Sep 21 • 49M

Arizona Equals Ralph

Listen to an interview with Ralph Roberts about his experiences coming out during the AIDS crisis and working in ministry as an openly gay man.

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Arizona Equals is a conversational interview podcast chronicling the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ Arizonans. Listen to new episodes weekly on Wednesdays, featuring conversations with queer people living in Arizona.

The Arizona Equals Conversation is a storytelling project featuring interviews with LGBTQ+ people living in Arizona. On today’s episode, listen to a conversation with Ralph Roberts about his experiences coming out during the AIDS crisis, being among the first gay couples to be married in Massachusetts, and working in ministry as an openly gay man.

Additional context for the conversation

Full Transcript

00;00;00;04 - 00;00;25;06

Ralph

I'm Ralph Roberts. I was in ministry with young people and as a Unitarian Universalist minister and for years and am a happy would be artist out here in Arizona who really, really cares about gay rights and queer rights and queer young people, and there's so much I want to say.

00;00;26;04 - 00;00;28;18

Jeanne

Thank you so much.

00;00;31;13 - 00;01;01;03

Jeanne

Thanks for listening to this week's episode of The Arizona Equals Conversation. I'm Jeanne Woodbury. I'm the policy and communications director for Equality Arizona, and the host of this podcast. Arizona Equals is a storytelling podcast featuring weekly conversational interviews with LGBTQ+ people living in Arizona. If you'd like to listen to past episodes, or sign up to be a guest on a future episode of the show, you can visit equalityarizona.org/stories.

00;01;02;08 - 00;01;33;09

Jeanne

Today's guest, Ralph, signed up to be a guest on the podcast through the form on that page, and I'm really glad that he did. Ralph was present for some really important moments in queer history and is probably the first person I've ever talked to who could share a personal story about Allen Ginsberg. Ralph also has decades of experience working in church ministries, and I felt that the combination of those experiences gave him a really unique and valuable perspective on the history of the gay rights movement and some of the ways he feels that it's failed.

00;01;34;12 - 00;01;58;03

Jeanne

We get into some pretty contentious topics, but everything's said here is grounded in real experience and real emotion and real empathy. I think it'll be best just to let the conversation speak for itself. So let's get the episode started.

00;01;58;03 - 00;02;21;26

Ralph

And I was, I got teary cause, you know, I hadn't realized that he was out to some people while he was in high school, too, and I was just like, Bryan, it's like, don't you feel like it's wasted? It's like, wasted? He's like, we were surviving, he said. And I said, I know, but I could have just come out. And he was like, you were my lifeline.

00;02;22;04 - 00;02;34;22

Ralph

You came out right after college. I was thrown out of my house. You found me, like friends. It was this really heart healing moment.

00;02;34;23 - 00;02;40;01

Jeanne

Yeah, absolutely. I — that's such a a moment.

00;02;40;06 - 00;03;04;18

Ralph

Yeah, there were, there was a group of us in high school and we never kind of knew it. We never acknowledged it. And, you know, I look at us now; Bryan, the one I mentioned, he and I both adopted. He adopted three kids. We both did it through the state. And he's done community theater. I've been, I've done ministry and education, work with kids and stuff.

00;03;04;18 - 00;03;13;24

Ralph

And then we have another friend who is the, well, a doctor's spouse. He went to school to be a doctor, but came out a doctor's spouse.

00;03;13;28 - 00;03;14;08

Jeanne

Oh, yeah.

00;03;15;14 - 00;03;31;26

Ralph

But he is, you know, they adopted the kid. And then there's our friend Chris, who was always a little scary. He was on the debate club and stuff, but Chris got liberal-ed up and he's done all this stuff on environmental stuff and.

00;03;32;07 - 00;03;34;18

Jeanne

Oh wow, like professionally? Oh, that's cool.

00;03;34;19 - 00;03;49;07

Ralph

Yeah. And did a lot of advocacy work on that. He had a rough time of it. His parents were not too cool with things. And he he went to I don't know, he just, you know, he had a harder time in some ways.

00;03;50;04 - 00;03;53;11

Jeanne

But you're all still able to be in touch after all these years?.

00;03;53;20 - 00;03;58;16

Ralph

Yeah, yeah. Not a lot. But we could easily at any point, you know.

00;03;58;18 - 00;03;59;25

Jeanne

That's really nice.

00;04;01;12 - 00;04;06;24

Ralph

And then there was female friends in our group who, you know, we're still in touch with too.

00;04;07;02 - 00;04;07;24

Jeanne

Oh, that's really cool.

00;04;09;14 - 00;04;10;27

Ralph

Yeah, it was, it was really neat.

00;04;11;10 - 00;04;23;29

Jeanne

I think it's interesting to look back on some of those moments where it's like, Yeah, we had these things in common that we didn't even necessarily know or acknowledge to each other or to ourselves. And then years later, it's like, Oh, well, of course.

00;04;24;16 - 00;04;50;14

Ralph

I, I have I hate to — I wanted to be out. I wanted something I would — when I was growing up, I called the Gay and Lesbian switchboard like weekly for, like, do you have a youth group yet? Do you have something? My parents even were considering like, do we send them to Hetrick-Martin? Like, you know, we didn't know much about it, but they were like, you know. The same thing when I was diagnosed with dyslexia.

00;04;50;14 - 00;04;53;24

Ralph

But I wasn't up to boarding school. That wasn't going to work for me.

00;04;53;27 - 00;04;55;00

Jeanne

That would be a big change.

00;04;55;19 - 00;05;22;12

Ralph

But, um, but it finally got to the point, because I came out to my parents at 14, And this is like mid-AIDS crisis, pre-AZT. And so not a lot of folks were doing that at my age. And, um, but there was just nothing. There was nothing. We lived two blocks from a metropolitan community church, who knew. And I went in and I thought, Well, this will be something.

