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subfield code a L34-000182 USFLDC DOI0 245 James Lewis Welsh 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/?l34.18
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Cyrana Wyker: Â This is Cyrana Wyker. I am here with James Welsh at the University of South Florida. Today is December 17th, 2013. Do I have your permission to record this interview?
James Welsh: Yes.
CW: Okay. So, lets start with where you grew up.
JW: I grew up here in Tampa. I was born here in Tampa.
CW: What year were you born?
CW: Okay. And so what high school did you
JW: Lato High School.
CW: Where is that?
JW: Lato is in, sort of, Town n Country area.
JW: Its Sligh and Manhattan.
CW: Oh, okay, okay. So, did you also attend USF, or did you go away for school?
JW: No, I attended USF. Um, I didnt go to high school. I didnt go to collegeI didnt go to high schoolI didnt go to college right out of high school. I started attendingpart of the reason, when I graduated high school, I didnt really know what I wanted to do. So, I had a job at the time, so I kept working my job, and I started taking classes at HCC just as a default.
Like, let me do something until I figure out what I want to do. And after a couple of years of taking classes, I was very interested in my job, very engaged, and getting promoted, and things like that. And so, I thought, eh, Ill take a semester off. I dont know if youre familiar with that scenario. You take a semester off, and it stretches into two, and then eventually youre not actually in school. (phone ringing)
CW: Do you need to get that?
CW: Alright, so, um, what was your job?
JW: I worked at the public access center, which at the time meant that I worked for Jones Inter-cable, and public access is like a TV station, is open for the community to come in and make television. So, anybody can come free of charge, at the time, I think it might be slightly different now. Its run by a non-profit now, but at the time it was part of the City of Tampas contract with Jones Inter-cable that Jones Inter-cable would provide public access to cable television.
Which meant that Jones Inter-cable funded television station with recording studios, and a staff to train people how to use the equipment, and how to make recordings and channels to air the programming. So, we aired on Jones Inter-cable in the city and then, through an interconnect, we aired on Paragon cable throughout Hillsborough County. These names sound so old. Paragon cable hasnt been around in a long time.
CW: Um, so, what was it like growing up here in Tampa?
JW: Um, warm, I guess.
JW: Um, its I dont know. My mothers family is from here and, so, I always had a lot of relatives around. Im the youngest of five kids, and so it was always a very full house, you know, lots of kids. The neighbor had, I think, six kids, so between the two houses lots of kids, lots of animals.
And um, yeah, I dont know. Looking back on it, I didnt really think about Lets say that since then Ive thought about socioeconomics, really just over the past couple of years Ive thought about socioeconomics and where I was as a child, when I was growing up, because you dont really have any perspective on that when youre a kid.
JW: And I realized that I was in a working class family, like, thats where we were. Of course, I think everybody thinks of themselves as middle class to a certain extent, but we werent. We were definitely working class. Like, my dad drove a truck, and we, you know, we lived like two miles from the university here, which is kind of funny.
You know, like, Ive really gone almost nowhere. Im like two miles away sitting on the desk here, but, um, anyway, yeah. I enjoyed growing up in Tampa. By the time I graduated high school, like leading up to graduation, I thought that I wanted to move away from here as soon as possible.
Um, and its amazing how just like right after graduation I thought, you know, okay, I can really get along with my parents pretty well, and it isnt so bad here. And within a year, I was thinking like I really actually like this place. Like, I had traveled a lot, seen a lot of other places, and realized that I like living here. It was kind of sort of a teenage thing of I want to get out of here.
CW: Oh, okay. So, what were the reasons for wanting to leave?
CW: Earlier on.
JW: Yeah, just normal stuff with your parents when youre a teenager, I think. You know, I thought my parents were idiots and I resented them. And wanted to get as far away as I could. Um, and then after I graduated just everything eased up. You know, there was a lot of pressure. And I think, you know, I think parentsthats the hardest job in the world I think, being a parent.
And I think that there was a lot of pressure trying to make sure that I was okay. And by the time you graduate, then youve got a job and whatever, its like, well, you know, Im not going to jail, so probably Im fine. So, I think a lot of the pressure eased up and it was not so bad. So, when I was a senior in high school, I interned at the public access television station.
Thats how I got connected there, and then when I graduated from high school, they offered me a job right away. So, thats the job that I started working. And then that fall I started going to HCC. And that job, I was a playback operator, which means that, you know, the shows that showed on the TV station, I was the one who was changing tapes, and putting on the next show, and operating all of the equipment in the control center to switch programming from one program to the next, as well as assisting people producing shows.
And so, that job suited me really well. I liked it a lot. I liked the people there and I liked the atmosphere there. The people who worked at the public access center were committed to the principles of public access and the principles were about free speech. So, the idea is that the public access center is an extension of your first amendment right to free speech.
And so, our job there was to guarantee people the ability to say things that they couldnt say other places, or to say things that were unpopular, or that they didnt see represented in the mainstream media. And thats a large part of the people who came to produce shows at public access were people who looked at mainstream television and didnt see themselves represented.
So, they wanted to make their own programming. And that, you know, that kind of principle thing really appealed to me. And so I loved working there. I thought that meant that I wanted a career in television production. And at some point, you know, fast-forwarding a couple of years, I did some freelance work and realized I hated that, because, like, the commercial stuff was terrible.
You know, the idea that somebodys just making commercials or making commercial programming just didnt appeal to me at all. So, I realized it wasnt the technology at all, it was the principle of public access that I really liked. So, like, that first year, I also, you know, I was struggling with my sexual identity.
And in high school I had, had a boyfriend at one point. I had a girlfriend at one point. And I really, you know, I wasnt sure. I wasnt sure who I was. And I thoughtI mean, honestly I thought Im probably bisexual, and if I can just you know keep this under wraps, and then if I can love a man or a woman, then Ill fall in love with a woman, Ill get married, and, you know, all of this goes away.
I dont have to worry about this. And it was December of that year that I graduated, it wasI guess it would have 1989December of 1989 that I was really struggling with all of this. And there was a moment where I was sitting by myself, and I was thinking, and I was writing. I was journaling. I did a lot of journaling in high school, a lot of angsty Angsty is slang for the feeling, showing, or expressing anxiety, apprehension, or insecurity according to Webster dictionary. stuff, whatever, but I was writing all of this down.
I was thinking about it. And I wrote that IIm gay, and I remember like feeling this sort of dread wash over me as I read there on the page. It is kind of relief and also dread, because I knew that once I wrote it, it was true. Like, I couldnt hedge on it. And I had been hedging for years on it. And so, once I wrote that I was gay, that was it. You know, I couldnt deny it to myself after that point. And I thought, well okay.
You know, and I had all of this stuff packed up that I thought that that meant for my life. You know, and its stuff thatits difficult to imagine now, because things have changed so much, but its stuff that was loaded up, I think, from years of media and other expectations that of what my life was going to be like. And you know, not a happy life. So, its like, oh, okay. Im gay. I have to deal with that. But I was out to myself at that point. So, that was like the first big step. (phone rings)
CW: Do you need to get that?
JW: Yeah, Im sorry.
CW: Okay, so
JW: I dont remember where we were.
CW: Um, you were talking about how you thought that being gay meant certain things for your life.
CW: What certain thingscan you expand on that?
JW: That I would never have a family.
JW: That I would never have kids or grandkids, and even that I would never get married, stuff like that, and that I would never be, sort of, broadly accepted.
CW: Right. And you had these ideas based on the media?
JW: Yeah, I mean, I dont know. You know, that was my view of the world. So, where does that come fromyour family, your friends, your exposure to the media. And I think a lot of it had to do with what Id see in the media. There wasnt I mean, it just, like, 1989. There was hardly anything that had come out to show a positive view of gay people. I certainly didnt know anybody who was gay.
Maybe I knew oneoh there were a couple of people in high school who were out. And they were ostracized and they were talked about and you know, its likeyou know I look back and think those guys were heroes. You know, like, to be out and to be okay with it. It wasnt always their choice but you know thats aI really respect that. Anyway I didnt know if I was ready for that.
So, that was a difficult moment, but it was sort of a defining moment for me to turn that corner, and say, Yes, Im gay. But I didnt tell anybody at that point, but I started trying to figure out what that means. So, I knew from work that there was a gay bookstore called Tomes and Treasures, and that was over on Howard Ave. And so, I thought okay, well, I need to go there, try and figure some stuff out.
And so, I went to Tomes and Treasures, and that was like a milestone thing, like a touch stone thing in my youth, because I had just never seen anything like that. Like, I mean it was a bookstore. It was just a regular bookstore, but it was all for gay people and there were gay people there. It was great. One of the things, you know I really liked short stories. At the time, I read a lot of short stories, so I got some collections of short stories.
