Partial Transcript: Stacey K.: My name is Stacey Krim and I am talking with Gary Trowbridge and Frank Bennedetti for the Pride! Of the Community Oral History Project. Today is May 21, 2019. Thank you for talking to us today.
Frank B.: It’s our pleasure. We are Frank and Gary, and we tell new people that we meet that it’s very easy to remember our names, because we are two gay guys – Frank and Gary – F-A-G. [Laughter].
Segment Synopsis: Bennedetti and Trowbridge detail their background to start the interview.
Partial Transcript: When I saw something I didn’t like, I would write a letter to the editor. And I would call a news station and say, “I think you made a mistake about this.” Well, after a period of time, they kept calling me back, and were asking me to be a spokesperson. I said, “I’m not a spokesperson, I’m just saying what I think.” But he said, “Nobody else will talk to us. Nobody.” So, I go on television and talk to people. They would contact us about an issue that concerned the gay community – and I didn’t want to be a spokesperson, but nobody [else] would respond. So, by default, we became spokespeople. That even got people crazier about us. And then, it was twenty-fifth anniversary –
Gary T.: Thirty-fifth.
Frank B.: Thirty-fifth, excuse me. God, I’ll get in trouble over this.
Segment Synopsis: Bennedetti discusses his interaction with a local newspaper and how he became a spokesperson and boosted LGBT visibility in Winston.
Partial Transcript: Frank B.: We moved to Winston-Salem from Atlanta. We had been in Atlanta thirty years. We had support groups, we belonged to many different organizations, we felt very comfortable there. We came to this place not knowing anybody. We purchased a house. After we moved in, we found out that some neighbors were taking up a petition to prevent the sale, because they didn’t want to have two gay men with their children being in the neighborhood. And the 25 years that we lived at that house, no one ever invited us to dinner. They would wave at us, but no one ever got close with us. So, that was our welcome to Winston-Salem.
Segment Synopsis: Bennedetti covers his and Trowbridge's move from Atlanta, Georgia, to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and talks about the difficulties and differences in the communities.
Partial Transcript: Frank B.: She got us to … she called us up. Mrs. Burch was head of HRC. And she calls, she said, “Would you feel comfortable talking to congress?”. And I said, “About what?”. She said, “Well, President Bush is trying to get this marriage act amended. And we’re trying to get people who would be able to tell their stories.” I said, “Yeah, we’ll go.” So, we went and we did testify before congress … a sub-group congress headed by Senator [John] Cornyn of Texas. And that was one of the most horrible experiences I’ve ever encountered in my life. But, we did it. It was supposed to be eight witnesses. So, you would think they would be four-and-four. No, there were five in favor of the constitutional amendment, and three against it.
Segment Synopsis: Bennedetti talks through his and Trowbridge's experience testifying before congress and Senator Cornyn of Texas.
Partial Transcript: Frank B.: So, I’m against that. I think I’m against gay pride parades that have nudity and fantastic costumes. I think that’s fun, but we have a civil rights problem, and we should be marching like it’s a civil rights problem, and focusing on laws and that kind of stuff. I don’t get along with other [gay] people that like all the jazz and the feathers and all. We were asked to … --
Gary T.: -- Let me tell this one.
Frank B.: Okay. [Laughter].
Gary T.: We were asked to be the grand marshals of the pride parade about three or four years ago. “And you’ll be in a convertible, we’ll have [inaudible] up there, you just sit in the back and wave.”
Frank B.: “I want this understood. I want to be pushing civil rights. Is this going to be a Mardi Gras parade or is this going to be a civil rights march.” They said, “Civil rights march. We’re going to emphasize marriage equality.” I said, “Okay, we’re in.”
Segment Synopsis: Trowbridge confers his experiences as (with Bennedetti) being 'grandmarshals' of a gay pride parade -- and how it did not go as planned.
Keywords: Gay pride parade; LGBT; Pride parade
Partial Transcript: Stacey K.: Okay. Well, we covered a lot there. Let’s jump back a little bit. Do you guys have any memory the Stonewall riots?
[Both] Yeah, yeah.
Gary T.: We were together during the Stonewall riots.
