Alan Virta was born in Arlington, Virginia in 1951. Since a young age, Virta had a particular interest in history and historical artifacts. After working for the Library of Congress for thirteen years, Virta decided to work for a smaller library. In 1988, he began working for the library at Boise State. When Virta decided to come out in his early 40s, he was supported by his family and co-workers. He then became involved in the gay community by joining the Triangle Connection and participating in the Pride festivals and parades. Virta retired from Boise State in 2011. Ever the historian, Virta has been interested in following the changes the gay movement has undergone since the 1950s.
Albert “Al” Fletcher Stansell grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. Al identifies as a gay, middle-class, Caucasian, male and at age 72 he happily resides in Boise, Idaho. After serving as an air traffic controller in Atlanta, Al shares his coming out process during a controversial time period when he could have easily lost his job for publicly claiming his gay orientation. During this interview, Albert also opens up about his 30-year relationship with his partner Dick, his 12-year marriage to a woman, the relationship he has with his two children including what it was like raising his son with Dick and finally he reflects on the journey that him and Dick embarked on when they decided to become the sole owners and operators of the now well-known Balcony bar located in downtown Boise.
This interviewee was a customer service manager at a gay porn company. He discusses coming out in 2002, how the gay porn industry addressed HIV/AIDS, and how technology affects and changes views of gay culture and people.
This interviewee was born in the Gentilly area of New Orleans in 1978. She was very close to her grandfather, who she said was “the coolest man I’ve ever met in my entire life.” She and her sister, Elizabeth, practiced in front of the mirror to get rid of their Southern accents after moving to Coeur d’Alene. They moved there when she was thirteen, six months after her father died. She grew up Catholic, taught youth group in college before coming out but is now a recovering Catholic. Boise State University’s BGLAD organization is the first time she felt “home.” After a year of reflection, she came out by screaming “I’m gay” out of some friends’ car window. Her story was included in LOGO’s “Coming Out Stories.” She co-founded the drag king troupe, Bois of Boise, which grew from solely entertainment to a more politically driven group.
Rebecca “Becka” Lewis was born in 1985 in Boise, Idaho. Becka identifies as a lesbian, Hispanic female who feels that her “growing up was very different.” Becka came out at the age of 16, as a sophomore in high school, and shortly thereafter met her current partner, Makayla. Her experience focuses on discovering her sexuality in high school, the reaction of her parents, and coming out to the community in a very public way after running away from home.
Dax David Chisum was born in 1968 in Redondo Beach, California. Dax identifies as a gay, Caucasian, male and sees himself as belonging to the working class. He moved to Idaho at the age of one and was raised in the Wood River Valley, which helped to expose him to a great deal of diversity due to the high volume of tourism in the area. He didn’t have strong religious roots growing up, however when he came out at around the age of 20, his mother had a nervous breakdown and claimed that Dax had “broken her heart.” Now things have changed and Dax is an advocate for human rights at the Idaho Human Rights Education Center. During this interview, Dax touches on his life after coming out, how coming out affected his work for the Idaho Human Rights Education Center, he discusses where he feels most comfortable and uncomfortable as a gay man in Boise, what he feels are the biggest issues facing the Boise LGBTQ community as well as what are some of the biggest obstacles facing the Humans Rights Center in Boise.
Dennis Barrett was born into a religiously conservative family in 1948. He realized that he was gay while participating in his church’s music program. Barrett attended Kentucky State University and received a degree in Music Education. He taught for three years before moving to Idaho where he joined the Metropolitan Community Church. He officially came out in his late 20’s and became active in the establishment of a gay community in Boise. He was one of the founders of The Community Center and worked there for 8 years. He was also editor of “The Paper” for 6 years. The main goal of The Community Center and “The Paper” was to help others in the coming out process. Barrett worked in home healthcare/hospice for 20 years before retiring and settling in Star, Idaho.
Duane Quintana was born in 1979 and grew up in rural Idaho. After receiving an HIV diagnosis, Quintana became an activist by educating high school students about HIV. These school presentations grew to become the non-profit organization, Allies Linked for Prevention of HIV and AIDS (a.l.p.h.a.). This group provides testing and counselling and has now grown to areas across the state. Within the interview is Quintana’s family’s reaction to his HIV diagnosis, marriage, and later, the breakup of his marriage. Quintana believes that that through a.l.p.h.a. and the Idaho AIDS foundation, there is less fear and more empowerment regarding HIV.