You knowjust really some wonderful authors, Edmund White and others, who I found their books at Tomes and Treasures. The other There are two things that I found at Tomes and Treasures that were extremely important for me, one was The Advocate national gay news magazine, and this wasbecause I think that a lot of the misconception that I had was that, and I think a lot of people make this mistake, I think a lot of people who dont understand what it means to be gay make this mistake, that they conflate homosexuality with sexuality.
And so, its all about pornography, or its all about sex, or whatever. And so, finding a place like Tomes and Treasures, for me, was really important in dispelling those myths, because, you know, you have stories about people living their lives in the short stories that I was reading, not about nothing lascivious, and then you had with The Advocate, thats a national gay news magazine, and examples of people who were gay who were everything.
You know, doctors and lawyers and, you know, its like a clich almost, but to see pictures and to hear stories about people who were teachers, or who were raising kids, or whatever, who were gay, it drove home for me the point that gay people are everywhere. That gay people are in all walks of life, and that there arent anythat being gay doesnt mean your life has to be a certain way.
And then the other thing that I found at Tomes and Treasures that was enormously important to me was The Gazette, because as much as The Advocate told me that gay people are everywhere, The Gazette told me that gay people are here, that Tampa is full of gay people, and that they are doctors, and lawyers, and teachers, and whatever. Theyre all over the place, and that being gay doesnt mean you have to live your life a certain way.
So, those two things were enormously important for me. And, like, that first part of my coming out was really very private and very personal, because it was all about stuff I was reading. I was going, anonymously going, into Tomes and Treasures, and getting these magazines, and getting these books, and reading them, and read stories aboutreading books about coming out.
Like, reading There is a book called Are you still my mother? Are you still my family?, which is wonderful. Like, its such a I havent read it in years. I wonder what itd be like to read it now. There is another one thats terrific by Reverend Troy Perry calledoh boy, whats his book called? The Lord is My Shepherd and He Knows Im Gay.
And there is another book called, Are you still my neighbor?No, Is the homosexual my neighbor?, something like that, but thats also about Christianity and homosexuality. And just several of those books, reading those books helped me enormously. You know, hearing other peoples coming out stories, and those magazines every month reading about people who were gay who were doing all kinds of stuff, and so thats where it started for me.
Were talking about the six months leading up to 1990, leading up to June of 1990, because thats when I came out to my parents. And it was like, you know, a buildup that process of getting ready, feeling brave enough to do that, and I had read so many coming out stories by that point, too. So, I knew lots of different ways it could play out. And I had read stories where people had said, You know, what? My parents were very liberal and they were very accepting, and I thought it would be no big deal, and they freaked out.
And then I read other stories of people who thought that their parents were going to kick them out in the street and it wasnt a problem at all. So, you know, I knew that there was a range of possible outcomes. The first person I came out to was a friend at work; and at the time, he was really a work friend, and he became a really good friend, because of his sort of nonchalant, you know, who cares kind of reaction to me coming out.
Chad wasnt He worked also there in playback and he came in. He had the shift after me one day, and he came in for his shift, and I was doing the switch of the channels, and I had left The Advocate sitting on my desk. And he walked in, and he sat down, and he started flipping through The Advocate, and I kind of freaked out, you know. And it was like, Oh, my gosh, I cant believe, you know, whatever. And he just had like almost a sort of, no reaction, like, he didnt understand, like, why it was an issue for me.
JW: Which was fantastic. And that became somebody that I could talk to and somebody for whom, you know, No, its not a big deal. Its normal. And then I came out to some close friends and then to my parents. And when I say my parents, I mean my mother and my stepfather. My parents divorced. And so, then still my father I hadnt come out to, but I came to out to all of my brothers and sisters one at a time. So, that was a long process, months, because I wanted to come out to them in person, so it was when I saw them is when I came out.
CW: And howd that go?
JW: Good. I have an aunt who is a lesbian and is out. And at the time, she and her partner were living here in Tampa, so I talked to her. I came out to her before I came out to my parents and, you know, shes my mothers sister. And so, um, I was hoping she would have some insight to how my mother would react since my mother knew she was gay.
Anyway, yeah, I was on the phone with her like leading up to, and then I went and told them, you know, I need to talk to you about something. And then, you know, Im on the phone in my bedroom with my aunt getting, you know, getting up my courage; and then I go out, and meet with them, and told them. And my mom cried, and they said that they werentthat, of course, they still loved me and didnt change anything. They said they werent surprised, but it was still a shock to hear it.
And that they had talked about it already. They figured that I was probably gay and they had talked about it. So, that was good. I was glad about that. And I gave my mother, like, a little stack of books (laughs) to read about coming out, about being a parent to a gay child, and whatever, all of this stuff, which I dont think she ever read.
She was not interested in reading that at all, but it was important for me. And I came out to them right at the same time I was getting ready to move out. So, it was year after graduating high school and I got to that point where I was planning on moving out. I had plans. I knew who my roommates were going to be, where my apartment was going to be, all that stuff, because I thought if this goes south, if this goes really bad, Ive only got to be here for another month.
JW: So, you know, I had my exit strategy ready. But it went fine, and still I was only there for another month, which is fine. Um, but my mother was very accepting, like, that was important to her to make sure that she was very accepting, and she was always very accepting of the guys I was dating. You know, it was like, she had four other kids and they dated people, and they had all kinds of relationships, and so she treated my partners the same way, and she always included them in, you know, family dinners and stuff like that, which is really important.
JW: That first year. The other reason that I wanted to come out to them was because I started tobecause of public access I started getting involved in public things. I wanted to do things in the community, and so I volunteered for the pride committee, and I went to the film festival. That was the first year of the film festival and thats the year I came out.
CW: Oh, cool.
JW: So, it was really like, I was brand new. I was a brand new gay.
JW: For the 1990 first annual Suncoast Gay and Lesbian Film Fest. And the movies there, again, like, so affirming and soand I felt like I was joining a community, but it was also difficult, because I was by myself, sort of. Anyway, I started making friends with different people.
One of the ways that I made several friends, and several friendships that have lasted over the years, is I produced a gay talk show at public access, which is kind of, like, the normal thing. Like, people who were staff at public access produced shows, so if somebody was, you know, whatever it was they were concerned with, whatever their sort of hobby was, or their axe to grind, or whatever it was, they made a show about that thing.
You know, it was common for staff to make shows. And so, I started making this gay talk show. And still at the time, I wasnt out to my dad, and so I used a pseudonym as a producer of the show. But the good thing about doing that show, we looked for sponsors, and we tried to So, I put an ad in the The Gazette to find crew to come down, and volunteer, and run audio, and run camera, and learn to do all the stuff at public access. Thats what I do, train people to do that stuff.
So, I put an ad in The Gazette and the people who answered that ad were my friends for years and years, like, that was my circle of friends, and Im still friends with a lot of those people. And producing that show was my introduction to a lot of the gay community. So, you know, because And it was a combination, like, because I was working on the pride committee I visited every gay bar in Tampa, putting up flyers.
So, that was an interesting experience, just seeing the diversity of bars and whatever. But what I am really grateful for I know a lot of young gay people, their entrance into the gay community, their only entrance into the gay community, is through the bars, and so that gives you such a narrow, I think eschewed view of what the whole gay community is. Thats a part of the gay community.
Its fine, but its not the whole gay community. Its not what everybody does. Its not certainly what everybody does all the time. So, but anyway, I visited every single gay bar in Tampa and put up flyers, which was crazy. And then, but also looking for sponsors for our TV show, we went to the Tampa Bay Business Guild. We went to their monthly dinner meeting at the Marriott and (phone rings) presented to their board.
CW: Do you need to get that?
JW: Just real quick.
CW: No, its fine.
JW: So, we went to the Tampa Bay Business Guild and they agreed to sponsor us. Now, at that board meeting where we presented what we wanted to do, and what kind of sponsorship we wanted to have and all of that, Nadine Smith and Todd Simmons were at the same board meeting presenting to get the funding from the Tampa Bay Business Guild for something they were trying to do called winter pride, which hadnt been done before.
You know, summer pride is always in June, and they wanted to do a half year event so you know, December, January, something, Winter Pride. Thats where I met Nadine and Todd and, you know, got familiar with the stuff that they were doing, which is wonderful.
Just so many things about my life all through the early nineties, but really through until today, came from producing that show, the people that I met and the connections that I made. I came here to USF to the gay and lesbian coalition, here at USF, and presented to them.
