Leslye Huff and Mary Ostendorf
Leslye Huff (left) and her partner, Mary Ostendorf (right), met in 1983. Leslye was open about her feelings for Mary and wasn’t shy about publicly showing her affection—even on their first date. Mary felt less comfortable with public displays of affection and had not told many people in her life about her sexuality, including her family.
When Mary introduced Leslye to her mother, Agnes, they did not immediately reveal to her the nature of their relationship, but during that meeting Leslye felt a connection with Agnes. “I liked her. She was short like me, and pretty vivacious. She and I sat and talked and I thought the makings of a pretty good friendship was beginning.”
Later that year, days before they gathered for Thanksgiving, Leslye picked up the phone and told Agnes the truth about her relationship with Mary.
At StoryCorps, Mary and Leslye discuss what happened after the phone call and how their relationship with Agnes changed in the years that followed.
Originally aired November 27, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.
Drew Cortez and Danny Cortez
Danny Cortez was the founder and pastor of the New Heart Community Southern Baptist Church in La Mirada, California, in 2014 when his 16-year-old son, Drew, told him that he was gay. Up until that time, Danny’s church would either recommend celibacy or reparative therapy—a widely discredited form of treatment that identifies homosexuality as a mental disorder with the goal of converting people to heterosexuality—to congregants who identified themselves as gay or lesbian.
Even before Drew’s coming out, Danny had slowly begun to reevaluate his views on homosexuality and whether he was doing more harm than good. When his neighbor invited him to visit the HIV clinic where he worked, Danny was introduced to a community of people he had not previously known much about. This began, for him, a gradual change of heart.
Years later, as he was driving Drew to school, “Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis came on the radio. Danny liked it a lot but didn’t understand that it was a celebration of LGBT love. Drew, encouraged by his father’s affection for the song, then revealed to him that he was gay.
Realizing that they could no longer keep this secret from those they love, Drew posted a video online, and a week later, Danny delivered a sermon to his congregation about his changing views on homosexuality. As a result of the sermon, the Southern Baptist Convention cut ties with Danny’s church and his congregation split leading he and other members to form a separate LGBT inclusive, non-denominational church.
Danny and Drew came to StoryCorps to remember the sermon that changed their lives.
Originally aired on August 28, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition
Rev. Troy Perry
On June 24, 1973, a fire tore through the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Thirty-two people were killed in the blaze and many more injured. To this day, it remains the deadliest fire in New Orleans history and until the killings on June 12 at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, this act of arson was believed to be the largest single mass killing of gay people in U.S. history.
Unlike in Orlando where there has been an outpouring of support for the victims, following the Upstairs Lounge fire, there was overwhelming silence from politicians, religious leaders, and the local community. And while police conducted an investigation, no one was ever arrested for the murders.
After hearing about the tragedy, Rev. Troy Perry (pictured at left with his partner Phillip “Buddy” De Blieck in June 1970, at the first LGBT Pride Parade in Los Angeles), founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, a national Christian denomination dedicated to serving gays and lesbians, flew from his home in California to New Orleans to provide support.
Offering comfort and assistance to the victims in hospitals, Rev. Perry recalls speaking with one badly burned man who told him that the school he taught at had fired him after learning that he was present at the Upstairs Lounge. That man died the next day.
Not wanting to return home until he held a service, Rev. Perry remembers the difficult time he had finding a church willing to act as a host. Eventually, the St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in the French Quarter opened its doors and mourners came to fill it. When the service ended, cameras outside confronted attendees and Rev. Perry offered them a way out the back. But in a show of strength, pride, and courage, “Nobody left by the backdoor. And that’s the legacy. We never ran away.”
The initial reaction to the fire is something that New Orleans has had to come to terms with in the ensuing years. In 1998, a plaque was placed on the spot where the Upstairs Lounge once stood to mark 25 years since the fire, and in a Time Magazine piece on the 40th anniversary of the blaze, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans apologized for its silence.
Rev. Perry came to StoryCorps to recall what he saw upon his arrival in New Orleans.
Originally aired June 24, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Top Photo: Inside of the Upstairs Lounge on June 25, 1973. Associated Press/Jack Thornell.
Photo of Phillip “Buddy” De Blieck and Rev. Troy Perry courtesy of Rev. Troy Perry.
Joel Tucker and Gordon Blake
UPDATE: Joel and Gordon’s story aired June 26, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.
The shooting at the Orlando, Florida, nightclub Pulse on June 12, that left 49 dead and 53 wounded, while unprecedented in scale, is certainly not the first time a killer has chosen to target the LGBTQ community. Anti-LGBTQ violence has a long history in the United States, and in this special StoryCorps production (excerpted from our latest podcast, StoryCorps 473: Upstairs, Backstreet, Pulse), we look back at another high-profile incident.
