collage of interviewee photos from article Gay Proud

What Makes You Gay Proud? Seven Answers.

By Bruce Hyland

When I interviewed the people you’ll meet below, I realized the unique perspective of senior LGBTQI+ individuals. Universally, they are proud of being part of history and delight in how wonderful they find gay life today, at the same time remembering how it was. We have such a rich diversity in our community. The people in this article are but a slice of that. I’ve intentionally not identified who is/did what for a living. Can you figure out who is the: actor, flag dancer, anthropologist, goat herder, stage manager, activist, musician, judge, Harvard dean, health nut, business owner, counselor, and literature professor? Trust me, appearances can be deceiving.

Why are you proud to be LGBTQI+, proud of the LGBTQI+ community, or proud about an aspect of LGBTQI+?

Daisy Vance

Photo showing Daisy and Terre
Daisy (at left) was born in Missouri and came out at age 32. Terre, Daisy’s wife, was born in North Carolina and came out at age 19.

I am so proud that Terre and I are married. Neither of us ever dreamed that would be possible. We traveled to California as soon as we could to make our long-together relationship legal.

I’m proud that we no longer need to claim to be sisters living together. And in a bit of a strange twist, I’m proud that we still have sense enough to say that when we see that we may be in danger when bad-intentioned people press us. We’re proud that we’ve learned how to survive.

“We’re proud that we’ve learned how to survive.”
Daisy Vance

We live in a rural part of the state, and I’m proud of all the activity, events, parades, etc. that go on in the cities. I do wish that Pride events would make their way to smaller places eventually. Over the years, Terre and I have been involved in LGBTQI+ fundraisers, events, volunteering, etc. We are proud to be able to serve. We’re proud of the younger people of the community who have courage and are working to make all of our lives whole.

Bob Fischella

photo of Bob Fischella
Bob was born in Illinois and came out at age 23.

I am so proud that I can be open, and came through my own struggle to reach that level of confidence. I’m proud that I can choose, and be my unique self.

I’m particularly proud of how the LGBTQI+ community and my partner of 31 years can choose how we want to live. We are not bound by “traditional family values.” We have two kids who are now young adults. We share custody with their mother, a lesbian who also wanted children. We planned how we’d interact, how time would be shared, who was responsible for what. There were no rules we needed to follow. We created something wonderful. I don’t believe that would have been possible were we not gay.

“I am so proud that I can be open and came through my own struggle to reach that level of confidence.” Bob Fischella

I’m equally proud that my partner and I don’t feel bound to have the same type of relationship as our parents. We do many things together, but we also have separate activities, interests, and friends. I love to dance. He loves to bowl. We are so pleased to let each other be a whole individual, not just half of something.

I’m proud of many people in the straight community who accept us as loving responsible parents, without paying attention to our being gay. I’m also proud of our kids, and other kids of LGBTQI+ parents who are very casual about having two Daddies or two Mommies.

Natalie Perry

photo Natalie Perry wearing Pride sash
Natalie was born in Pennsylvania and came out at age 6.

I’m proud that I’ve always been “out.” Fortunately, I’ve never directly experienced any discrimination. OK, you smiled when I said I came out at age 6. I was in love with my kindergarten teacher and asked her to marry me. By 7th grade I was walking the school halls with my girlfriend.

I’m proud to have been part of the Tucson Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee who worked on Tucson’s anti-discrimination ordinance. I’m proud to have been a part of the early-on people who built a strong and resilient LBGTQI+ community and a part of the grassroots fight against HIV. I’m proud of the WE part of that work. WE worked it together.

I’m proud of the younger people of today who are carrying on the mantle of making the LGBTQI+ community even better. I am thrilled that they feel the freedom to be who they are.

[The writer of this article pressed her, as Natalie never takes credit for herself…] Yes, I am very proud to have been the Grand Marshall of the 2019 Pride Parade. It was fabulous. It was so much fun reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. I’m proud that WE can have so much fun.

Rustam “Rusty” Kothavala

photo of Rustam “Rusty” Kothavala
Rustam “Rusty” Kothavala was born in India and came out at age 26.

I’m proud to have lived my life as a scout and a guinea pig. Overall, and in the LGBTQI+ realm. I believe life’s purpose is about learning and growing.

I feel that being gay made me (and all of us) special. Do I feel like I missed out on anything because I am gay? Hell, no. Quite the opposite. I’m proud that as LGBTQI+ we have insights that straight people weren’t able to access. I was proud to watch as gay people became exhilarated as we came more into view.

I am most proud that we have experienced a greater variety of love – the way we’ve loved and who we’ve loved. I’m pleased that we are able to shrug off some of society’s “rules” and that we are able to create our lives as we wanted. Many social and public aspects of gay life are unique to us. And, I’m thrilled that we continue to break the rules!

“I feel that being gay made me (and all of us) special.”
Rustam “Rusty” Kothavala

I am proud that when I recently had to enter my long-term partner into a memory care facility that I was comfortable knowing that I wasn’t going to make being gay a governing issue. I feel too many people live in their past traumas, and don’t celebrate their lives. Toby, my partner, is treated as any other resident. At 86, I have discovered that many of our memories of being repressed are just that – memories – and not much in reality today.

