Ed DePasquale’s life has gone through many fascinating phases. He realized he was gay at 23, while married. At 37, he and his wife separated, the divorce finalized at 41, and he decided he had to start living honestly.
DePasquale has lived in Charlotte for nearly 60 years, via Albany, N.C. He spent time on the board of the Metrolina AIDS Project and was a co-founder of Carolina Celebration, a former gay fundraising organization. In addition to that work, he was a volunteer leader of Dignity, a pro-gay Catholic organization, which later disaffiliated with Dignity and became the indpendent Acceptance group in Charlotte, N.C.
He also served as military police and a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force during the 1950s. In the following interview he reflects on life then and now.
You say you were 23 when you found out what life was all about. Can you expound on that?
That’s when I got my first involvement with my own sex, and kind of liked what was going on, so that’s what I started looking for. I had a wife who was expecting a baby any time, [and we also had] a three year old, and I just decided in the back of my mind that this was something I would have to put up with: being married.
Because [my wife] didn’t ask for it, you know, for me to be gay. Of course, I didn’t ask for it either, but that’s the way it is. So I just hung in there. And then I was in my 30s and playing both sides of the street, so to speak, and had a guy tell me one night that I shouldn’t be married. He said, “You’re too gay to be married.”
And my comment back was, I had children, it was my responsibility to see them grown and on their own.
He said, “They won’t think any more of you or any less of you tomorrow.”
So I put my ducks in a row, and about six months later sent the kids to Europe for a trip and on the way back from the airport told my ex-wife I was leaving. I moved out that day and haven’t been back since.
I spent all my time fighting her in court, she got everything I had and then some. It was a very expensive proposition, but I’ll put it this way, it’s the happiest I’ve been since, ever since. I’ll stick to it no matter what. I tell anybody else, when they find out they are [gay], they need to wake up and realize it and move on with their lives.
You have seen a lot of progress for the gay community over the years, but with legislation like HB2, we see that one must always stay vigilant. I wonder what your thoughts are on all that?
Actually right now my attitude is this, the difference between what we’re going through today is nothing compared to what we were going through in my day. When I was in my 20s, from the time I was 23 until I finally left home, I was living on both sides of the street…I was out trying to find someone to be with and it was very difficult. It was very difficult then because when you were down the street cruising, you had to be careful or the next person you talked to could be a cop looking to take your butt to jail and lock you up.
I had one night [with an undercover police officer], we talked for about 20 minutes and he said, “I know what you’re looking for.” He said, “If I could get you to say anything, I’d put you in jail.”
I said, “Well you got it all wrong, man, it ain’t no such thing,” and looked at him like he was crazy. He knew what he was talking about. But that was back in the days when the cops were picking people up off the street like crazy. We lived a rough life back then.
Did you have friends who were arrested?
Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes. I had one friend who was arrested, worked for a bank, was fired the next morning as soon as it came out that he was arrested. You know, it was entrapment by police, that’s exactly what they did. And of course, you’d be in a place you shouldn’t be, and they got you by the you-know-what and there is not much you can do about it. Just hope you can get out of it the best way you can. Hope you had a good lawyer for a friend that could help you out. Thanks to the Lord that I never got caught in such a way that I had to worry about that.
What was the gay bar and club scene like back in the day in Charlotte?
Let’s see, I’m trying to think of the first one. It was in an old gas station on North Tryon Street. And I remember I went in there one night and there was a young lady sitting in a booth with a couple other girls, and she saw me and she slid under a table so I wouldn’t see her. She knew I knew her family. She was scared to death somebody was going to tell them she was gay.
But the gay bars, I’ve been to them throughout the years. I remember when Olean used to run The Brass Rail, which used to be on North Tryon and Morehead Street, and then it eventually moved down to Wilkinson Boulevard.
But when Olean used to run it, I would go in frequently. It was one of my main haunts. And she tried her darndest to find out who I was and I tried my darndest to keep her from finding out who I was, because I was going in there looking for some action, and I usually scored…this was before I left home.
What groups are you a member of today?
I’m a member of Prime Timers. I’m a member of another group called The Old Farts. I’m a member of another group called The Queen City Supper Club. These are all gay groups…I’m lucky I can make it to the meetings.