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Roy Ashburn was born in Long Beach, California, in 1954, and grew up in San Luis Obispo along California’s central coast. At 8, Roy became interested in public service for the first time, and by the time he reached high school, he was elected student body president of Arroyo Grande High School. Roy went on to earn his BA in public administration at Cal State Bakersfield. While there, he served as president of the Bakersfield Republican Assembly. By 1988, he was serving as Kern County chair for the George H.W. Bush presidential campaign. 

During this entire time and for years afterwards, as Roy got married, had kids, and continued to climb the ladder of California GOP politics, he knew he was gay. Years earlier, he had seen what happened when one of his middle school teachers was arrested for “lewd and lascivious behavior” with another man. Roy saw the public shaming and ruination that befell that teacher. Probably accurately, Roy believed he could never be a public servant from California’s deeply conservative Central Valley and be openly gay. He stayed closeted, with tragic consequences.

In 1997, Roy was elected to the California State Assembly. In 2002, he was elected to the California State Senate. Roy stayed in the California Senate until 2010. During his time in Sacramento, he consistently voted against gay rights legislation. He voted against funding for HIV/AIDS, even when his own brother was dying of AIDS.

In 2010, Roy’s life turned upside down when he was arrested for drunk driving on his way home from a gay bar. At the age of 55, he finally came out. He also got sober. Since coming out, he has been able to transform his life from one based in fear to one based in “authenticity, serenity and love.” He has also done a lot of repenting and making amends.

Today, Roy is married to a man named Nattapong Charoenmit. He has three grown daughters and four grandchildren. Roy and Nattapong live back in San Luis Obispo, where Roy grew up, about 135 miles and several worlds west of Bakersfield. 
Andrew Lush: [00:00:00] All right. So now recording on that camera and I'm just going to start recording this Zoom session as a backup. So this is just a backup and I'm going to turn myself off and if anything happens, I'm here. So, you know, if any tech problems, and I may interrupt just in case something goes wrong I can see on the recording and otherwise it's all good.
Roy Ashburn: [00:00:30] Bye, bye, Gogo. Bye. Bye. Gogo is going to work.
Betsy Kalin: Okay, great.
Roy Ashburn: So he's out the door. Okay.
Betsy Kalin: So nice to meet you Roy.
Roy Ashburn: Nice to meet you too.
Betsy Kalin: So the way that we usually get started is you tell me your name, date, and place of birth.
Roy Ashburn: [00:01:00] So my name is Roy Ashburn and I was born on March 21st, 1954 in Long Beach, California.
Betsy Kalin: Oh, that's great. Actually, my wife's birthday is right next to yours.
Roy Ashburn: Oh, great.
Betsy Kalin: So can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up and what it was like with your family when you were growing up?
Roy Ashburn: [00:01:30] Well, I was born in Long Beach, but we moved from Long Beach to what they call the central coast to the Southern part of San Luis Obispo County when I was about five years old. And at first we lived out in the country on the side of a Hill with a dairy farm next door, and I can remember how fun that was because we would play on the side of that Hill, in the trees and in the bushes.
Roy Ashburn: [00:02:00] But then, we moved, I guess you could say, to town, to Grover city and lived in a couple of houses in Grover city up on the Hill. In the house where, I guess I would say, I grew up, you could see the Pacific ocean out the bedroom window, the whole expanse of the beach at Oceano and Grover. Just a beautiful place in California to grow up.
Roy Ashburn: [00:02:30] My childhood was, I would say, fairly normal; an older brother, a younger brother, mom and dad. Dad worked, he worked a lot and he worked shift work. And so, sometimes he worked during the day, sometimes he worked into the night. I can remember, on the night shifts, we used to call them graveyards. We had to be quiet during the day
Roy Ashburn: [00:03:00] because he would be trying to get his sleep. Mom was a stay at home mom. Today we would say that she was a housewife. And so growing up was, I would say, fairly normal. At least I felt that way about it, although I have a very independent streak.
Roy Ashburn: [00:03:30] And so from a very young age, I had my own job. I delivered newspapers. And so I can remember every single day getting the big stack of newspapers delivered in front of the house and then wrapping them, putting rubber bands on them, loading them on my bicycle into canvas bags and then making the deliveries and that particular newspaper required that it be front porch delivery. So I had to be very careful.
Roy Ashburn: [00:04:00] You didn't throw it into the yard. You didn't accidentally get it into the gutter. It had to go up on the, up on the porch and near the front door. So I also was very interested from a very young age in politics and government. And so I can remember at a very early time, riding my bicycle down to the campaign headquarters
Roy Ashburn: [00:04:30] and riding my bike all over town. I guess, in a way, it was a freer time because we didn't worry about safety. An eight or nine or ten year old boy on a bicycle two or three miles away from home wasn't a big deal. Anyway, I certainly didn't think about safety in those days.
Betsy Kalin: [00:05:00] And so do you have any specific memory where you knew that politics was the path for you? Like, you knew that you wanted to go into politics?
Roy Ashburn: Yeah. I don't know where that came from or when it occurred. The nearest we've ever been able to identify was an aunt who lived in Long Beach, an aunt that I never saw very much, and she was active in one of the political organizations. But other than that, it was purely a defect of birth
Roy Ashburn: [00:05:30] that I was interested in politics. And the earliest time I can remember is age eight and asking my mom to drive me the 25 miles to the bigger city nearby to watch a candidate for governor of California who was coming through on what they called a whistle stop tour on the back of a train. And there was a crowd gathered at the station at the designated time.
Roy Ashburn: [00:06:00] And I can remember that was very thrilling for me. And I left there with bumper stickers and brochures, and I put them on my bike and my wagon and I was campaigning and that was the beginning.
Betsy Kalin: That's fantastic. I love that story. So do you think that there's a connection between your religious upbringing and your religious beliefs today?
Betsy Kalin: [00:06:30] Like, do you feel like your parents, you know, kind of their beliefs impacted you and who you are?
Roy Ashburn: I think it's possible, but my spiritual journey has been, I think my own. Yes, my family always went to church. I can remember going to church. I can remember going to Sunday school.
Roy Ashburn: [00:07:00] My mom was a Sunday school teacher. In the sixth grade, that's pretty young, I was teaching my own Sunday school class. During the summer of high school a friend of mine and myself were designated to be the leaders of the vacation Bible school which was an ecumenical activity between many churches joined together. And for several weeks there was a program of recreation and art,
Roy Ashburn: [00:07:30] and I guess some religious instruction that occurred. And so I would count that though as a different chapter in my life. That was sort of the foundation; a belief in God, a belief in a higher power. But the things that happened to me later in life, for example,
Roy Ashburn: [00:08:00] I voluntarily joined the Catholic church. I made a change from another part of Christianity to the Catholic faith. That was a very deliberate decision that I made. I make a very distinct distinction between religion and spirituality,
Roy Ashburn: [00:08:30] because for me, they are two very different things. Religion is, I guess you could say, a group of organizations created by humans for the purpose of having spirituality or a spiritual connection Spirituality is something that is within, it is a direct connection between myself and my higher power.
Roy Ashburn: [00:09:00] And so the human organization, like all human endeavors, is deeply flawed. And there are human interpretations that have been attached and applied. I respect those differences. I understand, I think, that humans will make different decisions for themselves and decide to group ourselves into organizations that way.
Roy Ashburn: [00:09:30] And so the Catholic church is, for me, my association with a church established by people, with all of its flaws and mistakes and problems. But the spiritual connection that I have with God is a direct line, and I don't need a building
Roy Ashburn: [00:10:00] and I don't need a minister or a priest or a rabbi or an Imman. I have a direct line.
Betsy Kalin: That's beautiful. Yeah, I'm gonna get back to that later. When we talk about recovery and, you know, a spiritual practice with recovery. That's beautiful. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. So can you talk about your relationship with your parents when you were growing up? Did you have a good relationship with them?
Roy Ashburn: [00:10:30] I think so. I had a more difficult relationship with my father than my mother, but I would say that maybe ... Well, I think that the connection with each child and parent, or parents or grandparents or aunts, uncles, a parental figure, I think is unique to the individual.
