James was born in Chicago on February 26, 1932 where he attended parochial and public schools. His family was devoutly Catholic, hardscrabble and poor. When the Korean War broke out, he joined the Navy to avoid being drafted into the Army. After serving four years in the Korean conflict, Jim enrolled in several colleges through the GI Bill, graduated from Roosevelt University and then earned his Master’s degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Jim taught high school in public schools from 1963 to 1992, covering subjects from English, Spanish and French to math and typing.

About the same time Jim started teaching, he met his partner, Patrick Bova, when he approached him on the street and asked for a light.  They’ve been together ever since. In 1995, they “wed” in an impromptu ceremony at the grave of Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, the first gay servicemember to out himself, in Washington’s Congressional Cemetery.

In 1991, Jim met Miriam Ben-Shalom, one of six founders of the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Veterans of America (GLBVA), now known as American Veterans for Equal Rights. Inspired and prodded by Miriam, Jim decided to start a Chicago chapter of GLBVA. He placed an ad in Chicago’s gay newspaper, the Windy City Times. One veteran responded, and together, they started the chapter. Two years later, in 1993, Jim was arrested in front of the White House while protesting President Clinton’s announcement of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Jim ultimately was elected president of the GLBVA in 1997. That same year, he was inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame. Twenty years later, Jim and Patrick were among the first 15 Illinois same-sex couples to get married.

Today, Jim and Patrick live in a stately vine-covered home in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. When OUTWORDS traveled to interview them in the summer of 2016, they readily offered our two-person team a place to stay. Jim crackles with humor and personality, and loves telling risqué jokes, especially when they’re set in the West and feature horses, cows, and cowboys.
Jim Darby: Okay.
Mason Funk: Thank you for your patience.
Jim Darby: You're welcome.
Mason Funk: Thank you for allowing us to come.
Jim Darby: Oh, you're always welcome. Our house is -
Mason Funk: Please start by just telling me your name. Your first and last names, and spell them for me.
Jim Darby: My name is James Darby, J-A-M-E-S D-A-R-B-Y.
Mason Funk: What do you normally go by?
Jim Darby: I go by Jim or Darby. Most people call me Darby. Except at a family reunion because then there are 40 Darby's in the room, and so everybody turns around when somebody says, "Darby."
Mason Funk: Right, Darby! When I ask you a question, if you could just fold my question into your answer, so if I say, where were you born, you say, I was born in. In this case, why don't you tell me when and where you were born.
Jim Darby: [00:01:00] I was born in Chicago at Cook County hospital, February 26th, 1932.
Mason Funk: You are a Chicagoian heart and soul.
Jim Darby: All my life.
Mason Funk: Tell me what your family. Who are your parents and what was your family like? How big, how small, etc.
Jim Darby: I am number two of five boys. My mother's name was Margaret Schubert and my father's name was John Darby. I have an older brother Jack, then a next brother Ray, and then a younger brother Edward, who passed away about ten years ago from brain cancer. Then I had a younger brother, Joseph, who only lasted three months.
Mason Funk: What was the, was your family Catholic?
Jim Darby: [00:02:00] We were very Catholic. Roman Catholic, St. Martin's Parish. St. Martin de Tour, he is not St. Martin de Porres. Our St. Martin was the one who was on horseback, and he lifted his cloak and gave it to a beggar. There was a statue of him on top, halfway -
Mason Funk: I'm going to have you stop. We have dog activity. Is this Jenn?
Jim Darby: No, it's third floor.
Scott Drucker: [inaudible]
Mason Funk: Ah ah, okay.
Jim Darby: He will probably return in three or four minutes and then he'll be gone for the day.
Mason Funk: Oh, okay. He's taking his dog out and he's going to leave.
Jim Darby: [00:03:00] Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mason Funk: Okay, all right. Tell us again about your St. Martin.
Jim Darby: It was a German Roman Catholic Church. We all went to the St. Martin grammar school. Unfortunately, we were all two years apart, but -
Mason Funk: I'm going to have you stop one more time, Pat just arrived.
Jim Darby: Too many interruptions here.
Mason Funk: Hello. We're just getting started here.
Pat: Just getting started? Oh my goodness.
Mason Funk: Took us a while to light and all that kind of stuff.
Pat: Okay. You have to keep quiet right?
Jim Darby: Yes.
Mason Funk: Yes, please.
Jim Darby: Please don't sing.
Mason Funk: Is the dog going to settle with you, Pat, wherever you are?
Pat: I'll take him outside.
Mason Funk: [00:04:00] Okay, great.
Jim Darby: He doesn't make any noise usually. Doorbell rings, he'll bark. We were all two years apart and my older brother flunked first grade,then my older brother flunked second grade, and that put us in third grade together. He would sit behind me and poke me with a pencil or whatever, and say, "You think you're so fucking smart, don't you." I said, "I'm a C student." He would poke me too much, and so I jumped him a few times in class. In those days, the nuns would not put up with anything like that. Sister Sparina went to Father Tchaikovsky and she said, "I want all the Darby boys out of here." Third grade, three of us were kicked out of Catholic school and went to the public schools.
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] Were you guys, would you say the Darby boys, it sounds like a gang. Were you rabble rousers?
Jim Darby: No, my brother, believe it or not, he was two years older than I was, and he ran around with a completely different group of people. I consider them all thugs, and they really were. Then I had my coterie of friends, and my younger brother had all of his friends. We all had friendships with different people.
Mason Funk: Tell me about the part of Chicago where you were living, and what that neighborhood was like.
Jim Darby: It's not too far -
Mason Funk: [crosstalk 00:05:26] our neighborhood in Chicago.
Jim Darby: [00:06:00] Our neighborhood in Chicago was a very poor neighborhood, very mixed neighborhood. Actually, the house that we lived in that we rented for eight dollars a month, did not have electricity. We were one of the last three houses in Chicago that had gas light. My mother could not use her electric washing machine. We were there for two years. We had to leave that place because the building was condemned.
The basement was flooded all year. It froze in the winter and we would run our sleds down there. In the summer, the water was about two feet high. We had washtubs and we would play pirates and everything down there. The constant water for years, destroyed the foundation. The building starting tilting, and so it was condemned and we moved to the building next door.
They didn't have that yellow tap that they have today around places like that. They would use doors, a whole roll of doors all the way around the building. You could see the building was going. I came home one day and the house feel down. It was in a vacant lot. That's how bad it was. That was part of growing up in the Inglewood area.
Mason Funk: What was your dad, what was he up to? Was he a laborer? What was he professionally?
Jim Darby: He was -
Mason Funk: My dad.
Jim Darby: [00:08:00] My dad was a pipefitter and he left after the fourth child, fifth child was born. I was about six or seven. I have no memory of him, just nothing. I knew he spoke some Gaelic. He was a drunk and a gambler, so he disappeared and we never heard from him again. He left my mother with four boys. My mother had eight sisters. She first went to the Darby family to ask for help. My brother, my uncle James said, "I'm not my brother's keeper." My mother just turned and left and that was probably 1940 or before. We never saw any of the Darby's. My mother's eight sisters took care of us forever.
Mason Funk: What was your mom like?
Jim Darby: My mother was born with polio in one ankle, so she walked with a little bit of a limp. She was, being the youngest of nine girls, and her mother died when she was six years old. She wasn't too worldly. She didn't know a lot about good cooking. She was a good housekeeper. She kept a very clean house because she was a German, maybe that's part of it. We had a wonderful relationship with all of my wild aunts.
Mason Funk: Tell me about some of these wild aunts.
Jim Darby: [00:09:00] The two aunts, the two oldest ones -
Mason Funk: Just hold that thought, he's coming back in. Do you want some water to have nearby you?
Jim Darby: No, I'm okay. Maybe -
Mason Funk: You okay, let me know. I thought he was coming in.
Jim Darby: Somebody opened the door.
Mason Funk: We'll start with your aunts and we'll see how far you get.
