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subfield code a L34-000212 USFLDC DOI0 245 Barry Donn Dingman 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/?l34.21
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Cyrana Wyker: This is Cyrana Wyker. I am here with Barry Dingman and Joel Cohen. It is January 22, 2014. This interview is part of the Tampa GLBT Oral History Project under my direction. Do I have your permission to record this interview?
Barry Dingman: Yes.
Joel Cohen: Yes.
CW: Okay, so. (laughs at dog) He wants to be on the recorder as well. So, I guess we will begin with you, Joel, because you grew up here. So, when were you born?
JC: I was born in September of 1945, September the 11th to be exact, at Tampa General Hospital, which is nowwhich is still on Davis Island. I grew up my whole schooling in Tampa, went to elementary, junior high, high school in Tampa and then went to USF in 1963.
CW: Oh, wow. What was Tampa like back in
JC: You know it was smaller, of course. There wasnt much. There were a fewthe Floridian Hotel was probably the tallest building, which is still there. They just restored it. And you know there was not a lot of traffic. There were no interstates, because where I lived was eventually taken over by Interstate 275, that went through the house where I grew up. So, not many interstates. It was pretty much your all-American little city, you know. You know, people left their doors unlocked. It was pretty safe town. It was quite different.
CW: What about you, Barry?
BD: I was born in 1957 in Catskill, New York, outside of Albany. And thats where I grew up and I came to Tampa in 75 to go to college.
CW: Ahwell, this question is to the both of you, I guess. What were your family lives like growing up?
JC: I had two older brothers. So, it was a family of five. My mother started working at Moss Brothers, which was a downtown department store in Tampa, when I was probably in junior high school. My father worked for a dry cleaners, delivery pickup. We didnt have a lot of money.
We werent a rich family. We probably spent twenty five dollars a week on groceries and that bought five bags of groceries at the time. But we lived in nice little suburban house, you know, two-bedroom house for five people, one bathroom. So, family life was nice. It probably centered around church, because we went to a Baptist church, so like everything we did was around that church as a child.
BD: For me, I think it was same type of family. Three boysI am the youngest of three boys, and we were not a wealthy family. My dad built our house. So, he was a brick mason. So, we ended up living in a nice, very nice house in kind of the suburbs. It just seems like it was a simple life. There were nine houses on our street. You know, dial telephones, you know, no technology really to speak of. Our entertainment was out in the yard and our vacations were camping. I didnt step on an airplane until I moved to Tampa.
CW: Wow. Can either of you recall if any sort of representations of gay or lesbian life in the media as you were growing up?
JC: Not really. Probably my first, probably as a child I always suspected I was different, but I never knew what it was until later in life, but when I was in high school, late high school, was when Florida had something called the Purple
JC: Pamphlet. And I remember people being arrested at USF and at the mallwhat was the mall called? Northgate mall in north Tampa. And that was all over the papers and everything like that. I remember people being fired, or threatened to be fired, from USF, but I was in high school. Thats right before I went to USF. So, probably thats what I remember, but the word gay wasnt used then. The typical word back then was queer. I mean, thats what everybody used at the time.
CW: And so this was the Johns Committee investigation.
JC: Correct, and that wasI remember that in the papers when I was in high school or early college.
CW: Can you recall what you might have thought about that?
JC: Um, I didnt think bad about it, you know. It just like, Oh my gosh, because people I knew were arrested, some friends of my brothers. So, it was a little shocked andbut I dont remember, I dont remember feeling bad aboutlike, Oh, this is awful, or anything like that.
CW: But friends of your brothers had been arrested.
JC: Yeah, right. So, but at the time remember being gay was a bad thing. Right, so, if they were out doing somethingI wasnt gay yetif they were out doing something bad and they got arrested, oh, thats not good, orthats kind of what I remember.
BD: I probably heard overheard my folks watching TV and then having a discussion about something gay, but I didnt know what that meant. It was probably in the mid-sixties. I was still a pretty young kid, but I remembered being uncomfortable enough not to ask.
So, I knew there was something sexual about it, but I didnt know what it meant, but thats the only recollection I have of anything that was everI mean, I never saw anything on TV when I was a child. I wasnt really exposed to that until I was in high school when I was in a community production of a musical. And then, you know, I was introduced to what gay really was, just by the community.
CW: Can you talk about that a little bit more? Introduced into what the gay community was?
BD: Um, sure. So, I was a senior in high school. Yeah, so I guess it bears reminding that there was no internet. There was really no access to information about any of this like there is today. Um, it was a community production, so there were a lot of older people in the cast. Homosexuals, gay men, I dont even know if there were any women or not, because I was oblivious to all that. And so I just befriended one of the older men in the cast and he kind of helped me understand what gay meant.
CW: So, what was the coming out process like?
BD: I dont know how much detail you want. (laughs)
CW: However much youre comfortable giving.
BD: Well, heI was seventeen. And he and I would go to like a bar, and have a beer together, and he was in another production and Id go see him. We were just kind of palling around sort of and he was a lot older than I was. Today it would behed be in jail for, you know, because he was in his forties. And so, and then, I went back to his apartment forwe had a beer and then he, kind of, got a little more intimate.
And I was initially kind of shocked by that, because I didnt really know, you know, what was happening. Although yet I kind of think subconsciously, I probably did know, because I was having a good time. But when he started making the moves, then I was feeling really uncomfortable, like that flight or fight response almost, and then realized that, Oh, this is it.
CW: What about you, Joel?
