The LGBT community celebrated on June 26 when the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on United States v. Windsor struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act—and Hollingsworth v. Perry overturned California’s Proposition 8 and therefore allowed LGBT couples here to get married.
These were historic decisions for LGBT Californians—but they’ve been a long time coming, and the fight for marriage equality continues in the majority of the United States.
On June 28, 1969, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, the fight for gay rights began in earnest when the Stonewall Inn was raided by police. As officers loaded some of the patrons into the patrol wagon, the crowd began to sing “We Shall Overcome.” When a scuffle between a woman in handcuffs and four police officers broke out, the crowd began to fight back. What’s believed to be the first gay pride march took place in New York City one year to the day later in 1970.
While LGBT activists took up a public fight, a lot of ordinary people who weren’t out of the closet were facing their own personal battles. A handful of these people in our LGBT community recently spoke to the Coachella Valley Independent about some of the hardships they faced, as well as some of the sacrifices they have made—and continue to make.
Ron Wallen, of Palm Springs, celebrated his 80th birthday in September. His husband and partner of 58 years, Tom Carrollo, passed away in 2011 after a battle with leukemia.
They met in New York City at a time when same-sex relationships were rare and not discussed openly.
“We were ‘properly introduced,’ which even then seemed quaint,” Wallen said. “My best friend had a boyfriend who was in charge of my coming out. I was not allowed to go with anybody he didn’t approve of. He introduced me to Tom. (Tom) was one of his previous one-nighters, and Tom was very curious of what being gay was, because it was bothering him at the time.”
“We were introduced, and we ‘courted’ for 3 weeks. I thought he was a slouch, and he thought I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. At the end of the three weeks, we decided: Screw all those things—and that was it. We met every night in a park until 2 or 3 in the morning, and then I had to get up and go to work, and then go to school at night. I didn’t get much sleep.”
Wallen said there were places for the LGBT community to go back then—but there were potential consequences.
“There were bars that you could to go to,” Wallen said. “There were dance places where it was nothing more than the police coming to get their ‘stipend’ to keep the bar going. There would be cute little things like the lights would flicker, and then you had to run around and find the first girl you could find instead of dancing with a boy, or vice versa for the girls, or sit down very quickly at a table and stare. Even though they were coming in for their bribes, they still didn’t want to see things.”
During the early years of his relationship with Carrollo, Wallen was drafted into military service.
“They got me kicking and screaming, two years—and they got me for an extra week somehow,” he said. “They were backed up on paperwork.
“I was drafted in December 1956, and by that time, we had been together about three years. I had to write to him through friends. I was stationed in Germany and had to write him all kinds of coded things. I couldn’t pour out my love and all those things. I hated military service. Lots of people said, ‘Well, why in the hell are you going?’ My point was that if Joe Jones, who just married Marge Jones, has to go, then why in the hell shouldn’t I? Just because I got together with a boy instead of a girl, I just felt that it wouldn’t have been right to bug out on (the basis) of being gay—which, of course, was quite easily done back then.”
While Wallen was in the military, Carrollo was settling in California; that’s where they both wanted to be, Wallen explained. When Wallen was discharged, he also moved to the Los Angeles area, where they both eventually worked in a document-reproduction facility—where Wallen was required to have a security clearance.
“Obviously, when you produce things that are secret, and because of my job where I had to go anywhere in the plant, I had to have a security clearance as the assistant controller,” he said. “I used to help the sales manager with his budget every three months because he was so fucking stupid. I also paid the commissions and got sick and tired of paying unearned advances every single month, but these people knew what they were doing. I knew that Tom knew how to sell, so I blackmailed the sales manager into hiring him.
“You weren’t supposed to be gay and have a security clearance. Anybody knew you were gay … bye-bye security clearance and bye-bye job. Tom would have to sit and listen to all the fag jokes with all the other 25 people in the sales department and go, ‘Ha, ha, ha,’ even though he wanted to punch them out.”
