OutLoud – StoryCorps

Her Aunt Saw Her for Who She Truly Was

In 2018, at the age of 63, Dee Westenhauser came out as a transgender woman. But growing up in El Paso, Texas in the 1950s, she remembers having a hard time fitting in.

At StoryCorps, Dee sat down with her friend, Martha Gonzalez, to remember the one person who made her feel comfortable in her own skin.

Photo: Dee Westenhauser and Martha Gonzalez at StoryCorps in El Paso, TX. By Nicolas Cadena for StoryCorps.

Originally aired April 5, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition. It was rebroadcast on March 11, 2022 on the same program.

Now In His 80s, Gay Veteran Remembers Getting Kicked Out Of The Navy Despite Being “A Perfect Sailor”

When Joseph Patton joined the Navy in 1955, he had to serve in silence. At the time, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people could not be open while in the military. 

Decades later, at the age of 81, Joseph recorded for StoryCorps from his home in Santa Monica, California, where he spoke about his service and how he was eventually kicked out of the Navy due to the assumption that he was “homosexual.”

In the 1970s, Joseph fought to get his undesirable discharge upgraded to honorable, which then allowed him to receive benefits for his service.

Joseph died in 2020. He was 83 years old.

Top Photo: Joseph Patton, who recorded in Santa Monica, California with StoryCorps in 2019. Photo by Jud Esty-Kendall.
Bottom Photo: Joseph Patton in the mid-1950s, while serving in the US Navy. Photo courtesy of Joseph Patton.

Originally aired December 26, 2020, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.

Our Own Mountains to Climb: How A Personal Trainer Inspired a 90-Year-Old to Embrace His True Self

A few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, we heard from 90-year-old Kenneth Felts, a man who amidst quarantine, decided it was time to confront a truth he’d been hiding for more than 60 years. 

After coming out — first to his daughter, then publicly — Ken wanted to talk to the one person who inspired him the most: his personal trainer, David Smith.

The two met back in 2013, at Ken’s local rec. center in Colorado. From water aerobics to weightlifting, what started as a professional relationship quickly blossomed into a friendship; one that ultimately helped Ken find the strength to be exactly who he was.

Top Photo: David Smith and Ken Felts in Denver, Colorado in 2013. Courtesy of David Smith.
Bottom Photo: David Smith and Ken Felts at a training session in 2017. Courtesy of David Smith.

Originally aired December 11, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

For Teachers And Staff In New York City Schools, Work Is An Act Of Love

In 1999, Debra Fisher worked in film and TV in New York City. But when her father became ill and required occupational therapy as part of his treatment, Fisher was impressed by the care that his therapists brought to their work. That’s when she decided to make a major career change.

Twenty-one years later, Fisher works in New York City public schools, providing occupational therapy to a wide range of students in elementary and middle school. 

Fisher met Emma Pelosi, a special education teacher, on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic. They came to rely on each other for support and friendship as they invented new ways to do their jobs. 

Fisher and Pelosi recorded a conversation through StoryCorps Connect in September 2020, just as schools were preparing to reopen their doors to more than one million school children. In their interview, they talk about how it feels to work in the country’s largest school system during this unprecedented moment.   

Top Photo: Emma Pelosi and Debra Fisher after their StoryCorps interview in New York City on September 18, 2020. Courtesy of Debra Fisher and Emma Pelosi for StoryCorps.

Originally aired September 25th, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Swept Away: Falling for the Man with 600 Vacuums

We love a good love story here at StoryCorps. But this one? It sucks … just not in the way you might think. 

Tom Gasko has been a vacuum repairman for over 35 years. He also collects vacuums hundreds and hundreds of them and proudly displays them in his very own vacuum cleaner museum in a Rolla, Missouri strip mall. 

He came to StoryCorps to share his love for the machines with his husband, Donnie Pedrola. 

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Top photo: Donnie Pedrola and Tom Gasko at their StoryCorps interview in Rolla, MI on June 26, 2019. By Dupe Oyebolu for StoryCorps.
Bottom photo: In 2001, Tom got a tattoo of the logo of his favorite vacuum cleaner, The Airway from 1935. This is the same machine he hopes to spend eternity in. Courtesy Tom Gasko.

Originally aired September 6, 2019 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

A Beautiful Gray In The Gayborhood

Many people come to StoryCorps with a loved one to talk about the things that matter most in their lives. But for many LGBTQ seniors, finding someone to even have that conversation with can be tough. 

So in this episode of the StoryCorps podcast, we visit the John C. Anderson Apartmentsan affordable housing complex for seniors in downtown Philadelphia’s “gayborhood.” We’ll get to know eight residents who all led very different lives but ultimately ended up here to live out their golden years together.

We’ll start by hearing from one of the first people to move in, Elizabeth Coffey Williams. She sat down with her niece Jenn Coffey, as well as her gardening buddy, best friend, and neighbor Frank Potopa.

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In the building’s lobby, there’s a large black and white photograph framed on the wall.  It shows people marching outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, holding signs with slogans demanding equal rights.

This protest—which went on to become a yearly event called the Annual Reminder—happened in 1965. It was one of the first organized demonstrations for gay rights in the country.

One of the protesters is named John James and he’s now 78 years old. He sat down for StoryCorps to remember being part of that historical protest.

