estate bubble.
CW: Okay, okay.
BK: In 92 there was also another mini-real estate bubble burst or 93, Im not sure what the year that was.
CW: So, um, and did you continue to work in your shop throughout this time, or had you
BK: Actually a lot of things had taken place during that time, because I had alsothere was a gay bookstore that was floundering, extremely small, and the owners partner, who was the main breadwinner, was transferred to Orlando, and so they were going to close the store.
And I didnt think we should be without a gay bookstore; we needed literature in our community. So, I purchased that bookstore in 89 or 90. And I took that over, and revamped it, and was in the process of building that.
CW: Was this Tomes and Treasures?
BK: It is Tomes and Treasures, yeah.
CW: And that was on
BK: That is on Howard Avenue.
BK: Was on Howard Avenue. At the time it was at 202 South Howard, and it was just a little tiny four hundred square foot building, and originally when I bought it, it was two efficiency units, but one efficiency unit was the bookstore, and I expanded it into both of those, so I doubled the space. And then I needed more space, so then I bought a third of the city block on Howard Avenue, and expanded it, and then built a new building to add the coffee house, and you know all that.
CW: Oh, you werent lying when you said small businesses.
BK: Ive always been quite the entrepreneur. (Laughs) If you cant tell by the variety of businesses, and that was just from 86, when I bought my first one. This is now were at 93. Thats a period of seven years.
CW: What were the challenges that you encountered in, sort of, owning and operating a gay bookstore?
BK: I didnt really have many challenges. I loved literature. Ithere was a magazine called the Encounter at the time that came in and asked me if I would want tothey wanted a book review column in their magazinewould I write it? So, I wrote a book review column. I did get a little backlash.
People thought I was trying to promote my store, but I wrote good and bad book reviews, because when a book I thought was substandard I would say it. In some cases, I would say a book was extremely simplistically written, but some people like very simple light literature. I was used to a variety of literature and prefer someone who has a large grasp of the English language.
CW: But you wouldnt say that the surrounding community had any sort of issues with the gay bookstore?
BK: The only issue I had was one mother whose son came in to the store frequently, wouldnt buy anything, but she thought my store was turning her son gay, because he was sneaking into my store to read parts of books.
CW: And she came. She came in the store to tell you this?
BK: She discovered something somehow or saw him when he was sneaking out, because she was kind of kitty-corner behind.
CW: And you had a talk
BK: I told her that she might want to speak with her son. If he is coming into my store, there might be a reason, and if she has an issue with it, she should deal with him.
CW: Okay. It seems like what youre saying is really that Tampa was relatively accepting in the late eighties, early nineties of the LGBT community or of the gay community.
BK: It was on Howard Ave, and Howard Ave at the time was surrounded by Hyde Park, Palma Ceia, and the gay clubs of Kennedy Boulevard; it was the heart of the gay ghetto. So, anyone that was living in the district was living next to gay or lesbian couples or individuals, so that portion of Tampa was very gay accepting at the time.
CW: How have you seen these neighborhoods change over the past, what twenty years?
BK: Hyde Park and Palma Ceia have become very yuppie, but still there is a sprinkling of the old gay community here as well as some young gay professionals. We moved up next to Seminole Heights, which has also became a gay neighborhood, but then also got gentrified into yuppies.
But most of Tampa being a working, educated community has become very progressive very quickly. And South Tampa, which was much more white-collar professional, I think more so then most of Tampa. And because that originally was the gay neighborhood, people that moved into the neighborhood understood they were moving into a neighborhood that was gentrified by the gay community.
CW: Where would you saywould you say these neighborhoods are still very much the gay neighborhoods in Tampa?
BK: I think like most cities, because we have and we no longer need a gay ghetto for protection and acceptance and safety; were dispersed across most of the community. Were not in verythere may be higher concentrations in South Tampa and in Seminole Heights, but we are very dispersed across the entire community now.
BK: There is no longer that concern or worry about working on your lawn with your partner and having a backlash from the neighbors or attacks.
CW: Has that ever happened to you here in Florida?
BK: When I bought this house, the house on the corner was bought by a lesbian, the house behind me was bought by a lesbian couple, and the house on the corner shortly after that was bought by a gay couple. And the retired air force guy next to me came over and said, Since you all are taking over the neighborhood Im going to sell my house, if you know anyone of your kind thats interested. And, of course, no respecting gay man would touch that home.
BK: So, four years later he came over and brought me clippings from his yard and said, You know, youre the best neighborhood Ive had. Youre quiet. You fix the place up. Youre So, I did have that, and then the neighbor in front of me, it tookhe has six daughters. He was born and raised in Polk County on an orange plantation his family owned.
And he told his daughters originally not to talk to me, because, um, he had been told in his Polk County church thatand they keep interchanging the words gay and pedophile, so he thought they were synonymous. So, he thought I was gay or pedophile because those terms must be synonymous, because that is what his church said.
So, he didnt want his six daughters, no sons, to come to talk to me. Many years later they bring me rum cake every Christmas. They play with my dog. His daughters all know me. But it took years for them to come to the realization that his church had totally misled him and confused the terms.
CW: Um-hm. Yeah.
BK: And it was a major breakthrough on his part when he could admit that. No offense to the Southern Baptist but(laughs)
CW: Did you, umthis is a question I hadnt thought to ask you earlier, did you continue to go to church?
BK: I did not. I honestly have aand I try to get over itI have a problem with most Christians. I dont find them compassionate or loving. In modern American society, I found them supporting organizations of hate and war, and politicians who want to cut off funding for food stamps and basic health for people, and I feel that they, most churches, have lost the original concepts.
But having studied comparative religions, I have this philosophy anyhow that through all religions theres a fine line that runs which is truth. And thats the only thing that is true. All the rest of it is made up for money, control, and manipulation. And if you study all religions, youll find a line that runs through all of them that, because its consistent has to be truth.
CW: So, at what pointwhen did you meet your partner now? The partner that you have
BK: Oh, but you skipped two other ones. (laughs)
CW: Oh, sorry. Sorry. We can go through those.
BK: The brief partner, Richard, who moved to California and took with him the mail order business that was the division of that business.
BK: It was only a very brief relationship. Scott was thrown out of the military for being gay and HIV positive. And I met Scott and we became partners. And he helped me work on houses. He was salt of the earth, Polk County, hardworking, good ole boy, just really wonderful man, had our issues, but every relationship does. Unfortunately, in the spring of 93 he became extremely ill and in May of 93 he passed away.
CW: Im sorry.
BK: But it was both the most heart-wrenching thing that ever happened to me and the most rewarding thing that ever happened. To be able to take care of somebody to the end is very rewarding, to be there for them, and to help take care of them. Losing someone you care about that much was also very rough.
I went into a three month depression that I didnt realize it was a depression until I came out of it. Then I realized, Oh my god, thats just classic depression. And I thought I was ill. I went to the doctor. We checked for everything from Epstein bar to whatever, because I was always exhausted and that wasnt like me. I was spending too much time in bed. And when I snapped out of it I realized, Oh my god, thats what it was.
CW: Did you have anyone to turn to for support doing this time?
BK: My sister Lorna came down here, because she was very concerned that I might pass. And I also had friends who were around, but I also had a brother who was living with me, because he had gone through a rough patch, who is my youngest gay brother, who took the opportunityhis partner was less than ethical and they took the opportunity to take things from my household, and bank accounts, and businesses, and things, because I wasnt paying attention, because I wasnt focused properly.
CW: So, you have a gay younger brother?
BK: The youngest, gaytheyre twins, Daniel and Rachel, they are also gay and lesbian.
CW: Okay, um-hm. Oh, so when did they, sort of, come out?
BK: Well, they came out to each other I am sure in high school, because they kind of looked out for each other during high school.
CW: Right, right.
BK: But they were very openly gay and lesbian by the time they were seventeen or eighteen.
CW: How much younger are they then you?
BK: Thirteen years.
BK: I was in college when they entered kindergarten.
CW: Oh, okay.
