Mother So Queer

A Queer History of Wake Forest University


Ken Badgett

Interview conducted and transcribed by Terra Johnson (’16) on October 22, 2015 in ZSR Library.

Transcript of Interview:

Q: [00:00:04] So first I’m going to get some basic info for the Oral History Intake Sheet. So your name is Ken Badget. What’s your birthday?

A: [00:00:13] 7/3/1965

Q: [00:00:19] Ok, and hometown?

A: [00:00:20] Dobson, North Carolina in Surry County.

Q: [00:00:24] Ah, I actually know where that is! Your current residence?

A: [00:00:27] It’s 884 Rockford Rd.

Q: [00:00:37] Ok, and the years you attended wake?

A: [00:00:40] ‘80…fall of ‘83 to spring of 1987

Q: [00:00:47] Ok, and then occupation?

A: [00:00:49] I’m an independent researcher. I spent years doing some family caregiving for my elderly grandparents, and since they passed away, I do my own research projects. I’ve been able to do that,

Q: [00:01:05] That’s awesome!

A: [00:01:06] which is part of my scout work, the scout work that I’ve done.

Q: [00:01:08] Yea, I was reading that! That was pretty interesting. Sexual orientation?

A: [00:01:14] Well when I was a student of course I didn’t identify as gay, but I do now in most situations, and its safe in the scout situation now since they pretty much ended the discriminatory policy they had in June/July of this year, so up until then it was not safe to really discuss much of anything in the scout context.

Q: [00:01:47] Ok, gender identity which it includes like your pronoun preferences?

A: [00:01:53] Well, its Mr. I’m traditional in that. Of course there’s all sorts of interesting writing about some of this Mx.

Q: [00:02:03] I know

A: [00:02:03] arrangement which is hard to imagine that it makes people comfortable, and it’s what they need to do I mean…

Q: [00:02:11] Yea, I’m a WGS major and it wasn’t really brought to my attention until this semester about it.

A: [00:02:16] Yea, it’s fairly new. Some of the universities are using it, maybe some of the ivies or I’ve forgotten where its being used. I’ve forgotten. I’ve seen you know things…internet news, that type thing. And you know I don’t know where it’s being used particularly,

Q: [00:02:30] My professor’s really interested (laughter)

A: [00:02:32] But it may come and go.

Q: [00:02:34] Religious identity?

A: [00:02:36] Well, I’m a Baptist but a liberal Baptist, and as I would say, I’m a Wake Forest Baptist (laughter). It’s what my church I grew up in would call me because Wake Forest Baptist separated from the state convention because of their liberal stands on various issues, and the church I grew up in is very very conservative: Salem Baptist south of Dobson. I’m sure you’re not that familiar with Dobson. You’re from Wilkes County, so I’m not that familiar with Wilkes. I do know it’s somewhat…

Q: [00:03:22] Yea, it’s pretty conservative Baptist (laughter).

A: [00:03:23] It is. It really is, and you just try to avoid the religious topics as much as you can.

Q: [00:03:32] Ok, let’s see here. Now, we can dive into the questions. So first off, I would just like to ask, do you have any particular anecdote that you’d like to share?

A: [00:0:3:43] Well I’ll tell you, if you want a general sense of how you sort of lived all of these years from the 80’s. I was thinking about the pop song, Madonna’s song “Border Line”. It would be typical from my experience. If you grew up in a traditional area and you’re sensitive to other people…I’m probably hyper sensitive to what other people think, and so I’m always concerned. I’m always on sort of the line, and as you meet people, you sort of wonder should I go to the one direction which would be very positive/open, or the other direction which is pretty much closed, and/or do I sort of let them run over me, or do I run over them to get across that line, and so that’s the way I’ve had to deal with things over the years. With some family, you don’t know who you’re dealing with, and I think that’s still the same today, especially in rural communities. Some people, it’s a non-issue, and other people you think that the world has come to an end this afternoon because they spoke with you or (laughter) talked with you, and so it’s been strange, and I’ve been very active in the scout program, too. It’s that way there, too, and what’s been very positive about scouting is that it’s pretty much asexual. I mean you don’t really deal with that issue at all, and most all volunteers and the scouts who are involved don’t participate in scouting activities with that in mind, and you never did. I grew up in the program and been active for thirty-eight years, as you saw in the article that they did in the alumni magazine, so it’s generally been very positive. You take care of people in a very intimate way and dealing with everything from you know especially at summer camps from your health issues to museum work to making sure the meals go well. That type thing, so it’s sort of a family situation without dealing with the sexuality part of it, and that’s the way they’ve always wanted it, and that’s pretty much the way it’s been, and I think that would be the same in girl scouts and most of the youth organizations.

