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ABilly Jones-Hennin was born in 1942 on St. John’s, Antigua and adopted at age three by civil rights activists with nine other adopted kids.  After growing up in South Carolina and Virginia, ABilly served in the US Marine Corps, and graduated from Virginia State University in 1967.

Early on, ABilly knew he was attracted to men, but he took his father’s advice (who later turned out to be bisexual), got married, and had three kids. After seven years, he and his wife separated. By this point, Billy was living in Minneapolis. That’s where his LGBTQ activism got started. By nature an inquisitive person, ABilly began questioning his identity as a gay man as well as the entire experience of being both a sexual and a racial minority. Migrating to Washington DC, ABilly began identifying as bisexual, and swung his activism in that direction.

In 1978, ABilly helped launch the National Coalition of Black Gays (NCBG) in Columbia, Maryland, the first national advocacy organization for African American gay men and lesbians. A year later, ABilly helped to mobilize the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights – and that same historic weekend, helped to convene the National Third World LGBT Conference at Howard University, which gave rise to Howard University's Lambda Student Alliance, the first openly LGBT organization at an HBCU. 

Over the subsequent decades, ABilly has taken on countless other leadership roles within the black and LGBTQ movements including minority affairs director of the National AIDS Network, founding member and co-chair of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, board member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (today known as The Task Force), and board member of BiNet USA. Along the way, ABilly found time to earn his master’s degree in social work at Howard University.

Between the two of them, ABilly and Cris, his partner of 39 years, have five children, nine grandchildren, and six great grandkids. They welcomed OUTWORDS into their Washington DC home in August 2016, on our first major East Coast interview swing. Dealing with some major back issues, ABilly moved in gingerly fashion – but his hospitality was deep, warm, and genuine. He and Cris promptly invited our interview team to visit them at their winter home in Quintana Roo, Mexico. We’re still trying to make that happen!
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] Do me a favor. Start off by telling me your first and last names, your whole name and spell it out for me.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Okay. ABilly S. Jones-Hennin. A-B-I-L-L-Y the initial S, then Jones J-O-N-E-S hyphen H-E-N-N-I-N.
Mason Funk: All right. Out of curiosity, how did you come by your name?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:00:30] The last name is the easiest because I got married and decided to affix my partner's name as a means of connecting with him. The A actually stood for a name, my godparent's name and I didn't have it in me to drop by godparent's name
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:01:00] because I was afraid they would come out of the grave and slap me. The same with the S. My grandparent's name on my mothers side. In my culture, the boys carry the maiden name of their mother because it's a way of following your roots.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:01:30] I couldn't drop the S either. Actually, S stands for Scott. I do spell that out. That's on my modified birth certificate and all that stuff. That's how I came by my name. Having four names was a lot,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:02:00] so that's why I put the A in there. People were calling me ABilly Jones, anyway. I just dropped the space and the period.
Mason Funk: Got you. Got you. You went from A. Billy Jones to ABilly S. Jones-Hennin.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Jones-Hennin, yeah. The S was always there. People that knew it would often say the entire name and still do. I can tell ...
Mason Funk: [00:02:30] Go ahead.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: It helps me to know ...
Kate Kunath: Hold on one second.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Was I poking on that?
Kate Kunath: No, but ... Well ...
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I can't touch the wire, right?
Kate Kunath: You can't touch the wire, so I'm going to get it out of your way.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I'm sorry.
Kate Kunath: It's not your fault. I like you talking with your hands. I just want to make sure that you don't have to bang it. Okay.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: You know I'm going to touch that. I can't go there, but you just know I'm going to touch it. I'm just letting you know.
Mason Funk: [00:03:00] There you go.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: What's under there? What's going on under there?
Mason Funk: [inaudible]
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Yeah. One of the nice things is I can tell how recent I've known people because people I know more recently, they'll say, I like it when they say, "ABilly." My older friends, they know it's ABilly, but they've always called me Billy.
Mason Funk: [00:03:30] Got you.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: There it is.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: At least it's not childhood names like Monkey and Skunk, and Pookie, and stuff like that.
Mason Funk: Right. Tell me about your childhood, though. Tell me about where you grew up, who was in your family, and when you were born.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:04:00] I was born in the year 1942, March 21st, 1942 in St. John's, Antigua. I was adopted. I grew up with five sisters, four brothers that we were all adopted. At various times, they were in and out of my life. I was born in Antigua, West Indies but was adopted
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:04:30] and grew up in South Carolina and Richmond, Virginia where I graduated from high school. I went to Virginia Union University and flunked out after a year even though I graduated with honors from high school. I wasn't quite mature enough for college, but I had a lot of fun that first year. I was like, "My parents are going to kill me,"
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:05:00] so, I attempted to join the Marine Corps. Their slogan at that time was "A few good men." I was like, "Oh, that's for me." I had to have my parent's signature because I was only 17. My parents were pretty much anti-military. I mean, they didn't sanction military.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:05:30] Initially, they were like, "Absolutely not." Then, my father said, "Well, maybe it would be good for him. It'll help him settle down." My mom cried and my dad signed the paper, and off I went into the Marine Corps for 4 years which helped me get through college, actually.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:06:00] I did find a few good men when I was in the Marine Corps. What else am I going to say about my childhood? In terms of my sexuality, I had some ... a few encounters with me. At the time I went to the Marine Corps, it was probably as much with girls as it was with boys.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:06:30] I certainly didn't define myself as gay. In fact, I don't think I even knew the word "gay." I knew the word "homosexual." Everybody said it very clear. I recall my father having the Kinsey study books, reading them. They were very much on the shelf.
Mason Funk: [00:07:00] Hold on.
Kate Kunath: We can hear a radio or something similar.
Mason Funk: You had told us that no one knew you were gay.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: No, you know, within the negative words of punk and I think, you know, faggot, sissy. I don't think faggot so much. It was punk and sissy. I was a distinction between those. Sissy was someone that was flamboyant and strutted around.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:07:30] A punk was usually considered someone that was afraid to fight. They were both considered in a homosexual category, but different meanings there. I'm not sure. Kids made so much distinction, but there was ... adults made the distinction. The girls that were very masculine and known to be relating to other girls
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:08:00] or women relating to other women, mostly women relating to other women, they were considered bull-dykes. I never heard the word "lesbian" until later in life. I learned later in life that my father was bisexual. I've written about it in Recognize:
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:08:30] The Voices of Bisexual that really came out a year ago. My father never told me that. My mother outed my father after his death and said, because I was coming out to her, "Oh, you're just like your dad." It turns out that my dad and my "Uncle George" were lovers.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:09:00] In the black community, any adult had a title. Uncle George and his wife were very close to the family, and my mother just revealed that they were lovers and she knew it. Her response was, "With having to raise 10 kids, I was glad with all the help I could get," and that he had been a good husband and a good father.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:09:30] That was it. I had come out to my dad myself, but I was coming out as a gay man. Again, I didn't use that word. I had trouble coming out to him and I was seeking his advice and counsel because we were close enough that I could do that. I hemmed and hawed, and hemmed and hawed, and finally got it out that, "Well, I like men." He says,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:10:00] "What's the problem?" I said, "I like men." "And?" I said, "I really like men." It just got to the point where I said that, "I was having fantasies. I would like to have sex with men." I didn't tell him I had already, but I think he knew. His counseling was
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:10:30] that I needed to be aware of sexually transmitted disease, I should get married and have kids, and that I should be discreet which was how he managed his life. I did that. I did marry a woman that I love very, very much and still do to this day, the woman who is the mother of my three kids; two adopted and one biological kid.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:11:00] I've gone way past childhood, right? I went to adulthood, sorry. I went through that real quick.