I presented to, I dont know, other groups church groups, the Metropolitan Community Church. So, like I visited, you know, business people, and students, and religious people, and all kinds of different people. And got to talk to them, and talk to them about being gay, and talk to them about anything else. So, I got to see lots and lots of examples of people living their lives who were gay.
JW: I got to know Rynd and Nancy, who published The Gazette, and thats another wonderful connection that I made at that time. So, I really, like I think about my coming out in really positive terms, because of the diversity of people that I was exposed to, yeah.
CW: So, who, um, who wasyou were the producer of the showwho was thewas there like a host?
JW: Um-hm. There was. He was wonderful. There were co-hosts.
JW: Actually, thats a funny story. The host, one host, was Steve James. Actually, Keith was our first host, um, a local attorney. Gosh, names are just bumping out of my head right now. But Keith was a local attorney, who was out, and he was part of a lot of the organizing stuff and the legal challenges that were going on in the early nineties. He was the host for our pilot, and then, um, our co-host, Amy, who is on occasionally.
And it was funny, because Amy had been (laughs)again, I think came from, this all came from the ad in The Gazette, but Amy once we started talking, realized I knew her, because she was my sisters best friend from years earlier. So, it was funny when I came out to that sister in particular.
It was sort of, Im gay and Oh, and by the way Amys gay, too. (laughs) Which was a nice sort of double shock for her. But anyway, our regular host became Steve James, who was a psychologist, a local psychologist, and he and I became good friends. And that was another really nicelike, Steve and his partner were this solid professional couple. Just so good to know so many different examples of
CW: So, what was likeI dont knowthe content, the format of the show?
JW: Yeah, interviews, and special reports, and things like that. So, the main content would be Steve or Amy interviewing a guest, and then we had other special segments. So, we had Bruce Ground, who owned Tomes and Treasures at the time, would come in and do a book review segment. And we would, you know, we might record the gay mens chorus doing something and have that as a piece.
Or, um, we had a community calendar piece where just a text scroll of different organizations, meeting times, and things that would go by. I should pull those tapes out sometime and watch them, because I dont remember all the content that we had on there. It was like a news magazine show basically.
CW: So, then theyre available through some archive?
JW: Uh-um, I dont think so. They are available, like, in my house.
JW: Yeah. (laughs)
CW: Okay, the channel didnt save the tapes. Are they saved anywhere, or no?
JW: Well, theyre saved in my house actually, because the station didnt archive everything that aired. It was Theyre physical tapes. Theyre expensive. And you know, public access is open to nonprofessional TV producers, so there is a lot of stuff you wouldnt necessarily want to save. But anyway, those three quarter inch professional tapes that were in the library, you know, I dont remember what our archive process was. Like, something had to be nominated for archive. There had to be some reason why it would be a good thing to archive.
CW: I see.
JW: And so, when I left the public access center I purchased all of those tapes, because I didnt know, even if they had made it into the archive, I didnt know if they would stay there.
JW: So, I have them all, except for one. I had a Christmas special that got taped over by somebody for something. I was so distraught. You know, that Christmas special is like my opus, because it had all of theI dont knowit was probably not very good, but in my head it was very good. We also There was a show done in the eighties at public access called Tampa Gay Profile and I watched that show.
Like, we had a few episodes of that in the archive. So, that was a previous generation. I didnt know any of those people. It was a previous generation of public access gay producers. And then there were national gay public access shows, some syndicated shows that I got ahold of as a playback operator, and aseventually, I was more in charge of programming.
I started getting ahold of things, like there was a show out of New York City called Gay USA, which was wonderful. It was like a news magazine, like national news magazine, much more professionally produced, much slicker than anything we did here, but um, Gay USA was great.
Um, there was another one called Night Scene, which was producedthats a shady nameit was produced out of Portland. I think out of Portland public access. Miami, Swerdlow, just another, different show. So, anyway, so that was something that I was interested in at the time, making sure that we had a diversity of gay programming on public access.
JW: You know, of course, at the same time Im making sure we have a diversity of gay programming. There are people making sure that we have a diversity of Nazi programming on public access. So, it really was a very broad spectrum of public access.
CW: So, how long did the show run for?
JW: Um, well, thats a good question. I dont know, 1990 through maybe 92, something like that. I think I left in 92.
CW: Why did you
JW: I got a job at a place called Wizard Studios, which was an event production company. I had a friend at the time who I had met because of doing the show, who worked for Wizards, and was always talking about, I guess, this event production, like corporate event production is a crazy business. And he was always talking about interesting things that they were doing.
And then one day he told me about how the owner had fired half the staff and was hiring for all these positions, so then I thought, Okay, yeah, this sounds cool. And I worked there for almost ten years. It was a good. It was time for me to leave. I had learned a lot at public access. I did a program A good friend at the time, Rick Rawlins, helped me produce a program called Profile of an Epidemic that was another way that I met a lot of people.
So, doing Profile of an Epidemic, which was a weekly discussion series, like a limited series, I think we did four episodesabout the AIDS crisis. So, we looked at the medical side of things, we look at patient service side of things, other things like that. And that got me connected with Tampa AIDS Network and I did volunteer work for them. And yeah, that was another Its funny to look back at your life and look at how, sort of, pieces, one thing leads to another leads to another.
JW: Its kind of deterministic when you look in reverse.
End of interview
Cyrana Wyker: This is Cyrana Wyker. I am here with James Welsh. It is March 12th, 2014. This interview is part of the Tampa Bay GLBT Oral History project. Do I have your permission to record the interview?
James Welsh: Yes.
CW: Okay, so last time we talked about your coming out process, your work with the public access, a little bit about your education and your family. We didnt talk at all about your social life or friends. We hadnt gotten there yet. So, I dont know if there is a spot in your mind thats like sticking out where you want to begin or
JW: Sure. Well, so the work that I did at public access, I honestly cant remember exactly what I said before, but the work that I did at public access, um, one part of it, we viewed our work as an extension of peoples right to free speech. So, it was important to make sure that people could produce the kinds of stuff they wanted and we had a lot of shows from people who felt they were underrepresented in mainstream media.
Whether it was from a church that felt like their views werent being represented, or some other kind of social group, and so the people who worked at public access tended to do their own side projects of shows that interested them. So, we had different people who did different civil rights, or environmental shows, or whatever who were also on staff.
Um, it was kind ofit felt very natural for me to do a show about gay issues and so I produced, um, a show called The Word is Out andjust a, like a talk variety show. And I put an ad in The Gazette, the local gay newspaper at the time, and The Gazette wasactually, Im not sure if they are still publishing, but they were very central for me at the time. And I think I said this before, but like discovering The Advocate, like discovering Tomes and Treasures, that bookstore, was huge for me.
JW: And part of it was discovering things like The Advocate, which told me that there were gay people everywhere all across the country, that were doing normal things, and had everyday issues, and then The Gazette, which told me they were also here.
CW: Right, right.
JW: And so, all of that was very important. And so, I took out an ad in The Gazette for people who wanted to learn how to make television and wanted to work on a gay show. And the people who responded to that ad really became the core of my friends in my early twenties. And some of those people Im close friends with to this day, but, um, you know, it was reallyits amazing to me looking back that I found all of those people through like a classified ad, you know, for the TV show.
CW: Right. How much was the ad?
JW: Oh, I have no idea. They might have done it for free.
CW: Oh, really. Thats cool.
JW: Yeah, we got used to asking for support from the community to do the show.
JW: So, you know, we easily could have asked for an ad from The Gazette. We went aroundand thats where I met Nadine Smith, was us going around asking for support from the community, went to the Tampa Bay Business Guild and asked them for a donation, and it was the same time that Nadine was there with Todd Smith, or Todd, sorry, Todd Simmons asking for a donation for something called Winter Pride.
CW: Oh, okay.
JW: Yeah, and Winter Pride, which was at the Cuban Club in Ybor City, and as far as I know it was only done one year, but it was a great event.
JW: And they did a terrific job with it. Um, yeah. They had
CW: So thiswait, this was the nineties? Am I right?
CW: Okay, okay.
JW: Yeah, yeah, early nineties. It was like 1990, 1991. I think Winter Pride was 1991. And
CW: What kind of festivities were at Winter Pride?
JW: Sodo you know the Cuban Club?
CW: I do, yeah.
JW: And so, the Cuban Club has that outdoor court yard, and it has lots of indoor space, and it has a theater also inside. So, in the theater they had performances. Um, I sawthere is a musical group called the Flirtations that performed there, the a cappella singing group. Theyre fantastic.
I love the Flirtand I still love the Flirtations, and it comes from seeing them back then. Um, and then there wasI might be mixing this up in my head, but I am pretty sure that at that same event they had a performance of the play Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. I dont remember who put it on.
