San Francisco Chronicle – Open Forum

By Laura Hall

October 20, 2015

My father was fired because he was gay - SF Chronicle 2015-10-21

The text of the article:

Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to revise the records of LGBT service members who were unfairly dismissed from the military. According to American Veterans for Equal Rights, from World War II to 2011 approximately 114,000 received dishonorable discharges because of their sexual orientation.

Speaking at a Human Rights Campaign event on Oct. 3, Clinton, a Democratic presidential candidate, proposed that the records of these dismissed service members be amended to honorable discharges.

I hope this happens and that it also extends to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civilian federal employees who experienced such discrimination.

From 1950 until 1975, the U.S. Civil Service Commission could fire employees for being gay. My father was one of them.

At the time, he was employed as a bookkeeper at what was then called the Veterans Administration hospital in San Francisco. By then, he’d been doing this type of work for more than two decades, including four years while serving in the Army during World War II and almost 20 years for a plumbing contractor on the Peninsula.

He was so good at his job, he told me, his fellow employees accused him of being “one of those efficiency experts.” He got a kick out of that. “I’m just doing my job,” he chuckled.

In 1967, the Civil Service Commission discovered he was gay. At age 49, and as the sole wage earner for our family of six, the VA hospital dismissed him.

With a now-blemished work record, he accepted a night clerk position at a shabby motel near San Francisco International Airport, returning home to us only on weekends.

Midway through my sophomore year, my parents pulled me out of Notre Dame High School and re-enrolled me at Carlmont, the local public high school.

My father turned in our two cars, only partially paid for, and returned with a single Volkswagen bug. The six of us would never travel in a single vehicle again.

Mom took a low-paying job developing wedding photos. In her journal at the time, she wrote, “Left 4 children at home.” Working while we were all still in school wasn’t something she’d ever planned to do. Ranging in age from 13 to 17, all of us but my younger sister took after-school jobs.

There still wasn’t enough money to cover our fixed expenses.

Dad filed for bankruptcy. The bill collectors descended. My siblings and I weren’t allowed to answer the phone or the doorbell unless our parents were home.

From behind the closed door of my bedroom, I could hear my parents’ anxious whispers coming from the dark hallways of our house.

Overnight, our world was turned upside-down, and I didn’t know why.

My father wouldn’t come out to me for another eight years.

To make amends to him and to all LGBT people who similarly lost their jobs, I propose that the U.S. government do the following: Issue a written apology to all civilian federal employees who were dismissed from their jobs for being LGBT.

I’d be honored to accept the apology on behalf of my father, who died in 2008 at the age of 90.

My father was a good man. He was a good bookkeeper.

Laura Hall is writing a memoir about growing up on the Peninsula in the 1950s and ’60s with a closeted gay father and a straight mother. She and her husband live in San Francisco.


Published on February 6, 1999
© 1999- The Press Democrat

BYLINE:    Laura Hall




The text of the article:

I visited my father in the South Bay the other day. My mother is off traveling for a few weeks, and I had been looking forward to a long, cozy chat with my beloved father. And to the quiet, Zen-like comfort of his lovingly planted garden. I wanted to be his carefree little girl just for the day.

Instead, I got snow monkeys. Snow monkeys? Well, I’ll explain later. But at that point, the innocent child in me was instantly replaced by the outraged urban designer.

I’ll start at the beginning.

My father is 81 years old. Up until 15 years ago, he had worked for decades in downtown San Francisco. Every day was a gift. The hysterical antics of the street mimes. The elegance of Union Square shops. The talented and not-so-talented street musicians at lunch time. The colors and textures of the street vendors’ wares.

Even the street people were dear to him. Like the quiet madness of the woman who for years cleaned the sidewalk cracks of Market Street with a knife.

His life was full. But in an instant it was gone. That instant was his retirement.

He now sits at home alone in San Carlos most of the time. And that home, like most of those built in the postwar decades in California, makes it difficult for those like him to feel connected to others — unless, of course, you’re not at home during the day.

It is surrounded for miles by other tract homes, emptied most of the day by commuting workers. It is located on a steep hill, providing wonderful views, but unfortunately not wonderful access for my slightly wobbly father.

There are no stores or cafes nearby. His large and once immaculately tended garden is now a constant reminder of his declining abilities.

My mother, on the other hand, is 75 and gainfully employed four days a week. On her vacations, she travels to Europe.

She meets friends downtown for lunch a few days a week, visits the gym every other day and drives a snazzy little sports car. She has a good life.

My parents have a completely different perspective of where they live. My mother wants nothing more than to stay in her beautiful home, the home that holds important memories of her children and is filled with the mementos of her life.

My father wants to move to an apartment downtown (what some urban designers call “naturally occurring retirement communities”).

He needs some help cooking and cleaning and gardening — or, rather, he needs a smaller house to clean and a smaller garden to tend. And he wants to be on flat ground near stores. Most of all, he wants to be around people.

My mother shudders with horror at the thought of moving. My father feels unneeded and unwanted. He keeps talking about snow monkeys.

OK, now I’ll describe the snow monkeys. It seems that this particular group of monkeys makes its home in the highest peaks of the highest mountains in Japan.

They are a particularly cohesive community, staying together for generations. They share tasks and support each other.

But at some point, according to meticulous researchers, an elderly monkey sees that he is no longer useful to his community. He has done all he can do, except for one thing. His last gift to his fellow monkeys is to walk away so that he will not be a burden to them.

He makes no good-byes but just disappears into the brush and is no longer seen or heard from again.

My father says he can relate to the elderly snow monkeys and thinks it may be his time to walk away. And I am delirious with sadness.

Please, Dad, don’t walk away from us just yet. I see your eyes light up when you are engaged in political debate. I see the care with which you place a particular stone in your garden.

I admire your passionate and lifelong concern for the less fortunate, and am moved by how much you are moved by the exquisite voice of Andrea Bocelli. Don’t you know how much society still needs your spirit?

I know, and I also know that all it would take for my father to once again see his own value is to be around other people. All kinds of people.

As an urban designer I believe that if my parents had been living downtown for the last few decades, my father might have been able to age more happily and gracefully.

Like the old Italian women clothed in black sitting on street benches, he would have been a spirited witness to the everyday wonders — and messiness — of life.

Once driving became difficult for him, he would have still been able to walk to the grocery store, chatting to others along the way.

And my mother wouldn’t have had to move away from her beloved home at one of the happiest times in her life.

I’m hoping that my parents find a reasonable compromise. But how many others like my father are out there in the soulless and eerie quietness of the suburbs, desperately wanting to be more of a participant in life?

How many still valuable older people are getting ready to walk away from the rest of us? Would they stay a little longer if they were surrounded by people who listened to them and who wanted to be listened to?

Laura Hall is a partner in a local urban design firm. She lives in Santa Rosa.