Roy Ashburn: [00:11:00] I had a good childhood. I had a good relationship. There's something that happened with my dad that -- or maybe a series of things -- I don't fully understand today. I don't have a good memory of them. I know there's something there that is troubling to me,
Roy Ashburn: [00:11:30] and I've chosen to leave it be, at least at this point in time. My mom, who is still alive, is a wonderful person. But I always had a degree of separation, a little margin that I created between my parents and myself. I spoke a minute ago about the independence that I remember from my childhood,
Roy Ashburn: [00:12:00] and it's remained with me all my life. There's a lot of different ways to look at that. I'm calling it independence, you could call it a margin or a space. So I guess that's the best way to describe the relationship.
Betsy Kalin: And when did you leave home?
Roy Ashburn: I left home right after high school. I had the opportunity to leave the beautiful central coast of California,
Roy Ashburn: [00:12:30] and to go to another part of California for what was supposed to be a five month paid political experience. Along the way, I met an elected official who happened to be looking for someone for staff. And so I was hired as a County employee at the age of 18 and that particular job lasted nearly five years.
Roy Ashburn: [00:13:00] So my five month temporary departure from home ended up being about 45 years of political pursuit.
Betsy Kalin: And so is that when you went to Kern County or was it -
Roy Ashburn: Right? Yes, I left. I left, there's the central coast, the Southern part of San Luis Obispo County to Kern County,
Roy Ashburn: [00:13:30] which is an adjoining County. But it is in the great central Valley of California, a very different place. The background of the people is quite different, although both areas have a long tradition with agriculture and connection with natural resources. But remember the people in Bakersfield many of them migrated from the middle part of the United States or from the Southern part of the United States during the dust bowl era.
Roy Ashburn: [00:14:00] And they brought with them many of their core beliefs and values. And so its a much more conservative community. But it was, you know, that that was home, my new home.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. Thank you. So when did you know that you were gay and when did you have an inkling, you know, this might be the case?
Roy Ashburn: [00:14:30] Well, that's a very difficult question because I knew that I was different, but I didn't know the word. So I would say probably 11, 12. My brother molested me when I was in that same 12, 13 year old point in my life.
Roy Ashburn: [00:15:00] I did some experimenting with neighbor boys at that time. I guess when it really struck home -- and this is an event that is a very, very clear memory for me -- is when I was attending, what we would call today, junior high school, one of my teachers
Roy Ashburn: [00:15:30] and another group of men were arrested. They were in the sand dunes near the ocean, I guess, having a barbecue or a party of some kind. And they were arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior. And it was front page in the newspaper. One of those people was my teacher at school, and I can remember the reaction of every student, every parent, every teacher the name calling,
Roy Ashburn: [00:16:00] the fag, the queer, the homo, the pervert, the molester. I joined in that with my classmates. But it's a memory that will always be with me because it was at that point in time that I realized
Roy Ashburn: [00:16:30] that the other great part of my life, the political interest that I had, the passion for politics, that you couldn't be that, and be one of those. Just look at the reaction to this man and the names that he was being called. So I decided you couldn't be in politics,
Roy Ashburn: [00:17:00] you couldn't be elected. You couldn't be a representative of the people and be one of those. I don't think even at that time, I called it gay or homosexual. But I knew pretty clearly that my attraction was to people of my same sex.
Betsy Kalin: [00:17:30] It's such a powerful story. And I mean, as a young person and someone who feels different, who doesn't really know that there are words for it yet, I mean, I can just imagine the impact that had on you and just witnessing how people were really made into, I guess, scapegoats for behavior that, I mean, from what you say, it seems like they were having a party, and that that was really seen as wrong.
Roy Ashburn: [00:18:00] Well, I don't know what they were doing and I don't want to presume they could have been having a little more than a party to trigger an arrest. But the impact for me was more the reaction of everyone to this individual being identified as being a gay person, a homosexual person, and the negativity around that,
Roy Ashburn: [00:18:30] the total rejection of that individual. Here he was a teacher with students who liked him or maybe even adored him and then this happened. And then all of a sudden he's the scourge of the earth and somebody that you don't want to be like and you don't want to be near. It was very powerful.
Roy Ashburn: [00:19:00] And again, for me, it brought the two things together, the political interest or ambition or drive that I was born with, and then this example. It was profound. That's a long time ago, it's a memory that I still have very clearly.
Betsy Kalin: [00:19:30] Great. Thank you. So this kind of explains why you were afraid of coming out and I wanted to kind of ask you, you know, what did you do to hide from living as an out gay man? Like what were the emotions around it and why did you do that?
Roy Ashburn: Well, I'd like to think that I didn't scheme, I didn't set out on a path of deception,
Roy Ashburn: [00:20:00] but now that we know the story and we know the reality of what I did, that is precisely what I did. But I wasn't just afraid of coming out. I was terrified. That's the best word I've ever been able to come up with. There may be a more powerful word, but for me, I was terrified of ...
Roy Ashburn: [00:20:30] I mean, just paralyzed with the thought, the suggestion, that in some way I might be discovered. And so I dated girls. I had a girlfriend in high school. Theres a very tragic part of my early life, right after high school that involves the death of one of my classmates, a girl that I loved very much.
Roy Ashburn: [00:21:00] I married, I have children. I did not tell my parents, my dad is deceased and never did I tell him. My younger brother is deceased from AIDS and I never told him. And it was only 10 years ago when I came out publicly that I told my mom.
Roy Ashburn: [00:21:30] Prior to 10 years ago, maybe a little bit before, I told no one. This was a secret that I held as deeply buried as anything that a human, I think, is possible to bury.
Betsy Kalin: And I mean, even though you've said part of that is politics as well, you know, this was your passion, this was your path, you knew you were going to go into politics.
Roy Ashburn: [00:22:00] And then more practically it was my career. It was my employment.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. And at the time that you went into politics, were there any out politicians?
Roy Ashburn: I don't remember there being. I mean, there were people in hiding, there's no doubt about that. But I don't think anybody was out.
Betsy Kalin: [00:22:30] Yeah. I mean, I,
Roy Ashburn: If they were, they were in very big cities or they were in places like Santa Monica or San Francisco. They would be in places with a very, very large gay population and they would be accepted and they would have a different lifestyle in that community.
Betsy Kalin: [00:23:00] And can you talk about when you started going into and working in politics, can you tell me, like briefly, like what positions did you hold? Where did you go and how did you get to the State Senate?
Roy Ashburn: Well, as I explained a minute ago, I started out on a five month paid position
Roy Ashburn: [00:23:30] for only the general election campaign. And then I met a local elected official during the course of that five month period, and he was looking for someone to be a paid staff member. And so I was selected and went to work for him as actually a county employee in the county of Kern. A
Roy Ashburn: [00:24:00] nd that position lasted about five years until he was defeated for his reelection. Then I married and went to school and that's when I started my college. I was delayed about four or five years in starting college. And then I met a man who was selected to run for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Roy Ashburn: [00:24:30] It was a unique circumstance, the incumbent congressman died while in office and after the primary election. So what occurs is an extraordinary nominating process for the selection of a replacement candidate. At any rate I worked on that special campaign. It was a general election campaign, but it was a special circumstance. And then I became a staff member as district director for the Congressman for nearly five years.
Roy Ashburn: [00:25:00] And then I had the opportunity to run for the County board of supervisors which is the governing board for County government in California and in a very, very, very difficult race. I was successful and won my first election.
Roy Ashburn: [00:25:30] I served on the board of supervisors for three terms which is a total of 12 years. And then because of term limits in California there was an opening for the state assembly, and so I ran for that position and was successful in that election. You're able, under the term limits at that time, to serve three, two year terms in the state assembly. I was fortunate
Roy Ashburn: [00:26:00] and blessed to have been granted those three terms, six years, total and then an extraordinary thing happened in the redistricting of 2000. I had the opportunity to run for the state Senate and I was successful in being elected to the Senate. You're able, under term limits at that time, to serve two, four year terms for a total of eight years.
Roy Ashburn: [00:26:30] So 14 years in the state legislature, 12 years as a member of the County board of supervisors as 26 years elected following my service in the state Senate, governor Schwartzenegger and governor Brown, governor Edmund G Brown jr., Jerry Brown, who replaced Arnold Schwartzenegger, retained me on the position as a member of the California unemployment insurance appeals board,
Roy Ashburn: [00:27:00] which is a very small board that governs the unemployment insurance appeals in our state. And I had the opportunity to serve in that position for four years.
Betsy Kalin: And are you still involved in politics today?