Jim Darby: We used to call them, the Gestapo -
Mason Funk: We used to call my aunts.
Jim Darby: [00:10:00] We used to call my aunts the Gestapo, because they would come by every Sunday to help my mother. They would bring cakes and hams and things like that. They were two old ladies who walked arm and arm, in step. That's why we called them the Gestapo. We would be on the floor reading the funny papers, and somebody would yell, "Here comes Lizzie and Sophie." We'd take all the papers and throw them behind that couch. Lizzie would walk in, the first thing she would do, pull the couch out and say, "Margaret, can't you do better job with these kids? All these newspapers are behind the couch." We were so dumb, we did it every single week.
Mason Funk: What kind of kid were you in this crazy family mix?
Jim Darby: [00:11:00] I think I was probably a little more serious than my other brothers. I liked school, I did well in school. I tried my best to be a good kid, because my older brother was such a rotten kid. Example, my mother always, when she did the laundry would go through all of our clothes. She was very nosy and she always went through the drawers and the clothes and everything, to make sure. I don't know what she was looking for.
My brother had, he was I think sixteen, and he had a black and white photo of his girlfriend, Marie. It was a naked photo. In those days, and where could he possibly hide it to keep away from my mother? He put it in his prayer book. Women had white prayer books, it was a plastic cover on. Men had black prayer books. One Sunday, my mother is pulling my brother, Eddie, four years old, she's going to church, and she can't find her prayer book. She grabs my brother's prayer book and she is in church. My brother is holding the prayer book, and he opens it and the picture falls out in the aisle.
My little brother in his high, squeaky voice says, "It's Marie, and he doesn't have any clothes on." Of course everybody turned around, looked at my mother, my mother was mortified. We, my brothers and I are on the floor reading the funny papers. The back door flies open and hits the wall. My mother comes running through the house screaming, "I'm going to kill that son of a bitch." Not knowing which son of a bitch she was after, my brother Ray and I jumped up and ran out the door. Stood outside and stayed outside because she had a temper. When we finally saw my little brother and asked him, "What happened?" He told the story, then we knew we could come back in again. My brother didn't come home all night.
Mason Funk: Wow, crazy stuff. Sounds like something out of movies.
Jim Darby: [00:13:00] Living in a house with only gas light and kerosene lamps, we had a number of fires. We never set the house on fire, but we had mattresses burning and lamps burning, clothes burning.
Mason Funk: This was just commonplace, that things would catch on fire?
Jim Darby: Because there was gas just coming out of the walls. Then you had your own kerosene lamps that you use from room to room. You put them down and forget about them. Paper or something catches on fire. No big fires, but a number of small ones.
Mason Funk: Wow. Did you, as you got older, did you and your brothers ... Hold one second.
Jim Darby: Second stairway.
Mason Funk: Oh, I see. Did you guys become friends in general?
Jim Darby: No.
Mason Funk: Tell me say, my brothers and I.
Jim Darby: [00:14:00] My brothers and I fought forever. The four of us were like the four points of the compass. We were nothing like each other. My older brother was very aggressive. He was always fighting me. He was jealous of me because I was an ordinary person in school. I can remember him slamming me on the floor and punching me. I reach up and I found some of my mother's glass flowers with wire inside, and I managed to get those and kept hitting him across the face with them, with my one free arm.
He was completely bloody, and the glass flowers were all over the floor. My mother came home and she had a shit fit. Her glass flowers. That's the way, we never got along. Even later in life, after I got out of the Navy. I came home for a very short time and I left. He had already gotten married, so he was out of the house. We could not live under the same roof very comfortably.
Mason Funk: Tell us about your decision to join the Navy, and what did you do in the Navy?
Jim Darby: [00:16:00] When I was, I graduated from high school. I decided I wanted to go to college. City colleges in those days were only ten dollars a year. When I mentioned it to my mother, she didn't say anything. She told her aunts, her sisters. On Sunday the two sisters came to our house for dinner and said, "What is this bullshit about going to college. You are not going to college. You are going to go out and make money and bring money into this house." Okay, I can't fight them.
I didn't tell anybody. I enrolled in college quietly. I took a full course and I had a full job in the stockyards. My mother figured it out, because she would say, "All you're doing is sitting around reading all the time. Why don't you go out and do something?" I would go outside and read if I could. She eventually found out that I was in college. I was in college for a year and a half. I enjoyed it. I was getting Cs and Bs, because I couldn't possibly do all the work. I was working full time and going to school full time,and I got drafted.
Mason Funk: Let me ask you, what year was this? You say in 19 whatever, I got drafted.
Jim Darby: [00:17:00] In 1952, I received what we call the SSS, Selective Service System envelope. Every young man who got one of those, of course, you got instant diarrhea because it meant, your lifeis over. You are going off to the Army. There were deferments. At first they would give a deferment because you're in school,then they took that deferment away because they needed more people,it was the Korean War. My mother said, "I will go down to the draft board with you, and I will tell them that I need you at home and that I have two sons who are already in the Army."
She said, "Okay, I'll go with you." We went to the draft board, which is not too far from here. We took the street car. In those days we had street cars in Chicago, to 63rd and Cottage Grove and up to the second floor. I remember walking in, and I had either a headache or a hangover, I wasn't feeling well. I got to the desk, and it was white picket fence, and this very large lady. I'm talking about large, maybe the biggest person I've ever seen, was sitting behind the counter. My mother was standing behind me, and I said, "I would like to talk to somebody about a deferment."She turned and she said, "Hey Mable, we got another draft dodger here."
I totally lost it. I said, "Fuck you, fat ass. You're not the one going to Korea, I am. Take your fucking deferment and shove it up your ass." I turned, of course my mother was gone, she was mortified. She was waiting for me outside the building. She wasn't talking to me. We got on the street car. We started home. She was on the inside, and then she said, "This is our stop." I got up and I let her out. She says, "Aren't you coming?" I said, "No, I'm going on to 63rd and Ashland, I'm joining the Navy. I am not only already drafted, but the MP are probably at the house after that performance."I went to the Naval recruiting station, and I told them my story and asked if I could get into the Navy, even though I was drafted. He said, "Well, if you sign right here, we'll take you." Of course I did. That's how I got in the Navy. I didn't want to go in the Army, I didn't want to craw in the mud.
Mason Funk: When he said, "If you sign right here", that was just basically like, this is the form, sign it and you're in.
Jim Darby: This is the form, you have enlisted in the Navy, even though I was drafted into the Army. They called me about two months later. I was sent up to Great Lakes and bootcamp in 1952. I liked it.
Mason Funk: [00:20:00] Do me a favor, I liked the Navy.
Jim Darby: I liked the Navy very much. There were lots of tasks that you had to perform, swinging on the ropes and the swimming and crawling and everything. I felt I could do all that stuff. I couldn't take a gun apart very well. Even firefighting, I enjoyed. Jumping off a three story building with all your clothes on into the water. Then taking your pants off and their wet, and you make a flotation device out of them. That was challenging and fun.
I remember coming home on leave. My friend Ronny, who was gay, I worked with him in the stockyards. I was now 21 when I came home actually. He said, "Now that you're 21, we can legally drink, let's go to a gay bar." We went to a bar called, Sams at Clark and Division. Which was the gay neighborhood in the 50s. There were probably five or six bars, two blocks apart. You could go to one, and then to another. We went to Sams, had a couple of drinks. Suddenly, all the lights went on. The police came in the front door and said, "It's a raid, don't anybody move." Everybody ran out the back door. The back door was wide open. There was a ramp and a paddy wagon. Everybody was ushered right into the paddy wagon. Were we dumb.
We were arrested and thrown in jail. I remember, Ronny was in the next cell. I was thrown into a cell with a guy in the Air Force. I was in the Navy and he was home on leave. Very tall, handsome guy. Only one metal bunk, two people had to sleep on the metal bunk together. We did. Of course we partied all night. My friend Ronny was in the next cell, "What are you doing? What are you doing? What's going on in there? I remember saying, "That is the biggest dick I've ever seen in my life." Ronny's arm came around the bar, said, "I want it, I want it, I want it." He's yelling. The bailiff or jail keeper, whatever. He had his wooded club. He's pounding on his desk and said, "Shut up you fucking queers go to sleep."
