Bill Kelley & Chen Ooi



1) Birthdates:

Bill: 1942
Chen: 1952

2) Birthplaces:

Bill: Dunklin County, Missouri, near Kennett
Chen: George Town, Penang, Federation of Malaya (now Malaysia)

3) Date you first mark as getting together with your partner:

July 1979

4) City/state where you live currently:

Chicago, Illinois (both)

5) Education:

Bill: Illinois Institute of Technology – Chicago-Kent College of Law
Attended but did not graduate from the University of Chicago’s College

Chen: American Academy of Art

6) Careers:

Bill: Currently a lawyer, working largely on contract with the City of Chicago as a hearing officer; previously (since 1987) a judicial law clerk, law firm associate, and sole practitioner, preceded by a variety of jobs that allowed me time for gay activism.

Chen: Advertising artist since 1976; currently vice president/creative director in a marketing agency.

7) Did you serve in the U.S. military?

No (both)

8) How do you describe your sexual orientation and gender?

Gay male (both)

9) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?

No (both)

10) If you are GLBT, please describe when you first “knew.”

Bill: Strongly identified in high school, unmistakably identified when starting college.

Chen: Grade school.

11) Who did you first “come out” to and when?

Bill: I suppose I first came out to friends during college (1959-1963). I was cautious about whom I came out to in college, since there was razzing. I joined Mattachine Midwest in 1965, and I came out to the "world" about 1966 when I was on a clear-channel nighttime WBBM radio program heard throughout the Midwest. I never used a pseudonym, unlike numerous others in the early gay movement.

Chen: I never had to go through a coming-out process because I didn't try to hide or deny my gayness, though I didn't volunteer it unless asked. I just treated it as a matter of fact.

12) What troubles did you face as a GLBT person?

Bill: A whole slew of actual and potential discriminatory episodes involving jobs, the police, birth family, college razzing, even (potentially for a while) law licensing – too long to write up or even recollect cogently. Not to mention well-known current discrimination (e.g., tax, social security, inheritance, wrongful-death suit rights, marriage, military, immigration rights).

13) Did you have mentors in the Chicago GLBT community?

Bill: Yes. Among them were Pearl Hart, Renee Hanover, Ira Jones, Chuck Renslow, Bob Basker, Bruce Scott, and Valerie Taylor.

14) Involvement in organizations (GLBT and/or mainstream):

Asians and Friends-Chicago/AFC (board member, volunteer, and donor; designed the Chicago logo and a Pride Month button)
First annual "Have A Heart" AIDS fundraiser (designed the poster)
Illinois Gay Rights (later Gay and Lesbian) Task Force (member)


15) When you were coming out, what were your favorite Chicago GLBT bars?

Though they tended to be after I had largely come out, Century, Annex (between Diversey and Surf), Chesterfield, Ruthie's, Normandy, Sam's, Cheeks, Bushes, Spirit of '76, Broadway Limited, Paradise – between 1962 and 1979.

16) What were the key issues faced in the GLBT community when you first came out?

Police harassment, job discrimination, unsolved homicides, to some extent blackmail, insurance discrimination, military discrimination, and immigration discrimination.

17) What issues do you see as key in the GLBT community today?

Marriage discrimination and other relationship issues; Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) including taxes and social security; immigration discrimination; and military discrimination.

18) How have AIDS and/or other health issues impacted your life personally?

I was already active before AIDS hit, and it didn't have a significant effect on my activism except insofar as AIDS affected activism in general. Numerous friends, including those in community leadership positions, and numerous leaders I didn't know were struck down by AIDS, which paradoxically stimulated and at the same time inhibited surviving activism.

19) How would you describe the “diversity” within the Chicago GLBT community?

My personal experience is that among gay people divisions of race and class have always been less than in society at large – not to say they haven't been there.

Sex and age division has always been greater than in society at large, at least as far as gay males are concerned. (There may have been less age division among lesbians.)

As one who was a rather lonely advocate for racial equity in the 1950s rural South, I find that it's a lot easier for people to toss around all the anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-classist slogans and jargon they can conjure up than to actually do much of consequence to end such evils. In addition, as a white man, I'll strive to make my activist circles as diverse as possible, but to the extent it proves impossible it won't paralyze me in my main mission of gay rights advocacy.

20) If you consider yourself a “political” activist, how do you define this?

I've been involved in political and legislative campaigns – working for candidates or lobbying legislators for gay rights measures. This was mainly in the late 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. I'm now mostly an armchair activist. The internet is a great tool for communication and resultant organizing.

21) Describe what you feel your personal legacy is to the Chicago GLBT community.

This is too big a question. Some political and legislative, some organizational, some archival, some journalistic and historical.

22) This project is also about “defining moments.” Please discuss some of those in your life.

A defining moment in my life was coming to college in Chicago and verifying that my gayness wasn't just a reaction against a rural high school, jock, narrow-minded, sanctimonious culture (no matter how good many of those mired in it were), but was in fact a personality feature that flourished even in an urban, liberal ivory-tower culture.

An earlier one had been realizing about 1954 how pervasive was the injustice of institutionalized racism, and realizing about the same time how pleasant sex with another male could be.

Another defining moment was feeling revulsion against newspaper exposés in 1964, and joining Mattachine Midwest in 1965.

Another was meeting Chen in 1979.

And another was semi-retiring from activism and going to law school in 1984.

There have been others – hopefully not including my recent heart attack, which I hope won't have long-term consequences.

Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, the book is edited by Tracy Baim and features the contributions of more than 20 prominent historians and journalists. It is published by Surrey Books, an Agate imprint, and is hard cover, 224 pages, 4-color, with nearly 400 photos.
Click Here for more Information.
Chicago Gay History
© COPYRIGHT 2021 Chicago Gay History
Powered by