Roy Ashburn: In a way. I work for an elected official. In California, under the state constitution,
Roy Ashburn: [00:27:30] every County has three required elected positions, county-wide; the district attorney, the sheriff and the assessor. The assessor is charged under the state constitution with the responsibility of placing the value on all property for purposes of property taxation. And so in this County, San Luis Obispo, as in the other 57 counties the assessor is elected and I work for the elected assessor of San Luis Obispo County.
Betsy Kalin: [00:28:00] I mean, what I find so impressive is that you won on your first time, and then you have this long history of being reelected. So that's really impressive.
Roy Ashburn: And a cup and a couple of defeats along the way. I was the nominee for the United States Congress in 2004,
Roy Ashburn: [00:28:30] in a very close race. And I was not successful in winning in the general election. But I was a member of the state Senate, I was an incumbent Senator in my midterm, so I was able to continue as a Senator. After I left the state Senate, I did run for my old position, my former position on the County board of supervisors.
Roy Ashburn: [00:29:00] And I was successful in getting into the runoff election, the general election in November, but I was not successful in winning that election.
Betsy Kalin: And what are some of the things that you're most proud of in terms of public policy and things that you have done in your political career?
Roy Ashburn: Well, that's a good question because there are many things. I would like to say that the greatest satisfaction for me was,
Roy Ashburn: [00:29:30] and is the ability of serving people, of trying to help solve problems for individual people or groups of people. Government exists for us, for the people to provide services that we otherwise cannot provide for ourselves
Roy Ashburn: [00:30:00] and to provide other support for people. And so my effort has always been in trying to be of service. I was heavily involved in the welfare reform program after the federal law was changed and all States, including California had to change welfare from an entitlement program to a work based program.
Roy Ashburn: [00:30:30] That was a very difficult task. I am proud to say that I led the effort on behalf of the Republican members of the state assembly in helping to craft. In fact, there were four of us, now that I think of it, two senators and two assembly members for whom that bill is tombstone.
Roy Ashburn: [00:31:00] That's not allowed these days, that a bill can be named for people who are the authors. But that particular bill, the welfare reform in California is known as the Maddy -- I'm not sure the Democrat member now. But Ducheny-Ashburn Welfare-to-Work Act,
Roy Ashburn: [00:31:30] and named for myself and Assemblymember Denise Ducheny, a Democrat, a former assembly member from San Diego, and the late, wonderful Senator Ken Maddy.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you. So now I wanna get into the story that changed everything. And I really just want you to kind of tell me the story, what happened
Betsy Kalin: [00:32:00] when you were arrested for drunk driving. So just kind of describe, you know, take me as if we were going through it again, and we were there and just kind of describe, you know, like seeing the red lights in your rear view mirror and the whole process.
Roy Ashburn: Well, I left a gay club in downtown Sacramento at closing time. Having had numerous alcoholic beverages
Roy Ashburn: [00:32:30] I had driven there in a state vehicle. I left there driving a state vehicle, and I believe that I was maybe three or four blocks from the club when the highway patrol picked me up, began tailing me and then got nearly to the state Capitol. I wasn't going to the state Capitol,
Roy Ashburn: [00:33:00] but I was heading in that direction when I saw the red lights in my rear view mirror. And so I was stopped by the California highway patrol. And I was told that I'd been pulled over on suspicion of that I was driving under the influence and they administered a field sobriety test. I don't recall if there was a breath test.
Roy Ashburn: [00:33:30] I think there was that I voluntarily participated in and I was arrested and placed in the back of a highway patrol patrol car and driven to the Sacramento County jail.
Betsy Kalin: And then I think in the other interview, you also talked about when you were leaving jail and the deputy sheriff said something to you. Can you tell me that?
Roy Ashburn: [00:34:00] Right, well, being in jail was not something I'd ever contemplated for my life. But nonetheless, I knew when I saw those red lights that my life was going to be different, that things were going to change the arrest of a Senator for drunk driving is a big deal. And the media is very interested in presenting that news to the public.
Roy Ashburn: [00:34:30] What I didn't contemplate at that time was the gay connection. That people were going to be talking about that, where I had been, what I'd been doing. That wasn't a part of what I was thinking at that time. Of course, I wasn't thinking very clearly, obviously, at that particular time, or I wouldn't have been engaged in that reckless and illegal behavior.
Roy Ashburn: [00:35:00] But anyway, after the night in Sacramento jail I was finally released and I was going to exit out the front door and a young female deputy stopped me and she said you may not want to go that way. And so I checked,
Roy Ashburn: [00:35:30] I guess I peeked around the corner and the television cameras and the reporters with microphones were lined up on the sidewalk outside Sacramento County jail, ready to talk to me. I wasn't ready to talk. And so I made arrangements to be picked up another way. And I was able to get away from there without confronting the media
Roy Ashburn: [00:36:00] or answering any questions. And I went to my house in Sacramento and I made myself invisible there. The reporters lined up on the side of the street there across from my house. My phone would ring every few minutes with reporters, there were knocks on the door,
Roy Ashburn: [00:36:30] the doorbell ringing and the cat and I stayed in the back bedroom and we didn't turn any lights on. That was my existence for three or four days.
Betsy Kalin: And then after the three or four days, what happened next?
Roy Ashburn: Well, and this is a God moment. This is a point of a big change in my life.
Roy Ashburn: [00:37:00] And I didn't contemplate it, I didn't plan it. Of course, in a way, I didn't plan very well for the things that had just occurred to me. But anyway, as was my practice on a Sunday, I would usually go down to the state Capitol and walk across the street to the cathedral and go to mass there. And so that morning
Roy Ashburn: [00:37:30] I escaped from the house without the reporters without the reporters catching me. And I got to the state Capitol. And as I was walking across the lawn I remember very clearly that it occurred to me that I needed to come out, that I needed to be for once in my life to be truthful, to actually say the truth to people.
Roy Ashburn: [00:38:00] And so my plan came very quickly that I should go on a radio talk show in Bakersfield, in Kern County, in my home district. This particular show is hosted by a very conservative talk show host. I called her on my cell phone. I told her that I would like to come on her show the following day,
Roy Ashburn: [00:38:30] which would have been Monday and that she could ask me any questions and I would give her absolutely the truthful answers. She was a friend of mine. She knew what had happened to me with the arrest and exiting the jail. I'm sure she had heard the gay rumors. And so that was the plan.
Roy Ashburn: [00:39:00] And I went on to church. I imagine I said a lot of prayers during that mass because the following day, on Monday, at 9:15 in the morning, I went on the radio live with that radio talk show host. And she asked me the question she said, Are you gay? Is there something you want to tell us? And I said, These are the words that have been so difficult for me, but yes, I'm gay.
Betsy Kalin: [00:39:30] I mean, it takes such courage to do that and to do it in such a public way.
Roy Ashburn: Well, everyone has to come to their own truth and to do it in their own way. And I understand from my life experience how scared I was and it took me a long time,
Roy Ashburn: [00:40:00] way too long a time. And I hurt a lot of people along the way. I hurt a lot of people. I hurt my children, I hurt my ex-wife, I hurt my parents, family, my deceased brother. I think about all of my constituents, I think about the supporters who work so hard on my elections, those that donated money to my campaigns and believed in me.
Roy Ashburn: [00:40:30] And they believed in me and I had deceived them all, and that's not a good way to live. I couldn't do it anymore. Anyway, I did what I thought was right. It was the beginning of a new life.
Betsy Kalin: And I think you had mentioned before that you called your mom about the arrest.
Roy Ashburn: [00:41:00] I had to, because I was all over the news and the gay reports were on the news. My mom's practice would be to turn in the radio news in the morning and to get caught up on the local happenings. And so I wanted to tell her face to face. Obviously, having come out publicly,
Roy Ashburn: [00:41:30] there was no holding back with anyone, but that was as difficult a call as I've ever made, to call my mom and to say, There's something I have to tell you, and I have to do it now. And it's very, very important to me. And I would rather do it in person, face to face, but I can't, I don't have time to do it because you might hear it another way and I don't want that to happen.
Roy Ashburn: [00:42:00] And so anyway, I told her and you know, moms are amazing and she said, I love you.
Betsy Kalin: Very sweet. And it's wonderful that you're able to live close to her now and see her and have a relationship with her.
Roy Ashburn: Yes. That's one of the reasons that I'm back in San Luis Obispo County. One of the major reasons is mom's 92 and a half years old,
Roy Ashburn: [00:42:30] and she has remarkable good health. And she's self-reliant, she's independent. She can't drive, and she doesn't like that one bit. But our suggestions have been that she not drive, and she reluctantly goes along. But she really is doing very well. And, we're very blessed to have her [inaudible].
