David Cornelius – Sociability

“I looked under ‘gay’ in the phone book.”

[I first went to a gay bar in Chicago in 1969.] It was great. I was just floored by it. The very first song I ever danced to with a man was “Band of Gold” by Freda Payne. Do you know that song?

I was knowledgeable. I mean, if you read enough, you know what’s going on, so you’re not shocked. I had already sort of decided what my orientation was, so it was not as shocking. It was just, “Gee, I can’t believe this is possible.” It was a relief. “Oh, yeah, this is available.” It was a real pleasure. Now, I’ve seen people who have been shocked. But they were always not knowledgeable: suddenly all that information all at once was something they had to process. That wasn’t that hard for me.

And then—I hate to admit it—but starting then, through the four years in the Navy, and the three years at Florida State, I was fairly promiscuous as far as going out all the time to gay bars and meeting people. Something that I don’t do at all anymore. The very thought of it just wears me out! But at that time it was great. I loved going all over the world, going to gay bars.

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It was very interesting [to move to Spokane], because it wasn’t that easy [to connect with the LGBT community here]. I was so used to being in places—either a large university where there were always very well-known gay bars, or a large city.

When I came to Spokane, I couldn’t find any [gay bars]. I thought, “Well, gee. I don’t know what you do here.” After looking around and not really finding anything, I went to the phone book and looked under “gay” in the phone book. [Laughs.] And it worked! There was a gay helpline—I don’t even know who runs it. It was just one guy always answered it. I called up and said, “Where do you go in Spokane if you’re gay?” He said, “Oh, alright. Well, right now there are two bars you can go to,” and he gave me the names of those. This is where my memory fails me. One is where Irv’s is now; I’ve forgotten what it was called at that time. The other was a place on the west side of town that was near the Swamp. That bar is gone now. He told me about those two. I said, “Oh, okay.” I started going to them—going in and having my usual drinks. I met a few people that way.

I found out that it was better to meet people in Spokane by actually joining things. So I joined. I was in the Episcopal Church, so I started going to Integrity, the [LGBT] group through the Episcopal Church, and met some very good friends—one guy, who was also the president at the time of the Straight-Gay Alliance at Eastern [Washington University]. Then I started meeting with them as well, as sort of a faculty sponsor. I don’t think I ever had an official title, but I found it was easier to do that—to meet in groups. Then later on [I] joined the Men’s Chorus. That’s turned out to be a very social group. I got to know a lot of people.

That’s the way you operate in Spokane. What you do is you form a group of friends, and then you meet at their homes, and you have dinners and parties and so forth. It is not a bar life at all. Even when they had a very successful bar—Dempsey’s . . . That was one that was so successful that when you went in there was so many straight people that it was just a mixture of gay and straight. Wasn’t really a gay bar. Gay bars—what I was used to in Pittsburgh [in the 1970s]—were very much tied to your identity, that was a safe place to go. That was very important, you get to [socialize without worrying about your gay identity being revealed to the wrong people.]

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I met [my husband] through the Gay-Straight Alliance of Eastern [Washington University]. That was very interesting. I had been here for about four years, and then I got involved in the Gay-Straight Alliance. I was just invited in as a faculty member. I went to one meeting and there was this guy in an ROTC uniform sitting there. I asked Roger—who was the president at the time—I said, “What’s his story?” He said, “Well . . . his story is [laughs] that he just wants to attend ‘so that he will be more broad minded.’” I said, “Oh, okay, sure.” So I saw him there. We met—and we’ve talked about this—and he let me know that he was not impressed with me at all at that time. That was because I was trying to avoid the fact that my hair was turning gray. I was dying my hair almost blonde. He just said, “You just looked ridiculous.” We just met, and that was it.

Then a year later—or two years later, I guess—we met again at a [Michael] Dukakis rally.[1] I was supposed to be there to blow up balloons for this Dukakis rally, and he was too. When we got there, they put the two of us together and said, “We want you to serve as sort of the bodyguards for Michael Dukakis, because he has to walk through the Ridpath [Hotel] kitchen. You’ll be on each side of him. Walk him through the kitchen on his way in, and his way out.” So we said, “Okay.” I guess ever since Bobby Kennedy, you know, shot near a kitchen at a hotel . . . They’re very careful. So we were his bodyguards. I had my picture in the paper, being the bodyguard for Michael Dukakis.

After the rally, we just stayed at the Ridpath and talked to each other for a while. Rick was still a student at Eastern, so I wasn’t going to do much. But what he started doing was, he would come over and visit me in my office in the Communications Building. He kept doing it. Then I finally realized, “Well, he’s not a communications student . . .” [Laughs.] I even talked to a friend of mine. I called him and said, “What do you think I should do with this guy—he’s a lot younger—who is obviously showing all this interest? And he said, “Why, just go for it.” I said, “Okay.”

[Rick] came into my office one more time visiting. I said, “I’m going to a Thanksgiving dinner at a faculty member’s house.” There were quite a few gay faculty members at Eastern. One in particular was having me over for Thanksgiving dinner. I said, “We’re going to this guy’s house.” Rick knew about him, because he knew about the gay people on campus. I said, “Would you like to go with me?” He said, “Yeah.” He went with me, then he came home with me that night; [a week later he came home with me] and never left! [Laughs.]

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The other big gay social and organization was [laughs]—which is still in existence, but—something I’m not very interested in [is] the [Imperial Sovereign] Court, with the [drag] king and queen and so forth. It never appealed to me. I never got involved with that. That was just me. [The Court] was an important part of the history of Spokane, because that really has lasted for a long time.The third year that I was here, Signatures opened. I used to go there a lot with one particular friend. I even went to the drag shows all the time, which still is not a big interest of mine.

[1]Dukakis ran for president in the 1988 campaign .

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Sources: Interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 15 November 2012 and 6 May 2014; transcribed by J. Zander; edited by Laura S. Hodgman.