CW: Huh, Ive never heard of that play.
JW: Yeah, its a funnyits a funny play. But, yeah, they had a performance of that. They had the Flirtations on the main stage and then throughout they had differentlike, they have in the Cuban Club, different like classrooms and so they did workshops.
CW: Okay, cool.
JW: Different community organizations did workshops on different topics. And then they had, you know, vendors there selling you know tee shirts or whatever, and in the courtyard, thats where they had like the vendors set up. And theres like a cafeteria space, I want to say, on the first floor.
CW: Right, yeah.
JW: And I think that they were actually selling food down there.
CW: Oh, okay.
JW: So, it was kind ofmusic and community, and, you know, whatever.
CW: Well, thats nice that its indoors, because Ive heard that, um, the pride, summer pride, when they did it in Tampa, it was just so hot to have it outside.
JW: There were some pride celebrations in Tampa that were brutal. The one in particular, and, actually, I mean, I think this was the last time it was done in Tampa, was at Raymond James Stadium.
CW: Um-hm, yeah.
JW: (laughs) It was really, really, really hot.
CW: Dying of heat stroke.
JW: Yeah, and there was an inside. There was a lot of space inside the stadium. Inside the, like, club level where there were activities and things but all of the speeches and all of the performances and all of that stuff that took place on a stage on the field.
JW: And so, you had to go out into the stands, and it was brutally hot, which is unfortunate.
JW: You know, Im not sure, you cant really predict that exactly but
JW: (laughs) It was unfortunate.
CW: But maybe it should have been indoor like at the Cuban Club for winter and then it would have been easier.
JW: Yeah, I dont know.
CW: Not the same but
JW: I was on the committee. I was on the pride committee for a couple of years.
CW: Oh really?
JW: Yeah, and before that, not that year. By that time, I wasnt on the committee, but ityou know, its a difficult thing to figure out how to organize that. Actually, I have this great memory of one of the years that I was on the pride committee. And pride was in Ybor City, and, so, the march went down 7th Avenue and the celebthe festival was in Centennial Park in Ybor City.
CW: Right. Thats cool.
JW: Yeah, yeah, it was great. Actually, that was a great, that was a great time. Like, I had a great time and it was a good bonding experience with the people on the committee.
CW: What year was that?
JW: Um, well, it would have been early nineties.
CW: Right (laughs).
JW: Im not sure 93, 94, something.
CW: Do you remember who was on the committee with you?
JW: Um-hm, yeah. Nadine was on the committee. Garywell, you know, I dont know if Nadine was on the committee. She was a prominent person in the community, and, so, she might have just been leading the march, leading the rally, but I think she was on the committee. Gary Smith, ,Rob Gossa, I think, Mike Daly, Jim Reese.
(Laughs)like I am naming names for someyeah, but anyway as the paradeI was organizing at the Centennial Park location ready for the people to come from the rally, which was at the other end of 7th, and we were really hoping to get donations, because we needed to break even.
JW: And, you know, it was a big expense. Theres so many expenses associated with it. And so, we were thinking, Okay, were going to ask people for donations as they come in, but, we dont know if well get em, or whatever. And so, I was standing out there waiting for donations.
I had like a bag or something, waiting for donations as people came in. You know, like we were doing last minute preparation, or whatever, and as the parade came around the corner to the parkI didnt realize this. Nadine had made it sort of like a central message of her rally speech, you know, Get those gay dollars out, and so, they came around the corner and everybody was waving dollar bills in the air.
JW: As they came around the corner. It was amazing. And so, all this money is pouring in, you know, which was awesome.
CW: Right, right. That is awesome.
JW: Yeah, it was a wonderful feeseeing that just a parade round the corner like that, you know, was fantastic. And then the rest of that day, I worked at a concession in front of, I just saw the other day what it is. Its right by Centennial Park, there is a restaurant. And it used to be Memas Alaskan Tacos and now its something else.
JW: But at the time it was not a restaurant. I think it was closed.
CW: Oh, okay.
JW: And we set up a concession righttheres like a little courtyard in front of it. We set up a concession right there selling, you know, drinks and whatever. And so, I worked that concession most of the day. And so, sunburned, so tired, like physically tired, whatever, but it was so much fun.
It was like, you know, in there with some of my comrades, you know, shoulder to shoulder, and you know, thousands of people buying drinks. So, that was nice. And Ybor is a good place for Pride, because theresyou dont have a lot of wide open like roasting-in-the-sun space. You have trees. You have buildings. Its more enclosed.
CW: I was going to ask, what made you guys decide to have it in Ybor City on the 7th?
JW: Um, I dont remember. I mean, yeah, I dont know. I think it was a good location.
CW: Right, yeah.
JW: Wed done it in downtown before. Like, one year we did it so that the march was through downtown and ended up at University of Tampa and the celebration was in Pepin Stadium at University of Tampa.
JW: I thought that was pretty good, too. Um, and I like the idea that it was in downtown, like that was a statement to be in the middle of downtown Tampa.
CW: Right, right.
JW: And so, you know, I remember not being wild about it moving to Ybor initially, because it was moving out of downtown, but I thought that location worked out really well. Jim Mulvaney was on the committee back then. Im just remembering like the connection with Tracks. Tracks is, was the big gay in town there in Ybor, and Jim was the manager of Tracks, and Tracks had an involvement with gay pride.
CW: Right, right.
JW: Which was nice. There was conflict, um, on the pride committee over those years. Um, about, sort of, I mean, it was kind of interesting, because in the past pride had been morehad been less commercial and more political.
JW: And it was moving toward being, Okay, lets get our corporate sponsors. Lets get logos on banners. And, you know, and also the kinds of stuff like, you know, it was the pride picnic, so it was more about like, you know, sort of hippie-ish, you know.
JW: You know, lets go have a picnic and sing songs, sing folk songs and stuff. And it was moving toward whatthings like having, you know, like a mens party on the eve of Pride.
CW: Right, right.
JW: And a womens party leading up to Pride that had, you know, strippers and whatever. Where it was like such a different feel from what Pride had been in the past. So, I feel like early nineties time was a real transition and there was a lot of struggle on the committee trying to figure out which way we were going.
JW: Because, you know, there were others who were looking at it and saying, This could be a commercial success.
JW: This could include more people in the community who arent interested in, you know, eating granola bars and singing folk songs. You know, lets make it something fun instead of something, you know, with a political statement. I think thats an interesting space to try and work in, try and figure out where to be. And I think that a lot of it we were going through in that time. I think now it doesnt seem like much of a conflict to have you know these big parties at night clubs that associate with the political events.
CW: Right, uh.
JW: Oh, Bill Cagle. He was also on the committee.
CW: Why do I feel like Ive heard his name before?
JW: Hes very prominent in political circles. Um, and, you know, and I feel like the community has differentI mean, there are people that are more interested in politics and people that are more interested in community organizing, and people that are more interested in, you know, just having fun and being social.
JW: And we have all of thoseand actually having alcohol at pride, that was a big question.
CW: Right. Someone else has mentioned that, too.
JW: That was a conflict actually, you know, in trying to figure out were we going to sell alcohol.
CW: Wow. Okay, is that struggle documented anywhere?
CW: I dont think there are manyI think the library has the Tampa Bay Pride organization papers from when Donald Bentz was the president.
JW: Donnie Bentz, yeah.
CW: Im not sure if this is the same time, because there is only like aits very little.
JW: Do you know when that was?
CW: It wouldve been early 1993, 94it was around the time when Pride ended in Tampa.
JW: So, I meanit was almost like two factions in pride.
JW: And the faction that won is the one that had it those last couple of years.
JW: I dont feel like I was really in one faction or the other, but the So, I feel like the group that was making it more commercial, and more a celebration, more of a party, thats the group that kind of won control of it, and then it went forward from there. They changed the name, too. I dont know, Greater Tampa Bay Pride Organization, something like that.
CW: What, umwas there any discussion about how to commemorate Stonewall? Was that everdid that ever factor in, like, intoIve never been on a pride organizing and I know a lot of work goes into it, but Im wondering, because pride usually its to commemorate, if there was any talk of how to do that.
JW: Well, I think that Stonewall is usually mentioned in speeches and things like that to say, you know, this is the reason why were doing this. And the other thing that comes to mind when you say that, is at Winter Pride they made a real effort to make sure that there were education, sort of, general community education stuff. So, they had posters up around the Cuban Club that had sort of famous gay people from history and what their contributions were.
CW: Um-hm, okay.
