Oral History with Andy Reed, Part 1

Special Collections at UNC Asheville
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00:00:39 - Introduction: Living in New York City and Moving Back to Asheville

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Partial Transcript: Andy Reed: Okay. Well, then I'm going to give you a brief overview of my life. Left Asheville in 1970 when I finished high school. I was just 16 when I graduated. I went to New York to go to Columbia University where my brother went, my cousins went. I moved to New York City right after my 17th birthday. It was 1970, a year after Stonewall. My freshman year at college, I was fairly low key and just doing freshman stuff, but at the beginning of sophomore year, I came out and it was a very, surprisingly easy process because New York at the time, I guess it was January of '72 when that happened. I had a close friend who was from New Orleans, and she attended Barnard College, part of Columbia. I decided to come out to her when I was still fairly, I thought, in the closet. We spent several hours just chatting, and drinking Southern Comfort, and talking about life, and finally I said after a lot of hemming and hawing, "I have a big secret to tell you," blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. "I'm gay." Her response was the last thing I expected. I thought she'd say, "Oh, gosh. I'm so glad you told me." She laughed and she said, "Well, Andy, everybody knew that. We've been talking about you and Andrew Bittern, and your secret dating for the last year.

Keywords: 1970s; Activism; Advocacy; Asheville, NC; Barnard College; Career; College; Columbia University; Coming Out; Equal Rights; Family; High School; NBC Network; New York City, NY; Pride Parade; Stonewall; University

00:08:59 - Status Divide in Asheville's LGBTQ+ Community

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Partial Transcript: Andy Reed: But here, what I discovered very quickly was that there were four very distinct sub-cultures of gay people in Asheville. I learned that right away. There were people like me, who were white, upper-middle class, well-educated, sophisticated, people involved in their mainstream progressive movements or congregations, like the Unitarian Universalist Church, which was my home church, and All Souls, and First United Congregational. They were people who had access, who could pick up the phone and call a city councilman, who could walk into the mayor's office, and the mayor greeted them by name, people who were part of Asheville's, not elite, but certainly part of Asheville's structure. There were both men and women in that situation. But then, there were also the mostly white boys who had come to Asheville--"the
big city"--from Graham County, and Cherokee, and Rutherfordton because they were thrown out of their homes by their families, or they were effeminate and lived out there, and were beaten up in high school. They came to Asheville as a place of refuge. They were often homeless. They were often working the streets, walking around the Grove Arcade to pick up tricks, and stuff like that. They didn't have access to city council.

Keywords: Class Divide; Gay; Gay Youth; Lesbian; Rural; Social Status; Working Class

00:14:48 - Prides of the Past: Asheville Pride in Late 90s and Early 00s

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Partial Transcript: Andy Reed: The Asheville church was established in 1950, and I was born into it in '53, so it was my natural
religious background. In the mid-'90s, we participated in the National Unitarian Universalist Association's welcoming congregation program, which was specifically designed to get congregations to be welcoming and open to the GLBT community, and not shame people, and not have bars or hindrances, but to say,
"We welcome everybody." The minister, at the time, was very positive and progressive, and almost pushy
about it, which was great. She tapped me to coach that program at the time. We would have 50 people from the UU church, 45 of whom were heterosexuals, marching in the pride parade when it was held in Asheville. I think '97, or '98, around then, and maybe 2000. So it would be a contingent of people from that church being allies, and some members of the congregation who were GLBT would be part of that, but it would not be "the gay contingent" from the church. It would be the church standing with the gay community. That became a very important part of certainly some aspects of Asheville religious life because there were only a few other churches that would even consider being welcoming that way.

Keywords: 1990s; 2000s; Asheville's Gay Men's Chorus; Asheville, NC; Church; Community Needs; Faith; Gay Men's Chorus; Religion

00:24:53 - Growing Up/Homophobic Attack in 1980s NYC

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Partial Transcript: Andy Reed: One time I was attacked in Washington Square Park in New York. I was about, I guess, 28 at the time. This would have been in 1981. There were roving bands of Irish-Catholic, white, New Jersey, teenage assholes who would come to New York and look for fags to beat up. I was walking through Washington Square with my boyfriend, holding hands, and this group of them started attacking us, in the middle of the afternoon. I fought back like hell and landed some punches. My boyfriend was able to get away and find a cop. He came and arrested the kids. I didn't have any fear of them, or of being attacked that way. What I had was a reaction of outrage and great satisfaction when they were hauled off to jail for
the weekend. When the case came up for a first hearing, I guess it was the following Wednesday, and I showed up at court, the judge, who was this fairly conservative, crusty, old guy from Brooklyn said that he was so disgusted by the behavior of these kids, and so glad that their attack had happened on, I think, a Friday afternoon, that they had to spend the whole weekend in jail, and there wasn't even a hearing to give them bail until after the weekend. So they had to call their parents and explain why they were in jail in New York City, and possibly headed for The Tombs. He turned to them and their families, who were like Archie Bunker, and he turned to them and pointed at me, and said, "This young man has more courage and more strength of character than all your four boys combined.