Finally, I’m so happy that young teenagers are remarkably free of this nonsensical bigotry. I find that many can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

Colette Barajas

Photo of Colette Barajas
Colette was born in Illinois and came out at age 22.

I am blessed because I knew my purpose in life early on. I am to be a voice for those who are afraid and who couldn’t speak for themselves. I accept that the cause is more important than my personal fear of speaking out.

I am so proud of our LGBTQI+ community and the Tucson community in general. We have consistently come together, men and women, to address what was needed. We’ve responded to changing needs: AIDS, Discrimination, Youth, Transgender Issues, Mental Illness, Homelessness, and now Aging. I’m proud of Senior Pride for addressing the emerging concern about elder care and aging issues.

I am proud to have been part of Tucson activists who educated people early on in the AIDS epidemic, housing needs for LGBTQI+ people, and other issues. By the way, I believe anyone who is caring and compassionate is, in their own way, an activist.

I am particularly proud of a note I received from my niece. She attended EON while in her teens and is now a confident 30-something lesbian. She said, “You’ve loved me from afar. Because of your struggles my life is so much easier.”

Kathleen Williamson

photo showing Kathleen Willaims and Joanna Frueh
Kathleen (right) was born in New York and came out at age 16. Joanna Frueh (left) is Kathleen’s recently departed wife.

I am blessed to have been born lesbian. I believe we are a special spiritual people who raise human consciousness.

I came out in 1969 at age 16 and was beaten up and threatened by mobsters, but I knew I had to break the ice for me and others. A bit later, at age 19, I was a disco spinner in New York City at a mafia owned gay bar. I’m proud to be an ambassador for LGBTQI+ people. I’m proud to have been involved in a very significant part of gay history. Just think about all we’ve been through together!

“I’m proud that we created a LGBTQI+ family.”
Kathleen Williamson

I’m proud that our community pulled the LGBTQI+ thread in the fabric of our culture. I’m proud that we marched with other groups that were marginalized. I’m proud that we called out one of the aspects of our culture that was fundamentally wrong.

I’m proud that we created a LGBTQI+ family. I realize that the family of my life are my lesbian sisters and gay brothers. I’m a strong woman and self-reliant. My wife died recently. It was hard, and I am proud that I was able to say to my close lesbian/gay family that “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Currently, I am so proud of our transgender youth and feel we owe them a debt of gratitude. The transgender movement has moved us beyond false demarcations. It has opened us to sexual fluidity and given us a powerful language. It has challenged our dominant culture’s belief in a false binary split.

I am proud that I (we) came out of the closet and formed a beautiful, loving and spiritual community and created a new family.

Les Tannenbaum

photo of Les Tannenbaum and Steve Klusmire
Les (right) was born in New York and came out at age 40. Les’ husband Steve (left) was born in Louisiana and came out at age 25.

Les wrote this essay in lieu of being interviewed. He writes from the heart. It’s a bit longer than the others, but it’s a great read. I couldn’t bring myself to edit it down. –-Bruce Hyland

What makes me proudest of the gay community may sound like a paradox: our enormous capacity for truth and fantasy. It all starts with our coming out, which forces us to face and then celebrate the deepest truth about ourselves in the face of social ostracism and our own elaborate systems of denial. I believe that this capacity to be true to ourselves and truthful to others also extends to all other aspects of our lives as well. You could argue that we often get too truthful with each other (“Darling, that outfit makes you look like shit”), but more often we are able to tell our queer brothers and sisters the healing facts that can give them strength to go on with their lives (“You don’ t deserve to be living with such an abusive partner”).

We are able to look in the mirror and say to ourselves, “I really need to lose that gut or double chin,” but when it comes to sex, we can always fantasize that we are whatever body type we want to be—and the same for our sex partners. That’s where our superb ability to fantasize comes in, as part of our sex lives and our lives in general. I think that because we have fun indulging in fantasy that we are better able to face reality. Perhaps drag queens know this best, but it’s no accident that Halloween and Carnival/Mardi Gras are notoriously gay holidays. Besides allowing drag kings and queens to temporarily circumvent local laws against cross dressing, these holidays also allow us all to indulge in alternative images of ourselves through all kinds of masquerade. Also, drag names and campy behavior further allow us to engage our imaginations and play out fantasies of the moment, while we know full well that it is all make-believe. With such phrases as “Darling, you are flawless” we both indulge in illusion and recognize it for what it is.

Yet we also know that these fantasies and self-created illusions also express deeper emotional truths, that in fantasy we are acting out feelings that cannot be expressed in normal everyday speech and behavior. Look, for instance, at Divine, who acted out socially aggressive and regressive feelings that a lot of queer folk can relate to. Also, Wayland Flowers’ puppet, Madame, could be as socially and sexually transgressive as a lot of us would like to be, and Kate McKinnon, in her numerous impersonations on Saturday Night Live, expresses more queer feelings than anyone can enumerate.

In sum, while some people see truth and fantasy as opposites that can’t be reconciled, I would argue that queer folks do a great job of making those opposites work productively together to enhance our lives. And that is something to be truly proud of.