JC: I was probably eighteen as well. I had just finished my first year of college. And I had fooled around with people through high school or junior high school, but I just thought thats the normal thing that everybody did. And I think it is. But after I finished my first year of college, I still was going with a girl I went to high school with and she decided she wanted to be free.
So, I was kind of destroyed by that at that time. So, I went to Maine for the summer with some friends of my brothers unknowing that they were all gay at the time. So, we drove from Florida to Maine in 1964. And on my way, on that trip up I discovered, Oh, theres more people like this. And you know, because they would talk. I started participating.
And so by the time I got to Maine my oldest brother called and saidbecause my two brothers were gaycalled and said, Theres a few things we need to explain to you. And by that time I said, I already know whats going on. Everythings okay. I told my brother happy mothers day or something like that.
And so then I spent that first summer in Maine working for some gay friends of my brothers that owned a restaurant. So, and it was very easy for me at that point. I was surrounded by people that I had absolutely no trouble with whatsoever. I was very happy and felt good about it.
CW: Was that kind of a culture shock from being in Tampa where it seems from what everyones saying it was very invisible or, you know
JC: Well, it was, because I mean, and again, it was probably invisible up there, too, but I worked with a group of gay people and we hung around together, so there was a little bit of a clique to hang with, people of like minds. And I probably learned so much that summer about myself and about life, and about everything just from these older people thatwow, theres all of this to do. I mean, not just sexual, but things about life in general that were so different from being in a southern town like Tampa.
BD: They were our internet, (laughs) these older people.
JC: So, I mean, for me it was easy. I still go back. Those were fabulouswe still go back to Maine every year. I mean, weve been going there for fifty years. Thats where we got married. So, its a special place for me up there.
CW: Because of thats kind of where you
BD: That whole, that whole summer I spent there.
CW: I see. Where you everor can you recall seeing anyIve read in some places that in certain like mens magazines, in the back, there are often ads for other, you know, for male pen pals, and then there were physique magazines that werent necessarily gay magazines. Can you remember any of those? Did you ever have any
BD: No, never.
JC: Never had the need to really, because at that point I think, at that point in time we found other people to be __(?)
CW: Right, that makes sense.
JC: So, I mean, there wasnt a necessity to do that.
CW: Did you guys end up telling your families or was that sort of a slow gradual process?
BD: Slow, gradual. I think, I think it finally came out for me while I was in college, second year of college, third year, second or third year, and I was living in a house with another guy, and I think it was, it just kind of evolved, you know.
CW: Right, at USF. You went to college at USF.
BD: At USF, yeah.
JC: So, for my family, my father died probably, I think like five years after I came out. You know, and I think my father was always suspicious that my olderI dont know why I say thisI think he was suspicious that my brothers were gay, but that was never discussed. So, he died when I was like twenty-two or something like that, and then my mother over time, we never discussed it with her, but she knew.
And over time she became accepting. She was a southern Baptist and you know how Southern Baptists feel about homosexuality. But in her later life she became very defensive about the whole gay thing in her church, you know, like when people would start bad mouthing gay people, she would stand up and wouldnt put up with it, so.
Although we didnt have that discussion, she loved us, and accepted us, and thats the way it was. She didnt understand it. I dont think she understood what really gay meant. She couldnt imagine two men sleeping together. In fact, we were together for so long she still thought we slept in separate bedrooms. She didnt get it, and she didnt need to get it.
CW: Right. So, what was the gay life in Tampa like?
JC: In 1964?
JC: There was probably one or two bars. There was a bar called the Carousel, which is now the Hyde Park Caf in South Tampa. And there was another one called the Katiki downtown by the bus station, because people would go to the bus station, and thats where theyd pick people up. So, I remember going into the Carousel before I was twenty-one, you know, with a fake I.D. and with my brothers or whatever.
Thats where my twenty-first birthday party was. It was at the Carousel. I have pictures of it actually, which we should probably put in the archives. (laughs) So, but that was it. I mean there was a bar. There was dancing. I dont remember those bars being raided, because this was pre-Stonewall The Stonewall riots were a series of demonstrations by members of the gay community against a police raid that took place on June 28, 1969. This occurred at Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. They are considered to constitute the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.. It was 64. But you kind of felt that you belonged to this secret little club, you know.
CW: So, what wascan you describe sort of the scene in those bars?
JC: Sure. I mean, its probably much like a bar is today. There was a bar. There were booths. There was jukebox in there for music. People would dance. And you would hook up or meet with people, just like you might today in a bar. Although I dont thinkI think now people hook up and meet on the internet more than in a bar. But I would say the scene wasnt much different than walking into the central bar at Georgies Alibi or something like that.
CW: What about for you? I know you moved to Tampa later, but
BD: Yeah, I came in 75. I graduated from high school in 75 and I came to Tampa. I dont know that I was fully out when I got here, although I had had some relationships in high school. But I met somebody my first year of high school, so my first boyfriend, I met my first year.
But I dont think the bar thing was significant for me. And I think in our life together certainly, in my experience gay community has more been through social interactions, through either music or some common interest that you meet friends, and then friends of friends and your circle gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger. And then, you know, so you dont reallythe bar is not such a significant factor.