Keywords: 1980s; Asheville, NC; Attack; Education; Family; Homophobia; New York City, NY; Parents; Violence; Washington Square Park

00:31:44 - Involvement with Local Queer and Activist Groups

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Partial Transcript: Andy Reed: We meet every month for well over a year, year and a half, {00:35:00} to try to create a skeleton structure whereby we could make a community center come into being, have a place of its own, develop a budget so that we could afford to pay rent, have activities, promote the organization. At the time, we were concerned that we'd also have to pay for security for any space we had--against vandalism and
so forth. We really got a good way along the path of developing the plan, and architecting the design for it. When we decided to file for non-profit status as a 501(c)(3), we agreed to do that, I think, under Monroe Gilmour's WNCCEIB group, and get our own 501(c)(3) number. Of course, at that point, we needed a board of directors and founding incorporating officers with the state. I had been the convener, I suppose you'd call it, or the leader of this ongoing committee meeting for a year and a half, and somebody, maybe Cavener said, "Well, we need to elect a board, and elect officers, and I think that the first person who should be on
the board and should be our chairman is Andy Reed." I was like, "Nope. I've done my work. I have brought you all together. I brought diverse groups together to discuss it."

Keywords: 1990s; Activism; Advocacy; Career; Church; Civil Rights History; Community; Gay Liberation; Gay Men's Chorus

00:41:35 - Blue Ridge Pride Festival: Protest or Celebration?

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Partial Transcript: Andy Reed: All of this is positive stuff, but we've got to take 30 minutes or 40 minutes during the morning of pride to gather people at City County Plaza and speak to the incidents of hate, the incidents of cloak shut doors, the incidents of bigotry, the incidents of not just maltreatment, but unequal treatment by the courts, or in the jails, or in school programs, and so forth. But at the same time to remember, "Look how far we've come. Look at who's here. Look at these grandmothers with their grandchildren, and it's the grandmother who's gay." And, "Oh, that grandmother with her grandson, her son is a 13 year old who's gay." That kind of thing. Look at how far we've come. Looking at how we have made this world a better place is something to celebrate. We love diversity. We celebrate it, and we even have the black drag queen in roller skates, or what have you, as well as the stodgy little white lady from First Baptist Church, who never in her wildest dreams 50 years ago, when she was a newlywed 22-year-old, would imagine that she would have a friend who was a black drag queen on roller skates. But here they are, and they have become friends. That's something to celebrate. At the same time, the gathering has to remember, look at all these kids who come
here from Rutherford County, or Haywood County, or Cherokee, or Graham because their father beat them up and kicked them out of the house because they weren't masculine enough, or the girl was too butch, and they've been thrown out of their house. They need a place to live. They need an opportunity to live their lives safely.

Keywords: Asheville's MLK Prayer Breakfast; Asheville, NC; Awareness; BLM; Black Lives Matter Movement; Martin Luther King Jr.; Pride; Protest

00:48:47 - A Fun Hat from Pride and Closing Reflections

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Partial Transcript: Andy Reed: But it happened that the next pride parade was coming up. I found the perfect cap ... I'm a Leo. I was born in August. So the lion is my thing. I found a cap to wear for pride. That very summer, I got a boyfriend, which was rather nice. I don't know if the cap had anything to do with it, but I still have this cap 20-some years later, and it's my very favorite one. I'm going to put it on. It's got the little thing helicopter blades, and the beads are in pride colors like the six sections of the cap, and if you look, that thing at the top is a lion--for my Leo identity!
Tina White:Oh my God.
Andy Reed:That is my favorite little pride cap, which is about the extent of Andy being a flamboyant queen. I'll put my cap like that because otherwise I am so stodgy, and boring, and normal, and white-bread hetero-seeming person. What I believe is this, and I believed this at NBC 35 years ago, that the ultimate goal of all movements is to be completely normalized and accepted, to be part of the fabric of the community, not to be tolerated, not to be welcomed but with whispers, but to be so boringly part of the community that nobody even thinks about it anymore.

Keywords: "The Urban News"; Anti-racist; Pride; Race