Partial Transcript: Joe Forte: My name is Joe Forte. I will be in the role of interviewer for this oral history recording session. It’s for the Denim Day 40th Anniversary collection of oral history narratives. We are in Newman Library on April 5, 2019 at 4:01 pm. The narrator for today’s session is Bill Kenealy. Welcome, Bill, thanks for joining us. Would you introduce yourself briefly?
Partial Transcript: When I decided to go to Virginia Tech, I was living in Springfield, Virginia, and I wanted to be an architect, so I applied to three or four different schools which I all visited and checked out the architecture studio, and I really liked the architecture studio here and the professor, so I decided to go to Virginia Tech. I also had...
Keywords: architecture; Cowgill Hall; professors
Subjects: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. College of Architecture
Partial Transcript: F: Yeah. So was the program what you’d hoped it would be?
K: Yeah, —I mean—so what I liked about it was the methodology. In reality, only about half the people with architecture degrees go into architecture in the traditional architecture field which I actually was lucky enough to get a job as an architect when I graduated. But what I like about...
Keywords: architecture methodology
Subjects: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. College of Architecture
Partial Transcript: F: So your final year here was the year of the Denim Day awareness event.
K: Right, I believe I joined the G.S.A. [Gay Student Alliance] in 77, and in those days—my recollection is we were meeting at the Cooper House. They were very supportive. Also, we used to meet at people’s...
Keywords: Cooper House; Gay Straight Alliance; New England; resorts
Subjects: lgbtq+ history; student groups
Partial Transcript: After I came back and joined the G.S.A. the only place people would go to, get together if someone had a car, they’d go to Roanoke to The Park, which I hear is still there. I can’t believe it, and it was a disco. But if you had a group of guys you had to...
Keywords: gay bar; Maine; Portland; Roanoke; The Park
Subjects: Gay clubs; Maine--Portland; Virginia--Roanoke
Partial Transcript: F: Coming out so far into college, you’re already largely independent. Did you feel pressure to come out to your family, or were you already removed enough from them that you didn’t think it was necessary to hurry that...
Keywords: coming out; Northern Virginia; parents; siblings
Subjects: Coming out (Sexual orientation)
Partial Transcript: F: Can we step back to the G.S.A. for a bit?
F: So you have this sort of personal realization. Come back to Tech, and you’re looking for a like-minded community, like-situated community.
F: What was both the draw of the G.S.A. for you...
Keywords: activism; companionship; self esteem; student groups
Subjects: Gay Straight Alliance
Partial Transcript: ...when I look back at it now, it’s kind of amazing what we did, and how much we did with so few resources when you think about it. We leafleted the entire campus. We put up posters everywhere. The day that week I was on a gay panel. I thought, God, how did we do all that? We just had that...
Keywords: danger; gay panel; leaflet; violence
Subjects: lgbtq+ history; student movements
Partial Transcript: F: Did the initial contact with G.S.A- was that fraught with any of that sense of danger ‘cause some folks have talked about how, Is this a trap? and being nervous about that first contact.
K: Yeah, in fact, I heard that today, someone was...
Keywords: fear; hidden; secret; student groups
Subjects: Gay Straight Alliance
Partial Transcript: F: Yeah, the way you spoke about the leaflets.
K: Oh yeah, the leaflets, yeah.
F: We heard about that a lot, and everyone talks about that moment where you get caught, and you have to run, and people scream faggot or whatever they scream.
K: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
F: It always seems like it was a very exciting -
K: Well I’d say that time I was scared because...
Keywords: corderoys; dorms; dresses; jocks; khakis; Major Williams; posters; Pritchard Hall; Progress Street; roommates; suits
Subjects: Coming out (Sexual orientation); Denim Day; Student movements
Partial Transcript: K: I thought all we wanted was to be a recognized student group, and be able to meet in Squires. In my mind that was all we wanted.
F: Yeah, that was like the clear goal.
K: Well, yeah, to me.
K: We just wanted to be recognized as a student...
Keywords: backlash; consequences; District of Columbia; gay disco; Lambda Rising; Lost and Found; panel; student groups; The Other Side
Subjects: Denim Day; Gay Student Alliance
Partial Transcript: K: Well, you can’t be a gay waiter in a disco after a certain age [laughter]. You have to be young and pretty [laughter]. No, I joined the Navy, believe it or not. A lot of my gay friends thought I was out of my mind, but this was in 1983. There was no...
Keywords: Don't Ask. Don't Tell.; Italy; Japan; London (England); retired; Spain; Tokyo (Japan); travel
Subjects: Gay military personnel--United States; United States. Navy; United States. Navy. Seabees
Partial Transcript: I live in England now. I lived in London for quite a while. I lived in London for almost 17 years, and I worked for, ‘cause I have dual nationality, I worked for the mayor of London. I worked as a project manager for the Mayor of London which was very exciting, very good job. The Mayor...