Q: [00:06:22] Yea, I did girl scouts.

A: [00:06:24] But anyway that song, “Border Line”, sort of fits what I’ve dealt with over the years, and thankfully it’s more on the side that is accepting and open. It’s just opened up, and Wake forest has been that way. When I was here, I don’t remember. Of course, I looked at your questions. There were no groups that I can remember, that’s mid 80’s years, that would have been supportive. I’m sure if I had gone to counseling services or that type thing that would have been positive. I guess I did not need that, or I did not use it, but I think that was one of your questions. As far as discussion goes in classrooms, the only class, really, that I had that dealt with it directly was sociology, two sociology classes that Dr. John Earl taught, and he’s been retired for a number of years now. He was a professor of sociology, and he did the intro to sociology, and he did special topics for upper classmen, and so I took one of his upper. I was a history major, but I took his Current Topics of Sociology course, and sexuality was one of them and geriatrics. Aging was another, and then learning disabled, working with folks who have learning disabilities, was the third topic, and we spent the entire semester dealing with those three topics, and I remember him saying, point blank, to me “You’re going to be dealing with these topics for the rest of your life,” and he was absolutely right. He was, of course, he was right! And so we went through the current literature at the time, and in dealing with sexuality, good information there, positive information. The geriatrics situation I dealt with, as most families especially in rural counties with aging grandparents and or parents dealt with, for (pause) gosh, twenty years after I graduated with especially an elderly grandmother who lived to be almost 100, and then learning disabled I haven’t had to deal with that much, but I know people who have been dealing with it directly for a long time. And so it was it was very useful. That was very useful. Otherwise, I don’t remember anything in the health and physical education courses. I do remember being a little bit offended. We used to do class (pause) well, they did class registrations over in the in the gym or in the basement. You lined up in the basement of the Reynolds gym, and they had built the new sports facility to the right of it. I think it’s still there, but there were, and I remember just as if it were yesterday, folks handing out these health forms that dealt with sexual issues, and, of course, in ‘83/4 aids was still just a very difficult disturbing issue with no treatment for that or anything, so they were handing out these brochures, and I still have it. I still have one that pretty much talked about how to behave in a sexual manner which I was ,you know, I felt I was not naive at the time, and I felt like I was a little bit being insulted that they were concerned that somebody might catch something, or if you would create some issue. They weren’t particularly concerned about your general welfare, but they were concerned about your behavior. Specific behavior which I guess was a good thing, but there was no general sense of somebody having a complete life other than what I saw on the sociology course. Otherwise it was just silence or handing out the these brochures which I felt were just a little bit offensive to me, but I felt like it was overstepping of the university bounds by telling me here’s what you should do or shouldn’t do, and I wasn’t doing any of those things anyways, so I mean didn’t intend to, and so it was a little bit bit forward for them to do that. Now I lived on campus for about two weeks. Then I began commuting after about two weeks. When I was a freshman I moved in and the alcohol situation here in ‘83 was outrageously bad, and I was a little bit uncomfortable anyway, and I was in kitchen house, and they just renovated that dorm. I need to go sometime and get somebody to show me what they’ve done over there, but I was in kitchen on the quad, and the first night. I don’t know how. I mean some of the guys can sniff out the alcohol. I don’t know how they do it that fast, but they were intoxicated the first night we there and the second and the third, and by the third night one of the guys. The suites had 8 people in them. I’m not sure they do that now.

Q: [00:11:47] Some of them do.

