Rob Wright was born in 1949 in Denver, grew up there, and got his degree in economics from the University of Colorado in Boulder. During college, he worked as a ski patrolman in Vail, Colorado. Rob joined the microfilm division of 3M in 1972, was transferred to Los Angeles in 1973, and later was a partner at Irwin-Wright Advertising for many years until joining Fred Sands Realtors.

Rob met his husband John McDonald in 1982 through mutual friends. Together, Rob and John became very active in supporting the Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center of Los Angeles (today the LA LGBT Center), providing the lead gift for the building that currently houses the Center. In 1996, they moved to Beaver Creek, Colorado, where they thrived on skiing, hiking, and biking. Today, John and Rob divide their time between Beaver Creek and Palm Springs, California.

John and Rob’s primary thrust in philanthropy is seeking full and equal rights for all minorities including the LGBTQ community. At present, they are particularly involved in and supportive of the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, which conducts leading research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. In addition, John and Rob recently purchased a three-story building to house the LGBT Center of the Desert in Palm Springs.

John and Rob’s Palm Springs home, where OUTWORDS interviewed them in June 2016, is comfortable and calm, with stunning views of the San Jacinto Mountains rising from the desert to the sky. Of the two men, Rob is more open and expressive, more likely to crack up at his or someone else’s funny story. John listens, listens, and then suddenly offers an insightful comment or a question that cuts to the heart of the matter.  In giving, as in life, John and Rob make a wonderful couple, and OUTWORDS is honored to convey their story to the world.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
GORO TOSHIMA We've got the time code running.
Mason Funk: Time code running.
Goro Toshima: All right. Take one.
Mason Funk: Okay. So do me a favor and just state and spell for the camera your first and last names.
Rob Wright: Robert W. Wright. R-O-B-E-R-T W-R-I-G-H-T.
Mason Funk: How would you ...
GORO TOSHIMA [00:00:30] Sorry. I just lost my monitor battery.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Rob Wright: Oh, no!
Goro Toshima: I'm going to cut.
Mason Funk: Okay. So do me a favor. As you would like to be known when your interview appears in the archive, please state and spell your first and last names.
Rob Wright: Rob. R-O-B. Wright. W-R-I-G-H-T.
Mason Funk: What year were you born, Rob?
Rob Wright: 1949. April 15th.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] Cool. Do me a favor. When I ask you a question, if you could just incorporate that question into your answer?
Rob Wright: Ah, okay. So I was born April 15th, 1949.
Mason Funk: Okay, great. Tell me where you were born and what kind of place it was.
Rob Wright: I was born in Denver, Colorado and at that time it was pretty small. Yeah, but it was a city. Then I grew up in Arvada, which was a suburb.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] Who else was there? Tell me about your family. The family that you grew up with.
Rob Wright: My parents. Mom and dad and my sister, Susan. We had a fairly normal childhood.
Mason Funk: Were your parents from Colorado as well?
Rob Wright: [00:02:00] No. My dad was from Kansas. Grew up in Kansas sort of on a farm. His dad worked on the railroad. My mom grew up in Southern Illinois. She was a clerk for a trucking company and that's where they met because my dad's in the trucking business.
Mason Funk: [00:02:30] Okay. So you say that your childhood was pretty normal. You mentioned in your notes that your parents always had you in a lot of activities and classes to kind of keep you off the streets so to speak. Just tell me about your childhood. What kids of things were you into? What kinds of things did you like doing and so on?
Rob Wright: [00:03:00] My parents had both of us, my sister and I, doing all kinds of activities. Especially after school because, well, I didn't know it at the time, but it was obviously because they didn't want us to be hanging out on the street corner. So we were always with baton lessons, or ballet lessons, or ski lessons. Piano lessons. The piano lessons I was forced to practice, but that's one of the main things that I really thank my parents for because I enjoy playing the piano.
Mason Funk: You mentioned in your notes that you had a couple of ballet teachers who were pretty influential.
Rob Wright: [00:03:30] My ballet teachers were very influential in my life. They were very strong, they were very good teachers. They were very helpful and I think probably that's why I was so comfortable in my sexuality is because they were together for a long time and they were good role models.
Mason Funk: Are you comfortable mentioning them by name as you would have known them? Would you have called them Mr. and Mr. or first names? How do you refer to them?
Rob Wright: [00:04:00] We referred to them as Tom and Ken. It was Ken Reeves and Tom Reed. They met in New York. Tom was dancing with the American Ballet Theater and they moved to the Midwest, they came to Denver.
Mason Funk: So tell me about them. I love that they were there for you as I guess you can say as an early role model without you even realizing it. Tell me everything you remember about them.
Rob Wright: [00:04:30] Yeah. They were really good role models. I didn't even know that I might be gay, but I think they knew it. They were just really good role models. Good to be there and my parents really liked them. My mother enjoyed sewing and so she would help the costumes for them, for the productions.
Mason Funk: When you say they were good role models, when you're a kid, you don't know that you're gay necessarily and you don't even necessarily know that they're gay. What was it that made them good role models?
Rob Wright: Well, they were good role models in ...
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] Can you start by saying, "My ballet teachers Ken and Tom?"
Rob Wright: [00:05:30] Tom and Ken were good role models because I knew that they were gay and my mother just really got along with them. They would come over for coffee and anything that was out of the ordinary or extraordinary, they would be able to explain. You know, kind of like with bullying, they were very protective of us.
Mason Funk: Might you have been bullied in your school environment? For example for being into ballet. Did you kind of need someone to look out for you a little bit?
Rob Wright: [00:06:00] I was never bullied, but I think it was because I was well-liked in high school. I played the piano and so I think everybody really enjoyed that. One of the sort of guys that could have been a bully did come into the ballet class and I saw him peeking around the corner. He did watch and so I thought, "Oh my God, everybody's going to know now," but he was very good. Never did.
Mason Funk: Why might he have been a bully? Because he was just being able to see you ...?
Rob Wright: [00:06:30] Yeah, he may have been a bully. He had the ability to be a bully because he was very big, and strong, and a football guy, and into athletics. So he could have been, but he didn't.
Mason Funk: Did it ever occur to you that he was peeking around the corner because he was interested either in your or in this activity? Was he intrigued maybe?
Rob Wright: [00:07:00] No. I think he peaked around the corner just because he was curious. He probably didn't know that guys would take ballet.
Mason Funk: That's great. So Denver as a whole, you know, people from Denver you think of Colorado. You know, the west, and very macho guys, cowboys and cowgirls. Would you just say that was that how your growing up environment was or was it more accepting or a little more tolerant than that in terms of role models? I should say roles for boys and girls.
Rob Wright: [00:07:30] Growing up in Arvada, Arvada was quite a small town. It was a farming community, but we lived in the sort of downtown part. My dad would drive into Denver every day to go to work. We were, you know, okay middle class. We never lacked for anything, but I could always tell when payday was coming because we would have waffles for dinner.
Mason Funk: [00:08:00] That's great. You also mentioned to me that you loved theater along with ballet and along with the piano. So did it ever feel uncomfortable to you to be a kid who didn't like the typical boy things? Did you also like the typical boy things? How was that for you?
Rob Wright: [00:08:30] When I was growing up, I enjoyed sports. I enjoyed playing sports. However I've never really been one to watch sports. That was not what I wanted to do, so as a result of learning how to ski, I love skiing. That's an individual sport. So I really enjoy that as an example, but growing up in Arvada, I didn't feel ... I don't know, lacking in anything. We just, you know, had a normal childhood.
Mason Funk: Now you've mentioned that you got involved in Boy Scouts and that led to some of your first sexual experiences it sounds like.
Rob Wright: [00:09:00] Yeah. At I think it was age 8 I became a Cub Scout, and then excelled and then went into Boy Scouts, and went through all of the ranks all the way up to Order of the Arrow. So I did a very good job with being in Boy Scouts, and I loved camping, loved hiking, and I must say I did have couple of friends in Boy Scouts that we rather enjoyed being together.