Keywords: British Museum; Buckingham Palace; countryside; Labour Party; Mayor of London; Parish Council; Parliament Square; Trafalgar Square
Partial Transcript: K: Yeah, the Navy’s very political, and like I say, because this was pre- before, Don’t ask. Don’t tell. And of course it’s completely open. If you didn’t have a wife, which I didn’t, obviously, and children you had to work twice as hard to get promoted. Part of that environment is that...
Keywords: Don't Ask. Don't Tell.; Italy; officers; overseas
Subjects: Gay military personnel--United States; United States. Navy
Partial Transcript: K: Well yeah, —I went— I was sent to the first Gulf War very early. That was an experience where I had this detachment - I don’t know if you want to go into all this detail. Anyway, I was stationed in Alaska if you can believe this. I was stationed on one of the Aleutian Islands. I had 85 Seabees under me, and a senior chief, and we got this message that we...
Keywords: C-130 Hercules; Gulf War syndrome; Hawai'i; Hawaii; Okinawa (Japan); Saudi Arabia; United States--Alaska
Subjects: Gay military personnel--United States; Persian Gulf syndrome; Persian Gulf War; United States. Navy; United States. Navy. Seabees
Partial Transcript: F: So we’re speaking of your time in the Navy, and you were talking about methods getting stuff done, and how it’s related to some of the sort of activist methodology you employed with the Denim Day and later in your political career now. First I was wondering, how does that mesh with the kind...
Keywords: activist methodology; gut feeling; Old Dominion University; project management
Subjects: Denim Day
Narrator: Bill Kenealy
Interviewer: Joe Forte
Date of Interview: April 5, 2019
Transcribed by: Kathryn Walters, June 10, 2019
Audit-Edited by: Clay Adkins, September 4th, 2019
Final Edited by: Anthony Wright de Hernandez, July 20, 2021
Joe Forte:My name is Joe Forte. I will be in the role of interviewer for thisoral history recording session. It's for the Denim Day 40th Anniversary collection of oral history narratives. We are in Newman Library on April 5, 2019 at 4:01 pm. The narrator for today's session is Bill Kenealy. Welcome, Bill, thanks for joining us. Would you introduce yourself briefly?
Bill Kenealy:Yeah, my name is William Edward Kenealy. I was born in Newport,Rhode Island on the 17th of July, 1956. When I decided to go to Virginia Tech, I was living in Springfield, Virginia, and I wanted to be an architect, so I applied to three or four different schools which I all visited and checked out the architecture studio, and I really liked the architecture studio here and the 1:00professor, so I decided to go to Virginia Tech. I also had to pay my own way, so it had to be affordable, and I could claim in-state tuition.
F:Was that studio where it is now?
F:Burchard Hall off or Cowgill?
K:Cowgill. I walked into Cowgill the other day, and it looks exactly the way itdid in the 70s when I went there, and two of my professors are still there.
K:Yes. [Laughter] Which is quite astonishing, really. It was sort of like sortof like being in a time machine. The building looks exactly the same, and the first and second year students and their desks covered with balsa wood models. It could have been 40 years ago, so it was quite an experience to go walk back through there, but I was surprised to find that two of my professors were still 2:00there. They had been there for 50 years.
F:Did they remember you?
K:Vaguely. [Laughter] They remembered a couple of my roommates who were with meat the time better than they remembered me at first, but once we got chatting, yeah, they remembered me, yes. You can imagine having a professor 45 years ago as a first year and second year student. They must have churned through a couple many thousands of students since I've been out of the way.
F:Yeah. So was the program what you'd hoped it would be?
K:Yeah, --I mean--so what I liked about it was the methodology. In reality, only3:00about half the people with architecture degrees go into architecture in the traditional architecture field which I actually was lucky enough to get a job as an architect when I graduated. But what I like about the way that - it teaches you a method of problem solving that you can apply to any part of your life or any kind of job you're in, and I've used that throughout my whole career. --I didn't always-- I started as an architect and went on to many things, but that way of thinking and working that I was taught here has carried me through my life really, so I'm glad that I made that choice.
F:Do you think you can communicate that method?
K:Well it's analyzing a problem, getting down to the bare nubs of a problem thencoming up with different solutions, three or four different solutions, and then 4:00evaluating them, and then picking the best one. That's kind of the thing in a thumbnail version of that. So in other words, put in architecture terms, you're given a program for say, a building with so many square feet at this site. Has to do this, these functions have to work. You take all that, and you come up with different solutions to the problem. They all would work, but you pick out the best solution either amalgamation of three or four different solutions and then you put that together and you keep finessing that until you get to the best possible solution.
