Chuck Forester was born on February 23, 1944, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He grew up in Wausau, WI, where his father worked as the Yawkey estate caretaker. Chuck had a standard upper middle class upbringing until his father started having an affair with his boss’ daughter, Alice. To avoid the formality of divorce, the families merged so that he lived in Alice’s property in Port of Pines.
Chuck found stability and community through the Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), the Youth Organization of the Universalist Unitarian Church. He became the president of LRY and loved organizing and attending continental leadership conferences. Outside of church, Chuck knew he was sexually attracted to men, and also knew he had to hide this fact. He and his mother maintained a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell approach to his sexuality.
He moved out of Wisconsin to attend Dartmouth, where he remained closeted. He then attended graduate school for city planning at Penn, where he experienced his first same-sex romantic experiences with a classmate. He worked for a year on housing plans in Pennsylvania before then joining the Peace Corps for two years. During his time in the Peace Corps, he married Christine, a Unitarian minister’s daughter he had met through LYP.
In 1971, Chuck and Christine moved together to San Francisco, where a friend offered him a city planning job. That same year, Chuck and Christine’s son Seth was born. A year later, Chuck kissed his friend Jack, and told Christine that he wanted to explore his sexuality, so the two of them separated. Chuck moved in with Jack, started to live as openly gay, and explored the gay and leather bar scenes in the city. Through the 70s, Chuck saw firsthand the Castro district’s rapidly developing and flourishing gay culture.
During this time, Chuck met Michael, a daytime bartender at a gay bar. The two of them went on a cabin getaway with some friends, started dating shortly after, and were inseparable for 18 years until Michael’s death from AIDS-related complications.
As the AIDS epidemic took hold in San Francisco, Chuck witnessed the devastating transformation of the Castro and the loss of his friends. He became involved in the Human Rights Campaign, tirelessly advocating for various bills in DC, fundraising, and attending all 3 Marches on Washington. He saw the gay community come together, with people who were dying still volunteering as much as possible.
Back in San Francisco, Chuck worked with Steve Coulter to fundraise $72 million for a new main library, the Hormel Center. He helped create a mural of people building a wall with stones, each stone having the name of a gay author. Chuck also worked for mayor Joe Alioto to build the city’s first community development program, and for then-mayor Dianne Feinstein as her special assistant on gay and lesbian affairs. Chuck went on to have a fruitful career in city and community planning.
In his interview, Chuck reflects on being a father to Seth as an openly gay man, grieving as a community after Harvey Milk’s assassination, and what gay culture, gay ancestry, and activism truly mean to him. He shares his story so that the next generations can learn the stories and have role models that he didn’t have access to growing up.