A: [00:11:48] But they still have 8, and so it was fairly intimate anyway, so about two o clock in the morning this horrible sound is coming out of the restroom/bathroom and the shower room and everything they have there, and I stayed there, and I listened and listened for fifteen minutes and it was the same. Well, somebody has to get up and see what’s going on, and this guy, he one of the suitemates, was vomiting dry heaves in the bathroom was just stark naked, and I don’t know. It was pitiful, and he sort of looked at you like you were invading his privacy. Well I was, but I thought he was dying. I thought he was. It was awful, but that went on for…it didn’t really calm down, and there was a frat just below there. I don’t know who’s in that slot now behind the Reynolda Hall there, but they made noise all night. I mean it was bad. The windows were open. There was no HVAC. I think they put HVAC in those, air conditioning and such in there now, but I put up with that for about two weeks, and at that point you were supposed to live on campus. Again, you were freshmen and all. I went to the associate dean Pat Johansson, and I said, “Look this is not working. It’s just not going to work,” and she said, as they do, try this amount of time, that amount of time, and I said, “I’m not going to be here next semester if I have to deal with this for another month. I may not be here another month.” I mean there was just no rest. The other guys, they struggled on through it, I guess. I did see them around campus over the next four years, but those dorms were a little bit too close for comfort. I think a lot of them now have maybe some individual rooms or in a suite, and the newer ones or this massive complex on the north side there…

Q: [00:13:45] Yea, that’s where I live, and I have my own room.

A: [00:13:46] Yea so that’s what needed to have been done, but there’s no expectation of privacy, especially for me. Just no expectation of it at all, and that’s embarrassing. I mean if you’re dealing with sexual orientation issues, just really embarrassing to deal with that and anyway

Q: [00:14:05] Let’s see…

A: [00:14:06] My negative commentary there (laughter).

Q: [00:14:09] (Laughter) No, that’s totally fine.

A: [00:14:10] Sorry about that, but I enjoyed, I mean, after I began commuting, and I participated in what I wanted to, avoided the frat stuff and did not do fraternity anything like that, and had really no interest in it because of the of the alcohol situation, I think, and you don’t want to be put in compromising situations, and that’s generally what alcohol does in a college environment.

Q: [00:14:40] Let’s see. Ok, when you were here was there a general attitude towards the LGBTQ community?

A: [00:14:48] Well, it was really just not a talk of conversation. Now, the aids situation was discussed, as I remember, in a very general way, but it was very negative, and there was some sense that people were getting what they deserved, and I do remember that sense, but that was a general community sense, I think. Not by everybody of course, but just in what you would hear in the halls or in general conversation that it was a very negative thing. Fortunately, that straightened itself out pretty much over the years.

Q: [00:15:34] What were your observations about the ways people either performed or deviated from gender roles at Wake Forest?

A: [00:15:40] I didn’t remember seeing anything. Folks generally stayed in the male/female track, and if they were having issues, they were probably dealing with that privately, and I don’t recall any conversation about it, and there really, even in psychology courses, that may have been just a brief mention in a textbook, and probably was not, I don’t remember it, being discussed in class at all. Of course, it’s a major issue for some people, and they need lots of attention in dealing with that.

Q: [00:16:15] Yea, were there other aspects of your identity that shaped your experience here at Wake?