K:That's kind of the way I was taught to work in school, and you can apply thatto anything you're doing in life, I think, in the workplace.
F:Is the amalgamation the point you think, is it more often than not turn out tobe an amalgamation of the distinct solutions? 5:00
K:Yeah, I think sometimes you're lucky, and you hit a hole in one. You do threeor four things, and you come up with one and then that's it. You've got the solution there. I remember when I was in the fifth year, I was designing a church for my fifth year project, and I tried different things, and I finally came up with one little model, and my professor came by and said, That's it. You've got. You've got it. But often, yeah, it's trying three or four different things and saying, Well that didn't work here. This didn't work there. And kind of putting it all together again, and that can be very frustrating and time intensive.
F:Yeah, but you think worth it.
K:Yeah, I think worth it. I use that today in various parts of my life.
F:So five years, that's standard for architecture, right? What years were those6:00for you?
K:I forgot to mention that. 1974-1979.
F:So your final year here was the year of the Denim Day awareness event.
K:Right, I believe I joined the G.S.A. [Gay Student Alliance] in 77, and inthose days--my recollection is we were meeting at the Cooper House. They were very supportive. Also, we used to meet at people's apartments. --But it was all done--We'd call a number, and the first time you'd meet near the stadium, and somebody would come pick you up in a car and take you to the meeting. It was sort of like working for MI5 or something [laughter]. There was obviously no 7:00internet. No mobile cell phones, just a landline phone, and that was it.
F:Instructions on the other end [laughter].
K:That's right. The Summer of 77 I used to go most summers and go to workcause I had to make enough money to pay the whole tuition and a little bit of expenses, --and I went--my friends encouraged me to go to this resort in New England. It's kind of a northern outpost of the Borscht belt. It was like a lot of talented students. Music students went there, and they worked in a lodge. Visitors came for a week or two weeks, and they put on shows for the visitors. It was quite popular with people from Philadelphia and New York City, and I can play the guitar because I used to play for the Newman group here at the chapel. 8:00I used to play during Mass. We had a folk group back in those days. So, I went to work in this resort, and there were all kinds of gay people there [laughter]. I wasn't really out of the closet, and--most-- a lot of the students were from Julliard and Oberlin and Indiana University, and there were a lot of gay kids there, and I realized you know I was gay, and I had my first sexual experience there. So, when I came back to [Virginia] Tech I was like, Oh my God, you know. I joined the G.S.A. [laughter]. That experience changed me a lot. If I hadn't 9:00done that I'm wondering if I would have stayed in the closet until after I graduated.
F:That Summer after your third year, right?
F:Had you been attempting to live a heterosexual life?
K:No, well I had tried that in high school, and it didn't work. I realized thatI couldn't do it. I did go out dancing with, in those days, you actually danced, held each other, did the hustle [laughter]. And I did go out dancing a lot with girls, but nothing beyond that. 10:00
K:I don't think anyone - I couldn't say. I don't think anyone thought, Oh mygod, he's gay. Maybe they did, and I'm kidding myself. --but the--the whole thing came from my experience of that Summer.
K:It wasn't like I thought I better just fess up. If that hadn't happened - Ithink the social pressures were that you kept it very hidden. You did not talk about it. You know. After I came back and joined the G.S.A. the only place people would go to, get together if someone had a car, they'd go to Roanoke to The Park, which I hear is still there. I can't believe it, and it was a disco. But if you had a group of guys you had to have a woman with you. You couldn't go 11:00and dance just all with men. And I remember it had a stupid frog fountain. You would go in and there was this frog on the fountain. Then there was a guy that sat in like a lifeguard's chair in the middle of the dance floor, I guess watching everybody [laughter]. I'm serious, and then the lights would come on near closure and this guy would be up there in the chair saying, Okay. We're closing. We're closing up here. So that's where we used to go. Used to go to Roanoke, and you could let your hair down.
F:What was the purpose of the lifeguard? He was watching to keep couples -
K:Yeah, no touching, kissing.
K:Yeah, that's right. And someone told me the place is still open. I waswondering about that.
F:If they had the lifeguard? [Laughter]
K:No, I doubt the lifeguard chair is [there] anymore. --But I had actually gone12:00to a--when I was in New England, the resort was in Maine. On the Maine/New Hampshire border, and I'd gone to my first gay disco in Portland. Someone had a car, and we drove down to Portland, Maine, and it was my first time I had ever gone into a gay club, in 1976, I guess it was, and there was no lifeguard chair in that place. That was my first -
K:- time I'd gone into a gay bar.
F:Coming out so far into college, you're already largely independent. Did youfeel pressure to come out to your family, or were you already removed enough from them that you didn't think it was necessary to hurry that step, or how did that play out?
