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  • A couple months ago, I got an email from a guy who had come across one of my Cowbird stories, one of the ones I wrote about my brother coming out to me at the Philadelphia Gay Coffeehouse, the night before I stopped drinking, which was over 39 years ago. John was putting together an exhibit for the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia, documenting the history of the Philadelphia Gay Coffeehouse.

    John asked if he could use my story for the exhibit. I said sure (after I checked with my brother to make sure he was okay with it), and sent him along the story my father had written, and I’d transcribed into a Cowbird story under his name a few years ago. Dad’s story was about he and Mom going down to the Gay Coffeehouse to watch Ken perform, and Ken inviting him onstage to sing, “If We Only Have Love” with him. As they sang the song together, Dad’s arm around Ken’s shoulder while Ken played and sang that beautiful song with his father, many in the audience were deeply touched.

    After the performance, many came up to Dad and told him their stories, of families who they either couldn’t tell they were gay, or had told and been banished from the family, or had told and been told, “Okay, fine, that’s your choice, but let us never talk about it again.”

    Prior to that night, Mom and Dad had had the benefit of some great training for an emergency hot line they both volunteered for (well, Mom worked there full-time), that had included sexual identity sensitivity training (this was in the mid to late 70’s), so when their son had come out to them, they were in a position to be able to accept him for who he was, and not feel like there was something wrong with him.
  • After that evening, meeting all these fine, young people, who just happened to be gay and/or lesbian, nearly all of whom were either estranged from their families, or could never be themselves with their families, Dad resolved to do something about it. It took a little while, but both he and Mom eventually became very involved in PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in Philadelphia, and then started the first chapter of PFLAG in South Jersey, where they lived.

    Dad had a hotline installed in his house, at his own expense, that any parent of a lesbian or gay, or any lesbian or gay individual who needed an understanding parent figure to talk to, could call, at any time, and have someone to talk to. That hotline remained active right up to the time that Dad was on his deathbed, and took a call from a distraught young man, and talked with that kid for an hour, the kid never knowing that the guy he was talking to was about to die. It gave Dad a great lift in his dying time.

    He always referred to that song, and that night that he sang it with his son on the stage of the Philadelphia Gay Coffeehouse, as the song that changed his life. Dad did a lot of good work with PFLAG, and just as an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community, speaking on television, radio, in the press, and wherever he could have an impact. It is probably the thing that I am most proud of my father for doing. He showed me, and countless others, how to stand up for what you believe. He wound up leaving the Catholic Church, late in his life, over the issue, when the diocese would not show some spine and support the LGBT issue. His leaving the church was a powerful statement, in itself. He had once been a Christian Brother for six years, and had sung in Catholic Church choirs for 61 years.
  • I just heard back from John. The exhibit just opened last week, and will be open until January 27th. It features mine, and my father’s, stories, and they have some recordings of my brother Ken singing, “Circle Around the Sun”, and “If We Only Have Love” on MP-3 players that visitors can listen to on headphones that are all around the exhibit room. The exhibit is called, “Something Brewing”, and is all about the history of the Philadelphia Gay Coffeehouse, and the impact that it had. It certainly had an impact on this family, and subsequently, many others. I just learned that it was on the way to the coffeehouse, riding with my brother Ken, that he came out to my sister Juli, as well.

    I am definitely going to have to go up there to check it out. Heck, just to be able to hear Ken sing those two songs again will be such a treat! But, it also kind of speaks to the impact that Cowbird has – none of this would have come together if John hadn’t come across my Cowbird story, God only knows how he did.

    Which brings me to something else that's brewing...I am so heartened to know that this place (Cowbird) is not only going to survive, but soon, it will thrive once again, thanks to a firm commitment by its founders to sustain it for the long haul. The fact that I’ll get to be a part of it’s sustenance thrills me to no end. I’m still not sure exactly what that’s going to look like, but we'll soon find out.

    I believe in the power of storytelling, and I have yet to find a better place to tell stories than Cowbird. More to come on that!
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