In the morning, we went before the judge. The judge looked at us and said, "You are in the Navy and you're in a place like that?" He turned to the other guy and he said, "You are in the Air Force and you're in a place like that? What is this country coming to?" Disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, 25 dollars, get the hell out of here. I assumed that they would notify the Navy and that I'd be out. They never said anything,they never sent anything up to Great Lakes. That was it.
Mason Funk: Backtracking a little bit. When did you figure out you were into guys, and begin experimenting in having sex with other guys?
Jim Darby: [00:24:00] I think I always knew that I was a gay person. I know that when I was in forth grade or fifth grade. I was looking at the guys, I wasn't looking at the girls. Probably by the time I got to high school, there were other guys. We would fool around, and so I figured that out. Actually, when you go into the military, there is a form that you fill out. The very bottom question has to do with homosexuality. The actual question has changed three of four times over the years. We know that because, we had one of our veterans meetings, somebody talked about the last line.
Somebody said, "Well the last line asks are you a homosexual?" I said, "No, it doesn't say that. On my application it said, are you a practicing homosexual?" I decided I could morally say, "No." I'm not practicing, I have perfected it. I know how to do it, and so I wasn't lying. I got in, but somebody else said it, do you have homosexual tendencies or something. They changed it three or four times over a 20 year period.
Mason Funk: Did this cause you any angst?
Jim Darby: [00:26:00] I knew that because I was gay, I had to, so to speak, keep my mouth shut. I did, but I am the type of person who does a lot of talking with my hands. I think my hands give me away anyway, so I figured the hell with it. There were a lot people in the military that knew I was gay. Because it was the Korean War, they were lenient. I can remember sitting at a typewriter and a very handsome sailor walked by, and I went like that. My commanding officer says, "Darby, you're going to fall off your fucking seat." What, what are you talking about. I didn't realize that I was so obvious.
When I was in the Navy, I was a communications technician. I studied Morse Code, I studied radio, I studied teletype, even said before, I spent most of my time copying Russian broadcast, voice broadcasts. I was really good at it, and I really liked it. To the point where, after my four years were up, my commanding officer, he says, "You're going to re-up aren't you Darby?" I said, "Well", I said, "You know, I do have some problems." He said, "Oh, I know about that."
I did want to get my GI bill. You put in your four years, you get a GI bill, you get a college education almost paid for. I wanted that. He said, "Think about it." He says, "If you re-up, we'll give you two years at Monterey language school, you can study any language you want." It was really tempting, but I decided, I said, "No, I better, a bird in the hand."
Mason Funk: When you say you were transcribing the Russian communications?
Jim Darby: Right, it was voice broadcasts and I would -
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, start just put it in context for me. The work I was doing was, and then carry on from there.
Jim Darby: [00:28:00] While I was in the Navy, I did a lot of different things but the majority of my time, I spent copying Russian broadcasts on tapes. The Russian codes at that time, were all five numbers. They were all the same order, 27-2-75 18-9-76. It was always numbers like that, and I was really super efficient in numbers. I would not only copy them, my job was to put them in a round metal can and ship them to Washington. I would take the tape and I would type the whole thing out myself, and put it in the can for whoever gets it in Washington DC. Nobody ever said anything, but I would type out the entire tape on my free time. If I could.
Mason Funk: You have to explain a little bit more for me, because I don't quite understand what those numbers signify.
Jim Darby: [00:29:00] Oh, okay. The Russian code at that time was all numerical, It wasn't alphabetical. They would identify who they are, and who they're sending it to, and they would pull a switch, and then it was all numbers. It was all two and three, two and three. It was a lot of fun. I used to send out our messages on the teletype, a long yellow tape with little holes punched in it. I would put that in the sending machine, I can't remember what I was called. We had a device that had ten wheels in it. You would drop the cylinders about the size of a CD, you would drop ten of them in there. All ten of them would move at different rates to print out one letter. Every 12 hours, we'd change those cylinders. Then we would put the address on and then pull the switch and away they would go. It was really a lot of fun, I loved it.
Mason Funk: Wow. I think later one you taught languages. It sounds like you had an early knack and love for just communication, language. Is that true?
Jim Darby: That's true, that's what I liked. I had good experiences in high school. I had a really good Spanish teacher. She influenced me to go on, and I wound up teaching Spanish. I didn't plan it that way, but I did. Then French, and English, and English as a second language.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. I just noticed your watch is hitting the chair a little bit.
Jim Darby: I can take it off.
Mason Funk: Maybe just take it off.
Jim Darby: It's lose because it slides all over the place.
Mason Funk: Right. Tell me what year you got out of the Navy and what you thought or your life at that point? What were you prospects, what were your plans?
Jim Darby: I got out in April -
Mason Funk: [00:31:00] I got out of the Navy.
Jim Darby: I got out of the Navy in April of 1956. My four years would have been April 16, but I was in Brooklyn, New York and being discharged. They said, "If you want to get out on April 2nd, we'll discharge you. If you want to stay around until the 16th, you are eligible for a good conduct medal." I thought to myself, I'm not eligible for a good conduct medal. Who's kidding who. Then I said, but I thought ...They were a bit breathing down my back. I had a couple of, two different episodes with the counterintelligence division, and so I decided I'm getting out on April 2nd.
Mason Funk: What were these episodes?
Jim Darby: [00:32:00] The first one, I was in Seattle. I was stationed on an island off the coast of Seattle, called Bainbridge Island. That is where our radio station was, and our schools. We went through three of four different technical communication schools. I was waiting for a top secret clearance. Not expecting to get it, because I didn't know where my father was. I did get a call to come into Seattle,they wanted to talk to me. I thought, here it comes.
I went over to Seattle, a ferry boat. Went into a dark room with five guys around the table. I sat down and they said, "Well, Mr. Darby, do you know what a homosexual is?" I thought, "Oh, shit. They found me out." I'm glad it was dark, because I probably blushed. I said, "I think so." Then they started asking me a lot of questions. One of them was, "Well on April 4th, you went on liberty with these three guys and you stayed at the Stratton Hotel in Seattle. I thought, "Oh my God, they followed me around."
It turned out there was a, they weren't after me. They were after another guy. A strange story of a guy who got caught blowing somebody. The guy who caught him, was blackmailing him. He was blackmailing him for two dollars a week. One week, he came to the guy twice and said he wanted the two dollars. The guy said, "I gave you that two days ago." He says, "No you didn't." They argued about it and he says, "I want a receipt for every money I give you." He stared collecting receipts.
At one point, he couldn't take it any longer and he went to his commanding officer, and he threw all the receipts on top of them. He says, "I'm out of here. I want out of the fucking Navy." I went on liberty with him, not knowing that he was a gay person. That was the connection. I think they thought they had a really live wire with me, because they figured this guy easily could be gay. I went back, and I waited. Nothing happened, and I got my top secret clearance. Off I went to Washington DC for language school at the National Security agency.
Mason Funk: [00:35:00] I have so many questions. First of all, let's just put this in context. This is the 50s, this is the Korean War. This is the era of McCarthyism. A lot of witch hunts, and a lot of the whole ideal behind not wanting gay service member was that they could be blackmailed. That was one of the key things. Tell us, I guess I just want you to fill in what was happening in the larger world, and how that impacted military life, including the atmosphere around sort of gay witch hunt. If it's fair to call it that.
Jim Darby: Actually it is, because with the witch hunt, they would find one person.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Set the stage for us first. This was the 1950s.
Jim Darby: [00:36:00] This is 1952, and the witch hunts were out there, way out there somewhere. We heard about them. People would disappear, but we also knew that you could not be gay in the military at that time. People were actually being hunted down. The method was, you get one person, and you tell that one person, "We'll give you an honorable discharge if you give us the names of everybody you know who is gay." That's what was going on. They would get one person, and that person would panic and snitch on others. If there were any.