BK: Theres thatso sadly, I didnt really have a great connection with them as a child, and when my mother passed away, because I had to take the role of a parent, that also caused some issues and problems. Instead of being a sibling, you are now a parent.
CW: Right. So, did they come to you for any sort advice or support
CW: because you were the older brother.
BK: Not at all (laughs). They saw me asby then I wasby the time they had come out, I was extremely professional, and go-getter, and almost a workaholic, and doing so many things. And I hadI was perceived as being education and affluent, and that I wouldnt quite understand them. And I think they didnt understand when I was poor and working my way through college, and what I went through that I could relate. They just saw me where I was today.
CW: So, how long did your brother stay with you?
BK: About a year, year and a half.
CW: And this was the same time that your partner was sick.
BK: Towards the end of that my partner got ill.
CW: Um-hm. And did your brother help at all or was it sort of like
BK: He actuallyhe became unemployed for a brief period of time. The company he was working for went under. So, he worked for me at Tomes and Treasures, and he helped out while my partner was ill, which was one of the issues, because I was spending more time and attention with my partner, who was in the hospital the last twenty-one days of his life, then I was at my store.
And then with the depression afterwards, and he really couldnt deal with my depression afterwards, so he moved out of the house very quickly after my partner passed.
CW: Um-hm. And thats when your sister came to
BK: Thats when my sister Lorna came down.
CW: Came to
BK: Because she was concerned, because of her understanding of stress and illness and HIV she thought that the stress of all that might kill me. And honestly, I became seriously ill after he passed, and I became seriously ill when I had to close Tomes and Treasures. The twowell and I also became ill when I was opening my restaurant in New York.
The three extremely high stress periods of my life, I did become ill. And she understood this, and has always been there to make sure that I dont get too stressed, and that Im properly feed and taken care of.
CW: So, how did you, um, sort of come out of this depression? You said you sort of realized it all of sudden, but what helped you sort of move your way through that period?
BK: Im a people person and I realized he wouldnt want me sitting around at home, and I needed to get out there and be back to ordinary life. And honestly, going to work I was on automatic pilot, so I didnt have to feel it. It was only when I came home and the place was empty. He had passed and my brother had moved out, so this house seemed very large and empty.
CW: Was this here?
BK: I bought this house for my 30th birthday, 88.
CW: So, were you working at Tomes and Treasures at the time?
BK: I was.
CW: Managing that and then
BK: I was working at Tomes and Treasures. I was working at my store 26 [at 2606] in the evening.
CW: Gosh. How long did you own Tomes and Treasures? How long did it stay open?
BK: I owned it for seventeen years.
CW: Okay. And then what year did it close?
BK: In 05.
CW: What were the reasons for it closing?
BK: It was a multitude of reasons. I had slowly expanded that business. I went from just beingI created a fourteen hundred square foot bookstore, and then I built the building next door, and expanded intoand I was also doing the gay pride shopand expanded into a coffee house. So, thered be meeting place, musicians, and first of each month there was a new artist in the gay community that showed there.
But book sales were diminishing. Barnes and Nobles and Borders didnt exist when I had Tomes and Treasures, and they had opened up in Tampa, and had a small gay section, but they had a gay section. And gay bookstores in the country were starting to flounder and then the final straw was when Starbucks opened up three blocks away.
Sixty percent of my business walked down the street and sat there, and so I was packed Friday and Saturday night from seven oclock until eleven, but eight hours a week cant pay for a business. And I started hemorrhaging money left and right, and I realized when gay publishers started going down, and eighty percent of the gay bookstores in the country had already gone down, that I couldnt financially go under because of the losses I was incurring. And that I really had to liquidate the store and close the store.
CW: What was the impact of its closure, you think, on the community and
BK: Um, you know, one of the blessings and curses of the seventeen years of that store is that it filled a niche of having aand the final coffee house and even the newer bookstore had all glass front windows. It was very positive, bright, and airy. And what I created was a healthy, intellectual, positive atmosphere for our community, and we needed a gathering space like that at the time.
Now we can go many places and sit and chat, and discuss literature or whatever, and you dont have to worry about acceptance like you did ten years ago. So, the need for it I think has diminished. So, the impact on the community was fairly large in that there wasnt the volumeI carried twelve thousand different titles. You didnt have the volume of literature available.
People couldnt come in and peruse what books they wanted, but the industry was shifting. And I think people really missed a place to gather that was alcohol free, kicked back, relaxed, but I also knew when I added that coffee house it was a wonderful thing and a bad thing, in that suddenly the hours were from bright and early in the morning until eleven oclock at night.
CW: So, you said something about the pride store?
BK: It had also pride items.
BK: The rainbow stickers, the tee shirts, theeverything to do with gay pride as well as literature were all in that store.
BK: Because it was a gay pride shop as well as bookstore. Cause I expanded from just bookstore that hethat I originally took over that he was about to close to the pride shop and then to the coffee house later on.
CW: So, when Tomes and Treasures closed you still had the leather shop, obviously, because you still do. What other businesses did you go on to open?
BK: I havent. When I closed that store I was actually researching viable businesses, and I was going to open up a personal training business, and the economy shifted at about the time I was going to do that. And the economy started coming back and then I lost my leg, so it kind of altered that. But because of my multitude of businesses, and Im a moderately savvy investor, I also discovered when I closed homes that I never have to work again if I dont want to.
I have very modest needs in life. So, I can do other things. I went on the board of the film festival and I became their treasurer for three years. I am now on the board of the Ybor Youth Clinic, which is a free medical clinic for twelve to twenty-two year olds, most of them are gay and lesbian homeless, 60 percent. I am now doing work with the amputee group, and I am volunteering at the St. Petersburg College of prosthetics, so they can actually practice on living human beings.
I, umwow, that was way, way before that. In the early nineties, I went to the board of Pride Tampa Bay and told them that they needed a parade, because I always enjoyed, you know, 1979, volunteering for the parade. I always enjoyed a parade and Tampa didnt have one. They were having picnics and things. They said, Fine, do it. So, I came on the board of Pride Tampa Bay and was the chair of our first eight pride marches.
So, Ive done non-profit, Ive always done non-profit work, but I kind of expanded my nonprofit work with the film festival. We were without an executive director for a while, and as treasurer I stepped in and started doing a lot of the fundraising and writing the grants. I wasnt a grant writer.
I also worked with Walgreens and finally got them to do money, but Id never done a pitch to a major corporation with people coming down from Chicago in five thousand dollar suits to hear my pitch. So, I did kind of immerse myself again in giving back to the community, but I had always been somehow on the board of something, and also financially donated quite a bit to the community.
CW: Okay, so you helped organize all of the Tampas pride parades?
BK: I created and organized the first Tampa Pride parade. The funny side story on that is because I had done this with San Francisco for the March for a Cure, the Pride committee, we would have our meetings and theyd be like, How is the parade coming? Id said, Everythings in line. Everythings going fine. They didnt actually think this parade might happen, because I didnt give huge amounts of detail, but I didnt think they wanted huge amounts of detail.
Because I was lining up everything, and when the parade took place Don Bentz came over, Oh, thank god, me and the vice president were just like, this parades never going to happen. (laughs) But one of that also wonderful things of that is at the time, Jane Castor coordinated the women police officers, and so she and I became good friends, and a lot of good connections have come from this. But, yeah, I chaired the first gay pride parade in Tampa.
CW: And then, were you involvedhow many were there before they stopped doing Pride in Tampa?
BK: Two years after I resigned from that board, Pride Tampa Bay, kind of, closed its doors and moved to St. Petersburg Pride.
CW: Um-hm. Um
BK: And Im not quite sure of the years of that. I think 94 to aboutno I didnt do it in 99, because that was the year I was finishing the building that the coffee house was going to be in, so 94 to 98 were the years that I did that.
CW: Um-hm, okay. What was your experience like on the committee?