Mason Funk: [00:09:30] So for a kid who never experienced that, me, share as much or as little as you're comfortable, but it's kind of captivating to me to think of kids in high school just kind of figuring out that they want to fool around together. So how would this come about?
Rob Wright: [00:10:00] I started fooling around with the other kids. I can think of a couple of different incidences. For example, in Boy Scouts, you know the sleeping bags are together in tents and we called it going fishing. So that's when you would reach down the sleeping bag and it felt like a fish.
Another time growing up is I always preferred double dating because we would have a nice date with the girls, take the girls home, and then the two guys would go out parking someplace. So that's how we ended up sort of experimenting and finding out who was safe to come out to in high school.
Mason Funk: By any chance, have you stayed in contact with any of these guys that you had your first experiences with and if they, you know, quote unquote turned out to be gay or otherwise?
Rob Wright: Yeah. Unfortunately none of them are around any longer.
Mason Funk: Sorry. Say, "None of the guys ..."
Rob Wright: [00:11:00] Oh. However, none of the guys that I had early sexual experiences with are around anymore. So I have not been able to stay in touch with any of them, but I think one at least did come out and was gay also.
Mason Funk: [00:11:30] I love the story of going double dating. Again, I'm just dumbfounded because I never went on double dates, but it would never have even occurred to me to somehow hook up the guy after we dropped the girls off. Was it a secret? Do you remember how you would communicate the desire to each other?
Rob Wright: [00:12:00] I don't remember. Let's see, in double dating, one friend in particular we just sort of ... I don't know. It was like a challenge, you know, how you would at least during that period in the 60's, one would always say, "Oh, blow me." Except we did.
Mason Funk: Wow. As far as you were concerned, how did it feel to you after the thing was over, and you went home, and you were going to bed? What were you thinking about those experiences you'd just had?
Rob Wright: [00:12:30] Unfortunately, after those experiences was a great deal of guilt. Well, I would say, "Oh, I'll never do that again." Until the following week. So yeah, it was repeated several times, but guilt was always there. That's probably where the ballet teachers came in because just knowing them and knowing that they were okay with being together, I felt, "Well, why shouldn't I feel comfortable? Why shouldn't I not feel guilty?" I think that was a very good, helpful, strong experience.
Mason Funk: That's great. That's amazing. As far as the guilt went, prior to sort of finding this sense of reassurance, do you know from whence that guilt sprang? What was the source? Who told you in a sense that this wasn't okay?
Rob Wright: [00:13:30] No one really told me that this was a bad thing to do.
Mason Funk: Don't forget to tell me what you're talking about.
Rob Wright: Oh, yeah. In thinking about feeling guilty, no one really told me that I should feel guilty, but I ...
Mason Funk: Sorry. I need to know what you were feeling guilty about.
Mason Funk: Say, "After messing around with my friends ..."
Rob Wright: [00:14:00] Okay. After messing around with my friends, you know, the guilt was pretty strong, but in thinking about it, no one really said that I should feel guilty but I did. Then when my parents found out that I was gay, then my parents said, "Well, why didn't you tell us? You could have gone to the preacher. We could have gotten you help." Et cetera. By that time, I was so comfortable with it, I told them that it took me what? I don't know, 17 years to get comfortable, and I didn't expect them to be comfortable overnight.
Mason Funk: Wow that's great. That's great. So I want to get to your coming out story a little later on. I definitely want to go back to that, but your parents, so they felt guilt. This is of course a common theme as well. Parents feeling guilt when their kids turn out to be gay. Like, "Oh, if only I'd known. I could have done something."
Rob Wright: [00:15:00] Right.
Mason Funk: Tell me a bit more, and this is jumping forward and then we're going to jump back in the story again, but just tell me about that conversation when your parents expressed that sense of regret to you. Was it both your parents? Your mom or your dad? What was going on? What was the scene?
Rob Wright: [00:15:30] Well, my coming out story is that we had a summer home in the mountains that I helped my dad build and improve, we changed all the electrical, the plumbing, the heating, everything. I felt it was partly mine and when I got together with a friend at the beginning of college, I took him up to the cabin. So we were just dancing, you know, together. Having a good time, and my father - this is about 45 minutes away from Denver- so my father all of a sudden is looking into the window like this. He's looking and he's ...
GORO TOSHIMA Okay. Sound speeding. All right and we're take three.
Mason Funk: You want to just mention that we just turned the A/C off.
Goro Toshima: Yeah. We just turned the A/C off so no more A/C.
Mason Funk: [00:16:30] No more A/C. Okay. So back up a little bit. Your friend and you are in your cabin and you're dancing. Next thing you know, you look at the window.
Rob Wright: [00:17:00] My coming out story to my parents is that we had a small cabin in the mountains and I helped build, and construct, and redo the plumbing, heating, electrical with my dad. So it was, you know, partly my place. So in college I had a friend, so we went to the mountains together and went up there.
So we were just enjoying being up there. Had some wine and cheese, and we were dancing in the living room, and then all of a sudden he freezes and looks and says, "There's somebody out there." So I turned around and I saw my dad looking in the window. I thought, "Oh my God, now what?" Went to the door and said, "Hi," and he said, "So. What were you doing? Dancing?"
I said, "Yeah." He says, "Oh, okay." Then so I said, "You want to come in and join us for some wine and cheese?" and he said, "No. I just saw some smoke coming out of the fireplace and I was down visiting, you know, our neighbors, and I didn't know that anybody was going to be here." So that's how my parents found out that I was gay.
Mason Funk: [00:18:30] So there must have been I would imagine further chapters. When was the next time the issue came up, or was it literally never spoken of again? What happened next? In terms of, you know, the coming out process.
Rob Wright: [00:19:00] So after my father's incident of seeing us dancing together, he in about two weeks ... Well, he called in about a couple of days and he said, "Can we have lunch?" I said, "No. I have exams." He says, "Well, when are they over?" It's like, "Oh, maybe 10 days." So we had lunch and he had prepared ... He went to all the trouble to prepare a thick stack of things that he had hand-typed all about what the bible says, and you know, why homosexuality was bad. So we had lunch, and he gave it to me, and that's about all that he said.
Then every time I would talk to my mother, which was usually I would talk to her maybe once or twice a week, but after this it was very difficult for her to talk. She would just burst into tears. So it took my mom and dad probably at least three to six months to get over it. You know, they were fine with me being gay, and they embraced all the people that were in my life, so they became very positive.
Mason Funk: [00:20:00] The quote you gave me earlier, you said that, "It took me 17 years to get comfortable with this. That's why I don't expect it to happen overnight for you," so that must have been later, right?
Rob Wright: [00:20:30] No. When my mother found out, I basically told her that it took me a long time to accept that I was gay, so I didn't expect that she would overnight accept it, and I knew that it would take some time.
Mason Funk: Do you know what happened ... I'm always curious about this with my friends who are still to this day, you know, conservative Christians but who obviously love and embrace me. I don't know what's happened to the beliefs they had or maybe have about me going to hell effectively. So do you know what happened to your parents? How did they make peace with for example your dad with his religious beliefs that he presented to you that day?
Rob Wright: [00:21:00] After my dad presented to me this packet of material that he had prepared, we never really spoke about it again. So I don't know how he came to terms with what he believed and what he thought the bible said. So I don't know. All I know is that he was okay with it.
Mason Funk: [00:21:30] Mm-hmm (affirmative). How about your mom? How did her evolution go?
Rob Wright: [00:22:00] My mom's response, you know, I think was a typical mother's response. You know, cry, cry, cry, and try and make guilt change you, but I had already made the decision of what I was and that I was comfortable. You know, she grew up in a very strict environment, Baptist, Southern Baptist. So she couldn't dance, she couldn't sing, she couldn't do anything. So I think that was probably had a lot to do with what her reaction was.