Roy Ashburn: [00:43:00] And her twin sisters who both turned 90 this year, and they live also nearby. There's also a younger sister in Florida and Rhode Island who's doing well. So the sisters are really quite amazing.
Betsy Kalin: That's incredible. So let's go back for a second. So you go on the radio show and you say, I'm gay. What happens?
Betsy Kalin: [00:43:30] Like, what are the reactions? Do you get any support? Or are people just upset? Does it go internationally? Like what happens?
Roy Ashburn: Well, it went worldwide. If you hit Google, you were going to get some amazing things. And I was such a mess at that particular time that I couldn't look at anything. I didn't look at mail.
Roy Ashburn: [00:44:00] You know, I was receiving a lot of letters, you know, pieces of paper with writing on them in an envelope with a stamp. I was getting emails, I was getting phone calls, text messages, and then on the internet. There were two categories, there was the the religious right people, the religious people who said,
Roy Ashburn: [00:44:30] This guy is despicable. He's a hypocrite, he's deplorable, and he should die. And they were talking about me. And then in the, in the gay community among those who are, I would say maybe the more activist or extreme the words were remarkably similar. He's despicable. He's a horrible person.
Roy Ashburn: [00:45:00] He's a bad, he's a bad man. And he should die. And these things were being said about me and they were being sent worldwide and they were being set on blogs. And on late night, television entertainment shows. I learned all this later, but this was going on, in and around me. So it was a big deal.
Betsy Kalin: [00:45:30] And did you get any support, like you just told me two examples of people who wanted you to die, which is horrible, but did you get any support from peers and others in the gay community?
Roy Ashburn: Not too many, really not too many. There were friends,
Roy Ashburn: [00:46:00] I already told you my mom's reaction. I needed to have a conversation with my daughters, and I did. They were amazing and wonderful and still are. I had good support with my colleagues in the legislature more with the Democrats than with the Republicans, but in moments like that,
Roy Ashburn: [00:46:30] even the people that you least expect are often the people who do the most. And in this case, doing the most would have been just a pat on the back or a hang in there or a smile. Among my colleagues in the state legislature,
Roy Ashburn: [00:47:00] the support was very, very strong among the Democrat members in particular, my closest friends, even to this day. Governor Schwartzenegger was remarkable. I'll never forget him calling me down to his office and just telling me that it was going to be okay.
Betsy Kalin: [00:47:30] Wow. I mean, I'm sure that meant a lot in the case of all of the threats and harshness that you were experiencing at the time. So how do you feel about the arrests now? I mean, how do you feel in the scheme of things in your life now? What do you think about it?
Roy Ashburn: Well, I'm not proud of what I did to cause my being arrested. No one should drink and drive,
Roy Ashburn: [00:48:00] and I'm blessed that from that night that I was arrested, I've never had another alcoholic beverage. I have no, they call it in the alcoholic world compulsion to have a drink, that's rare. And I'm deeply blessed that I don't have a desire for alcohol.
Roy Ashburn: [00:48:30] And that's a big change from the way I lived most of my life. I think alcohol was a huge crutch for me. It was part of my mechanism for hiding who I really was and operating with a fake identity, if you will, with a big facade that I had constructed around myself,
Roy Ashburn: [00:49:00] that was not honest. So I'm not proud of what happened, and I'm not proud of what I did, but it changed my life. And so I'm grateful. I am extraordinarily grateful to everyone involved, to the California highway patrol officers, to the Sacramento County jail personnel,
Roy Ashburn: [00:49:30] to everyone in Alcoholics Anonymous, to everyone who's ever reached out a helping hand to me, I'm extraordinarily grateful. It was the beginning of a new life. And one of the lessons that I have from this life is that each of us have the opportunity, I believe, to restart our lives any time we want.
Roy Ashburn: [00:50:00] Just as we have the opportunity to restart our day, any time we want. I have to remind myself of that one in particular, when things are not going quite the way I'd like, or I'm not being as productive as I need to be. I remind myself that it's totally permissible to stop
Roy Ashburn: [00:50:30] and to restart and certainly it's permissible to restart a life. And I'm very happy with the better life that I have today.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. So how did addiction influence your life and what was your mental state before the arrest? And what was the path that you were going at that time?
Roy Ashburn: [00:51:00] Well, I was on a very self destructive path. I was drinking heavily and often, and a lot of times I would drink alone. Other times I would drink in bars or in restaurants as part of the, sort of the culture of the state Capitol. And I don't think it's unique to California.
Roy Ashburn: [00:51:30] The legislature here is that -- not these days because of the profound changes in our lives brought on by the pandemic, but at that particular time -- we called them receptions. So every night in the state Capitol, there are one, two, five, seven different gatherings
Roy Ashburn: [00:52:00] of people for one purpose or another usually organizations that are sponsoring their annual get together or their legislative day, if you will. And then they hold a reception and state legislators, and others come by lobbyists come by and always alcoholic beverages are a big part of the function. It's free booze,
Roy Ashburn: [00:52:30] and for an alcoholic like me that's just about the greatest thing and the worst thing. And so anyway, there was always that activity available. I can remember many times getting so drunk that I would leave without saying goodbye to anybody because my tongue was so fat from booze. I was slurring my words,
Roy Ashburn: [00:53:00] and I was aware of it. Not to embarrass myself, I would leave. And I drive myself home. I would drive, all the time. It was very, very rare that there was an Uber -- well, there weren't Ubers probably [inaudible]. But I didn't take public transportation. I didn't take a taxi. I didn't avail myself of the services of the Sergeant at arms that serves the legislature for transportation. I drove and it was dangerous, and it's a miracle that someone was not hurt or killed.
Betsy Kalin: [00:53:30] And do you think that your drinking was related to anxiety or depression or any of those, and that maybe it came from ... I think, maybe, before you had said that you started drinking when you were young, like 18 ...
Roy Ashburn: Right. I started when I made the move from the coast to Bakersfield, I was only 18 years old, but I started drinking then.
Roy Ashburn: [00:54:00] And I liked it. I liked it a lot. I mentioned briefly that shortly after I got to Bakersfield, I started dating a young lady with whom I had gone to high school and she and I had taken a trip to Los Angeles to visit friends at UCLA.
Roy Ashburn: [00:54:30] On the way back, just she and I in my dad's car with no alcohol, no drugs, no pills, no mind altering anything but terrible road conditions, terrible rainstorm. I had a car crash, a single car crash, and she was killed. That changed my life.
Roy Ashburn: [00:55:00] I turned to alcohol then, in a very, very big way. My life for the next five years basically was going to work, coming home, drinking until I passed out and then getting up the next day and doing it again. I didn't go to counseling. I didn't have a therapist. In those days, you didn't do those things.
Roy Ashburn: [00:55:30] Or at least I didn't. And so alcohol was a powerful part of getting me through or maybe even making it worse. I don't know, but that's how I existed for those five years until I met a person who became my wife, the drinking continued though, always.
Roy Ashburn: [00:56:00] And to a greater or lesser degree, there were times when there was a lot more drinking, there were times when there was a lot less drinking, but certainly toward the time after my divorce and after the time that I started exploring the gay part of my existence, my drinking got and more reckless. I was depressed. I had tremendous anxiety.
Roy Ashburn: [00:56:30] I stole Xanax from my daughters. I had prescriptions, I mixed alcohol and prescriptions. It's a miracle that I'm here to even tell that story. That's how a lot of people, especially we hear about celebrities who just die and that's what does it, it's the combination of pills and alcohol and your heart simply stops beating.
Roy Ashburn: [00:57:00] That could have been me. God has been very, very, very good to me.
Betsy Kalin: Do you know, I mean, this is jumping ahead a little bit, but do you think that God has been good to you because you still have work to do? I mean, that you can spread this message about being true to yourself. Have you ever thought about that?
Roy Ashburn: [00:57:30] Well, I don't think about what God has in mind for me because it's really not a whole lot I can do about it. What I've learned is that life is much better if I get out of the way, but I'm pretty stubborn about wanting to be in control and to have it my way.