00;05;23;10 - 00;05;43;29

Ralph

She was terrified. The minister looked like I was like, a disease or something when I came in. She was just so terrified that — well, as it eventually came out, they had been firebombed. There had been a lesbian bookstore that was firebombed in our city.

Jeanne

Oh, God.

Ralph

Just before that. And they'd gotten lots of death threats and, cause I mean, I kept saying, you know, I could come.

00;05;43;29 - 00;06;02;06

Ralph

And she's like, no, your parents wouldn't want you to do that. And said, Oh, no, they can come with me maybe. And she was like, Well, you know, there's people who are dying of AIDS and they look at and there's, you know, transvestites, the language of the day.

Jeanne

Yeah.

Ralph

And, you know, I really don't think, you know, that you're gonna want that.

00;06;02;06 - 00;06;22;23

Ralph

And then she was finally like, look, we can't have a 14 year old kid coming in here. The wrong person hears about that. And those firebombs are going to turn from threats to reality.

Jeanne

Yeah.

Ralph

And my church had a gay group, so I went to — the conference, not my church, but the denomination.

00;06;23;01 - 00;06;23;13

Jeanne

Right.

00;06;24;01 - 00;06;44;22

Ralph

And so I was excited. I thought, well, maybe this. I got to the door of the meeting after following the labyrinth-like directions for how to get there, cause it was so hidden.

Jeanne

Yeah.

Ralph

And then I go down this dark hallway and somebody rushes out before I could even see who's in the room to, you know, walk me back to the youth programing.

00;06;44;22 - 00;06;48;10

Ralph

And I'm like, my minister knows, could I come, you know.

00;06;48;29 - 00;06;49;12

Jeanne

Oh, gosh.

00;06;50;00 - 00;07;17;06

Ralph

No. So it wasn't till when I was in college though. They had just started a, in 93. So it was my second half of my first year and they'd started a gay, lesbian, bisexual group for youth and young adults, the first of its kind in the area. And so finally, there was something, you know. I did college at a religious school, actually.

00;07;17;20 - 00;07;38;13

Ralph

When you have open minded parents you have to rebel somehow. And also when you can't find any outlet to be yourself and then you have the Young People for Christ and stuff ready to show you all this affection and touch you and hug you and, you know, so. But I, it just took a week at the Christian College to make me,

00;07;39;10 - 00;07;58;07

Ralph

Okay, I'm back. I'm, I'm on board now. Much to my parent's relief, but um. Yeah, I went to Harvard Divinity School.

Jeanne

Okay.

Ralph

That's what took me to Massachusetts though, when I first was encouraged to apply I was like, Oh, I can't go to England. I thought Harvard was in England. I didn't know.

00;07;58;07 - 00;08;21;05

Jeanne

So, listening to these different places, you've looked to find like support groups and things like that. A lot of them are churches or religious colleges. And I'm curious like, I think, you know, my perception thinking about churches during the AIDS crisis is not that they would be a place to find support groups, but it seems like they did exist and were actually one of the safe places to look.

00;08;21;08 - 00;08;49;18

Ralph

Yeah, a lot of times they were. I think it's, it's like. For me, I got the learning that I needed to be gay from those groups. Like I learned to be on the unpopular side of things and stand with it.

Jeanne

Yeah.

Ralph

I learned to make my values something different from what everybody else's values were, and feel affirmed in the fact that it's not what everybody wants.

00;08;50;28 - 00;09;06;27

Ralph

So I learned so much psychic survival, I think from, that those groups. And faith was always important to me. So that's part of it. But part of it is that churches were where groups would meet. I mean, it may not have been a religious group, but you were going to meet the basement of a church.

00;09;06;28 - 00;09;07;10

Jeanne

Oh, right yeah.

00;09;08;18 - 00;09;33;17

Ralph

So yeah, in college when we would go to that, we had the youth group meeting that met at Planned Parenthood. But the other thing was Sundays because the Harrisburg church was there and they would do — the UU church — they would have something for, where they'd show a gay movie. So something to do, you know. And you, these little old ladies who were just so excited they got like an actual homosexual to their meeting. And, or you'd go into — the cool church was my church in Lancaster.

00;09;33;28 - 00;10;05;07

Ralph

And there we could actually take classes and stuff or, you know, I picked up a couple of dates, you know, sometimes. Or the other one was Dickinson College. They were involved in a lot in that area and they, they like sponsored dances and stuff. Which, having been involved in gay youth programing now over the years and seen like multiple generations and stuff, it's one of the things that gets so missed is we've, we just missed the boat on — they're looking for, for opportunities to date.

00;10;05;07 - 00;10;35;27

Ralph

They're looking for opportunities to connect socially and for those sorts of things. The political activism is great. The, you know, all of this is great. And having some of the groups do a lot as far as, you know, dire situations like homelessness and stuff. But if we're going to master or conquer or just get it; crack open, some sense of how do we provide something, develop mentally equivalent, developmentally equal?

00;10;36;07 - 00;10;36;19

Jeanne

Yeah.

00;10;37;18 - 00;10;40;01

Ralph

We've got to figure out stuff better.

00;10;40;20 - 00;10;50;27

Jeanne

Right, like just how are we as queer people able to get that same kind of socialization and community?

00;10;50;27 - 00;11;10;05

Ralph

Yeah it's um. When I went to Massachusetts though, one of the first things, I worked at a preschool one summer. But then when I was a student I got an internship and it was the assistant to the director of Project 10 East, which is, I don't know if you're familiar with Project 10.

00;11;10;06 - 00;11;10;21

Jeanne

I'm not.