JW: Which was a nice piece, you know, reminding people these people lived, these people existed, and here is what they contributed a hundred years ago, a hundred and fifty years ago, you know, so.
CW: Why do you think the sort of commercial faction won out? Do you have any opinion about that?
JW: Its all __ history, trying to remember these fights and things. Everything seemed very important at the time.
CW: Was it very divisive? Like, was it heated?
CW: Or was it kind of just like
JW: No, I feel like it was heated. There was like, there were fights, you know. It was very dramatic. (laughs)
JW: Yeah, there was also a question of St. Pete versus Tampa. I dont know if thats come up at all, but like on the older pride organization I dont know how to characterize these two factions.
JW: Like commercial doesnt feel exactly right, but its sort of that. And the other one, what do you call that group? Im not sure.
CW: The politicalI dont know.
JW: Right. So, lets justfor lack of a better term, if we say political and social, the political part of the organization, honestly you could characterize it by saying these people, the political people, were interested in coming to consensus so that everybodys views were represented.
JW: The commercial people were interested in voting so we could decide something and move on.
CW: Right, right. Okay.
JW: And so, that is like, you know, you can start to get the feel for why these two groups have a difficult time meshing.
CW: Right, right, right.
JW: And so, that political group wanted to alternate pride between Tampa and St. Pete because
CW: To be fair.
JW: To be fair, right, to be equitable so that people in St. Pete one year would drive to Tampa. People in Tampa one year would drive to St. Pete. There were other proposals about maybe we do a picnic in St. Pete and we do the march in Tampa, or whatever.
JW: There were all kinds of negotiations like that. I dont know why that political groupyou know, maybe that political group started St. Pete Pride.
CW: Ohh, that would be
JW: Yeah, that maybe makes sense, because St. Pete pride has the feel, has more of the feel of what pride used to be thanI mean that Tampa group, I think the only reason that they stopped was because of, of what I understand, I dont know directly, but what I understand is that the Raymond James Stadium Pride was a financial disaster.
CW: Right, yeah.
JW: Didnt get the attendance, didnt get the money, and so
CW: Thats my understanding, too. That thats kind of what happened and why it stopped. Although some people remember it that it was Ronda Stormsyeahthat prevented Tampa from having a Pride.
JW: I dont remember that.
CW: Yeah, no. Thats just like floating around.
JW: Thats seems like something you could get in the newspapers.
CW: Its floating around there, but I just remember from being in the archives and talking to other people that the Raymond James Stadium was likethey were in the red and it became expensive to put on every year.
JW: And the problem with that Raymond James thing was that, um, the people on the committee were personally held financially responsible for the stuff.
JW: And so, you know, that I mean, its one thing to say, you know, I care about my community and I want to volunteer my time, and Ill even put some money in or whatever. Its another thing to completely ruin your credit.
CW: Right, yeah.
JW: And so, you know, I think that And I know Ive heard about community festivals and things like that before, that have run in the red, and it, sort of, like: Well, we did the first year and were in the read, so we had to do another two years just to get to breaking even. Like, we couldnt stop. We had to keep going to try and make back our money. And I think thats one of the problems, like, if they had kept going maybe it would have taken years to get back into the black and then everything would have been okay but
CW: Right, right. Yikes.
JW: Yeah, and I dont know the details. I dont know how far in the hole they were or why. Oh, there was a cruise. I dont think that did well either. They were trying to organize some kind of a community cruise andwhat were the details? I dont remember the details of it. I dont think that it was a money-maker for them though. Hm, anyway.
CW: Thats interesting.
CW: So, why do you think it was so But thousands of people showed up right? Hundreds or thousands came to these prides so it just
JW: I think that a lot of people that did come then just went to St. Pete, because St. Pete still has a strong pride organization.
CW: Right, right, snd its only across the bridge. No big deal.
JW: Right. Yeah, so its actuallyI mean, you could characterize it that those fights that were going on in the early nineties, the commercial group won in the short term, but the political group won in the long term.
CW: Right. Pride is still standing.
JW: The other thing about Pride thats always kind of a weird thing is the goal of, you know, ultimately that you want to be included in, like, you dont want to be second class citizens. Like, we dont want to be second-class citizens. We want to be represented and you know. So, you want it to eventually be a situation where it doesnt make sense to have a pride parade.
CW: Right, right.
JW: Like everybody accepts, um, gay people as equal and, you know, theres not an issue. And so, you dont need to have a pride parade. So, its kind of like as a movement, um, if were successful, we put ourselves out of business.
CW: Right, right.
JW: And I think that its difficult. And I think the challenges of organizing in our community have changed a lot. For instance, the film festival, which when I was, when I first came out, like, the film festival was a massive thing for me. That first year that I came out was the first year of the film festival.
And going to the film festival was a huge act of liberation for me. And it was also a little bit sad because I went by myself. I had no one to go with and so, you know, so I went alone to the film festival, but I met one of my best friends there at the film festival, too, somebody who I knew through some other people. And I ran into him there at the film festival and started a wonderful friendship. But anyway, sorry, Im digressing.
CW: No, its okay.
JW: But the film festival, when it started, that was the only place you could see movies like that, movies that, you know, where you could see gay people as the protagonists in the movie, not as a side feature, not as a pitiful friend or something, but movies that were about our lives. You couldnt see them anywhere else.
JW: And now you totally can.
JW: You can see them all over the place. You can see them on mainstream television. You can see them on HBO.
JW: You can see them
JW: Right, right. You can access those movies, but also you have representation within a lot of mainstream stuff. And its not where it needs to be, you know; I think that there is a lot of work that still needs to be done, but its not the same as it was.
JW: And so, how do you convince people that they need to come to a gay film festival?
JW: You know, when they can sit at home and watch Looking or you know, whatever.
CW: Right. Right. When I went to the film fest this past October there werent a lot of young people at all, mainly older people, but there were a lot of young films. I dont know if you went, but G.B.F., the gay best friend movie, so cute, very young, kind of Mean Girls genre ofI dont know, but no young people.
JW: Im trying to remember if I went this year. Theres some years where I am traveling or have other stuff going on.
CW: Right, right, right. I think we talked about that. Off record I think we talked about you traveling or something so. Its a cute movie.
JW: Yeah, I think I missed this past year. G.B.F.?
JW: Cool. I like moviesmy partner and I like movies a lot. We watch a lot of movies.
CW: Its very cute but it is really expensive. You can only buy it. I tried to rent it on, um, Roku. I have a Roku box. Its like, nineteen dollars. Its like really expensive to try and get it outside of, you know, film fest. I think maybe a ten-dollar ticket, is what I spent.
JW: Did you see um, God Loves Uganda?
JW: I dont know if that was at the film festival at all, but its a movie that I would like to see. I mean, Ive seen itIve seen information about it, but its like, Okay, I cant access it.
CW: Right, right.
JW: Which is really frustrating in this day and age.
CW: It is. I was trying towere getting off topicbut I wanted to see Boys in the Band and I thought, Oh, how easy. I have this Roku box, I can get it on Netflix. Not available, I cant buy it, cant rent it.
JW: That is frustrating. That is a classic movie.
CW: Thats why I wanted to watch it, because people have talked about it.
JW: Yeah, that movie, thats gone through
CW: Do you have it? Can I borrow it?
JW: Yeah, you can if I have it. I dont know if I have it though. That movie has gone through cycles, because initially it was revolutionary, because like representation of gay men as the central figures in the piece, but then later, it was like, Oh, this is very homophobic.
CW: Right, right, right.
JW: Its like all this internalized homophobia and negativity, but this, its like it came back around to, Oh, this is documenting that early period and, you know, whatever. So, I am sure it will go back around a few more times.
CW: Um-hm, but yeah, the film fest, Ive noticedbecause a couple of years ago when I was an undergraduate or not undergraduate, first year of graduate school and I went to the film fest, it was packed and there were a lot of young people and then it seems like, gosh, I dont know, within the past five, six years, no young people. I think me and my girlfriend were like the youngest, and were not really that youngthe youngest people there.
CW: But it was packed with older people.
CW: I dont know.
JW: (Laughs) Thats a problem for the longevity of any organization if its all older people.
CW: Yeah, yeah.
JW: There are a lot of people that I see at the film festival and I dont really see them anywhere else. And its people like the people that I listed off before on the committee from years ago.
JW: Um, you know, so, itsbut I mean, I think that weyou know, part of it, its like, Oh, we have to save these institutions, but then part of it also like, we have the institutions that we need at the time.