Roy Ashburn: [00:58:00] And so the path is always clearer. It's always more level. It's always easier if you just let God. And so I try to remind myself of that every day. I don't know what God's purpose for me is yet. But I'm very happy where I'm at,
Roy Ashburn: [00:58:30] and if I can help someone ... I think at the very beginning, I mentioned, when you were asking me about accomplishments in the state legislature, my mind doesn't go to individual pieces of legislation. It doesn't go to projects that I was able to provide funding for. I can count a lot of those kinds of things,
Roy Ashburn: [00:59:00] My mind goes to a more general desire,
Roy Ashburn: [00:59:30] passion that I have to be of service to people. That's where the greatest joy has been for me.
Betsy Kalin: So let's talk a little bit about that because, when you were serving the public, you did vote against LGBT legislation and against AIDS funding. And so tell me about those decisions and how you feel about that.
Roy Ashburn: [01:00:00] Well, I'm not proud of my actions. I'm not proud of what I did and the difference between me and other people who can say I'm not proud of myself. I did the wrong thing is that, I was entrusted with a vote. One of the members of the state legislature, voting on behalf of hundreds,
Roy Ashburn: [01:00:30] of thousands of people as their representative. And so my vote, my actions had consequences that were maybe beyond what other individuals may experience as a result of their actions. So I hurt gay people. I did the wrong thing.
Roy Ashburn: [01:01:00] I voted against gay rights. I voted against AIDS funding. I voted against my own brother who was afflicted with AIDS in the early years during the time that they didn't know what to do. They didn't know what it was. They didn't have medications. And I voted against everything that had any association with homosexual people.
Roy Ashburn: [01:01:30] And I did that to protect myself, to hide myself because the most terrifying thing would have been that by my vote or my actions or my statement that the light might have been shown on me and my reality that I was trying so desperately to hide. So I did a lot of despicable things and I did them selfishly,
Roy Ashburn: [01:02:00] and I'm not happy about it. I am not proud of it. But there are limited number of things that we have an opportunity to do in our lives. And one of them is to come to terms with what we've done, and to say we're sorry. And I am sorry.
Betsy Kalin: [01:02:30] And have you been involved with, or reached out to like the LGBTQ community, like in Bakersfield, there's the center and there's Bakersfield pride and organizations like that?
Roy Ashburn: To some extent, yes. Not to as great an extent as I could. I've been active with Alcoholics Anonymous in the gay
Roy Ashburn: [01:03:00] Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and groups, that's one way. Through church, I'm proud to say that at Saint Monica Catholic church in Santa Monica, California, which is a long established traditional gay community in Santa Monica,
Roy Ashburn: [01:03:30] the gay community the gay members of that parish are welcomed and encouraged. And there's a very active group. And I was active with that group and I enjoyed them very much, and I stayed in touch with them.
Betsy Kalin: I just wonder because I just think about like young people who were living in Kern County at the time
Betsy Kalin: [01:04:00] who were LGBTQ and how they might have felt that you weren't on their side, that you weren't speaking out for them. And then to find out that you were gay yourself,
Roy Ashburn: Right. Well, I know one story of a particular individual. So I just mentioned Saint Monica church.
Roy Ashburn: [01:04:30] And so at one of the first organization they call it GLO, the Gay and Lesbian Organization at that church, they have meetings and social activities. And so a young man came up to me there and he said are you Roy Ashburn? And I said, Yes, I am. And he said, Well I'm from Bakersfield. I grew up in Bakersfield.
Roy Ashburn: [01:05:00] And when you were my state Senator, I protested you because you had a no gay marriage rally. And I was one of those gay people Who showed up there with our, with our rainbow flags and our signs. And I protested you and I can't tell you how glad I am that you're here.
Roy Ashburn: [01:05:30] And he and I are good friends today. Yes, I've spoken to two gay organizations in Bakersfield, wherever I was invited. I've been active in trying to help, especially families and young people. If my story is helpful in some way, I hope that's the case.
Betsy Kalin: [01:06:00] And what are some of the challenges that people in rural communities are facing as you know, members of the LGBTQ community? What is it like for them?
Roy Ashburn: Well, I wouldn't know, because I didn't allow myself to be one, remember. I was invisible and pretending to be anything but part of the gay community,
Roy Ashburn: [01:06:30] but I would think that it can be a lonely experience. I think it can be a very challenging personal time, especially for young people. I'd like to think that a lot of progress has been made on school campuses there are now
Roy Ashburn: [01:07:00] gay and lesbian organizations that are welcomed as part of the school clubs and organizations. Things are much more out in the open these days. I think people are much more accepting, you know, gay marriage was granted by the United States Supreme court and the world did not end.
Roy Ashburn: [01:07:30] In fact, gay people for the first time can be at peace in their love. That's profound. And I think it will have a big and beneficial effect for young people who get to grow up in this environment. But I think for rural communities, it's more difficult because there's less of a support structure. There is less openness,
Roy Ashburn: [01:08:00] there are less people to associate with. Although the internet brings us together in so many ways, it causes a lot of other difficulties, but it brings us together in so many ways. But if you were a oung person growing up in West Hollywood or really any part of Los Angeles where I lived for about four years until recently,
Roy Ashburn: [01:08:30] as a gay person, you're going to be welcomed and you're gonna have many, many opportunities to meet other people, to socialize with other people to be part of every kind of discussion group and activist organization for music, for athletics, for every aspect of life or for religious endeavor.
Roy Ashburn: [01:09:00] There's so many more support opportunities in a larger community, but in a way the internet and social media brings a lot more opportunities, I think for young people to share the reality of who they are. And I think young people are less afraid. I don't really have a right to say that, but it would just be my observation. And I hope it's true.
Betsy Kalin: [01:09:30] Do you think that people living in Kern County are less conservative than they were when you were serving there?
Roy Ashburn: I think those are two generalized words. I would say that gay people are more accepted in Kern County today than when I was growing up there and beginning my career there.
Roy Ashburn: [01:10:00] Although I will say that when I ran for my former position on the County board of supervisors, after I had left the state Senate, I believe the reason that I was not elected is because I was openly gay. I mean, we had the support of everyone,
Roy Ashburn: [01:10:30] Democrat, Republican leadership, every mayor, every city council member, every newspaper, every living person who had ever held the position on the County board of supervisors, the endorsement of the former Congressman, the endorsement of the leaders of the Democrat party. And for all appearances, it looked like I would ... And it was a tough campaign.
Roy Ashburn: [01:11:00] It looked like I was going to win. But when the voters got into the secrecy of the ballot, they decided, no, the gay guy's not going to win. And he did and that's okay because, you know, God has other purposes for me. And I can't wait to find out what they are.
Betsy Kalin: [01:11:30] You touched on this a little bit, but I want to go back to talking about your brother. Cause you mentioned that he was one of the early cases of AIDS and HIV. And can you talk about that?
Roy Ashburn: Well, my brother was a great person. He was four years younger than me. I remember growing up that Dale was always a lot more, I guess you'd say,
Roy Ashburn: [01:12:00] open about expressing a feminine side. And I don't want to put people into categories or label anybody, but just, I mean, just the things that Dale did and all. And so it seemed like he had a partner from a very young age, a remarkable guy,
Roy Ashburn: [01:12:30] I love him to this day. He and Dale were a couple for a very, very long time, but Dale, my brother contracted AIDS and as did so many, so many gay men and he got very, very sick
Roy Ashburn: [01:13:00] and it was very difficult for my parents to understand, the idea of two same sex people and a disease. It was a lot for them and they had a very difficult time with it. I tried to be there for my brother, but I never told him about myself. I never did.
Roy Ashburn: [01:13:30] And he got very, very sick and then he would get well, and then he would get sick and then he'd get well, and this went on for probably six years. He was very courageous. He was very loving. He gave a lot to his community. He was the general manager for the ambulance company, the paramedics that serve this community even to this day.
Roy Ashburn: [01:14:00] He helped to build that business for the owner and with the other medical professionals. He was passionate about being a medical technician and a paramedic and an ambulance providing that ambulance service, that prehospital care to people. Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: [01:14:30] Did he know about you? Did he suspect that you were gay?
Roy Ashburn: If he did, he never said anything? I don't know. I just don't know.
Betsy Kalin: And what year was it when he passed away?
Roy Ashburn: In 1992?
Betsy Kalin: Did you know others besides your brother who had AIDS? Did you know anything about it besides what he was going through?
Roy Ashburn: [01:15:00] No, I didn't. I mean, you would hear about people who passed away and that, that was the reason. But remember at that time, identifying HIV/AIDS as the cause of death, or even that an individual was ill
Roy Ashburn: [01:15:30] because of that disease, that was not allowed. Identifying with that as the cause of illness or death was not allowed so ...