00;11;11;02 - 00;12;01;06

Ralph

Project 10 West in L.A., that was the original, was one of the first gay youth anythings. And then not long after that Frank started Project 10 East. In that time, Gay-Straight Alliances had started in Massachusetts and so on. But, so it was one of the first Gay-Straight Alliances. But more than that, it followed this Project 10 model which was markedly different in that he was staff with the school and he ran the group, whereas the Gay-Straight Alliances, I like to joke that my first experience with gay youth work was as the founder and president of my high school's Bible Club, because it's the Supreme Court case that allowed for the Bible clubs

00;12;01;06 - 00;12;32;28

Ralph

That provides your legal framework for what justifies the Gay-Straight Alliances, and that includes: it's got to be youth led. It's got to be youth led. It's got to be youth led. So over the years, they've done different things to get around that, too, you know? So you go over in the summer and the queer studies and women's studies faculty and students and stuff, they're going to, you know, give you all this training and basically, you know, give you a script book for what to follow and stuff and then send you back and hope that it goes well.

00;12;33;03 - 00;12;33;13

Jeanne

Right.

00;12;33;24 - 00;12;49;14

Ralph

And then you're going to be working with an advisor who's terrified to do anything or say anything because that could end it and that could end their career too, you know. So it's like if you've got a gay advisor, you're screwed because they're terrified. If you've got a straight advisor, they don't know what they're doing.

00;12;50;18 - 00;12;51;17

Jeanne

So they're also terrified.

00;12;51;17 - 00;13;19;11

Ralph

So they're also terrified. And so, whereas with Project 10, we had the ability to set out a curriculum and think about a curriculum. Like what, what does somebody new in the group need to go through to participate in the group? Because we had to do fundraising stuff. We also had things that bridged in with the communities like one of my jobs was just to like help the adult volunteers who come in to work and make sure the numbers or anything or no touching happens with the kids.

00;13;20;01 - 00;13;43;03

Ralph

You know, and that was my job. So, like, it was usually — there was this one kid, it was like, you make sure he goes home on his own. Um, but similarly with the youth group that I was in, the one that started up in Harrisburg, they had a staff person from the state offices and stuff, and it was paid for by the Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, but also by the Department of Health.

00;13;43;17 - 00;13;55;04

Ralph

So we did things like, you know, there was youth empowerment, but we helped set up the curriculum. You know, we helped set up and think about at what point to expand to younger people. What was that going to look like?

00;13;55;04 - 00;14;01;16

Jeanne

When was this that you were first getting into that

Ralph

'93.

Jeanne

Okay. So while you were in college.

00;14;01;22 - 00;14;05;24

Ralph

Yeah, I started in 92.

00;14;06;12 - 00;14;08;23

Jeanne

Okay. Yeah. And then which state is this in?

00;14;09;03 - 00;14;09;29

Ralph

That's in Pennsylvania.

00;14;09;29 - 00;14;14;28

Jeanne

In Pennsylvania. Okay. Yeah. I was like, I know all these city names. My family's from Pennsylvania.

00;14;15;12 - 00;14;50;17

Ralph

Okay, all right. Yeah, I'm from Lancaster originally. And I had also at that time experienced some of the other kinds of groups, which were probably more like, our, one-n-ten here. Which was like D.C. had a group that had just started and we went down there one time. They were very angular. They, they were very harsh and angular, their clothing, their hairdos, their studs on their jackets. It was my first encounter with Doc Martins.

00;14;50;27 - 00;15;17;17

Ralph

Um, they just seemed very angular. But they were dealing with being on the street and things like that, that we weren't. We went down there because Eastern Mennonite College, another, had a, an out lesbian who was in charge of their satellite program in D.C. And so we stayed at this one dorm that she was in charge of. And there were some other gay kids who would come down on the weekend from Eastern Mennonite.

00;15;17;17 - 00;15;45;05

Ralph

It was like the thing for religious schools. And so we went to the meeting and we went to a dance and all this stuff and came home that first night and my friend was like, all happy and stuff and said, Ralph you weren't really happy. But I didn't know the music. I didn't know what to say. The kids were all very snarky, I didn't use that language then, but they kept saying things that I didn't understand what they meant.

00;15;45;20 - 00;15;52;02

Ralph

And she said, I got something for you. And then she comes back and she has a stack of Dykes to Watch out For comics.

00;15;52;07 - 00;15;54;00

Jeanne

Oh, my God. I love those now.

00;15;54;11 - 00;16;22;27

Ralph

And a cassette tape. And it's a pirated copy of Paris is Burning. And she's like, you have a quiz tomorrow morning and then tomorrow evening I'm sending you someplace on your own. And so I got quizzed on like, what's shade mean? What's, what's, what's tea, you know. Yeah. And then she sent me to Lambda Rising Bookstore on my own where Leslie Feinberg was reading from, I think it was.

00;16;22;27 - 00;16;27;21

Ralph

She was supposed to be there for Transgender Warriors, but she read from Stone Butch Blues.

00;16;28;00 - 00;16;28;11

Jeanne

Also amazing.

00;16;28;11 - 00;16;42;15

Ralph

Yeah. And I got to go over to Pop Stop for coffee afterwards with her, of course all I cared about was the boys, which is what she noticed. She was just like, Oh, look at him, look at him. He's just so happy. And I touched Allen Ginsberg once.

00;16;43;05 - 00;16;43;28

Jeanne

Oh, that's fun.

00;16;44;10 - 00;16;44;25

Ralph

I just I.

00;16;44;28 - 00;16;45;23

Jeanne

How did that happen?

00;16;46;10 - 00;17;03;20

Ralph

He was talking, and he was reading Howl, and it was in Philly when I was in school there. And afterwards I'm going up and I wanted to say something to him, and I had no idea what to say, so I just like put my hand on him and he's talking to all these people and he finally like looks at me and it was like, I didn't know what to ask.

00;17;03;20 - 00;17;13;10

Ralph

And I thought, well, I can at least say I touched Allen Ginsberg. He's like, Oh, honey, if I were younger, you coulda done more than that.

00;17;13;10 - 00;17;17;20

Jeanne

Oh that's a perfect story. There's nothing you could have said that would have been better.

