For Larry

Written by: Ted Kuster

I’ve been trying to come up with a post for this blog for weeks without success. Words have failed me. And I write for a living. When words fail me, there’s usually a pretty good reason. I think I have it now.

In my twenties, I met a man named Larry West. Larry came off a rural Illinois farm to live as a proudly out gay man in Chicago, in a time when that wasn’t easy or comfortable. He was a quiet guy who made his convictions clear by his actions. He would do what was right for him and would not hide from anyone.

I’d had a conservative religious upbringing. Larry was the first out person I met. We sang together in a band, toured the Midwest, became close friends. I loved his resolve, his calm sense of decency, his will to poke a finger in the eye of a culture determined to ignore or beat down people like him.

Over time I learned that Larry wasn’t that unique. There were lots of LGBT people out there, each one working in their own way to be heard as a full human being with all the rights and duties that go along with that.

When Bluegrass music found me, about 10 years ago, I knew there were people like Larry all around it. There had to be; there always are. But among us, it was still a secret. Our music contains a deeply rooted strain of “just us” conservatism. Nobody’s fault; it comes with the territory.

As a pastor’s kid, I understood that, I’d lived it, and I knew how critical it was to rise above it. The survival of this music that I loved depended on finding a way to both embrace our traditional roots and transcend them. That’s where the Bluegrass Pride idea came from.

Larry didn’t make it into this century, but he lives on. Every time I do something that’s right regardless of what people think or what some old document says, I feel Larry with me. Everything I’ve done with Bluegrass Pride is for Larry.

We’ve used up a lot of words by now explaining why it’s so important to let our bluegrass flag fly on this high holiday of love and acceptance. (I’ve been gently accused of a certain, um, missionary zeal.) You know: our music needs the public attention that Pride can deliver; people out there need our music; LGBTQ people in our community deserve to be celebrated.

That’s all true. But the time for words is over for now. Now it’s time to let our actions do the talking. I look forward to seeing you in the street.

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