Wallen said co-workers eventually figured out that they were together, and there was a level of acceptance.
“We were their fags. How we got away with it? I’ll never know, but we did,” he said. “I suppose the people who were monitoring the clearance knew we were sharing a home and must have known, or the company should have told them.”
The year 1978 was a particularly ugly time in California, as Anita Bryant and others promoted the Briggs Initiative, which would have had any LGBT citizen, and even some supporters of the LGBT community, fired from positions in public schools. Both Wallen and Carrollo were politically active and fought against it.
Wallen said the movement went well beyond teachers.
“We were the nucleus for an organization called the Whitman-Radcliffe Foundation,” he said. “… One of the things that floored me was at one point, they said they were going to defrock anybody who required a state license, period. A hairdresser they were going to defrock, because (hairdressers) had to have a state license. It never got to that; everyone remembered the teacher thing, but it really was a state-licensure thing.”
Trying to get people involved in the fight presented a challenge.
“We asked our friends in San Diego to give us money, and they said no and were afraid,” Wallen said. “We would tell people, ‘It’s your license were trying to preserve,’ and they were that afraid. The climate was such that smart people, if they really thought about it, were so paranoid that they wouldn’t even give us cash.”
In the 1980s, Carrollo suffered a severe heart attack and was no longer able to work, so the couple decided to relocate to Mexico. In the 1990s, they moved to Florida, and eventually settled in Indio. They bought a home together, and were living on investments and their Social Security income.
When California allowed gay marriage in the state for the first time in 2008, they were one of the first couples to be legally married. But until June of this year, thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government did not recognize these marriages.
After Tom’s death in 2011, Wallen found himself in a stressful situation, because he was unable to get Tom’s Social Security survivor benefits. He was forced to do a short sale of the home they once shared together.
Wallen found himself testifying before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the impact of DOMA on American families, at the request of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
“It was a very bad time in my life,” Wallen said. “Because it was a very bad time in my life, it was great, because it got me out of myself. Dianne Feinstein asked (pro-gay-marriage group) Freedom to Marry to send me to Washington for the hearing. Tom had died a month prior to that. I was like, ‘It couldn’t have happened at a worse time.’ Now I think it couldn’t have happened at a better time.”
On the day that Wallen spoke to the Independent, he found out he would finally be getting the survivor benefits going back to when Tom died in 2011.
“When I first applied back then, I was doing it because I was being a bitch. I was doing it to make a point. Sometimes, when you do a thing for a good reason—then some good reason comes back.”
Jim McDivitt, of Palm Springs, is usually the life of the party. The 73-year-old has an outgoing personality and a fantastic sense of humor. When I approached him about being interviewed, his response was: “Oh, do I have some stories to tell you!”
While growing up in Deport, Texas, McDivitt realized his attraction to men at an early age.
“During my childhood, sexual orientation was never an issue. I never tried to hide anything—but I just didn’t do anything about it,” he remembered. “Once I got into adolescence, I was scared to do anything, because I was supposed to be interested in girls, and I wasn’t. I used to get Playboy magazine, and I’d flip through it and look at the jokes, but I’d never look at the naked women. I was more interested in getting a copy of National Geographic.”
During his college years at the University of North Texas, he saw firsthand what the social implications were for being openly gay.
“I had to go back home during spring break, and this kid came through on his Vespa scooter from Mississippi. He had been kicked out his house for being gay by his father,” McDivitt said. “He was basically on the road and living off the kindness of strangers. I asked him, ‘Would you like to come home with me?’ So we went. My mother didn’t quite know what was going on. We stayed in the guest room on twin beds—nothing out of the ordinary.”
McDivitt’s father eventually discovered some materials in the traveler’s suitcase and confronted Jim. The traveler was sent on his way that evening by Jim’s parents. Jim later returned to the University of North Texas, and his mother came to visit him.