Stacey K.: Can you talk a bit about where you were and how you heard about it?
Frank B.: We were living in Atlanta, and the New York Times headline said something about “These busy bees are stinging”, you know, that … I thought it was kind of tacky. But it was dismissive of our whole idea. I thought, I said, “I think this is something important. But I don’t know what is going to happen.” Because at that time, you were in hiding. Like you were some thief in the night; you were hiding from the real world. So, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I said, “I see the black civil rights movement. I see women have marches, they dress up in suits and ties, and they’re dignified. They have a message, that they’re all on the same message. I don’t know that gay people can follow that, without diverging in all kinds of sections. I don’t know what’s going to happen”. Then we went back for the twenty-fifth anniversary in New York. There were just so many people.
Segment Synopsis: Covers Trowbridge and Bennedetti's memories and reaction of/to the Stonewall Riots.
Partial Transcript: We had a lot of gay friends in Atlanta. A lot of young gay guys that were from little small towns outside of Atlanta, and they would call and say, “Can I stop by and change to go to the bars in Atlanta?” They’d spend the night, we’d have four or five spending the night. Just be on the floor wherever they could get. Almost everyone of them died of AIDS. I guess we were promiscuous before the AIDS thing came out. But then we had settled down, and, uh, that really hurt … that hit us bad.
Stacey K.: When did you first hear or learn about AIDS?
[Both]: The ‘80s.
Segment Synopsis: Trowbridge details his and Bennedetti's experiences during the AIDS epidemics during the 1980s and 1990s.
Keywords: AIDS; LGBT
Subjects: AIDS; LGBT
Partial Transcript: Frank B.: We did a lot of volunteer work with AID Atlanta, we’d work in the office and we raised funds, and we had … he helped arrange Elton John to come do a concert at Piedmont Park, Patti Labelle, to raise funds for that. What else did we do?
Gary T.: They did video. They did promos that they would pay … if the TV station would not run it free, they would pay to have it run, these two people – Elton John and Patti Labelle. But it was for AIDS walks. And the name of your walk had to be the AIDS walk. And I contacted the Winter Walk of Greensboro. “We’re not changing our name. It’s always been the Winter Walk.” Patti Labelle, Elton John. They would advertise for you for free. They would get people that never would [normally] come out. They may even come to the walk just to welcome people. “No, no, we’re not changing the name.” They never changed the name. I don’t even know, do they still walk?
Segment Synopsis: Details AIDS activism with the help of Elton John and Patti Labelle
Keywords: AIDS; LGBT
Subjects: AIDS; LGBT
Partial Transcript: Frank B.: One of the blessings of living here was [that] we discovered the [UNC] School of the Arts.
Gary T.: Yeah.
Frank B.: And we really got involved with the School of the Arts, we joined all kinds of committees, lot of work. We even, we have a Frank and Gary endowed Scholarship at the School of the Arts.
Gary T.: for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender students and their accepting ally … allies.
Segment Synopsis: Bennedetti talks about their efforts with the UNC School of the Arts, including an endowed scholarship in their name.
Partial Transcript: Stacey K.: Okay, so we’ve gone through the AIDS epidemic in Atlanta and you’ve mentioned when you moved here in 1993 that there were a lot of challenges. Can you speak of a little bit about those?
Frank B.: Well, I think I told you about how unwelcome we were. We just decided to be ourselves, so we would write, and we would be very visible. Apparently, this upset a lot of people.
Gary T.: When we were moving up here, two gay guys that we knew that worked at Wachovia [bank] said, “Now you have to understand living here in Winston is different than living in Atlanta. You have to have two phones in your house. One for each of you. Because you don’t want Frank’s boss calling and Gary answers the phone, “Oh, that would be terrible. You can’t go out [inaudible]” what you do is …” Now, we’ve only had one car our whole life together. We’re a one-car family. So, he said you have to go to restaurants in different cars and you get to the lobby and go, “Oh, are you eating here tonight? I didn’t know you would eat here tonight!”, and make a big production. Just so that everybody knows the you ‘just ran into each other’, and you can go to the table and eat.