Mason Funk: It's all good stories.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: The part I missed is I was in the Marine Corps. I was talking about the Marine Corps and I was in the Marine Corps for active duty for 4 years and then, active Marine Corps Reserves for 3 years.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:11:30] It got me through college and I enjoyed it. I did learn a lot of discipline and leadership. It wasn't a turn-off, but I had to be discreet about relating to other men because all it would have taken would be for one person to turn you in, and you could be in trouble. In fact, I was turned in at one point.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:12:00] I was grilled, and grilled, and grilled. I think what rescued me is that I had a lover at that time who was the chaplain, a captain, which was also taboo because enlisted men weren't supposed to fraternize with officers. I was an enlisted person. You weren't supposed to fraternize with an officer. I managed to get through as a sergeant E5 by the end of my 7th year in the Marine Corps,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:12:30] but I still shouldn't have been fraternizing with an officer. That was a scary moment because they'll grill, grill, grill you. They want you to identify other people. At the time I was in, it was like an underground, closed community of military personnel who got together and fraternize with each other,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:13:00] and had sex with each other. You had to trust who was there, but at any moment if someone got busted, they could then turn on other people who were there. You often used a false name, but if you were in the same unit with other folks, then it could be risky.
Mason Funk: Talking to me or you want to go back?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: To my childhood.
Mason Funk: [00:13:30] Okay.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Family, I should say. I had an uncle that today, we would call him a transgender person. He was also an alcoholic, a functioning alcoholic during the week. He didn't drink during the week, but on weekends he would get plastered and cross-dress, and strut through the neighborhood.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:14:00] He didn't care. He would just cross-dress, tacky cross-dressing. My dad would try to take all the women's clothes away, so he didn't have any. Somehow, I don't know whether he went to Salvation Army or Goodwill, or wherever, but he would come up with some outfits and some wigs,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:14:30] and heels, the whole shebang and just strut up and down the street. We would be so embarrassed. The kids would be laughing. Here I am, I have a bisexual father and a cross-dresser on weekend, and a closeted down-low bisexual father. What am I supposed to be?
Mason Funk: [00:15:00] I think this was in a small town as well, right?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: No, it was in Richmond.
Mason Funk: Oh, it was Richmond.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Richmond, Virginia. It wasn't that small. It is the capital of Virginia.
Mason Funk: Right. I thought you were in a small town in Richmond.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: No, no. We lived in an affluent neighborhood. At that time, I was growing up in the neighborhood section called Barton Heights of Northside which was middle class, Black African-Americans.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:15:30] Later, the family moved to a section called the West End section and we moved on Lakeview Avenue right in front of the lake, a beautiful lake. We had a KKK cross burned in our front yard. We were one of the first Blacks to move into that neighborhood.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:16:00] I remember my father coming out with a shotgun and firing. He intentionally didn't hit anybody, but it was enough to scare them away. They didn't come back. It was a scary moment.
Mason Funk: Along those lines, what were your perceptions ... We're talking about you were born in '42.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I was born in '42.
Mason Funk: You're growing up a high schooler near the end of segregation.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:16:30] I grew up during the period where the Civil Rights Movement of the '50s was very much active. My parents were very involved in desegregation efforts. Meaning integrating stores in Richmond,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:17:00] VA like Woolworth, Thalhimers, and Miller & Rhoads department stores, as well as integrating the schools, the whole shebang. I was not very good at being passive about this. The first sit-in that I did --
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:17:30] and we'd had all these training -- I was sitting there at the Woolworth counter, and I was doing fine, you know, people were pouring coffee on us, and not serving us, and just mean until this white man spit in my face. I jumped on the counter and kicked him. Off to jail I went. They arrested me and then, they arrested the whole shebang, all of us.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:18:00] My father said, "You know, we have different roles in life. I think you should work behind the scenes." That's how I really learned to become a community organizer -- working behind the scenes with my mom and dad, and learning the ropes and learning the leaderships roles and really learning that
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:18:30] there are different roles for different folks, and not everybody can be on the frontline. At that time, I wasn't in the frontline. I really didn't jump out on the frontline until I came to Washington in the '70s, and this got in my head that there was a need for a Black, what at that point, we used just the term lesbian and gay organization.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:19:00] I put out a call for Blacks to intercede and form a political lesbian and gay organization. That's how the DC and Baltimore Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays got started. In our charter, we had spelled out bisexuals and trans ...
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:19:30] We used the term "transpersons" at that time, not transgender. We used transperson. We were pretty progressive for our era. It's interesting, I mean, I defined myself as gay. I defined myself as straight. What we were taught at that time is that
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:20:00] your sexual orientation is fixed by between the age of 2 and 5. We didn't talk about our sexuality being fluid. The word "fluid" was not there. It was like saying you got to be Black or you got to be white. Heavens forbid it if you say you're something else. It's the same thing. It was like saying you got to be straight or you got to be gay.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:20:30] At the point that I really started embracing and accepting myself as being a same gender-loving person, I decided defining myself as gay, but everybody knew I was married. Everybody knew that I had kids because I dragged them around with me. I met my partner Christopher in a support group for gay
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:21:00] and bisexual men called GAMMA, Gay and Married Men's Association. Even that organization didn't use the word "bisexual." Some of the members did. It took me a while to really think about the term bisexual and whether that really was what I was and what I am. It really did take my friend, Loraine Hutchins to get me to rethink my label.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:21:30] She never lectured or talked to me about it. It was just observing her. She was bisexual from day one, I think. I don't know if she ever identified herself as a lesbian or not. I certainly have gone through the gamut of saying first that I was straight and then, I was pretty much on the down low about my relationship with men,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:22:00] but I was still having a relationship. One, I was married and I remained married for 14 years with 3 kids. I never denied that I was married. I never denied that I was in a relationship with a woman. I never related to another woman until I was divorced, but I did with men. Oh, did I relate to men.