On September 22, 2000, 53-year-old Ronald Gay entered the Backstreet Café, a gay-friendly bar in Roanoke, Virginia. According to police accounts, Gay had set out that evening in search of gay people to kill, and after seeing two men inside the Backstreet Café embrace, he pulled out a 9mm gun and began firing. Gay ended up killing Danny Overstreet and wounding six others.
One of those shot was Danny’s friend Joel Tucker who was there with his partner and friends drinking beer and playing pool. At the time, Joel was not out as a gay man and recalls in a StoryCorps interview that he regrets telling a newspaper reporter that he was at the café at the time with his girlfriend. While initially not realizing what was going on, Joel remembers seeing fire come out of the gun, and when it dawned on him that there was a man shooting at people, he screamed for everybody to get down. “It was just like seven shots, seven people. Then he just walked out the door.”
Joel (above left) came to StoryCorps with his long-time friend Gordon Blake (above right) in Hollywood, Florida, days after the Orlando massacre to share some of the emotions that flooded back to him after learning about the killings at Pulse. Gordon, who was supposed to meet up with Joel and their friends at the Backstreet Café that evening in 2000 but did not make it, joins with Joel in offering advice to the survivors:
“You have got to be strong. Don’t let something like this ruin your life because it could’ve ruined mine…This was one person who hated and I have seen hundreds of people who love. And I think love wins.”
This story is excerpted from a special StoryCorps podcast featuring another previously unheard piece from a witness to the devastation that followed the June 24, 1973, fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Until the killings at Pulse, this blaze, which took 32 lives, was believed to be the largest single mass killing of gay people in U.S. history.
Click here to listen to StoryCorps 473: Upstairs, Backstreet, Pulse.
Top Photo: A vigil outside the Backstreet Café in Roanoke, Virginia, September 2000. Copyright, The Roanoke Times, republished by permission.
Chris López and Gabe López
Chris López always knew there was something different about her youngest child Gabe. Assigned female at birth, Gabe always felt like he was a boy.
Gabe was always more comfortable in clothes traditionally worn by little boys (cargo pants and superhero shirts), but often switched back and forth between those and outfits often worn by little girls. Just after his seventh birthday, he convinced his parents to let him cut off his long hair and get a Mohawk—a haircut he had been wanting for years. This is also about the time that Gabe started dressing only as a boy and answering exclusively to “he” and not “she.”
At first, Chris was concerned that Gabe, being so young, might change his mind. She was scared of how people would treat him as he transitioned. But after seeing how Gabe responded to the changes in his hair and clothing, she felt confident that he had made the right decision.
Last summer, their family (pictured below) attended a camp for transgender, gender creative, and gender non-conforming youth in Tucson, Arizona. There, Gabe met similar kids and made three new best friends—Luke, Cooper, and Brock (who among other things taught Gabe how to pee standing up).
Gabe, who will soon be 9 years old, has been attending the same school since kindergarten, and this past August when he started third grade, for the first time, he began having others refer to him by his preferred gender pronouns—”he” and “him.”
Gabe and his mother (pictured in the player above) recently came to the StoryCorps MobileBooth to talk about what it’s been like for him to be transgender, and his fears about the future.
Originally aired May 1, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday.
Photo of Gabe courtesy of Chris López.
Zeek Taylor and Dick Titus
Dick Titus and Zeek Taylor met in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1971. Zeek was openly gay having already come out to his friends and family, but Dick was still in the closet with the added burden of having his family living close by.
In order for the two of them to be together, they decided to leave Memphis and move to Fayetteville, Arkansas, a city that would put some distance between Dick and his family, and where he knew he could find work as an electrician. But when they got there, Dick was convinced that he would have to continue to remain closeted after encountering homophobia on job sites, leading him to believe that he would lose work if anyone discovered that he was gay.
In order to protect Dick (pictured on the right), they decided to buy two homes—one to live in together and another to use as a dummy house for Dick in case any of his fellow workers wanted to come by at the end of the day. They also established a code in case they ran into any of the people Dick worked with while they were out together. Dick’s colleagues called him “Oscar,” so when they were in public and heard someone use the name, Zeek (pictured on the left) would pretend that they did not know each other.
Today, Dick is out to his friends and family. They came to StoryCorps to recall their journey from owners of multiple homes for 13 years, to married owners of a single home together in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Originally aired March 4, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Octavius Smiley-Humphries, Carole Smiley and Seth Smiley-Humphries
Hoping to meet someone special, in 2010 Seth Smiley decided to give online dating a try. Soon after posting his profile, Octavius Humphries reached out to him and they began an email correspondence.
Despite their age difference—Seth is 19 years older than Octavius—they immediately hit it off, bonding over their shared search for “commitment, consistency, and (a) connection.”
