Video Interview, J. Ernest Du Bois, June 6, 2012
- KEVIN INDOVINO: In the churches, how did you
- reconcile your spiritual faith and your gayness
- back in those days?
- I mean, back then you weren't so sure
- that the church would be so accepting.
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: Reconciling gayness and religion
- is not easy.
- And I suspect that people who have
- a certain amount of education are probably easy--
- it's probably easier for them to make such a reconciliation,
- or maybe it's easier for them to say
- they want no part of religion even,
- because of various denominations refusing
- to accept homosexuality.
- Having said that, it has become a personal thing with me,
- as I suspect it has with others who are homosexual and are part
- of the religious community.
- You are inclined to put aside some of the things that
- are thrown out, as opposing homosexuality passages
- in the Bible that can be interpretants.
- In my own case, inasmuch as I look at the whole Bible
- and say, but it wasn't written at the time
- it purports to be reporting.
- And who's to say that all of it is absolutely true.
- And I don't believe that it is.
- I would have a great deal of trouble--
- I do have a great deal of trouble--
- accepting the Adam and Eve story.
- I don't believe it.
- I don't believe the seven day creation story.
- I feel that there were things said in the Bible that
- needed to be said for the time that it was written
- in order to guide people who did not
- have any background of any kind to confront such issues as are
- For instance, Psalms and Proverbs,
- I think they're wonderful as guides to how
- you might live your life.
- But they were written at a time when people needed
- to have a guide of some kind.
- What's right and what's wrong, what's bad and what's good?
- There again, I think that over the years evolution of ideas
- is important.
- And I think that they continue, ideas continue to evolve.
- I feel that we have entered a period now--
- in the 80s and 90s and since then--
- we've entered a period where people
- are much more open to accepting things
- that their parents and grandparents would have thrown
- up their hands in horror over.
- There are so many other things that are important.
- I feel that the big thing for gay people today--
- excuse me-- is that they need to let themselves
- be accepted as people.
- That gay is just a terminology.
- I think that people--
- gay people need to be accepted as just people.
- Why should they not be parents if they choose?
- Why should they not adopt?
- Why should they not teach?
- Why should they not preach?
- Why should they not do anything that anybody else does?
- And I think other people are beginning to realize that,
- and are accepting gay people as just being people.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: Are you currently working
- for with the Pride in the Pulpit movement?
- I had a note about that, and I don't know
- why I had a note about that.
- You touched upon something that I want to kind of look
- at again, is what was invaluable for gay people back
- in the 1950s-- as far as information and resources
- and social outlets--
- compared to what's now available today?
- Can you compare the two for me, because, you know,
- we've come a long way.
- I mean, what changes have you seen throughout the decades?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: Changes in resources over the decades
- is amazing.
- There was nothing really for you to go to and acquire
- information about homosexuality other
- than medical books and things of that kind.
- And, of course, in those days it was a sickness.
- There really was nothing for you to go to.
- You covertly looked in the card catalogues in the libraries.
- You went around to the bookstores
- and sort of wants to see what they had,
- which was not usually very much.
- I remember Worldwide News on South Avenue/ St. Paul Street--
- they had a section of Gay Pulp novels, which you covertly
- purchased hoping nobody was watching you.
- But, of course, they weren't--
- those kinds of things weren't references,
- they were just to titillate you really.
- There was nothing.
- The 70s began to be when you--
- that's when we began to find people were addressing
- the issue in a serious fashion.
- And you began to have groups of people
- who would come together to discuss
- the issue of homosexuality, and how it existed or could exist
- in the community at large.
- We began to have groups that were
- beginning to educate the community at large and saying,
- here we are, let's talk.
- It wasn't really until the 90s--
- I suspect as a result to a certain extent of the AIDS
- epidemic, which people had to address--
- that we began to have more materials available openly.
- And you can go in libraries and wherever else today
- and find resources to help you to understand and to move
- or hope to move forward-- through education
- on the issues of homosexuality.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: So let me jump back to then.
- In the 1950s, there's no real information
- available to you except some medical books that were
- calling gayness a sickness.
- How did you personally and how did you emotionally
- come to terms with who you were--
- or who you are-- back in those days?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: By the time I was determining who I was--
- which was late--
- I was already acceptant of the fact
- that there were gay people.