K:I told my siblings because they were in Northern Virginia. So many people from13:00that area -
K:- went to [Virginia] Tech, I assume that's still the case. We had connections,and I didn't want them to find out from somebody else. They took it pretty well. I never really told my parents till years later.--I never really just-- I didn't think they would approve. Of course, I don't think it was out in the open between us until, gosh, the 1990's. So then it was kind of ridiculous to -
K:- pretend otherwise. But at the time, no I didn't tell them. I think they14:00knew, but it was sort of we were all sort of playing a drama. It was all -
F:So was it then a relief to stop or was there any other reaction you feared?
K:Yeah, because I had joined the Navy in 1983, and I was very rarely around myparents, it was kind of a long distance thing, so I think that made them more comfortable too in a way, so you just talked about it very rarely. I saw them now and again. It wasn't the main topic of conversation.
K:And I think they felt more comfortable that way. --I didn't feel like--It wasmore important to tell my siblings, I think, cause I'm the oldest of five. My 15:00parents are very old school. They're both near 90 years old now. But I think they've done pretty well for considering the era they grew up in as far as accepting.
F:You mean done well with the news, yeah.
K:Yeah, there was no falling out or anything like that, but in 1979,78,77. I said no, no [laughter]. I wasn't gonna say anything to them. It's hard to describe what is was like then compared to how it is today, when it seems to be so matter-of-fact. But it wasn't like that at all back then. It was very different.
F:Can we step back to the G.S.A. for a bit?
F:So you have this sort of personal realization. Come back to Tech, and you'relooking for a like-minded community, like-situated community.
F:What was both the draw of the G.S.A. for you and any value you then found in it?
K:You're looking for friendship. You're looking for companionship. Probably, youalso in the back of your mind, are looking for a boyfriend. I think hiding takes a toll on you. It may not show itself initially. But it does. If you're with a bunch of people you can relax with and not have to worry about being pretending to be something you're not, it really takes a big burden off of you. When I found the group it was a big relief, to put it mildly. Despite the fact outside 17:00the meetings you were still kind of hiding or pretending to be something you weren't. I think the basic psychological need of having people that accept you for who you are, are similar to you is really the driving force. It was for me anyway. I think the activism was part of kind of getting - how can I put it? It's part of getting your self esteem - I hate to use that word cause it's kind of overused lately, but it's getting back some of the basic respect as a person, so I really was, I wouldn't say driven, but I was really kind of fearless, and when I look back at it now, it's kind of amazing what we did, and how much we 18:00did with so few resources when you think about it. We leafleted the entire campus. We put up posters everywhere. The day that week I was on a gay panel. I thought, God, how did we do all that? We just had that drive, and I was kind of fearless. Maybe some would say I was a bit stupid, but we were kind of fearless, really.
K:Do you say fearless and stupid because you look back at it now and recognizenow there was danger you were courting?
F:Yes, there was danger, oh yeah. George and I went around and leafleted about 3in the morning, and we were in Pritchard, and we thought, No one's gonna be awake, but of course, some guy was awake. This leaflet came under his door, and 19:00he goes, Ah guys there's faggots in here, waking up people, and they chased us out of the dorm, and luckily I was a lot thinner back then. I could really scoot [laughter]. But, oh yeah, we had threats. There's no question about it. We could really have gotten beaten up pretty badly.
F:Did they ever manifest like that, the threats?
K:Threats? Yeah, sure. I never was physically assaulted. It could have easilyhappened, yeah. I think if you had stopped - I think if you hadn't run off, and you had stopped and confronted, I think that you would have been hit or would 20:00have been socked. I think so. No definitely, you would take taken punches.
F:Did the initial contact with G.S.A- was that fraught with any of that sense ofdanger 'cause some folks have talked about how, Is this a trap? and being nervous about that first contact.
K:Yeah, in fact, I heard that today, someone was talking about it. The fear ofnot knowing who is on the other end of the phone, and you go to this meeting point, and the other people are there waiting with you, and you don't know who they are. In fact, there are a few people that I remember, and I don't still know their last names because nobody used their last name, but I don't remember being that afraid for some reason. I remember that I really wanted to be in this group and meet these people, and I was kind of like with blinders. I said, Oh 21:00this is what I have to do, so I'm gonna do it, and I think, I don't recall it being particularly afraid, although I probably was nervous, but I think I had it in my mind, I'm doing this, and I'm gonna meet these people, and this is just kind of the hoops I have to go through to do that.
K:I don't remember having any particular strong fear.
F:But members of the G.S.A, even in private conversation, kept their last namesfrom each other as a rule?
K:Well initially, yes. Once I got to know people well then you'd find out. I wasin architecture, and I met some other people that were in architecture. You'd go to people's houses, and then, of course, it developed like that, but initially, 22:00no, people didn't use their last names, no [laughter]. I think until the trust was there.