00;17;17;20 - 00;17;20;17

Ralph

Oh, I know. So it's like, it was a great.

00;17;21;01 - 00;17;22;01

Jeanne

That's fantastic.

00;17;22;13 - 00;17;48;10

Ralph

I should, I should also mention with that whole part of life. So we had this campus in Philly like the eastern Mennonites had the — my school, Messiah, had a campus in Philly and we all lived there sort of communally and we had our own chaplain. So there was a queer theology conference at University of Pennsylvania, and I got a bus of students and we went to the Queer Theology Conference.

00;17;49;02 - 00;18;40;11

Ralph

The chaplain went and we ran into somebody, D who Corinthia who was our our chaplain knew and had actually dated as a young person before D was D. And so it was, I think, a first, you know, trans experience for a lot of the folks. D ended up coming and sharing worship service with us and leading a giving a testimony, not about trans experience, but but still, I mean, it was just this really amazing thing. That chaplain went on to become a… go on the board of Eastern Mennonite and Eastern College, both in Pennsylvania, which are the two schools within the Christian College Consortium that went full board,

00;18;40;11 - 00;18;59;14

Ralph

We're going to give benefits to same sex partners, including religious studies faculty. They're going to be included in the affirmative-action-esque policies. In terms of preferencing marginalized and historically oppressed communities. And she was part of those votes.

00;18;59;14 - 00;19;15;12

Jeanne

I imagine that going from that kind of communal Pennsylvania experience, Mennonites, even though that's not your college and then going to Harvard, it's got to be a pretty big shift in a lot of ways. What changed?

00;19;17;11 - 00;19;44;14

Ralph

Yeah, it was a big shift. Though, I focused on the UU stuff a lot. Though I think I, I think I brought a lot of my sensibilities into it. Like I introduced a lot of communion services and things like that that they weren't doing before then. And it was, it's just bigger. It's just a lot bigger.

Jeanne

Right.

Ralph

So there's, it almost became sort of un-noteworthy at times, the being gay thing — at times.

00;19;44;14 - 00;20;10;05

Ralph

But, you know, it it's still a big deal. But you know, my experience when I moved out here versus there, as far as being in a congregation and feeling at home in my skin and feeling able to relax and not be monitoring myself as far as my sexual identity?

Jeanne

Right.

Ralph

It was worlds better when I came out here.

00;20;11;00 - 00;20;14;07

Jeanne

Oh, really? That's not something I would have expected about Arizona.

00;20;14;08 - 00;20;43;07

Ralph

I wouldn't have either. I was called. I was the first out gay minister called to serve one of the United Church of Christ Churches. I'm UU by training and all, but I grew up UCC and so, so I was called to church there. And so for the Southwest conference; well, they've had out ministers here. Yeah. I was the first one who was out and known to be out when he was called, which is, might be why I didn't last two years but.

00;20;44;06 - 00;21;09;19

Ralph

Or part of it. No, but really, I mean the congregation, they just they knew how to handle that in a matter of fact, but not hyper aware way. If that makes sense.

Jeanne

Oh I see.

Ralph

They could joke about it in ways that, it was nine years in, in my last church before they were up to making a little joke. Like they made

00;21;09;20 - 00;21;09;29

Ralph

the little

00;21;10;13 - 00;21;27;15

Ralph

Universal bathroom sign and. Cause right by, in a remodel it was like the men's room was this way and it was also my office. And so they put a little symbol of a guy in a pink robe because my Harvard's robe is pink and, and it was like men's room and the associate ministers, and that was their little funny.

00;21;27;21 - 00;21;28;00

Ralph

Yeah.

00;21;28;26 - 00;21;30;18

Jeanne

And this was nine years in.

00;21;30;18 - 00;21;41;15

Ralph

Yeah. Nine years in. Whereas you know, they're, you know, I have the old ladies who are like, when I got separated and they're like, you're going to go out and do well, you know.

00;21;41;15 - 00;22;00;05

Ralph

Stuff like that.

Jeanne

I love that. I think there is like a real difference between people who are totally great about it, but then also like maybe a little too cautious. And then people who maybe aren't actually 100% up to date with everything but accept you in a way that's more genuine.

00;22;00;06 - 00;22;42;17

Ralph

Yeah. Yeah. And, and I think we forget how many parts of this country had some version of that for the time. I mean, things were awful, awful for — we underestimate how awful things have been for you just because you're gay or lesbian or, you know, I mean, we vastly underestimate that so often. And within the queer community, we do a lot of evil, cruel treatment of one another that ignores our own trauma history in ways that we wouldn't ever tolerate if it was not somebody on the inside.

00;22;42;21 - 00;22;43;19

Jeanne

Yeah.

Ralph

you know.

00;22;43;19 - 00;22;45;25

Jeanne

And a lot of that is trauma behavior. Yeah.

00;22;46;07 - 00;23;06;02

Ralph

Yeah, yeah. Exactly. No, you're right. Well, we adopted a kid through the state system. And, you know, one of the things they often talk about is don't assume that siblings want to be together or are going to thrive together all the time. Yeah, because if you've been through that trauma and what do you do with that? You know, what do you do with that betrayal of

00;23;06;02 - 00;23;33;04

Ralph

You let this happen to me. And for for queer people that's built into our relationships. That's that's one of the sick, the sickest things. I think that the one of the cruelest things in the world is, you know, you hear from couples, it's like if they were involved in a violent, horrible, you know, home invasion and rape and stuff where it introduces something that the relationship can't heal from because it's that you didn't do.

00;23;33;15 - 00;23;41;23

Ralph

And that's baked into our relationships, especially from when we were young. You know, you learn to not like the other queer acting kids.