- And I accepted it in myself after I was honest with myself.
- And said, well, this is who I am.
- And while I'm still not going to broadcast it
- from the mountains, I have accepted myself for who I am.
- Now I must work within that parameter.
- It was not an easy-- it never was easy,
- because you were always afraid that somebody is going
- to say, oh, look he's gay.
- And then the fallout from that weren't sure of what would be.
- It was wonderful when--
- in the early 70s--
- the psychological people decided that being gay
- was not any longer an illness.
- That was a relief right there.
- Before that, you sort of knew it wasn't, but other people
- were saying it is.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: Yeah, let me get a little bit more specific.
- You had mentioned about maybe seeing
- medical books that were describing gayness
- as a sickness.
- Do you remember specifically opening up a book
- and reading that, and how you felt when you read that?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: Only vaguely do
- I remember how I felt about medical books--
- or whatever else-- calling homosexuality an illness.
- I never felt, myself, that I was ill mentally or physically.
- And at the risk of sounding classist, I suspect a lot of it
- had to do with my education, and the fact
- that I was taught to think for myself and to question.
- And because of that, I just ignored the illness part
- and said, well, that's somebody else's opinion, not mine.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: Do you remember 1969, the Stonewall Rights?
- Do you remember hearing about them?
- Talk to me about--
- talk to me about, first, hearing about what was happening.
- And, again, what you personally felt
- about what you were hearing.
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: The Stonewall Riot--
- if it's to be called that--
- was 1969, if I recall.
- And I heard about it by way of a radio, newspaper, magazines.
- And my reaction was, it's about time somebody fought back.
- Now, whether I would have fought back or not
- is a question in my mind, even today.
- But I was very glad that there were people
- who were standing up and saying, here we are,
- and what are you going to do is your problem, not ours.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: When did you first
- start to realize that the being a openly gay man
- was going to be OK?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: I don't know that I ever
- came to the conclusion that it was
- OK to be an openly gay man, until probably after I retired.
- And after I retired, my reaction was, well,
- there is no reason for me to be hiding anything anymore.
- I don't need to be concerned about the job.
- I'm retired.
- I'm part of the retirement system.
- They can't throw me out for being gay.
- So I guess I actually can't say that I was openly
- gay until after that, until after I retired.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: So as someone who
- is retired, looking at what I want
- to call the senior members of the gay community, what
- is life like for you?
- You know, what do you do?
- What do you-- where are you going to socialize?
- What is it like to be a mature gay man in Rochester?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: Well, having lived my life
- in Rochester my contacts for social abilities are many.
- I have many friends, most of whom are probably not gay.
- And there are retired people, who taught school as I did,
- with whom I associate.
- There are people at church with whom I associate.
- There is a gay group of people whom
- I have known over the years, and we continue to associate.
- We do a lot with--
- going out for dinner or for lunch.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: We do--
- Let me just interrupt you there.
- Are there any significant challenges in
- being an older gay man, things that society really
- needs to start looking at a little bit more closely?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: Well, one that I hadn't thought of--
- one thing that I hadn't thought of with senior gay people
- is what happens to them when they get to the point
- where they need to be in a facility that
- deals with old age.
- And that apparently is a problem, because they
- can be looked down upon, mistreated, and apparently
- are in some cases.
- Now, I just came out of thirty-two days in a nursing
- home rehabing for needing to build my strength back up.
- Once again, I did not announce I'm gay.
- What any of the staff realized or felt, I don't know.
- Certainly I got no reaction of any kind from them that I could
- say was a reaction to the fact that they discovered
- or knew that I was gay.
- They treated me very well, and they successfully
- helped me to gather my confidence back again,
- and my strength back to at least the situation or the condition
- that I was before.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: OK.
- I know one of the things you like to do
- is go to the movies, particularly Image Out.
- Can you tell me about Image Out, and what
- is so enjoyable about that for you?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: Image Out is a gay and lesbian film
- festival in Rochester.
- And I do support it, and I do attend much of it.
- I appreciate, particularly, the documentaries.
- I think people are inclined to look
- at gay people, particularly men, and all they see is sex.
- And that's not the issue, necessarily,
- with a great many gay people.
- They're interested in their history.
- They're interested in how they can confront
- the community at large.
