In Fort Wayne, we got a slice of Indiana life. Our friend Scott Mertz invited us to the Up The Stairs Community Center to meet with a group of guys from the Fort Wayne area. Scott ordered pizza and the yummiest breadsticks for everyone. Afterwards, Scott showed us the impressive Library at the community center and gave us some highlights of gay Fort Wayne history. Trust us, if there’s anything you want to know about homosexuality in Indiana, Scott Mertz is the guy to go to. Email us and we’ll get you in touch with him.
The conversation in Fort Wayne was both heart-wrenching (Nick’s parents), and eye-opening (The Lot), and confirmed what we’ve been thinking for a while now: Midwest young gay life is anxious. All this energy brewing. You wonder where it’s all going to go.
YGA: How do you like Fort Wayne?
KYLE: Fort Wayne sucks.
JEREMY: It does not! I’m not from Fort Wayne and I love it here. When I get bored in little old Auburn, Indiana I come here.
DAVID: I came from Wabash, a real hick town. I came here for college. I pretty much hate Indiana, though.
NICK: I do too.
JEREMY: I don’t. Cornfields and boys, what more could you want?
YGA: Is that true about all the cornfields and boys? Or is it just a myth?
KYLE: I’d have to say it’s true.
JEREMY: Most of the guys I’ve met, up where I live, are a bunch of hilljacks who farm.
KYLE: And those hilljack farmers are kinda cute.
RYAN: Come to think of it, they do have some cute farmer boys up in Marion.
KYLE: There are some cute ones in Fremont too…
YGA: Tony, where are you from?
TONY: Blufton. About 45 minutes south of here. I still live there and drive back and forth every day to go to school.
RYAN: There’s a lot of people who walk around and say they don’t like Fort Wayne cuz it’s boring and there’s nothing to do. It’s true if you’re under 21 and you’re gay there isn’t really anything to do.
KYLE: If you’re under 21 and NOT gay there’s nothing to do.
RYAN: There’s hanging out at the bowling alley with all the straight guys, if you like that. The teen clubs are all ghetto.
KYLE: You walk in and worry about getting shot.
YGA: Does that really happen?
KYLE: Not to me. I don’t let people mess with me. I’ve had people try, though, verbally. I’m a pretty big guy. You can say all you want, it’s not gonna bother me.
SCOTT: I don’t think the clubs are tough. I hang out with straight girls all the time and I find that when you hang out with girls people don’t give you as much of a hard time. My girlfriends are always there for me. If something was to come up they’d all jump in and we’d have a big bar fight.
KYLE: No way, from my experience straight guys get jealous if you hang out with girls.
SCOTT: But you don’t pose a threat to them if you’re gay. I’ve had guys that used adultfrienedfinder app and they come up to me and say “I’m glad to know you’re gay cuz if you were all huggin’ up to my girl and you were straight I’d’ve kicked the shit outta you!!”
YGA: So you guys are all out in high school?
RYAN: I am. I wish I’d come out in middle school because when I finally did come out in high school nobody gave me a hard time about it.
KYLE: I came out in 6th grade to everybody.
YGA: Wow, 6th grade.
KYLE: Yea. I got messed with a lot. People still mess with me, but it doesn’t bother me.
YGA: Do you have GSA’s in your schools?
NICK: Actually just today the first GSA in all of Fort Wayne was officially approved!! I’ve been working on getting it approved for a while now.
YGA: Congratulations, Nick! What school is it?
NICK: Snyder High. We’re also trying to start one at SouthSide.
KYLE: That one’s been approved by the school but not by the district yet. Now that you’ve got yours approved they might do it.
NICK: Just today I was calling the principal to get final confirmation. Yesterday I had all the teachers who were willing to sponsor sign the charter.
YGA: How many other students are in it?
NICK: It’s just me and the teachers right now. There’s a gay teacher that’s helping out. I have the newspaper’s support. The editor said when we get a place to hold meetings she’ll run a story about us and advertise it.
YGA: And do you think there’ll be interest?
NICK: I think so, yes. From what I’ve heard from the teachers there’s a lot of gay students there.
YGA: So how come there aren’t any girls in this group? Where are they all?
JEREMY: We had one! Her name was Disiree. She came once and never came back.
YGA: Why do you think that is?