00;23;41;23 - 00;23;42;09

Jeanne

That's right, you know, as a self preservation thing

00;23;42;20 - 00;24;06;27

Ralph

Yeah. And treat them badly and and, um, which is, you know, part of the beauty of it is that, you know, the solution to that, the solution to some of that hate is when you first fall in love, you know, if it works out that way for you and, and all of a sudden all you can think about is this person and then start to realize that this person likes a lot of the things you do and acts a lot of the ways you do.

00;24;07;03 - 00;24;31;06

Ralph

And you love it and you love you and you know, and and so when it works, right, that's that's when it works. But so yeah, much more comfortable out here just in general in a lot of a lot of ways. It wasn't like Massachusetts. I had I spoke to a group, this is in 95. By that point UU's were supposed to have our shit together.

00;24;32;18 - 00;24;34;29

Jeanne

Right? That's kind of a known fact about UU's.

00;24;34;29 - 00;24;54;05

Ralph

Right, we did it well. We had gay ministers, thought nothing of it. I saw that in the search process. UU's were way more comfortable in the search process about gay ministers. UCC were like, we have to talk about this, scared. But you do need to talk about it. You know, it's like, well, what seemed like a good thing was they didn't want to talk about it because they were so with it.

00;24;54;24 - 00;25;16;23

Ralph

And I was speaking to this group or I was asked to share my coming out story because it's this tear-jerker coming out story and somebody who was at that church had heard it and she wanted me to do it, but they were planning on, they wanted to talk to parents about if they became a welcoming congregation officially, what might that look like as far as what we do differently in religious education?

00;25;16;23 - 00;25;36;06

Ralph

And so when I actually was talking on that, after doing my coming out story, and saying that as great as my parents were still it was horrible because I was alone and I was isolated. And and what we need to do is we need to not assume kids are straight. We need to assume that our kids might be not straight, not, you know,

00;25;36;18 - 00;25;59;28

Ralph

Whatever. And you would have thought I had just gone and said I was going to go rape their kids or something.

Jeanne

Oh, God.

Ralph

I mean, the vitriol and stuff that came back on me from that, the moderator had to step in and that's where I was like [sighs] now I know, I know that now and I will not forget that.

00;25;59;28 - 00;26;19;06

Ralph

And and it's lasted. I, I have so many things about the direction we've gone just because I think we've ignored so much for the past several years and, and haven't taken a chance to focus on it.

00;26;20;24 - 00;26;24;14

Jeanne

What do you think's been overlooked?

00;26;24;14 - 00;26;57;20

Ralph

I think we, I think we went over, we overextended ourselves on our comfort with gender identity, I think. Not in a way that's, not really comfortable with gender identity, but in the sense of, yeah we''ll include that in the curriculum. Yeah we'll do stories about that, yeah we''ll start to introduce things that, now the way that we're introducing them is metaphysically really quite questionable and not something any trans person I've ever met has articulated as their sense of self.

00;26;57;20 - 00;27;22;19

Jeanne

Well, so I think it's an interesting thing to say because it's like, well, we're not actually that great about it. And then, but we're also rushing headlong into, here's like the most boiled down, 101 version of how gender identity works, that doesn't match up like you're saying with like my experience as a trans person or really anyone that I've talked to, when they really talk about what's happened to me personally.

00;27;22;19 - 00;27;35;12

Ralph

Yeah, it's so rare that I've encountered somebody who's like, I think I was a girl in a boys body, you know?

Jeanne

Right.

Ralph

That's just not something I've, in my experience, happens very much.

00;27;35;12 - 00;27;44;12

Jeanne

You know, I think there are people who say that for sure, but it's also something that someone decided is the story that's going to be acceptable.

00;27;44;12 - 00;27;46;20

Ralph

And it sounds like it works for kids, right?

00;27;46;22 - 00;27;54;09

Jeanne

Yeah. But it's, I don't actually know people who, that's their journey. That's their experience.

00;27;54;09 - 00;27;55;20

Ralph

So now we have people freaking out.

00;27;55;20 - 00;27;56;08

Jeanne

Right.

00;27;56;26 - 00;28;14;28

Ralph

And rightly so, if that's the message you're teaching and if you're, and if you're teaching kids that gender stereotypes mean you're really a girl or you're really a boy, if that, if that's the message and that, because that's, that's what you've heard or that's how you interpret it.

00;28;14;28 - 00;28;26;15

Jeanne

And that's not helpful to trans kids either, because so many trans kids don't conform to any gender stereotypes and it can hold you back from moving into the world the way you need to.

00;28;27;17 - 00;29;01;06

Ralph

And and because it doesn't say the word sex and I, I, I never quite believe how relevant that is, but it's so relevant it doesn't say the word sex and so it slips in and it gets tolerated. And it means that we, we've dealt with an aspect of the experience of queer kids that gives them a path to some sort of relief.

00;29;01;06 - 00;29;16;11

Ralph

Here's a way that I can get relief. Here's a way I can assert myself and not assert myself. You know, like I'm going to — here's me, here's the real me, and it is the real me for like, stitch it, you know, down here Venn diagram. But, you know, most of the arrows I think are going to go right out here.

00;29;16;11 - 00;29;41;26

Ralph

The part, it's not quite me, so it's not going to hurt quite as much as if it hit me right here, if I like, really like, you know, just out there honest. And meanwhile, there are no, like not no but, gay and lesbian people and bisexual people, at least of a certain generation in this conversation at all, because we made a truce.

00;29;42;15 - 00;29;58;06

Ralph

We made a truce early on. We're like, we won't say anything about the kids until 18. If it's in our family, if it's in the workplace, you come and you ask me, do you think my kid might be gay? I'm going to say no. I wouldn't think that. Yeah, of course. Of course. I think your kid might be gay.

00;29;58;13 - 00;30;20;24

Jeanne

So that's that's a question then. You had that experience being a kid and going to places and being told, I don't know that we can really deal with this because of the fear and the very real situation of violence. And I wonder if maybe at least for a moment, people have been able to ease up.