Mason Funk: Were you ever, was there ever any circumstance where you were asked for names?
Jim Darby: [00:37:00] No. Actually it went, in that interview they asked me if I knew anyone who was a homosexual. I said, "No." Actually, that interview ended by one of them saying, "Mr. Darby, what do you think about homosexuality." I said, "Well, I'm Roman Catholic, and it's against my religion." As I walked out the door, I thought, and then he said, "Okay, that's it. Over." As I walked out the door, I thought, "So, lying, and cheating, and stealing, and everything else, and I do that too."
Mason Funk: How did you feel when you essentially denied your own homosexuality and basically said, "That's not me." Was that just a practical thing, or did you feel bad about that?
Jim Darby: No, I didn't feel bad. That was a life saving response. If I said yes, I would be out. I didn't want to get out of the Navy. Number two, if had they asked me, I would have said, "You know, am I not allowed to have some secrets? I don't tell people I have a pimple on my ass. That's my personal business. Being gay, that's my personal business. It's nobody else's business except my own. I shouldn't be asked that.”
Mason Funk: [00:38:00] Tell us about, you say that the witch hunts were out there and you would hear about them. This was the era when it was McCarthyism was at its height. Right in the red scare.
Jim Darby: Yeah, communism. I probably was a little bit naïve about the world itself at that time. I was just 21. I didn't have a worldly outlook at that age.
Mason Funk: Right, so you weren't paying -
Mason Funk: The stuff that we hear these days, it makes it sound like this was front and center and everybody was talking about this. The reality is -
Jim Darby: [00:39:00] No. People would disappear. The blackmailer was in my cubical. He was a tall red-haired hillbilly type. He picked on me a lot. He would say, "You think you're so fucking smart because you're from Chicago." I said, "No, I don't. I am from Chicago, but I'm not so fucking smart." That was his constant remark to me. We had a little pushing around. He was too big for me, to do anything with. He'd shove me and I'd shove him back in front of people. If anything happened, he's this great big guy coming after me.
I do remember coming home one night, and I was drunk. We came home on a ferry boat from Seattle. Got home and went into my cubical. His locker door was open. I wanted to do something, I didn't know what. I looked and his boots were there. I walked over and I pissed in his boots. I was having a good time, until I was finished and I thought, "Oh, what have I done?" He'll know it's me. The upstairs of the barracks was empty. There was nobody around, so I decided I'm in civilian clothes, I'm going upstairs and I'm going to spend the night up there. I'm going to come down when everybody's there, as if I'm just coming back from liberty. Which I did.
He said to me, "Darby, I know you pissed in my shoes. I said, "What are you talking about?" I said, "Why would I piss in your shoes?" Anyway, he says, "I know." He said, "I'm going to get you one day." I said, "I'm going to get you one day too." I said, "Dynamite comes in little packages, and I'm sick of your shit." In a week he was gone. Not only blackmailing, he was selling secrets to the Russian in Seattle. There are a lot of Russians in Seattle. Somebody go on down to him, and he started telling them how many people are on base and what classes we take. That was part of the whole event.
Mason Funk: Wow.
Jim Darby: [00:41:00] I'm glad they took them away because he would've gotten me one way or another.
Mason Funk: Right, amazing. Wonder where he ever ended up?
Jim Darby: He went to jail, I know that.
Mason Funk: He did?
Jim Darby: Oh, yes. He was arrested for espionage, or whatever it's called.
Mason Funk: Wow. Meantime, the official code of course, the rules is that it's not okay to be gay in the Navy.
Jim Darby: Right.
Mason Funk: Sexually, what was going on for you during these years?
Jim Darby: I had my liaisons from time to time.
Mason Funk: Sorry, during the time I was in the Navy.
Jim Darby: [00:42:00] While I was in the Navy, I did have my liaisons. As I had mentioned before, I did not take a vow of chastity. I am not going to sit with my legs crossed for four years. Every other guy was going in town when we would go off the base, there was a big bowl of condoms, people would take them. What are they going to do with them? I would take them too,just to be one of the boys. I had my experiences. I had what I thought was a boyfriend, but he really wasn't.
Mason Funk: Tell me more about that relationship.
Jim Darby: [00:43:00] We would go to bed, it was always probably one sided. I was in love with him, but that was the end of that. He liked me a lot. Then, you know, you only stay in a place for three months, six months, a year, and off you go somewhere else. I was in Germany and French Morocco, the Mediterranean, Seattle, Washington DC. In four years I would move around a lot. Everybody else did too. If you made a nice friendship, you knew it wasn't going to last too long.
Mason Funk: Again, did you, the traditional narrative story is a lot of angst. For you, the liaisons you had, did they provoke any anxiety or worry or what am I going to do, I'm gay and that's not acceptable in the world, and how am I going to live? Where any of these thoughts going through your mind?
Jim Darby: [00:44:00] No, I knew that I was gay, and I knew that I would be always looking for a male partner. Like I said, I had one that I thought was, and civilian, I had one or two civilian in Washington DC that I thought were going to develop into something, but he was a Marine and he was going that way, and I'm Navy, and I'm going over there, so. Writing is not a good idea,we all knew that. As a matter of fact, I kept a diary for five years, which is completely against the UCMJ. I encrypted most of it, but easy encryption. Any dummy after 15 minutes could figure out my code, but I did write it in code.
Mason Funk: Do you still have that diary?
Jim Darby: I still have it, and it's got a little strap around it with a key. I can't find the key, but it's a simple key. I could just break the strap. I just decided I would leave it until I was ready for it.
Mason Funk: Another thing I want to ask you about, you mentioned that in Chicago, there was this little area neighborhood with five or six gay bars. For a lot of people, the conception is that prior to say, 1960 or whatever, there were no gay bars. That doesn't sound true at all.
Jim Darby: No, this is the 50s, and there were ten gay bars there.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. I'm sorry to keep interrupting you.
Jim Darby: That's alright.
Mason Funk: In the 50s in Chicago.
Jim Darby: [00:45:00] In the 50s in Chicago, when we went to Clark and Division, there were at least ten gay bars there in a cluster. This is 1950, 52. There was nothing, and there still is really nothing on the Southside of Chicago. There's one black bar, and that's it. We would go every Friday night. When I got out of the Navy in 56, three of us, my friend Ronny for Korea, the one I got arrested with, and my friend John, Major John, who was the chief anesthesiologist at the VA hospital,the three of us would go from bar to bar to bar. Even out to the the suburbs, because they had later licenses. Some bars closed at midnight, we would go down to the ones that closed at two, we'd go to the ones that closed at four, and then we would go out to Louis Gages far west, because they were open all night.
Mason Funk: Amazing.
Jim Darby: [00:46:00] They were all mafia controlled. I don't know when bars started being bought up by gay people and run by gay people. That had to be, in the 80s maybe.
Mason Funk: Tell us what that means, that they were mafia controlled. Spell that out for someone who doesn't understand how the system works.
Jim Darby: They ran -
Mason Funk: The mafia.
Jim Darby: [00:47:00] The mafia ran all the elicit things in Chicago. All the gambling and all the houses of prostitution on the edge of the city, the southside and the westside. They had their fingers in this, and I guess they all had their own territories or whatever. They ran the gay bars. I was in Sams at other times when two policemen would walk in the front door. The bartender would look at them, he would turn to the big cash register with all those little finger things you push down. Hit that, pull out a 20 dollar bill, hand it to them in front of everybody, and they would leave. We saw that many times.
They would just give them the police, or sometimes they were in plain clothes, so we don't know who they were. Everybody would freeze. Two hands on the bar, make sure both hands are on the bar. Couldn't have another hand down there, because where would that might be. It just seemed normal, because being gay was not accepted. You were in a elicit house.