BK: I actually enjoyed Pride Tampa Bay. There wasmost of the people on that board were very motivated in doing good for the community. And many organizations I found have done, have had board members that really want to do what is right and proper for the community. On any organization there will be an individual or two that does it for personal praise and notoriety, but for the most part I found that they really wanted to do what was right for the community.
BK: And they really wanted to have a gathering where people didnt feel like they were a minority. They were just in the majority for once in their life.
CW: Okay. Well, Im going to
BK: Did we go over?
CW: No, were fine. Um, Im going to go ahead and conclude
CW: this interview, but thank you so much for
BK: Youre welcome.
CW: And well have to talk again.
CW: This is Cyrana Wyker. I am here with Bill Kanouff at his residence in Tampa, Florida. This interview is part of the Tampa GLBT Oral History Project under my direction. Today is November 8, 2013. Do I have your permission to record this interview?
CW: Okay, so. We were talking a little bit off record. So, if you want to, sort of, begin wherever you would like.
BK: I want to begin with 1993 when my partner was ill. At the time there was a huge fundamentalist insurgence into Tampa. Anytime there was a gay event, anything that was happening. My partners family was from Polk County. They had left one of the most conservative Pentecostal churches, because they considered it too liberal. And when my partner was in the hospital passing he told me never to call his family and tell them.
He said after he is dead and cremated let them know, but not until then. His last day I thought it was only right and proper to call his family, and they came and security had to be called, because they attempted to attack me in the hospital, because they lived in the land of denial. He was thrown out of the military for being gay and HIV positive, and had a medical discharge for being HIV positive.
And when he returned home to his family, they threw him out of the house for being gay and HIV positive. And then he met me, and at the hospital they accused me of making him gay and HIV positive, even though they knew the history prior to that. And I find that at the time that was very consistent with a lot of the Christian thinking. Blame it on a person rather than the situation, rather than admitting that your son is gay try to blame it on others.
And thank goodness Tampa General was very current at the time, and had security remove him, and I had medical power of attorney and things. And the doctor made it so that only one person was allowed in the room at a time, and if I was there the family had to be removed from the hospital.
CW: Oh wow.
BK: So, the hospital was very good with me.
CW: Well, thats nice.
BK: Primarily, his doctor was also extremely good with me, but she also had seen me all along and had never seen the family.
BK: And she knew I had the medical power of attorney and had seen the paperwork.
BK: And she was very aware of the situation.
CW: Did you have contact with his family after that, afterwards? Did they come around eventually?
BK: Actually the only person I had, had any contact with prior, because I wasnt allowed in their home, was his identical twin brother. And he came by the house to handle the settlement of the estate. And his brother was very good about most things, but having an identical twin to your partner who just passed away show up at your front door was very unsettling for me.
And the family wouldnt have anything to do with me, except they decided after his death that they wanted half of everything we owned.
CW: Oh, wow. Okay. So how did that unfold, because if you have power of attorney and theyre notwhat are the legal issues there? Because they are not really technically entitled
BK: Huge legal issues. In the state of Florida, at the time, if a family contested a will, frequently the family won, because the state recognized the rights of the biological family over the partner that had lived with them and taken care of them.
CW: Oh, really.
BK: And frequently half of the belongings that were in both names were taken. Because I had a good attorney many years ago, he advised me to create a trust fund. Trust funds dont go into the estate or a will. Its a separate entity all together. And if the property has trustees overlooking the trust fund, but the person or individual doesnt own things, then it cant be gone after.
CW: Oh, Okay.
BK: So they werent able to get the things. That, and I had financially did much, much better than my partner, and though things were set up if something to mebecause I expected to go before himtechnically I was positive many years before he was. He would have been taken care of, but most of the things were also in my name that were not in the trust.
CW: And can they try and go after things that are only in your name? The family?
BK: No, if it was in my name personally.
BK: If it was his name personally, they could potentially take it even though there was a will that would have left it to me.
CW: Because you two are not married and the state wouldnt recognize it even if you had been
BK: And federal government wouldnt recognize it, and inheritance tax didnt recognize it.
BK: None of that. Thats all very new.
BK: But in the state of Florida as well as Georgia, I had a friend that passed away in Georgia, the legal system frequently would give things to the family rather than the partner. I had a friend who owned the Eagle in Atlanta. And when he passed away the family saw that he owned a bar and wanted the bar even though it was a gay bar. They won it in court, and then wanted to sell it back to the partner, but it had been left to the partner.
And unfortunately the courts frequently in the early nineties did that. They would have the rights of the family over the will and the partner.
CW: Oh wow. So you were really lucky to have a good attorney that advised you.
BK: And had all the paperwork together and unfortunately the paperwork then, and even now, required to be a legal couple for a gay couple is very cumbersome and very expensive. We spent close to 10,000 dollars setting up the trust fund, medical power of attorney, durable attorney, durable power of attorney, anyhow, all the legal things that you needed. One of the things I wasnt aware of was you needed an additional piece of paper for the body after death.
BK: And the family took his body. He wanted to be cremated and scattered in our rose garden. His family took the body and buried him and wouldnt allow any of his gay friends at the funeral.
CW: Oh no.
BK: Even though they hadnt seen him for ten years except for when they threw him out of the house. And that was just a lapse on our part, because we werent really aware of it and my attorney didnt make me aware of that.
BK: And because they were extreme Pentecostal, they didnt believe in cremation. So, we had a memorial gathering separate from his family. And the funny side of that is that I told them that what they were doing were not his wishes, and then they came to me because they were a rather poor Polk county family, and asked me if I would pay for the funeral, because it left them with huge debt, after they did the opposite of what he wanted.
But legally they could take his body after death, even though I had all the paperwork and they hadnt and wouldnt deal with him prior to his passing.
CW: So, thea living willdid you have a living will?
BK: A living will is so that we dont have to be put on life support.
BK: That has nothing to do with
CW: The body. So that
BK: taking care of each other or the body.
BK: A living will actually is to let you die. But once you have passed, in married couples the spouse gets to decide. If there is not a spouse, the parents or child gets to decide, or a family member. Because we cant legally marry, we cant make those decisions after they pass. And there has to be, and I dont know what that legal document is called, we have to have a separate document to fulfill their last wishes of disposal.
CW: Okay. So, how long did the legal entanglements with his family continue?
BK: Very briefly. Once they got a brief letter from my attorney asking for receipts that they had showing that their son had purchased anything I think their attorney or advisor Because they hadnt spoken to him in ten years, they had no receipts, they couldnt prove he owned anything.
So, it was dropped rather quickly, because it was up to them to remove things from our house, that he actually owned things. And because he had bad credit, I actually bought the truck he used and things like that, because I could get a loan for it and he couldnt. So, if I had a loan on it, it had to be in my name.
CW: Right, right. So, your attorney, was it easy to find an attorney that was familiar with these sort of gay and lesbian legal issues?
BK: When I first arrived here, we had a wonderful organization, which still exists, which is the business guild.
BK: The Business Guild Association of Gay and Lesbian Professionals, and that was actually, the president of it at the time was an attorney, but its also a good way to meet attorneys and CPAs and that sort of thing. And because some people wouldnt use out and open attorneys and CPAs, I went out of my way to make sure I used openly gay and lesbian attorneys and CPAs just to make sure that their loss of income because they were out wouldnt be grossly effected.
BK: At the time, there were individuals who wouldnt work with an openly gay individual.
CW: Oh, wow. Okay. So, um, you mentioned off the tape about the film fest in 1993.
BK: Ah, the film festival. I was at the film festival, and this was October, my partner had passed in May. And I was not in a good headspace, because I had just pulled myself out of the depression that came with him passing. And the Ku Klux Klan showed up, which they did every year for every gay event, every Pride event, every film festival. Any gay event, we had the Ku Klux Klan showing up.
And sadly, because of their history in Florida, they really scared and intimated a lot of individuals. And they started with their bullhorns and yelling and things during the start of the film festival, and I being rather irritated wanted to show the community that these were just powerless loud mouth bigots.