CW: So, what was it likeoh, let me go back toSo, did either of you feel a sense of gay identity, or was it kind of something that, you know, was there at that time because this was the early days. Was there that sense like Im gay or was it just like
JC: I think for me it felt like more of this private little club that was a secret. You know, and the only place it was a secret was to go to these gay bars, or being with a few gay friends at the time, but thats what I kind of remember about it. And in some ways I kind of like that special little club, you know. It waswe have a secret and nobody knows about it. You know, but
BD: I dont think its ever been an identity. Thats an interesting question becausewell, because for so much of our careers and our earlier life, it wasnt something you could wear as a badge. You know, I mean it kind of like it was a secret club. And I was not out in my job. And because I worked for a very conservative company, GTE, and my boss was Baptist, her boss was Baptist, the president of the company was a devout Baptist. It just wasntthe time wasnt right and the people werent right. And so it was one of those things whereit wasnt an identity, I dont think.
CW: So, can you guys recall the Stonewall Riot as something that happened? Like can you remember it?
JC: I do remember reading about it, because by that time I was almost thirty. So, I was living in Columbus, Ohio with my first relationship at the time. So, I remember when it happened.
BD: Maybe that wasmaybe that was the discussion I heard my folks having.
CW: About Stonewall.
BD: Maybe it was about Stonewall, because that was 69. So, I would have been twelve, which would put me in about sixth grade probably.
JC: To build on that, the summer after I went to Maine, 64, I lived in New York City for the summer of 65 and worked at the Worlds Fair. So, at that point in time that was pre-Stonewall, and I remember going to the bars in New York, and how secret and private they really were. I mean, there was this bar called Ginos and it wasyou went into the bar, and there was a bar out front, and behind a curtain is a place where you could dance with other men. But it could be raided at any minute, you know, so there was that threat in the air.
JC: Now, I remember going to Fire Island that time for the first time that summer. There was a disco out there and how much fun that was to see this disco, you know. I was probably, like, nineteen. But I remember what New York was like then, before Stonewall.
CW: So, you lived in TampaIm trying to get your timeline.
CW: Lived to Tampa, went to Maine for a summer
JC: Right, and then the next summer I went to New York, but through all of that I was attending USF.
CW: Oh, okay, so you were at USF, went for summers
JC: These were summers.
CW: Oh, okay. I gotcha. And then when did you move to Columbus, Ohio?
JC: I moved there in 67. So, I didnt finish at USF. But I met someone and it was a good opportunity to get out of town, so I moved lock, stock, and barrel to Columbus and started my life and my career up there.
CW: So, whatif you dont mind me asking, for the recordwhat kind of work did you do early on?
JC: Early on I was a counting clerk, and I worked for this company, and it was the beginning of computer age. And they were searching for people to become computer programmers, so they got logic tests, the people that worked for that company. And I guess I did well on that test.
And they sent me to programming school. And I learned how to do computer programming and that really jumpstarted my career. I eventually retired from work, so I have had a very good IT career, because of that, being in the right place at the right time.
CW: So, umsorry, Im going to jump back again. You said that you remember Stonewall happening, because you remember reading about it and people talking about it. Do you think that the riots made a big difference in, sort of, the gay community?
JC: Well, I think I do, because even where I lived in Columbus, Ohio, then it seemed like there started at the timethere were some gay bars, but gay bars became more. There were more gay bars or it wasnt such a secret anymore. You know, gee, they exist and people go to them. You dont need to be afraid to go to them any longer.
CW: Right, oh, wow.
JC: Thats kind of what I sensed, yeah.
CW: When you were at USF did you go to gay bars as well or
JC: A little bit, I mean thats when I would go to the Carousel or, you know, and I was, you know, just barely twenty-one at the time. I left Tampa at twenty-two, so I really wasnt even legal to go to the bars at the time.
CW: Oh wow. (laughs) So, well thats interesting, because you mentioned that bars in Tampa werent raided, but in New York there was definitely a threat.
JC: I think that people could be arrested on the street if they were picking somebody up and things like that. But I dont think the police here were aggressive about arresting homosexuals like maybe they were in New York at the time.
CW: Wow, why do youcould you guess on why that is?
JC: I dont know.
CW: Thats interesting. So, then when you move in 1975correcthere, what was that like? What was the transition like for you?
BD: Um, I think the biggest difference for me was that I was no longer under the watchful eye of my folks and having to hide to the same degree who I was. So I was freer for the first time to explore.
CW: So why USF?
BD: Um, warm climate, for sure. And initially when I started looking at colleges, I was looking for colleges that were like warm climate and a fair distance from home to get that experience of being on my own. So, I was looking at New Mexico, Hawaii, and Florida, and ended up here.
CW: So, what were your first impressions of Tampa?
BD: Ah, you know, I think that the school, it seemed big and exciting. I got involved in the music program there, and I dont know, and I was in the dorm. It was justI felt like lots of fun. It was a good time. And then I look at the school today, you know, what the university looks like and now it really does look like a big exciting university. Back then it was not so much, but for this small town kid, it was pretty big deal.
CW: So, what was your experience in, sort of, gay life in Tampa once you moved here?
BD: I guess, Steve, my first boyfriend, I met in chorus. So, really I didnt hit the ground running in gay life here when I moved here. So, I just kind of started meeting people in the dorm, straight and gay, and then just getting involved in school and I wasnt in a big rush into gay life. And then I met Steve and we got
JC: But you did go to Ybor and things like that.
BD: Not until after Steve. Steve introduced me tothe first bar I went to was Renes and that was with Steve.
CW: What was Renes like?