Mason Funk: It was just part of the deal. You knew you were gay, but it wasn't acceptable, so you just did what you had to do.
Jim Darby: [00:48:00] You have to. I want to be me or whatever that song is. You just have to do it. I don't see how anybody could deny themselves forever and ever and ever.
Mason Funk: Amazing, this is so interesting. Now, fast forwarding to the end of the 50s, maybe. You're out of the Navy.
Jim Darby: Correct.
Mason Funk: What happened after, when I left the Navy?
Jim Darby: [00:49:00] When I left the Navy, I got a job at Ford Motor Company, AirCraft Factory. It was a good job. My military record made it easy for me to get a job at an aircraft plant. I can remember working on the lines. My job was to tear down a small portion of a jet engine. Something about three feet wide. They would come by on conveyors and I had one hour to tear one down. It was easy, very easy. I could tear down an engine in 20 minutes, I didn't need an hour. I was told I had to take an hour, because that's the way the line moves.
I remember some of the guys on the line. Everybody knew I was gay. I just was gay, that's it. They would actually say to me, "Oh, we got a guy for you." I said, "I don't need anybody to pimp for me, I get my own guys. Don't worry about me." One time they said, "There's a guy two lines over." He says, "He's just your type, just your type." I said, "Oh really." One day the guy said, "Here he is, here he is." I look over and I see this tall, blonde, pink blonde bouffant guy walking by. I was angry. I said, "What makes you think I'm interested in something like that?" I said, "If I want a cunt, I'll get a fucking cunt." I said, "He's more feminine than any woman I've ever seen in my life."
Anyway, we got together, and we turned out to be great friends. He lived her in Hyde park, John Fagen. A lot of crazy stories about him. Then we would go to the bars together all the time. Always had a good time with John. He moved to California, near San Diego. Place called, Poway. I would visit him from time to time. Once I went out there, once his sister called and said he was dead. He was found dead in his bed. His face was covered with blood, and his rear end had blood. His sister lived three doors away, and the police came and they said, askd Maureen if her brother was gay. She said, "Oh, yes."
John had a junk shop partner that he would go to thrift shops with. Her name is Mary Ann Cunanan. He would go out with her all the time. When they asked Maureen, "Is your brother gay? Was he gay?" He said, "Oh, yes." Mary Ann said, "Oh, no he wasn't." Maureen says, "He's my brother, of course he was gay." The strange thing is, three months later, I started reading about Andrew Cunanan,who was in San Diego,a hustler who kills somebody. Then he went to Minneapolis and he kills somebody,then he came to Chicago and he killed Miglin, wrapped him up on a carpet. Then he went to Florida, and he was going to kill Versace.
When I said to Maureen, I said, "Are you listening to the news? Do you hear about Cunanan?" She said, "Yeah, so what?" I said, "Well Mary Ann is his mother." She said, "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God." We think that Andrew Cunanan killed John Fagen. His sister said, closed casket. John was trouble and she says, "I'm glad he's gone, I want to get rid of him. I don't want anything." That was his mother. She came to the funeral. She changed her name to Schillaci after that. The Cunanan thing all across the country. Nobody will ever know that, but we believe it. John used to carry little bags of diamonds,he always loved lose diamonds and he buy them from people. He had a couple of bags of them. He probably told Mary Ann about it, she told her son.
Mason Funk: Let's go back to the factory. How are we doing for time by the way?
Scott Drucker: We got 30 minutes left on this card.
Mason Funk: [00:53:00] We have to limit our interviews to a certain extent, because of the amount of actual data that this camera generates. Sometimes I have to resist the temptation to just get go way down long path or intentions. When and how, you work in this factory,when and how did you become a teacher, and when and how did you meet Patrick?
Jim Darby: [00:54:00] I worked at the factory. I had been going to school on and off for ten years. I went to school before I went in the Navy and when I got out, I took a class and decided. Sorry, but it reminded me of some other thing, I'll make it short. Is that, I went to the art institute and I met a guy there by the name of Charlie Scutter. We were madly in love for two years, even though he lived with an old man,he was always going to leave him. At the tail end of Scutter, I met Patrick.
Scutter was a phenomena in my life. He was the father of four boys,he was openly gay. When we were lovers he said to me, "I'm going to make sure that I get my four sons before anybody else gets them." I said, "Excuse me, where does that leave me? How dare you say something like that to me." I said, "If that's what you want then our relationship is over." He slapped me across the face, but anyway. I gave him ten seconds to get out, he did. He wound up getting together with a young man, moving to Alabama, building a little castle there. They went in town, they got picked up by two guys and they were murdered, and they burned their house down. I have a trail of these things behind me.
Anyway, back to the factory. The factory closed. They shut down, and there were 15,000 people. I wound up with a couple of little jobs that weren't much. I decided to go back to school and get my degree, which I did. I graduated from Roosevelt University in 1963. Six weeks after my graduation, I was visiting John Fagen here in Hyde Park. I saw a guy walking down the street,he was holding a book like this and reading, andhe was gorgeous. I just went (whistling). John said, "Darby, we don't whistle at guys on the Southside." I said, "I don't give a shit. Look how good looking he is."
He didn't hear me, and away he went. John and I went swimming, we came back, went to dinner. I had a motorcycle, a small Honda motorcycle. I was there, I was going to unchain my bike, and I saw the same guy walk by. This is it. I went right over and said, "Do you have a light?" We all smoked in those days. He said, "Yes." That's when I met Patrick. July 17, 1963. Which is 53 years, yesterday. Then six weeks we moved together, and we've been together ever since.
Mason Funk: You found him incredibly attractive.
Jim Darby: Oh, yes. Stopped my clock.
Mason Funk: What else? I would say what else and what had enabled you to, why have you stayed with him for 53 years?
Jim Darby: He was a bit exotic, he's -
Mason Funk: [00:57:00] Do me a favor, Patrick.
Jim Darby: Patrick was a little bit exotic. He is Italian, Roman and Sicilian. I'm Catholic, I come from a different background completely. Italians to us were always fascinating, good looking, but you know, how do you get one? Well, I got one. We've been together forever, it seems like. We were the ones who, Lambda Legal came and asked us if we would be the two people who would challenge the state of Illinois for same sex marriage. We said, "Of course." If I were working and I were worried about a boss or something, I might be a different story, but we're both retired and who cares.
Mason Funk: What year was this? Just to make -
Jim Darby: This was about five years ago.
Mason Funk: [00:58:00] Okay, so say about five years ago.
Jim Darby: About five years ago, which would be 2011 maybe. We did and we had a same sex, not marriage, what was it called, I forgot?
Mason Funk: Civil union.
Jim Darby: [00:59:00] Civil union, right. After the federal case, it wasn't necessary to do it state by state any longer. We did challenge the state and we had a lot of TV interviews. They told us we were going to get a lot of publicity. I said, "Oh, good." It was fine. We had some interesting times with the reporters. I can remember one of them saying to me one time, "Why do you want to marry Patrick?" Lambda was standing there. I said, "I want to get all my hands on his money." They said, "No, don't put that in the paper. No, no. Don't say anything like that." I was just tired of the same old answer all the time.
Mason Funk: Right. I do want to know why you think your relationship has been successful, and why it's lasted so long.
Jim Darby: I guess it's more luck than anything.
Mason Funk: Just tell me what you're talking about.
Jim Darby: Our relationship is probably more luck than anything, because I don't know what keeps people married and what doesn't. Everybody says you make sacrifices, you do all this and you do all that, but it just happened. We're both very fortunate.
Mason Funk: [01:00:00] Excellent. Now, next question, next topic. Meantime, at a certain point you got involved in the struggle for military inclusion for gays and lesbians. How did that happen?
Jim Darby: [01:01:00] It was a pride parade in Chicago, and it was 1991 or two. I was at a booth and I met Sergeant Miriam Ben-Shalom. She is a lesbian who was kicked out of the military, sued the government, got back in. Probably back in for a day when they said, "Are you a lesbian?" She said, "yes", and back out again. Under a different charge, I don't what they, between the first and second. Miriam was really angry and said that gay people should have just as much right to serve as anybody else. If we want to.