A: [00:16:20] I don’t think so. Now, my experience later has been very positive. Back in 2000, Michele Gillespie. She’s a dean of the college now, but she was the assistant professor/associate professor, I guess, in the history department then, and in 2000, was the major issue in scouting with the BSA (Boy Scouts of America) vs Dale, the supreme court case, which allowed the scouts to continue to discriminate if they chose to against the sexual minorities, and so at that time I think a lot of people were concerned about some of the scout councils/the administrative districts, and she had apparently done some work in NJ, and she sent a letter to the scout executive here who is sort of the CEO of the counsel and offered to help with taking care of some of the counsel records and to do some service learning projects which are a big deal now. I think they’re still a pretty big deal. I know she helped sort of pioneer that here in the early 2000’s, and so she sent a letter. Fortunately, the old scout executive had retired because he would have thrown it in the trash, but we had a new guy that was there for about a year, and he just handed it off. I’d been working with historical issues there for more than twenty years, and “Do something with this.” I mean he gave me that letter and said, “Do something with this. I mean write a nice note back or something.” So I talked with Michelle some and got to know her a little bit, and she had some students come over, and they did some record preservation for us, removed staples, and all that with legal scout applications, and our scout counsel here is more than 100 years old, so in 1912, so we have records that go back. Very nice records, and so her students came over and did that, and in fact, I came over to her office a couple of times, and they had started this safe space program and with that little decal of some sort that they put on with the rainbow flag on it. I didn’t expect to see anything like that, and at that point I knew I could say to her “Look I’ve been doing historical work here for years. If there by some hook or crook someone decides to remove me from the scout program, they probably could, and I’ve never had any issue ever, but it could happen.” I felt like I needed to tell her that, so if we were working together and all of a sudden had no access to the materials, that we could do that, and she was just very positive about the whole thing and talked about her experience when she taught at Agnes Scott College and dealing with students there, and she’s very positive, so twelve years after I graduated the situation had changed here, and it was very positive from what I could tell on most of the faculty, and as far as many of the faculty, especially the ones who were obviously making it aware that they had no issue with that and were happy to talk about it and were willing to work with people and make sure they were comfortable.

Q: [00:19:32] During your time here at wake, were there any faculty members that like seemed like they were against or for the LGBTQ community?

A: [00:19:42] Well the subject never came up, but since then I’ve looked at some of the work that some of the folks have done. I wouldn’t name any names but there were several folks I had who were very conservative, social conservatives, and obviously would not have been, they were not the people you would want to have confided in or talked to. Now John Earl would have been one you could have. I think in the education department John Litcher, who died this year, I think he would’ve been a good counselor on that, but there was no way to know that then, and that the overt way that they, especially with the tags and things on the doors. I mean you know that if that had been in place at the time, it would have been a nice (laughter) a nice thing to see because there’s no questioning open. If somebody sticks that on their door, they’re open to conversation and are willing to work with you, so

Q: [00:20:45] Mhmm, makes sense. Also, so you did not identify while you were at Wake?

A: [00:20:52] No.

Q: [00:20:53] Did your parents know or anything like that?

A: [00:20:57] No, no, and I really still don’t discuss that with them, so it’s if the subject came up, I would discuss it, but otherwise I don’t do that.

Q: [00:21:08] Did you feel safe on campus, though?

A: [00:21:08] I always felt safe here. I never felt unsafe, and there were the, of course, you had the Kappa Alphas. I don’t think they still fly their rebel flags, but they used to stick them out the windows, and Taylor House, I think, is across from Kitchen on the quad, but they would have their little southern belle days or whatever they did, and they would stick their confederate flag, but it seemed harmless. We all talked about it and talked about how it was it was embarrassing and a little bit offensive, but they were harmless from what I could tell, and anyway, but other than that, the campus seemed very safe. Of course all (cough) I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t.

Q: [00:21:51] Oh you’re fine.

A: [00:21:52] But all the gates and things that have been put up lately are new. It’s not been lately, I guess. It been within the last fifteen years, but the campus was pretty much open. Silas Creek Parkway dead ended here at Wake, really at the quad, and/or Hearn Plaza or whatever they call it now, but it dead ended right there, so you were dealing with all that city traffic that came right into campus

Q: [00:22:17] Oh wow!

A: [00:22:18] I mean right into campus, so it was a city street more or less. Stop lights, the whole thing out there and

Q: [00:22:24] I cannot imagine!

A: [00:22:25] I don’t think you ever saw anybody be run over, but the street used to go straight down between was it Taylor? Taylor’s on this end, and well I’m in the wrong place, but I think it’s Taylor, and what’s the other one?

Q: [00:22:39] Davis?

A: [00:22:40] Davis! The street used to run straight from between those building straight down back to Silas Creek Parkway, and you would go on out. There’s a stop light out there, but no, other than the traffic (laughter). It was a safe. I think it was a pretty safe campus.