Segment Synopsis: Trowbridge & Bennedetti speak further about the hurdles they faced once arriving in Winston after for living so long in Atlanta.
Partial Transcript: Stacey K.: Can you speak a bit about the difference in climate of Winston-Salem versus Greensboro for LGBT people?
Frank B.: The social climate?
Stacey K.: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative].
Frank B.: I think our experience in Atlanta was … first of all –
Gary T.: She’s talking about Greensboro and Winston-Salem.
Frank B.: Oh. Well, we figured that most of the things that were emanating, there was such a thing as a gay business guild.
Stacey K.: The Triad Business Guild.
Segment Synopsis: Covers the differences in social climate for the LGBT between Greensboro, NC, and Winston-Salem, NC. Also covers organizations like the Triad Business Guild.
Partial Transcript: Frank B.: No, no. I think the main thing is that we try to look for positive things. We try to look at each day as a “Well, what can we do?” And we want … we’re very focused on trying to leave something behind. Because we have no children, so we want to do something because [sic]. We just, we like people. We like talking to people. I don’t understand why people are … why they just want to hide, why the pretend? I can’t grasp that. But my generation was like that. Even famous people, like Joel Grey. Here he is, married, and he comes out at 75. I mean, hello.
Gary T.: Who cares?
Frank B.: You live 75 years as a lie? And you cheated on your wife? That’s no way to live. I’m just so proud of the new generation. I’m sure there’s some idiots too, I mean I understand that. But still, I’m very happy about it.
Stacey K.: Alright, well thank you for speaking with us today.
Frank B.: Thank you for asking us.
Segment Synopsis: Conclusion of interview; mostly Bennedetti's closing thoughts and views.
Stacey K.: My name is Stacey Krim and I am talking with Gary Trowbridge andFrank Bennedetti for the Pride! Of the Community Oral History Project. Today is May 21, 2019. Thank you for talking to us today.
Frank B.: It's our pleasure. We are Frank and Gary, and we tell new people thatwe meet that it's very easy to remember our names, because we are two gay guys - Frank and Gary - F-A-G. [Laughter].
Gary T.: You even told the Governor that.
Stacey K.: Which governor?
Frank B.: Governor Cooper.
Stacey K.: Oh, awesome. And, just for the record, which one of you is Frank, andwhich one of you is Frank?
Frank B.: I'm Frank [raises hand].
Gary T.: The younger one is Gary.
Frank B.: Oh, please.
Stacey K.: [Laughter].
Frank B.: So, anyway
David G.: So, youngest to oldest, left to right.
Frank B.: Right. And we both grew up, really, in opposite parts of the country.I grew up in New York City, in a ghetto - south Bronx. Gary grew up in Augusta, Georgia. And my parents had no education, they didn't even finish high school, they did manual stuff. And so, it was different. Yet, even though we came from different backgrounds, we both had a lot of things in common, which I guess kept us together. I look at us being two sides of a coin, but it's the same coin. When I was growing up in the '50s, it was illegal to serve alcohol to gay people. It was illegal to portray gay people on television in the movies, or on the stage. When I first came out, I realized that people were meeting in very dark places and away from everything, everyone was very secretive, and in hiding about that. I never felt comfortable doing that, because [inaudible] "why are you doing this?" we didn't go in this place. In daylight, I would walk right past it. Anyway, so I never felt comfortable with that. But that's how we grew up. And we both served in the military. I was in the Army, and Gary was in the Airforce. In the military you had to be very, very careful. Particularly before, even before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", because you could be thrown in jail.
Stacey K.: What period were you in the military?
Frank B.: I was in [the military] in the '60s. Early '60s.
Gary T.: You had it rougher than me, because you could have gone to jail. All Ihad to say is, "I was following orders." [Laughter] I was an enlisted man, he was an officer.
Frank B.: You face eight years hard labor if they want to throw you out, so itwas terrible. We both got out about the same time, and we both met in Atlanta. It was so freeing, to be able to just be yourself, and not have to hide everything. We just loved being in Atlanta and we got along really well, and we both decided early on that what we wanted out of life was a stable relationship. We didn't care about going to bars, we didn't care about craziness. We just wanted to find someone to grow old with. That's kind of how we started our relationship. We lived in an apartment, and then he decided one day that we were going to live in a house. And I said, "I've never lived in a house." Other than an apartment. I don't know how to fix anything. And he said, "Oh, we can do that." I said, "We have no money."