So, I grabbed the American flag, grabbed Jim Beckett, walked across the street, held the flag over our heads, dipped him and kissed him while standing in the middle of the Ku Klux Klan. And thats the last time the Klan showed up, but a lot of them after that showed up without their white robes with their churches information of things. So, they just changed garb. Its not that they stopped going.
CW: Interesting. So, the KKK came for many years to protest the film fest. What kind of things
BK: Since the beginning until 1993.
BK: Which was for five years, they show up for six.
CW: What kind ofyou said they were yelling and thingswhat kind of things would they say?
BK: Gay is an abomination; Get out of the country; You have no place in this city. And, actually, one of the so-called Christians used to also go around at the gay events and take pictures, and then to research who they were and send the pictures to their employers, to their neighbors, trying to scare people back into the closet.
BK: It was a concerted effort by the Christians at the time for intimidation.
BK: Very similar to what they did to womens clinics. They would protest every time something happened in the gay community. There were other horrific things that took place in other areas not in Tampa, but they were and attempted this way of intimidation.
CW: So, did the KKK havethey came in full
BK: Full white garb. (laughs)
CW: (laughs) Oh my gosh. Any burning crosses or anything like that?
BK: No burning crosses.
BK: Some of them carried crosses, and to my knowledge they hadnt burned crosses in this county for several years, though it still took place in rare occasions in Polk County.
CW: So, do you think there is a KKK chapter here? Or do you think they came from Polk Countycame from more rural areas into the city?
BK: Oh, no. One of my close friends whos my age group, when he went to high school here a lot of his friends belonged to the KKK, because it was something to do, because they were bored. And they thought it was fun to go out and do these tactics of fear and intimidation.
BK: And these were kids that are now in their 50s. This was twenty or thirty years ago that they were still doing this in the high schools here.
CW: Oh my goodness. I had a vague idea, notion, that the KKK had been active in this area, you know, after the war, but I didnt realize
BK: And they are still moderately active in Polk County today.
CW: Thats crazy to think about.
BK: Theyre still in existence. My biker buddy and I, we go out riding in the country, we used to every Saturday, and wed take these long rides, and we went down this road, because we like to travel the untraveled country roads, that stopped at a rebel flag, gated, security camera compound that was the KKK compound. And this is in 2010.
CW: Oh my gosh.
BK: This is Pasco county, KKK compound.
CW: Thats just crazy.
BK: They still exist.
CW: So, what happened when you kissed the man in front ofdid theywhat did they do? Were they stunned?
BK: They were stunned, but there were also loud cheers from the gay community. And it really quieted the Klan, because the gay community realized they wouldnt do anything. And people thought this was a fairly radical act on my part. I, at the time, didnt see it as that radical. It was I was trying to make a profound statement for our community, because they were being intimidated, and it worked. And that was the only thing I was trying to do was to show that loud mouth bigots had no power.
CW: Wow. Sojust for the sake of comparison, when you lived in New York or San Francisco were their organizations that protested gay events in those cities?
BK: They were limited.
BK: When I volunteered for the tenth anniversary of Stonewall in the gay pride parade, there were a few Christians, but when you have quarter million gays and lesbians in the city and fifty protests, its nothing. When youre that majority in that huge vast quantity thats a really wonderful thing. Thats why the March on Washington in 1993 was so important, because if you are in a city with a million gays and lesbians and youre all around the capital the impact of being the majority rather than a minority had quite an impact on us.
I took my brother to that, who is gay, because I had gone through that during the tenth anniversary of Stonewall and I wanted him to experience the same thing in D.C.
CW: So, then in Tampa it would have beenwas it unusual, was it like a shock for you to see the KKK at gay events? Were you expecting that?
BK: I wasnt expecting it. Being a northerner, you hear the KKK in the 1960s, I assumed because I hadnt heard much of them in the 70s and 80s that they kind of faded, and then to arrive and see them, I was kind of surprised. But historically, I saw on television when I was a kid the KKK and the things they were doing against the Black community.
So, I was very aware of their presence, and when I arrived here having seen that as kid on the news, I kind of understood that they were still around.
CW: Were there a lot of them? This was outside of Tampa Theater maybe?
BK: This was actually across the street.
CW: From Tampa
BK: Yeah, on Zach, which was because they set up a little street festival for the opening of the film festival, and they had all the vendors and information things there, and they showed up for that portion of it.
CW: Okay. How many KKK members would you say there were? Was it a lot?
BK: I would say a dozen.
CW: Okay. Much more filmgoers than KKK?
BK: Many more.
BK: But it was very noticeable the crowd was
BK: moving away from the KKK towards the other end, and that they were scaring some individuals. Especially the native Floridians who were born in the 60s or 50s or earlier, theyre very aware of the KKK and the violence they perpetrate.
CW: So did anyone catch this act on film, or
BK: It wasnt filmed, but it was photographed by several people, and it appeared in the paper and I just gave a copy to the USF archives when I met with David Johnson and Merrell.
CW: Oh thats cool.
BK: So, they wanted that because they said it was very iconic of what Tampa was like years ago and it should be put in the archives of history.
CW: Um-hm. Yeah.
BK: Because in the picture you can actually see the street signs of Tampa and the KKK and so you know it is very depictive of the era.
CW: Um-hm. So, USF has that photo now?
BK: USF has the photo now.
CW: Okay, cool. And it was also in the Tampa Trib
BK: It was in one of the papers. Im not sure if it was Encounter, Gazette, or one of those publications.
BK: Theres always been several or at least one good gay publication; and, frequently, because the regular media of the era wouldnt cover gay events and things, you have to look at the gay publications. Now theres things like Weekly Planet that do tell about the gay events and things like that. So, there are publications and things that we can go to now that we couldnt back then.
BK: And the gay culture issue. We needed to live in neighborhoods for our own safety. We needed the gay bookstores because regular bookstores didnt carry a gay section at the time. When I had Tomes and Treasures there wasnt Barnes and Nobles and Borders gay section. That came later in life. So, if you wanted to read a book that had a gay or lesbian character in it, you really had to go to the gay bookstores.
If you wanted to rent a film that had gay or lesbian character in it, you had to either go the film festival or rent it at one of the gay establishments. If you wanted an attorney who would understand what you and your partner needed, you couldnt just go to any attorney, you really had to go to a gay attorney, because they understood what youre going through and what you needed.
CW: So, um, you said that church groups continued to protest the film festival just not inor these KKK members would bring, come with their church and not wear their full white robes. Um how
BK: Or in one case that I know with the clan there were a couple of people that came in their military garb.
CW: Hmm. So did long did that continue to go on? For the film fest?
BK: The Christians faded slowly with time but it wasnt until there was one, I think mentally ill individual, who would still come with his bullhorn to try to disrupt the film festival and would stand on the street corner under the freedom of speech with a bullhorn to blast the film festival as much as he could until I think 2009.
CW: Oh wow.
BK: But it died down to that one individual at about 2000, but he came there every year. He was on disability. Were not sure what with. Im thinking mental disability, because he was such an extremist that he wanted to and his intention was to disrupt the film festival.
CW: How do you think the KKK or other organization hear about gay events?
BK: Im sure they do it the same way we do. I was on emails and also got publications of some the family, American Family Association, which was a very anti-gay organization just to see what they were up to. And Im sure they did the same thing to find out what we were up to. Im pretty sure they read our gay publications. Im sure they did the same thing that we were doing, is watching what they were doing.
CW: Um-hm. Interesting. Hm. So, you mentionedwere you on the board of the film fest at one point?
BK: I was, but first I was actually on the board of Pride Tampa Bay.
BK: Pride Tampa Bay back in the day, we had wonderful picnics, and they were a lot of fun, and they took place at USF or by UT. And they were wonderful events, but I thought we should have a parade. And so, I went to the board of the film festival, sorry the board of pride, and said, You should be doing a parade. They turned to me and said, If you want a parade get on the board and chair it. So, I did. (laughs)
BK: And my goal was to make sure that parade started in front of or went past city hall.
BK: It should be a political statement, very visible, for all the politicians to know that we are a power in this city. And were very vocal. So, that was my goal, and I did that for five years.