“She says, ‘I have a surprise for you,’ and it was my aunt, who had flown in from Florida. She said, ‘Get your things. You’re moving away from these people. It’s all these people’s fault; you’re in the wrong crowd!’” he said. “It was like an intervention; you couldn’t be gay. My father told me, ‘You’ll never amount to anything but a shoe salesman.’ My mother had already called an old friend of the family, a doctor, who she felt she could confide in, and my parents actually thought I was mentally ill. I think my mother would have had them do a frontal lobotomy on me if that would have made me straight, because it was like I brought shame to the family.”
McDivitt faced the military draft after his family found out about his sexual orientation, and he decided to voluntarily enlist in the U.S. Air Force. He lied during the recruitment process when asked about being a homosexual.
“It was good and it was bad in a way,” he said about his military service.
“No, I could not be myself. But I was a very unmotivated, undisciplined, lazy person. Being in the military? You get in there and clean the urinals or do 25 pushups. I started doing what I was told to do. It was good, and it even got my family to think I was doing the right thing, turning my back on that evil lifestyle and serving my country.”
He was stationed in Scotland during his military service.
“I had a top-secret clearance, because my job was copying Soviet chats through Morse code,” he said. “They read a letter that I wrote to my ex-roommate who was also in the Air Force; the only thing I said was, ‘There’s the cutest guy in the barracks. He’s half-Italian and half-Irish.’ Well, that was all that it took. They read that and questioned me: ‘Did you write this? Are you homosexual? Have you had sex with anybody?’ So as luck would have it, I got an honorable discharge (due to an) inability to adjust to military life.”
He returned to the University of North Texas, and eventually moved to San Francisco, where he found a job at a bank. He also took part in the first gay parade in San Francisco.
“That parade was the first time I didn’t mind people seeing me on the street celebrating who I was,” he said. “It was just a little parade, and we didn’t have the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence marching with us back then or anything like that. Back to Monday morning at work, I’m pink and sunburned. People said, ‘Oh, you got some sun this weekend. Where’d you go?’ I said, ‘Oh, some friends and I went to the beach.’ I couldn’t say I went to the gay parade; I just couldn’t.”
He later became a victim of workplace discrimination.
“There was a bank robbery, an inside job,” he said. “I would let people into the safe-deposit boxes and inside the vault. There was another door inside the vault that went into another room, and that’s where all the money for the bank was; I didn’t have a key to that. What happened was at about 4:30 in the afternoon on a Friday—the bank closed at 5—this woman comes in and wants to withdraw about $5,000 in cash. In those days, on Friday afternoon, you counted all your money at about 2, and from about 3 on, business was (delayed until) Monday. She wanted that money; she (says she’s) going to Reno to gamble—she wanted her money, and she wanted it now. They opened the safe to get her the money, and there was no money in there.
“This kid who’s a bank teller and a co-worker, who worked in the mailroom, had gotten together and devised this plan. The teller didn’t twirl the dial on the safe. He goes in, takes a black garbage bag, dumps all the money in the safe, puts it in the trash can, and puts trash papers on the top. He said he was going to take it down to the basement, where the guy from the mailroom put it in a canvas bag and put it next to the mailbox, where a third person would come and grab it.”
When McDivitt discovered the bag and brought it to the attention of the bank manager and the authorities, the culprits confessed. However, McDivitt’s military discharge became a subject of interest to the investigators.
“They asked me why I got out before four years of service. I told them, ‘Well, they found out I was gay.’ They didn’t question me any further,” he said. “The two guys confessed, and neither of them got jail time. A week later, the bank called me up and said, ‘We really appreciate your help in recovering the money.’ They gave me a $100 bonus for finding the money—and then a two-week notice. They said, ‘We’ll let you write a letter of resignation so it looks better.’
“They did that so I couldn’t file for unemployment.”
Dorian and Kim Kieler
Dorian and Kim Kieler reside in a small apartment in Palm Springs. They have been together for about seven years and were married in Canada.
Like many retirees, they are part-time residents in the valley; they return to British Columbia for part of the year, by necessity. Due to Dorian’s health and problems with arthritis, she’s not able to tolerate the cold and wet weather in British Columbia during the fall and winter months. Kim is a Canadian citizen, and Dorian is an American citizen.
Dorian grew up in Indiana. When her mother found out Dorian was attracted to women, her mother was not accepting—and went to extremes to free Dorian of her same-sex attraction.
“My earliest memory of hearing about being gay or lesbian was through the church,” she said. They said you were going to hell; you were probably not better than some sort of criminal. When I was growing up, it was still a mental illness to be gay.
“When my parents found out I had leanings that way, they admitted me to a psychiatric hospital, where they told me I could have shock treatments to cure me of my gayness. In the hospital, I distinctly remember becoming straight, and then about a day after I got out of the hospital, I got real gay again.”
Dorian’s understanding of her sexuality came with the women’s liberation movement during the 1960s and 1970s.
“The bar scene and all—I missed all of that,” she said. “For me, coming out was like (being) in women’s studies in college, the NOW Movement, and the Women Take Back the Night movement. (Accepting) myself as a gay and coming to love myself made me naturally interested in women’s issues back then … but I didn’t live ‘out.’”
Dorian said that she lost a job as a psychiatric nurse for being a lesbian in the 1990s—and she pointed out that some Americans still face similar discrimination today.
“They didn’t want me working with adolescents,” she explained. “In many states, that’s still the same thing. I could walk into any state outside of California—for instance, a hospital in St. Louis. I might not be so OK if I’m out. I might not get raises; I might not get promoted. It’s still there, and it’s a really big deal still. In 2013, it’s still happening. I wouldn’t want to know what it would be like to be gay in this day and age and go to Tupelo, Miss., to try to find myself a nursing job.”
Meanwhile, Kim grew up in Northern British Columbia in a small town where being gay wasn’t really talked about—although it didn’t seem like a huge issue.
“It’s interesting: I can’t remember anybody in high school being openly gay,” she said. “It was a redneck little town; no one would come out or acknowledge it. Then in university, I started to run into a few gay people, and I think it was then I started to figure out I might be gay, too. (Canada) is more progressive. Legally, our prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, in 1968, before it was even a social issue, took homosexuality off the criminal books. People weren’t even talking about gay issues then.”
While Canada as a whole has been quicker to accept gay marriage and LGBT people in general, Kim knows firsthand that Canada is not free of discrimination.
“For most of my working life, people didn’t come out,” Kim said. “Part of it was just the social stigma. There was always that sense of shame or something. You never came out to the straight folks, and I never really came out to my family until after quite a while. I came out in the ‘90s at work, and at that time, I was a manager. I was the first gay manager to come out where I worked. That was pretty much it for my career at that time. My first boss was great and had no problem with it. When he left, the next guy who came in had a problem with women—and he really had a problem with gay women. He was out to have my position eliminated, and he was going to go after me. He did it by reorganizing. They restructured my job and got rid of all the female staff under me.”
Kim said that her family still doesn’t acknowledge the fact that she’s a lesbian.
“I have 300 Baptist relatives back in Alberta. They’re in a really small town,” she said. “My one cousin will leave the room if I’m in there. She has a really hard time trying to talk to me, and I always talk to her about what Dorian and I are doing just to make her uncomfortable. In some ways, I’m denied my whole family, who are all supportive of each other; if you’re gay, you’re not welcome in that support system.”
On a happier note, Dorian’s family has been quite supportive of the couple. In fact, Dorian joked that the biggest picture in a relative’s house is of Kim.
Even today, Dorian and Kim face difficulties whenever they cross the U.S.-Canada border.
