Legacy of Voices is an oral history project created in 2008 by Lara Spotts and Brian O’Donnell, inspired by their realization that to better understand their own lives, they could turn to LGBTQ+ community members who had gone before them. From 2008-2012, Lara and Brian recorded interviews with gay and lesbian elders over age 70 in New York, Pennsylvania, and Montreal. Hearing the stories of these elders with their passions and beliefs, failures and successes, and reflections moved Brian and Lara deeply, and helped them chart their own paths forward. Meanwhile, the actual interview tapes sat in a box in Brian’s closet for over a decade, until Brian discovered OUTWORDS—a unique opportunity for these remarkable, nearly-lost stories to be seen, heard, studied, and celebrated by queer people and allies around the globe. OUTWORDS thanks Lara Spotts and Brian O’Donnell for their visionary work, and for donating thirteen Legacy of Voices interviews to OUTWORDS.
Roman Bachli was born in Switzerland in 1933. At age 12, Roman learned about homosexuality from the Catholic priests who told him and his peers what a terrible sin it was. Roman spent the year he was 19 living in Brussels to become fluent in French, where he had to share a bed with his roommate Manfred. Nothing ever happened between them, but when Manfred had to leave abruptly one day, Roman felt heartbroken and realized, “Oh my God, I’m in love with my roommate.”
Roman went from Brussels into the Swiss army for several years, then to London at age 22 to become fluent in English. He went to Speakers’ Corner at Marble Arch, where crowds of men huddled together to watch the speakers, and the close contact and movement gave Roman an orgasm. He kept coming back, and eventually went home with a guy from the crowd. Roman remarked to his companion that he’d soon be back in Switzerland “where this doesn’t exist.” The guy replied that he’d had a lovely time with the gay people in Zurich just the summer before. Back in Zurich, Roman saw what his comrade had been talking about: where he’d never noticed anything on the streets before, now “every 10 steps” Roman was catching another guy’s eye.
Seeking a “cure” for his homosexuality, Roman went to a psychiatrist, who said she could help Roman accept himself the way he was, that it wasn’t the end of the world to be gay. The novel perspective helped Roman enormously, though he was still “living a life of lies” with his parents at dinner every night. When Roman’s job at the Louis Dreyfus Company transferred him to New York, he was relieved; now he wouldn’t have to lie as much. He began a series of short-lived romantic relationships, until May 13, 1967, when Frederick Hueppe followed Roman from the Met Museum to a Vietnam protest. They were together for 33 years.
First, though, there were some issues. Frederick was behind on his PhD dissertation and in debt. So Roman bought 20 TV dinners, had Frederick come stay with him, and typed up Frederick’s handwritten notes until the dissertation was complete and submitted. Then Roman said, “Well, you are in debt. You shouldn’t be in debt. Why don’t you stay here and sublet your apartment?” So Frederick did just that, and soon he wasn’t in debt anymore.
After the Stonewall riots of 1969, Roman noticed that journalistic coverage of homosexuality was shifting. Where homosexuality used to be relegated in the press to crime reports, now the coverage was more common and more positive. Gay parades were popping up around the country. Roman’s colleagues adored Frederick and supported their relationship. Slowly, Roman stopped lying.
In 1997, Roman’s beloved Frederick suffered a stroke at the age of 63 and became a wheelchair user, but he was lucid up until his death seven years later. He considered some other potential partners, but then he would compare them to Frederick and think, “oh my God, what a huge step down that would be.” In his 2008 interview, Roman felt positive about the recent sanctioning of same sex marriage in California, but added that it was “gonna be fought. It goes back and forth, but I think we are heading in the right direction.”