Betsy Kalin: Interesting. I just wonder how hard it is for you in dealing with loving your brother so much
Betsy Kalin: [01:16:00] and yet not being able to tell him about yourself or how much you accepted him.
Roy Ashburn: Yeah. Well, he knows, I've told him many times.
Betsy Kalin: Okay, great. Let's see. I wanted to talk about how you met your husband Gogo and about your life now.
Roy Ashburn: [01:16:30] My life is beyond amazing. Gogo is a wonderful, remarkable, talented, beautiful, loving person. He is just, he is absolutely a gift from God. And we met the old fashioned way
Roy Ashburn: [01:17:00] at a dating site on the internet. And we started chatting and after a period of time we decided that we should meet. I can remember meeting him after he got out of work late at night in downtown Los Angeles.
Roy Ashburn: [01:17:30] And I loved him immediately.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. And how long have you been together? And can you say that he's your husband?
Roy Ashburn: Yeah, we just passed two years together and we were married on February the 10th of this year, right before this terrible COVID.
Roy Ashburn: [01:18:00] How blessed is that, that we had made ... Actually, we had mostly talked about getting married in May and then we decided to move it up to February. And then earlier in February, and it was the 10th of February, and I would say that God was very much responsible for those changes in plans. And I'll tell you why.
Roy Ashburn: [01:18:30] My mom's sisters who are twins, identical twins, turned 90 this year, and a birthday party was planned for them for February the eighth. And so my mom's birthday is two days after theirs. And so this big party was planned and aunts and uncles and cousins, and children and grandchildren
Roy Ashburn: [01:19:00] some of whom I had not seen in years, decades everybody came to that party. And so we decided to plan our wedding two days after that party so that some of the family members who were able to stay around could be there. And so if it weren't for my aunts and their 90th birthday, or my mom
Roy Ashburn: [01:19:30] and her 92nd birthday and Gogo, and my love for him we would not have had such a special day or I should say for my boss and his wife because he officiated at our wedding and was kind enough to allow the wedding to be held at his family ranch where his mom and dad, and he had lived. His mom and dad were both friends of mine,
Roy Ashburn: [01:20:00] both are deceased. It's a very special place. That house since they passed was empty. It's a ranch nearby here. And it was just an extraordinary day and I'm so blessed to have Gogo as my husband. I'm very proud of him.
Betsy Kalin: And in the past, did you have other long term relationships with men?
Roy Ashburn: [01:20:30] Yes, I did. I had a few usually a year, six, seven months about that duration. Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: [01:21:00] Okay. And something else I wanted to ask you now, like looking back and from the vantage point that you have, I mean, what do you think about other anti-LGBTQ politicians at this moment in time, or since you've come out and what do you think about their stances and do you try to dialogue with them?
Roy Ashburn: Well, I think they're wrong and I think they ought to change their ways. In politics,
Roy Ashburn: [01:21:30] you see politicians change their position all the time. And so here's one that is an easy call for them. There's just no place ... There's no way that you can reconcile being a child of God and being born in God's image and not loving another person.
Roy Ashburn: [01:22:00] It doesn't fit. It doesn't work. And so there are not very many of those people around anymore in politics, in my opinion some of them have left office some have changed their position. But people have to get there their own way. And yes, I encourage people as I encounter them.
Betsy Kalin: [01:22:30] Do you think it's important to support LGBTQ politicians across the U.S. like in their races?
Roy Ashburn: I don't think that should be the only criteria. I don't think that should be the only way in which a person is viewed. I think the totality of a person and what they stand for and what they believe
Roy Ashburn: [01:23:00] and how they conduct themselves. And the reason that theyre offering themselves for that particular elected position. I think all of those things matter and should be taken into consideration.
Betsy Kalin: So if you did believe in all of the other aspects and the things that they stand for, I mean, would you support other LGBTQ politicians?
Roy Ashburn: [01:23:30] I have, and I will definitely, including currently. I don't want to get into the particulars of an election that's going on right now, but I've endorsed the openly gay candidate. And when people find out about that, I think they're going to be surprised because the expectation would be that I'll be supporting the other candidate,
Roy Ashburn: [01:24:00] the candidate who happens to be a member of my same political party. But in this case, the candidate of the other party is more experienced, is an outstanding individual, was a colleague of mine in the state legislature, a person for whom I have great respect,
Roy Ashburn: [01:24:30] and he just happens to be gay and he happens to be married and I have endorsed him, and I've told him that he can use my name.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. And one thing that I wanted to make sure too, that sometimes when I ask a question, if you could rephrase my question in your answer a little bit with in case they cut me out
Roy Ashburn: [01:25:00] Oh, wait, we're not going to let them do that.
Betsy Kalin: So we know.
Roy Ashburn: I'll do my best.
Betsy Kalin: All right. Thank you so much. I'm sorry I didn't mention that before. What you're saying is fantastic and I'm getting all caught up in it. Let me just see where I am. So you talked a little bit about your brother
Betsy Kalin: [01:25:30] and being molested by your brother. And can you talk a little bit more about, realizing that that was happening, and then you told a really powerful story about asking him, like, confronting him about it?
Roy Ashburn: So that, so it happened when I was 12 or 13 years old and he's four years older than I am.
Roy Ashburn: [01:26:00] So he was, he was older and, and it happened at our house with my parents gone. And we started fondling and touching and ended up in bed and I was molested by him. But I liked it,
Roy Ashburn: [01:26:30] but I felt terrible. And I hated him for it, but I liked it. It's confusing, isn't it? Maybe he was sensing something about me, maybe he was saying something about himself.
Roy Ashburn: [01:27:00] Anyway, it's something that did happen. It happened more than once. And years and years went by before I finally had the courage to tell him that he molested me and that he should not have done that. By this time we are grown men,
Roy Ashburn: [01:27:30] not that many years ago. And he told me that he could not understand why I didn't hate him. And that he was sorry, and that he did not feel like That he would understand if I couldn't forgive him or hold it against him for the rest of his life.
Roy Ashburn: [01:28:00] And then I told him that what was important to me was to tell him that he did it to me and that he should not have done it, and that I forgive him. And I do forgive him.
Betsy Kalin: [01:28:30] Are you able to have a relationship with him now?
Roy Ashburn: We have a better relationship now than we've had at any time in our lives. I would not say that I'm close to my older brother. And I think he would agree with that through the years. But Mom being 92 now and needing help from both of us has brought us together in a common purpose around Mom.
Roy Ashburn: [01:29:00] And we're closer now than we've ever been. It would not be possible in my mind to be close or to have a relationship, a constructive relationship, if I had not confronted him or that he had reacted in the way he did to my confronting him. I mean, he didn't have to apologize,
Roy Ashburn: [01:29:30] he didn't have to say, I can't understand why you don't hate me. He didn't have to say those things, but he did.
Betsy Kalin: I think even sharing that story, I think it's very powerful for a lot of people who will hear this and have their own histories of sexual abuse and trauma that they're dealing with.
Betsy Kalin: [01:30:00] And you have been talking about the conflicting feelings, I think is a very important thing because part of the process for survivors is forgiving themselves.
Roy Ashburn: I think that's right - forgiving yourself - because I don't know, I say that I was molested, but I don't know to what extent
Roy Ashburn: [01:30:30] I initiated or encouraged or, you know what I mean? And certainly he was older and he was in the power position over me. And I'm not making excuses for being a victim, because I don't characterize myself as a victim in this either.
Roy Ashburn: [01:31:00] It's something that happened. It was wrong. It had a profound effect on me. It happens to many people, many people, and most people I think just suffer through it.
Betsy Kalin: Wow. Well, thank you. Thank you for sharing that. I had some questions. I'm just going to jump around a little bit now if that's okay with you.
Betsy Kalin: [01:31:30] So one thing that we haven't really talked about was how does honesty and integrity factor in your life now? Like, what is the importance of that and being true to yourself and who you are?
Roy Ashburn: I would like to say it's extremely important. Life is so much better in the honest lane. You don't have to remember the lie that you told
Roy Ashburn: [01:32:00] and that you need to perpetuate when you just start out honest from the beginning. However, it's complicated when you were as dishonest to his many people for as long a time as I was, it's really difficult to not revert back to that pattern. It's the way I conducted myself for most of my life. So yes, honesty is important.