Mason Funk: [00:22:30] When you were able to say to your mom, "You know, I'm okay with it," apart from the sex, which obviously was important but probably not everything, what did you know about yourself that just made you feel comfortable with essentially being a gay man? What let you know that this was the right choice or just the right path for you?
Rob Wright: [00:23:00] For many years I had been dating with girlfriends, and when I got to college I just said, "You know, this really isn't for me," and one of my greatest regrets was breaking up with my girlfriend how we did it because I just told her that I was gay and she could not understand how I could be gay and still have been with her.
So that was a pretty bleak period of time, but I was okay with it. I was comfortable and I think because of the ballet teachers, and seeing them together, and knowing that they had a good relationship, and they've been together. They were together for such a long time that I was okay. It was not a problem.
Mason Funk: [00:23:30] Do you mind telling me the story in more detail about what led up to you finally making this decision to tell your girlfriend at the time that this wasn't going to work out? As much detail as you remember and care to share about how that all turned out.
Rob Wright: [00:24:00] Well, let's see. I decided that ... Oops. I'll start over. I decided that I would tell my girlfriend and break up with her because when I moved into the dorms in college, my roommate was gay. It just so happened to be and so he had been to some of the gay bars in downtown Denver. So it was my first time to go to a gay bar, and I went to the gay bars with him and discovered that yeah, this is where I feel comfortable. So that's how I decided that it was necessary for me to break up with my girlfriend because dragging it on would only make it worse.
Mason Funk: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So tell me the story. Paint the ...
Rob Wright: Paint the picture of my breakup.
Rob Wright: [00:25:00] Well, we were in the dorms and I called her and told her that ... I don't remember what I told her, but I said that we were going to have to not be together any longer, and of course she was totally surprised. It was like being dumped and I explained to her that, "I like guys. I'm gay," and she just did not understand that. She was a very intelligent young woman.
So she asked me to meet her downstairs in the common area, and so I did, and I couldn't find her. I searched everywhere so I figured, "Well, maybe she changed her mind." So I went back, went to bed, and found out that she was in a different corner than I was looking. So she had waited several hours and, you know, according to her, I never showed and that was bad.
Mason Funk: That makes it a tough situation worse.
Mason Funk: Roughly what year was this? Just create a full sentence kind of connecting what you just told me with the year that it was.
Rob Wright: [00:26:00] I graduated from high school in '67, went directly to college, and graduated college in '71. So I would say this was probably around 1970 that I had made the decision that I was just gay. I was not bisexual, I was gay.
Mason Funk: [00:26:30] Right. So what was going on? You're in Colorado still, and maybe clarify that, that you were living in Colorado at the time and fill in ... kind of paint a picture for me of what was going on vis a vis gay rights or gay activism that you were aware of or nationally. What was happening around you at the time?
Rob Wright: [00:27:00] In 1967 when I graduated from high school, let's see. I went to college. There was a certain area of the commons that the gay groups or that the gay individuals would gather. We ended up sitting at the same table all the time. If any time we were in the commons we would sit at that table, and anybody else that was walking through, they would come and join us. I got an idea that we needed to figure out a way to be inclusive and to figure out who else was gay.
So I came up with an idea that we would have a sort of a western party. So I arranged to rent a barn and told the farmer, the rancher, that we were going to have, you know, a dance. So he piled up the straw, and the bales of hay, and really made quite a nice area for us, and all these guys showed up, and I didn't mention it, but I think he was shocked that all these guys were there and that they were dancing together.
So that was my first fundraising. Well, no. It wasn't a fundraiser. That was just a party. that was the first party I ever did.
Mason Funk: [00:28:30] That's amazing. So you had a kind of instinct, almost a natural instinct to expand the circle, bring people in, make a safe place. Talk about that.
Rob Wright: [00:29:00] The reason I did that was because I've always enjoyed being social. I guess maybe because I play the piano and I enjoy people gathering around the piano and singing. I really like that. So I think that that's probably why I did that first party. It was called the gay ... No, it wasn't called gay, it was just called The Hoedown. So it was just sort of natural for me to do. To have a party. It spread by word of mouth, we really didn't do any invitations. That was the first time.
Mason Funk: So there was nothing on the invitation itself that said this is a gay dance?
Rob Wright: [00:29:30] No because I think ... I don't even remember if we did fliers or if there was an invitation at all. You know, I just don't remember. We had a nice turnout, it was probably 75 people, which is pretty good for CU Boulder at that time.
Mason Funk: So going into more detail about the farmer, that must have been in some ways just crazy to him. Tell me how did you find this guy and how did he respond when he realized this was a gay hoedown?
Rob Wright: [00:30:00] Let's see. In finding and researching a venue for this, we just came across this barn and met with the farmer, the rancher, excuse me. The rancher was very comfortable in having a party in his barn. So when he discovered that it was mostly guys ... There were a few lesbians, but mostly guys. He was more curious than ... He was not outraged. He wasn't, you know, upset or anything like that. I think he was very curious, he just sort of stood in the corner and just sort of watched. He was there just make sure his barn was respected and not burned down. So it was well done.
Mason Funk: [00:31:00] Great. This is all great stuff. I love that story. So fast forward a little bit. Tell me how you got to Los Angeles.
Rob Wright: [00:31:30] When my parents found out that I was gay I was working for 3M company and 3M Company ... Let's see. Is that quite right? I get confused. Okay. After my parents found out that I was gay, when I graduated I went to work with 3M Company. 3M Company, I was in their microfilm division so I was given the state of Colorado to sell microfilm to banks and libraries.
So I did a good job with that and there was a position that opened up in California, and I was offered that position in Los Angeles. So because my parents had just found out I was gay, and they were still not quite accepting, and they knew quite a few people in the community, and so I thought, 'Well you know, I'll save them the embarrassment of having a gay son and I will move to Los Angeles and then they can just say that I was transferred to Los Angeles with 3M Company.
I arrived here in Los Angeles, and walked into the sales office, and immediately identified one of the other salesmen as being gay. We're still friends and he's now living in Palm Springs.
Mason Funk: Wow. Now that you're in LA, how did that change your life?
Rob Wright: [00:33:00] Moving to LA did change my life. I drove with my partner at that time and we had a parrot, So we had a big old U-Haul with the parrot in between us and the cat on top of the cage. We drove the entire way and I remember coming down into the Los Angeles Valley and seeing how big it was.
We're listening to the radio and we both said, "Oh my God, Los Angeles is so big!" It has different temperatures, you know, depending on where you are in Los Angeles. So we had no idea where to go, or where to rent, or anything. We ended up on Beachwood in Hollywood and as everybody knows, Beachwood is somewhat gay and way somewhat gay in the early 70's and that's when we were there.
Mason Funk: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So you moved there with your boyfriend. You guys set up house together essentially?
Rob Wright: [00:34:00] We found an apartment that looked good. So we called the landlord and he came over to meet us. He was an ex dancer, producer, director, and immediately loved us. We loved him. He was from the South. He had a wonderful Southern accent and so we immediately rented half of the duplex and really enjoyed living in Beachwood.
Mason Funk: [00:34:30] That sounds wonderful. So fast forwarding a little bit, you mentioned one of the big events in your sort of political coming of age was for example the Anita Bryant moment in the mid-70's. By now you are like in your, let’s say your late 20's/early 30's.
Rob Wright: [00:35:00] In the 70's, when I moved to Los Angeles I was in my early 20's and one of the things that really got me bothered was when Anita Bryant did her anti-homosexual crusade and she was represented by the Florida Orange Juice consortium and so everybody stopped drinking Florida Orange Juice. I still don't drink Florida Orange Juice.
Then right after that, I don't even remember how long, but right after that was the Howard Briggs Initiative with Proposition 6. Proposition 6 was that you could not be gay and be a teacher. So all teachers who were homosexual were to be fired and that cemented my activism. I said, "That is not fair," and immediately started raising funds and gathering people together to be anti-Proposition 6.