Mason Funk: [00:22:30] Let me ask you this. In this period when you're married, but you're also having a relationship with men, was this an open thing within your marriage?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: It depends on how you define "open." My former wife knew I was relating to men,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:23:00] if that's what you mean, yes. I was out to her. I'd come out. My real coming out was in Minneapolis, Minnesota when I fell in love with a man. He did not want to have anything to do with destroying my marriage, so he moved to Key West, Florida, of all places. She had met him.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:23:30] We'd have him over for dinner. When he left, I was depressed. I was not happy. She picked up that something, you know, that this was about Tom and started asking me various questions and got to the question, "Do you love him?" I think it came down to, "Are you missing him?"
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:24:00] Then, "Do you love him?" What man goes through depression over another man unless you're in-love? Something emotionally is going on. [inaudible] was my brother, my dad, or somebody that was of relevance. I could've lied then, I guess, but I chose not to. We had and still have that kind of relationship where we didn't lie to each other much. I shouldn't say totally. I've told her some lies.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:24:30] I chose to be upfront about it and we both cried about it. We both agreed to work, remain in the relationship with each other, and we did and to work through it. The result was my getting very active with GAMMA and becoming one of the founding members of The Gay and Married Men Association.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:25:00] I became very active with gay fathers. I started finding groups that I could identify with. I became very active with political groups when we were living in the Bay Area. I became very active with Stonewall group and with Alice B. Toklas, all three of them, all the political groups there.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:25:30] I stopped calling myself straight and started saying I was gay because that's what they knew. At that time, I didn't know any bisexual organizations. I rarely found someone that said they were bisexual. If I would say I was bisexual or encountered someone else who was bold enough to say, "I'm bisexual," We get shot down.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:26:00] Even now, you get put down by the lesbian and gay community as much as you get put down by the straight community. Clich, "Oh, you want your cake and eat it, too?" Now I say, "Yeah, actually I do." It's been a journey.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:26:30] While I feel like I have made a contribution to the LGBTQ community, at this point in my life, I am most strongly identify myself as a bisexual activist. I feel more empowered to put myself out as a bisexual without having to apologize for it, without feeling ashamed or embarrassed about it, without being closeted about it.
Mason Funk: [00:27:00] Just one second. Are you hearing that? I was hearing something like a radio or a person speaking, or something like that. No?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Might be outside.
Mason Funk: You were hearing it?
Kate Kunath: Is it music or guitar?
Mason Funk: No, it was like a voice. It was like voices.
Kate Kunath: I heard one voice maybe right before you ... It might've someone in the walkway.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:27:30] You know what it might be? There's a stop light there and the car stops, and sometimes people have their windows down with the car. Sorry.
Mason Funk: We're good. Tell me about this organization, Gay and Married ... What was it? GAMMA?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: GAMMA. I tend to say Gay/Bi+ Married Men Association. It's an organization for ...
Mason Funk: [00:28:00] We'll ask you a question specifically about it. When you were in this organization GAMMA or GAMUT ...
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: GAMMA.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Like the Greek letter, gamma.
Mason Funk: Got you. The reason I stop on this because I have a friend of mine who a few years ago, he had been married for many, many years and he was completely gay friendly and he was married to a woman. Then, out of the blue, he just came out.
Mason Funk: [00:28:30] He tried to stay in his marriage and he tried to convince his wife to be in what he was calling at that time a mixed orientation marriage where he was essentially gay and she was heterosexual. I guess I just wonder, when you were a married ... when you were more or less out as gay, but married, I just want to hear more about what that was like.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: It was difficult.
Mason Funk: [00:29:00] When you say it was difficult, tell me what you're talking about.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: There was GAMMA and there was also GAMMA Wives. These are women who were in relationships to men who were suddenly defining themselves as gay or bisexual. There were all sorts of arrangements
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:29:30] where some men had been upfront with their wives prior to marriage. Some had come out afterwards and selected to remain in the marriage for various reasons, often because of the kids. Sometimes, we have friends who are bisexual, they are still married to their wives and remain committed, but also see themselves as bisexual and open to relationship with men.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:30:00] Their wives know about it. They're not being secretive about it. There are some men who remain married, but also on a down-low and closeted about the fact that they're in a relationship with a man or would like to be. There are all sorts ... many number of issues. There are some men who know they have an attraction to men,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:30:30] but choose not to act on it. They're afraid to act on it. Afraid because they love their wives and their kids, and they don't want to lose that bond. It's the same, I guess, with lesbians and gays. There are all sorts of scenarios. There's no one model.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:31:00] There's no one lifestyle. I always laugh when somebody talk about the gay and lesbian lifestyle. There's no such thing as one lifestyle. What lifestyle are you talking about? My lifestyle is very different than your lifestyle or anybody else's lifestyle. My lifestyle is not the same as my neighbor's. We may have something in common, but that's not my lifestyle. I forgot where I was going.
Mason Funk: [00:31:30] Yeah, that was good. Mainly, what you're saying was it was not easy being ...
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: It was not. In my case, it was difficult because my former wife and really tried to make it work without going through divorce. That wasn't fair to her because once I decided I was attracted to men, I started acting on it
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:32:00] which wasn't fair to her because we were still in a committed marriage and we had married until death do us part which I was willing to stay married, but it's still wasn't fair to her. Eventually, she started dating. When she met someone that she was willing to make a commitment to, then we went for an amicable divorce
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:32:30] and had joint custody of the kids and moved on. We're still very, very good friends as is my partner with his former wife. They're very, very good friends. It worked out. We stayed connected. I think a lot of it was because of the kids that we remain connected.
Mason Funk: How did your kids adjust? How old were they when all of these started to happen and how did they adjust to these changing ... ?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:33:00] My kids were very young at that time. They didn't really ...
Mason Funk: Could you say, "At that time ... "
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: At that time ...
Mason Funk: You start fresh.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I'm trying to think, five, six, seven.
Mason Funk: Start by saying, "My kids were very young at the time that ... "
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: My kids were very young, around the age of five, six, or seven.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:33:30] I did sit down with them and tried to explain my situation. Later on in life, I learned that my kids, when I used the word "gay" they thought I was just happy. It took a while before they figured it out, but they grew up with me and Chris with them. Two of my three kids like Chris a lot,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:34:00] and embrace him as a stepfather. My biological daughter, not so much. She's very close to me, but keeps her distance from my partner, Chris, which is unfortunate. She's cordial, polite. Always the polite one, but she's definitely not as endearing to him.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:34:30] It's just little subtle things that she does not do that lets you know that. I think a part of it is she seems to think that Chris is the reason for her mother and dad being divorced which is furthest from the truth,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:35:00] I think. I'm not sure because she's never said why.
Mason Funk: Do you think the fact that you and Chris are an interracial couple could have something to do with it?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I don't think that's the case with her. I do not ...
Mason Funk: Just one second. Let me move that for you. Can you see the house [inaudible]?
Kate Kunath: [00:35:30] Yeah, yeah, yeah. There you go.
Mason Funk: Thank you.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Hey. [inaudible]. Have a good one.
