His Day to Relax

His Day to Relax

Father's Day was never a high holiday in Kevin Thompson's family. His three kids, now in their teens, showered him with the traditional I-Love-You cards, presented him with garish ties, and fixed his favorite foods, but mostly it was a day for Dad to relax. Says Thompson, "It's never been a big deal with us."

This year, however, the 40-year-old is keenly aware of the challenges and blessings that come with fatherhood. He's currently one of three facilitators for a gay dad's group that meets once a month for brunch and small-group discussions. Over egg bake, orange juice, and coffee, approximately 50 dads gather to talk about coming out, changing diapers, dealing with teens, and navigating divorce proceedings with spouses.

But less than two years ago, Thompson was a regular at Outposts meetings, hoping the fundamentalist organization could cure him of being gay. It took only a few meetings before Thompson realized that no amount of therapy could change nature, but the matter of coming out to his wife and three kids remained a formidable hurdle. "For me, it took 18 years of trying, trying, and trying to be straight before finally realizing it just wouldn't work," he says.

Still, after coming out to his wife, an amicable separation, and a relocation from Owatonna to Roseville, Thompson had yet to talk to his kids about his sexual orientation. Friends suggested he join a men's group they'd heard of, and in August of last year Thompson found himself at brunch, amazed to find himself in a room filled with other gay men who wanted to do right by their kids. "They had two things to say about coming out to my kids," Thompson recalls. "First, make sure you do it yourself. Don't let them find out second-hand. And second, don't worry. The kids will survive it."

Survive they did. A month later, armed with new self-confidence, Thompson took his threesome to see the film In & Out, then called a family meeting and told them he was gay. "Each had a totally different reaction," Thompson says, recalling a torrent of tears, anger, and questions. "But I kept saying, 'I'm still the same Dad you've always known.'"

Thompson says the gay dads group has helped him and scores of other gay men put into perspective the emotional and financial challenges of coming out within a family. Some men fear losing visitation rights if they divorce their spouses; others, like Thompson, decide with their spouses to remain married for financial reasons.

But coming out of the closet has also made Thompson a better father: "I'm more relaxed with myself," he says. "Hiding something always drives a wedge between yourself and those you care about." Finally, he can relax.

The gay father's brunch group meets the last Saturday of every month. Call 440-3242 for details.

-- Joel Hoekstra

Pride of Place

Back in the early '70s, when the very first Pride festival in the Twin Cities was held, it was no accident that organizers agreed to hold the event in Minneapolis' Loring Park. Even then, some 26 years ago, the park and surrounding neighborhood had long been known as a gay gathering spot. Just how long has Loring, originally known as Central Park, been gay? The answer might surprise you.

According to local historians, the park was gay before that first festival. Gay before the Stonewall riots in New York. Gay before Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech in Washington. Gay even before the Korean War.

To find the moment when people first noticed a lot of gay people living around the park, you'd have to go back to the end of World War II. Until then, the mansions and apartment buildings surrounding the park were inhabited primarily by families. But in the late forties, many of those families moved south, to Kenwood and beyond, as downtown encroached. The Loring mansions were then subdivided, and the low rent attracted many singles, including students, artists, and gays and lesbians.

The 19 Bar on West 15th Street, which is still in operation, opened as a gay establishment in 1957, according to Jean-Nickolaus Tretter, an amateur historian with a long-standing interest in the local gay community. In March of 1963, a neighborhood group attempted to shut down the bar but was unsuccessful.

By the late 1960s, a gay organization called FREE (Fight Repression of Erotic Expression) was founded at the University of Minnesota, and held some of its gatherings at the park, recalled Tretter. Two years later, a gay newspaper, the Uptown Voice identified a triangular area near the park as prime cruising area for gay men.

"The area around Ridgewood was known as Homo Heights," says Tretter. "And the hills behind Loring were called the Homolayas."

While gays could count on finding each other in Loring Park, thieves and muggers could also find them there, and throughout the '70s, numerous muggings and assaults were reported in the park. Along with the victims of these crimes, the image of the park suffered, as well.

In 1978, even though the Loring area was in the middle of redevelopment, a local Norwegian group asked the Minneapolis City Council to move a statue of violinist Ole Bull because the park was full of "bums and perverts." According to Steven Trimble in his book, In the Shadow of the City: A History of the Loring Park Neighborhood, the council refused to move the statue, saying, "There used to be muggings and gays, but now it's a safe city park. Families are using it again."

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