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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Bill Hull, June 21, 2001. Interview K-0844. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The gay movement as secretive and private, especially in the South

Southern society masked gay men's sexuality as eccentric. Hull argues that this perception made homosexuality secretive, but not oppressive. However, Susan Sontag's article forced gay men to acknowledge their sexuality publicly.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Bill Hull, June 21, 2001. Interview K-0844. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Why do you think that the gay civil rights movement then came out? Do you think that there were real issues; they just were not quite as extreme as the black community was experiencing?
BILL HULL:
I think that the gays when I came along—having been born in the 40s and I never came out, I just found other gay people and I finally figured it out. I did not really feel—I felt special, private, secret, a subculture. I was not that involved in the movement for gay rights, I always had the right to execute them if someone didn't—I was never—how am I going to say this—I always felt special. People treated me like I was special, because I was gay. It was sort of that funny uncle scenario that happens in the South. "There are gay people, and we love them, and they are all sweet," and all of that. I never felt oppressed, I never felt discriminated against. To be honest with you, I never got that involved with the gay rights movement, other than as a—well; I just didn't participate in it.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
You were a supporter, perhaps?
BILL HULL:
I was a supporter, but I didn't feel oppressed. Susan Sontag, did an article, what was it in the late 60s or 70s describing what camp was.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right.
BILL HULL:
The crowds that I was hanging around with were devastated, they were like, "She has exposed our lifestyle!" It was just a secret, well, it was not a secret, it was just a very erudite communication level, association signals that one had. We were a subculture and proud of it. I mean, I always knew that I was gay from the sixth grade on. I knew that I was special; I knew that I was different. It was a very special secret. So, I never felt like I had to come out and fight my way for acceptance and all of that. Being part of a family that is like what, seventy five percent gay. [Laughter]
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Oh, in terms of your nuclear family.
BILL HULL:
Yeah, my nuclear family. I was not different, the one straight brother, he was the weird one. [Laughter]
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Well, I guess that he was the exception then.
BILL HULL:
So, I just always felt like I was who I was, and people accepted me for who I was. I was not necessarily effeminate or that overt. I was discreet, always discreet. I just felt very special. So, I was impressed with the civil rights movement, but I did not feel like that it affected me so personally as it just did generally. People who got in trouble because of their sexual preferences and inclinations or just their nature.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
I wonder, the religious right, I think probably—and I am not expert in this—but I think in the 1980s especially under Reagan, maybe late 70s is when they really started mobilizing and coming after or targeting homosexuals to discriminate against.
BILL HULL:
Well, there was no one left.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
[Laughter] Perhaps. But, I was wondering, the religious right probably wasn't mobilized in that way. They were probably fighting issues of evolution or sex education in the schools, but did you ever feel any kind of threat by religious right groups, such as, maybe today the Southern Baptists are fairly extreme.
BILL HULL:
I didn't see it. Maybe I just sort of disassociated myself with organized religion. I don't know, I grew up in Baptist, what we referred to as a "mixed" marriage. My father was a Methodist, my mother was a Baptist. [Laughter] So, it was very strange to go from once church to the other. But, I never got involved with organized religion because I thought that it as just a bunch of crap. I don't know if either of my brothers ever told you, we were raised basically by a black woman.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Well, they mentioned the nanny, but they didn't say—What was her name?
BILL HULL:
Alma.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Alma. Yeah, that is funny, because it never came up that she was black. I didn't even think about.
BILL HULL:
We didn't think about it. I didn't think about it. Of course, I did think about it in certain periods of time when there were social aspects of being social with her children, who were the same age that we were. My brother Sam and me had, we called them our sisters. They were our same identical age, they just happened to be black. Well, we couldn't run in the same circles. I found that very incongruous. I didn't like it, but I didn't approach it other than the fact that like we would taught that there were certain ways that you have to be.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right, that was the expectation.
BILL HULL:
We didn't care for that. But, my religious background, whether Sam or Tommy said anything. Well, Sam—Well, this woman gave us all of our moral values and she was a black woman who was lighter than I am as far as her coloration, but she was a very loving, caring, wonderful, open person who loved life and I think taught us that. It was sort of a general idea that Jesus was out there and he was our savior and he was good and he was wonderful and the church didn't teach me that. I went to church and it was sort of hellfire and brimstone. Everybody had to feel guilty about being whatever they were or who ever they were. Over even having a glass of wine to having anal sex. I don't know, it was not presented to me in that way, but the church was very indoctrinated and judgmental and I never cared for organized religion and I had a spiritual context given to me, thank God, by this woman. This idea was to love everybody, love everything and I think that that has always run through my philosophy of everything.