Gary T.: "I'll take care of that."
Frank B.: So, he took care of that - go ahead.
Gary T.: I called my mother and asked her ... the first house we bought was$18,500. That sounds strange, but ... and it was $2,000 down, and you assumed a loan, which you can't do anymore. [Inaudible]. My mother loaned us the $2,000. She said it was ... it was like an 11% interest.
Frank B.: Yeah, we had to sign a note.
Gary T.: We had to sign a promissory note. We could not mail her any money. Shedidn't want her current husband of the time to know she loaned us the money. She collected men. Frank said, "We're paying her off in a year." So, we saved all year long, and the 11% interest, and we called in and said, "We're ready to pay you." She said, "Write me a check and I'll bring the note." She came ... she was living in Augusta, she came to Atlanta. We wrote her a check and gave it to her, and she tore the note up and handed it to us, and then she said, "You know this about the same amount of money I spent on your sister's wedding. So, if you ever decide to marry a woman, you're on your own." She tore up the check. She actually gave the down payment, but she made us earn it.
Frank B.: I had never lived in a house. I was raised in a ghetto. I didn't knowwhat a house was.
Gary T.: We totally re-did this house. We were going to Alabama for the weekendto visit a friend, and I was taking the dog to the vet. I saw this 'for sale' sign go up in front of this house, I just cut into the drive way and ran inside this house. They said, "You can't come in this house." I said, "No, this is going to be my house." And I called him [Frank], and told him what bus to ride, and what bus stop to get out. I said, "I found us a new house."
Frank B.: I said, "I like where we are!".
Gary T.: "Well, you're going to love this." [Laughter].
David G.: What part of Atlanta were you in?
Gary T.: Well, we lived on Morningside of Piedmont. The house is still there. Weonly paid $22,000 for that.
Stacey K.: And about what year was that?
Gary T.: About '69. That house was ... when we moved to Winston [-Salem], thathouse ... I was real sad to leave Atlanta at that time. When we moved to Winston, that house was on the market for $660,000.
Frank B.: The timing is everything.
Gary T.: We should have held on to it.
Frank B.: I know, but anyway. So, we were very happy in Atlanta, and we met alot of people. And Atlanta was a very social thing. I think that different minorities go through different stages. I think the early stage, you want to surround yourself just like you, and you want to be protected from everybody else. That's how we were originally. But when we moved here, there was no community to go to. We said, "Okay, we need to go out and find people." We decided just to be ourselves and to be open about things. We got hooked up with HRC and Equality North Carolina.
Gary T.: We got hooked up with HRC in Atlanta.
Frank B.: In Atlanta, yeah. And so, we said, "We would like to go and talk topeople - non-gay people -- about our lives, and present ourselves, and answer any kind of questions that they have."
Stacey K.: About what time did you move to Winston-Salem?
Frank B.: I want to say we left Atlanta in -
Gary T.: '93.
Frank B.: Yeah, '93. And so, we came to Winston, not knowing anyone or anything.We decided to just join whatever we could join. We decided that if we were ever going to find anybody progressive in this new place, there were probably two areas. One would be this Unitarian church - they're going to be very accepting. And number two, if there were arts groups. Because most arts people are very, very progressive. We set about to join every arts group that we could find. Started off as volunteers, and we would go there and meet people. We always presented ourselves as a couple, "We are Frank and Gary, and this is who we are." We got accepted right away. We went to the Unitarian church on Robinhood rd., we walked in there and this woman came over and said, "Oh my God, are you guys a couple?" We said, "Yes, we are." And she grabbed us and hugged us and kissed us. "Oh, welcome, welcome!". So, we felt very comfortable. And that enabled us to be more open. When I saw something I didn't like, I would write a letter to the editor. And I would call a news station and say, "I think you made a mistake about this." Well, after a period of time, they kept calling me back, and were asking me to be a spokesperson. I said, "I'm not a spokesperson, I'm just saying what I think." But he said, "Nobody else will talk to us. Nobody." So, I go on television and talk to people. They would contact us about an issue that concerned the gay community - and I didn't want to be a spokesperson, but nobody [else] would respond. So, by default, we became spokespeople. That even got people crazier about us. And then, it was twenty-fifth anniversary -
Gary T.: Thirty-fifth.