BD: I was pretty scared when we went there the first time. Steve told me that he hadnt really been there much. Hed been there, but not much. And then we walk in and everybodys like, Hey, Steve! (Laughs) The bartenders and just likeI dont know, it was just, I guess, like a mens club, everybody having cocktails. I dont recall dancing or anything. I think it was just kind of a social club where people went to have drinks. Our best from those days, the best bar experiences were in the one that closed on Dale Mabry
BD: Baxters. That was like the happy hour crowd, in the old days when happy hour was like at 5:30, six oclock, people would be fairlyI dont knowdressed, come from work. And it was just a nice crowd, and eventually they had live music, and its really something to look forward to, kind of a nice social thing.
JC: People would go to El Goya back in those days, too, in Ybor City, which used to be an old Spanish restaurant, still there.
BD: That was a big place with a lot of bars.
CW: El Goya?
BD: Yeah, within the complex, and they had some live entertainment.
JC: Drag shows.
BD: They always had drag shows, which never really appealed to me.
CW: Did you guys ever go to El Goya?
JC: Oh, yeah. In fact, we took my mother there.
BD: We didnt, he did.
JC: My brothers and I and my sister in law took her there. We always, me and my brothers as well, would bring our gay friends around our mother and I even brought them around my father when he was alive. And they always liked my brothers friends. I mean, even though there was never the discussion, These people are all gay, I remember my mother and my father being around these people and really enjoying their company.
And then we continued to do that through adult life. Mother was always around gay men and she loved it. So, we took her to El Goya once to drag show, and she had a blast. She thought it was so funny.
CW: What was it like outside of bar life, sort of, socially and politically in Tampa? Was there a lot of discrimination?
JC: I dont think we saw it. I didnt come back to Tampa until 1982, so I was gone for a while. You know, all while he was in college. We didnt meet until 82. So, he was in Tampa at that time. But you were involved in relationships and church.
BD: Yeah, you know, Ive been thinking about this a lot lately in light of the whole marriage thing. And I dont know, it seems like weve experienced in our life a lot of oppression and yet I dont think we knew it. So, I dont know if that was our attitude, you know.
And we tend to look at things more positively than maybe average. And I think we also keep reallyweve always kept really busy, so weve been more about just doing what we do and less about worrying about whether we are being treated unfairly. And so for me, I dont think I even noticed if there was any discrimination unless it was blatant.
JC: I think we were more of that school dont ask, dont tell. We werewe never wanted to be militant. Of course, thats changed a bit. But we were always very quiet about it and didnt want to pushin fact, sometimes wed see some of these militant people out there and wed get irritated with them.
And so now the experiences, as we think about this, I relate that back to when I was young and when civil rights was going on for the black people. We had this woman that worked for my mother that would ironing and things like that, and this was probably in 62 or 61, early sixties. She was really frustrated with all the young people that they were causing all this trouble.
She was happy the way she was. She wanted them to leave her alone. She was happy with her life the way it was. And she just wanted to be what it was. Theyre causing all this trouble. And I kind of relate that to some of the militants, you know, later in gay life. Well, theyre causing all this trouble. Were happy the way we are just leave us alone. But I dont believe that anymore, butbecause it takes all kinds.
BD: We went to that March on Washington, which was probably the first political rally we ever went to.
CW: The 1993.
BD: 93, 94, 93?
BD: I think Nadine Smith was there, and I think she was doing her outrageous militant kind of stuff, and it was such a turn off to us, because were like, why is she doing that, you know. That doesnt represent us. But now that we look back we realize it takeswere glad shes been representing us the last twenty-whatever years. And its made a difference even though its not our style. I wouldnt be having her to dinner with our family.
JC: Even in my career I was not really out until 98 and thats only because I worked for a very liberal company. Thats just the way it was. But up until then Ive probably been always quiet about my relationships and everything, although people knew. I mean, you know, you go back and talk to these people now, and they say, Well, what were you hiding? Whats the big deal? I mean, thats what they say now.
CW: So, were you hiding it out of, sort of, a fear or just because it was sexuality and relationships were just something that werent discussed?
JC: I dont think it was fear. I think it was just you didnt discuss those things. You left them at home.
BD: I think what happened for me was I started my career in 80 when people didnt talk about this kind of stuff in public. I mean, certainly not at work. And so as culture evolvedI remember the first gay mens chorus in Tampa, they had the concert over West Tampa, so you wouldnt run into anybody. One of my employees was in the chorus and I was a supervisor at the time.
And I was like really nervous, and I asked Joel, Do you think hes gay? And hes singing in the gay mens chorus. (laughs) Thats howI mean, I guess I was pretty out of touch with all that. So, as things evolved then it felt like, Oh my gosh, Im a fraud. I cant come out at work, because all these years Ive been misrepresenting who I am.
Although I never createdthis secret, this, you know, life. I didnt create any fictitious relationship or anything. But it still just felt likeone aspect was, well, I never talked about it before, so why would I start now, but the other thing was I was in a management position and it seemed inappropriate. You know, if it makes one person uncomfortable, then it just didnt seem right.
CW: So, um, how did either of you experience the impact of the AIDS crisis?
JC: We met at the beginning of that. And we probably had we not met at the time might not be here today, because that kind of, you know, we became in a monogamous relationship. So, I think had that not happened, AIDS could have affected us, but so we were lucky that we met when we met. We knew a lot of friends that died from AIDS and that was hard.
BD: For me, I didnt know a lot of friends that died from AIDS, only a small handful. I didnt feel like I wasit didnt hit us as closely and as hard as it did people that lived in big cities, I think.
CW: Do you think thatthat sort of changed the mood of gay life?