Ralph

Oh, yeah.

00;30;20;24 - 00;30;26;18

Jeanne

And now there's this terrible backlash again, people going into libraries with guns and things like that.

00;30;26;18 - 00;30;46;00

Ralph

Well, it was kind of an easing up and kind of not. Because I think the kids, I think they've had it worse than I had it.

Jeanne

Yeah.

Ralph

Because I had anonymity.

Jeanne

Right.

Ralph

And I had certain kind of polite expectations about you don't you know, if somebody is nice person, you don't say you think they're going to be homosexual, you just don't do that.

00;30;46;00 - 00;31;02;19

Ralph

You know, you don't think you don't say I think you're going to grow up and be a cross-dresser. You know, you just because you like to wear girls' clothing, you wouldn't do that. You know, you focus on, that's going to make him a better father because he was going to be more in touch with his nurturing side or he's going to be more empathetic with his wife

00;31;02;22 - 00;31;29;23

Ralph

That's how you, you know. 1970s were hip with things, That's the way you do it. And there's ways in which, if we're not okay with this stuff. It's a better way. It's a better way, because it at least gives these kids something. If you're not going to give them actual people like themselves that they can talk to or guarantees that you do not have to suffer through certain kinds of treatment and degradation.

00;31;30;03 - 00;31;33;28

Ralph

And we're going to make sure you know what that looks like and where you can go.

00;31;34;12 - 00;31;52;06

Jeanne

I think it's really hard to look at that, you know, from our own perspective, here's the different things we had to suffer and what would we want?

Ralph

Yeah,

Jeanne

What's the best thing a kid can have? Is it this kind of partial life or this kind of partial life? I don't even know what the perfect situation would be

00;31;52;06 - 00;32;21;09

Ralph

Yeah. I wouldn't want to contrive a situation where we keep them in the dark. Certainly.

Jeanne

Right.

Ralph

But I do know that the gay rights movement in general let our kids down because we, we pursued the things that we could for adults. We told the press not to take pictures of the kids at the parades, but we were, we were afraid to support them until they were eighteen.

00;32;21;11 - 00;32;52;08

Ralph

You know, the it gets better thing embodies it. It's because it's, just wait, just wait. The threshold right here. And at this point, I can talk to you and I will not have violated — because that's what's keeping the evangelicals from calling me a pedophile and that's what's keeping me from going to jail and, you know, all sorts of things, is that I haven't talked to you until you're 18 years old, so I just need you to get over that line.

00;32;52;17 - 00;33;10;00

Ralph

Just get over that line, and we are here and waiting. Horrible. Because meanwhile, Will and Grace is on and kids are like, I know how to spot a homosexual now, you know? And yeah, you can, you're like ducks in water, in a barrel there. And I saw it with these kids when, when I would work with them.

00;33;10;00 - 00;33;38;27

Ralph

And for me, that's where a lot of the novel taxonomies came out. I mean, there were, there were trans kids. And that was a broad sort of broad category that had to do with gender expression and things like that. And, and, but then you would have yeah, we had pansexual, omnisexual was one of the things. I remember running into asexual.

00;33;38;27 - 00;33;57;26

Ralph

They didn't, I don't remember the demi- and alloromantic. But I remember these things and then I also remember, and bisexual of course. And then the kids would you know, "I really I really only like guys, but, you know, I, that's what I see in the group," you know, and it's like, you know, they could they could just as well be trying to do the same thing with me that they're saying that they're doing with them.

00;33;57;29 - 00;33;58;21

Jeanne

Exactly.

00;33;58;21 - 00;34;20;12

Ralph

And that's that's a whole. But regardless of what directions it's happening, these kids are scrambling, you know, scrambling in this environment where people know, like, I could go to an evangelical group and nobody's going to say about me being gay, like I'm in charge of my identity. And now people think they can can say something.

00;34;20;24 - 00;34;41;23

Jeanne

I think that's the real key of what you've been saying, is, who's in charge of our identities and who feels like they can say something, you know, whether they're saying the thing that's technically correct or not. If they feel like they can say it because they have some kind of ownership over your identity, there's a problem in that, I think.

00;34;41;23 - 00;34;56;03

Ralph

Yeah.

Jeanne

But I'm really curious; you were saying that you think the gay rights movement has failed us in some big way, and you've been at some really pivotal moments. I think you mentioned meeting with Lesley Feinberg.

00;34;56;22 - 00;35;09;27

Ralph

And I know hir cousin who's a UU minister. And then, of course. Oh, who's the other? Oh, my God. Pink and blue. Beyond pink and blue. What is her name?

00;35;09;28 - 00;35;11;10

Jeanne

Oh, yeah, I know what you're talking about.

00;35;11;28 - 00;35;13;01

Ralph

She's a hoot and a half.

00;35;13;15 - 00;35;14;08

Jeanne

Yeah, just.

00;35;14;08 - 00;35;16;22

Ralph

Just marvelous to be around.

00;35;16;22 - 00;35;18;23

Jeanne

I'll put the. I'll look it up and put it in the show notes.

00;35;18;26 - 00;35;19;06

Ralph

Yeah.

00;35;19;13 - 00;35;29;04

Jeanne

But you mentioned being at that moment and before we were recording, you told me that you were in the New York Times when —

Ralph

Right.

Jeanne

Yeah. So tell me a little bit about that story.

00;35;29;08 - 00;35;51;26

Ralph

Well, when Massachusetts made it legal, I mean, the Supreme Court set a date and then that was the date at which the legislature had so much time to come up with a bill to make it illegal or to get it into the Constitution that it was illegal and they didn't do it. So we got to that, that moment.

00;35;51;26 - 00;36;18;22

Ralph

And that's when at midnight, it was just three places in the state. They opened it up. It was Cambridge City Hall and somewhere middle of the state. And then Provincetown. And so we were number 200 something, my partner and I at the time. It was amazing energy. Our son was already placed with us at that point and we had already had a commitment ceremony and done the domestic partner thing.