Mason Funk: [00:36:30] What was the question I had? … Oh. Tell me about ... I know the story of that campaign pretty well. It started off being heavily favored, and then of course some things happened, and in the end it lost quite dramatically. Do you remember any of the details of that campaign? Of who was involved? Who spoke out? Any of that stuff?
Rob Wright: In the 70's, being in my 20's, I really didn't follow closely the news, or politics, or anything. So I really didn't follow how closely it lost, but it did lose, and we did celebrate. Yeah, so we were very happy about that.
Mason Funk: [00:37:00] Great. Great. Prior to this, would you say that you were mostly just sort of not political? Were you aware that there were people out there who were activists? Who were protesting? The Gay Liberation Front, for example. These more radical groups, were you aware of them? Did they have any part of your life?
Rob Wright: [00:37:30] You know, in college, the GLF, the Gay Liberation Front was why I became active. Well, I wasn't active, I was just socially learning and meeting other people. That's when my sister said, "Are you part of GLF?" because I had never come out to her. So I said, "Yes," and she had just gotten married at that time and her husband was this very very macho big guy that was on the railroad and I just knew that this was not going to be so good, but he was very very accepting. It was lovely.
Mason Funk: Tell me about your brother-in-law. How did he show his acceptance when you might have expected otherwise?
Rob Wright: You know, when he found out ...
Mason Funk: I'm sorry. Tell me who you're talking about.
Rob Wright: [00:38:30] When my sister asked me if I was part of the GLF and her husband was there, I was a little bit afraid and hesitant, but he was very warm. He grew up in a large family. I think he had like maybe five or six brothers and so he was very comfortable. None of them were gay, but he was very accepting and very comfortable. I was very shocked that he was as okay with me being gay as he was. He knew how much my sister loved me, so that's probably why.
Mason Funk: Right. That always helps. Now pretty soon after, you met John. Tell us the story about meeting John.
Rob Wright: I met John in the early 80's and he was friends of friends and he had lived down in Long Beach and he moved up to the Los Feliz area. I lived in Silver Lake at that time. So we ...
Mason Funk: Just pause for one second … something.
John: Oh, of course.
Mason Funk: We were just getting to the romantic stuff.
Rob Wright: [00:39:30] We're talking about you now.
John: Oh, good. Can I listen in?
Rob Wright: Sure.
Mason Funk: He can just throw corrections at the camera.
Rob Wright: Yeah. I was trying to think is there anything else in the 70's?
GORO TOSHIMA You know what might be good is if we just a little pause and we can just turn on the A/C for a few minutes?
Goro Toshima: All right. We're good.
Mason Funk: [00:40:00] So tell us since you've brought it up, ski patrol. Being on the ski patrol in college.
Rob Wright: In 1967, when I graduated from college, my uncle had a trailer and so he found a place to put it.
Mason Funk: I'm sorry. You probably graduated from high school in '67.
Rob Wright: Oh, yeah.
Mason Funk: Yeah. You said college.
Rob Wright: [00:40:30] Oh, gosh. I don't want to be that old. When I graduated from high school in 1967, my uncle had a trailer, and so he put it in a trailer park near Vail, and decided that he would go to through all of the training in order to be on the ski patrol and he asked me if I would like to go and be with him. So I said, "Sure, I'll go do that," and so we did all the training. Months of training, and then the final test he did not make it and I did, so I ended up on the ski patrol.
So I would go up every weekend in college and have a wonderful weekend of skiing and in return you would get a free ski pass. So I gave him the free ski pass. So he ended up skiing and keeping the trailer and we ended up having a great time. However, my grades did suffer and my father put his foot down and he said, "I think that you need to grow up and, you know, get a better job." So that ended up ski patrolling years.
Mason Funk: [00:42:00] You mentioned a minute ago that around this, but this would have been quite a bit later, you mentioned Harvey Milk. Being aware of him and tell me how you became aware of this guy in San Francisco named Harvey Milk and the events when he represented to you and what you remember about how his activism unfolded.
Rob Wright: [00:42:30] Let's see. In the late 70's, I think it was in the late 70's or mid-70's, it was in the mid-70's. The beginning and mid-70's there was a man named Harvey Milk that had a mantra and that was to come out, that's the only way we were going to change opinions is, "You have to come out." I endorsed that and I encouraged everybody that I knew to come out. I think that we can look back now and see the results of what he started. So I think that he was right, everybody has to come out. It helped, it worked.
Mason Funk: [00:43:00] Do you remember any particular ...? You said you would talk to your friends and you would encourage them to come out. Do you remember those conversations in detail or any particular conversations? What you would say, and what they would say, and how the conversation would go?
Rob Wright: [00:43:30] In regard to coming out, I would talk with people and they had not come out to their parents, and so I would tell them of my experience and how, yes, it was a little bit painful, and yes, it took some time for your parents to come around, but it all worked out in the end. Now we have PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, as an aid. That organization is one of the premiere organizations which I endorse supporting.
Mason Funk: [00:44:00] Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you happen to remember a book called Coming Out: An Act of Love? Is that anything you remember? Okay, just wondering.
Rob Wright: Nope.
Mason Funk: [00:44:30] Oh, I know what the question was. What do you think in the process of people that year coming out to their parents, or for that matter today, what do you think is the tipping point? What enables parents who might initially be very upset, or confused, or frightened, what do you think is the single most important thing that helps them kind of turn the corner towards acceptance or be comfortable with this?
Rob Wright: [00:45:00] I think parents are more able to accept their children as being gay or lesbian because so many people are out and so many more are coming out every day. I mean, we have actors, we have athletes, we have corporate executives, we have people everywhere coming out. So I think it's now okay, with the parents.
I mean, the parents all they knew in the 60's was what they were told by the government, you know, in the 50's and that's that it's a lonely life, and it ends up in suicide, and it's really bad. The religious leaders would paint such a horrible picture, but I think the reality is now that it's much more okay. Parents are more open to their kids being gay.
Mason Funk: [00:46:00] So you think that for the parents, I mean, obviously it's kind of a snowball effect. The more people that come out, the less freaking or lesser shocking it is for a parent. There's role models, there's tv, there's politicians, but around the time you were coming out and your parents had to adapt, what made it easier?
What would you tell your friends to say, "Look. My parents were at Point A, and then they were at Point B, and then they were at Point C, and Point D." Do you remember what it was that you think helped your parents to just get comfortable with the idea of you being gay? I don't know if there's an answer.
Rob Wright: [00:46:30] Yeah, I'm not sure there is, but my parents were probably more accepting because back again with my ballet teachers. They were just so happy together, and they had a business together, and they existed together, and it was proof positive that all of the negative things that homosexuals were portrayed were not true of everyone. So I think that helped them a lot.
Mason Funk: Did you ever talk to your ballet teachers about you being gay?
Rob Wright: [00:47:00] I don't think my parents ever talked to anyone about me being gay. They just weren't that kind. I think that there closest friends probably figured it out and knew. They had a poker club that they would play poker with the same people every month, but I don't think they did. I don't think they did.
Mason Funk: [00:47:30] Mm-hmm (affirmative). Which is such a hard thing to imagine. You know, we are so used to having people we confide in, we talk to, our circle in general, we have partners, but we also have these groups, these circles of friends that we talk to about personal issues. Whoopsie. It's hard to imagine for me, you know, the parents of our generation or our parents' generation, maybe they're okay with it, but they still don't feel like they can talk to anybody about it. Was that your parent's case, do you think?
Rob Wright: [00:48:00] In my parents' case back in the 60's, having a child that was gay was not okay with society and so I don't think they had anybody to talk to, so no. I think that was a problem also. Back to Harvey Milk, he said, "You must come out." I think parents and friends of lesbians and gays really helped bring parents to come out to say, "I have a kid and he or she is gay." So I think that helps a lot too.