Even though Araujo experienced same sex attraction from a young age, she did not have a serious relationship until her 20s. Her coming out initially caused hardship with her conservative, Peruvian, Catholic father. Araujo is not active in the LGBTQ community, but does have a support group called the Lesbian Support Group which is made up of friends and family. She sees no point in getting married – marriage tax is too high and the marriage would not be recognized by the state. At this time of her life, Araujo is focused on starting a family and becoming a stay at home mom.
Emilie “Emi” Jackson-Edney
Emi’s interview centers on her gender reassignment journey. Growing up in Nampa, Idaho, Emi was raised with conservative Christian beliefs. During her childhood, she always felt female but felt obligated to accept her male gender. She met her wife at Boise State University, and the 37 year marriage produced two children. Emi talks about going to a gender psychotherapist and beginning the process of becoming female. Emi outlines the steps required for someone who wants to undergo gender reassignment and the experience of surgery in Thailand. Now as a woman, Emi refers to herself as a woman with a transsexual history instead of a “real woman.” Also discussed are the issues of dating and the difficulty of getting insurance coverage.
Born in Fairfax, VA in 1988, Janice Morin moved to Boise in 2000-2001. She graduated from Eagle High School. Her coming out was not a surprise to her family. Morin regrets that there are few support groups for teenagers – they have to go online. Morin discusses incidents of hate crimes that have gone unreported in Boise due to fear of reprisals of losing jobs, homes or being “outed” to the community. Morin has the goal of becoming a high school English teacher. She feels that this will give her an opportunity to be a mentor for all students – no matter their orientation. As a supporter of the LGBT community, Morin attends Pride Festivals and has volunteered for a.l.p.h.a.
Janie Burns was born in Nyssa, Oregon in 1955. She joined the military before the ruling of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell. Currently, Burns is not active in the LGBT community, but is supportive of their efforts. Instead, she focuses her time and attention on food issues such as hunger and local food movements. She now runs a farm and sells produce at the local farmer’s market. Growing up in an era of Title IX, Burns is aware that change comes slowly. She is interested more in legal rights such as insurance and property transfer more than marriage.
Activist and Journalist Jody May-Chang grew up as a secular Jew in southern California. She was born in 1960 and personally experienced anti-Semitism as a child. In college, she had her own radio show called, “Gay and Lesbian Perspectives.” The murder of Harvey Milk became the impetus for becoming an activist for many issues. Her activism has led to a career of journalism and social justice. May-Chang worked on the Idaho Human Rights Act legislation. Outside of the LGBT community, May-Chang is a supporter of the Occupy movement, and the fight for a living wage.
Joe Christopherson was born in Illinois in 1973. He graduated from Boise State University in 1998 and later became a manager at the Balcony Club. Christopherson organized the Pride Festival for two years as well as worked on the Sticky Note Campaign. He also protested against the sodomy laws. This interview discusses the challenge in meeting other gay people outside of the bar scene and the lack of support systems for teens from religious backgrounds.
John Thomas was born in Boise in 1985. He identifies as a gay, white, Republican male. He graduated from Boise State University with an economics degree in 2009 and is working on a masters in business. Thomas grew up in a Catholic, conservative family. His parents divorced when he was 16 and his mom is a lesbian. His father and grandfather were both attorneys, and his grandfather was a prosecutor for the Boys of Boise in 1955. He identifies as Republican and conservative and supports gay marriage. Being gay does not define who he is as a person, and coming out allowed him to be gay and be himself.
Jon Swarthout was born in 1969 in Boise, ID. He had a positive childhood with parents who encouraged learning and art. Swarthout began performing as a child and started a theater group at the age of 13. His artistic focus transferred to ballet after getting a part in the local production of The Nutcracker. His talent led him to a performance arts high school in North Carolina. Upon returning to Idaho, he then danced with Ballet Idaho, and Idaho Dance Theatre and began teaching adult ballet. After teaching a children’s dance class, he began the Treasure Valley Institute for Children’s Arts (TrICA) with the goal that children will learn to believe in themselves. Swarthout is a father of twin daughters via surrogacy.
Kevin, aged 30 was raised in Los Angeles to young parents. His childhood was filled with uncertainties about food and shelter, so he joined a religious youth group to compensate for his lack of family ties. After high school, Kevin went to Florida to attend film school and work for Disney as a dancer. Kevin moved to Boise in 2003 and became immersed in the restaurant industry. Kevin identifies more as an epicurean than solely as a gay man, but at the same time, does not disidentify as gay. At the time of this interview, Kevin was owner of the Red Feather Lounge in Boise. Kevin is not an active participant in the LGBT community, but would advocate for equal marriage rights.