Mason Funk: One thing that would be helpful, just let me interrupt for a second. When I ask you a question, see if you can fold the question into your answer.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Yeah, I'll try.
Mason Funk: If I say like interracial relationships, see if you can weave that into your answer.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Okay, I will. I would try to do that.
Mason Funk: [00:36:00] Yeah.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: While many of my friends and associates had trouble with my being in an interracial relationship, I don't feel that that was the case with my kids, having trouble with it being interracial.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:36:30] Some of my closest friends have said, "Couldn't you have found a black man?" "Yeah, I could've, but you don't know where the heart is going to lead you." The truth be told, if we talk about preference, my preference would've been to have had, in terms of a male relationship, would've been in a relationship with a Black man.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:37:00] I had affairs with Black men, but it just didn't turn out that that was the one. Chris turned out to be the one. We just clicked and had enough in common, and enough differences that we've been able to be together for 38 years so far. It worked for us.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:37:30] There are, even within the LGBTQ community, people who don't like the fact that I'm in an interracial relationship and I get more grief from Black gays and lesbians than I do the white community. It's not that it's not there with the white community. I just don't hear it expressed as much.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:38:00] What I hear among Blacks is they're pretty blatant about expressing their disdain or not liking it. I was like, it is what it is.
Mason Funk: What is it that they don't like about it, your black brothers and friends? If you can start by saying like, "In terms of my black brothers ... "
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:38:30] A lot of Blacks, like whites, feels like you should be in a relationship with those like you and they don't understand why. Many see you sleeping with the enemy. They see an imbalance of power.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:39:00] They make assumptions about where the power might or might not lie. It's a trust issue. They don't trust whites, that if they had a bad experience with a white relationship, that gets transferred to you. Not just me, others also. Because of that, I became very involved with
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:39:30] the National Association of Black and White Men Together. At one point, I was co-chair of that organization as well as executive director of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays. I've done the whole board. I've been there, done that. Clearly, that was a motivation factor. Also, there's this assumption because you relate in an interracial relationship
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:40:00] that you only like white men which is not the case. There are some that that's the case, but that's not the only case because I've been in relationships with Asian men and Native American, Latino men as well as African Americans and West Indians,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:40:30] and the whole shebang, some white, yeah. It's also that assumption that if you like men, then you hate women or don't like women. In my experiences, gay men probably love women more than straight men do in a different kind of way without the sexual connotation. A lot of women like gay men
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:41:00] because they don't feel the pressure that the guy is trying to put a move on. For that reason, a number of their friends happen to be gay men for that same reason. Most of the friends that Chris and I have happen to be women. I like the energy of women, the presence of a woman.
Mason Funk: [00:41:30] Yeah. You and Chris, you've been kind of bucking the tide in a couple of ways. First, you're an African American man in a relationship with a white man, and then you're also bisexual. Have you've chosen or been forced to kind of like go against the grain in a number of ways.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:42:00] While I am against the grain and Chris and I are together against the grain, we've never been forced to be against the grain. It's just we decide. We just look up and he's like, "Oh, we're a little bit different." It's like being in this neighborhood, we were the first open bisexuals. Of course, the community saw us as a gay couple.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:42:30] Anybody that got lost and look like they were a gay or lesbian, they would send them to our house. We've met most of the gay people in the neighborhood because the neighbors send them to us. We're like, "Oh, we didn't know that." We never set out to be different. We don't see ourselves as different.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:43:00] We're just ourselves. We don't pretend otherwise. I think one goes through a period of not being totally out. I think it's hard to be totally out always. There are always situations that I think that you decide, that most of us decide,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:43:30] "Is this a safe environment for me to say that I'm bisexual?" You weigh the odds of doing it. You have to work through the fear of knowing that you will probably be put down. You have to decide how much education you wish to do or how much energy you have.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:44:00] The biggest commitment that I have right now to myself is that I will not lie or deny that I'm bisexual. I don't walk into the room and say, "Hi. My name is ABilly and I'm bisexual." I don't have to do that, you know? It's just ...
Mason Funk: [00:44:30] Why is it important to you to identify either inwardly or to anybody else yourself as bisexual? Why is that important to you?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I feel being visible is important. I feel just saying that I'm bisexual ... What I have experienced, let me put ... I have experienced that when I identify ...
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:45:00] Let's say if I'm invited some place or if I have a chance to speak on this in appropriate audience, and I identify myself as bisexual, invariably, some youth will come to me and say, "Thank you. I identify as bisexual, too." Not necessarily the youth, but especially the youth, but even in older persons. I'm often thanked, but quietly,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:45:30] so that person is still not quite strong enough to come out, but they are grateful that somebody [inaudible]. Sometimes, just by me saying bisexual, other people will follow suit and identify themselves as bisexual. Saying you're a bisexual can mean so many different things. It doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. Sometimes,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:46:00] people interpret that if I say I'm bisexual, then I must be in three-ways. When you say you're bisexual, but you're in a relationship with a man, how can you be bisexual? The truth is, I could've easily chosen to define myself as gay, but I'm choosing not to. I choose not to one, because I had a history of having been married to a woman and since then,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:46:30] that we're divorced I had a number of female relationships. I have sexual fantasies that include women. I also feel that if something happens to Chris, if he transitions, if he dies, my next relationship could end up being with a woman. Who knows?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:47:00] I'm not closed to that possibility. I'm open to that possibility. The fact that my sexual orientation is fluid, it's very different than my racial ethnic identity which is fixed. I can't change that. It's very much like my religion. If I wanted to change denomination or change faith, I mean, I'm Protestant now but I could be Catholic.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:47:30] I could become a Muslim. I could even become Jewish. I could become whatever. When people talk about my sexual orientation being a choice, I can't deny it. I'm just like, "Yeah." When the religious people, I'm putting out that I'm [inaudible] and so is your religion. Get a grip.
Mason Funk: [00:48:00] Yeah. I have to admit and I am ... As someone who, you know, as I was saying to Loraine, I grew up in this obviously heteronormative world and then, I had to fight really, really hard to claim a space where it was okay to be gay. Then, I became probably one of those people who's like, "No, no, no. Don't tell me that I might be attracted to women. That's too confusing to me." I don't even know if I closed off these possibilities for myself,
Mason Funk: [00:48:30] but from where I sit right now, it's so intriguing to imagine that you could be attracted to a man or a woman depending on the person and depending on the circumstances. It's just so outside of my and probably of many people's experience.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I think it is. I think we live in a world again, that I think it says you have to choose and it doesn't allow you to be fluid.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:49:00] It doesn't allow you to love people regardless of the gender. It's the person. What is it that I love? Is it the penis? Is it the vagina? I mean, that's a part of it, but it's the person as a whole person that
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:49:30] I have the capacity to love. I'm meeting with a woman tomorrow again that I'm madly in-love with and she's madly in-love with me and we talk, and we like, "Oh, we better not go there." We can acknowledge it. We don't have to act on it. It's like,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:50:00] is it about making my heart go thump, thump, thump or is it about making my penis go up, up, up? At 74 years old, it's more about making my heart go thump, thump, thump. [inaudible] the penis goes up, up, up and I say, "Woah!"