DAVID: We get lesbians from time to time that come to Horizons. That’s always been a tough crowd to get. There used to be lesbian groups in Fort Wayne but in recent years they’ve stopped holding meetings.
YGA: So is there nothing for gay girls?
DAVID: We try to cater to them. It’s hard. Since we have no active lesbians who want to come in and tell us what we need to do for programming we struggle. You’ll have girls come in now and then, see there’s no other girls, and then leave.
YGA: This seems to be a problem with a lot of youth groups. If the group is predominantly female and staffed by females, it’s hard to get the boys to come and keep coming. Vice versa. Do you see any solutions for this?
DAVID: We do get a lot of lesbians at our drag shows, and Pride Day. I think one solution would definitely be to offer more general programming. But in this community it’s hard to do. There are a lot of people who want to go to events but not a lot of people who want to work hard at them.
YGA: What are clubs like in Fort Wayne.
KYLE: They’re OK. Something I’ve noticed is that there’s a perception that gay clubs have a lot more drugs and sex than the straight clubs, but really the straight youth do just as much drugs and have just as much sex but gay youth get called out on it more than anybody else.
YGA: Called out on it? By whom?
KYLE: Police. If there was a gay guy walking through the park and a straight guy walking through the park, the gay guy would get arrested first. I heard there was a law in effect that if you’re caught walking through the park and you’re gay you can get arrested.
RYAN: In my opinion, if people weren’t down there in the park sucking dick that wouldn’t happen.
YGA: You mean guys?
RYAN: Yea, there’s always all these guys in the park having sex.
YGA: But you guys did say there’s not a lot of places for people to go, right?
RYAN: They don’t need to be sucking dick in the park! They can go park their cars in their driveways, parking lots, or wherever, but the parks!? I mean, come on. I won’t walk on the river greenway anymore cuz I don’t know who’s gonna be getting it on in the bush. I’m just saying that kinda stuff shouldn’t be going on in the park.
DAVID: It would be the same if a guy and a girl are doing it. The difference is, they don’t pick up guys and girls.
RYAN: That’s who they’re catching cuz that’s who’s doin it.
YGA: OK, but what about this. Straight people can go out to a movie and cuddle and kiss. They can go to restaurants and lean over candlelit dinners. They can also check into a hotel and not have to worry that they might be outed. When you check into a motel you have to sign your name and for someone who might be gay but, say, married and terrified of a single person finding out, that might not be an option. There are institutions in society that are enforced that force people to have sex in the park. Sometimes it’s better not to attack them but look at the reasons why it’s happening and examine the social implications around it.
DAVID: A lot of the guys that get caught are married men, like you say. We had an elementary school teacher busted for it.
YGA: If you’re a married guy you can’t go to a gay bar. Some people are forced to sneak around.
RYAN: But why the park?
YGA: Where else?
JEREMY: Why bathrooms in the mall?
YGA: Because there is no other space?
RYAN: We need a bathhouse. That’ll keep em busy.
YGA: I think you’ll probably find that sex in public places will go on for the rest of history, and has been going on for centuries.
RYAN: I don’t know. Just why the park.
SCOTT: What makes that any different than the parking lot at the bar, Ryan?
DAVID: We had an incident recently where these two (Nick and Tony) were at the place where we go out to eat after meetings. They’re always affectionate in public. Two guys and a girl saw them and started making comments like Fag and stuff in the restaurant. They followed us into the parking lot and it was scary. We backed up real fast and got outta there. Nick and Tony aren’t scared to be affectionate in public but most people are, and for good reason! There aren’t many places you can go and be safe.
YGA: Scott (Mertz, group facilitator), what year did this place (the community center) come to be?
SCOTT M: This space opened around 1985.
YGA: So prior to this space there wouldn’t have been a safe space for gay people to gather.
SCOTT M: In 1978 we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing right now.
YGA: Where would you meet someone back then, for sex or otherwise?
(Henry, Editor of Our Rainbow Reader, joins our discussion)
HENRY: There was a place downtown called the Lot. It’s basically a parking lot where gay kids go and congregate. They’ve been doing that since the 70’s.
YGA: Any place else?
HENRY: For young people, that’s about it. The Lot is right down the street from where a couple of the gay bars were at the time. It’s a central location. It’s also a spot where there’s a lot of hustlers and leering.
YGA: Would the park have been a place as well back then?
HENRY: That parks at that time were not as busy as they are now. Now it’s basically older married men who go there.
