Pride in the Valley: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning in the Hudson Valley, NY
Our region has proven to be a welcoming place for members of the gay and lesbian community. This series of articles includes profiles of local gay couples raising families, a look at the LGBTQ Center in Kingston, and how a Poughkeepsie student helped to form a gay-straight alliance at his school
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Voice of experience: Ted Hayes at the LGBTQ Center in Kingston
Photograph by Teresa Horgan
The Elder Statesman: From Minister to Activist
By Lisa Iannucci
Ted Hayes knew he was different, but he says he was so deeply closeted as a youth that “some say I awoke each morning choking on mothballs.”
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Hayes was a chemist and then a Southern Baptist minister for 12 years prior to coming out to “what fundamentalists call ‘unnatural behavior,’ ” says the Kingston resident. “Since I was celibate until I was 47, I consider that more appropriately described as unnatural behavior.”
After leaving the ministry and moving to New Mexico at the urging of friends, Hayes was ready for another move — this time to New York and a better job market. He was also open to a relationship. “I was out for about five years and hadn’t had a relationship with anyone,” he says.
Meanwhile, John David (Jack) Waite was a 69-year-old IBM retiree living in Ossining who had lost his previous partner to cancer and wanted to date again; he placed a personal ad in the March 1983 edition of The Advocate. On the other side of the country, Waite’s ad caught Hayes’ eye.
It also caught the attention of 200 other possible suitors. In a 1980s version of The Bachelor, Waite picked out four ads that interested him, including Hayes’s.
“For six months, we wrote daily and telephoned weekly,” he says. “We knew before we ever met face-to-face that we loved each other.”
When Hayes finally arrived in New York, he visited Waite for the first time. “When I entered his home, it was the first time in 52 years I was hugged and kissed by someone who loved me and whom I loved in return,” says Ted. “It was an earth-shattering moment for me.” Six months later the pair moved in together, and moved to Kingston in 1995. Their relationship lasted for 26 years until Jack’s death from cancer in 2009.
“He was the kindest man you could hope to meet,” Hayes says. “Being in a loving relationship with Jack was the best thing that ever happened to me. I still love him and miss him and still have his breakfast place setting at the table.”
Now 81, Hayes says that being gay in 2012 is much different than it was in the ’70s. When Hayes came out, singer Anita Bryant was a vocal opponent of homosexuality. “She kept ranting and screaming and I knew she wasn’t telling the truth,” he says. “She was the deciding factor for me to come out.”
On Christmas Day, 1977, Ted came out to his parents. His mother’s guarded reaction was short-lived; Hayes says that his parents were two of his major supporters, and they welcomed Jack into their home. “They loved him as much as I did,” says Hayes, who notes that the attitude of the country towards gays is increasingly more favorable. “However, I still don’t understand how someone can vote on whether I can be an equal citizen or not,” he says. “I even served in the military, but I am still relegated to second- or third-class citizenship.”
Hayes is one of the 28 founding members of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center in Kingston. When the couple moved to Kingston after Waite’s retirement, Hayes joined the group Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). “That was my introduction to activism,” he says.
“In 2005, a lesbian couple who had moved to the area initiated plans for a gay pride march and festival,” he says. “I threw myself into working with that group, and 2,500 people came to the festival.”
The idea for a community center soon took hold. After several months of planning, an initial public meeting was held in front of a standing-room-only crowd. But starting the center was not without its challenges. “On our first weekend at our new office on Hurley Avenue in Kingston, someone stuck a hose in the window and flooded the place,” Hayes says. “They did that just because gay people were making plans.”
The group persevered and today has 1,600 members. In 2009, Hayes — along with hundreds of others — made the trip to Albany to lobby for gay marriage. “Jack couldn’t understand why we couldn’t get married,” he says. “I didn’t want to leave him, but he said ‘I’ll be okay, you need to be there to voice our needs.’ ”
Four days later, Waite died. “I missed one of his last days to go visit with a senator who didn’t have the courtesy to sit and talk with us,” Hayes says.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘The time is always right to do what is right,’ ” says Hayes. “We did something good by establishing the center. It not only helps gay people but also the community at large, by helping them to understand what’s going on and building community relations.”
Hayes was the recipient of the center’s initial Founders Award in 2012 and served as Grand Marshal of the third annual Pride March and Festival in New Paltz in 2007. He and Waite were honored for their work in 2008 when a room at the center was named after them.