I don’t like parties, but I had promised I’d attend this one birthday gathering at a ritzy pub in Istanbul, where I live. The upscale establishment allowed my friend to showcase his sense of eliteness. The closeted birthday boy had invited many women—his attempt to preserve his hetero image. The guests were mostly straight. I only knew one other person, his closest buddy, a short guy, well built with tattoos on his shoulder. He was closeted, or at least bisexual. Everyone seemed attracted to him. He was very seductive.
PODCAST: Interviews by baby-boomer LGBTQ historian Mike Balaban, with a diverse guest list, covering issues and themes from the global LGBTQ community.
EPISODE 15: Mike interviews Joel Tucker twenty years later: one of six survivors of the horrendous Backstreet Cafe shooting in Roanoke, Va. on September 20, 2000.
At the age of 19, I began to realize that something was wrong with my soul.
I live in Turkey, a Muslim country with a long secular tradition. But, even in its supposedly modern social environment, male homosexuality isn’t accepted. Turkish society makes exceptions for it when it involves rich and successful artists. But, for the rest of us, it’s forbidden. In addition, I studied at a French high school that instilled strong Christian doctrine, which taught me that my growing attraction to other men was forbidden.
When I was in graduate school in Boston in the mid-1970s, my attraction to other guys was proving intractable and I feared it might never be eliminated. In those days, it was not acceptable to be openly gay. You’d risk the loss of family, church or temple, job, and friends if the word ever got out that you were “that way.”
June 2011, my partner, Juan, and I left our 13-month-old son, Oliver, home in Roanoke with his nanny, and traveled to New York City for a Pride dinner with President Obama. By that time, the LGBTQ Community had made great progress in its fight for equality on many levels. As the recent board chair of the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA), NY state’s LGBTQ political action committee, I’d been intimately involved in its strategies, successes and failures. ESPA had begun years before by asking for a few, what now seem like “easy” (though they were not), attainable “wins” each legislative session.
I’ve just come in from coffee at my downtown spot, the Zoot Cafe—downtown being all of two blocks long in the quintessential coastal Maine town that is my home. The sun is out. My place is warm and full of light. Lucky for me, it’s even like that on gloomy days, but today it is really full of light.
My home is filled with artwork. At one point, I owned a very nice fine art gallery here. Although it wasn’t around for long, I was smart enough to collect a number of wonderful, beautiful, expressive pieces, all of which bring me great joy. In many ways, I’m like my parents. They had a wonderful collection of artwork that influenced me more than they’ll ever know.
I began having sex on a regular basis when I was really young. In fact, the first time it happened, I was only eleven.
School was about to end for the year. One early summer evening, my brothers and I were playing mumble-peg in our front yard with our friend Richard, who was three years older than me. It was getting late. Somehow, we decided that Richard would spend the night at our place. That wasn’t really a big deal. It happened all the time.
In the mid-nineties, I was a naive 21 y.o. young man, full of fear about my budding homosexual orientation. Coming out was not an option, given the environment I grew up in. Costa Rica is a Latin American country loaded with machismo and with a heavy religious heritage embedded in its mostly traditional and very conservative families. My family was no exception.
I grew up in a family of “eccentrics.” I’m a direct result of their quirks and quips, attenuated somewhat by the many years I spent un-learning much of what they taught me.
My mother’s family were products of the Great Depression and grew up very poor in Brooklyn.
The Queer Liberation March for Black Lives and Against Police Brutality took place this past weekend and was a spirited, enlivening, cultural melting pot comprising 50,000 enthusiastic participants, the ending of which was unfortunately marred by momentary police violence, somehow very fitting on the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that happened only a few hundred yards away.
Because of the arrival of COVID-19 this spring, annual LGBT Pride festivities around the world had been canceled. But, as health conditions improved in NYC a month ago and the importance and visibility of Black Lives Matter grew after the murder of George Floyd, a consensus developed that NYC needed a march and it had to be centered on the movement for Black lives. Fortunately, Reclaim Pride, a scrappy do-it-yourself LGBTQ activist group formed in 2018 in reaction to the inflexibility of Heritage of Pride, the traditional NYC Pride March organizing body, took over and made it happen.