K:It slowly came, and then you'd reveal more and more about your particularsituation. All secret, it was like that. It's funny, even though it sounds a bit scary, it also gave it a bit of an allure that you were doing something special and different, if that makes sense. Yeah,--that was only-- I don't know.
F:Yeah, the way you spoke about the leaflets.
K:Oh yeah, the leaflets, yeah.
F:We heard about that a lot, and everyone talks about that moment where you get23:00caught, and you have to run, and people scream faggot or whatever they scream.
K:Yeah, yeah, yeah.
F:It always seems like it was a very exciting -
K:Well I'd say that time I was scared because those are frat boys, and therewere some big suckers in that Pritchard hall. There were the jocks. You know-- They could really do you in.
F:Did you live in the dorms?
K:Yeah, initially I lived in Major Williams which now isn't a dorm I'm told.
K:It's an admin building.
F:History and philosophy are in there [laughter].
K:That's appropriate. I lived in Major Williams, and then I lived in apartmentsover by, I think they're still there,--they're over by--not Squires. What are they called? I shared-- I rented an apartment with another guy, he wasn't gay, 24:00and then the year after that, three or four of us in architecture school rented a house of Progress Street. 512 Progress Street, still there - went by to see it the other day. Yes, it's in need of a little love, and we fixed it up. So the landlord-- It's a house, it's probably built in the 1890s, 1880s. Fine house - wooden house with big porches. And we essentially, we had the house. We sanded the floors, we sanded the staircase, we painted the inside, we fixed the picket fence, so as long as we were doing those things, the landlord - what a bargain - we rented it for a very small amount of money. Someone told me later on it 25:00became a sorority house. I don't know if that's true or not. It's not today. It looks like students living there again. Let's see. There were one, two, three, four. five of us, and two of my roommates were, we were all in architecture school, and two of my roommates were in the closet, and they didn't even come out after I came out. They were sort of experiencing this whole thing vicariously.
F:So when you moved into the house together you were all in the closet?
K:I made some of the posters for Denim Day. I silk screened some of them in thehouse, and people would come over once in a while, and they were kind of aghast. They freaked out about that. They wanted to make sure nobody knew I was making 26:00these posters in the house. But then a few years later, after I graduated, one roommate, Mark, he came out, and we went to San Francisco together for a trip, and then the other roommate, Richard, he sort of stayed in the closet, but they both since passed away, unfortunately. But I still remember how they were genuinely very nervous about the fact that I was making these posters. I got a silk screen set and I was silk screening the posters for Denim Day, and that made them very nervous, [laughter] but it all worked out [laughter].
F:So neither of them came out during college. Did they wear denim on Denim Day?27:00
K:I don't remember. I don't remember. I don't think so. I did. Of course I did,and it was very strange to see everybody walking across the Drillfield dressed in like corduroys and khakis, and guys in full blown suits and women in dresses. You never see that, you know. I went to the architecture studio, and I remember being stared at but I don't remember any threats or anything like that. I don't recall that. That day or the day after, can't remember which it was, we had a panel discussion, and I was on that. There were four or five of us. It was 28:00Nancy, Olga, myself. There was another guy, I think his name was Greg. He wasn't a student, but he lived in the town, and we were interviewed I think by the radio station, and it was in the Collegiate Times also. They were asking us questions, why did we do it? What were we trying to do? So I was on that panel, I remember that. I remember walking around the campus like I was an observer. I was there, I was walking around in my jeans, but I was also watching everybody and wondering would anyone do anything or say anything to me and I don't remember anything. People would look at you, but I don't remember anyone saying anything to me. I mean people I didn't know, obviously, but there were only a 29:00handful of us wearing denim out and about, 15 people, 20 people. Something like that. I can't remember, but it was that number of people.
F:Is that what you expected?
K:Yeah, I don't know what I expected. I didn't expect everybody to be wearingdenim, let's put it that way. I think I was a bit surprised at how few people wore. I might have been a bit naïve maybe. At the same time I thought, My god. We've made everybody pick out different clothes. We've made everybody-- It was the strangest thing. Everybody that day, that morning, had to make sure they 30:00didn't wear denim. I was dumbstruck a bit, but at the same time, I thought, My god. This is really something. I didn't know yet everything that happened after that. I had no idea about all the letters that came in. There was backlash, of course.
K:I thought all we wanted was to be a recognized student group, and be able tomeet in Squires. In my mind that was all we wanted.
F:Yeah, that was like the clear goal.
K:Well, yeah, to me.
K:We just wanted to be recognized as astudent group, and be able to meet inSquires, --and that was my-- and of course that didn't happen.