JW: And so, maybe, you know, thats not something that we need. Not thatI hope thats not true, because I love the film festival, and I hope its here for a long time. It has a very special place for me for a couple of reasons. One, is that first year as part of my coming out experience and the movies that I saw there were fantastic. There was one called Salut Victor, which was (sigh)I cried buckets, it was just ridiculousabout these two old men in a retirement home that find each other. And then more recently, thats where I proposed to my partner
JW: is at the film festival.
CW: Okay, lets talk Why did you decide to do it at the film festival?
JW: Iyou know, okay, so we were there. It was the last Sunday of the film festival, and we had watched It was, like, a marathon day. You know, so we had seen two, the first two movies of the day. It was the break in between. We were waiting for the third movie, and its kind of funny because we had been there all day. We had sat where we wanted to sit, which was the front row, and later We had festival passes.
So, we were there for the whole thing, and later, before the final movie, they were roping off rows there in the front for VIPs, and we were sort of already sitting there. And they didnt want to ask us to move. So, were sitting there in the front. And I just It was very spontaneous.
The stuff that we had watched and all the feelings of, you know, like (laughs)its sillybut I loved him so much and I was just overwhelmed with that. And we were sitting there just basking in this glow of, you know, how much we enjoy watching movies, how much we enjoy spending time together, you know, whatever; and I just got down on one knee and proposed right there in the front row of the Tampa Theater.
JW: And its funny, because there was a photographer This is the funny part. This is why the VIP section thing, because they didnt ask us to move, they just taped off the sections around us. Pam Iorio, the mayor, was there to give a speech before the final evening film, and so thats They seated her right next to us. Thats why they were taping off VIP sections. So, they had politicians and whatever, but Pam Iorio was sitting right next to us, right after we became engaged.
JW: And the photographer was there and he was taking pictures of her. So, he has a picture of us with Pam Iorio and its right after we got engaged. It was such a nice, likeyay! (laughs)
CW: She was a witness. (laughs) How funny.
CW: Thats really cool.
JW: Yeah, so its a nice little memory, and thats part of the film festival for me.
CW: What year was that?
JW: (laughs) Uh, I can research it.
CW: Oh, you dont have to.
JW: Its going to be like eight years or something. I should know that off the top of my head, but I dont.
CW: So, did you guys um, have a ceremony? Did you go out of state? Did you do any of that?
JW: We havent yet. Weve talked aboutwe talk about it all the time, like, weve planned our entire wedding probably ten times over. We used to talk about having it at the Tampa Theater.
JW: And then as more and more states started getting legalized marriage, it was just like, Well, wait a minute, we could I mean, because we were talking about having like a commitment ceremony or something here, but we could actually I mean, its a completely different situation now than it was just a few years ago; like, we can legally get married in so many different states that we have a connection to.
JW: His family is from the Midwest. So, its legal in Minnesota. Its legal in Iowa. Its legal in Illinois. I mean, there are places that we could where we having family, where we could actually have a wedding, a legal wedding, and we could file joint taxes. There are all these federal benefits now and thats brand new. So, that changes everything. So, welland then so the discussion is changed from having the ceremony here to having the ceremony up there somewhere, maybe New York.
CW: Are you kind of waiting to see if Florida
JW: Kind of.
JW: I mean, we are also, like, were just both really busy with stuff, and so we talk it about, and we have every intention to do it, but its like
CW: And then get sidetracked.
JW: Right. Its like, Well, when are we going to do this? Well, you know, there is no deadline so. We both work really well with deadlines.
CW: Right, right. Well, its just interesting that you say that, because now that youve said it, Im thinking about other oral histories that Ive done and it seems like people do go to states that they have some sort of emotional connection with.
CW: Either states where they came out, or where they spent a summer, or you know.
JW: Yeah. And so, when it became legal in New York, then we thought, Oh okay, because we both love Broadway shows and stuff like that. S,o were like thats a great excuse to go to New York, go to New York, get married, see some shows. But then when it was like places where we had family, then it was like, Oh wait a minute.
JW: Because, I mean, ideally, like, we both are very connected to our families and we would both want our families to be there. My family, unfortunately, is all here in Florida, you know, where we cant legally get married. But then the other thing is I really feel like its going to be legal here in Florida before very long. I dont think that by any Florida legislation or any kind of vote like that, but I think that the federalthe direction things are going on the federal level, well have legal marriage throughout the United States in the foreseeable future.
JW: Like, its one federal judge after another. And I dont know. Did you see the attorney general of Kentucky, the other day, his press conference? Because Kentucky has a ban on gay marriage and in the federal courts the federal, a federal judge, overturned their ban and said it was unconstitutional. And the attorney general had a press conference. He almost cried, where he said, Im not going to defend ourI wont appeal the decision.
CW: Um-hm. Right.
JW: And he says, its discrimination and its wrong. And I did my job. I did my duty by taking it to court. The federal judge is right. Its unconstitutional and Im not going any further with it, which means theyre going to have I mean, that is very similar to what happened in Texas. And so, when places like that Kentucky and Texas are getting close to having legal gay marriage, I think that Florida cant be far off.
CW: Right, right.
CW: Â Especially since Floridas seemingly more liberal than those places. I dont know about Kentucky. Im from Texas.
CW: (laughs) More liberal than Texas.
JW: Yeah. I think also, so here is something that happened recently and it kind of, like this week I was having a conversation with somebody and, you know, sort of an acquaintance, who is gay, and I started to realize how Okay, so here is how the conversation went: We were talking about the Arizona law that was vetoed recently.
JW: Where in Arizona, it was a religious freedom bill that would allow them to refuse service to gay people and we were talking abouthow did we get on this exactly? He said something like, You know, well, I dont necessarily think that somebody should have to make a cake, make a wedding cake for somebody if they dont agree with their right to get married.
Um, and I was saying, Well, you know, okay, I see what youre saying, but think about it in these terms: like, what if it was an interracial wedding? Like, what if, you know, the person said I dont want to make your cake because I dont think black people and white people shouldnt be allowed to get married?
JW: And what I was thinking was, if you equate those two, then you cant say that somebody has the right to say, No, Im not going to make you a cake. I mean, its public accommodations and its so basic to me that you cant discriminate in public accommodations based on factors like that. So, I was equating it with interracial marriage.
And he said, Well, I dont think they should have to make a cake for somebody like that. And I was like, Oh my god. And then in subsequent conversations, because I didnt want to, you know, its an acquaintance I didnt want to be rude, and you know whatever, but I was very clearly, it was very clear that I disagreed.
JW: But in subsequent conversations I started to realize that hes very conservative, like, talking about social programs, how social programs are ruining some states, and you know, Oh, they have so many people on welfare, and they give rights to immigrants, and whatever. And its like, Oh my god.
CW: You had no idea.
JW: No, I had no idea, and so, what I realized was this person is very conservative, but at the same time we had just been talking about gay marriage. Like, he is completely in support of gay marriage. Hes gay.
JW: Completely in support of gay marriage, but hes very politically conservative; and what kind of occurred to me, because recently weve had prominent republicans saying, Oh, yeah, gay marriage, you know, we can legalize that, or whatever, and so, what I am realizing is that that sort of conservative establishment, I think is carving out an exception for gay people without addressing any other inequality, without talking about inequality based on race or based on class, or based oneven based on sex or whatever. Just saying, like, oh, but gay people are okay.
CW: Right, right.
JW: And thats so frustrating to me, like, how can you get to that point without admitting rights for anybody else.
CW: I dont know. (laughs)
JW: I justI thought that it would be different.
CW: Right, right, right. How funny. Thats crazy. So, you went toyou were active on organizing pride committee for several years or just that one year.
JW: Um, multiple years.
JW: But lets say maybe three or four years, something like that. Um, and I probably stopped when I started working atI changed jobs and my job was sort of all consuming.
CW: Right, right.
JW: And so that would have been when I stopped. That makes sense. Thats 92, 93. Ninety-three, I think, is when I started that job.
CW: What job was that? Was that the production
JW: Yeah, I worked for an event planning company, and so I traveled around a lot, and did a lot of work for them all over the place. But especially that first couple of years, it was all consuming. Like, people that I had been friends with spent a lot of time with just didnt see me for a long period.
CW: Oh no. So, what was your social life like? What kind of places to go to? I know you went to
JW: When I first came out, I went to Tracks. My boyfriend at the time and I and, like, our circle of friends, we would go to Tracks on Sunday nights and on Thursday nights. Those were the nights when it was eighteen and up.
CW: Right, right.
JW: And I was under twenty-one, so I guessI mean, most of us were under twenty-one. But thats where we spent Sunday nights and Thursday nights. There was a good sense of community there. You know, thats where our friends were. Thats where we hung out. That was our place.
CW: Was theTracks, that wasnt necessarily a gay club, was it?