- Confront is probably not the right word,
- but how they can deal with the community at large
- and educate them to the fact that--
- as I said much earlier--
- gay people are people, and need to be accepted that way--or
- should be accepted that way.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: So how significant
- do you think it is to have an event like Image
- Out here in Rochester?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: Well, as I said in a previous interview,
- Rochester, New York is an interesting place in that I
- feel that gayness was accepted by more people in the community
- than is true in other communities.
- And a lot of that had to do-- as I indicated before--
- with the fact that you have a high level of education
- in this community.
- People who do think for themselves,
- people who are understanding.
- I'm not going to use the word tolerate,
- because that says things that I don't mean at all.
- That they accept.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: So do you think, expanding on that--
- and, again, I'm trying to just focus in a little bit on Image
- Out, because it's going to be part of this documentary--
- for a city--
- what does it say for a city the size of Rochester
- to have a film festival like that for twenty years?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: I think the fact that Image Out has existed
- in Rochester for twenty years is a testimony to the fact
- that the community is far more accepting
- than many other communities of its size.
- It's surprising when you stop to think
- that Rochester, which is only--
- according to the World Almanac--
- only number 98 now in size population--
- that it would support an Image Out.
- But I think that the gay community in Rochester--
- gay community, does that mean that there
- is a group of people who are together that are gay and--
- no, it does not.
- I guess I should say the gay people in Rochester
- feel that they can support Image Out without having retributions
- of any kind brought upon them.
- If you look at the catalog for Image Out,
- you will find that many, many, many people have
- their names published so that the community at large
- knows who is attending, supporting Image Out.
- And a lot of those people are heterosexual people
- who have come to accept and support.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: And I'm going to stay with Image Out
- just a little bit, because you're
- one of the few people that I can talk to about it
- who really have a good passion for it.
- Just talk to me about the experience
- of going to an Image Out movie.
- What is it like--
- other than seeing a good movie--
- that experience for you personally,
- what does it provides for you?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: I like Image Out for myself, personally,
- because I like being able to go and be with other gay people
- and enjoy--
- especially the documentaries-- and being
- able to talk about them with those people
- outside the festival.
- I like the fact that there's a camaraderie
- about the whole thing.
- I appreciate the work that is done by those who put Image Out
- I'm very happy with Image Out, because it
- is a window through which the community can
- look at gay people.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: Last question-- and this is kind of an almost
- slightly philosophical question-- not really--
- when history looks back at Ernest Dubois
- and in your life as a gay man in Rochester--
- what do you want history to say about you?
- Who you are, who you were?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: I want history
- to say about me that he came and did the best he could do.
- I want history to say, yes, he was always community minded.
- Yes, he did a decent job as a school teacher.
- That Ernest Dubois was a influence
- in the lives of many people.
- I couldn't tell you right now the number of students
- who have gone into education that passed by me
- who have said I was part of the reason they
- went into education.
- I'm very proud of that.
- I want them to say that I did everything
- that I did sincerely, and to the best of my ability.
- And in some cases, being gay has nothing to do with it.
- It was because I am Ernest Dubois,
- and because I wanted to do the things that I did, and felt
- that they were important.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: And we'll leave it at that.
- Thank you.
- Brian is going to get the mic.
- OK, just for a microphone check, Ernest,
- I need you to give us the correct spelling
- of your first and last name.
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: I am J-- first initial J--
- middle name Ernest, Dubois.
- Capital D-U, capital B-O-I-S.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: OK.
- And Ernest without the A.
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: Without the A.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: E-R-N-E-S-T. OK.
- Ernest, what year would you say you first started
- coming out as a gay man?
- What decade?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: The 1950s.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: 50s, OK.
- So if you could for me, talk to me
- what it was like being a gay man in Rochester in the 1950s.
- What was out there for you socially?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: In the late 1950s
- there wasn't a lot socially, other than going to bars.
- And you went to bars to meet people, meet your friends,
- and just generally hang out.
- There were not any restaurants, to speak of,
- that were dedicated to gay people.
- You sort of went where other people went.
- There were things that went on in people's homes.
- People would entertain, but that was about it.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: Going to the bars in the late 50s, 1960s,
- and meeting other gay people, do you remember the kind of things
- that you talked about back then?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: I do remember the things
- that we talked about.