Mason Funk: With this woman, there's a sense of just connection?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:50:30] It's a chemistry, I think. It's a connection. It's about we have a lot in common, but then, we're attracted to each other's differences in much the way I am with Chris. You know what I mean? What keeps Chris and I together as this gender-loving couple is that we have enough differences and enough in common that it keeps us intrigued.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:51:00] We get each other. We use that expression sometimes, "Oh, baby. You get me, don't you?" You know what I mean? I know him. After 38 years, you'd know each other. I know, I cannot send him downstairs to get me a shirt. First of all, he wouldn't be able to find it. He was able to find this
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:51:30] because I was able to be very specific, exactly where it was and what color it was, but don't go in the shirt closet.
Mason Funk: Okay, go ahead.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I wanted to mention HIV because I think any interview right now, you have to talk about HIV/AIDS ... Well, I feel like I have to talk about HIV,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:52:00] and that is just to say it's there by the higher power that my partner and I managed to be still alive. We lost so, so many friends and associates to HIV/AIDS and it is a miracle that we're alive especially on my part. If bushes, and bathrooms,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:52:30] and bathhouses, and streets, and bookstores could talk, my name is probably out there with them like, "Oh, yeah. I remember that guy." Yet, it was just the luck of the draw for many of us who did not get infected. Yet,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:53:00] it saddens to see so many folks that we've lost. It's also sad for me to ... It still raises its ...
Mason Funk: Sorry. What is that?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: You know what that is? Next door, the construction.
Mason Funk: Okay. Let's just keep going.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I get very upset when bisexuals are deemed responsible for the transmission of HIV to women
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:53:30] which is not true. I mean, there's absolutely no research that proves this. It is upsetting. My experience has been that for men who define themselves as bisexuals
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:54:00] and are open about it are definitely going to protect themselves and are going to protect their partner, and are going to protect their female partner as well as their male partner. That's important.
Mason Funk: Has that always been the case or I mean ... ?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I would say that there had been a period when,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:54:30] especially before you could test for HIV which I think was 1985, before you could test for it or was '85 the year that AZT came up, or maybe they both kind of happened at the same time. I don't know. I can't remember now. There are some men who are careless and throw up precaution to the wind.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:55:00] That's more likely to happen with men who are on the down-low, who are closeted, and not using precaution. I think in general, that's not the case and you cannot just bluntly say that bisexual men are the cause of HIV infection among women.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:5530] We know that the majority of women who are infected are infected through sharing needles or in relationships with heterosexual men who may be infected themselves. There are any number of ways that women themselves get infected.
Mason Funk: This sounds like this is ... The fact that you brought it up, it sounds like it's maybe one of the things, one of the smears or one of the accusations that maybe for you personally or for the bi community, or the lesbian the most.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:56:00] It is. It's like a smear campaign. It's an issue for me because I've worked for years in the HIV-AIDS community. I used to be associate director of AIDS Education Programs at Whitman-Walker Clinic which is now Whitman-Walker Health.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:56:30] I have to learn to say that. I also get concerned that in this day and time, that gay men and bisexual men are not protecting themselves as well as not protecting others.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:57:00] I don't feel it's the lack of information so much as it is the willingness to take risks like barebacking, you know, consciously deciding that that's what you want to do. I also think we have to continue education and it's money ... It's switching from education. In the district, it used to be education, education, education. Now, it's less of that. I'm seeing that happen in other cities.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:57:30] It's more around testing, testing, testing. Well, what happened to education, education, education? You have to keep it up. I feel that to the same extent that companies know how effective ads can be for what length of time before they have to come up with a new tagline to be effective and to maintain the attention of potential buyers.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:58:00] We have to do that same strategy in terms of education messages. If we don't do that, it's not going to work. We need to have more positive messages about bisexuals and HIV-AIDS. What we do is we lump ... We say gay and bisexual men. Come on. We need to talk about, we need to acknowledge men who are on the down-low and men who are closeted, men who identify as bisexual.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:58:30] You don't have to even use those labels. Men who like women, okay? Men who have sex with women. You can forget the labels. Men who have sex with women and men. Okay? That's my little spiel about HIV. That's my story and my sticking with it.
Mason Funk: [00:59:00] The old down-low phenomenon, do you think it's ... especially the myth or the whatever, the traditional clichs and it's much more common among African-American men, do you think that's true?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: No. I think it's pure bullshit.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I think the down-low phenomenon is just as common among white as it is among Latino, as it is among Asian, as it is among American Indians. I mean,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [00:59:30] no, I don't. I just don't buy it and I don't feel that the research does either, and I feel that the Black community has been stigmatized by it. We need to stop it. We need to point it out when it happens. Come on, white gay men have been on the down-low forever. Come on.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:00:00] We just put a label to it. That's the truth. I don't think it's any more common among ... There used to be people saying that bisexuality is more prevalent in the black community than it is in the white community. I don't know if that's true. I don't think so.
Mason Funk: Yeah, there's so many of these notions floating around out there and I think people very rarely take the time to say,
Mason Funk: [01:00:30] "Is this actually true?" People are comfortable with like, "Oh, yeah. This is ... Oh, yeah."
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: When we do research, we set out to prove a false theory. I'm going to prove that it's more prevalent among blacks by interviewing nobody but blacks. All these black ... Hello?
Mason Funk: [01:01:00] It's not good research, so to speak. Let me ask you for a minute about Chris. How did you guys actually meet?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: We met through GAMMA.
Mason Funk: Oh, that's right.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Actually, he says that he called. I didn't put this in my profile. I started a counseling organization called Growth and Support for Alternative Lifestyle. There were 3 of us. I was the CEO. It was way ahead of its time.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:01:30] It did exactly what the title says, growth and support for alternative lifestyle. Its primary clientele were people in nontraditional relationships. Pansexual and poly relationships, gay relationships, married and one person comes out,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:02:00] children who were lesbian, gay, bisexual or a parent was lesbian, gay, or bisexual; swingers; those are the kind of clients we were getting who were often in crisis and trying to figure out how to make the relationship work or how to come out -- which is also how I ended up running the hotline.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:02:30] It wasn't really the hotline, well, I guess it was the hotline/information for GAMMA as well as the gay fathers and a number of different organizations and Christopher called. To clarify if GAMMA, was for guys who were married to guys or guys married to women. Well, he was ahead of his time because marriage equity was not in at that time. He had just come back from a project
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:03:00] he was running in Mexico. He was trying to get acclimated back to the American culture like, "What is it?" Prior to that, he had been living in Brazil. He's like, "What are these Americans doing?" That's how we met.