CW: What year did you start?
BK: I think it was 1992.
BK: Im not absolutely sure of the years, but I chaired the parade for five years.
CW: Did you chair the first parade?
BK: I did.
CW: Oh wow, okay. So what
BK: Actually, the funny side story in the first parade is that the board asked me how the parade was coming. I said, Everythings according to the timeline. Im on schedule. And because I didnt give them any details, because I didnt, the meetings had to be moderately brief, they werent sure the parade was even going to happen until the actual day of the parade and it took place.
CW: Oh wow. So what goes into planning the parade? Thats a big job.
BK: Its quite a big job. You actually have to get the city to give you the right-of-way so you can march down certain streets, because there are certain streets that couldnt be closed. You have to meet with the fire marshal, so you have an EMT in case somebody gets ill or sunstroke, because it was in June, or something.
You have to have portalets for the set up. You had to have paid for police to be there to do the parade route to make sure that traffic was retained appropriately and that the streets were closed appropriately. It was quite a bit to do. You actually had to coordinate organizations and groups to walk in the parade, or march in the parade, or drive.
CW: Right, Um-hm.
BK: So, it was quite a bit of work, but it was necessary for the city.
BK: We needed to make that political statement; and we needed to be out, and visible, and moving. We didnt need to be isolated into a park.
BK: And those were great events that took place, the gay pride picnics prior to the parade. We needed something more and visible and moving.
CW: So, lets step back for a second. What were the picnics like? Did people bring their own dishes orhow many people attended?
BK: They would bring their own food. It started out a couple of hundred. It slowly built to about a thousand. Um, once the parade started, Pride grew to the point that they rented the convention center, because people wanted indoor air-conditioned space, and it was probably ten thousand by the time it moved over to St. Pete. Now its fifty plus thousand.
CW: Okay. So, the first parade that you planned, did you find that it was easy to work with the city and other city agencies like fire men?
BK: The fire department was less easy to work with. I had known through some of the things Ive done several of the women police officers that were out in our community. And they were instrumental in navigating the police force. At the time, it was most police men jumped to the conclusion that if you are woman on the police force, youre a lesbian, even though that wasnt entirely true.
BK: But that was the assumption. And the men were extremely closeted at the time, and still are enormously closeted, because its still very patriarchal system.
CW: Um-hm. So, where did the parade start?
BK: Gaslight park right in front of city, kiddie corner, and city hall, right in front of police station.
CW: And then how far did go? Cause this is down town, right?
BK: Actually, it was based upon what year. One year it went to the performing arts center; one year it went to the convention center; um, one year it went to UT.
BK: So, it was all based upon where the actual venue was that we were going to.
BK: One it went to Curtis Hixon Park, because that was the park along the river.
CW: And were businesses supportive? Did they sponsordid they help sponsor the parade and
BK: In the early days only gay businesses would support the gay events. Major corporate sponsors for the gay community really didnt start until late nineties. But at the time it was very limited to gay and lesbians businesses. One of the blessings and curses with time is that the gay and lesbian businesses were imperative for us, because other people wouldnt do business with us.
And we also needed people that would understand, and because they got the money from our community, they also supported our community. Now that were very mainstream, those businesses arent imperative to have, at the same, those are the businesses that supported the gay events. So, the funding for those events isnt like it used to be. And originally corporations would pick up the slack, and some of them still do, but not to the extent they used to.
CW: So, how did you seeor how would you say the parade
BK: And the original parade, because there wasnt much of a budget to it, I personally underwrote most of the parade.
CW: Oh, wow. Thats a big undertaking.
BK: It wasnt as big as I thought it was going to be.
CW: Really? (laughs) How many
BK: Because we had so many women officers that donated back their pay
CW: Oh okay.
BK: It really offset some of the bigger expenses.
CW: So, what was the first parade like? Were there a lot people in attendance?
BK: There were a moderately large number of people in attendance. There was several hundreds. There was a podium set up beforehand. There were several individuals that were gay supportive in our community. We had a greeting from the mayor that we read, even though she didnt show up, but she was also very supportive of our community at the time.
And city hall was getting very pro-gay at that time, so we had the speeches on the podium right in front of city hall to the crowd before we started the march. And it was a nice rallying point, and we could get across the political aspects of it, which I understood the original Pride committee wanted the community to know that they werent alone. And the reason for these picnics is to have a gathering and reaffirm that they werent isolated.
My push was more political, and I wanted the city to see, and so thats why I had the podium, and I had people speaking in front of city hall, and when possible had politicians speak, but also, I think at the first one, had a UT professor speaking. I had prominent members of education in the community speaking out on our behalf and in favor of us.
CW: Was it like it is today? Well, you know, today its in St. Pete, and I believecan you have open containers in St. Pete? Was it sort of the same type of scene where everyones drinking having a good time? Or has it changed since then?
BK: To my knowledge the earlier Prides didnt have liquor. As a non-profit you could do two events a year that had liquor.
BK: I dont recall liquor. I know for myself, despite the fact I served alcohol in my restaurants, I always wanted to have positive intellectual alcohol-free areas for our community. Our community, because the only place we could meet each other pre-internet, pre-cell phone and all that was in bars, they were the prominent gathering place and with that unfortunately also came alcoholism.
CW: Um-hm, Um-hm.
BK: And some people who werent dealing with their sexuality, the only way they could relax enough to deal with it was to get drunk.
BK: And because of that, I feel there was an unusually high alcoholism rate within our community.
CW: Um-hm. So, the five years that you were on the board and organized the parade, how did it change within your time?
BK: The number of attendees grew. The number of the floats in the parade grew. Um, the number of people that would actually speak grew. We had Patty Sheehan from Orlando come and speak, a politician. So, we did get political individuals finally to come and speak prior to the parade, which was a big change from the first one where we just had a proclamation from the mayor and she didnt show up.
CW: Who was the mayor at that time?
BK: Id like to say Sandy Freedman.
BK: Short little sprout of a woman.
BK: Little power house though.
CW: Um, so, and then, so, you were on the board of Pride Tampa Bay, for five years you served on the board?
BK: Five years, yes.
CW: What other kinds of activities or issues came up while you were on the board?
BK: You know, there wasnt issues. There was just logistics.
BK: Because it was June, potential of rain and heat were an issue. So, more and more were asking for an indoor air-conditioned space. Unfortunately, with that came the issue of finances, because renting the convention center and the A/C system was horrifically expensive. And thats one of the reasons Pride Tampa Bay ended up folding is that it, became very expensive to produce the event.
CW: Um-hm. Right. When did it move to St. Pete? That
BK: Im not sure the year, but the final year was when we rented the Bucs stadium.
BK: And brought entertainment, and that was a horrifically expensive event and someone had loaned the seed money to the pride organization, Pride Tampa Bay, and wanted their money back after pride, but the donations didnt come in at the door that theyd hoped for to pay the gentlemen back. And I know when I was on the board, if we loaned seed money, the board members, and it lost money, we just wrote it off as a gift.
BK: This gentlemen wasnt willing to do so.
BK: So, that more or less bankrupt Pride Tampa Bay.
BK: The board of directors for Pride personally funded a lot of Pride in the early years.
CW: Wow. And then it moved to
BK: To St. Pete. And now St. Pete has a lot more corporate sponsors and things, and its also an outdoor space, so the expense isnt as high. You have to pay for the street closures and police and portalets and tents and all the set up, but you dont have the extreme expense of an air-conditioned space.
BK: And renting the convention center and stadium were horrifically expensive.
CW: I bet, I bet. Wow. So, what did you do afterwhat type of nonprofit work did you do after Pride Tampa Bay?
BK: I actuallyin the early days I showed up at the Equality Florida meetings, but at that point in my life I had actually gotten so busy I couldnt dedicate myself fully to the organization like I should have, but I just went to the original founding meetings as well the community center. Because we briefly had a community center in Tampa, which we needed because, again, we didnt have positive healthy meeting spaces here.
CW: Where was the community center located?