“We got married in Canada, and because it’s not legally recognized down here, we’ve had to maintain two homes,” Kim said. “We’ve had to cross the border separately. If we say we’re married at the border, they assume I’m coming down here to live, and they’ll ban me for five years. The same with Dorian; they’ll ban her for five years. We have to take two separate vehicles to cross the border,” Kim said.
Dorian added: “What happens is I drive the RV, and we have the Smart car on the back of it. About three miles from the border … we unhook the car, and Kim drives it. The car is registered in Canada, and the RV is registered in America. We cross the border separately, and then three miles down the road, we hook up again and go on our way,” Dorian said.
They said the fact Kim can only stay in the U.S. for a limited time causes problems for them both.
“There was a point once where it was getting time for me to have to leave, and Dorian was running into medical problems,” Kim said. “She might have needed surgery, and I couldn’t be here with her, because I had to get out of the States. So the fact that DOMA has been repealed is an enormous difference for us both.
“I just turned in my papers for permanent-resident status. Imagine what would happen if Dorian were to get sick and I would have to leave—it’s barbaric!”
Allison Annalora shares a Palm Springs apartment with her boyfriend, Ron Campbell. She’s a fairly well-known figure within the LGBT community, because she’s been very open about the fact that she’s transgendered. In fact, on the day of her chat with the Independent, she had just gotten home after being interviewed for a local radio show.
Her ex-boyfriend from her previous life as a gay man, Bill Brockman, was also present.
Annalora, formerly known as Larry Miller, recently completed her three-year transition from man to woman. Her life as Larry Miller was 55 years of torture, she said. She tried to make the transition in the 1970s and stopped. In January 2008, she attempted suicide by sitting in her car in the garage of the home she was sharing with Brockman.
She said she eventually turned off the ignition and decided to stop living a life that wasn’t hers.
“My life has pretty much settled into a mainstream lifestyle,” she said. “I met Ron on a straight dating site and portrayed myself as a woman, because I am. One of the things I made very clear to myself when I transitioned in 2009 was I was going to be really upfront about my being transsexual, which is the reason why I didn’t transition back in 1974 when I started the first time. Back in 1974, you had to go ‘stealth,’ as we called it. You had to just move away, forget all the people you knew before you transitioned, and then forget the past—and hope that no one ever figures it out. That was one of the reasons why I backed out of it, because I wasn’t sure I could do that. I also knew back in 1974 that being open about it wasn’t an option.”
Annalora said it was not easy at first when she started seeing Campbell.
“We contacted each other, and he lived in Huntington Beach at the time, born and raised there. When we were talking, he said, ‘Well, we really hit it off; I really like who you are. We really have a lot in common, and I think we should get together.’ I said, ‘I have something to tell you,’ and when I told him, he said, ‘Whoa! I didn’t see that coming,’ because he had seen my pictures, Facebook, and all that other stuff.
“He said, ‘You know what? I like you; I appreciate your honesty, and why don’t we just hang out and see what happens?’ So we dated long-distance for two years. The first year, he didn’t introduce me to any of his friends or any of his family, because he wanted to make sure this was what we both wanted before we took it to the next level.”
After that year, Annalora made it clear to Ron that their relationship needed to be taken to that next level. Ron therefore told his friends and family, and she has since gotten close to Ron’s sister, his married daughter, his son, and other members of his family.
For Annalora, the three-year transition wasn’t easy. It was full of procedures to remove facial hair, a trachea shave to reduce the size of her Adam’s apple, breast-augmentation surgery, and gender-reassignment surgery. She also faced legal hurdles to change her name and gender.
“The most difficult thing for me really was the psychologist, the weekly appointments, and all that other stuff,” Annalora said. “… It took me four years to clear my beard (using electrolysis), and I just recently had laser resurfacing to get rid of the scarring. It’s a very long, very expensive process. It can be very frustrating.
