A 90 year-old US Navy veteran was inspired to come out as gay by the coronavirus pandemic, and said: ‘I’ve never felt so free.’ Kenneth Felts, from Arvada in Colorado, first came out to his daughter Anita – who is also gay – and then accidentally shared his news in a public Facebook he’d intended to send as a private message.
Kenneth was overwhelmed with the support he received, and told of how he’d immediately tried to track down the only man he’d ever loved, Phillip Jones.
After leaving the Navy in the late 1950s, he moved to Long Beach in California to become an insurance fraud investigator, where Phillip – his colleague – helped show him the ropes.
Felts and Jones quickly fell in love, and began living together as a couple. The veteran told USA Today: ‘We hit it off real good, started going out for coffee, and then we started dating. And then eventually I moved up to his house in Bellflower, where he lived with his sister and her daughter.
‘So I was there from, for about nine or 10 months, really. And Phillip and I, we’re living there together. Every weekend, we’d go out on excursions to the area, to ghost towns, to the cactus bloom, down to the seashore, things like that. So we were constantly together there.’
Heartbreakingly, the deeply conservative atmosphere prevalent at the time made Kenneth panic about his relationship with Phillip during a trip to church. He ended their relationship soon afterwards – but repeatedly tried to track Phillip down over the years, without success.
Kenneth said: ‘We lasted about another month before I just couldn’t take it any longer. And I left and have actually been kind of looking for Phillip ever since then.’
Afterwards, he moved to Colorado, and got a job managing a florists. Having decided to live as a straight man, Kenneth joined his local Methodist church, and met a fellow churchgoer, who he married in 1963. Felts and his wife welcomed their daughter Anita in 1972, and divorced in 1980.
Anita came out as gay around 20 years ago, with Kenneth initially telling her it was sinful, before coming around to his daughter’s sexuality and helping out as a volunteer at Denver Pride to show his support.
He recalled: ‘She came out to me over 20 years ago, which rather surprised me because she says I’m gay and what do I say? Well, I can’t say I’m gay also.
‘All I can say is, well, this is the way the church says you can’t be, you don’t be.’
Kenneth finally bit the bullet and revealed his own sexuality during a chat with Anita in early May or late June, when he blurted out ‘I wish I had never left Phillip.’
Having been praised for his bravery and comforted by relatives, Kenneth was able to get in touch with an online sleuth who offered to help track down Phillip.
He was stunned when she came back to say she believed she’d found him, and that he was still alive. But Kenneth’s joy was short-lived when the woman contacted him again soon afterwards to break the bad news that Phillip had died.
She was able to connect Kenneth with Phillip’s niece, who filled the dad in on his lost love’s life, and provide him with a picture.
Kenneth was excited to take part in his first virtual pride as an out gay man this year, and says that despite the sad news about Phillip, he is delighted to finally be living as his true self.
Kenneth, who said he planned to take his sexuality ‘to the grave’ explained: ‘The only thing I could do was just hide it, and I hid it deep and dark, and I stayed that in that basement for the rest of my life practically. I just denied it and ignored it.’
Recalling the experience of his first pride, which saw him take part in a 5k charity run with his walker, Kenneth added: ‘It was nice to be wearing my rainbow hoodie out in public, where people could see it and me. … I’ve never felt so free. Not having to judge everything I do on the basis of, “Will this out me?”‘
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