When I met her at the booth, I told her I was Navy, I was retired. I had the GI bill. She kept poking me and saying, "Well, don't you think you owe a little bit back to your country." I said, "I served four years." She said, "No, you got your GI bill. You got your free college. There are a thousand people being kicked out every year, and they're not getting anything. Don't you feel guilty about that?" I said, "Well, not really." By the time I was done with that conversation with her, I had already agreed to start the Chicago chapter of gay, lesbians and bisexual veterans of America, GLBVA. That was 1991 and 92. Now this is 2016, 25 years later and we are still going strong in Chicago.
I went to DC, for the big march in 1993,and it was a million people, you could… As far as we could see in the mall was gay people. Subway, stores, restaurant, anywhere you went. We had agreed to sit down in front of the White House and protest the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. We were not going to move. Miriam and a guy from New York, I'll think of his name in a minute and me. Were the only three veterans,there were 20 other people. They wouldn't sit on the ground, on the concrete because they didn't want to get their clothes dirty, or whatever.
The three of us are sitting there. The police came along and said, policeman said ... policeman said to me, "Are you going to get up or do I have to pick you up?" I looked at him and I said, he was really good looking and I said, "Oh, honey. You can pick me up anytime you want." He put on the white gloves, because in 1952, they wouldn't touch a gay person.
Mason Funk: 1990.
Jim Darby: [01:03:00] 1992, they wouldn't touch a gay person without putting on the gloves. They picked us up and handcuffed us and threw us in the paddy wagon and took us down to the station. I remember they said, to the guy in front of me, "Do you have an alias?" They were filling out his form. He said, "Mary." The place went up for grabs. He didn't know what was so funny. Then the second thing he said is, "Okay, all the men in one cell, and all the women in the other cell." Everybody's, "Yah!" It got to be chaos. Fifty dollar fine, out you go.
Mason Funk: [01:04:00] Did this become, tell us what impact it had on you when, you were involved in 91, 92. Then in 93 the military passes don't ask, don't tell. Clinton comes into office, everybody thinks he's going to make a difference. Talk us through that period of time and how you, what you thought of what was going to happen and what you thought of don't ask, don't tell when it was announced.
Jim Darby: [01:05:00] In 1992, before 92, President elect Clinton said he was going to lift the ban,we totally believed him. When he got in, he started waffling a little. He came to Chicago one time for some event,we were all lined up with waffles, frozen waffles throwing waffles at his car. Nobody knew what the hell the waffles were all about. Anyway, he did not lift the ban. He was chickenshit, he was afraid of the military brass. He made this compromise of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, don't harass, don't pursue.
I think in some ways, it did help some people,because they couldn't totally go after you. Some people managed to escape because they could deny it. They were not caught in flagrante or anything. That helped a few people, but it encouraged all the witch hunts, which got much worse in 94, 95. It was a thousand people a year. I think one year it was 1,500 people kicked out.
Scott Drucker: Tell me about some of the stories you remember hearing of people getting kicked out. The crazy things that would happen or the amount of evidence that the military needed to determine that you had violated this policy. Do you remember and specific stories and incidents?
Jim Darby: [01:06:00] The incidents that I could see, the one that ...People would disappear, so you didn't know. If somebody disappeared that I knew who I knew was gay, I knew what happened. I actually had a friend, Charles Youdelle Brown, who had a run in with a warrant officer two years before,and that warrant office says, "I'll get you Charles Youdelle Brown." When we were in DC together, Charles and I would go on liberty. We'd go to a bar. He would say, "Look at the boobs on that broad." I would say, "Look at the ass on that guy." We had that kind of relationship for three years.
When I was in Morocco, I remember him coming and sitting on my bed and crying. I thought possibly a family member died. He said, "Well, Darby", he said, "They finally got me." He said, "You know when I was in DC and I went in town one time with a guy. He gave me a blowjob. He worked for NASA security aids and he talked a lot about his job. Some of the things he said were confidential. Charles felt it was his job to tell his commanding officer what he did and the name of the guy who was spilling this information. They put it in his record.
We're in Morocco three years later and he said, "They're kicking me out for being gay." I said, "But Charles, you're not gay." He said "I know but that story three years ago." He's crying and I fell, ”Oh, I'm so sorry." He says, "Besides that, they ask me", sobbing away, "If I knew anybody who was gay." He said, "I gave them your name." I said, "Oh, you didn't." I grabbed my address book and ran out to the desert, buried it, waited and waited and waited and nothing happened. I think they had decided that because they had investigated me four years before, three, that they weren't going to bother again.
Mason Funk: [01:08:00] This was in what time period?
Jim Darby: This was in 1955. They did back to 52. He was a straight man kicked out for being gay.
Mason Funk: Fast forward to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. You said there was a whole new wave of witch hunts. Do you remember, what's a typical example or anecdote that you remember of someone, how this policy was so hard to adhere to, and there were such weird things that could happen that would end up getting you kicked out, that might have seemed innocent enough. Just the catch 22 that was Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Jim Darby: [01:09:00] Most of the things that had happened later as far as people being kicked out, I only knew about from reading in the papers and getting emails back and forth. We would get names of people like Lieutenant JG, Tracy Thorne or Keith Minholt. He was Navy, Thorn was a Navy jet pilot,and Jose Zuniga, the soldier of the year. These were people who are high profile being kicked out,almost every one of them published a book. At that point, I'm out of the military 50 years, so I didn't have any personal contact. We did have people who join our organization who were kicked out.
I would say that a number of them would not give their DD 214, their discharge paper, because they were too embarrassed. We had to take their word that they were in the military. We did have a couple of wannabes who were not in the military, and they caused problems.
Mason Funk: Explain that more fully, and explain what a DD 214 is.
Jim Darby: [01:11:00] A DD 214 is your discharge paper. On the bottom of your discharge paper, no matter what kind of a discharge, there is a three digit code number. Let's say it was 257, 257 meant peeing in bed. You could be kicked out for that. You may get an honorable discharge, but that three digit, that was added. There were five different discharges. Sometimes people would get a general discharge under, for homosexual reasons. They would state that. Then undesirable or LTH, less than honorable discharge. All kinds of discharges were given.
The DD 214, the discharge paper was very important. We had a member here in Chicago who from ST. Louis,he died andhis family wanted nothing to do with him. I went to the VA to see if we could get his DD 214, and they wouldn't give it to me. You can't be buried without it,so he sat in the morgue for 30 days. I went to the VA, I had a friend, Joe. I talked to him about it, I said, “You know, this guy was a patient here. You have copies of his DD 214. All I need is the number, and we can get him buried.” He said, "I can't do that, Darby." I said, "Well you have his file." He says, "Yeah I have his file. Here it is." He said, "Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom." Put the file on the table.
I grabbed a pencil and wrote the number down and closed it. I opened it and closed it. That's all they needed is those eight numbers, social security number. We got him buried, we had a real nice ceremony for him. The DD 214, he had an honorable discharge, but the family wanted nothing to do with him, so we buried him.
Mason Funk: Wow. What made you decide to be as involved as you have become with the American Veterans for Equal Rights? Why for you is does that continue to be an important involvement?
Jim Darby: [01:13:00] I think a lot of it hearkens back to Miriam. The reason that I stay with this organization, I think hearkens back to Miriam because she did such a good job of making me feel guilty that I had mine, and I didn't care about anybody else. Over the years, and then the camaraderie that has been built up with the people. We have members for ten or 15 years. We get involved in, we're involved in the memorial day parade. We did some wreath laying in Chicago and different places. Once we were doing a wreath laying in Daily Plaza downtown. We had just a pink triangle of flowers. The American Legion runs, it used to run that event.