K:I think it didn't happen until some years later. I don't remember what year31:00'because I wasn't in the school, obviously. There was rough times even through the 80s, and then the name changed. It wasn't the G.S.A. anymore. It was Lambda Rising, and then I think it was sometime in the later 80's or into the early 90's when a gay group was recognized as a student group. You probably know. I don't know exactly when that was.
F:I don't know the date, no.
K:Yeah, so, it took a while.
F:So did you have a sense then going in, I'm going to one of a very few wearingdenim, and I'm going to participate in this panel. Did you think of it like you were coming up on a kind of campus wide coming out? Is that the sense you had?
K:Well yeah, in a way it was. Some people said to me or they said later on when32:00they were asked if they were wearing denim they just said, Oh, well, I'm not gay, but I'm a supporter of gay rights. And I can understand why they may have said that, but I didn't say that [laughter]. No, once you've done that, you've done it. That's it. You're out [laughter]. You can't go back.
F:Yeah, and is that then something you wrestled with or were you just like,Nope, this is the way forward.
K:Yeah, I think it was important. It was a mixed thing. I didn't wrestle withit, but I realized what I'd done, and that was it. I was gonna deal with the 33:00consequences whatever they were. I'd made up my mind that was the case, and I'd had enough, and--I'm gonna-- whatever happens, that's what happens. Yeah, it was [pause] very difficult.
F:Of course, it doesn't seem like you regret it at all - that it was the rightthing to do.
F:But say you were unaware of the aftermath.
K:Well at the time, obviously. It was sort of like a slow moving avalanche orsomething. There was a lot of backlash, and I think I was a bit surprised at the amount of backlash. I think- I was a bit surprised at the amount of backlash, I 34:00think. I didn't think it would be that bad. A lot of people missed the point of what we were doing, and they took it as that we were trying to tell them what to do, and, oh these gay people are trouble. We were trying to make a simple point about we have to think about how we behave and what we say and what we do every day of the year. You had just one day when you had to think a little bit about what were you gonna wear when you went outside, and that was the point of the whole thing. I think a lot of people, try to think back in that time, they looked at that as that we were somehow oppressing them by not letting them wear their jeans for one day [laughter]. I think some people did get it. All the 35:00letters that came in, and the fact that we didn't get recognized as a student group, which is what I was hoping would happen. It wasn't a disappointment--it wasn't a big disappointment, but I was disappointed. But at the same time I didn't say, Oh, I'm gonna go back in the closet. I give up. That wasn't the case at all. In fact, when I graduated from university I did get a job as an architect, but at the same time, I worked on the weekends to make enough money, I worked at a gay disco as a waiter.
F:I thought maybe in the lifeguard chair.36:00
K:No, no, I wouldn't want to work in the lifeguard chair. I worked at a placecalled the Other Side in Washington D.C. There was a Lost and Found [a gay disco in Washington, D.C.]. The Other Side was mainly for, if you could call it, it was a women lesbian disco, actually, if there could be such a thing - it was. And there was a cinema and a sauna, of course that whole area is gone. Now the baseball stadium is sitting on top of where all that was [laughter]. And I worked as a waiter, and I made as much money working two nights on the weekend as I made on my office job during the week. I wouldn't say I was an activist, but I met a lot of people there, and a lot of the people that I knew here lived 37:00up in that area, so we would see each other. I was disappointed that a lot of people missed the point, and that things got a little rougher the next couple of years after. I felt a little bit, I don't know, not responsible, but I felt bad about that. That things got tougher for the group after I left. It was in January of 79. I graduated in June. It was like, Okay, you know. [Waving gesture] I left, but people that had to keep going the next year -
K:- that were Juniors and Sophomores.
F:And they were explicitly forbidden from staging another Denim Day thefollowing year, but did you stay in contact with them? Were you aware of what was going on at the time?
K:Not in great detail. Most of the people I knew had graduated before me or my38:00year, so I kept in touch with those people, and I did kind of get stuff second hand about what was going on, but I never came back to the school.