Mason Funk: He called because he was trying to ... ?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: He was interested, but was just trying to clarify what is date married men and then,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:03:30] he went to a meeting and I went to a meeting. We both showed up with a different man. He was in the arms of another man and I had another man in my arm. We were flirting across from each other because the other two men couldn't see us flirting. Unfortunately, the guy that I was with who had been a previous lover of mine in California, we went up to Pride in June.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:04:00] When I left him, the following weekend, he committed suicide. He was one of these guys that always played with a fixation of seeing how close he could get to death, and then he would hang himself and do all sorts of stuff which was the reason we broke up. I was like, "I can't deal with this." I'm not untying you one more time.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:04:30] Sure enough, his sister called me and said, "Well, this time he did it."Back to Christopher, we met and then, we ended up on a project together to plan for a retreat. We met in June, but we didn't consummate the lust and the desire until October.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:05:00] We celebrate our anniversary between June and October. We're still celebrating. It was like, when did the relationship start? He says, with the telephone call. I said, "But I didn't see you. I didn't even know who you were. It was an anonymous call." "I don't care." He says he fell in love with my voice. Okay.
Mason Funk: [01:0530] Okay, you can both have your own story.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Yeah, and we do.
Mason Funk: Kate, do you have any questions on your mind?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: How about religion?
Mason Funk: Pardon me?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Religion.
Mason Funk: Sure.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: The hell and damnation of the church that I was going through as a kid was a barrier to me being okay
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:06:00] about relating to men. It was definitely powerful in the black church. Every now and then, the minister would get on a Soapbox Opera. My transition happened ... I had an interesting transition.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:06:30] For some reason, I was always attracted to men of faith, not just men of faith, ministers. In the neighborhood that we lived in, there was a minister on our left and then, there was an Episcopal priest on our right. There's a minister across the street and there was a minister on the corner. I'm surrounded by them.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:07:00] The Episcopal priest seduced me, I think. I may have seduced him.I was one of these kids that was pretty rambunctious and I always was attracted to older men. I was constantly ...
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:07:30] I remember bouncing up and down on one of my uncle's lap. My uncle's trying to keep me on his knee and I'm trying to get closer. I heard him say, "Something is not right with that boy." I think I mentioned that even in the military, the reason I didn't get kicked out is because I was related to the chaplain.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:08:00] Yet, this hell and damnation sermon was clearly a barrier there. Yet, I knew from experience that these ministers were doing what their sermon says what's going to send us to hell. I was going in my head, "Are they going to be in hell, too?"
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:08:30] What got me through it was I read Troy Perry of MCC's book, The Lord is My Shepherd and He Knows I'm Gay. That book allowed me to just drop and get rid of all these hell and damnations, and not buy into it.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:09:00] I had become Episcopalian because I love all the rituals, let's be honest. The smell was wonderful. I became Episcopalian. I ended up becoming active with Integrity while I lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, my coming out city.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:09:30] That's my faith, so I led it. At some point, I just came to a decision that God loves me regardless of who I am. If I'm attracted to men, I'm attracted to men. If I'm attracted to women, I'm attracted to women. It's okay. I'm fine. I'm a good person. I have to come to the conclusion that
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:10:00] I am a good, decent person. I'm not perfect, but I'm a good, decent person.
Mason Funk: We interviewed somebody else, we've interviewed various people of faith, actually, sometime without me even knowing that these were people of faith until I sat down. Do you think that God created you as you are, to be exactly who you are? Do you think God is just kind of like, "I don't really care what you do sexually, just as long as you're a good person."?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:10:30] I believe that God allows us to make choices and as long as I'm making choices that decent choices, God's satisfied regardless of how we think of a higher power.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:11:00] I could be Muslim or whatever, but I do believe that God gives us the power to make decisions, "Look at me, I'm going up to heaven." I do believe that God gives us the power to make decisions and it's up to us. I don't know that He ...
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:11:30] I do believe that He creates us and to some extent, equal but we grew up in different cultures, different environments, and we have different experiences. I feel very blessed to have been born in the era that I've been born and I've been here for 74 years, and to see an African-American president
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:12:00] and to see the progress we've made, and Civil Rights as it relates to LGBTQ people as well as ethnic folks and now, we have a Democratic nominee female. It's also scary that we seem to take two steps forward and one step backwards.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:12:30] It feels like we have to keep fighting to struggle, but I believe that a Higher Power maybe sets this up for us to be challenged of the world, that to the same extent that I'm not perfect, nor is my country perfect, nor is the world perfect. What I haven't figured out is why the Higher Power sets up situations that people are killed in masse.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:13:00] I get angry with the Higher Power. I think that's okay, too, for me to get angry with the Higher Power for some time. Sometimes, I like to think that there ... I know people think of one God, but sometimes, the only way I can justify it is that there has to be more than one God. They're at odds with each other. Maybe that's why we create the devil, the bad angel, the good angel.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:13:30] Maybe the Romans and Greeks had a point. Maybe there's a sun god and a love goddess. Who knows? I do feel blessed to be born at the time and the place that I am. It's very fortunate. I can't imagine myself being born during slavery time and being beaten
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:14:00] and tortured or being in Sudan right now or Kenya. How did I get there?
Mason Funk: Let me ask Kate again if she has some questions [inaudible] on your time?
Kate Kunath: What I want to hear about is his experience at Starlight Lounge when he went there.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I can't hear Kate.
Mason Funk: Your experience at the Starlight Lounge.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: My experience is just party, party, party.
Mason Funk: [01:14:30] Talk to me here.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Okay, I'm sorry.
Mason Funk: It's okay.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I think my experience not just at Starlight Lounge, but so many clubs and bars, I was younger so, during my younger days, maybe I could party, party, party, party, party, party
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:15:00] and I love to dance. It's one of the things right now because of my back problem that I'm not able to do that I regret the most. So many good, good clubs are gone even here in DC. There were good clubs at that time. I'm not sure there would be good clubs today, I should say that. A big part of clubs closing
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:15:30] like the Starlight is just being able to financially for the owners to keep them together or the owners die, the communities change. Look at Castro. It doesn't look like Castro anymore. It's like, "What the hell happened?" I love the Bay Area and now, it's like [inaudible]. It doesn't feel like the LGBTQ community,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:16:00] it doesn't feel like we have set ... I know it's still defined as the LGBTQ community but it doesn't feel the same.
Mason Funk: Let's talk about that. I think anytime you came down, we're talking to Loraine earlier about culture, like bi-culture and what gets ... We all know with increasing assimilation and integration, culture gets lost. Things get lost.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Or changed.
Mason Funk: [01:16:30] Changed.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Not lost.