JC: It did. Absolutely. I mean, it wasnt the party it was anymore. You know, the free for all that existed. So, I think it did change.
BD: But because we had gotten together, it probably didnt change for us. Did it so much?
CW: How did you guys meet?
JC: My oldest brother introduced us.
CW: Oh, really.
JC: Yeah. My oldest brother was a musician, an organist, and Barry was a musician and organist. They had met at a summer music camp up in North Carolina, probably a year before I met Barry, or six months before I met Barry.
CW: Oh, wow.
BD: Early eighties.
JC: So, he introduced us, and I was living in Cleveland at the time, and he was living in Tampa. And that probably took about a year and a half to get it all worked out, to figure out, well theres more than just this parting friendship. So, I think about a year and a half after we met, I relocated back to Tampa, which my mother was thrilled with it. It got me back to Tampa, so we became her caretakers in the end of her life.
Since he was in church I started going to church again, so that made her even more happy. So, she was happy with the whole thing.
CW: Can we talk about your parents and your family, because you had mentioned that youre, like, three generationsright, three generationssort of, born and raised in Tampa? What have they said aboutobviously, not gay lifebut what have they said Tampa and how its changed in the past?
JC: Well, my motherof course, my father died you know, very young, so he didnt see a lot of changes that my mother got to see. My mother liked change. I mean, my mother enjoyed seeing that the city grew and became more exciting. There was all so much to do and all these shopping malls. She loved to shop. So, I think she enjoyed the change really. But she still had this connection backshe didnt yearn for the past. She grew up in Ybor City, so she remembered what Ybor City was like. It was really a shopping district.
CW: Oh, wow. So whatIm trying to frame this. What years would your mom have been, sort of, growing up in Ybor City?
JC: She was born in 1918. So, she was there in the twenties and the thirties. So, she lived through the depression there, and she was married in 1937 in Ybor City.
CW: Oh, wow.
JC: And she wentso, my whole family went to Hillsborough High School, my mother, my father, all of myboth of my brothers, we all went to the same high school.
CW: Goodness. So, if you dont mind my asking, what ethnicity is your
JC: My father was Jewish.
JC: And my mother would beI dont know, white, Anglo-Saxon. And my father married my mother, who was a Baptist, and he became a Baptist as well, too.
CW: Wow. Thats interesting.
CW: So, your mothers from
CW: Okay, so did they grow up in the same neighborhood? Was there
JC: Not really, because my father was born in Georgia, moved here when he was like fifteen, or twelve or fourteen, then he went to Hillsborough High School, and then stayed. He grew up in Seminole Heights. My mother grew up in Ybor City. And then they moved to Seminole Heights and thats where they lived as married family.
CW: Thats interesting. Thats a lot. Because then you have the cigar industry andyou both mentioned a little bit earlier, so Im backtracking, sort of, militancy. Was there militant groups in this area?
JC: For the gay cause?
JC: Not a lot. Nadine was probably the biggest example of that and that was probablydo you think twenty-five years ago?
BD: Well, how long ago was 93? I think that was our first exposure to her.
JC: Thats the first time I sawwe read about militants in New York, but she was our first evidence of militancy here.
BD: Yeah, I dont think so much.
CW: So, what was going to the march like?
BD: You know, again, I think we went with a circle of friends through Front Runners Front Runners is an organization of LGBT running and walking clubs around the world., which is a gay and lesbian running organization. And I dont know, there are probably ten or fifteen of us went. I dont really remember being significantly moved by the event, do you?
JC: Oh, I remember going to a church service at the National Cathedral and drawing hearts in the sidewalk in chalk out in front of the church. I mean that was touching to do that. And we had other friends that came from other cities, so we saw other friends from Cleveland, Chicago, and all over the place that happened to be there for theso, um, it was fun.
BD: I just dont think we were visionaries for what that March was trying to accomplish. I think we were more there for a good time.
JC: A good time. We werent there being militant, thats for sure.
BD: So, you know, I guess we were adding our voices to the crowd, but it was really not so much because we were activists.
CW: Can you recall when the pride parades began in Tampa? And then I know they moved to St. Pete.
JC: Not really. Just vaguely remember them. We didnt start coming to the pride parades until we moved to Pinellas. Thats probably only been the last five years or so that we started going to the pride here in town.
JC: Just recently.
BD: I think this is all part of our identity is never really been gay. You know, its just a piece of who we are.
CW: Right, right.
BD: But its just never really been our focus.
CW: So, how do you think things have changed? I know youve said theyve changed like dramatically.
JC: Well, were thrilled with the changes right now, especially with the whole marriage thing. I mean, we probably always thought that we never needed to be married, because it wasnt necessary. And we have a really good friend who got married in March about three years ago and said, Youve got to get married. It really makes a difference.
So, she kind of convinced us it was the right thing to do for us. And it really makes a statement, because when people see you as a married couple, they look at you differently, in a positive way. And so, we decided if Maine ever passed marriage that wed get married up there. And so they did, and thats where we got married last September.
So, since then its been so wonderful thatand we really came out about the marriage. I mean, it was a prettyit was a nice wedding. We put it in the newspaper here, pretty public about being married. Just the response wed gotten from unexpected places has been overwhelming, you know, really overwhelming.
CW: Sooh sorry.
BD: I think our philosophy has always been we just live by example, and inject ourselves into society, and not in a gay society, society in general. So, having been a church organist, we were involved in churches that were not MCC churches. And now we sing in the choir at First Pres downtown here. So, when we moved to St. Pete, we had an option to go the MCC church and we didnt feel like that was us.