John Mahoney was the commander, and when he saw us do that, he said, "Why don't you come and see me, and I will include you in the program next year." I said, "Good." He gave me his card and all his cards feel on the sidewalk, and I picked them up and gave them. I went to see him a few weeks later, and I had my stationary in case he wasn't there, and my card, which said, Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans of America. He said, "What is this and what do you want?" I said, "I want to be part of the program like everybody else." I said, "You invited me to come down here." He said, "I never saw you before in my life." I said, "You're a fucking liar. You gave me your card. I picked up your cards on the sidewalk, don't you remember that?" He denied it.
It took a while. I kept calling and writing. One day I got a call from the director of Veterans Affairs in Chicago and I knew him from activities. He said, "Darby, will you stop bothering the American Legion?" I said, "No." They called his office to complain about me writing them letters and phoning them. I told them, I said, "They do not control Daily Plaza. If we want to lay a wreath there, we'll do it." He said something like, as the director of Veterans Affairs. I said, "What is that anyway?" He said, "Well, this is 21 veterans that meet once a month from all different veterans groups." I asked him who was the gay person. He said, "Nobody ever applied." I said, "What time do you meet?" He said, "Tomorrow at 3:00." I said, "I'll be there."
He brought me in, 21 of them in a big circle. He said, "Mr. Darby is a gay veteran and he would like to join the counsel. How many people would like a gay veteran on the counsel?" Ten hands went up, ten hands didn't go up. One guy said, "I don't think we should be taking the vote while he's standing in the room. I had already seen the hands. There all on one side for some reason. I went out in the hall and one more veteran came in while I was there. He came in and he said, "The vote is 11 to one to except you." I became a part of the counsel, and I became the secretary the first year. I was secretary for 20 years.
That enabled me to get a salute to LGBT Veterans, downtown Chicago. We get Daily Plaza for a whole hour. We have somebody doing the National Anthem. We always have a speaker. We have a colorguard. We have a huge wreath that we bring in, and we have wreath laying at the eternal flame and we have two ladies that play taps every year. It's really a wonderful ceremony. No thanks to John Mahoney because he desperately tried to keep us out.
Mason Funk: [01:17:00] What is the significance or the importance or the value of laying this wreath?
Jim Darby: Every veterans group does a wreath laying for, not only, either on Memorial Day or Veterans Day, but also for any special occasion. For us it is a salute to LGBT Veterans, to their service,to recognize that. Here we are as out as you could possible be in downtown Chicago, and this huge Plaza. It makes a big difference to us.
Mason Funk: What do you think about the military's apparently soon, or did they already make the decision?
Jim Darby: They did.
Mason Funk: For transgender people?
Jim Darby: [01:18:00] I was really surprised when the military lifted the ban on transgender people when they did it, because they were talking about it for a while. I have to say that I don't think I ever knew a trans person in the military, but Aaron Belkin, from the Palm Institute, says there are 12,000 serving today. When he said that, he spoke in Chicago, and I said, "I didn't think there were 12,000 trans people in the whole world, let alone in the military."
We have met a number of them. At our salute there was a person from the Israeli Defense Force. The counsel called me and asked if he could participate in the ceremony. I said, "Sure." This was a trans lieutenant, female to male. He got cold feet,he sat in the front row, but he wouldn't come up on stage with us. He was afraid of I don't know what. We have three or four trans people in our group. They're all hot potatoes, I have to tell you that.
Mason Funk: [01:19:00] What's that mean?
Jim Darby: They all have a short fuse. You don't dare say the wrong thing, they will go off on you like a rocket. We don't, as ordinary gay people, we don't know all the in and outs about transgendered people. You're walking on eggs with a lot of them. At least we get the pronouns correct but that's about it.
Mason Funk: [01:20:00] We interviewed a trans, a woman, yesterday. It's hard,at one point I mistakenly referred to her as him. Of course I felt like a shmo. When you look back at, you've lived an incredible, you've watched an incredible amount of time go by. From your childhood, to the 50s in the military, till today. I wonder if you're struck, or if it seems surprising to you in anyway, how much life has changed for LGBTQ people in our society?
Jim Darby: [01:21:00] Live has really changed. When I grew up, there were no gay people. Occasionally I would see somebody and wonder if, as a teenager, I wonder if that person would like me. I would see Liberace on television. It was obviously he was gay. I thought, "Oh God. That's not my cup of tea." I would like to find a man, not a drag queen or whatever. I don't know if you remember Liberace. The change that has taken place from the time that everybody, nobody could say anything. When we finally were old enough and could go to the bars, they were all dingy, pissy smelling places. Wooden floors. Everything about them, there were one or two bars that were hoity toity, but all the rest of them were dumps.
You knew you were going to a place that would not get a good housekeeping seal. Because you were that way, you had to go to those places. Now the whole world has changed. We have people in high places everywhere that are gay and out and comfortable and have no problems. I was in Palm Springs last month for, I went to the street fair, if you know the street fair in Palm Springs. A lady was walking down the street and she picked up a very glittery blouse and she held it to herself. She looked like a bag lady,she really looked lost. I went over and I said, "Oh honey, that's you." She said, "Oh, it's 55 dollars and I bought one like this yesterday at the thrift shop for 50 cents."
She put it down. In her hand, she had a handful of very colorful bumper stickers. I said, "What do they say?" She said, she showed me one and I said, "Gays for Trump." I said, "Are you out of your fucking mind?" She said, "No. I'm a gay person, and I'm going to vote for him." Then Patrick said, "Why would you vote for him?" Then she, "Well, he's going to save the world and he's going to do this, he's going to do that." Oh okay. The world is changed.
Mason Funk: It keeps changing.
Mason Funk: [01:23:00] Just a few things and then I have three final questions. One is, maybe just describe, you described there were some dingy bars. This is Chicago in the 50s. There were a couple of hoity toity, but just describe the scene for someone who has a hard time imagining what gay life was like in Chicago in the 50s.
Jim Darby: [01:24:00] Chicago in the 50s was quite different. The late 50s, because I spent my four years in the Navy, and then I came out. There was nothing on the southside, so John and Ronny and I would drive to the northside. John always drove because he didn't drink. Some of the bars were really dumpy, as I mentioned. The wooden floors smelled of piss. I don't know why, but maybe people pissed on the floors. The bathrooms, you would go there and stand as far away as you could, because you don't want to catch anything. There were some high end bars. There was a bar called Higg, and you had to have a shirt and tie to get in. I think we only went to it once, because we were going somewhere where we had to have a shirt and tie, so we went to the Higg. Nothing special.
As I said, no bars on the southside, so all gay people went to the northside to go to the bars. They would close at different times. It was the only respite that we had. If you wanted to meet other gay people and we usually did. If you wanted to make out, usually you could if you saw somebody you liked and it was okay. I remember a bar that had, the bar was in the middle and it was a round oblong bar. There were performers, musicians only who played in the middle. That would probably have 30, 40, 50 people in the bar on a weekend. When the bar would close, everybody's out on the street. Last call. You want to get somebody for the night, you better do it now.
Mason Funk: [01:26:00] I remember those days, a little later. The other question I had was, when you were working in the factory and you're colleagues were saying, "Oh, that guy over there. He's perfect for you." That whole thing. What that indicates to me is that you were working in a factory in the late 50s, and it sounds like it was somewhat normal for people to know that you were gay and to be trying to fix you up. It sounds like behavior from the 70s or the 90s. We tend to think that in the 50s, nobody could talk about or be out even to their colleagues. It sounds like I'm wrong about that.
Jim Darby: [01:27:00] I was out in the 50s. The aircraft factory were I worked, everybody who I knew, knew I was gay. I would go out with them drinking on weekends to their bars. I know that, one of two guys I would go out with, I would simply say, "You know, anytime you want a good time, I'm available." They said, "No, no, Darby. I'm not into guys." I said, "fine", but we would go drinking. I had no problem with anybody. I think having been in the military and having to more or less keep your mouth shut for a long time. When I got out, I just really got out. I actually rented a storefront on the northside. I lived it it for two years, it was completely empty. I painted the floor gray, and everything white. I put a little Japanese mat in the middle. I started living like that.
