Gay veteran goes for your grand marshal votes

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Bob Briddick was sure he wouldn’t see same-sex marriage in his lifetime. Of course, the 77-years-young LGBT community volunteer also never expected a Houston Pride Grand Marshal nomination, but that happened. Twice.

Now after not collecting enough votes to lead last year’s Houston Pride parade, Briddick hopes that his host of hometown honors, including the Montrose Center’s 2014 Tom Strain Volunteer of the Year award and board position with Outreach United, helps bring it home.

With just under two weeks left to cast your vote, Project Q is talking to the grand marshal nominees to go beyond the bios. Retired from professional since 2012 but by no stretch from gay Houston volunteerism, Briddick talks with us about life after work, what gay in the military meant in the early ‘60s, his gay-romance novella, and how the Houston heat shades his first Pride memory.

Can you describe being in the military in the early ‘60s?

It was very closeted. It was dishonorable discharge if you were discovered. However, gay people do find each other. When going through training at Fort Benning, I simply did not have any relationships of that nature.  But while I did not do anything on post in the United States, when we got to Korea and got away to Seoul with a three day pass, things opened up a bit.

How so?

I had several close straight buddies that I ended up having affairs with. They never would’ve had an affair with a man under other circumstances. They were all engaged to women back home and didn’t want to get involved with the Korean whores, so it was a safe out for them too. But it was all done off-post. You couldn’t take any chances. It was too dangerous because they published that information at the time and it could ruin your life. It was a whole different world.

What was it like after you were honorably discharged?

[Fear] wasn’t just in the military; it was everywhere at that time. You hesitated to go out to dinner together in groups of more than two without women. It just wouldn’t happen because of the look it would present in general. It was that sketchy, if you can believe it.

You retired nearly three years ago, what were you doing before?

In 1974, after I came to Houston, I worked at the Houston Decorative Center managing wholesale furniture showrooms. It was trade only and we dealt with interior designers and architects, selling them high-end furniture and accessories.

Wow, nearly 40 years. Do you miss it?

[laughs] Actually, I don’t. I quit working two months before my 75th birthday and I’d been working since I was 13. I thought, ‘it’s okay to back off from working, it’s okay to retire.’ And I haven’t looked back.

What’s a typical week like for you in retirement?

After I retired, I went through the docent training at Bayou Bend Museum and Rienzi Museum. I’m a full docent at both, so several days each month I am on duty at each of the museums and take tours through the house.

I also do volunteer work two to three days a week at The Montrose Center and their SPRY program, geared toward seniors. Three days a week they have a program called The Montrose Diner where they serve meals to people over 65 and I’m there as a peer host. We have coffee in the morning, serve a meal at noon but also play dominoes, cards, socialize and interact.

Is your SPRY volunteer work how you received the 2014 Tom Strain Volunteer of the Year Award?

Yes, and I was very proud of that. It caught me by surprise but was very joyful. I really enjoy the [SPRY] work; it’s a lot of fun.

You are also on the board of Outreach United. What events are you looking forward to?

We have our big Spring event coming up April 18th, our Vegas Night fundraiser. Also, this summer, we’ll have our pool party, and in the fall, of course, is our big event, The Coming Out Party.

Beyond your docent training, you’re also an artist. Tell me about your art.

I create two dimensional cut paper collages and three-dimensional boxes with cut paper and found objects. I am constantly collecting items for this purpose, and hope to have another show in the fall.

And you’re an author?

I am, actually. One novella, published on Amazon, called “May-December” and it’s a gay romance. It’s called “May-December” because it’s a relationship between an older man and younger man.

Is it fiction?

[laughs] It’s about 90% autobiographical based on my experience when I was younger.

What would being selected as Houston Pride Grand Marshal mean to you?

Being the Male Grand Marshal would be the highlight of my career in the gay community, tantamount to winning an Oscar or Golden Globe Award for my past work – just an incredible honor.

You’ve traveled extensively. What is your favorite place so far, and what’s on top of your travel wish list?

My favorite place recently was Brighton Pavilion in Brighton, England. It’s an absolutely magical place, very exotic, very unusual. I’ve been redoing small parts of my house because of the influence of that experience.

High on my wish list is going back to St. Petersburg, Russia. I first visited in 2000, although with the political situation and my age, I don’t know if I’ll make it. [laughs]

Do you remember your first Houston Pride?

It would have been late 80s, early 90s. I remember thinking, ‘I wish that Stonewall would’ve happened in the fall, when it’s cooler.’ [laughs] But no, I remember how excited I was that we had a parade. It was something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime – I just never thought I’d live to see the gay community where it is today. It’s mind boggling to me. It’s a whole different world . . . we’ve come a very long way in a short amount of time and although I’m too old to benefit from it, I look forward to gay marriage being universal in the United States.

That may be this summer, so you’re probably not too old to benefit from it.

[laughs] I think I’m just too old, but I never thought I’d live to see it, so who knows.

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