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Gay, lesbian late bloomers blossom with same-sex partners

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

When Vicki Brail divorced her husband of 20 years, the Kendall mother of two assumed her next partner would be male. Then she met psychotherapist Jeanne Covert.

“It was very strange to say the least. I started having this flirtatious relationship with her,” recalled Brail, now 65. “All my friends said this is very exciting. I used to see my friends for lunch and they would say it was like we were 16. I assumed this would be some midlife-crisis affair. We’ve been together since 1992.”

Brail’s story, along with many other older gays and lesbians, closely mirrors the film Beginners, which opens Friday in South Florida. Christopher Plummer stars as a 75-year-old father newly out of the closet, to the confusion of his grown son, played by Ewan McGregor.

Brail, who owns a geriatric and catastrophic-care management company, said she never was sexually attracted to women until meeting Covert, now 61.

At times, Brail found it difficult being involved with a woman.

“We had things to work out. It wasn’t a natural flow. Role models were very difficult,” Brail said. “Gender household responsibilities were very hard to work out. I had assumptions what women should do in the home and she had assumptions, and they were not the same. I never thought that straight women and gay women had such a diverse view of the world.”

Another issue when the women met: Brail had two pre-teens living with her, Dori, now 31, and Isaac, now 29.

“In the age that we came together, most lesbians did not have children,” Brail said.

The family eventually bonded. In 1999, Dori and Isaac convinced Brail and Covert to marry in a religious ceremony at their Reconstruction Jewish synagogue, Temple Beth Or, near Pinecrest.

“Our children pushed us because everyone else’s parents were married and they wanted their parents to be married,” Brail said. “And we had a big Jewish wedding with chuppahs.”

Retired Philadelphia pediatrician John Siegfried and partner Howard Apperman, now both living in Fort Lauderdale, have been together since 1991.

On Father’s Day 1977, Siegfried and his then-wife Sybil sat down with their three teenage children and told them the truth: Dad was gay.

“It was Father’s Day and Gay Pride Day,” Siegfried said. “They were aware that I had always supported minority causes. I told them, when we were having breakfast, that I was minority, too. My son David, trying to be a smart ass, said, ‘I know dad, you’d rather be down at Belmont [Plaza] at the gay pride parade.’ I said, ‘That’s exactly right. It’s what I’m trying to tell you.’ And then I told them that if I can’t be honest with you, how could I expect you to be honest with me? Immediately there was just total silence. Then my daughter began to get a little bit weepy-eyed. Each of the kids did. Sybil came over and we ended up with a group hug.”

Siegfried, 81, has written a memoir, Gray & Gay: A Journey of Self-acceptance ($20, Middle River Press), the profits of which will go to the Stonewall National Museum & Archive in Fort Lauderdale.

Siegfried’s coming out didn’t cause havoc with his offspring. It actually cleared up their confusion, said his daughter, Kathy Siegfried, 54, and a single mom living in Orlando.

“I remember it crystal clear. Always have. I expect my brothers do, too,” she said. “It was a day that things shifted. I actually had suspicions that my dad was gay, so it wasn’t startling by any means. It was confirmation.”

Kathy said her parents struggled in their marriage and now she knew why.

“Every few years, they’d go through this circle: They’d separate, they were going to get divorced, they were back in the marriage again.”

John Siegfried said Sybil knew he had same-sex attractions when they wed, but the couple both wanted a traditional, happily-ever-after romance.

“I suppressed my sexuality and occasionally had a one-night stand if I had a medical meeting. I was never active homosexually in my own community. I just couldn’t take that risk. It would have been suicide in your practice to say ‘I’m your gay pediatrician’.”

Throughout the marriage, Siegfried had occasional same-sex flings.

“There had been three episodes that rocked my marriage when I was emotionally involved with another man. My wife knew about it each time. I assumed she looked the other way for the same reasons I did. She wanted to maintain a family image as I did, and maintain her position in the community.”

Finally, after 35 years, the couple divorced. Sybil, who never remarried, died of pancreatic cancer five years ago.

In 1991, after attending a meeting of the GAMMA, the Gay Married Men’s Association, during a trip to Washington, D.C., Siegfried, then 61, went to a gay bar and met Apperman, then 40.

In May, the couple celebrated 20 years together.

Hank Brooks, 81, and Leo Glickstein, 89, of Coconut Creek have been a couple for about nine years. Both had unhappy marriages to women and have five grown children between them.

Brooks, now Broward chapter treasurer of SAGE, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, said being gay “was a terrible stigma in my day.”

He was 70 when he got a computer and started checking out gay chat rooms.

“Once I experienced sex with this guy I met online, there was no turning back. I‘ve been extremely happy.”

A year later, Brooks divorced his wife.

“I just left her a note and left. It was the only way I could get out of the house. She would have talked me out of it.”

Glickstein and his wife never divorced.

Brooks said Glickstein didn’t struggle the way he did.

“He slept with men before he got married, while he was married and after he was married,’’ Brooks said. “I just yearned all those years. Even during my honeymoon, I was looking at those guys in the pool.”

The couple met after Glickstein’s wife died.

“It was just after Leo had his 80th birthday,” Brooks said. “I didn’t believe him. The first night we were together there was no stopping him.”

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Don't I know... I wish my SIL would wake up. Currently she is primary cargegiver for MIL...maybe after that!

Why is one of the lesbians in the first photo look and dress like a man? I thought they didn't like men? Yet many do everything they can to look like one. Strange...

While homosexuals and lesbians are allowed to legally "marry," polygamists continue to be persecuted and prosecuted in the U.S.

Don't expect me to have a comment on all of this, I am just not that wise! Mama told me that if I could not say something nice not to say anything at all. And, you know what, this is one of those times.

High fives to these folks. It takes a lot of bravery for them to be who they truly are. I'm blessed to have gay people in my life. I was prejudiced until my brother came out, then I realized what a jerk I'd been. If everybody had just one good friend or family member who came out as gay I don't think gay/straight would be an issue anymore.

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