‘Things Are Changing’: 80-Year-Old Gay Man Moved to Speak at Fire Ball
educator, theater founder gives impromptu history lesson at drag show
The Fire Ball celebrated its 10th anniversary last weekend, and this year UW-Eau Claire’s annual sellout drag show came with an unexpected lesson in queer history from a community elder.
“Fire Ball X: X Marks the Spot” provided audiences with a fiercely fun evening on Friday, Feb. 24 and Saturday, Feb. 25, while Saturday’s show also involved an impromptu speech from a familiar Chippewa Valley face: Bob Carr.
Bob Carr is a founder and current board member of Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild and a retired educator, having spent years teaching in Fall Creek. His husband, Roger Groenewold, worked at UW-Eau Claire for years as director of admissions. The two educators spent decades educating in the Chippewa Valley, and have spent 57 years as a couple, 21 of those years as a family with their adopted son.
But as Bob explained at Saturday’s show, during which he was moved to speak by the unapologetic self-love and freedom celebrated at the event, he and Roger were not always able to love how they do today.
Things have changed; are changing. ... we watch it, and we’re so happy we lived long enough to see it.
RETIRED EDUCATOR, FOUNDING MEMBER OF CVTG
“For Roger and I, for most of our lives … we had to live double lives,” Bob said, standing beside the Fire Ball stage. “We had two social lives: Roger with his and mine with me, and ours together. We had Bob’s bedroom, and we had Roger’s bedroom. And we never thought in our lives that we would see something like this.”
Bob’s five-minute impromptu speech was met with applause throughout, with supporting cheers as Bob’s voice cracked with emotion several times. He spoke on the decades-long love he shared with Roger, and gave Christopher Jorgenson – Fire Ball organizer and UWEC’s longtime Gender & Sexuality Resource Center director — his thanks for facilitating the event. He went on to explain some of what fueled his heartfelt reaction to the event:
“Tonight, when I saw the kids saying what they loved about being queer, I was reminded (how) in my time, ‘queer’ was an insult. It was sprayed on my house. It was scratched on my car. It was late-night threatening phone calls about, ‘you f***ing queer f*****s,’ and ‘we’re going to get you,’ ” he said. “Things have changed; are changing.”
“I mean, you don’t understand,” he continued. “But look at your commercials – you have gay people in your commercials! That was totally unthinkable, totally unthinkable, for us. And we watch it, and we’re so happy we lived long enough to see it.”
Bob’s longtime friend and mentee, Jake Lindgren, posted and subtitled a video of Bob’s speech, which was recorded by another friend and has since been shared online hundreds of times. In a caption on the video, Jake shared more about what it meant to see Bob so moved at the event, and what it signifies in our community.
“He was compelled to share his appreciation, but also his truth about his 57 years with Roger and what they experienced over the decades as gay men in a society and culture that were not welcoming to LGBTQ+ identifying folx. Bob sharing his truth made me think of something I read the other day: ‘Stop asking yourself why so many young people are ‘suddenly’ identifying as queer and start asking yourself how many of our parents and grandparents lived their entire lives in secrecy.’ ”
“They have led by example of what a loving and committed relationship looks like for almost six decades. Love always wins,” Jake concluded.
See Bob’s full speech online: