Saturday, March 07, 2009

Bob and Jack

In 1951, the US military declared homosexuality an "unacceptable risk" and dishonorably discharged over 2,000 men and women simply for being gay. It was that same year when Army Sgt. Bob Claunch and his commanding officer, Lt. Jack Reavley, fell in love.

Reavley, who served during World War II and remained in the Army Reserve, was called back to service during the Korean War. He became Claunch's commanding officer in Germany.

It was love at first sight, Claunch said.

But being together was difficult. They couldn't be seen alone together without raising eyebrows or risking the scrutiny of military police. Reavley had a wife and two young daughters back home, and both men felt weighed down with guilt.

Men in their unit began to notice Bob and Jack's relationship; rumors swirled. If discovered, they could have been court-martialed. They spent a year hiding their relationship before they confronted their unit.

Reavley called a meeting. He had his secretary, a lesbian who helped conceal the couple's romance, pretend to phone headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany.

"I said, if anybody has anything to say about Sgt. Claunch and Lt. Reavley's association . . . now's your chance," Reavley said.

No one said a word.

"We didn't admit guilt, and we didn't say we weren't" gay, Reavley said. "So case closed. And the rumors stopped."

Within a few months, Claunch and Reavley returned to the United States with honorable discharges. But, instead of returning to his wife and children in Texas, Reavley joined Claunch in Los Angeles. There, they told Claunch's mother and sister that they were going to be together. Claunch's family didn't approve.

It was harder for Reavley's family. Jack Reavley went home to Texas, while Bob Claunch waited for him in New Orleans.

"Morally, it wasn't the right thing for me to do, to leave her," said Reavley, who chokes up when talking about his wife and family today. "She was such a sweet girl--I hated to hurt her."

After several months more of living a lie, Reavley wrote a letter to his wife when she was out of town. By the time she came home, he was gone.

"That was the only way to do it," he says now. "A clean break and for me to get the heck out of there, and out of the way so she could go on with her life."

Reavley and Claunch purchased KAPA-AM in Raymond, Washington, where they settled down and for the next 27 years broadcast music, sports and local news from the small-town station.

After they both retired, they moved to Los Angeles, where they worked in film and television; they were extras in "General Hospital," "The Bold and the Beautiful" and "Pretty Woman," among others.

In 2006, Atwater Village-based filmmaker Stu Maddux released "Bob and Jack’s 52-Year Adventure,” a prize-winning documentary about their romance.

Last year, the couple briefly considered marrying, announcing plans online and in a National Public Radio interview, but then they changed their minds. The only reason to marry at their age, the couple says, is to receive federal marriage benefits, although that possibility may be far off.

Today, Bob and Jack share a two-bedroom apartment at Triangle Square, an apartment complex in Hollywood of mostly low-income gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender senior citizens.
Given another chance to say "I do," they say they would, although history makes them hesitant.
"I suppose it's because for so many, many, many years and centuries, men have not married men, and women have not married women," Claunch said. "We've been brought up not having anything like that, not wanting anything like that. . . . We've always been given the impression that it was a horrible kind of situation, and it is not easy to cross over that line."

For fifty-eight years these two men have lived together and loved together, and never been allowed the chance to marry; and may never be allowed that chance.

Now, however, Claunch and Reavley, both in their 80s, and realizing they won't live much longer, have discovered that is one reason why marriage matters. As the couple enters their twilight years, what will happen to one when the other dies is a growing concern. Friends have passed, families are distant. Though they are registered domestic partners in California, federal marriage benefits--like Social Security and survivor payments--are unavailable to them, and unavailable to all the other same-sex couples who married in California last year.

Bob and Jack are reconsidering. If the opportunity to marry comes again, they would probably take advantage of it--and pray that federal marriage benefits would someday follow.

This isn't the gay couple that the right-wingnuts and Repugnants and religious nutjobs want you to hear about. They want you to believe that gay couples are perverts and degenerates and 'less than' everyone else. That gay couples don't deserve the same rights and privileges as the rest of Americans.

But Bob and Jack do deserve the same rights.
So do Bob and Carlos.
And so do our friends Neal and David, and Roger and Thomas.
Sylvia and Lucy.
So do Mistress Maddie and her Boy-toy.
Mark and Spouse.
Dan and Luis.

We all deserve the same treatment.


frogponder said...

In our family we have two gay relationships of 40+ years.

Mark in DE said...

Right on, my brother! From your lips to God's ears.