Q: [00:22:59] Did you, because you said you’re Baptist, Wake Forest Baptist (laughter)

A: [00:23:03] Yea.

Q: [00:23:04] Did you subscribe to any certain religious practices while you were on campus?

A: [00:23:09] I don’t think I attended any services here. Not while I was on campus. I was still semi active back in my church at home, and it was a very very conservative church, and I just sort of tuned it out eventually, but no, I was more inclined to be liberal, and I know that the university separated from the Baptist state convention at that time, and I thought that was a positive thing. It’s been very positive I think for the university to detach from all of that controversy which is still ongoing, and so the various churches like Pullen in Raleigh, Wake Forest Baptist here in Myers Park in charlotte. They all pulled out or were forced out, and so in order to take care of their congregations as they felt like they should as Baptist churches should be able to do, but no, that was sort of a side, a side issue. Just background noise and (laughter), just more background noise. Not a positive. It wasn’t positive. It wasn’t a positive thing. On campus it was neutral, but other than that no, the religious thing was not an issue here, and I don’t think faculty made a. It was still a Baptist, so called Baptist school, but the faculty had detached from that years before, I think.

Q: [00:24:37] Ok. Did wake’s affiliation with the church or anything ever affect your sexual identity or how you viewed

A: [00:24:43] No.

Q: [00:24:44] Or how you felt about that?

A: [00:24:45] No. No. I mean I think it helped. Probably we’d be still in a situation like Baylor. They’re still dealing with all that stuff in Texas. I mean they’re trying to take care of their students and keeping the Baptists of the state happy, and I guess they have less and less money flowing in from the Baptist churches which Wake Forest forever had donations to an educational fund. I know the church I grew up, and they stopped donating to it because they felt like Wake Forest was going on their own way, and they didn’t like that, so they just stopped contributing to the fund. I think there was a fund that contributed to Meredith College, Mars Hill, Chiwan, and Wake Forest, and the church just stopped donating to that. But no, I think the positive thing was the detachment, and I’m sure it’s helped countless students (laughter) that we detached from some of that really harsh, and I’m not opposed. I don’t wish any ill will on the conservative Baptist, but they need to go their own way, and they need to take better care of better folks, and make sure they’re more attentive to you know current signs and observation (laughter). Sometimes they’re not.

Q: [00:26:17] What was the off campus bar culture like while you were here?

A: [00:26:19] Well, I was not a drinker and all, so I’m not aware. I would not have gone off campus for that anyway, and since I was driving a lot, it would have been a very bad idea (laughter).

Q: [00:26:34] (Laughter) Yea, not too safe.

A: [00:26:35] That would have been a very very bad idea.

Q: [00:26:37] Did you date while you were here?

A: [00:26:39] No. No, did not do that.

Q: [00:26:44] Was there a big dating culture here at wake when you were a student?

A: [00:26:50] I don’t remember a lot of couples of any sort. I’m sure there were, but in classes or in that type thing it really wasn’t really obvious that there were a lot of couples, and even then you had students, a lot of students, coming from out of state, and so I’m sure they probably had their girlfriends or such wherever they were from, and that type thing, so I don’t remember that.

Q: [00:27:23] After you left Wake Forest how do you feel your experiences on campus, as well, not as an identified LGBTQ person, but just your experiences here affected your life after college?

A: [00:27:37] After college?

Q: [00:27:38] Mhmm.

A: [00:27:39] As I said, I’ve maintained some connections with folks here which have been very positive like Michele Gillespie, and in a professional way, and in a friendly way too. I think she’s, if she represents most of the faculty, I’m sure a lot of people have had positive connections back to the school.

Q: [00:28:03] Why did you choose to come to the LGBTQ alumni conference? What do you expect to happen? What did you hope to obtain?

A: [00:28:11] No. It’s just enjoyable to hear the conversation and to hear other experiences from my time, from later times. It’s good to hear the younger folks have had a much more positive experience here than they had had when I was here in the 80’s or earlier, and to catch up on current information to see how things are going. It’s just an update.