F:Woah. So what have you been doing with yourself? [Laughter]
K:Well, you can't be a gay waiter in a disco after a certain age [laughter]. Youhave to be young and pretty [laughter]. No, I joined the Navy, believe it or not. A lot of my gay friends thought I was out of my mind, but this was in 1983. 39:00There was no 'Don't ask. Don't tell.' There was nothing like that. To them it seemed like a backward step. Well, I could see that if I stayed in that office job it was kind of a dead end. --I didn't want to spend-- I didn't find it very challenging, and the Navy, if you have an Architecture degree or an engineering degree, the civil engineer corps takes people with those degrees, so I thought, Well, I'll apply. Why not, you know. And I got in, and I wanted to travel, and the Navy obliged. And I was single. A lot of my peers that age would be married or have children a little bit later on, and they didn't wanna particularly travel outside the country. They wanted to stay in the U.S. So I was--they said you wanna go overseas, and I raised my hand, and I would go, so the first place I went was, I always wanted to go Japan, so they sent me to Japan, and that was 40:00my first duty station, and I went to gay bars in Tokyo. [Laughter] In fact, in Japan if you get lost - I lived outside of Tokyo, and you take the train in, and they have these little police boxes, and the police are there all the time, and they'll take you to the gay bar. You say, I'm looking for Bar Fuji, and the Japanese police will take you to the bar [laughter]. So, that was a different world. So anyway, I had a career in the Navy, and I lived in Spain. I lived in Italy twice. I came back to the U.S. a few times, and then the last duty station was London, and that's where I retired and got out of the Navy. I live in England now. I lived in London for quite a while. I lived in London for almost 41:0017 years, and I worked for, 'cause I have dual nationality, I worked for the mayor of London. I worked as a project manager for the Mayor of London which was very exciting, very good job. The Mayor of London has only two pieces of real estate that he's responsible for, and that's Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square. I did things like the restoration of Nelson's column and put up a lot of statues on Parliament Square. Then I worked at Buckingham Palace for a few years, and I worked at the British Museum. --And then finally I was able to-- London's great if you're young. Fantastic. I think into my 60's I said, I wanna move out, and so I moved out to the countryside. So I live in a village in a 42:00cottage. It's true, but a cottage with solar panels [laughter]. I'm in politics, well local politics. I'm the Chairman of the Parish Council which is sort of like being a mayor of a small town in New England, similar thing. And I'm running for County Council, and I'm in the Labour Party. So I moved into the village. The chap who was the chairman, I don't know, they pinged on me right away and said, Oh, you wanna be the Chairman of the Parish Council? I said, Well I'm not sure. They said, Oh yeah, you'd be really good. So they voted me in [laughter]. I think-- I even leaflet today. I leafleted for my own election in 43:00the town just a few weeks ago, so I'm still leafleting under doors. [Laughter]
F:Just not at three in the morning?
K:No, although I did have one guy come out and say, aghhh. Didn't threaten me. Ithink I still have that thing in me from this. It's kind of incredible. I'm in politics. People say, How can you do that? I could never do that. And I say, Well to me, I'm not afraid at all. People don't like to speak in public. They don't like to chair meetings. Sometimes it can be contentious things that are discussed, and I think a lot of what I went through here is kind of still inside of me, and I'm using it. It's kind of funny. 44:00
K:But, yeah, so it's kind of like full circle. There is something about thatcoming full circle.
F:Is that something you're returning to you feel, or is that something you hadwith you even through your time in the Navy?
K:Yeah, the Navy's very political, and like I say, because this was pre- before,Don't ask. Don't tell. And of course it's completely open. If you didn't have a wife, which I didn't, obviously, and children you had to work twice as hard to get promoted. Part of that environment is that with the spouse - is also part of this connection - she knows the other officers spouses - it's the way it used to work - probably still does, I suppose. I think I had to work much harder than my 45:00peers to get to the rank that I got to. I got to Commander, O5, and my gay friends, who their parents are in the Navy, they never thought I would get that rank. They said they never thought that I would, being in the closet, get to that rank of Commander. So I suppose--Don't rock the boat, let's put it that way. You can be- not subversive- You can use those skills to get those things done. For example, I would do construction management, and I was sent to Italy, and I was doing a big hospital. The lieutenant that was there before me had 46:00gotten way behind schedule. I don't think he liked the Italians very much. I learned to speak Italian, and I got into their way of working, and I got the project back on schedule, and got it done in the time we promised to get it done. Looking at things from someone else's point of view or being able to do that has helped me a lot in that career, and that's why I think I liked to be stationed overseas. The problem in the Navy though, if you get too cozy with the natives they say you've gone native. So you walk this fine line. Everybody wants you to get the project done, so you have to deal with the local culture, but if you're too kissy-kissy then your superiors will say, I don't know. He's gone 47:00native. I don't know if we can really trust him anymore.
F:Yeah, ironically you kind of have gone native, right, 'cause you stayed atyour last post?
K:Well yeah, --I went-- I was sent to the first Gulf War very early. That was anexperience where I had this detachment - I don't know if you want to go into all this detail. Anyway, I was stationed in Alaska if you can believe this. I was stationed on one of the Aleutian Islands. I had 85 Seabees under me, and a senior chief, and we got this message that we were gonna deploy to Okinawa, which is where our main body was, and then we were gonna deploy to Saudi Arabia, and that's what happened. I convinced the captain of the airbase there to let 48:00his crew to fly us in the C-130 Hercules to Okinawa. This plane was normally used for recreation trips back to Hawaii 'cause in Alaska you don't get any sun, so you would fly people to Hawaii and fly them back for R and R. So then when I ended up in Saudi Arabia, that's another one of those experiences where people skills are really important, to put it mildly. And having responsibility for 85 men - the ones you think are gonna handle it well, don't handle it well, and the ones never thought would be strong step up to the plate. It's incredible how a situation like that can change someone who appears quite capable in normal times, but then is sent to this kind of situation and doesn't cope very well. 49:00
K:I'm not sure how I got off to that track.