So, we ended up at First Pres, where they had a really good music program. And then the church has been having a discussion for forty years about whether to allow ministers, gay ministers, to be ordained and gay elders and deacons. Weve sensed a growing frustration that our living by example isnt enough anymore, because, well, its making a small impact, that we should be making a bigger impact.
And then after we got married, and we came home, and we got this incredible reception from the people at church, we realized that this quiet living by example paid big dividends. I mean, it made a huge difference to a lot of people that may have seen it differently had they not personally known us, you know, first.
So, we felt like you know, thats just a change thatswere forever changed from this marriage, and how people relate to us, and its no longer the unspoken truth. Its, you know, people keep repeating their congratulations. You know, every time we see some of these people from church they tell us over again, Oh, I just have to tell you again how happy I am that you got married and congratulations. Its just a whole new
JC: And not many gay people put it in the paper, but we did, and the Times happened to put a great big colored picture in the paper and so we got all kinds of comments about that.
CW: Positive comments.
JC: Oh yeah, positive.
BD: The church got four complaints. So, the choir director announced when we returned from our trip. We were gone for six or eight weeks, and we returned to choir practice, and he announced at choir practice that we had gotten married. And a lot of people already knew it, but maybe 50%. And somebody called the minister and complained that the choir director was promoting gay marriage.
BD: Thats not what he did, but it was one of these people that was so against this, you know, Its against the bible. And then a friend of ours put flowers in the church in honor of our wedding, you know, cause people put flowers on the altar for memorial or honor somebody, so they did it in honor of the two of us on occasion of our wedding.
And that stirred up somebody else that called the church and complained. And then wethe fourth Sunday of Advent, we lit the advent candle as a couple. So, each week in Advent they have a family unit light the candle, and so we lit the last one, which is the love candle. So, they got another complaint. And this last week somebody else called and complained about something relative to all this.
But four complaints out of, I dont know, eight hundred members. Thats pretty, I think, pretty impressive and speaks highly for the people at the church. So, were going toI just set up a meeting with the minister, that were going to go talk to him cause hes evolved on this whole discussion. Initially he wasnt so sure, and so we havent really sat downwell, Joel did oncebut we havent as a couple sat down.
And sense weve been more visible and more outspoken about our lifestyle at church, we want to have the discussion with him about what does it mean to him, what does it mean to the church, and what does it mean to the discussion that were going to be having, because theyre going to vote again on the gay issue next year. This year or next year?
BD: Next year, 2015.
JC: So, there are going to be a lot of changes that effect __(?) in the church in the next two years, because if this thing in Florida happens, if they get gay marriage in Floridathat hopefully will happenand the Presbyterian church votes on gay marriage in the next two years, I mean, that just changes everything as far theyre concerned about that topic.
BD: Do you know, one of the other things, you know, talk about how his life changed. We moved into this building four and a half years ago. It was a brand new building. And I think its the first time weve ever lived anywhere where nobody cares. I mean, I think its almost a badge of honor to be gay in this building. And the people seem to enjoy the mixture of, you know, all different walks of life, and the variety. And if they do care that were gay, they care in a positive way.
JC: But along that same line, what Ive really seen change in my lifetime is gay only things arent required anymore. You dont need a gay church. You dont need a gay bar. You dont need a gay thisI mean, because I think we feel totally comfortable anywhere we go, in any piece of society or anything.
Its not necessary to be gay only. I kind of get frustrated sometimes with other gay people who will only want to associate with gay people, or, you know, is there anything gay going on at that event? Well, who cares? It doesnt matter, you know.
CW: Interesting, and you had said before that you liked when you were younger being a part of this special club.
JC: I did, yeah.
BD: Well, I cant say that hasnt crossed my mind, as we become more mainstream, were losing ouryou know, its no longer like something special. (laughs)
CW: You both seem to reflect on it as a positive change, not a negative change.
JC: Right, it is.
CW: So, well, it seems that religion has been a big part of both of your lives. Was thatdid you ever have to sort of reconcile your relationship with your religion, or was that something that
JC: It didnt for me. I grew up in a Baptist church and in a Baptist church you couldnt do anything. You couldnt smoke, you couldnt drink, you couldnt dance, you know. And probably at the age nineteen, twenty, I rebelled from that, and I say, Well, the heck with that Im going to do whatever I want, you know, because Im tired of being told no.
So, I never felt guilty or bad from a religious perspective about being gay. I mean, I felt like god made me the way I am, and who I am, and thats just the way it is. So, I never had any guilt about that or felt bad about it.
BD: And I got involved in church because I wanted to play the organ, and thats where you have to go. And so, I was involved in church for the music from the beginning. So, it almostthe rest was secondary. Its only become more important to me in the last ten years since weve been at this church where Im not an employee.
Last yearwas it last year or the year beforein 2012 maybe, there was a discussion about deacons and elders and the Presbyterian church did approve that you could have gay deacons and elders, and our church was kind of having discussion whether they were going to accept that or not. And were like, What do you mean? So, we almostwe stopped tithing or stopped committing to give money to the church last year.
We said, If youre not going to support us thenwe continued writing the check, but we werent going to commit to do it, in case we decided, you know, if they made a decision that was totally against our lifestyle, we would just stop, we wouldnt want our money to go to them. So, now we feel weve been received such positive outreach from the members and the staff that thats not an issue. And what the mother church does is, you know, it doesnt impact us.