Mason Funk: Yeah, for sure. Okay. So now let's go back to where we were a few minutes ago, which is John. So tell us about meeting John. How did that all come about?
Rob Wright: [00:49:00] John and I got together. Well, we first met each other in the early 80's, probably around 1980 when he moved from Long Beach up to Los Angeles. We met one evening when my then partner and I were having a cocktail party. Some friends of friends invited him. We said, "Sure. Bring him. You know, we'd love to meet him." So that was my first time to meet him and then when I broke up with that partner, whose name was Bud, I was at a bar and ran into him, and he asked where Bud was.
I said, "Well, we're not together anymore." So he said that he was very sorry to hear that and would I like to go out with him tomorrow? So we did end up going out and it was my birthday. Bud called him and told him it was my birthday and so Bud was okay with it also.
Mason Funk: So when John asked you out to dinner when you ran into each other on the 14th. What was it that you saw in John that made you say yes and what about …?
Rob Wright: [00:50:30] Well number one, I had no plans. John was a wonderful gentleman, smart, very intelligent and he's very caring and very loving, I think that that was the attraction. So we did. Our first date was my birthday, April 15th.
Mason Funk: What do you think? Can you give me some examples of where you've seen John behave in a way that's in keeping with his kindness, his compassion, that other people might have behaved differently that maybe you said, "This guy's really special?"
Rob Wright: Off the top of my head I can't think of anything. It has to be in the notes.
Mason Funk: [00:51:00] Okay, but you could tell. It was also just something that you sometimes just have a gut feeling about somebody. Was it that kind of thing?
Rob Wright: [00:51:30] Yeah. I just knew that he was a very kind soul and you know what they say about old souls. They've been around and he was just wonderful. I met his parents and his parents were great. I loved his dad. They were both from Scotland, but his dad had this wonderful Scottish brogue and so i just loved to engage him in conversation just so I could hear him talk.
Mason Funk: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So how did your relationship kind of unfold? What were the different stages of the two of you guys kind of as you moved forward over the next couple of years, five years, 10 years?
Rob Wright: [00:52:00] Wow. Well, John and I, we moved in together shortly after our first meeting and we've just never really been apart. We hardly ever argue. We disagree sometimes, but it's a healthy disagreement. We never argue. Yeah, we just get along very very well and have for 34 years.
Mason Funk: [00:52:30] Wow. What would you say is the key if you were to be giving somebody advice who if you're in a relationship it's a little bit difficult or maybe when you're contemplating a relationship. What to you is the secret to you and John's success?
Rob Wright: [00:53:00] I would say the secret to almost anybody's success as a couple is that, you know, most everything that you disagree with are small things. You know, if it's a big deal and makes a big amount of difference, then you know, it's worth an argument or a discussion. The long term goal is I think the partnership. That would be my advice.
Mason Funk: [00:53:30] Now you guys I'm not sure if it was together to if John was already involved, but you eventually became very involved in the LA Gay and Lesbian center. Tell me what was your first exposure to … at the time the Gay and Lesbian Community Center.
Rob Wright: It was GLSES.
Mason Funk: So tell me what you're talking about when you say GLSES.
Rob Wright: [00:54:00] John and I first became acquainted with the center in Los Angeles. It was the Gay and Lesbian Community Services center of Los Angeles when they did their first black tie dinner. So we went. I think it was probably $100 and they had all of about probably 100 people there, but it was the first black tie event for a gay organization that I ever remembered existed. We didn't think there would be very many people there and it was great. It really cemented, you know, the gay and lesbian people that were there together and we became good friends with a lot of the people and still have been.
Mason Funk: Why did that organization resonate for you? What was it about it that made you want to be involved?
Rob Wright: [00:55:00] Our first exposure to the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center and the reason that we wanted to get involved was that so many of the kids, the teenagers, were being kicked out of their houses in the Midwest. That still happens today, but back then, it was really a problem. The center was their help, the kids didn't know where to go and they would end up in Los Angeles. They wanted to become a star, be discovered. That's very difficult and they needed help. So we decided to get involved and help.
I remember that I decided that I would do a fundraising event. I didn't charge very much and we had a huge number of people. Since I was in real estate, I had access to some of the more interesting or best done houses in the area and so I would ask the owners, "Can we have an event at your house?" and it was almost always yes.
We had some of the most wonderful hosts. I went around getting liquor donated and I'm not sure that that had ever been done before either for a gay cause. They turned into annual events and I was chairman for many years. Became a member of the board of directors of the Gay and Lesbian Center, and then lo and behold, they went on a fundraising drive to buy their own building.
So John and I decided that we would give the leading gift in order for them to do that. As far as I know, it was probably the largest gift ever given to a gay organization, and all of a sudden it allowed other people to give larger and larger gifts instead of $100 or so. You know, they gave into the 10's of thousands and the 100's of thousands. We're very pleased and proud of that.
Mason Funk: That must be an amazing feeling. Tell us the story ... ?
GORO TOSHIMA All right. This is a completely new audio file.
Mason Funk: Well, I didn't reset it.
Goro Toshima: [00:57:30] Oh, you didn't? Okay. It may be the same one, but it's video take five. All right.
Mason Funk: Okay. So we were talking about the center. I can't remember if I asked the question. Oh, the building. The building on Schrader Boulevard and the story of you guys being officially denied a 501-C3 permit.
Rob Wright: [00:58:00] Right. There's a story, an interesting story about this building that the center bought. Back in the 60's, I think it was 1963 or so, a couple of people just got together and decided that we should have a place to meet. So they found an old beaten down house on Wiltshire and fixed it up. The main argument of the day was, "Should it have the word gay on it?" It was going to be the Gay Community Services Center. It was decided, yes, that was okay. Then it quickly ran out of space. Outgrew its square footage.
So therefore we found an old warehouse on Highland and they moved into the old warehouse, and fixed it up, and it became their offices for many many years. It was during that period of time that Shelly Andleson, who was an attorney. A very prosperous and generous philanthropic attorney that owed a lot of West Hollywood decided that we needed to become a 501-C3.
So we did all of the paperwork and submitted the application to the IRS. The IRS building was in Hollywood. It was immediately turned down and the comment was, "We do not give 501-C3s to people like you." So it was that building that we bought. Four stories in Hollywood and it used to be the IRS headquarters. We were happy about that.
Mason Funk: [01:00:00] What feeling did you have? I mean, I've been in that building and every time it just completely blows me away. Every single time. I don't know if … Everything about it basically. That's just me, but what does it feel like to you driving up to that building? You see your name on it, your names, and then walk inside. What's that like?
Rob Wright: The building is ...
Mason Funk: Just tell me what you're talking about.
Rob Wright: [01:00:30] The Gay Community Services Center building that they bought that used to house the IRS headquarters is now on Schrader Boulevard. Rand Schrader was a judge and a very good friend of ours who passed away and they named the street in front of the center Schrader Boulevard. Every time we go in there, number one, we think of Rand Schrader. Number two, we are so happy that we now have a flagship for the center.
It's reincarnating now with the purchase of some land just south of it. They're going to build a new headquarters building and they're going to change the building that is our building, the McDonald-Wright Building, they're going to change that into all health services. Which is apropos because that's where John spent his entire career was in health services.
Mason Funk: [01:02:00] Wow, that's cool. I didn't know about this plan, but that's really cool. Now let me ask you this. Total change of topic, but there's a term, the so-called pride divide. Back in the day there was not a lot of common cause between gay men and lesbians. They just didn't have much in common prior to the AIDs epidemic. Can you tell me about that? Is that something that you think is accurate? Do you remember it from personal experience?
Rob Wright: [01:02:30] As we were growing up and maturing, we liked to include the lesbians in everything that we did. We would include them in parties. They loved singing around the piano. They helped raise funds for the anti-Proposition 6. As a result of their involvement and their care during the AIDS crisis, we have opened our arms even wider to be inclusive of the lesbian community.
