Gene Otto – Mentoring and Support

“He toasted ‘the boys.’”

[At one point,] I was on the panel up front. [My husband] Ted was in the back row. A young man sitting there struck up a conversation with him. Lied through his teeth—[he] had just moved from California, was “in college”—so Ted was not threatened being a teacher. Come to find out the kid was a high school student! And, and, and! Anyway, he showed up at our [home] and said, “Hi, remember me?” We’re going, “Oh, this is a threat.” His whole thing was he wanted us to meet his aunt and uncle, who were giving him shelter. Otherwise he was a homeless gay kid. We got to become very good friends with his aunt and uncle. [We] educated them. [This kid] had heard through different people about the Dorian Group. He came to make good acquaintances, not just, “Let’s go to the bar and have sex,” or “go to the bar pick-up somebody.”

His aunt and uncle were fundamentalists. His mother was a whack job fundamentalist. [He wanted to introduce his aunt and uncle to] quality people, as in, “They have jobs. They aren’t in the bar every night. They’re like you. They live . . .” Literally, his aunt and uncle live three blocks away [from us]. They walked to dinner that night. It was like, “Deep breath. Deep breath. Keep breathing.”

We were highly threatened because of Ted’s job. As a teacher, he could’ve been out on the street, no questions asked. Here’s an under-aged kid [and a] teacher. Woo-woo. His aunt could’ve accused us. We ended up, like I say, being friends. I think [the reason we helped him is] because we made a difference. If you didn’t go forward, you would never know if you did or didn’t.

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On our 25th anniversary, my sisters threw us a party. My father had been a major Montana cowboy homophobe, but he had changed in learning. He toasted “the boys,” because in his world of cattleman, “boys” would be ranchers, or something masculine. When Ted and I were very, very successful at what we did, he told everybody. He was so proud of his boys, because we were successful. He could brag us up to his rancher friends. You know, “the boys have this,” and “the boys have that,” “the boys go here,” and “the boys do . . .” So that was a status symbol for him too. Because we have succeeded financially and socially, it made a big difference to him.

[On that anniversary, we also did] a PFLAG interview for the newspaper.[1] It caused a lot of people a lot of flak, consternation, hate, and whatever. But the best, best, best part of that whole thing: we got a thank you note from one of Ted’s former students. We got a wonderful note from a kid in Moses Lake, saying, “If you can do it, I can do it.” Another prof from Whitworth sent us a [nice] note. Obviously there’s a reason you don’t take the negative. Yes, there is negative. You don’t take it. You take the positive.

This last election [on marriage equality], we couldn’t be here for business purposes, but we wrote letters to everyone in our church. We got three negatives, “How dare you? Da, da, da, da.” And we got twelve positive responses. Who’s not going to take the positive? First of all, other people had to think about it, because, “You know us.” The negative people, they’re going to always be negative. They can’t see; they’re not going to see. You rise above it, you count whatever blessings. We constantly count our blessings, because we have more than we should, I think. You contribute and it just pays back, with other people.

Well, [my husband] Ted just connected with another one of his students down in California—a not gay person. But he goes, “Oh, my God, when I saw that in the paper, I was so proud of you.” You know, he just built him up, unbelievable big head, which is great, because he deserves it. He changed people’s lives. Everyone that remembers him, remembers him in a positive way. Even if you don’t believe in marriage for gays, or whatever, you still believe that he’s right in doing what’s he’s doing, because you had faith in him to begin with.

 

[1]“Gays Who Believe,” Spokesman Review, 5 August 2001.

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Sources: Interview with Susan Williams on 3 December 2006, held at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture; interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 27 November 2012.