Peter and Mark

Harry Welty

The red townhouse I lived in for the Summer of 1971 next door to a gay couple. Image courtesy of Zillo.

7th in a series on a visit to Washington DC  

During a lively family conversation this summer my 13-year-old grandson chimed in and said that the only thing he knew about his grandfather’s twenties was that I smoked grass with a gay couple in DC. A year earlier he had read my Dec. 9th  2021 Reader column “Stoning the Premier Danseur.”  Feel free to Google it.

When we took him to DC I made no attempt to stop by my summer accommodations of 1971.  

I think that the column was sweet but that it begged for some closure. What happened to these fellows, to me and to my Dad who discouraged me from going back to house sit their property in 1972….the year I became a Republican instead?  

In 1969 Reverend Bond gave me a book to prepare me for college life. One of its stories involved a young man who was attracted to men. Though I had never met an out-of-the-closet homosexual up to then my Mother had explained the basics to me when I was 10. In the second week of college I met my first thinly disguised gay. He was active in campus politics. He was also the first and only person who’s talents ever left me in awe. He’d be a great future column. It was the year of the Stonewall Riot and it gave birth to a new age. While I was not a participant I would be its witness.  

As described in my previous column Jack (called “Mark” in the previous column) and Peter were in the forefront of gentrifying a decaying neighborhood. Although I had joined my Father’s fraternity he may have suddenly become worried about my predilections after I told him about the chance to house sit for a gay couple. I suspect Jack and Peter weren’t sure about me either. If they discovered they’d left a straight kid to watch their house I’ll bet it would just have been another little joke like the Parisian ballerinas I mentioned in my first column.  

While I never saw Jack and Peter again I worried about them all through the Ronald Reagan Eighties when HIV decimated gay men world wide. Reagan, a creature of Hollywood, had probably known dozens of closeted actors but he was poorly suited to lead the government to come to their rescue. Ironically, the gruesome public outings by HIV hospitalizations launched our more sympathetic age leading to the recent Supreme Court benediction on gay weddings.  

I was inclined to put on a loyal Republican face as evangelicals swarmed into the GOP displacing old Republicans from mainline denominations like my Presbyterians. Part of my bending over backward inclined me to think that landlords shouldn’t be forced to test their religion. I would be put to the test.   In the 1980’s Duluth’s city council became embroiled in the issue of whether landlords should be compelled to rent rooms to gay tenants. When I told my Dad, who had talked me out of house-sitting for a gay couple, that I wasn’t sure it was fair to force religious landlords to rent rooms to gays Dad surprised me. He told me it was none of their damned business. My Dad had leapt ahead of me while I was coping with an overflow of evangelicals into the GOP. These new republicans were already repulsed by my pro-choice position. Maybe I was trying to get them to cut me a little slack. In any event, my Dad helped put me back on my earlier path of liberal compassion which only strengthened as the worst of gay phobia began evaporating.  

Duluth had a city councilor who led the charge for landlord’s right of refusal. He belonged to one of these evangelical churches. When UMD’s College Republicans held an absolutely unnecessary “Straight Pride Day” to lampoon Gay Pride activities this councilor showed up at UMD to lend the CR’s his support.  

A young gay man who had been campaigning for some liberal city councilors tracked this councilor down at UMD. When he found the Councilor in the Kirby Student Union he told him he should be ashamed of himself. He pointed out that heterosexuals, unlike gays of that Era, had no need of a pride day as vice squads didn’t hunt them down, harass and arrest them. Meanwhile, gays were still recovering from the shock of HIV. To his credit this Councilor had a sense of shame. He turned tongue tied and red in the face of a truth he could not deny.  

My earlier column laid out what happened to the premier danseur my neighbors had introduced me to.  More recently I decided to see if I could find any news of Peter and Jack some fifty years on. Thanks to the Internet I learned that they survived HIV. An obituary from 2010 explained that Peter had outlived “the love of his life” Jack by a few years. God bless them.  

Harry Welty can be all rainbowy at