BK: It was right here on Henderson.
CW: Oh okay. So, how did the community center sort of form? Was there someone that was
BK: There was a group of individuals that thought we needed a community center, not only just for gathering space, but also for meetings and everything else that the many organizations at the time existed needed.
CW: So, how long was it open for on Henderson?
BK: Several years. Again one of the problems with gay organizations is that we depend enormously on the community for donations and support. At the time we didnt get much support outside of our community, and once a full time director for the community center had to be hired, the revenues werent available to keep that going.
CW: Right. Okay. So, um, and then you said you attended founding meetings of Equality Florida. Um, can you talk a little bit about that? What were those meetings like or what were some of the
BK: The early meetings were actually in this county, and Nadine Smith, who had organized the March on Washington, was one of co-founders of the March on Washington in 1993, is from here, and she thought we needed more political presence and activity here in town. And I having the same belief attended those meetings. And it was true.
We needed to really make city council members and mayors aware of us as a voting bloc. We needed to coordinate our community as a voting block, because we were and to this day still minorly are fragmented in our voting, but we are so much more organized, and Equality FloridaI think they still dohave questionnaires for the politicians that are up for election, so that they can tell us who is more pro-community.
So, the main gist of it earlier was making sure we had a voting block of gays and lesbians. We are 10% of the population; thats a fairly large voting bloc. And to make sure that the politicians knew were we a voting block and that we expected some basic rights.
CW: Um-hm. So, were there a lot of people at this, or these early meetings? Or was it a core group of individuals?
BK: There is 100 individuals that for fifteen years did everything for every organization in this community. And there is a tight core group thats always been here thats done that. And new people have come in as some of us have burnt out, and its only right and proper, but theres always been that core group of about a hundred that are the go-getters that really push the community forward.
CW: Okay. So, and
BK: And at those meetings a dozen probably showed up.
BK: At the early founding meetings.
CW: Oh wow.
BK: Same with the community center. Probably a dozen or more showed up for those.
CW: Um-hm. So and then you, were you on the board of the film fest at one point?
BK: I was on the board of the film festival for several years.
CW: Samewhat time frame?
BK: 05 to 09.
BK: I think those years are correct.
CW: Okay. So, what goes in to that event? That seems like a
BK: Its a huge event as opposed to the pride parade, which takes place one day and has all that going into one day, the film festival at the time was eleven days, fifty-something films, both sides of the bridge. Just the finding of the films, the screening committee, scheduling, printing the booklets, the programs, getting sponsors, I mean, it was huge.
We had an executive director, they still have one, who did some of the duties, but because it was so large and again limited funds, many of the board members had to do a lot of the work. And most of us chaired one of the committees.
CW: So whoso when you say find the films, how do you find them?
BK: Usually we found a gay or lesbian in the industry.
BK: And they would go to all of the film festivals and events, and they would, they already knew a lot of the companies that were producing gay and lesbian films.
BK: And then you have a screening committee, does that mean that you watch all of the films? That you pre-screen them to see
CW: The majority of them the committee did, but we also had a chair of that committee and, um, at the time that I was on it, she was very well known in the industry, in the film industry, and she still does film for a living, and she sometimes would just help with the final line up of what should be our opening film, closing film.
But also some of the negotiation was some people thought their film had to be the opening or closing film, and if we didnt do that, they wouldnt allow us to show it.
BK: So, there were other idiosyncrasies.
BK: And egos involved in this, and some of the art community can certainly have their egos.
CW: Right, right. So, was there a criteria that a film had to meet to be in the film fest? Was there particular things that
BK: The film had to have aoh, I wish I could remember the mission statement, but it had to have a gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual character, or plot, or subplot.
BK: Because a lot of films of the time didnt include gay characters, we wanted to make sure that there was characters included in the films that we showed, and the necessity of the gay film festival is because there was a lack of gay and lesbian characters. Even at that time on television, I think, Billy Crystal in Soap was the only gay character on TV.
BK: Yeah. And he played a comedy role, which was almost gay satire, but at least it showed a gay character.
BK: Things, gays on television have changed enormously in the last ten years.
CW: Right, yeah.
BK: But prior to I would even say 2005 we werent that obvious on television in the media. The inclusion of us in films was very limited.
CW: Okay. So, for the film fest is there sort of a national, or is there like a relationship between the Tampa Bay film festival and sort of a national organization, or is just the local community puts it on?
BK: The local community puts it on.
CW: Oh, wow, okay.
BK: But we do have cooperation with other film festivals, because we will work with them, like the Miami film festival and things, to find out what theyre showing as well as potentially group together films, so we can get a better discount and that sort of thing.
CW: Um-hm. So, what was the attendance like that the film festivals during the years that you were
BK: Actually, we had great attendance. We had the twentieth anniversary was during that time, which we had huge attendance for. And, again, I think attendance has slipped primarily, because you have Netflix and everything else. There is a gay section of Netflix now and all those places, and you werent able to do that in the past.
CW: So, how do youdo you attend the film fest these days? This past one and
BK: I do, and I dont. My partner does medical contracting for providers. And hes had to go for his annual accreditation and seminars on learning the new codes and tax laws and Medicare laws, and all that sort of thing, and, unfortunately, because all these laws sort of kick in in November, it has to be done sometime in October when the film fest will be going on. So, Ive missed the last two openings.
CW: Um-hm. How do you think, in your experience as an attendee, how has the film fest changed from the early nineties to today? Do you think its been like a wax and wane kind of event or
BK: I think it grew very strongly until about 2006. I think with all the new medias available and the internet, it has taken an impact on it. Its tapered off a little bit, but a lot of the films that we used to get for the film festival like Priscilla packed the house. Fourteen hundred people showed up. A lot of those films are going mainstream and being released at regular theaters now.
BK: So, its sometimes hard to get those blockbuster movies when regular theaters are showing them. So, it was a constant growth, and there were a few hiccups along the years. One almost destroyed it, but those things happen in organization as it grows. We pulled it back together and continued.
There seems to be more bi-transgender, queer and questioning films now than there were fifteen or twenty years ago. And because the gay and lesbian films are most mainstream now, there seems to be less of the blockbuster films for gays and lesbians.
CW: Um-hm. Hm. Interesting.
BK: My Best Friends Wedding hit all of the main theaters first, and the main character in that was a gay man, and so its hard to show it at a film festival when its been shown already.
CW: Right, um-hm. I see. So, then you also mentioned last time that you work the youth clinic.
BK: The Ybor Youth Clinic. Originally it was founded for, and still the mission statement is, to take care of twelve to twenty-two year olds living without a guardian or parent.
BK: And most of them are homeless youths that have had to flee or have been thrown out of their homes. Because theyve had to flee or been thrown out of their homes, a large portion are gay and lesbian.
CW: Um-hm. Is thiswhat organization is this through? Is it through Metro Wellness or is through a different
BK: Its totally different. This is for homeless. Metro Wellness is more for the gay community and HIV. This is more for the young, pediatrics really.
BK: And for those without a guardian.
CW: Um-hm. So, whats your role in this?
BK: I was the original fundraising chair.
CW: Oh, okay.
BK: And now Im just on the board of directors, but my original position was to help Ken Kavanaugh, who was the director at the time, raise enough funds to actually start the clinic. And to raise funds for a non-profit that doesnt exist yet and a clinic that doesnt exist yet is somewhat difficult, but we knew individuals and things, that my network of acquaintances and friends knew that if I was standing behind something and putting my name to it that it would happen and it would be done properly and ethically.
CW: Um-hm. So, what got you interested in doing this?
BK: I hadwhen the economy shifted I felt a little sorry for myself, because my income dropped. So, I volunteered to help with the homeless. One of my good friends Rayme Nuckles was president of the Hillsborough County Homeless Coalition. And having worked the homeless, and you see the young, and Ken Kavanaugh, who came up with idea, because he was working in pediatrics, and he kept seeing these kids that were mature beyond their years really didnt fit into a normal pediatric setting.