SCOTT M: In the late 70’s the Parks Department reconfigured the parks to cut down on cruising traffic, not just for gays but also for straights. In the 80’s the town put all the money from Parks into the DARE program. Unfortunately, the police don’t do nearly as much with the money as the Parks Department could have and people complain about it all the time. Before, Fort Wayne’s parks were all neighborhood-like. We had 40 full-time parks. It all changed when they took the money away.
YGA: But the cruising didn’t stop.
SCOTT M: No.
YGA: Do people still go to The Lot?
SCOTT: I go there. That’s where a lot of people go. That’s where I met the people in this room.
RYAN: That’s where I met Scott and Kyle.
YGA: How does The Lot work?
SCOTT: Usually you go there at night. You’d troll.
YGA: What does that mean?
SCOTT: You’d look around, examine what’s going on. If you see someone, you pull up in your car next to him and talk through the car windows.
KYLE: Sometimes you get in their car, they get in your car, and you do what you’re gonna do.
YGA: Is that different from what you don’t like seeing in the park?
RYAN: Oh no, it’s the same thing. But no one does things right in the parking lot.
SCOTT: No one does things in The Lot.
RYAN: Well, it does go on.
KYLE: I’ve driven by plenty of times and seem some nasty man.
RYAN: At leas they’re not hangin out right by the bar. It’s sad that it has to go on, but it does.
KYLE: Why don’t they just get on the internet?
SCOTT: But that is scary too!
RYAN: Especially if they have a wife. Think about it. You’d have to worry all the time about everything you do. I guess there will always be people having sex in the park. I just wish it didn’t have to happen.
YGA: Nick and Tony, how long have you guys been going out?
TONY: A month and a half.
NICK: We met here.
YGA: Do your parents know?
TONY: My mother is very accepting. She knows when I stay the night with him.
NICK: I’ve lived on my own since 18.
YGA: Is that by choice or necessity?
NICK: Necessity. My grandparents ruined my life.
NICK: When I was 16, they found out I was gay. They started treating me really badly, to the point where I wasn’t allowed to receive mail or phone calls. One day, my grandfather just snapped and threw me out of the house. They called the police on me and told them that I’d run away from home. Three days later I got on a Greyhound and went to San Francisco.
YGA: Then what happened?
NICK: I stayed there for two weeks until I ran out of money and had to come back. They paid for my tickets back, but within two days they threw me into a stress center, a big hospital in Decatur.
YGA: What was the reason for putting you in the hospital?
NICK: They claimed I was suicidal.
YGA: Were you?
YGA: Were you under stress?
NICK: Well no, except for the obvious reasons.
YGA: What was the hospital like?
NICK: It was your typical hospital ward. You were locked in this one hallway and weren’t allowed to leave. You weren’t allowed to call people and you couldn’t have people come and visit. They fed you little crappy meals. They drugged my meals.
YGA: How long were you there?
NICK: I was there for a week. After I got out of there, evidently, my grandparents pressed charges against me for running away and stealing my own computer. That started a whole bunch of court dates.
YGA: Stealing your own computer?
NICK: Yes, I was living at their house using a computer they had given to me. When I left, I took the computer with me.
NICK: I was assigned a probation officer and she, along with my grandparents, decided to send me for a mental evaluation up in South Bend. I was sent to a juvenile detention center, under Lock Down. We were locked in our rooms, with uniforms on. I was there for 19 days.
YGA: Were you drugged there too?
NICK: I don’t think so. At the stress center I know I was because I kept falling asleep after meals.
JEREMY: That is so awful.
YGA: Then what happened?
NICK: Then it was decided that I was going to be placed in a group home.
YGA: So during all of this there was never any investigation of misconduct on your grandparents’ end?
NICK: No, everything was about what I had done.
YGA: Was the group home good?
NICK: No, it was hell. They treated me like shit. I was in there with about 5 other guys who were all drug addicts and rapists. One of the guys raped his own brother. I was 17 when they put me there and I was there a little over 6 months. I got out on my 18th birthday.
YGA: So you were finally free?