Mason Funk: Looking back, some people may say ... some people may look back on the so-called good old days when we had more fight, when we had more to gain and more to lose. What are your thoughts on that? [inaudible] seems permanently behind this.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:17:00] I'll tell you what galls me. I don't enjoy Pride events anymore because they're too commercial. They're just for me is not fun. I like them when they were grass root and you didn't have politicians riding in their cars or that you didn't have vendors that could care less about us. They paid their fees and make big money.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:17:30] They just see it as an opportunity for money. Of course, the LGBTQ organizations see it as an opportunity for money, but that wasn't what it was about initially. It was about bringing us together and celebrating as a culture. The grass rootness of events like Pride and even conferences.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:18:00] On the East Coast, we used to have the Southeast Conferences that were grass roots and people would do workshops. People came together. They were fun, fun, fun, fun and you met people. Now, any kind of conference you organize is just commercialized. The last Gay Men's Health Conference that I went to, for example which was here in DC, I don't know if there's been one since.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:18:30] There may have been, but even that was just like commercialized. I was like, "Oh! Where is Eric Rofes when we need him?" I don't know if I answered the question or not, but ...
Mason Funk: Yeah, you're definitely answering the question.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: It will never be the same again because times have changed. Welcome to the millennia, you know,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:19:00] how people do stuff. I tell you the difference in organizing. In the '70s, when I was just ... I won't even go back before the '70s, but in organizing events, conferences, and meetings for LGBTQ organizations the way we did it is we send out snail mail
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:19:30] which is unheard of almost today. We made phone calls and we put flyers up in various places. It was by word of mouth. If you had a meeting, you announce when the next meeting would be and people would write it down and remember. That's how we organized. That's how the first March on Washington in 1979
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:20:00] in which I was one of the national logistics coordinators, that's how we organized. We did not have cell phones. There was no texting. There was no social media. Yet, people got the message and came together. We'll never go back to that.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:20:30] It was a different kind of enthusiasm and delight. You just felt wonderful. You just beamed. I remember during the 1979 conference, The Washington Post grossly under reported how many people were there and one of the logistics coordinator with us was Roze Dixon. She said, "Well, you know, we sit closer together,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:21:00] so they didn't see all of us." She was right. She was right. The National Coalition of Black Lesbian and Gays organized the first People of Color Conference. It's called the Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference in 1979 in conjunction with the March on Washington. We attracted 300 people
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:21:30] which for us was a big deal getting a little over 300 people. People of color, you know, having Native Americans and Asian, Latinos, and black, LGBTQ people and Audre Lorde was our keynote speaker. At that time, I had no clue of who she was. Thank goodness, the women on our board knew who she was. It was wonderful.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:22:00] We did a spontaneous march down from Howard University right down 7th Street, right through the Black neighborhood and then into the Asian. People just ... We had no permit. We knew to stay on the sidewalk. People just waved and smiled. They were amused.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:22:30] It was like, "Lord, have mercy." The next time we did something like that was the ... What was the [inaudible] thing? How many black men?
Mason Funk: A million.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: A million Men March. Thank you. A little more than a hundred gay/Bi men, right?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: A Million Black Men. A similar thing happened. It was a group of gay and bisexual men
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:23:00] who gathered together at Carnegie Hall Library and we just marched down. When we got to the main gathering we had no idea how we would be received. It was like the Red Sea opened up. It just opened up and moved, and we just went on through. There was no hostility. Whatever they thought it was, they just ... It was a time for solidarity.
Mason Funk: [01:23:30] Wow. Those are some amazing memories. It makes me ... Not really, but ... I just wasn't very politically active in that era because I could've been there, but I was too young, a little too green, a little too nave to be ...
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: We always get that. Not everyone is wanting to be politically involved. Then, there's some who would like to be in camp.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:24:00] That's why they have us screaming, hollering, and yelling. My days of marching are over, but I definitely am politically involved and I plan to be as long as I live. I'm not going anywhere. I hope I'm not going anywhere. Like I said earlier, my parents were very politically astute and involved,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:24:30] and I hope I'm astute and I definitely plan to be involved. There are so many issues to be addressed and you pick your issues. You got to figure out how to support it. You know, the expression of "Think global, act local." It's so, so important. You got to do what you can. Send money when you can. Write a letter when you can.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:25:00] If you can't march, at least attend a rally and cheer on the sidelines.
Mason Funk: Yeah. It seems like a lot of, and you witnessed this, I'm sure. In the gay equality movement, traditionally, there were sort of like the people who wanted to just fit in and not really step on anybody's toes, but just being able to live without getting harassed. Then, there are the people that were always in your face.
Mason Funk: [01:2530] It seems like in so many Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, so many Civil Rights movements have kind of hung on this kind of fulcrum between the people who wanted to work within the system and the people who wanted to upend the system. You've seen so much of this. I wonder what your perspective is on these two, sometimes opposing forces.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I don't see them as opposing. I think you have to have both.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:26:00] I think having them both is important. W.E.B Du Bois versus Booker T. Washington or Frederick Douglass; three different people, three different personalities. Malcolm X versus Martin Luther King versus Stokely Carmichael.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:26:30] People gravitate toward different energy levels and messages. I don't expect people of color, I don't expect the LGBTQ community to be a homogeneous community.
Mason Funk: There's a siren. Hold on. Just hold that thought, "You don't expect ... " but hold on.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:27:00] This is where Loraine's place would've been better because hers is quiet.
Mason Funk: Right. It's been fine, though.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I should've told you, I live right on the corner and not far from the hospital.
Mason Funk: You were saying, "You don't expect ... "
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Yeah, I don't expect the LGBTQ community to be a homogeneous community and I don't expect any other people or the colored community to be homogeneous.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:27:30] I want us to be able to come together when we need to come together. That's the part that's important. What's frustrating right now within the LGBT community is it feels like we're stepping back some. For example, we started off saying, "This is the gay community."
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:28:00] The problem with saying, "It's a gay community," is the media primarily focus on gay men, rarely on lesbians. There was a strong political push to say we have to say, "Gay and lesbian community." The problem with that is there was no recognition of bisexuals and that was our plight. No recognition of transgender people.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:28:30] Still, a struggle for people to say, "queer" or "intersex." I don't care how long the acronym goes and including same gender loving and whatever we needed to do, if that's what it takes for people to feel like their identity is recognized
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:29:00] which is why we have the acronym constantly expanding. There is a push now to collapse it and go back to saying, "the gay community" which I oppose. I totally oppose. I will not be marginalized. I need to be recognized. I need my name called out.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:29:30] Calling my name out is saying that I am Black and I am bisexual. I often will introduce myself as I am West Indian because I was born in Antigua. I will say to people to the same extent that my being West Indian is invisible and unless I tell you, you don't know it.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:30:00] You know I'm Black, but I could've been born in London. What does Black mean? What does white mean? It doesn't tell you my nationality. Unless I confuse my nationality with my ethnicity and I don't like even referring to it as race because anthropologists now recognize that trying to talk about race is virtually impossible.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:30:30] What does that mean? Part of the struggle is allowing people to identify themselves as they wish to identify themselves and it's okay. It's okay. Researchers find it cumbersome, but I think it's important.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:31:00] If they want to put maybe 5 groups together and define them all as bisexuality as the umbrella for this group or Black is the umbrella for this group of people, I can understand that.