People say, what are you doing? I'd say, "I'm expanding." I said,. "I've been so suffocated and controlled aboard ship. Where 11 bunks are on the side of the wall, and they fold up during the day. You had to go all the way up to number eight to get into. I said, "I was cramped, now I'm expanding." That storefront I called moose junction because I had a moose's head, which is hanging in the basement. I sprayed it orange, so I called it my orange moose junction. That's my period in my life when I was with Charlie Scutter, who was out.
I had one interesting experience then. My younger brother was a car thief, my brother Eddie. He loved cars, but he couldn't afford the, so he would just keep stealing them. He would jump in a car and go downtown to a movie, then jump into another car and come home. The police were looking for him, and I was hiding him in my place. They came several times to look for him. I had benches built along the wall, and when they would pound on the door, I would lift the bench up and open the door to the basement. He'd run in and I'd put the bench down and the moose's head was hung on the door.
The police came looking for him and they would, they said, "We know he's around here somewhere." I said, "I don't know what you're talking about." They walked over and they looked at the moose’shead, and it's on a door. They didn't see that it was on the door. They were so taken by the size of this thing. My heart was beating like mad, because I thought, "Oh God, they're going to find him. Then he's going to get arrested and I'm going to get arrested." I went to Mexico that summer on my motorcycle and my brother went with me. I had to secrete him. I got him out one time at three in the morning. Off too my friend Ronny's, who took him somewhere else.
I remember the second guy who was willing to house him for the night. I said, "How was he?" He said, "Ronny plucked that chicken before he brought him here." Anyway, my brother went on the motorcycle with me, we got as far as Texas and he decided he didn't want to go to Mexico. I said, "Fine, you can go where you want." He went off to California and I went to Mexico to go to school for the summer. Had a wonderful time. Drove from Chicago to Mexico City was 2,000 miles. Mexico City up to Seattle was 4,000 miles. Then Seattle back to Chicago, by myself, and loved it.
Mason Funk: That's the photograph on your -
Jim Darby: Yeah. Mexico City, 1962.
Mason Funk: By now, you're 30 years old. This was going to be the year before you meet Pat. I would imagine you had a lot of fun in Mexico.
Jim Darby: I really did, I has some bizarre experiences.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, in Mexico.
Jim Darby: [01:31:00] In Mexico, I had some really bizarre experiences. I remember once, my friend from Texas, he had a bike. He would go into town, go to big dance hall bars all the time. One time, there was an American ex-patriot who joined us. Let me buy you a drink, and he did. We didn't have very much money, the waiter would come. Want another, oh yeah I'll have another drink, I'll have another drink. When they came for the money, we would point to this other guy, and he refused to pay, so they call the police. The police came, and while they were arguing with him and my friend, it was a ten cents a dance place. The hostesses would come around, you could dance with them.
This woman, paid no attention what's going on, asked me if I wanted to dance. I look at the man, he says okay, so I burstoff with her. Got to the other side, went in the bathroom, crawled out a small window like this to get out. Went across to where my bike was, and then I saw the police bring my friend out. Threw his bike on the back of a truck, and I followed them. They went for two miles out somewhere in the country. Took them in and I could hear them yelling, "Darby, Darby, help me." He knew I was riding the bike behind them. When we got to the jail, out in the country somewhere, I didn't know what to do. I finally, I was a little drunk but trying to sober up. I finally went in, and I asked for my friend. He spoke some Russian. We would banter our Russian back and forth. I came in -
Mason Funk: Who spoke some Russian?
Jim Darby: [01:33:00] My friend who was arrested. He had Russian in college or whatever, so we would try little things. I went in and I said. "I'm here for my friend." I told them in Spanish that he his is the son of a diplomat from the soviet union. He was over there, and he would yell something in Russian, I would answer it. Yell something in Russian, they weren't conversations, they were just Russian words. They got nervous because they thought he might be.
They finally said, "Okay, you can take him, but we're keeping the bike until he pays whatever." I remember going back to school with him. I put him on the back of my bike, and he was so drunk, and we opened two belts, around and around each other and he kept falling. I finally got him back. The next day he said, "Oh, I don't know how to thank you." He said, "I already spent five nights in a Mexican jail that had dirt floors and no bathroom. You had to crap, you had to dig a hole. Take a pee, you had to dig a hole. He says, "I was so afraid I was going to go back into one of those places." I had good times in Mexico. I could go anywhere with this little bike.
Mason Funk: That sound awesome, sounds very fun. Three final questions, what is, when you, what would be your advice to someone in their teens, early 20s who's just starting to come out as gay or lesbian or bisexual, transgender, and who's just beginning to face the fact that he or she's going to have, is very different and has to navigate this world. What would you offer that person as advice based on your own experiences?
Jim Darby: [01:35:00] I think young people coming out, probably teenagers, it's not a good idea to deny yourself, because you hold it all inside and you're going to wind up paying for that later. With ulcers or who knows what. You just have to, within reason, you have to be yourself. You only go through life one time, if you don't do it on your own terms, you're dumb.
Mason Funk: That's very succinct. I like it. Question number two, when you look forward to the next 50 years, what is your hope for the future, whatever that means to you?
Jim Darby: I think the future looks good, because we have become such a multicultural accepting society that young people have every opportunity, many of them which did not exist in my world. They should just follow their heart.
Mason Funk: [01:36:00] Lastly, regarding this project, OUTWORDS, what do you see as the value of projects like OUTWORDS, if you could mentioned OUTWORDS in your answer?
Jim Darby: [01:37:00] You know, the OUTWORDS project is marvelous because I think it gives people who live in Okefenokee or Ypsilanti, Michigan or something, the opportunity to see other people like them, and to know that they can just live their own life. I think, if I had seen other gay people when I was growing up, I think I probably would've been even more aggressive and boisterous and noisy, than I really was. A project like this, OUTWORDS, will certainly help young people to feel good about themselves. They don't have to feel like they're bad. We grew up in a world where, “You're like that?”
Mason Funk: Having heard you say that, I guess in the stories you told me, I never really got the sense that you, that that was a big factor in your life. People saying, "You're like that?" Is that something that you experienced that had to kind of like.
Jim Darby: [01:38:00] I think when I was growing up, I think my mother used, even though she didn't know it, I think she used reverse psychology on us. We were practically the poorest people in the neighborhood, and everybody knew that. There's poor Margaret with those poor boys, and they're living in a gaslight house. She's get free food from the dispensary down the street. My mother would say, "Oh, you can't go there." Don't go to the front of the church, you stay in the back of the church. Make sure you don't kneel on the, when you get communion, make sure that people can't see the bottom of your shoes." Our shoes were always worn out, and we would make cardboard cutouts to put in the shoes all the time, so you could get more mileage out of the shoes. She was always, "You can't go there" and "You can't do that." I kina grew up with that for a while and rebelled against it. Nobody's going to tell me I can't do this. I hope young people don't grow up with that feeling today.
Mason Funk: Great. Fantastic. Any questions? That was very entertaining, that was really super entertaining. Thank you for that. Sorry, because you mentioned Patrick and I realized I haven't heard that much about him. When you say everything became wonderful, talk about the early years of your relationship.
Jim Darby: [01:39:00] You know, we were all blondes growing up. My older brother had blonde, curly hair, really blonde. Everybody would say, "Oh, how beautiful." They would look at us, dishwater blonde. I grew to hate blondes. I wouldn't even give a second look to a blonde. Black hair was the end of the rainbow for me. When I saw this guy with his jet black hair, oh my God, he was gorgeous. I really didn't expect him to fall for me. I was head over heels. As I said, he’s anexotic Italian.
Mason Funk: End of story.
Mason Funk: Okay, fantastic. Thank you again.
Mason Funk: That's awesome.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Scott Drucker
Date: July 18, 2016
Location: Home Of Jim Darby, Chicago, IL