Frank B.: Thirty-fifth, excuse me. God, I'll get in trouble over this.
Gary T.: Now, let's try this. In 1963 ... no, 1964 to 1999. Yeah, that's 35 years.
Frank B.: So, I was reading the paper, and I turned to anniversaries and thebirthdays and I saw all of these little ... I said, "Why don't we show our anniversary?" He said, "Well, okay, we'll do that." We called up the newspaper, and I said, "What do you have to do to celebrate a thirtieth anniversary. And they said, "Oh, a check and a picture." And that's what we needed.
Gary T.: And, "Fill this form out."
Frank B.: Send us a form, we send them a check.
Gary T.: A hundred-dollar check.
Frank B.: And mailed it in. Well, about a week later, we got a call fromcongress. Kim Underwood. He said, "You have no idea what you have done." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "The first person to open your letter said, "Holy shit. What do I do to this?" And it went all the way up to the publisher, and the publisher said that this is a paid advertisement. We have no regulations preventing this, so we're going to run it. So, we became the first same-sex couple in North Carolina to announce their anniversary. The congressman said, "Well, I've got to come meet you guys." So, he came out, and he said, "Do you realize the danger you're putting yourself in? Because I know where you live. And I found you." I said, "I don't care, it's who we are." So, they did a story about us on the paper. Well, my God. All of the sudden, everybody was going crazy. Except the gay people ... they were frightened to death of being seen with us. That's fine, it's okay, I don't care. But I'll tell you an interesting story, going back a little bit. We moved to Winston-Salem from Atlanta. We had been in Atlanta thirty years. We had support groups, we belonged to many different organizations, we felt very comfortable there. We came to this place not knowing anybody. We purchased a house. After we moved in, we found out that some neighbors were taking up a petition to prevent the sale, because they didn't want to have two gay men with their children being in the neighborhood. And the 25 years that we lived at that house, no one ever invited us to dinner. They would wave at us, but no one ever got close with us. So, that was our welcome to Winston-Salem.
Gary T.: I was thinking about [inaudible] welcoming us in Walmart that night.
Frank B.: Oh, yeah. He ... we went to Walmart.
Gary T.: We were at Walmart one night. Remember, we had just moved here. Wedidn't know what was going on anywhere. But, we went into Walmart, and this family, a Hispanic family was in front of us, and they had a big flat-bed truck full of beans and rice. I mean, that must have been an army. And I'm standing there waiting in line, this older gentleman's behind me, really kind of [inaudible] looking. He said, "You know this Walmart is always busy." I said, "I know. You know, when I was in my thirties living in Atlanta shopping, I never thought I'd be living up here in my fifties shopping at Walmart." And he said, "You know little buddy, every day I live, reality has a way of just coming up and biting you right in the ass.
Frank B.: He [Gary] deserved it. [Laughter].
Gary T.: The thing that crowned off everything was when we had the billboard on[Interstate] 52 and also on Martin Luther King Blvd. by Winston-Salem State [University] the Triad Equality Project did, "We are your neighbors and we're gay", and our two pictures were up there.
Frank B.: And that created a fuss. I mean ... so we have been alienated.
Gary T.: We are friendly with a lot of gay people. We are not friends with any.
Frank B.: We don't have any gay friends. And when we moved over here, we said wewant to make sure that there's no misunderstanding. Because there are a lot of widows living here. "Oh, look, two men coming and living here, oh, God." There's a newsletter that they published for the neighborhood. And Gary called up the publisher and said, "We just moved in and we are probably the only open same-sex couple living here and we want to understand this is who we are. Would you like to do a story about us that people don't misunderstand us over anything?" And they came and did a story on us and they published it. We couldn't walk out of the house without someone saying, [whispering, inaudible], "they're gay."