Roy Ashburn: [01:32:30] It's something that is important to me. I try to, I tried to associate myself with honesty and to engage in things that I think are honest pursuits.
Betsy Kalin: And something else. I mean, you can kind of relate that also to the question of integrity and honesty in politics, and how do you see it with politicians [inaudible] in the past, and then today as well?
Roy Ashburn: [01:33:00] Well, I used to tolerate a lot from my colleagues and from candidates that I supported. I'm a lot less forgiving these days. I support people who are seeking office. I give advice to them.
Roy Ashburn: [01:33:30] Honesty and integrity are extremely important in the counseling that I give them. I will always urge that people speak in specifics and not generalities. Say specifically what you mean, and not in some general sense that can be interpreted four different ways. Cause that's also a form of dishonesty,
Roy Ashburn: [01:34:00] Well, I'll say it a slippery way and then I won't be pinned down to something. Well, that's not the best way. The best way is to say what you mean and stand for what you mean. It's tough to do, especially in the political realm and you see an awful lot of dishonesty these days.
Betsy Kalin: And what I mean, you're a former Republican, is that correct?
Roy Ashburn: [01:34:30] No, I'm currently a Republican.
Betsy Kalin: And so let's talk about your party. So what would you like to see change within your party?
Roy Ashburn: I'd rather not get into partisan politics, especially a couple of months away from an historic presidential election and historic, not only from the standpoint of the candidates,
Roy Ashburn: [01:35:00] but historic from the overlay of the pandemic and changes to the way that votes are going to be cast and counted. There's a lot of controversy in this election. There's a lot of passion in this election. People tend to be judging each other based on what they believe and what they say and what they display about candidates right now in this election. So I really don't want to go there.
Betsy Kalin: [01:35:30] It's understandable. I think I'm asking because I mean, I'm a historian and so I've studied historically what the Republican party stood for. And then I also grew up in New England in a very conservative community where Republicans were very active, you know? And so
Betsy Kalin: [01:36:00] I think one of the things that your story brings that's different than other people is that because of the way that you came out, you really challenged the concept of gay Republican that really wasn't there at the time. And so, I think I was hoping for you to kind of talk a little bit about that.
Roy Ashburn: [01:36:30] Well, gays should be very comfortable in the Republican party because my Republican party is about individual freedom. We call it Liberty. The Republican party that I know and have been a part of is a party that values the differences among individuals and that the government exists in a limited form
Roy Ashburn: [01:37:00] for precisely the purpose that individual people will have more freedom and more opportunity, and not less because of a government that takes too much of their money, imposes too many regulations and controls or tries to treat people as a class instead of as individuals, because we are so uniquely ourselves, yes,
Roy Ashburn: [01:37:30] we can associate in our associated into groupings, but at the core we're individuals first, that's my Republican party. And so my party is the party that should embrace gay rights. If you believe that that you're created by God in God's image,
Roy Ashburn: [01:38:00] then you certainly should be comfortable with the idea that a gay or lesbian person was born in God's image, exactly the way God intended them to be born. To me that's as clear as it can be.
Roy Ashburn: [01:38:30] I don't want to get into contrast again but for me it is completely consistent with Republican principles that gay people should be embraced. I think the complication comes with maybe the religious aspect that, I mean, it really is not even right to say
Roy Ashburn: [01:39:00] that Republicans tend to be more church-going or have a stronger belief in God or any of those things. I just don't think that's true, but I guess the Republican party has been labeled more as the religious fundamentalist kind of kind of party. And there are people from a religious persuasion who have very strong feelings against homosexuality
Roy Ashburn: [01:39:30] and gay people. And they find that that's the way that God expressed himself. Well, I don't believe that. Any more than you and I had the choice to select who our parents are, we had no choice in the selection of our being attracted to men
Roy Ashburn: [01:40:00] or attracted to women. We just didn't have that choice.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you. Thank you for clarifying that. [inaudible] doing so good. This is amazing. Thank you so much. Oh, there was one thing that I didn't have you talk about. And that was
Betsy Kalin: [01:40:30] when you were talking about, being a little more reckless in your behavior and that you were spotted in Faces nightclub, and I think a mayor saw you and posted something.
Roy Ashburn: Right. So this happened about six months before my arrest in March of 2010 and my coming out
Roy Ashburn: [01:41:00] is that, like many cities in Sacramento, they have a monthly art walk where all the art galleries open, all the bars are open, the restaurants are open and people are wandering -- this is all pre COVID -- all wandering in close proximity and enjoying a beautiful summer evening.
Roy Ashburn: [01:41:30] And I was with my boyfriend at that time. And we went to a gay bar and we were upstairs and holding hands along the railing and the mayor of West Sacramento happened to spot us. And he posted on his Facebook page that he had seen me and what an incredible hypocrite
Roy Ashburn: [01:42:00] as an anti-gay Republican. And here I am out in public in a gay club, holding hands with a boyfriend. That was very upsetting to me. It was because I didn't want to be discovered. Of course, if I didn't want to be discovered, I wouldn't have been at that particular location at that particular time doing the things that I was doing.
Roy Ashburn: [01:42:30] But it just shows that in leading up to my arrest, in many ways, I think I set myself up. I was pushing an envelope. I was testing the boundaries because I would go out fairly frequently by then to gay clubs and bars, and especially in Sacramento where half the people in a gay club are associated with the state Capitol,
Roy Ashburn: [01:43:00] where with the lobbyists or employees of government. The idea that I could be there and be invisible is preposterous, but yet that's what I believed. Or, at least, that's the way I acted. And so, I guess it's not so surprising that eventually it caught up with me. But that was that night, and the mayor did post that, and I was very upset about it.
Roy Ashburn: [01:43:30] And then when I was arrested, the mayor went even further. He went on television to say that I should resign my office that because of my drunk driving arrest and being at a gay club and being dishonest about being gay that I should resign my position. So I called him and I asked him to meet me for coffee,
Roy Ashburn: [01:44:00] and we did. I expected it to be a very brief conversation, about two hours later when we met, I think we had a much better understanding of each other, and I would call him a friend today. I hope he would call me a friend. I have great respect for him. He's been the mayor of West Sacramento for a long time. And he's been an openly gay man for a long time
Roy Ashburn: [01:44:30] showing a lot more courage in that regard than I did. Anyway, that's what happened with the mayor of West Sacramento and my pre-outing. It raised the issue though. You'll remember there was a period of time about outing people, a big debate in the gay community. Should we out people, or should we not out people?
Roy Ashburn: [01:45:00] Should people be revealed publicly without their permission? That's outing. And you notice that's gone away. You don't hear very much now about outing. And the reason it's gone away is because most people are out. Most people have come out and that shows that people are less afraid,
Roy Ashburn: [01:45:30] and that shows an enormous step forward because fear is the greatest of the emotions. It guided my life. It controlled my life. It caused me to do things that were terrible things, dishonest things, fear. There's less fear today. It's not gone, but there's much less and that's hugely important.
Betsy Kalin: [01:46:00] That's great. So if someone, a young person came up to you and asked your advice on whether they should come out, what would you say to them?
Roy Ashburn: It happens frequently and I say it, come out. Don't wait. Do it. Because again, as terrified as I was, as much as I did not want to be revealed
Roy Ashburn: [01:46:30] it is such a relief. It is so liberating. Being true to ourselves, being authentic. That's a word that a friend of mine used in gay Alcoholics Anonymous, be your authentic self and how liberating that is and how powerful it is.
Roy Ashburn: [01:47:00] So I am a huge advocate and I would never advise a young person, a middle aged person, an older person to keep hiding, do it if you're ready, not everybody's ready.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. And what is your hope for the future? Just in general? What, what do you want to see in the future?
Roy Ashburn: [01:47:30] Oh, I would like to see a lot more love. Love is one of those words that is very powerful, but it's also kind of a throw away. Love is a powerful word. It's a powerful emotion and we're in a place in the United States today. And in our relationship with each other
Roy Ashburn: [01:48:00] as people where we would all benefit from a lot more love and understanding and acceptance and compassion. I believe in freedom, I believe people will do the right thing. I believe people are best when each of us have the freedom to be
Roy Ashburn: [01:48:30] who we truly are and to aspire and to fulfill our true selves without any kind of limitation. And so that's what I hope for. That's what I pray for.
Betsy Kalin: That's beautiful. Thank you. And then why do you feel it's important for you to tell your story?