CW: You mentioned that this building is the firstif my memory serves me for the past five minutesthat this building is the first building that no one has really cared that you
BD: It was the first place we lived. We never lived in a high rise before. I never lived in a high rise before. So, um, yeah, its the first place where we were out from day one and accepted and
JC: Weve lived in four different places together and the first one was near USF in a neighborhood that we didnt really know our neighbors. We just, kind of, came. We knew them vaguely.
BD: A few of them, yeah.
JC: And then we moved to another place out on a lake, and we didnt really know our neighbors there then that much either, because we kind of brought people in for entertainment. But when we sold the house, all the neighbors came out to meet us. They wanted to see who lived in this house and that was kind of interesting. And then when we moved to the beach. We lived in a building with four other gay couples. It was a gay building that only had four. And then we moved down here.
CW: Okay, well, thats nice. So, there hasnt been any negative response from your
JC: From our neighbors, never.
BD: I dont think weve ever had a negative experience, have we?
BD: I cant think of one.
JC: No, never felt like we were uncomfortable living in a neighborhood ever.
CW: Do you guys remember the Ronda Storms
JC: Oh, yeah.
BD: Yeah. (laughs)
CW: Well, its interesting, because its a big thing, but no one really mentions it. So, at the time that that was happening was it a big deal in the gay community or was it just
JC: It was. She was viewed as being pretty evil. It kind of gave the whole eastern Hillsborough County a bad name. It made Brandon and all that area out there look like
BD: For me, she was our local Sarah Palin, just such a turn off, I mean, just such a hateful person hiding behind religion. And I justit infuriates me. And Sarah Palin I feel the same way about. They just are really nasty people.
CW: At the time did it seem that she was representing the larger population or was it just Ronda Storms on a lone crusade?
JC: I think she was representing her part of the county. That part of the county is very conservative. I mean, there are some big Baptist churches out there and thats what they preach and thats what they believe. And thats where that came from.
BD: But I think she took this upon herself. I dont think her constituents said, Ronda, look what theyre doing in that library. You have to go, you know, get that exhibit pulled. I cant imagine that happened. I think she just became adecided to make this her cause.
JC: But look at the change thats happened since then. I mean, Kevin Beckner in Hillsborough County and now we have three gay city councilmen in St. Pete. I mean, it justits all changed now as far as all these cities have domestic partnership recognition. So, there have been a lot of changes since Ronda Storms.
CW: Do you think she sort of galvanized
JC: I think so. I think she probably helped people get militant about it.
CW: I know Im backtracking because this happened way before Ronda Storms but, um, do you recall the Anita Bryant
JC: Oh, yeah.
CW: If were going through our list of hated people
JC: So, tell that storyI probably remember more than you. You remember Anita
BD: I do, yeah, but not in any detail.
JC: Same kind of evil thoughts about her, Ronda Storms, theyre kind of equal.
CW: How old were you both when the whole Anita Bryant
JC: Was that in the seventies?
CW: I think it was 74. Somewhere between 74 and 78.
JC: I was probably early thirties.
BD: So, I would have just been out of high school, you know, so Iyeah. So, I probably was in that phase in my life where I wasnt watching the news. I wasnt reading newspaper, but I still remember the whole issue. And I dont rememberI guess I put in the same bucket as Ronda Storms and Sarah Palin. I mean, theyre just like evil people and I dismissed it at that. And then recently, the last couple years, we have some friends that every year they have the ABI tournament. And its the Anita Bryant Invitational.
JC: Tennis tournament.
BD: Tennis Tournament. And its out here in South St. Pete and its a whole spoof. I mean, its all about just making fun of this idiot. And Im like, why would you want to keep that name alive? But what they do is they have this tennis tournament every year and you dont have to be good to play.
So, its not a competitive event. And then its really about, I think its just about getting people together every year, having this event. They have a lot of good laughs, and they have a big dinner that night, and I think its really all about the social interaction of our community.
JC: And I think this has been going on for thirty years or at least ____(?)
CW: Really? This tennis tournament?
CW: Thats awesome. Ive never heard of that.
JC: Its a small little group.
BD: So, this will be my first year playing in it. I think its in April.
JC: Uh huh.
CW: Interesting. Thats fascinating.
BD: Isnt that a hoot? Her name came to mind a few minutes ago, and I was going to bring it up, so Im glad you did.
CW: And you were older?
JC: I just remember her as being one of those evil people, you know, was anti-gay, and you know, why doesnt she just leave us alone, you know? None of their business.
BD: But it is interesting how people like that and like Ronda Storms choose to go pick on this group of people. You wonder why do they feel like they needed to do that if they didnt have some sort of vindictive spirit? You know, like why would you do that?
CW: I dont know.
CW: So, okay, do you thinkbecause I thinkwell, in reading in history, sort of, Anita Bryant gave Florida this horrible name or at least the Miami Dade area. Was it likewas her name verywas it something that was prominent in the local news? Or, is it just something that sort of survived the ages andyou know?
JC: Well, I lived inwhere didI probably lived in Cleveland in at the time. It was in the news all over. I remember that at the time there was an orange juice boycott. She was the orange juice spokes lady.
BD: Thats right.
JC: So, people started boycotting orange juice and I think she lost her job over that.
BD: Uh huh.
CW: Oh right, okay.
BD: I think youre right.
JC: I mean, thats kind of what I remember, but I think that was more national news. It wasnt just local news.
BD: And then it seemed to quiet down. So, she was no longer the spokesman, so she didnt have a platform. And then it seemed to quiet down. I dont know if that was the end of her career. It didnt seem like we ever heard from her again.