And he said he was going to do this, and I knew him through my circle of friends, and I was like, Yeah, this is a good thing to do. And a group of us got together and created it. But it really was Ken Kavanaugh that was the pushing force, because he was seeing these kids that without a parent or guardian, living on your own, homeless, sometimes somebody taking you in and then throwing you out when they were done using you, he saw these kids were really different than your regular pediatrics and needed special attention.
CW: Um-hm. So, whats going with the Ybor Youth Clinic now? Is there a physical space?
BK: There is a physical space. Actually, the fundraising created the space. We raised enough money to set up all the rooms for the medical examinations. We have now got a contract with the county health clinic and we take care of some of the things that they used to for the youth.
And we also got a grant through Lazy Days Foundation, so we have some funds coming through that. And its seeing more clients, but like any new organization trying to get the word out especially in a group of homeless takes time and energy.
CW: Um-hm. So, where is the space located?
BK: Its actually right next to the film festival offices on Seventh Avenue in Ybor.
CW: Okay. I think Ive seen it. I think Ive walked by there. So and then, when is the clinic open? Is it normal business hours and people can just come in and
BK: Normal business hours. They can come in. They can give limited information if they want to. We can do certain treatments if they give us no information, others we cant, but a lot of especially the homeless that have been thrown out or fled, they dont want to get real names, because they are afraid of going back to abusive situations.
CW: Oh, wow. Okay.
BK: But its still amazing in this day and age so many youths feel they have to flee their homes because theyre gay and lesbian.
BK: And, frequently, because their parents are fundamentalist Christians, and think they can beat it out of them.
BK: Its really sad.
CW: That is really sad.
BK: A large percentage of homeless youths are gay and lesbian.
CW: So, thats one of the things youre doing now, are there any other sort of non-profit that youve done that we havent
BK: None within our community. I am doing a little bit of work with our church, Temple of Living God. Our minister is gay. One of the other ministers is a lesbian. Were a very open, positive, affirming, very new age church, which I like. Traditional religion doesnt work for me, because I find theres a whole bunch of other stuff that religion has added for control and manipulation and money.
CW: Um-hm. So, when did you start working with them?
BK: Um, just before my accident, so a little over two years ago. And I also worked with St. Pete College of Prosthetics that has nothing to do with our community.
CW: Right. So, um
BK: I do a lot of amputee volunteer work now, too.
CW: With St. Pete Prosthetics or with
BK: West Coast Brace and Limb.
BK: Well, actually, the St. Pete College of Prosthetics, I do volunteer work there, but there is also an amputee support group and I do a lot of volunteer work there, because I haveIm very active, athletic, and have adapted extremely well, and that can be encouraging to some other people.
CW: So, when you say volunteer work, what it is that you volunteer to do?
BK: At St. Pete College, I actually am a, they call it patient model, so they get to actually work on living human beings building a prosthetic rather than the dummies. And I go over there as one of the living human beings for them to work on.
BK: And they can build me legs and that sort of stuff. And there are some perks for me too, that I get to see other amputees and hear their stories. And I also get to find out when the reps come in what some of the new things on the market are coming up.
CW: Okay, cool.
BK: And the amputees together that is a activity, social, but also support group, where you actually go and chat with other people, and because I do quite well and have adapted very well, I think its important for me to go to these meetings and just give encouragement.
And I know some of the aspects arethe natural loss of a limb, the process you have to go through, and I understand that, and I feel I can help people through it. One of my degrees is in psychology. I should be able to at least apply that somewhere, if for no other reason being a living example.
CW: Um-hm. Well, okay, thereswe havent really talked um your partner now. Docan we talk about him or
BK: We can talk about him.
CW: How did you two meet?
BK: We actually met in a bar. He had a friend in town and they were bar hopping, and I was out and he hit on me, and I told him if he was serious come back in a week sober, (laughs) because he and his friend had been out partying. And he showed up a week later sober.
CW: Oh, he remembered.
BK: He remembered.
CW: Which bar did you meet at?
CW: So, and when was this? How long have you two been together?
BK: Just over five years. And the great thing about us is that were the same age group. He lived in L.A. during the seventies and the early eighties. I lived in New York and San Francisco. Some of our cultural experiences are very similar, and because of that we can say things and we instantly know what each other is referring to, because weve both had the same experiences, similar lives.
CW: Um-hm. Oh, neat. And what is umwhat is your life like now? He still works?
BK: He still works.
CW: And then you do all this volunteer, non-profit type of work?
BK: But I also have to maintain my properties, and oversee my portfolio, and my investments and things. I have no great needs for material things, but I have an extremely comfortable home and a dependable car and great food on the table, and in my mind thats all I need. And I have a modest net worth that allows me to not have to work the rest of my life.
CW: Thats awesome.
BK: I realize at 48 I actually had invested well enough that I didnt have to work again.
CW: Smart choices.
CW: Um, I know this is jumping back a little bit, but I wanted to ask you about your restaurant, The Eagles Nest.
CW: Whatbecause this was in what, mid-eighties
BK: It was late eighties.
CW: Late eighties. What was Ybor City like in the late eighties?
BK: Ybor City had gone through a minor repression except for the gay community. We had Tracks, which was originally was El Goya. After it burnt, they rebuilt it as Tracks. We had the Impulse. We had the Eagle. We had Spurs. We had several gay clubs, but above and beyond that Ybor had gone through a recession, has gone through several resurgences and depressions.
That was one of the times it was coming through another resurgence, but for the gay community. And because it had become fairly deserted in the late eighties, it was inexpensive to get properties there, and therefore it was convenient for us to do a lot of things.
CW: So, what wasI know you said you have really busy nights and you stayed open til four a.m. for the
CW: people coming home from the bars. What was the scene like? Was it
BK: As a rule the weekends were the busiest. When people were going out, having a good time, dancing til dawn, coming in and having breakfast before they go or getting a dinner before they went out dancing. My restaurant really was designed to cater to the community going to and from their evenings out, their date nights, whatever you want to call going out.
CW: There were straight nightclubs there in Ybor as well, or was it pretty much deserted on that front, not what it is today where theres
BK: It was quite deserted on that front at the time.
BK: It hadnt gentrified back to what it is now. And there were a few clubs that were there, but they were primarily toward 21st street and we were primarily 13th to 16th, so it was like a four or five block gap of just local businesses. There was a grocery store there at the time.
CW: Right. Was it safe for gay people to sort of walk the streets or
BK: I felt it was safe. I did have an incident when I was leaving my restaurant one night where I was held up at gunpoint, but the individual that did so I think was either on drugs or coming off of drugs, because his hand was shaking so much, I was sure he was going to shoot just by accident, so I grabbed his hand, and moved it away from me. And he fled after that and dropped the gun, and didnt get anything. But I think it was just a robbery incident rather than a gay incident.
CW: Um-hm. Okay. So um
BK: But Ybor was moderately deserted. It wasnt as developed, and had huge vacant parking lots at the time, or spaces that were parking lots, so it never seemed dangerous at the time. It actually seemed more dangerous in the late 2008-11 when there were, not for the gay community, there just seemed to be a lot of random violence and theft that took place in Ybor, and had nothing to do with our gay community.
CW: Right, right. Neat. So, okay, so, then what type ofwell your restaurant was a gay restaurant, was that
CW: Okay, were there both straight and gay patrons or was it a lot of
BK: I dont think I ever saw more than one or two straight patrons a week.
CW: OkayA week?
BK: A week.
BK: Yeah, it was very unheard of. The country western night at one of the dance bars, I did a special thing for them, so a lot of them came in before dancing. And it really was a gay clientele and I really geared towards them.
CW: Do you think youll ever open a restaurant again?
BK: I probably will not open one again. Restaurants are a huge amount of long hours and hard work. And you make some money at it, but in my experience I made more money selling or closing a restaurant than I ever did running it.
CW: Okay. And I also wanted to ask you about your, um, leather shop. I guess, Imwell mail order business and youre leather shop are two separate sort of entities. Is that correct?