Mason Funk: [01:03:00] So for you there was never ... It can naturally it sounds like to want to have one community in a sense, as opposed to sort of fragmented or splintered communities of the so-called gay movement.
Rob Wright: [01:03:30] Absolutely right. We are very very interested in having one community, not a lesbian community and a gay male community, we would love to have one community. That's why it's named the LGBT Center, especially the one here in the desert, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual. That's what it was? LGBT Center of the desert.
Mason Funk: [01:04:00] Right. So you alluded to the AIDS crisis and of course … what are your first memories of the disease? Of people being struck. All the public confusion. The concern. The outcry. What are some of your earliest memories of the Aids epidemic?
Rob Wright: [01:04:30] The AIDS crisis to me started around 1980 when friends were getting sick and we didn't know why. They were blaming it on poppers because poppers were very popular on the dance floor at the time, but that didn't make any sense. I mean, why would that cause AIDS? I remember Doctor Gottlieb. It was Gottlieb, right? That discovered the virus.
Everybody was really concerned and we would take the AIDS test and totally fearful for the day when we would receive the test results. John and I escaped, we never had HIV, it never became seropositive. We had so many friends that had passed away, so many good people. So many people that would have been so successful and so beneficial for society.
Mason Funk: Are there any that stand out in particular? Are there any stories or anecdotes that you remember with great clarity?
Rob Wright: [01:05:30] God, I'd have to think about that. I can't think of any right now.
Mason Funk: [01:06:00] Okay. I forgot to ask John this, but I'll ask you. How did it feel to, as you just put it, to escape? How did it feel then, how does it feel now, to have never tested positive? To have survived the epidemic when so many didn't?
Rob Wright: [01:06:30] How it feels to have survived the epidemic and never have tested positive is very lucky, just luck. Having complete unknown causes. I mean, we didn't know how to prevent or what to prevent ourselves against. That was very very difficult. Yeah, we just feel very very lucky. There's just no other word for that.
Mason Funk: Was there ever any feelings of so-called survivor's guilt?
Rob Wright: Having survived HIV and never gotten it, no. I don't feel guilty at all. Just lucky.
Mason Funk: [01:07:00] Was it the kind of thing ... Again, this is a little bit … yet. It must have been so confusing to not really understand the rhyme and reason. To not be able to understand why some people were getting sick and others weren't. Do you remember that?
Rob Wright: [01:07:30] I remember that we just didn't understand why some people were getting sick and why some people weren't. Then again, we really didn't discuss their sexual practices either. I've been sexually active since I was probably 14. So I've been very very active and I guess I just have never done the wrong things. Wrong things? No. Have never done the things that caused you to get HIV.
GORO TOSHIMA … better.
Goro Toshima:
Rob Wright: Under their thumb?
Rob Wright: Barefoot. Pregnant.
GORO TOSHIMA [01:08:00] All right, so I'm still speeding. Okay. All right, I'm speeding. Take six.
Mason Funk: Okay. Let's just touch briefly about the lesbian response to the AIDS epidemic. You've alluded to it, but tell me what you remember about that as a kind of critical moment.
Rob Wright: [01:08:30] The lesbian response to the AIDS epidemic, we had a girlfriend that we really enjoyed being with, her name was Terri and she was an epidemiologist. She was spearheading the gathering a group of nurses together to be unafraid to come in and care for the guys that were sick. Because of her lead, I think that sort of paved the way for other nurses to realize that they were not at risk and that they could come in and help. Remember at that time we thought it could be from coughing, it could be from touching, it could be from who knows what. Yeah, Terri did a really good job in recruiting nurses to come in and help.
Mason Funk: What was her last name? Do you remember?
Rob Wright: [01:09:30] Yes, I do. Terri McCabe, Terri McCabe. Haven't stayed in touch with her, so eventually, you know, everybody we know moves out to Palm Springs, so she'll probably be here too.
Mason Funk: [01:10:00] Okay. Great. What has surprised you the most about the changes that we've witnessed over say the past let's say 50/60 years? From where we were say 50/60 years, the way gay people were viewed, the risks they ran, the possibly getting fired or arrested, or … What surprises you about the enormous changes that have taken place?
Rob Wright: [01:10:30] The enormous changes that have taken place over the past 50/60 years is absolutely incredible and overwhelming. Again, back to Harvey Milk, I mean, he said, "You have to come out, You have to come out and you have to give these people hope." He was so prescient. I mean, back in the 50's, if you were discovered to be gay and were outed at work, you would instantly be fired.
I think that's why so many of the gay community are self-employed. We have so many florists, we have so many beauticians. You know, you can think of almost everything, doctors and dentists. Everybody that has their own single profession so that they couldn't be fired.
Mason Funk: [01:11:30] Mm-hmm (affirmative). I was asking John also if there's some part of a so-called gay spirit also, it just doesn't adapt that well to say hierarchical organizations. Are we kind of maybe wired differently? Apart from the practical considerations I guess I'm asking, do you think we're sort of wired differently to want to make different choices than other folks?
Rob Wright: [01:12:00] Gosh. Do I think we were wired differently? I don't know. I think I missed the creative gene. I don't do such a good job with interior design, but I do appreciate it. I guess my creativity sort of went in my fingers and that's what I like to do is play the piano.
Mason Funk: We'll have to hear you play something before we leave for sure.
Mason Funk: [01:12:30] Okay. Now let's talk about John was very articulate about the importance of the law and therefore the chair that you guys endowed through the Williams Center at UCLA. Can you talk about that from your point of view? What felt meaningful to you to be able to contribute in that way? Tell us about what you guys did at UCLA.
Rob Wright: [01:13:00] Regarding the Williams Institute, we first met Chuck Williams at a dinner party which was for the LA center. We began talking to him and he had just retired. He was trying to figure out what to do. He wanted to do something significant with his wealth, so he decided that he would start The Williams Institute, which was basically a think tank. He selected the UCLA Law School as where he wanted to have the institute. One of the things that they were doing that they wanted funding for was a professor to go out and teach CLE classes, which is continuing legal education, to lawyers and the judiciary.
John and I decided that we would help fund that. We had a professor, his first class was I think up in Oregon. We thought that it would be successful if I don't know, maybe a half dozen, a dozen people would come in. What really happened is he was overwhelmed with the number of attorneys and the number of judges. Including all but one of the currently then sitting state judges. Supreme Court judges of Oregon.
His course was so successful because the judges would pepper him with questions and it really gave him an idea of what to do in the future. These attorneys and judges knew that the same-sex cases were going to be coming before them and they really wanted to do a good job. They wanted to be able to make their decisions without prejudice and so they wanted fact and that's what the Williams Institute provide them with.
Mason Funk: [01:15:00] Mm-hmm (affirmative). So the idea being that this concept of same-sex law. Define for me what effectively is same-sex law?
Rob Wright: [01:15:30] Same-sex issues in the law is relatively a new area and not many people know about it because it's developing. As you know, law is based on presidents. So there is no law until a judge has decided something and as the law is decided one after another, it's based upon the prior decisions.
The most important function for us as a community is to make sure that the beginning decisions are made based on fact and not the prejudice of the individual attorney or the judge that is making that decision. So if you have good decisions to start with, then you build upon that as a good building blocks for good law.
Mason Funk: [01:16:30] I guess I'm putting you on the spot, but can you remember an example?... Is there a specific example of an issue or a type of a case that might come before a judge where this initial ruling, this president-setting ruling, has been or could be very important. What kinds of legal issues are we talking about here?
Rob Wright: [01:17:00] The kinds of same-sex issues that might come before a court would be well now that we have same-sex marriage, it would be same-sex divorce, division of property. We have inheritance problems because this has never been done before. What about children? We have children that have come into a marriage or into a partnership. We have children that have become a part of a partnership so in a breakup, what happens?