NICK: Kinda. I had no options, so I went back to live with my grandparents. They accepted me back in on their terms. Basically that meant they treated me the same. I wasn’t allowed to have friends over or make phone calls or do anything. In July, a year ago, I moved out. I moved up here with a friend and lived with him for about 6 months. When I moved up here I tried to enroll in school here at Fort Wayne but they claimed I couldn’t go because I had to go where I had lived. That began another long legal battle. Me and my friend represented ourselves. We took them to the Indianapolis state school board, there was a hearing, and I was finally declared emancipated and they allowed me to go. I had missed my whole senior year so I had to redo senior year, which is why I’m as old as I am and still in high school.
YGA: Where are you living right now?
NICK: I have my own apartment. I have a job, I go to school.
YGA: You make enough money to survive now?
NICK: Yea. I’m gonna be OK now.
YGA: And now you’ve started this GSA.
NICK: Yes, which is very exciting. I had tried to start one in Berne, where I’m from, but it was impossible. Every day I’d get my ass kicked and the principal would punish me rather than the kids who beat me up.
JEREMY: Aw Nick, come give me a hug. It makes me so sad.
YGA: Are the rest of you in relationships?
RYAN: I had a boyfriend for two years. We just ended our relationship about two months ago.
JEREMY: I just ended my relationship too.
SCOTT: I ended mine a week ago. I feel better now.
JEREMY: I miss him. My boyfriend was really cute. He’s from Carmel. He used to call me every night and I would sing him to sleep, it was so cute. I miss that! Having somebody to go with me to my mountain and look at the stars at night, having someone to come home to. He’s married now. I guess you can’t get married but they swapped rings or whatever. It’s hard. It’s really hard. He calls a lot, wanting to hang out, and that just turns the dagger.
RYAN: I had to cut all ties when I broke up with my boyfriend. He wrote me two letters, I won’t open em. When you end a long relationship like that, it is not easy one bit.
JEREMY: We broke up stupidly too. I was the first guy he’d ever dated. I was ready to get married, have a big old cake, my mom loved him. She’s not really OK with the whole gay thing but she loved him. She baked him cookies. I got jealous cuz since he had never dated anybody else he suggested we should take a break and I was like “no way, I can’t believe you would suggest that! Seeya!”
YGA: What happens now that you think about it?
JEREMY: Now I think about it, that was probably a fair thing to suggest. He’d never dated another guy. How would he know what it feels to sleep with another guy, make out with another guy, or drive around in his convertible with another guy? I think I could have gotten through that if he’d gone out with another person for a month. I think our relationship was strong. But I was just hurt that he wasn’t gonna be calling me to have me sing him to sleep.
SCOTT: My boyfriend was the first guy I ever went out with. He totally used me.
DAVID: I think gay people, when they’re young and looking for a boyfriend, when it’s done it’s often a horrible breakup.
YGA: Did any of you find yourselves learning anything from the breakups?
SCOTT: I did everything for him. Now I look at the situation and I realize how stupid I was, but at the time my friends were all telling me he was using me and I would not listen to them at all.
RYAN: He bought this guy a BMW. A futon. He’d let her use the credit card.
SCOTT: No I was the one who used the credit card. I probably spend $10,000 on him.
JEREMY: You have to crawl before you walk. When I got into my relationship, my friends all told me “he lives in Carmel do you really trust him?” The best thing is to have real close friends around you. When I broke up with my boyfriend I was devastated for months. My friends were there to pick up the pieces with me.
SCOTT: He played me real well. He’d call me every day and be so sweet, but then I’d go there without him knowing it and I’d see other guys at his house.
RYAN: Me and my roommates let him move in. He tried saying he had cancer and this and that and that he was dying. Eventually we found out he was nothing but a big ol liar. He used everyone.
SCOTT: I totally cut him off, didn’t talk to him for seven days, and he finally calls me and says “what you been doing?” I said “honestly I don’t want to talk to you no more.” And I felt better, cuz when I was with him I was always worried he’d be pissed off at me.
RYAN: I had to break it down to Scott. I said, “compare how you are now emotionally to how you were then.”
YGA: It’s not easy to see when you’re in it.
SCOTT: Now it’s hard to trust people. Anyone. Even if you say there’s a car out there I won’t believe you. I have to go look.
JEREMY: I’m naive. I’m so trusting. It’s hard. Everyone’s so negative in this world these days and I try to be the positive one. If you go around not trusting people it makes a better world. I try to be the bright sunshine, the rainbow, if I can. I’ve been through shit, and I come out of it positive. If you don’t think of things positively, you become a bitter old queen and I don’t want to be bitter about anything.