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On Being


Gay, andin p,.;son:

an interview with ORTEZ ALDERSON

Ortez: My name is Ortez Alderson. I was recently released

from Ashland Kentucky's Federal Youth Center where I

was serving time for the destruction of government prop–

erty. This crime consisted of destroying draft files. [Three

others] and I were arrested on july 29, 1970, for the

crime- or so they said it was has their doubts-of

supposedly ripping off the Pontiac, Illinois, Draft Board.

What I'm trying to relate is the experience of how it was for

me as a black and and as a gay man to be within the jail

system of America. First I'm going to talk about Peoria

County jail where I was held for a period of three months.

To understand Peoria, one must understand that there

was nothing but bars there and it was rather sort of dead.

The feeling if anything was that one was locked up like a

caged animal. The only outlet that I had and that most of

the prisoners had was reading, playing cards, and visits

twice a week, visits where you were not allowed to hold or



whoever visited you, whoever cared enough to

come that long way just to see you. When I was there, I was

the only black on the tier for a long time. The rest of the

people seemed to be poor whites from around that area and

they also seemed to be-or were-very racist; something I

put up with at the time. There were quite a few hangups

going around at that time about whether or not I was

actually gay. I of course am ... and very proud of it. And

then being a black man, too, everyone was rather afraid to

try and hassle me or to try to do anything with me. I guess

this had something to do with that All-American black male



Later, you were sent to Ashland, Kentucky.

What was it like there and did you have any contact with

other gay prisoners?

Ortez: Yes. Craig. He was a good friend of mine in jail and

my closest brother and he was also gay. We sat down and

talked about the gay's situation in jail-you know, hassles

and stuff-and how we could stop it. The confrontation

came on Gay Pride Day, june 28th, because we wanted to

have a Gay Day celebration in prison. The prison officials

said we could not have this celebration .... At this point,

we got up a petition attacking the institution's discrimina–

tion against homosexuals. Craig, Green, Davis, and myself

were immediately arrested by the goon squad and put in

the hole. Craig was Puerto Rican, Green was Black, and

Davis was a full-blooded Sioux Indian.


Were there other confrontations around gay


Ortez: There were numerous confrontations, and there

were times the confrontations happened just suddenly.


Sometimes we were in the yard and all of us would be

together and the guards would say 'Huh uh, split up,' and

we would say no. Then they would say 'Break up. We don't

want all you folks together' and again we would say no.

There were numerous confrontations. Then again, there

were times when we would feel very secure and we would

go and do some things. For example, there was rules like no

kissing, no holding hands, none of that stuff; and we'd say

the hell with it and we would go down there and kiss. There

, were numerous confrontations like these as well as major



From your own observations, what is it like for

gay people in prison to "come out"?

Ortez: I talked with quite a few people who would not

"come out" publicly- in other words, when the other

inmates were around. They would not have anything to do

with our groups. But they would come to me privately and

say: 'Look, Ortez,


want to join the group.' The problem

in jail is that once you are openly gay literally you get

ripped off. It's going to be a trying period. A lot of people.

are scared. By staying "closeted" you can have sex with one

or two guys you know will keep it a secret. That way very

few people will know. The "closeted" gays are very

repressed and very scared human beings. To them, it's

always the thing 'if I say the wrong word or if


do the

wrong things, will someone think I'm gay and then what

will follow from that?'


It seems that a lot of hostility comes from the

straight prisoners and guards. Would you comment on this?

Ortez: It's the "nigger" system and by the "nigger" system

I mean there is always something to call lower than you.

The guards tell the prisoners that gays are lower than them

and thus they can oppress the gays without the guards or

the system taking any action; they pit one oppressed group

against another. They say: 'We are going to give you these

other "niggers" (gays) to oppress to give you a feeling of

power so that you won't act on your real powerlessness.'


Previous to your being in Peoria and Ashland

Federal Youth Center, had you ever been in other prisons?

Ortez: I've been to Cook County jail in Chicago. I was

there for five months right after the Martin Luther King

riots in April 1968. What happened was


got arrested in

downtown Chicago and charged with arson.


was only

fifteen at the time and I didn't even know that Martin

Luther King had been shot. I didn't know what the show

was when


was walking down the street but I got thrown

into jail with this ridiculous charge of arson. The folks there

didn't know I was gay because I was so out of it. That was a