If you move to a different state where it's illegal to have same-sex marriage and there were some states that it's illegal for a same-sex couple to have children, to have children in their homes. So if you move to, I don't know, Mississippi, you know, can they take their children away from them? The answer's yes they can. Those are the types of issues that we want to work through, and develop, and get the good building blocks done.
Mason Funk: [01:18:00] That's great. That's really great, thank you for that. What do you remember about Bill Clinton's election? Yeah, just Bill Clinton. What do you remember about him being elected?
Rob Wright: [01:18:30] I was working very hard during the elections so I don't remember very much about it. I never really got involved with elections. I've always been ... Oh, here's something. Back in the mid to late 70's when I first moved to Los Angeles, I got involved with a group of guys that were business people just like me. They were Republicans and so we started the Log Cabin Republican Club.
It built upon itself and became successful. We had some wonderful things that we were able to do within the Republican party. Then Pat Buchanan took over the microphone at the Republican National Convention and was just spewing his hatred and anti-homosexual comments. It was horrible. Well, right then and there, it was the end of being involved with Republicans for us. I don't know why I'm telling you this.
Mason Funk: I said to… They're a part of the community as well.
Mason Funk: [01:20:00] … So I'm really curious. Was that both you and John who initially were feeling like this was a place where you felt like you liked to be a Log Cabin Republican?
Rob Wright: [01:20:30] Oh, the Log Cabin Republican Club was a fiscally conservative and John and I are still fiscally conservative, but we're socially liberal. The Republican party at that time was conservative, but not as conservative as it is today. They have almost ... It used to be that they would say, "We are inclusive in our party. We open the tent to everybody." Well, that's not true now.
There's just no way that we can be a part of a party that basically would just as soon you were not here. You know? They don't even want you to exist. So we are now in favor totally of the Democrats. This election that's happening right now is probably the most important election that we have seen in our lifetimes and it's because of the number of Supreme Court judges that will be appointed during the next president's tenure.
Mason Funk: [01:21:30] Yeah. Tell me about it. So do you remember what year you had left the Republican Party? Was it by the time that Bill Clinton had run for office or was that just a wash?
Rob Wright: Yeah. When Bill Clinton ran we had already decided that we were no longer supportive of the Republican party.
Mason Funk: He represents ... I mean, a lot of people regard him as kind of like the first gay-friendly president. Did that resonate with you at all?
Rob Wright: [01:22:00] I think that Bill Clinton probably was the first gay-friendly president. Yes, I think he did some wonderful things for us and he did a few things that didn't turn out so good, but I think his heart was in the right place. He was a negotiator.
Mason Funk: [01:22:30] What are some of the things you think ... What would you think of as the high point of his presidency and then a low point?
Rob Wright: The lowest point was Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That was to satisfy, you know, the other part of Congress. So he didn't think it would be such a bad thing that turned out to be a really bad thing. So I would say that was probably the lowest.
Mason Funk: [01:23:00] Yeah. You know, another thing that John said was that he said that initially when the question arose about whether or not to put gay on that first Gay and Lesbian Community Center. He tended to be of the mind that you should kind of keep it under wraps a little bit and other people were, "No. You've got to put the word gay." He said, "I was wrong." Very matter of fact. Do you remember that kind of skirmish and the tensions that existed between the more in-your-face, and of course, it still exists today … the more in-your-face people, and the more kind of the baby steps kind of people.
Rob Wright: [01:24:00] When the Gay Community Services Center on Wiltshire had that little tiny house and the big argument was whether to put gay on the building or not, our good friend, Lloyd Wriggler was one of the ones that was very anti-putting it in there and he withdrew his support at that time. He really never did come back to the Gay Community Services Center, especially after we put gay and lesbian on it. He has since passed away, but he was of the old school. Let's see. I was going towards something because you said putting gay and lesbian ...
Mason Funk: [01:24:30] Yeah the tension between the in-your-face people and more kind of baby steps and that kind of stuff.
Rob Wright: [01:25:00] Oh. Okay. So that segued right into the marriage issue. Should we be happy with partnerships? Domestic partnerships? Limited partnerships? Do we want to go full bore with marriage? A lot of people said, "You know, let's not push this too far because we'll never be able to attain full marriage rights for same-sex marriage," and they were wrong. I'm so pleased that we didn't have to fight those individual battles. There would have been, I think it was 1,200, little tiny battles that marriage is mentioned in the law. So we would have had to fight each one of those. I'm glad we didn't.
Mason Funk: You know, it just came back to me. I just flashed back on myself saying … the fear that if we pushed for marriage equality and we lost.
Rob Wright: That we won't get anything.
Mason Funk: It will send us way back.
Mason Funk: [01:26:00] … Maybe not forever, but for a few minutes. That's interesting. Tell us about when you and John, you got married in the window of opportunity in 2008, right before Prop 8 passed, and I think it was October. Is that right?
Rob Wright: [01:26:30] There was a window of opportunity in 2008 for same-sex marriage to take place in the State of California. So we watched and we were concerned when we saw Proposition 8 and how it was sort of taking over everybody's thoughts. I can see why because the people in the mid-central area of California were unsure about this and "Why not leave it to status quo?" was what they were thinking. Therefore, Proposition 8 passed and became anti-marriage.
Before it did, John and I decided, "You know, it's now or never," so we decided to get married in October, October of 2008, before the election in November. We donated all of the money that we were going to use to celebrate our marriage to the cause. So we had a small private little wedding here.
Service. It was officiated by our good friend, Steve Lacks, who is a judge, and He's retired now. So we had a nice little service with our good friends Bill and Dennis that had been the longest term friends for John. We had a wonderful little service and we used the rings that we gave each other back 30 years before and celebrated at our local restaurant here the valeries
Mason Funk: What was the ceremony itself like? How did it feel? How did you feel?
Rob Wright: [01:28:30] The ceremony we thought was just going to be, you know, sort of a typical mundane just words, but Steve Lacks was so eloquent and he spoke so beautifully about commitment, and about, you know, what it means to each other, and how staying together is, you know, so very important that we were just all in tears. It was a beautiful beautiful ceremony. Yes.
Mason Funk: [01:29:30] Okay. Two more kind of historical questions and then a few background questions. We've seen a tremendous emergence of transgender inclusivity now as compared to five years ago … 30 years ago. How has that struck you? I figure a lot of people when they … one of them kind of said, "Gays are one thing. Transgender, transsexual people have their own battles to fight, like are we really a community?" and all those kind of naïve things you say, but that was just me. So how is your awareness and when did you begin to get more aware and how has your perceptions of the transgender or trans community changed over time?
Rob Wright: [01:30:00] My perception of the transgender community has really made an about face. The first transgendered person I knew was an artist from Provincetown and I wanted to ask her so many questions. I just didn't know how and I didn't know how it would be appropriate, but she was the nicest lady. I don't think I got to know her well enough, but if I had, I would have asked her a lot of things.
The next transgendered person that I was aware of I met through a friend in Studio City and this lady was really quite an elegant, picturesque, well-dressed lady, moved extremely beautifully. Then as we got involved in other areas of the gay community and moved out here, we met Lisa and Lisa took over the executive directorship of the LGBT center in the desert. She was just so warm, and kind, and beautiful. I've never met a transgender person that was mean, nasty, bad, or anything.
Mason Funk: You know, all this current talk right now is of bathroom usage and, you know, they've made such a big deal about it. There have been transgendered people for so many years and they've always used the bathroom of whichever choice they wanted and it just doesn't make sense to me. You go in your stall, and you do your little business, and you know that's all you do. So I just think it's just ridiculous. It's overwhelming how now at least transgender people are being talked about. That's the good thing. Listen I gotta change the batt …Alright
Mason Funk: [01:32:00] … because initially when I heard that you were …saying you will probably be in Colorado, so I was all getting excited about the trip to Nevada .