00;36;18;28 - 00;36;35;24

Ralph

But now we were, so three days after that then we could get legally married. So we were, we were number 200 of all the marriages, you know, so something like that. And they did an interview on us because soon after that I made the decision to accept the call to the church here.

00;36;37;05 - 00;36;39;28

Jeanne

So very shortly after that, you came here to Arizona?

00;36;39;28 - 00;37;00;08

Ralph

Right, and so they were they did a piece in the paper about what's, what's it going to be like going out to, you know, for these people who are going to be married but in another state and what is but it ended up being like is it was crazy negotiating things with schools and stuff. Arizona, I think it's also particular to Arizona.

00;37;00;08 - 00;37;19;12

Ralph

I think other couples face this too, not just gay couples, but they have a way of dealing with either a mom and dad or one parent. Those are the two things they can deal with. Anything else like step, you know, like two moms one dad. They don't know what to do with that as far as release of information or anything like that.

00;37;19;20 - 00;37;34;02

Ralph

And so it was a constant nightmare, especially since we're gay. Loosey-goosey sort of, you know, very fluid, rotating job expectations in the family, you know, so.

00;37;35;10 - 00;37;57;19

Jeanne

So just looking at that trajectory, like coming out before AZT even, meeting and knowing people in that orbit around people kind of creating new language of like transgender as this big umbrella and then hitting this moment of marriage equality in Massachusetts, moving to Arizona, where we didn't get marriage equality until Obergefell.

00;37;57;19 - 00;37;58;00

Ralph

Yeah.

00;37;58;03 - 00;38;03;23

Jeanne

What do you see as the the breakdown along that line of the gay rights movement?

00;38;03;23 - 00;38;42;19

Ralph

Well, I think for one, the final tipping point for the marriage equality — I guess I don't think of it as us having done it. I think of it as society sort of catching up. It's like they, they needed to, like the rest of the people needed to do it really bad. And we needed it. We needed it. And I, one of my pet peeves is the number of talks that begin with, of course I support marriage equality, however, for disenfranchised— Bullshit. Bullshit. People who are poor? Marriage matters.

00;38;42;19 - 00;39;03;16

Ralph

Whether or not you can get married. It matters as a kid to know that you can get married. And, so you can take polls all you want, and those little boys want a husband and a baby. And you may not like that. You may think, I want you to expand your ideas of what you can. That's fine. Go and expand the ideas of the heterosexual kids first.

00;39;04;14 - 00;39;12;18

Ralph

They get to like have a, they get to have something to rebel against, you know, something to break away from first. They haven't had that yet. Let them have it.

00;39;13;04 - 00;39;38;26

Jeanne

It's really interesting to think about that. The way that you're saying it is this idea of, society needed to do something about us. And now there's these ideas that — they're not wrong and they're not inaccurate — but they're not something that we're just going out and doing for ourselves necessarily. And that that's something that boxes us in, even though it's supposed to be giving us more options.

00;39;38;29 - 00;39;48;15

Ralph

Right. So you're saying like the marriage, in the way that I'm saying that does that present gender identity and in the way we present marriage? Yeah. Oh, definitely, yeah.

00;39;48;28 - 00;39;52;14

Jeanne

So are you still involved in ministry now?

00;39;52;23 - 00;40;01;06

Ralph

I haven't been for a while. I, I had a tough leaving. It was, there was a, a bully, you know, and.

00;40;01;19 - 00;40;03;17

Jeanne

At what level? like institutional or?

00;40;03;27 - 00;40;18;11

Ralph

Well it started out in the congregation and it grew to institutional. It sort of mobbed and somebody who was like a bully would be was very clear with me that they did not want me there and they intended to have me gone.

00;40;18;26 - 00;40;21;00

Jeanne

Oh, wow. Very direct about that.

00;40;21;12 - 00;40;41;09

Ralph

Oh, yeah, yeah. It took a couple of weeks before, but yeah, I knew that from early on. And the other tension was we were gearing up towards the recession at that point and I don't think anybody had the the insight that that's what was going on. But the anxiety was always, it's becaus,e it's because of him. Because of him.

00;40;42;14 - 00;40;44;14

Ralph

People aren't coming. People aren't giving.

00;40;44;15 - 00;40;49;01

Jeanne

People look for something, someone to blame.

00;40;49;01 - 00;41;14;12

Ralph

The congregation? If anybody thought that, their attitude was always, who cares? You know, we'll deal. But for some of the other staff, for the senior staff, certainly, he would waffle between wanting to be supportive and knowing how to do that and not, and I had a son who had very special needs and I had a violent assault that happened.

00;41;14;12 - 00;41;20;13

Ralph

And all of this just cascaded and I imploded. I just couldn't, I couldn't keep it up.

00;41;22;07 - 00;41;28;07

Jeanne

I think it's a specific kind of homophobia to be told, like it's not because you're gay,

00;41;28;13 - 00;41;29;16

Jeanne

But because of

00;41;29;23 - 00;41;34;07

Jeanne

What ther people think of you because you're gay, I need you to leave.

00;41;34;25 - 00;41;59;11

Ralph

Yeah, it is. It is. It's because, it makes it so hard to to know where to wage the war because you're waging it against windmills. Yeah, it's just we think this is probably a problem. Now, one of the first tactics done was we went to, we went on a trip and this person scheduled, or set up the rooms so that I was, I would be expected to sleep in a bed with one of the teens.

00;42;00;07 - 00;42;29;05

Jeanne

What?

Ralph

And so I had to, I got a cot in the bedroom and I like did a rotation system and like, I'm not even showering with you guys in the room. No, no way. I've done this long enough. I know. I know about everything. My old office was glass windows on, like, four sides, you know, it was like. I remember in high school hearing about those people, the preschool workers, and they were in jail for like 25 years before they got out.