JW: It was gay, yeah.
CW: Or maybe the later the one is when it, sort of, turned.
JW: I mean, it was gay, but it was a lot of straight people went there. Because
CW: It was like a big dance
JW: Yeah, and when I came out to my brothers and sisters, and I came out to them one at a time, you know, one-on-one as I saw them, and (laughs) most of them said, at some point, Oh, I used to go dance at Tracks. They had the best dance music. They had the best dance floor, you know, whatever, as a way of saying like, Oh, Im okay with, you know.
CW: Right, rightwith what you do in your spare time.
JW: Right, yeah. So, but they had all talked about like how, Oh thats the best place to go dance.
JW: From when they were going out, like, seventies.
CW: Right, oh, wow. So, what was it like in the nineties then? Im just thinkingbecause its funny that nineties fashion has kind of come full circle and I was like in middle school when the nineties thing happening, somaybe middle school, high schoolum, but Im just like wondering
JW: What kind of clothes we were wearing?
CW: Yeah, like what was the music like?
CW: Okay, that makes sense. Nineties. Yeah, Im just trying to get a picture of the scene.
JW: Um, there were So, one of the things that tied in like around that time when we were doing the TV show and, you know, like Tracks, that all fits in at the same time. Paul Lekakis was big, and he toured through the area, and he was at Tracks. And we went and shot an interview with him. Um, there was another show actually that I produced in addition to The Word is Out calledsomething.
JW: Yeah, I cant think what it was called, but it was basically a one man show, talking head, and sometimes he took phone calls, but Michael Gagme (?), who was big in, involved a lot in a lot of the community organizing stuff in the early nineties. But yeah, I dont remember (laughs) a lot oflike, Paul Lekakis had one big hit.
JW: And that was around the time it was huge and we interviewed him when he was there. Martha Washum.
CW: So, what time would you arrive? I dont know, now I feel like the time to go out is like eleven, midnight
JW: (laughs) I wish I remembered.
CW: You have to wait to like
CW: Was it sort of the same? I guess some thingsas a historian I cant stay some things never change, because thats not true, but
JW: I dontIm trying to think if I have any memory of, like, getting ready and going out.
CW: Clearly, you had a really good time.
JW: Yeah, it was fun. I mean, it was all sodas and stuff, you know. We werent old enough to drink, so. Um, I dont really remember.
CW: Okay, well, thats fine.
JW: I remember closing the place several times, so that would be three a.m. We couldnt have gotten there too early.
CW: Right, right. Who does? How interesting. So, what would you say has really changed in this area? Since the ninetiesso, I guess thats like a twenty year, twenty-year span.
JW: Um, you know, I think the same things that have changed everything else.
JW: Growth of things like Facebook, because those people as youre asking that question, about like getting ready and going out and stuff like that, Im thinking of the people who would know the answer to that and Im friends with them all on Facebook.
CW: Right, right, right.
JW: Like, you know, Facebook has changed a lot, but just in general online being able to connect with people who share your interests, or share your beliefs, and dont necessarily share your geography.
JW: It was possible back then, but it was a lot more difficult. In fact, public access, like, working at public access that was one of the things that I noticed about public access is that when we did the gay show, like we would have people write in and say, You know, I felt like I was alone. You know, Thank you for putting this on there. Its reaffirming who you are to see people talk about issues that you have and whatever.
I also saw that same kind of comment come in for, you know, different religious groups that were sort of specialty minority religious groups, where they felt like, Oh, I never see this. I never hear people talking about this. Thank you for putting a show on. I also saw that for the Nazis that came down and put on a TV show at public access.
People would call in and say, Oh, I thought I was the only one, whatever. And so, like, you know, there you see the range of like how it can be positive and how it can be negative is, you know, people who are outside of the mainstream can feel normalized and part of a group. Yeah, that can go a couple of different ways.
JW: Anyway, I think that the internet does that now.
JW: Public access did it back then in a small way, because its still only cable television, but the Internet does that now in a huge way. So, if you have any kind of specific belief that is not a mainstream belief, you can find somebody. You can find a group of people online who are totally there with you, you know, which is good and bad. You know, another thing that I think about it is, um, things like Hamburger Marys, which isare you familiar with that place?
JW: So, its a restaurant, but its like a gay themed restaurant. I studied this at one point. Like, I did an observational study where I went in and just took notes and thought about all this stuff. And itslike, you could say its a gay bar, but its really, like, its not really that much of a gay bar.
JW: Like, it is. But its also a straight-safe gay bar, you know, its notthe intended audience for it is straight tourists.
JW: Its more like, like, if you have a Hawaiian themed restaurant or a western themed restaurant. This is a gay themed restaurant. Not that gay people dont work there, they do. And, you know, they have things that are authentic to gay culture, but its also sort of gay culture packaged and sold.
CW: Right, yeah.
JW: And thats really interesting and in some ways thats really positive, because you go like, Wow, look how far weve come as being you know, accepted in the mainstream that we can be packaged and sold like everybody else. Yay! (laughs)
CW: Funny. So, when did you do this study? Did you do it at the Hamburger Marys in Ybor?
CW: Okay, cool.
JW: Yeah, that was two years ago maybe.
CW: Oh, wow.
JW: I didnt publish it or anything. It was just for a class here.
CW: That was my next question, if you had published it.
JW: No, it was funny. I just sat and took notes for an entire evening, which is thats also really interesting to go to a place like that by yourself and take observational notes the whole time. (laughs) Thats fun.
CW: Did you write Oh, Â I guess you sitting at a table. Were you writing them down as you went
JW: I sat at the bar. I had dinner. I sat at the bar. And I, um, I actually texted the notes
CW: Okay. So
JW: To my boyfriend.
JW: Because I wanted a running transcript with timestamps
CW: Ohhh, thats smart.
JW: And so, text messages worked perfectly for it.
JW: And you know, I told him, Just ignore your phone for awhile, and I just kept texting him, because thatlike seeing somebody text somebody, even having a long conversation via text, is a normal thing.
JW: And so, seeing somebody sit with a steno pad and take notes is not normal.
CW: Right, right.
JW: Or with a lap top in the middle of a bar on a Saturday night. Thats not normal. So, I wanted it to look inconspicuous and so texting was the perfect solution for it, I thought. It also allowed me to, as I was going, take pictures to go along with, you know, the notes I was taking. So, like I did aI had lunch there one day and took detailed notes about the setting, and then I went back for dinner on a Saturday night and took detailed notes about what was going on.
JW: It was really interesting too, because there were assumptions, like, there are all kinds of assumptions that you make that are just, you know, there are a lot of straight people that were there. There were a lot of gay people that were there. And there was a table, like, a long narrow table, and right next to the stage, and so from where I was sitting at the bar I could see one side of the table.
And its this row of guys, which is typical to see at a gay bar, a group of guys that are there together. Thats not unusual. And they were young guys and they were kind of cute. And Im like, Oh yeah, theres a cute group of guys over there. And then at some point the drag queen said something about that group, like, calling that group out or something, and saying, Oh, its like a wedding party.
It was like a So, then I realized that across the table with their backs to me all those guys dates. They were all straight. It was like a whole bunch of straight people at the table, but I had looked over and seen a group of gay guys.
CW: Right, right.
JW: And not realized, like, oh okay, this is a bunch of girls and their boyfriends.
CW: At Hamburger Marys.
JW: Yeah, and the mostusually the people that I hear about going to Hamburger Marys are all straight people, so.
CW: Right. Huh, interesting.
JW: Not that there is anything wrong with it.
JW: Its just interesting to look at and think about. Like, they take things like a love of Judy Garland or, you know, appreciation of old movies, or whatever, and sort of package that.
CW: Right, right.
JW: Thats a thing that you can put out there, which is, I mean, in reality not a simple thing, but a very complex piece of culture.
JW: But its put out as just a simple surface thing.
JW: Throw Judy Garland on the wall.
CW: Right. No, that isit is really interesting that you say that because Ive noticed in particular at Honey Pot, before when there were gay promoters or at least a lesbian promoter that was responsible for, I guess, a lot of the bigger parties, the bartenders were gay and lots of gay people. Now Ive noticed that a lot of straight people are bartending at gay bars. I dont know. Its just kind ofI dont know why it gives me a moment to be like, Huh, why are they here? And what are they doing?
CW: Because it doesnt really matter, but you would assume that
JW: And theres a sense for me, in talking about Hamburger Marys, there was a sense for me that we were losing something.
JW: Like, we were giving something away of our culture.
CW: Right, right.
JW: But again, also, I dont necessarily think its a bad thing. I think that our culture is becoming less of a stigmatized subculture and more of a sort of a recognized part of the diversity of the greater culture.