Eventually they met in person, going on their first date on Christmas Eve. Unsure of Octavius’ plans for the holiday, Seth invited him to dinner the next night at his family’s Atlanta home. Octavius, who was still grieving the deaths of his parents, had, unbeknownst to Seth, planned on spending the holiday alone. Instead, he reluctantly accepted Seth’s invitation.
At StoryCorps, Octavius (above left) and Seth (above right), along with Seth’s mother, Carole Smiley, sat down to remember their first Christmas together, as well as a more recent memorable holiday event.
Originally aired December 25, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Above photo: Seth, Octavius, and their son Julian who will celebrate his first Christmas this week (photo courtesy of the Smiley-Humphries family).
StoryCorps 449: Lessons in Love
In this podcast, we look back on the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when little was known about the disease including just how far-reaching and destructive it would become.
In our first story, we hear from Stefan Lynch Strassfeld. Growing up in San Francisco in the late 70s and early 80s, Stefan was raised by his gay father, Michael Lynch, and his stepfather, Bill Lewis (seen above second from right). Surrounded by a large network of his fathers’ friends, Stefan referred to his extended family as “his aunties.” Beginning in 1982, Stefan watched a number of those he was closest to die from AIDS. He came to StoryCorps with his friend, Beth Teper (seen at left with Stefan wearing an orange shirt), to remember how the disease devastated his world.
Stefan later became the first director of COLAGE, a national organization that connects people who have lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer parents.
Our second story brings us to the South. Ruth Coker Burks was a young mother in her early 20s when the AIDS epidemic hit her home state of Arkansas. Despite having no medical training, Ruth took it upon herself to care for those suffering from the disease when their families, and even trained medical professionals, abandoned them.
Ruth estimates that she cared for nearly a thousand people since the early 1980s, with one of those being Paul Wineland’s partner. Ruth and Paul (seen at left) sat down for StoryCorps to talk about her experience visiting a friend at a Little Rock hospital where one of the state’s early AIDS patients lay dying.
Not all the people Ruth helped care for were abandoned. Over the years, she met many people who stayed with their loved ones. In our next story, Jim Harwood (seen at left), whose son died of AIDS, reconnects at StoryCorps with Ruth more than a decade after they last spoke.
In our final story, we hear from Reverend Eric Williams. In 1991 in Kansas City, Missouri, he was a young pastor who had just taken charge of his own church when he received a phone call from a funeral home asking him to bury a gay man who had died from AIDS. His first reaction was to refuse. But as he told his colleague Jannette Berkley-Patton (seen together at left) at StoryCorps, “everything good that I have been able to accomplish has started with some kind of a burden. And AIDS burdened me. So reluctantly, I did the funeral.”
According to Rev. Williams, the experience of meeting the boy’s family changed him and since that time he has devoted himself to ministering to people with AIDS and their families, as well as educating others about the disease.
For more information about HIV/AIDS click here.
Like the music in this episode? Support the artists:
“Lola” by Podington Bear from the album Thoughtful
“Repose” by Podington Bear from the album Tender
“Trist” by Podington Bear from the album Duets
“Genius and the Thieves” by Eluvium from the album An Accidental Memory in the Case of Death
“The Temperature of the Air on the Bow of the Kaleetan” by Chris Zabriskie from the album Undercover Vampire Policeman
Claudia Anton and Diana Keough
Roger and Christine Bessey had been married for 27 years and were the parents of six children when he learned he had AIDS. According to his family, Roger had been living a double life for decades.
Christine was then diagnosed with AIDS and soon after left her husband.
Roger died in 1990 and Christine died in 1994.
Two of their daughters, Claudia Anton (pictured above left) and Diana Keough (pictured above right), came to StoryCorps to remember what it was like to lose both parents to AIDS.
Originally aired November 29, 2015, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.
Top photo: Roger Bessey at his home in 1978 with daughters Claudia Anton, left, and Diana Keough courtesy of Diana Keough.
Jeff Dupre and David Phillips
In September 1975, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich was featured on the cover of Time magazine under the headline, “I Am a Homosexual.”
It was the first time an openly gay man appeared on the cover of a national news magazine.
In March of that year, Matlovich—who served three tours in Vietnam and received both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart—delivered a letter to his commanding officer stating that he was gay and that he intended to continue his military career (click here to view a copy of the letter).
Leonard Matlovitch was challenging the military ban on gay service members.
Soon after the issue of Time hit newsstands, Matlovich was discharged from the Air Force for his admission. For the next five years, the decorated veteran fought his dismissal in Federal court and was eventually reinstated. While he never returned to active duty, he did receive a monetary settlement from the military that included back pay.
Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich died on June 22, 1988.
Jeff Dupre (above left) knew Leonard Matlovich in the 1970s. He came to StoryCorps with his husband, David Phillips, to record Jeff’s memories of the man who started the legal battle for military acceptance of LGBTQ people.
Originally aired October 30, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.