CW: (laughs) She disappeared. She did write a book I think.
BD: Did she? Is she still alive?
CW: I have no idea.
JC: I think she is.
CW: I should know that. I just know that she wrote, like, a memoir.
JC: I think she lives in Miami or somewhere now.
BD: I think we should invite her to the ABI. (Laughs).
CW: Maybe shes changed her tune.
BD: I bet she has. Well, who knows?
CW: How funny. ABI.
CW: So, can you recall any other ways sort of times have really changed in this area?
BD: We just had a big one. You know, of course, many of our friends have gotten married this past year. Its just all these states, you know, its becoming legal. And one of our friends is retired from Eckerd College. And he still does some part time work for them, but the president of Eckerd College had a big dinner for them, he and his partner, when they came back from Maine having gotten married.
And so, Don Eastman and his wife hosted this beautiful dinner for these two guys to celebrate their marriage. And I mean, that used to be Florida Presbyterian College. Now its Eckerd College. Its a liberal arts college. But I mean, I just cant imagineyou know, its just amazing that weve come that far that the president of this college and his wife are hosting this dinner on the campus for the marriage of these two men. It was a beautiful, beautiful evening. It was so special.
JC: And he startedI dont know if you know who Don Eastman is, but hes probably late sixties, wears a bow tie, interesting man, writes poetry So, he starts of the toast to Jim and Dick with his IPhone reading a sonnet. And so, he reads this sonnet, this beautiful love sonnet, and he says, This was a love sonnet written by Shakespeare to his male friend. And it brought tears to everybodys eyes, you know. It was so sweet.
CW: So, do you guys find the changes shocking? Because now, you knowits a stereotypical sort of gay family on Modern Family, the TV Show, and, you know, HBO has a new show that just premiered, actually, Lookingis it shocking to see? Did you ever think in your lifetime that you would see
BD: Its shocking.
CW: culture move that quickly.
JC: Its fast, especially in the last few years. I mean, its moving faster. We never thought we would see gay marriage had come as far as it has so fast. Thats the big thing.
BD: Yeah, you know, its interesting that that was the St. Pete TimesI bet its been ten years ago when they decided they would include same-sex relationships announcements in their announcements section. But you really dont see them, although there was no issue putting it in. You know, I think well start seeing more of that.
But its shocking to me that its come this far where itsits not mainstream yet, but its so darn close. You know, and I think we live in a little bit of a liberal, isolated liberal, pocket here in Florida. This building and maybe by being downtown, it seems much more progressive. So, I think were a little isolated that way.
CW: Anything else you want to add? Are there things that I didnt think to ask, we didnt coverIm putting you both on the spot.
BD: I was a boy scout when I was a kid. And last summer I waswe were away when the boy scouts were going through that whole upheaval and not allowingand so, I wasI drafted a letter and I was mailing my eagle scout badge back as soon as I got home. I was just really kind of heated up over that, but they finally came to reasonable conclusion.
They stillI believe they dont allow gay leaders in boy scouts and theyll eventually get passed that, too, Im sure. So, thats another example of, you knowit just takes working through all these things and sometimes fighting through them. And so, weve never really been fighters, but I thought, Well, Ill send my eagle scout badge back. Ill show them. Im glad I didnt. I still have that badge. (laughs) But that was one more example.
JC: Its been an interesting life. I mean, weve seen a lot of good changes. I mean, never thought you would see it change this fast. I mean, its pretty nice.
CW: When youwell heresthis is totally backtracking to the beginning, but you had mentioned, you know, being in Tampa and then being in New York or in other places, was the sort of gay culture in Tampa similar to these other places, or did it have its own sort of local flare?
JC: I think pretty much it was similar. I lived in Columbus a long time, Chicago a couple years, Cleveland seven years, and I would say it all seemed pretty similar, you know, over all. But probably, I think Barry probably told you, we both went to USF. And we hadnt been there for a while until maybe in the last year or so.
We got involved in a gay and lesbian scholarship program at USF St. Pete, which is what that article is about. Really have seen the changes and are proud we went to school there now. We want to give back to the students, hopefully through the scholarship program. But, you know, I think we finally appreciate our education, and go back, and say, Wow, this is something to be really proud that we came from. And now maybe were going to be able to help somebody else in the future.
CW: Cause, well, I mean, USF is very LGBTQ friendly and accepting. There are a lot of programs. Was it the same? I know you both went at different times, but what was US
CW: Not so much back in the day.
BD: I think there might have been an organization late in my time there, so in the late seventies. I think there was, but I was living off campus at that point, and I really was not that involved on campus with stuff. So, I dont know. But I think it might have started in the late seventies.
BD: But it seemedI would have beenI dont know. At that point it seemed like, Gosh, you dont talk about that or do those kind of things in public. I dont know.
CW: Right, right.
CW: And what about when you were there? I know that the Johns Committee did their whole witch hunt sort of, but for students was the climate progressive?
JC: Not really. I had a few gay friends there, but doesnt seem like it was open at all. Youits not something you flaunted.
BD: There were some very out people that lived in the Alpha dorm that first year I was in the dorm and I remember feeling very uncomfortable around them because they were just so flamboyant. And it justit wasnt who I was and thats, kind of, were similar in that nature probably.
CW: Okay. Awesome. Any concluding remarks?
JC: Thats fine. Thanks for doing this.
BD: Yeah, this is great.
CW: Well, thank you guys for letting me interview you.
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