Krista Perry was born in Boise, ID in 1983. After coming out in her sophomore year in college, Perry began support groups within the athletic community at Dartmouth College to help others face the challenges and stereotypes of being a gay athlete. At the time of the interview, Perry is the co-chair of the Idaho Safe Schools Coalition - a group dedicated to creating safe school for all students no matter their gender or identity. This interview also discusses the changes in terminology used within the gay community and the difficulty of changing the mindset of a conservative community.
Mary Evelyn “Evie” Smith
Mary Evelyn “Evie” Smith was born in Washington DC in 1942, but grew up in Arlington, VA. She identified as a lesbian feminist. Smith moved to Idaho to participate in a maternal infant care program after becoming pregnant. During her time in Idaho, Smith has worked as a barmaid at Shuckey’s and in many different capacities for the state until her retirement in 2002. She is one of the founding members of The Community Center. She discusses the challenges of the gay community from the 1977 Boise Police Department lawsuit to the No On One Campaign. After having received many accolades for her service in the gay community in Boise, Evie is now approaching a retirement from activism.
Born in Philadelphia in 1960, Mary Rohlfing moved to Boise to attend Boise State University. After graduating from BSU, Rohlfing received a PhD from the University of Iowa. She returned to Idaho and worked in Boise State’s communications department for 12 years. At the time of the interview, Rohlfing hoped to obtain a teaching position at the College of Western Idaho. In 1993, Rohlfing was a victim of a hate crime which never resulted in an arrest. Later, she purchased 8 acres of weedy land and began the Morning Owl Farm. She was excited that coming out is easier for the younger generation.
Matt Bragg was born in 1971 in Akron, Ohio. After high school, he joined the U.S. Navy and served for four years. The defining moment of his military service came with the beating death of a gay shipmate. After his military service ended, Bragg lived in San Diego. It was there he accidentally became a stand-up comedian after the scheduled comics backed out and Bragg filled in. This opportunity was first a hobby, then became a career. At the time of this interview, Bragg worked as a bartender at a local bar. He considered himself to be an accidental activist. His goal was to change the perceptions of the gay community through his comedy.
LeFavour was born in Aspen, Colorado in 1964. LeFavour worked as a supporter on the No On One campaign and recorded a segment for the “It Gets Better” campaign. LeFavour discusses the hardships she has faced as an openly gay woman. As a senator during this interview, Nicole focuses on the importance of passing laws and creating understanding in order to create safe work and living environments for the LGB community.
Nicole "Nikki" Leonard
Nicole “Nikki” Leonard was born in Anchorage, Alaska in 1955. From a young age, sheidentified as female, but tried to life as a male. After a marriage that led in divorce, Leonard began the transition process. This interview talks about the challenges of living as a woman at home and a man at work, and ultimately the experience of transitioning in the workplace. While currently not involved in the LGBT community, Leonard has worked for Your Friends, Family, and Neighbors (YFFN), was on the board of directors of The Community Center, and wrote articles for the Diversity newsletter. Also worked to add “gender identity” clause added to Boise’s Antidiscrimination policy. Leonard is concerned that suicide is the leading cause of death within the transgender community.
James A. Odell England was born in Blackfoot, ID in 1950. He moved to Boise in 1969 and graduated from Boise State University. Odell worked as a teacher but became a hairstylist and has owned Graeber & Co. for 26 years. He grew up in an open-minded family and described himself as “just a gay person in a real world.” Odell participated in Boise’s first gay pride parade and No On One events, and devotes time to support local arts and education organizations.
Rebecca Scott was born in Wheat Ridge, CO in 1971. When she came out during the era of the AIDS epidemic, she immediately became an advocate for safe sex within the gay male community. Scott became a well-known name in Boise’s local music scene. This interview talks about the changes of the perceptions of the gay community in Boise between the early 1990s and 2011. Scott feels that the LGBT community has moved beyond the stereotypes put upon themselves and those of the media.
This Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) Oral History Project began as a key component of a cross-listed Boise State University course, Intro to LGBTQ Studies (GEN 380, HIS 381, SOC 497). Dr. Riley Caldwell-O’Keefe taught the course and designed the project as an interactive learning tool to help students understand LGBTQ history, with special emphasis on Idaho history, and the impacts of this history on local individuals. In addition to this history and context, students learned interviewing techniques throughout the semester. We discussed ethical considerations and obtained Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for the project. Throughout the process, we worked with Boise State Special Collections librarians, Alan Virta and Cheryl Oestreicher. The culmination and digital release of the collection would have been impossible without them. We are thrilled and honored to offer these first-person insights which help provide a more well-rounded and comprehensive story of Idaho history.
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