Rob Wright: Still come. Come on. Come on.
Mason Funk: We're going to Denver actually for two interviews [inaudible] but next one…
Rob Wright: Who are you doing in Denver?
Mason Funk: I'm doing a Native American poet.
Rob Wright: [01:32:30] Okay, I wouldn't know him. Who else? Or her.
Mason Funk: It's a guy. There's a Latino activist who's been around forever named Laziano Martinez who has a really interesting story. That's another part of the community that I'm trying to make sure I have [inaudible] the latino people.
Rob Wright: Yeah. Sure.
Mason Funk: He's turning out to be incredibly hard to find, strangely hard because he's in the news, I just can't find anybody to tell me this is his email address, but I'll find him eventually. He seems to [inaudible] He has a really unique story.
Rob Wright: [01:33:00] Do you have anything to do with the LGBT center in there?
Mason Funk: Not yet. This is just the beginning. I've been in touch with the LGBT center because they were going to connect me with La Cienega, but I know we’ve been reviewing gay history in Colorado, there's amazing stories.
Rob Wright: Yeah. There's a Navajo in New Mexico that was very active too. Is that the one that was killed though?
Mason Funk: I don't know actually.
Mason Funk: [01:33:30] But any of these names that you think of if you want to send an email. That would be all well.
Rob Wright: Well, you know, we know so many people, but as I'm going through them it's like, "Well, they're not very giving. They're not very active, but they're not active enough." Yeah, so I'm deleting them faster than I'm giving them to you.
Mason Funk: [01:34:00] In all honesty, in some cases I really am interested. If somebody's just kind of come under the radar but had an interesting story as well, I think that's part of our story as well. So I would say even more names than fewer if you think they might be interesting unless you just don't like them.
Rob Wright: Well, and here's another aspect to that. You never know if you talk to, you know, person A, he may know person B, C, and D and those are the people that you want. You don't want person A, so maybe yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:34:30] Okay. Well, let me ask you one more question. I'm sure you expected to be asked. This is about bisexual people because one of my very strong intentions with this archive is to make sure that the B in our acronym is not just an afterthought. The people that I’ve contacted so far they're very passionate about their community because they feel like it is not all the time that you might get a token of bisexual in a whole documentary about the LGBT community or something like that.
My question for you is just from a personal perspective, what have been your thoughts? What have been your experiences of bisexual people, if any? Is that something that you … Just that if you have something to share in terms of your own experience with that part of our community?
Rob Wright: [01:36:00] Regarding bisexuality, you know, as we were growing up and we were having relations with women or girls and then finding out about guys, I just assumed, "Well, I'm bisexual." Then later in life, in college, I thought, "You know, this is too hard. Let's just choose one or the other," and overwhelmingly, you know, decided that I was a homosexual.
I don't know if bisexuality is sort of a noncommittal sort of position or if there really truly is, you know, one that doesn't care. I think performance is one thing, preference is another. So I don't know the answer to that question, but yeah, I would tend to say get off the fence and do one or the other and that's not what they want to hear.
Mason Funk: Right. Right. Alrighty. Okay, last question. This is like a little series of short, relatively short, kind of standardized questions. First of all, just for the record in case I want to use this, just remember to state your name. No spelling. As a complete sentence. As in, "My name is Rob Wright, period," but don't say period.
Rob Wright: My name is Rob Wright.
Mason Funk: [01:37:00] Then do the same with, "I was born in ..." whatever.
Rob Wright: I was born in 1949 in Denver, Colorado.
Mason Funk: If you could do it just one more time where you're just saying the year you were born in.
Rob Wright: I was born in 1949.
Mason Funk: Great. What advice would you give to future generations?
Rob Wright: The advice for future generations would be ...
Mason Funk: [01:37:30] If you could say, "My advice ..."
Rob Wright: [01:38:00] My advice to future generations is give as much as you can, give often, give where you can and give how much you can. It doesn't have to be in money, it can be in volunteerism. You can volunteer for all kinds of things. I think it's really important that we all do what we can with what we're able to do.
Mason Funk: Great. What is the value of it? Why is giving so important?
Rob Wright: [01:38:30] The importance of giving is because you want to belong. Everybody should belong to society and only in that way if you give back, you can't be taking all the time. You must give.
Mason Funk: [01:39:00] Great. Fantastic. What are your hopes for the future vis a vis I guess primarily to our community, the LGBT community? What do you hope for?
Rob Wright: The thing that I hope for is that everybody will be able to do what they aspire to do. That they will have the freedom to do it. They will have ... I said it well over here. Pardon me.
Mason Funk: Consult your notes.
Rob Wright: [01:39:30] Mm-hmm (affirmative). Oh, equal opportunity. That's what I wanted. What was the question?
Mason Funk: what are your hopes for the future?
Rob Wright: My hope for the future is that everybody has an equal opportunity to be what they want to be. To fulfill whatever they aspire to be.
Mason Funk: [01:40:00] Great. Lastly, could you answer the question, "Why is OUTWORDS, the idea of this archive that captures our history in kind of a very inclusive and diverse way? Why is OUTWORDS important?"
Rob Wright: [01:40:30] I think OUTWORDS is an important endeavor because history is lost if it's not written down or recorded and I think it's very very important that we do record our history. Let's face it, this is the beginning of the gay community becoming a community. Is that good?
Mason Funk: That's awesome.
Rob Wright: I don't know. That good?
Mason Funk: Great. … any questions?
Goro Toshima: No…
Mason Funk: [01:41:00] We're going to do something … Rob, anything you feel like you would like?
Rob Wright: [01:41:30] Well, let's see. Let's see, let's see, let's see. No, I think we did a very good job. You did a very good job. We covered everything on my little notes.
Mason Funk: All right. Yeah, I tried to make sure that I incorporated your notes into my questions …
Rob Wright: Yeah. Oh, you know, I didn't even mention, but we don't have to, one of the fundraising during the AIDS crisis. Labor Day LA.
Mason Funk: [01:42:00] We're still rolling, so just to camera.
Rob Wright: [01:42:30] Oh. During the AIDS crisis, there was an organization that many of the key people in West Hollywood started and it was called Labor Day LA. Labor Day LA was established to raise funds every year over Labor Day weekend and then we would divvy up the funds to all of the various organizations that we felt deserved to be funded. So we had committees and it was such an experience.
We had people flying in from all over the United States to attend Labor Day LA. I became chairman of the grants committee and I was chairman of the grants committee for I don't know, maybe four or five years. So my committee would go, during the year, would go visit each one of the people that were applying for a grant from Labor Day LA.
We would go and see what they were doing. We would see what they needed and we would see how much money that we could give them out of the entire bundle. I thought that was a very very important anti-AIDS and cementing of the community that I was personally involved with.
Mason Funk: Wonderful. Wonderful. Do you remember when the ... What was it called? The organization that delivered food.
Rob Wright: That's the food bank or ...
Mason Funk: Project Angel Food.
Mason Funk: I remember it then being called Divine Design.
Rob Wright: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Mason Funk: That's when I first moved to LA.
Rob Wright: [01:44:00] Was Divine Design? Yeah.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Going to that … design center, that was a lot of fun. You know, that's when your comment about giving really is important because that's when I felt connected to the LA community.
Rob Wright: Ah, is through giving.
Mason Funk: Through participating, volunteering, and driving meals. Literally I drove meals to people.
Rob Wright: Yeah, that's a good point. Yeah. It cements your relationship with the community.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Okay, we're going to do 30 seconds of what's called room tone, which is just recording the room.
Rob Wright: Okay. So you want me to move? I'll move.
Mason Funk: Still like a statue.
GORO TOSHIMA [01:44:30] Room tone. This is a test layout for seven. Okay.
Mason Funk: All right. That's about it.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Goro Toshima
Date: June 13, 2016
Location: Home of Rob Wright and John McDonald, Palm Springs, CA