BK: Correct. My former partner actually took with him the mail order when we split up. That was his half of the business that he took.
CW: Okay. And the mail order business that is, for example, getting in gay magazines or publications
BK: No, the mail order was actually a catalog of leather gear and accessories for fetish play.
CW: Okay. And then people order you know, kind of like a mail catalogue, people order and then ship
BK: People order and then you ship off the inventory.
BK: Its kind of nice, I guess, sit in the pool and take the phone calls and virtually do everything while in the pool, poolside.
CW: (Laughs) That sounds like the best job. Um, okay. And so I guess what Im wondering is
BK: There still is in much of the gay and straight community a stigma for people that enjoy different fetish play. My experience within the fetish community is that people that are more adventurous and intelligent and educated want the same thing in their play. And sexually, they want something more diverse than just
BK: one thing.
CW: Um-hm. So, did you come acrossI know you mentioned in our last interview that customs could hold up items or materials
BK: Up to six weeks. I also had an incident where I imported from Columbia leather cowboy hats, really neat cowboy hats. Customs for some reason unbeknownst to anyone slit the lining of the hats, they said looking for drugs, because they said the drug dog made an indication, but they found no such thing.
UPS wouldnt cover it, because it was done by customs, and I had to take a loss. And the people that supplied me shipped them in good condition. Our customs people had destroyed the entire shipment of hats. And they could legally do that.
CW: Oh, they can
BK: Under the guise of our drug dogs signaled that there might be drugs in them.
CW: Did you ever encounter anyI guess what I am wondering is how to obscenity laws come into play, because I know there are certain states, for example, if you were to order something online, you see the small print cant ship to Wyoming, cant ship to
BK: Since I didnt do anything pornographic I didnt sell anything that showed penetration, any videos or magazines or those sort of things. It was never an issue for me.
CW: Oh, okay. That really only applies to magazines, videos, whatever. You can ship items.
BK: With strange exceptions. Um, the state of Texas you cannot sell anything that looks like male genitalia. You can sell it if it looks like female genitalia, but not male genitalia.
CW: Thats strange.
BK: It is rather bizarre, but its Texas.
CW: You cant sell anything like ship it or you cant sell it like if for a store? Well I guess, because youre not a Texas resident you might know this, but
BK: In the state of Texas, according to one of the old laws, I dont know if it still exists, if you have three or more dildos in your residence, you are considered a distributor and can be arrested as selling pornography.
CW: (laughs) Thats my home state. Thats why
BK: That was still on the books.
CW: Uh-huh. Wow.
BK: I dont know if it is still on the books, but when I was doing mail order that was still on the books there.
CW: Wow, interesting. So, where doeswhen you get these items are these just like independent people that craft these things or
BK: At the time definitely independent people. And, honestly, especially working in leather, the fabric in how it lies and how you have to stitch it and work with it, so you really have to a have good craftsmen for that type of inventory.
CW: Um-hm. Okay. Interesting. The 2606, is that the only leather bar in Tampa? Im trying to remember if you said there was another one.
BK: Its the only one currently in Tampa.
BK: There have been others that have come and gone, but it is and has been for thirty years the most consistent leather bar around.
CW: Okay. Hm.
BK: Even though the leather community is also shifting now. Because of apps on your phone and the internet, individuals that formally had to meet in bars or had to look for someone who was into what they were into
BK: Now you can find that.
BK: Other places than the clubs.
CW: (laughs) That is true. I didnt think about that, how technologywhat is it? Grindr? Or somethinghow technology sort of replaces
BK: And for men over forty theres Growler, because thats for men that like men over forty.
CW: Huh, interesting.
BK: And be in the mid-fifties age group.
BK: I have a buddy who stayed here and he was on the apps and the internet, and thats how he was dating. I know he doesnt really care for bars. And honestly, a bar bar can be loud and smoky. And I knew the new technologiesI foresee that my bookstore had to close, because the gay sections in the mainstream bookstores as well as now the ibooks and all that, I think gay bars are going to have similar difficulties in the coming years.
That if you can go with your buddies to the straight clubs, as you can find people through the apps and internet, you really dont need places to socialize and so thats going alter our community.
CW: Hm. Well, because one of the things I was thinking of as I was listening to your, um, the first interview that we did, is that for me, for my age group, it seems like you can go to bars that are sort of gay and lesbian friendly and everyones sort of, you know, mixed clientele, no big deal, and Im wondering if the leather community is more tightly knit, because of the, sort of judgments, or I dont know, attitudes towards somethings that arent mainstream, and if that has kept the leather community more intact as opposed to
BK: I have actually seen it fragment more recently.
CW: Okay, okay.
BK: Rather than being large leather organizations and groups that gather, theyve broken off into their individual interests, and are doing more or less their own thing. And they do events at bars, because they try to make awareness in our community, they try to do things in places that arent a leather bar, and in doing so it makes other people aware that there are other options, but again it also takes people out of the club that is the only leather club. And as a businessman I understand revenues, you have to make a business profitable.
CW: Um-hm. So why do you think that is? Why do you think its fragmenting?
BK: Because theyre doing, there is several groups, several different things not in cooperation with each other, rather than doing one or two large things a year, there is lots of little things that take place now, which is okay, but sometimes like the big gay events that I went to when I was younger, you need those bigger events to sort of network and meet more people.
But I know because of the apps and internet, a lot of people really want the just looking for the one-on-one, individual. The reality is though that you dont feel as isolated if you know other people are into the same thing or have their thing.
CW: Um-hm. Right. Hm. Thats interesting. Okay. Well is there anything else that you want to add? Want to discuss?
BK: I do want to add the change in culture thats been taking place.
BK: And I, understanding the mainstreaming of our gay community is extremely good now and I hope that as a society we progress forward with that, but I do know that in the seventies and eighties especially we needed specific businesses because we really couldnt go anywhere and everywhere. Many of us felt that in our professional life we had to be closeted.
I was lucky that I never had to do that, but I also started working for myself at twenty-six. And many people had to live double lives and we had to have the gay establishments. We had to have the gay pride shops. We had to have the coffee houses. The businesses I used to have were mandatory as healthy positive places to meet. As we can now go other places, sit with your partner at a Starbucks or whatever. Its not in as much need, but were also in the process of losing our community identity because of this.
Because we are so assimilated, were not as united as we used to be. And because of this state and our political system here, we still have a lot of progress we need here. And the positive is we can now go and do anything, downside is we have to still be a voting bloc to make sure that we progress forward in the state.
CW: Um-hm. So well, in your opinion, and its cause I am curious, what do you think it would take? We were talking earlier about younger generations, people my age and younger, because Im getting older, what do you think it would think it would take to sort of reinforce the sort of gay identity, gay culture that, you know, once was?
BK: Im not sure. Without having experienced the culture, I think a lot younger people really, though they can hear about it, they really dont know what we went through, witnessing gay bashings, being assaulted ourselves. When I lived in San Francisco four yahoos in the back of a pickup truck jumped out of the pickup truck, beat up one guy at the Castro, jumped back in.
It took a matter of three seconds and they bolted off. And we witnessed things like that. I dont think your generation can really understand the impact it had on us mentally.
BK: We had to sort ofsome people it scared into the closet, some people it made us take the world down by the horns.
BK: And I think youre generation will have toprobably its cyber-bullying over being gay that will be what sparks them into action.
BK: If they were, or know, fundamentalist families that have been unfair to their children or relatives or themselves, that will spark them into action.
CW: Okay. That makes sense.
BK: Though I think the gay marriage thing will encourage a lot of people to do so, because many people want to get married, and because of all the legal rights with marriage, I think its an important thing to pursue. And because they cant marry in this state, that might also unite them, and keep them moving forward. And they may not see how much weve gained, but they know how much we havent gained.
CW: Um-hm. Right. Okay. Anything else? Any concluding
BK: Not that I can think of.
BK: I think the assimilation thing was my final statement.
CW: Okay, all right. Well, thank you so much for letting me interview you again, a second time.
BK: Youre welcome.
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