“The other part of the transition that I didn’t enjoy was the one year you have to live as your true gender without reassignment surgery,” she said. “It made it difficult to start a relationship, because you’re in this gray area. I was very nervous when I had to use the public restroom. I have never once had anybody react to me negatively in the women’s restroom, but there is that fear that someone is going to figure it out and make a scene.”
She also stated that the cost of gender-reassignment surgery is out of reach for a lot of people. Annalora’s surgery was paid for by Brockman, who had received an inheritance.
“What’s aggravating to me is that the medical community has now made this a medical condition, yet medical insurance won’t cover it,” Annalora said. “We found out the IRS will let me write off my gender-reassignment surgery, but not my trachea shave or my breast-augmentation surgery. Who would want to have gender-reassignment surgery and not do the other?”
Brockman said he was upset that many of his and Annalora’s friends within the gay community were not accepting of Annalora’s change.
“Some of our gay friends will say to me in private every once in a while, ‘Gosh! I really miss Larry.’ I’m going, ‘You what? This is the same person—the same soul, the same brain, the same heart, and that comment really makes no sense to me.’ She was no different before than she is now,” Bill said.
“Except that I’m blonde, wear makeup, and I have breasts,” Annalora added with a laugh.
Annalora said she’s come to accept that many people in the LGBT community have problems with the ‘T’ part.
“How could they possibly understand it if it’s not something they’re experiencing?” she said. “I can’t know what it’s like to be African American; I will never know, because I’m not.
“But I learned a long time ago that what’s really missing here is the compassion. We don’t need to understand; what we need to be is compassionate and support people. I find it very fascinating in the gay community that they want compassion, understanding, acceptance and all the same rights as the heterosexual community, yet they’re prejudiced against (transgendered people) and say, ‘I don’t understand why they have to do that. Why don’t they just dress up and get it out of their system?’ I say to them, ‘You’re expecting heterosexuals who don’t understand what it’s like to be gay to understand you, yet you’re not willing to give acceptance to another group?’
“We need to start practicing what we preach.”
While June’s U.S. Supreme Court decisions show how far gay rights have come since Stonewall, the struggles that these five area residents continue to have illustrate that there’s still a long way to go.
Wallen said the difficulties he and others faced should not be forgotten—and that young people need to stay engaged.
“In 10 years, maybe 15, they’re not going to understand what in the hell this was all about,” he said. “It’s very easy to say you can’t legislate how people feel, and I agree. If you reinforce the way people feel with unjust laws that make those people right … the bigots will just keep going on convincing other people. As soon as the government says it’s not right or legal to have inequality, that’s a very important step toward people’s thought processes. … It’s up to the younger people now, if only they’ll get off their asses and vote.”
McDivitt said times have definitely changed for the better.
“The young people today are very lucky, and they don’t have any idea,” he said. “When President Obama said something in his inaugural address about equality including the LGBT community, I almost cried, considering (President Ronald) Reagan wouldn’t even mention AIDS. It’s been a struggle, but looking back, I’ve had it pretty good. I’d like to see more education about homosexuality. Parents who are accepting of their gay children are now more common because of that. If many of the older people like me wouldn’t have educated the straight population, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Kim and Dorian Kieler feel similarly.
“I feel that the thoughtful young ones among us know about history, and know there have been some big dues paid,” Dorian said. “Those drag queens at Stonewall? I owe them all the gratitude in the world, and many others such as Billie Jean King. … I love this freedom that young people have to explore, and that it’s OK without carrying shame in a relationship, because that can destroy a relationship from the start,” Dorian said.
Kim added: “Some of the young kids won’t understand what they’ve been given; we’re probably the generation who’s going to be most grateful, because we went from one end of it to the other.”
Annalora said the day may never come when everyone is accepting of LGBT people.
“There are some people out there who are never going to accept anything and are prejudiced against people because of the color of their skin, their ethnic background, their country of origin—and you can’t change those people,” she said. “But there are so many more people in the world who just don’t know any better. People don’t like change. … I never really believed we would have gotten as far as we have today.”