Mason Funk: Great. Just a little tapping. It's okay.
Mason Funk: Kate, any other questions from you? Anything on your mind?
Kate Kunath: [01:31:30] No. I mean, we could talk until the 45 minutes is up.
Mason Funk: I have 3 more. I've 3 final questions that I always ask ...
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Always.
Mason Funk: ... from my interviewees. One is, to an 18 or 20 year old who's just gathering or for that matter a 40 year old who's just gathering the courage to kind of step out and essentially raise his or her hand and say, "I'm different."
Mason Funk: [01:32:00] What wisdom or insight might you give that person from your own experience? Please kind of incorporate my questions, so start by saying, "To someone ... "
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: I think for a young person, a middle-aged person, or an elderly person who is feeling like they are different, feeling like they are attracted to the same gender person,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:32:30] or feeling like they're attracted to men and women; embrace it. Embrace it. If you've been struggling with that for a long time, it gets better. It's a movement. It gets better, and better, and better. It's like eating ice cream and experiencing different flavors. My flavor might be rum raisin and yours might be butter pecan.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:33:00] It's okay to be different. If you spend your time fighting against it, you're different; you won't enjoy the moment. It's like stop fighting it. Enjoy it. That's also how you meet the right person by just being you. There's somebody out there like, "Oh, wow." You know?
Mason Funk: [01:33:30] This is not one of my normal, final 3 questions but on the topic of difference, how do you think people who are not very comfortable with their own differences, who have a hard time getting comfortable with the fact that they are different, this is kind of the same thing you already answered, but how can they get more comfortable to someone who's just afraid of his or her own differences?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:34:00] I don't know if the individual can ... When we think about how people can get comfortable with being different, I'm not sure they can do it alone. The nice thing about today's time versus the time period when I grew up, being a child of the '40s and '50s
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:34:30] is that there are a lot more support groups out there. There are a lot more role models out there. Almost every day, I'm reading about some celebrity that is coming out like Diana Ross said, "I'm coming out. I want the world to know." Those role models are there and they are important.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:35:00] Being able to connect with others, I think is important. Being able to read the literature is important. Being willing to take risks, that I think we can't be foolish and put yourself at danger because I am very concerned about the amount of violence that exists in our community
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:35:30] especially among the transgender community. Keeping in mind that when we talk about transgender, we're talking about gender identity and not sexual orientation. Myself, as a bisexual, I recognize that there are transgenders who identify as bisexual, as gay, or as lesbian, or as queer. I don't want people to put themselves at risk and, "I should just jump out there and be crazy with it."
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:36:00] At the same time, find a support group. It's tougher in some communities than others. In the southern states, it's still rough. Rural areas is still rough. There will always be the haters. We do have to be realistic, but you still don't need to be in isolation.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:36:30] One can go online, one can use the social media and being careful who one connects with online. Being careful not to run into bullying online. The media can be vicious also.
Mason Funk: Great. What is your hope for the future?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:37:00] Hope for me is that I want to live to 100, just to see what's going on. Hope for the LGBTQ community, I would like to see it continue to thrive. I'd like to see people as a whole become even more accepting,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:37:30] and that our sexual orientation is not an issue, at least not a big issue. My hope for the future is that we have less bigots, less Trump-like crazy people. Donald Trump, I'm talking about. That's what my hope is.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:38:00] My hope is that we won't have to continue to fight so hard and my hope is also ...
Mason Funk: Sorry. Let's stop for just one second. Okay.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: My hope also is that the B, bisexuals will be more accepted and that we don't get the bi-phobia that we currently get,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:38:30] the put downs and the poo poos that we don't exists; those kinds of comments, the jokes that to the same extent within our own community, we can accept gays and we can accept lesbians, that we can also be accepting of bisexuals and transgenders, and queers.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:39:00] I personally feel that the transgender community catches the blunt of hostility and violence because they are different. They're visible and not hiding for the most part. Wherein, my hope for the future is that those who do identify as bisexuals
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:39:30] not be on the down-low and be willing to just be open about the fact. It doesn't mean that they have to wave a bisexual flag, although that would be nice, at least on Pride Day, but that they would be willing to claim it. There's a lot of education that needs to be done within our community,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:40:00] so that bisexuals themselves recognize themselves like, "Oh, yeah. That's me." I can be in the same gender loving relationship and recognize that if I have a history, if I have a fantasy, and if I have the capacity to love male and/or female, then maybe I can embrace the B for myself.
Mason Funk: [01:40:30] Great. One last question. What do you see is the value of a project like OUTWORDS?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: Gosh, that's a ... I think the value of a project like OUTWORDS is one, for researchers that are looking for information, looking for events,
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:41:00] and trying to trace our history. Two, the fact that people are willing to tell their stories which can resonate with others. Others will see themselves and say, "Ah, there are people out there like me." The other value is that I hope that
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:41:30] it will be an everlasting collection of stories that people can easily access and use as a means, not just researchers, but students also. Anyone that's trying to find themselves, trying to say, "Okay. I'm not the only out here.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:42:00] There really are some bisexual folks out here. There really are some transgender folks out here. There are young ones, and old ones, and middle-aged ones." I think that's the value.
Mason Funk: Great.
Kate Kunath: Can I ask a follow up to that?
Kate Kunath: Why do you feel ... Just on that same thing, why is it important for you to tell your story?
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:42:30] I think it's important for me to tell my story because there needs to be the visibility of black folks and black folks who identify as bisexual, black folks who are my age, in their 70s or 80s or 90s because we come out at various stages, at various ages.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:43:00] To some extent, my story is different, unique but to a greater extent, I think it's similar to others. It's a mix. For example, I was very fortunate. I really have not had a difficult time coming out.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:43:30] I grew up in a family that talked openly about sexuality issues. My older adopted sister was a bubbling lesbian. My parents said she just came out as a lesbian. She was nothing else but a lesbian. My parents embraced her.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:44:00] My struggle with my own recognition that I liked men, that when I came out to my father, he didn't poo poo it. He still loved me and embraced me. I think I was fortunate in that way. I think it's important that people hear stories and recognize
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:44:30] that not everyone had a bad experience with coming out, that you can have a smooth transition. At the same time, it can be tough for some folks to come out. It's not always easy to come out to your family because you don't want your family to abandon you. The fear of loss of family is real.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: [01:45:00] It does happen. That's why I think telling my story is important. It's important for old folks. It's important black folks. It's important for bisexuals. It's important for everybody. Besides, I'm good-looking.
Mason Funk: It doesn't get any better than that.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: It doesn't get any better than me and good-looking. That's it.
Mason Funk: [01:45:30] All right.
ABilly S. Jones-Hennin: All right. Bye-bye.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Kate Kunath
Date: August 05, 2016
Location: Home of ABilly Jones-Hennin, Washington, D.C.