Q: [00:28:44] How do you think the LGBTQ Alumni Conference will affect LGBTQ alumni and students?

A: [00:28:51] Well I think, probably, it’s just greater awareness, and there are considerable number of people. I mean I know several folks from classes before and after. I don’t think they were coming to this, but there are folks, if you are doing oral history, you should probably talk to. Phillip Hansberry from Class of ‘88. He and his partner were among the first to marry in Massachusetts in 2003. Probably the first the first 500-600 couples. They were in that group. Phillip Hansberry. He’s one, and there are several other folks, but I’m glad to see they are beginning to network some and have some visibility, and Phillip would be an excellent interview.

Q: [00:29:47] Did you go to the school with him?

A: [00:29:49] He we worked on the summer camp staff at Raven Knob together. I was the business manager, and he was the trading post manager, and we didn’t get into any issues about sexual orientation or anything. We just worked together. And so he worked very diligently there for eight or ten years when he was doing graduate school and other stuff too, and so I do know him very well. Actually, he and the partner adopted three children in Massachusetts. This has been going since 2003 and he’s, honestly, he’s been as in the in the middle of things as I’ve been in the middle of the scouting situation. He’s been in dealing with adoption and the early marriages in the country, too. He would be an excellent person to talk to just for general purposes, general information on, and I did bring a couple of things for you. (Starts pulling out papers from an envelope)

Q: [00:30:48] Ok.

A: [00:30:49] That’s sorta my contact information if you need it. I set a book collection at UNC. Oh, it’s been twenty years ago, and I have one of the best collections on the sexual orientation issue in scouting, and that’s at the southern historical collection there in addition to materials about my hometown, Dobson, and that type thing, but that’s an inventory of materials that I had, and I’ve not contributed to it in about ten years, but I need to contribute all of my clippings and things that I’ve done over the past decade to that. I wanted to make sure that. I don’t know who else in scouting is collecting material. I know the institution, while they dropped their discriminating policies, they have not been prone to looking after there you know the memory of the folks who have done so much work for them over the years. You know Wake Forest is one institution that’s trying to go back and deal with that, and the scouts are going to have to do that over the next decade or so in order to present themselves in a positive way, and so I collect on that, every sort of thing I can get my hand on. I do interviews and do that type thing too, so it’s just a fascinating subject and if you ever knew anybody who wants to do scouting history, just let me know.

Q: [00:32:21] Ok.

A: [00:32:22] You know scouting is so ubiquitous. It has its hand in a little bit of everything since it was organized in 1910 or 12, and began with adolescence having all sorts of problems. Folks trying to deal with that like Winston-Salem. The city was urbanized, and kids were left you know without much to do. They weren’t on farms anymore, so folks were trying to organize activities for them which is what they still to. We have just much better properties and facilities and such to deal with that, and like I said, I do some other small projects, too. This was on what I did with Randal Hall who’s the editor of the Journal of Southern History. He’s a Wake Forest Graduate, too, but we did a piece on some issues down at UNC Chapel Hill in the 20s, and it was in the North Carolina Historical Review. I write a little bit, and most of what I have and the writings I do are pretty much in draft form and have not published anything else. No it was about a graduate student who came to Winston-Salem to do some work through the Institute for Social Research at UNC set up by Howard Oldham back in the 20’s. He was doing research on black businesses, and he came to Winston-Salem to research wages at Reynolds tobacco, and they told him he couldn’t have any information, so he collected pay stubs that the workers would throw down after pay day. The Gray Family had fits and had his records and his notes destroyed. Had everything he did for that graduate program destroyed. More or less, had him removed from UNC with the help of the UNC president, Eric Chase. If you’re interested in stuff like that. I do have interest in minority situations whether its race or sexual orientation. As much attention that can be paid to that is a good thing. You bring people back into the, like you say, making sure their voices are there, and they were there, but they just weren’t heard or listened to, and sometimes they were silenced too, so that’s the way it is.

(Closing talk about my major and his familiarity of Wilkesboro due to visiting the Kerr Scott Damn before)


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