Gary T.: One woman said, "My son's gayer than you are." And we just kind oflooked at each other ... she said, "His lover is a transsexual ... I mean, a transgender. His love was a transgender. So, he's really gayer than you are.
Frank B.: He said, "Oh, you win." [Laughter].
David G.: The point system. [Laughter]
Gary T.: Then we had the article Addison Ore wrote. Do you remember her, do youknow Addison?
Stacey K.: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative].
Gary T.: From Greensboro. She wrote an article for a Greensboro paper about theFrank and Gary story. And she said that Frank works for Wachovia Bank's president. And that Gary just decided to the domestic goddess. [Laughter].
Frank B.: So, now that we're living here, we really, really like it. Everyone'sbeen very ... and we just, we're friendly people; we like people. We decided more so that when we moved up here, that we would try to talk to people and get out of our comfort zones, and just go talk to people. So, we have gone around the whole southeast talking, probably, to thousands of people in churches, in schools, a couple of funerals. As a matter of fact, a few months ago we were at Salem College and talked to a class. I enjoyed doing that, and I like doing that. And I think it helps people understand, because, I go, "There must be questions you have. Please, whatever you ask us, we'll do." One of my favorite things, when we went through a Baptist group, a book club. First Baptist. [Inaudible]. I said, "We've seen a lot of things, so, any kind of questions you have, please ask." And there was total silence. I said, come on, come on, ask. A guy raised his hand, and says, "Just exactly will you guys do in bed anyways?" I said, "I sleep, what do you do?" Well, that made everybody laugh. And then they wanted to know about our family, about our religion, our jobs, how do we do, etc. It was supposed to be a twenty-minute talk but went on for an hour and a half. I don't think I changed anybody's mind, but at least I gave them another alternative way of looking at things. And that's what we really enjoy doing. And we did that for a long time. Now we are both kind of retired.
Gary T.: Yeah. We went to ... When we were living in Atlanta, we were probablyin our thirties, maybe pushing forty. I can't remember Vic's last name. The guy that started HRC.
Frank B.: Basile. Basile.
Gary T.: Basile. It's called Human Rights Campaign Foundation. And we werehaving lunch with him, and we would be introduced to whomever we had lunch with, we didn't know who it was for. He was explaining what he was trying to setup, and it would become the largest gay and lesbian civil right group in the United States. And he was trying to ... we wrote him a check for $100, and we said, "That's a hundred dollars we'll never see again." [Inaudible]. We had a long association with them. We used to be Elizabeth Burch's poster boys for she was the head of it.
Frank B.: She got us to ... she called us up. Mrs. Burch was head of HRC. Andshe calls, she said, "Would you feel comfortable talking to congress?". And I said, "About what?". She said, "Well, President Bush is trying to get this marriage act amended. And we're trying to get people who would be able to tell their stories." I said, "Yeah, we'll go." So, we went and we did testify before congress ... a sub-group congress headed by Senator [John] Cornyn of Texas. And that was one of the most horrible experiences I've ever encountered in my life. But, we did it. It was supposed to be eight witnesses. So, you would think they would be four-and-four. No, there were five in favor of the constitutional amendment, and three against it. So, it was us - that counted as one, and they had a young man whose partner had been killed in 9/11 living in New York. And you cannot live in New York on one salary. And they would not give him a death certificate because he had no legal recourse. And Cornyn says, "Well, you know, you aren't the only person to suffer a loss. Everybody suffers loss. People die all of the time." I said, "That was a cruel thing to a say. And why would you say something like that?" I was furious. And he said, "Sit down". Acting like they were going to throw us out and arrest us. But I was really angry. That, that just killed my whole idea about Washington.
Gary T.: And then, what was that woman's name? Maggie Gallagher? The one ...
Frank B.: Yeah, yeah.
Gary T.: She would go to say something and Cornyn would just say, "I think youmean to say ...", and he would reword it so it made more sense because she's a nut.
Frank B.: Yeah. It was the most awful, awful thing. I thought, oh my God. Itreally disillusioned me about our country. Anyways, we came back here. "Oh, we have to work on this now." We started really working hard. Gary T.: Then we got a phone call from HRC. This is how na