F:How long were you there?
K:Six months, yeah. We got there in September. We were there to build these hugecamps for the Marines that were coming in and the Army, so we would pour slabs and put up wooden frames, and they would come and put their tents over the frames, and then they would move up to the Kuwaiti border getting ready for the invasion.
K:So that's what we were doing. We had a prefab yard going 24 hours a day, andour intelligence officer brought suitcases of money. We got this charted 747, that's how we flew in, and there was no contracting. He had like hundreds of thousands of dollars in this suitcase.
K:We bought all the plywood we could buy in U.S. cash.50:00
K:That's how it worked. That's what we did. The very short war - we weren'treally involved in the front line - some of the people I did know did get Gulf War syndrome. Came back, and they did get Gulf War syndrome. I know there was a long fight to get the proof of what caused that. I escaped that bullet.
F:Yeah, and that would have been the closest you had been to an active war zone, right?
K:Yeah - I was in that - yes. We had a few times when the scud missiles wentSouth of us.
K:Yeah, that's what I was doing.51:00
F:Well we're at another natural break. We could take a breath.
K:I don't know, it seems like a natural thing to talk about.
F:Yeah, well I kind of want to spin off that next. You ready?
F:So we're speaking of your time in the Navy, and you were talking about methodsgetting stuff done, and how it's related to some of the sort of activist methodology you employed with the Denim Day and later in your political career now. First I was wondering, how does that mesh with the kind of problem solving you were talking about earlier with the method you took out of the architecture school?
K:Yeah, I think that really applies to all the project management I was doing.52:00In other words, how do you get from A to B. It's not just the actual physical pieces of the work, but the people you're working with and what motivates them, and how do you get everybody focused on the end product or the goal, so that everyone is involved with the same energy for the same result. That kind of makes sense. And I think in Denim Day we all did a lot of work. We came up with all these ideas and all the publicity, and we were all focused on the same goal, and that energy was really amazing, I think, and I think the way working in an 53:00architecture school is, you don't dismiss any possible options. You don't outright dismiss anything. You look at all the options and weigh them. Either making a list and weighting them in some fashion or another, and then also, of course, a lot of it comes down to you have to go by your intuition, also. That's part of it. It's something you can't quantify. So you have to go with your gut. So yeah, you do as much empirical judgement and weighing as you can, and then finally the last bit of it is your gut. But getting everyone on the same page and getting everyone excited about the end result. I think that's the key to getting these complicated projects done. You're always going to have people with issues about ego, personality conflicts. You're never gonna get rid of that, but 54:00if you can get people focused on the same result and excited about it, and then get them to visualize what that is, that will override a lot of the noise and the conflict that you're gonna have with a group of people.
F:And your gut, is that informed by the same kind of dissonance that informsyour activism. Like this doesn't make sense with there, therefore, activism and that's what's informing your gut?
K:I mean that's something-- some people call that common sense or part of it isyour life experience when you learn the hard way what works and what doesn't work, and also it's important that you learn, unless you have it innately, you 55:00judge people's character or you evaluate people and decide if you can trust them. It's all that kind of stuff. I can't really put it under one label, but it's all those things together. I call that going with your gut feel in the end, but first you have to look at the hard stuff. You can't just say this is okay. You first evaluate everything. You measure it in some fashion. You look at all the options. You weigh them, and then that subjective, kind of intuitive, stuff comes in when you've got all that in front of you. That's the best way I can describe it.
F:So are you aware of having gone with your gut with Denim Day?
K:I think so.
K:I can't remember who first said, Oh, they've done something like this at, I56:00think it was O.D.U. I'm pretty sure it was Old Dominion. It might have been Phil, and we all said, We need to do that. We should do that. You'd think we might have said, oh we can't do that. We don't have the resources. We have a huge campus. We're not as small as Old Dominion. Probably Old Dominion was more gay friendly, even back then, I suppose. But we all just got very excited and we said we have to do it no matter what it takes. So we did. I remember there was a lot of power in that. We had a certain touch of genius there, I think. I know 57:00that sounds a bit pretentious, but we did. It was a spark of genius that we all just grabbed on to it, and said, we're doing it. Yeah, that's how I can describe it. And once we decided to do it there was never anybody saying, Oh, I'm not. Everyone that's lined up to do it, they did it. No one said, Oh, I'm not. Some people were afraid to do the flyering. Some people wouldn't do posters, but everybody did what they could. That they felt safe doing.
[End of interview]