One of them is my cousin, Will Hall, born in March of 1971.
The other was my dad, Ralph Hall, born in March of 1918.
Both came out at the age of 19. Will stayed out. The span of five-plus decades between their births made all the difference.
Still, they both knew from a young age who they were and that they were different from the others.
Each tried to hide it. My father considered it his “affliction.”
As a boy, Will picked up on the non-verbal cues embedded in the anti-gay gestures of those around him.
He learned early on it was unacceptable to be gay, that it was unacceptable to be like his great uncle.
In Will’s words, it caused him “…to avoid Uncle Ralph and stay clear of further examination.”
Sadly, uncle and nephew never got to know one another. Happily, though, the two cousins – Will and I – have formed a strong bond.
As young men, both fled the homophobic culture of their California Central Valley communities of origin for the more gay-friendly San Francisco.
My father’s journey to the Bay Area was circuitous. He left his family home on a Kern County oil lease in 1937 for Los Angeles.
It was there he lived for the first and only time as an openly gay man.
But he returned home in 1940 after being arrested for the second time for being gay.
At 22, he went back into the closet forever.
As a soldier during World War II, my father got a sense of the natural beauty and openness of San Francisco after embarking for the Aleutian Islands from the Presidio of San Francisco.
He’d meet my mother at a USO dance on the Peninsula before shipping out.
Unlike my dad, when Will came out in 1991 he never looked back.
He’s been living in San Francisco since 1998.
Since the 2016 election, though, even San Francisco is experiencing a rise in homophobia.
For the first time, Will is now being taunted with “faggot” and other gay slurs on his way to work at his job as concierge for the InterContinental Hotel in the booming South of Market District.
(For most of his presidency, President Obama stayed at the InterContinental while visiting San Francisco.)
When my mother died in 2006, my father was 88 years old. Feeble but somewhat freed from the closet, he’d hoped to meet a man.
I was able to find him a gay-friendly church in the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Sonoma County where he was living. There he met an elderly gay man who took a liking to him. But it never clicked for my father. After that, I think he gave up.
When Will and his then-boyfriend broke up ten years ago, he found it surprisingly difficult to meet other single gay men, even in San Francisco. He wondered if it was just him.
Frustrated, he put his well-honed concierge skills to work, founding a Meetup group he named Kick Ass Group for Gay Men.
He was pleasantly surprised when eight other gay men showed up at the first dinner meeting. Eight!
There was obviously a need in the City he hadn’t previously been aware of. Within two years of startup, the group had grown to 100.
Today the group boasts 1,166 men. Will now has an executive board to help him plan events, ones that are increasingly creative. For a recent citywide treasure hunt, the group received an endorsement from the California Academy of Sciences, the group’s first sponsor.
That’s nearly twelve hundred gay men in San Francisco, including elderly men who have recently come out, looking for friendship and love.
[NOTE: If you’d like to join Will’s group and enjoy a 15% group discount, add “kickassmeetup” in the discount space when buying tickets online.]
My father witnessed increasing LGBT acceptance over his lifetime, and Will’s generation has been the beneficiary.
But in these dark times of ours, where we’re witnessing an increasingly cruel political climate for gay people (and other minorities) in America, Will’s organization is providing the much needed friendship and bonding for those who once again are the targets of hate, even in, unbelievably, gay-friendly San Francisco.
If my father were alive now, I know he would be very proud of Will. His once similarly-closeted nephew with a shared Central Valley upbringing has grown into a confident, openly gay man and concierge extraordinaire heading up a burgeoning organization of gay men simply seeking friendship and love.
I bet even my feeble 88-year-old father would have been able to find love in a group like Will’s before he died.
Read more in Laura Hall’s My Dad’s Closet: A daughter’s memoir, coming eventually to a bookstore near you. Laura and her husband live in San Francisco.