Roy Ashburn: [01:49:00] Only because I hope it will help somebody else. Only because I really would like to be helpful. If someone -- hearing what happened to me and the way I conducted myself and then all the different things that led to coming out
Roy Ashburn: [01:49:30] and to where I am today -- if it's helpful to someone that would be amazing.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. And since OUTWORDS is the national project to capture and share our history through in depth interviews, can you say why you feel that's important? And if you can mention OUTWORDS, that would be great.
Roy Ashburn: [01:50:00] I'm very happy to be part of the OUTWORDS project so that people in their own words in their own comfort zone can tell their own story. Each of us have an amazing personal life story, and we can gain so much from each other in listening and relating to things that,
Roy Ashburn: [01:50:30] Well, I felt that way, or That happened to me, or I always wondered what that was. There's a lot of strength and power in that. So what a great project this is in giving gay people a voice in their own words to say it out loud.
Roy Ashburn: [01:51:00] I held everything in for so, so long. I never told anyone. Can you imagine going through 55 years of being something, someone and never telling anyone? I'm not the only one -- many, many, many. And maybe people who might hear this, see this, or see others
Roy Ashburn: [01:51:30] in this OUTWORDS project -- what a great opportunity. And hopefully we will help other people.
Betsy Kalin: Perfect. Perfect. That was so good. I actually had a question that I was going through my notes, and Tom, he wanted me to ask you about the first time that you came to the A.A. meeting and what that was like for you.
Roy Ashburn: [01:52:00] Oh my gosh. So Alcoholics Anonymous is, has been a huge part of my life ever since I discovered it, and actually A.A. discovered me. I didn't do very much at all. So earlier I talked about, after the arrest, I received a lot of mail and I described pieces of paper with writing on them,
Roy Ashburn: [01:52:30] inside of envelopes with stamps. Well, the stack that I received was probably like this is, a pretty big stack of mail. And I was paralyzed at that time. I was emotionally and mentally paralyzed. I couldn't look at that mail, but somehow in the midst of that stack, there was an envelope that I pulled out
Roy Ashburn: [01:53:00] and I have that envelope and that letter today. It was on a different colored paper, it was on green paper and it had a letterhead on it. A professional letterhead, and it was a typed letter. And the letter said something like this, You don't know me, but I know you because I work in the state Capitol. I'm a lobbyist and I've been doing this for a long time and
Roy Ashburn: [01:53:30] I am married to my partner and I am an alcoholic, and I'm a recovering alcoholic. I have been following what's been going on with you in the news, and I just wanted to write this letter to you to tell you that there's a place for you. This place is located at a certain address.
Roy Ashburn: [01:54:00] And this activity takes place at a certain time on Sunday afternoons. And you should come. Well, I didn't know this person who wrote this letter. And I'll tell you this, his name was Bill. So I get this letter from Bill and I decided I'm never going there.
Roy Ashburn: [01:54:30] I don't know what it is, I don't know where it is, but I'm never going there. And, you know, it's a funny thing how God works. Maybe four weeks or six weeks later, I'm alone in Sacramento on a Sunday afternoon. And I decide, you know, I'm going to go to that place. And so I wanted to be careful.
Roy Ashburn: [01:55:00] So I Google mapped it and I got myself thoroughly lost, which is impossible because of how well I knew Sacramento by then. But I did. I got thoroughly lost. You know, how you get set in your mind, where you think you know where something is located, and even the map won't persuade you that you're wrong. Right? Well, that's what I did. So I went to the wrong place. Well, if you know me at all, I'm very punctual.
Roy Ashburn: [01:55:30] And so by the time I wound my way through the streets of Sacramento to the correct address, I'm 20 minutes late. No one knew I was going, nobody knew where I was going, and nobody was expecting me. So, ordinarily I would have just blown it off, but I didn't. I pulled my car up 20 minutes after the starting time for something.
Roy Ashburn: [01:56:00] And in the parking lot, as I pulled up was a man all by himself. And this man was looking up into the tree and he was noticing -- because this is now April; remember I was arrested the first part of March -- that there was new growth in the tree. So, I pulled up, and the man comes over to me, he says, Roy, I'm so glad that you're here.
Roy Ashburn: [01:56:30] My name is Bill. The man who wrote that letter, who reached out to me, was standing in that parking lot. Not knowing that I was coming, the reason he was looking up into that tree and noticing the new growth is his own son had committed suicide just a short time before.
Roy Ashburn: [01:57:00] And this man's a professional Forester, and so trees, growth are signs of God, God's presence. Bill was getting some strength and communing with nature. And I went into that first meeting with Bill and I hated it.
Roy Ashburn: [01:57:30] It was a bunch of older, drunk, gay men. That ain't my scene. I sat there stiff as a board, uncomfortable wanting for it to end quickly and get out of there. And that's exactly what I did. I thanked Bill very much for inviting me. Thank you.
Roy Ashburn: [01:58:00] Nice to meet you at adios. And I never intended to go back. Two weeks later, Im at the state Capitol and I'm walking out onto the front sidewalk and who's coming up the sidewalk but Bill. In all my years in Sacramento, I had never come across Bill. And here within a course of two weeks, I come across Bill.
Roy Ashburn: [01:58:30] Roy, how are you doing? Well, Bill, I'm doing very well. I've not had a drink ever since that night. And I don't feel like I want to have a drink. You know, I'm not an alcoholic, Bill. And that meeting, I was very uncomfortable there. That isn't my scene. Well, Bill says, Come back, keep coming back.
Roy Ashburn: [01:59:00] And you know what? A week or two later I came back and I'd been back ever since. Now, you tell me that Bill wasn't sent on a mission by God to intercept Roy at his lowest time in his greatest need. Yes.
Betsy Kalin: [01:59:30] Wow. I'm sorry. I got all teary. That was a beautiful, beautiful story.
Roy Ashburn: And it's absolutely true. Bill is a guardian angel. Amazing man. We're still friends. He lives in Sacramento with his husband. They came by a couple months ago on their way to Los Angeles and we had a little barbecue outside. I love him with all my heart.
Roy Ashburn: [02:00:00] And here was somebody that I didn't know. He didn't know me, but he cared enough. Think about that. He had heard about me. He knew me from work, but we didn't know each other. I didn't ... To this day, I don't think we ever had met each other prior to that, but he cared enough to write that letter.
Roy Ashburn: [02:00:30] How many people need a letter from you and me today? Or a phone call or a word of encouragement? Yeah. That's what's different today.
Betsy Kalin: Well, I think we're at the end of our interview and that's a beautiful way to end.
Betsy Kalin: [02:01:00] I just want to see if you had anything else that you wanted to talk about or anything that I didn't ask?
Roy Ashburn: No, you've been very thorough. You've been very kind. You've been just excellent to talk with and I appreciate it.
Betsy Kalin: I have to say this was an amazing interview. Thank you so much.
Roy Ashburn: Okay. Thank you very much.
Betsy Kalin: Well, let's see Andrew. Yes. Thank you.
Andrew Lush: Hi!
Roy Ashburn: Andrew.
Andrew Lush: [02:01:30] Im still here. Thank you. Tearing up over here. Okay. So if you all are ready, I can just stop the recording. And Roy if you don't mind just staying with me for a few more minutes after Betsy I'm just gonna copy the file and then we're done. Okay.
Roy Ashburn: Betsy.
Betsy Kalin: Thank you so much.
Roy Ashburn: [02:02:00] Betsy. It's been a joy to meet you. I hope we meet in real life. Tom is an incredible person, oh my god, what an amazing person. And I love him. And I love you and thank you so much. If ever I can help in any way, let me know.
Betsy Kalin: Actually, my films have shown at the SLO, San Luis Obispo film festival.
Roy Ashburn: Oh, really?
Betsy Kalin: So the jury for a couple of years [crosstalk]. I love it there.
Roy Ashburn: Well, when you're here, let me know. Even if it's in pandemic time, we'll figure out a way.
Betsy Kalin: [02:02:30] That's wonderful. Well, thank you.
Roy Ashburn: No, thank you. Have a great day. Great evening.
Betsy Kalin: Bye bye.
Andrew Lush Bye Betsy. Alright, so I can stop the recording. There we go. And I'm stopping it on the other machine. Oh, let's get your window back. Alright.

Interviewed by: Betsy Kalin
Camera: Andrew Lush
Date: August 07, 2020
Location: Home of Roy Ashburn, San Luis Obispo, CA (Remote)