JW: Which, I mean, has to be the goal at some point, but then I come back to that, I come back to that carve out problem of like, Were going to accept gay people without critically examining our views about, you know, how we construct gender or how we construct race or class as a culture.
Um, yeah. The race is a problem though also within the gay community that there is not, like, you dont see the visibility, you dont have the visibility of non-white people within the gay community. I think its a real problem to have sort of unrecognized or unchallenged racism within gay institutions.
CW: So, why do you think its so segregated?
JW: I dont know.
JW: I think that our culture has a real problem with race. That, I mean, theres so many issues with race in the United States that we really havent dealt with. I think there is the potential there for the nextin the next, I dont know, fifty years to really deal with some of those issues that weve been putting off.
I was thinking about that we I saw um 12 Years a Slave because it was critical in a way that I dont feel like wouldI dont feel like that movie would have been made like that when I was younger like in the seventies and eighties. I dont feel like it would have been as critical of white people in general to say, like, yeah even the nice slave owners
JW: I mean, you know, its still all despicable. Like, I dont see how you come out of that withoutyou know, but we went through a very uncritical period I think in mainstream culture. And thatsI, as a kid growing up in the South, like, you know, it was normal to hear people like in an all-white group to hear people making very racist comments.
Like, that was socially acceptable. Um, you know, or like seeing an interracial couple and, you know, staring, staring at them in the mall or trying to make them feel, you know, uncomfortable, because thats not right. Like, that was normal when I was a kid, so, the fact that its not now is really good.
CW: Right, right.
JW: Not normal to other __(?)
JW: Anyway, there was a movie that first year at the film festival called Tongues Untied that was specifically about men who were gay and black and addressing issues of race and sexuality. Oh gosh, there was an organization, too. There was a national organization. I wonder if theyre still around. It was like Black and white men together, or men of all colors together, something like that was the name of this organization.
CW: Hm, okay.
JW: Yeah, I dont know. Anyway.
CW: Well, do you have any concluding remarks? Im trying to think if I have any more questions. I might have more questions later.
CW: But umI guess what Im asking is there something that stands out that we completely missed that we should talk about?
JW: I dont have any idea.
JW: Im defending my proposal on Monday.
CW: Okay, then its completely fine.
JW: You understand, like, its like
CW: Im surprised you let me interview you today.
JW: Yeah, no, its fine. I mean, I feel fine about it, but theres a chunk of my brain that is just sort of cranking on that.
CW: Okay, got it. Thats fine. (laughs) Well, thank you so much for letting me interview you especially since you have that coming up.
JW: Oh, no, its no problem.
CW: I appreciate it. I know its stressful.
CW: Okay, so were back on.
JW: I didnt talk at all about teaching. I dont think.
CW: No, you didnt.
JW: Yeah, so, after, um, being in event planning then I came back here to the College of Education, got my degree as an elementary school teacher and I taught elementary school.
JW: And then came back here for my masters and now my Ph.D. But something that like when I So, working as an event planner for years I was completely out, like everybody I worked with knew I was gay and had met my partner and, you know, it was no big deal. That industry, especially, like event planning, gay people are very visible and accepted. Yeah. You know, you have your florists and your cake decorators and whatever.
But you know, its not a big issue. But in education, it is. And I felt that like when I came here to the college of education, nobody said dont tell anybody youre gay, but it was sort of this implicit discomfort within the college of education with the idea of being gay. Like, nobody talked about it. Nobody said like, you know, people werent casually out. And so, I sort of slipped back into the closet a little bit. Like, if I dont tell somebody theyre not going to know necessarily.
JW: You know, there is always this assumption of heterosexuality. So, you know, you let that assumption stand. You dont worry about it. That is not a good thing, because you find yourself sort of boxed in pretty quickly. So anyway, through the college of education I wasnt out to most people and I felt like that was sort of the implicit direction is dont be out. If youre going to be an elementary school teacher, dont be out.
JW: And then I worked for Pasco County schools and that also was the feeling I got is dont be out. Nobody said it, butyeah. I mean, for instance that was one of the things, like, I went to training to do the sex education basically. The human growth and development unit thats done once a year for boys and girls, and one of the issues that we were not supposed to address was homosexuality, like, specifically dont talk about that.
CW: Oh, wow.
JW: And so, other than that there was just this general feeling, like, Okay, if a teacher comes out, what happens? Like, if the parents dont like the idea, then the parents might complain to the school, or might complain to the school board, or whatever. And are you protected? No, not really. You can be fired for being gay in Pasco County, and so, you know, you could lose your job. But it was more than that; it was just this general discomfort feeling. It wasnt until I read Karen Graves workI dont know if we talked about that before?
CW: Yeah, the um
JW: And they were such nice teachers.
CW: Right, yes.
JW: Or, they were such nice people or whateverand I read that history of the Johns Committee in Florida and all of the terrible things that they did in the fifties and sixties. My hypothesis is that what I experienced in the schools in Florida is, like, a homophobic hangover from the Johns Committee.
I feel like if you look at the Johns Committee in the fifties and sixties, and their persecution, their outright witch hunt persecution in the newspapers, in the public, of gay teachers, and then you go forward to Anita Bryant and the Save our Children campaign to strip rights away from gay people in Miami Dade and ultimately in the state of Florida, and then you fast forward to the early nineties where you have David Caton and the American Family Association in Florida working so hard to repeal any recognition of rights, any progress at all.
Just so virulently speaking out. And the thing is David Caton, the arguments he was making in the nineties are the same arguments that Anita Bryant was making in the seventies, and the same arguments the Johns Committee was making in the fifties and sixties. So, I feel like schooling in Floridalike most states didnt have a Johns Committee, most states didnt have an antigay witch-hunt.
I mean, really, like, targeting gay teachers and firing them, and colleges of education, targeting gay professors and gay students and kicking them out. That didnt happen most places. It happened here. And I think that we still have residual effects of that. I think that teachers in Florida in particular understand implicitly that its not okay to be out.
And like, thats wherewe have more liberal areas of the state and we have more conservative areas of the state. And in some places you actually do have protection based on sexual orientation from employment discrimination, but not in most places. I think that still most teachers who are gay are not comfortable being out.
JW: There was a great oral history paper that I read about gay teachers in Florida. I think it wasit was a certain number. It was like five teachers, or eight teachers, something like that that we went through and most of them where not out.
JW: They were almost all closeted. It was an interesting story about their experiences, but almost none of them were, and it does a terrible thing when you think about gay students.
JW: Like, if youre a gay teacher and youre afraid of people finding out that you are gay, you cant advocate for gay students.
JW: In talking to undergraduates here in the college of education more recently, what Ive told them is as straight people that they need to be advocates for their gay co-workers and for their gay students, because those are people who dontarent protected and arent empowered to speak out for themselves.
JW: So, its really, really important that they understand that history. I talk to them about Karen Graves work and talk to them about the Johns Committee. Talk to them about all that stuff. And then say, you know, like bringing it to them today to go, you know, you may have gay colleagues, you will have gay colleagues that are closeted, because they dont feel protected.
They dont feel like their principal would stand up for them. They dont feel like their teachers would stand up for them or whatever. But you have students who need role models to look up to. They need to know that they are not alone. When I was in high school, I had a gay teacher. There were rumors about him being gay all through high school, like you would hear people say like, Oh, you know, so and so saw him coming out of a gay bar or whatever.
You know, it was a little mildly scandalous. But the other thing is that he was such a good teacher and such ajust fantasticand so, everybody loved him. And so, the conversation would usually go something like, Oh, so and so saw him coming out of a gay bar, and the other person would say, Well, you know, who cares. Its probably not true, but even if it is true, I dont care. Hes very cool.
So, after I graduated I found out that he was gay. Like, I saw him at a bar or something. Yes, he was in fact gay. Um, that was such a huge inspiration to me. Like, a couple of years after high school to know that this teacher who was so loved and so respected and even, you know, whispered about being gay, like it didnt matter. His students loved him and respected him. You know, even thinking that he might be gay.
CW: What years did you teach elementary school?
JW: I thought elementary in 2004-2005, that school year.
JW: I did student teaching at the same school 2003-2004. And then toward the end of that school year, I did like a long-term substitute at that same school. So, I was at that school for two years.
CW: What subject did you teach?
JW: In elementary. All subjects.
CW: Oh, is that how My memory.
CW: Youre right. You stay in the one classroom.
CW: Cool. Anymore to add?
JW: No, thats all. I just thought that teaching thing.
CW: Yeah, well yeah thats interesting.
CW: Interesting bit.
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