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Another fixture in the building’s lobby is Roosevelt “Rosy” Adams, who often holds court in the seating area there. In his StoryCorps interview, he reflects on growing up in Philadelphia and falling in love with his neighbor.

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But even with an established community, it can still be hard to make new friends. Two of John C Anderson’s newest residents, Katherine Allen and PC Wilson, took their StoryCorps interview as an opportunity to get to know each other better.

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Finally, we’ll hear from Mary Groce and Susan Atlas, who live across the hall from Katherine Allen. They met and fell in love years ago, and moved into the John C Anderson building when they had nowhere else to go.

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Top photo: Artwork by Michael Caines.
Middle Photo: Elizabeth Coffey Williams with her niece, Jennifer Coffey, at their StoryCorps interview. Also Elizabeth with her friend and gardening buddy Frank Potopa at the John C Anderson apartments in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By Jud Esty-Kendall.
Middle Photo: John James at the John C Anderson apartments in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the historical photo of the Annual Reminder protest, he’s on the left side wearing a black suit. By Jud Esty-Kendall.
Middle Photo: Roosevelt “Rosy” Adams at StoryCorps in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 2019. By Jud Esty-Kendall.
Middle Photo: PC Wilson and Katherine Allen, who recorded in Katherine’s apartment in 2019. By Jud Esty-Kendall.
Bottom Photo: Mary Groce and Susan Atlas at their StoryCorps interview in 2019. By Jud Esty-Kendall.

Released on July 23, 2019.

Like the music in this episode? Support the artists:
“Overture“ by Patrick Wolf
“Untitled #4” by Yusuke Tsutsumi
Step In Step Out” by Blue Dot Sessions
“Grey Grey Joe” by Blue Dot Sessions
“City Limits” by Blue Dot Sessions
“Cast In Wicker” by Blue Dot Sessions
“Lahaina” by Blue Dot Sessions

In The Final Days Of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Nation’s First Active-Duty Military Contingent Marches In Pride

In the final days of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Navy Operations Specialist Sean Sala decided to do what had never been done before: march with an active duty military contingent in a Pride parade. It was July of 2011, just two months before the end of the policy that barred LGBTQ people from serving openly in the armed forces.

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Sean teamed up with San Diego Pride organizer Fernando Zweifach Lopez.  At StoryCorps, they remembered how they pulled it off — and what it was like to see over 200 service members show up at the starting line. 

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Top photo: Sean Sala and Fernando Zweifach Lopez at their StoryCorps interview in San Diego, CA on January 5th, 2013. By Luis Gallo for StoryCorps.
Middle photo: Sean Sala and Fernando Zweifach Lopez (center) marching together at San Diego Pride on July 16, 2011. Courtesy of Fernando Zweifach Lopez.
Bottom Photo: Sean Sala (right) marches alongside fellow Navy service members during San Diego Pride on July 21, 2012. That year, the Pentagon issued blanket approval for service members to march in uniform in the San Diego Pride parade. Courtesy of Sean Sala.

Originally aired June 29, 2019, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.

Remembering a Gay Icon in Mother Bryant

Alexei Romanoff is a Ukrainian immigrant who grew up as an only child in New York City. As a kid in the 1950s, Alexei knew he was gay — but it wasn’t something he spoke about openly.

Now 82 years old, Alexei came to StoryCorps with his husband, David Farah, to remember the person who taught him to be proud of who he is.

We’re sharing this story as part of Stonewall OutLoud, our national effort to look back on life before the Stonewall riots in 1969, and to ask people to use the StoryCorps App to help preserve the stories of LGBTQ elders before they’re lost to history.

Photo: David Farah (L) and Alexei Romanoff (R) at their StoryCorps interview in Los Angeles, California in June 2015. By Jill Glaser for StoryCorps.

Originally aired June 7th, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Love Lost, And Found

“I had to be who I wasn’t so that I could survive.”

Sue McConnell and Kristyn Weed

Sue McConnell and Kristyn Weed are best friends and Vietnam-era veterans. Although they didn’t serve in the war together, they share a story of courage — on and off the battlefield.

They met at a transgender veterans’ support group, and after hours of talking over coffee, they became inseparable. Since coming out, both Sue and Kristyn have lost contact with family members, but they’ve formed a powerful, enduring sisterhood.

Listen to Sue and Kristyn’s original StoryCorps interview.

Para subtítulos en español, haga click en el ícono de YouTube en la esquina derecha, y escoja “Spanish” bajo la opción de “settings” y “subtitles/CC.

The Door She Opened

“I knew I was a girl. And so that weekend, I got to be me.”

Dee Westenhauser and Martha Gonzalez

In 2018, at the age of 63, Dee Westenhauser came out as a transgender woman. But growing up in El Paso, Texas in the 1950s she remembers having a hard time fitting in.

One weekend, her parents decided to take her to her aunt Yaya’s house. Aunt Yaya saw a kindred spirit in Dee, and gave her an opportunity that no one else would: a safe, loving space to be herself.

Listen to Dee’s original StoryCorps interview.

Para subtítulos en español, haga click en el ícono de YouTube en la esquina derecha, y escoja “Spanish” bajo la opción de “settings” y “subtitles/CC.