- We talked about usual things that people talk about today.
- You weren't supposed to talk about politics, religion,
- and sex, but I like to talk about all three.
- So those were the things that we really did talk about.
- We talked about politics, with reference
- to what kinds of impacts we could
- make on legislatures in order to improve the lot of gay people.
- That was not done in the 50s and 60s
- as much as it was done in the 70s, late 70s into the 80s.
- Religion, that was a period when many gay people turned away
- from religion, because religion was--
- so many religious denominations were unaccepting of gay people.
- And as far as sex is concerned, well,
- you talked about that because you hoped
- it would happen occasionally.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: Can you talk to me about Front Street?
- Tell me about Front Street.
- What was it like?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: Front Street was very peculiar.
- During the day it was a fairly busy commercial setting.
- I can remember my grandfather having a favorite meat market
- down there--
- I can't remember whether it was Beckers or Andrews--
- and it was commercial.
- Dark would arrive and a bar like Dick's would open.
- And Dick's wife Martha really was the queen bee of the place.
- She ran it, and she knew everybody who was there.
- And she was welcoming to people, and was
- ready to protect if necessary.
- I went there on a fairly regular basis,
- again, to see people and meet people that you
- wouldn't find anyplace else.
- There was another bar--
- I guess it was a bar because I hardly ever went there--
- next door.
- I don't even remember the name of it.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: Was it Ma Martin's?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: Ma Martin.
- I did not know Ma Martin.
- And I was still a bit squeamish about being out in public.
- And since Martha was-- at Dick's--
- was the kind of person who protected,
- I felt more comfortable there for whatever reason.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: In your time at those bars
- and back in that time period, did
- you witness anything like police raids,
- or did you ever feel harassed at all?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: No, I never saw a police raid.
- I heard that they would occur occasionally.
- I suspect-- without any knowledge of it--
- that they were paid off.
- Certainly I was never harassed in a bar.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: Were you--
- in that time-- were you fairly openly gay,
- or were you pretty much closeted?
- Were you leading a double life between work and might life?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: As many of us did in the 50s and 60s,
- we led double lives.
- And I was one of those who did.
- My life away from community activities and away from work
- was different from my life in the community.
- It wasn't that I felt that I necessarily needed to hide it.
- But I did because I didn't want any problems to arise
- because I was gay.
- And I felt if I didn't go around broadcasting it,
- things would just go on quite normally,
- whatever normal means.
- And I was very active in the community.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: In what community?
- The community as a whole, or the gay community?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: No, the community at large.
- No, I was not active in--
- there wasn't really a gay community
- as such, if you mean an action kind of group.
- There was not.
- I was active in the community at large, educational things,
- religious things.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: So did you have fear of being exposed,
- of losing your job, kicked out of the church?
- Did those fears exist for you?
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: In the back of my head I suppose they did.
- As I look back in reality, they could have happened I suppose.
- But I also realize that the church
- affiliation I had was such that they probably
- would have accepted it--
- the gayness.
- Job wise, well, since I was a schoolteacher
- I was inclined to be very quiet about it.
- I'm sure there were those who knew,
- but they couldn't say definitely I hadn't said anything,
- nor had they seen me doing anything gay.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: Is my note correcter here
- that you were the first black teacher in Rochester High
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: In the high schools.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: In the high schools.
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: Not in the grade schools.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: OK.
- Can you talk to me then?
- Let's set that up for our audience
- about you being the first black teacher in Rochester High
- School, but yet you had this other part of your life
- that you could not expose.
- J. ERNEST DU BOIS: Yes, I was the first black teacher
- in the secondary schools in Rochester.
- I was not the first black teacher in the school system,
- there were those in the elementary school.
- As far as being gay and black, I think black probably
- was more of a problem than gay.
- Because you didn't go around talking
- about the gay part, but the black part was very visible.
- And there were people who quite obviously were not
- anxious to have a black person teaching
- in the secondary schools.
- So I had to keep that in mind, as well as the fact that
- after about the middle 50s--
- when I finally recognized my own gayness--
- I had to keep in mind two things.
- The black finally disappeared because I certainly,
- by the middle 50s, was not the only black teacher
- in the high school.
- Nor was I the only gay teacher in the high schools
- by then either.
- KEVIN INDOVINO: You had mentioned--