00;42;29;05 - 00;42;48;18

Ralph

And then the one died like a year after he got out. I followed that. That was like my Section 28 or whatever the law is over in, in England. That meant the teachers couldn't, their no promo homo thing. And they've done studies about how these teachers, you know, even years after they still showed the signs of the trauma of that.

00;42;48;22 - 00;43;04;04

Ralph

Yeah. And that, that was it for me, those, those nursery worker cases. Because I wanted to work with young people and oh, oh that was. And even then, you know, nobody was saying that these people were gay. But I knew, I knew that was what was going on.

00;43;04;12 - 00;43;08;05

Jeanne

There's a real fear to work with kids on any level.

00;43;08;05 - 00;43;19;24

Ralph

Yeah, it's sad because my whole, my whole ministry, as passionate as I am, I always kept the kids at a distance, and especially, sad to say, if it was a kid who seemed likely to be gay.

00;43;20;06 - 00;43;22;16

Jeanne

Yeah.

00;43;22;16 - 00;43;48;02

Ralph

And so I'm hoping to find opportunities to overcome some of that.

Jeanne

Yeah.

Ralph

I have a nephew who's out. We haven't talked about it more than a sentence yet, and he's been out for years, I mean, years and years. But I'm, I'm determined to at some point, you know, be able to have a conversation about what that — I talk to his partner on online.

00;43;48;18 - 00;43;54;14

Ralph

I message him.

00;43;54;18 - 00;44;02;25

Ralph

It's sad!

Jeanne

It's sad and it's challenging.

Ralph

Yeah.

Jeanne

Are you still able to be active in a faith community at this point? After that experience?

00;44;02;27 - 00;44;31;19

Ralph

Yeah, oh yeah. It took me a while. But the, my current hopefully soon to be husband, we just can't get down to the, we've been together for 15 years now and he's Mennonite. He happens to be Mennonite and I found him out here. So it's like, it goes in a circle. And he had a similar sort of growing up his parents were — I didn't tell you my coming out story!

00;44;32;03 - 00;44;35;09

Jeanne

Oh let's close with that, we have a little bit of time left.

00;44;35;19 - 00;44;59;06

Ralph

Okay. First my parents. My mom was my dad's secretary. She's ten years older than my oldest daughter. This is a later in life marriage of love. Their love was celebrated like their their headboard was this snakes writhing. My mom had multiple arms or something like that. Stark naked. I did not go into my parent's bedroom when I was scared at night

00;44;59;06 - 00;45;23;21

Ralph

So, like, I knew that I my, dad had a hard time, you know, going down on the ship. If it's you or your mom, I'm going to pick your mom. You know, like, just something you need to know. But at the same time, like, they had, my dad had wanted to be very proactively open minded and broad minded and stuff like that. Not that his other kids weren't.

00;45;23;21 - 00;45;43;12

Ralph

But there was something that he was wanting to do differently. And so with me, like our first trip to New York, we went to Washington Square Park and he identified for me, see those two guys holding hands, they're homosexuals, and this is what that means. And, and he contrasted it with what we saw in Times Square at the time, which was peep shows and pornography.

00;45;43;15 - 00;46;07;23

Ralph

And and he's like, so which of those two is dirty, you know? And I never heard anything anti-gay from my parents, ever. So when I realized I was gay, I wanted to tell them and I was terribly nervous, but I never, I knew I wouldn't be thrown out. I knew that they would, like, treat it like they would anybody else.

00;46;07;23 - 00;46;26;16

Ralph

And I've thought lots of times, you know, what was so scary then, which I have some ideas. But anyway, I wrote them a letter. They picked me up. I was at my grandmother's when they got the letter and picked me up and we're talking about it. Mom's crying. She had a harder time dealing with it, but my dad was just so relieved because he had known and expected and tried to think of things.

00;46;26;16 - 00;46;46;00

Ralph

But he was like, he tried to explain to me, he's like, there's, it just doesn't exist. Like saying I think my son might be gay. Everything that we know is, how can you avoid that? How can you make it not happen? And he's like, I didn't want to do that, but there was no idea about, What do I do?

00;46;46;00 - 00;47;12;08

Ralph

And so he's like, I tried, but, you know, he — our relationship improved exponentially after that. Mom, still a little weepy, and all this. So, a couple of weeks after I had come out to them, I come home from school and she tells me to come in. She's sitting in the dining room and she's got these shopping bags. And so I'm thinking about this more and I was thinking, you know,

00;47;12;08 - 00;47;36;27

Ralph

What if you meet some guy and his parents aren't okay with it, you know, they don't even want to come to the wedding. My mom was sometimes a little clueless. She didn't really think about the fact that it's not legal at that point, you know? And she's like, and you're so comfortable with yourself just being yourself. And what if you're with somebody who's really, you know, anxious about being seen as the woman. Who's going to get the china?

00;47;37;05 - 00;48;04;04

Ralph

So I thought, I'm just taking that off the table right now. And she pulls out an eight place setting of bone china. Gravy boat, serving dish, and all this stuff. Somehow for this daughter of a coal miner, where she got these high sensibilities, somehow my having bone china on hand ready to go, resolved the major anxieties she's had about what will be different in life now for us because he's gay.

00;48;04;11 - 00;48;13;18

Jeanne

I love that so much. That's such a Pennsylvania story. It's, I love that so much. Thanks for recording with me today.

00;48;13;23 - 00;48;18;22

Ralph

You're welcome. Thank you for having me. This was amazingly affirming.

00;48;19;01 - 00;48;37;02

Jeanne

Oh, I'm so glad. Thanks again to Ralph for joining me on this week's episode of The Arizona Equals Conversation. If you'd like to hear each new episode as it's released, you can follow the show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or on the podcast player of your choice.