Denver Pridefest 2014 Grand Marshals: Luke Adams and his mother, Margie O’Donnell
Luke is the first gay man who is also deaf to be a grand marshal at a pridefest in the U.S. Luke was the first deaf man and then on the last race, the first openly gay deaf man on The Amazing Race. In an interview recorded at Denver Pridefest 2014, grand marshals, Luke Adams and his mother, Margie O’Donnell share their experiences as a three-time team in The Amazing Race, memories of coming out, and insights on being deaf in the gay community.
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Complete transcript below by Outsources co-producer, Sean Kenney.
Outsources 7/7/14 Episode Transcription
KAREN: Good evening and welcome to Outsources. I’m your host, Karen Raforth, and I’m pleased to be able to present to you tonight an interview with Grand Marshals Luke Adams and his mother Margie O’Donnell. They were Grand Marshals for this most immediately past Denver PrideFest for 2014. Luke is the first gay man who is deaf to lead a PrideFest in this country. He and his mother Margie were also a team three different times on The Amazing Race; you may have seen them on TV. Stay tuned and learn more about each of them: their relationships, their race, their perspectives on being a gay, deaf man in the queer community and in the straight hearing community. There’s lots more to learn. So please stay tuned and we’ll start off with a quick intro of Margie followed by Luke, who will be coming to you through a female interpreter’s voice.
(The entire interview has continuous noise from the rally, center stage musical acts, and the crowd’s responses since it took place adjacent to the main stage after Luke and Margie had addressed the crowd.)
MARGIE: Hi I’m Margie, and I’ve been in Colorado for about 15 years. My ex-husband was military. We moved here to Ft. Carson and got divorced, and I stayed and he left. So we consider this our home, and I just love Colorado.
LUKE: My name is Luke and, just for your information, I know it’s weird that I have a woman’s voice right now, but that’s my interpreter. I want to thank the interpreters here; they’ve been wonderful. I grew up in Colorado and then I graduated from the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in 2003. Then I went to the Rochester Institute for Technology (RIT), and I graduated there in 2008 with a degree in Criminal Justice. Two months after I graduated from college, my mom and I were picked to go on The Amazing Race. We felt so lucky, we were incredibly excited because I’ve been such a big fan of traveling around the world and seeing the different cultures and countries; obviously my dad, since he was in the military, we traveled all around the US, and we’ve lived in many different places and saw different cultures. But we’d never been out of the country before, and I really wanted to see the entire world. So my mom and I felt very lucky that we were picked to go on The Amazing Race, three times, actually, it was fantastic. Now I’m doing motivational speaking all around the US, going to different schools, speaking for different organizations and events. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re here at Pride: to inspire people and also to show the mother-son relationship that we’ve had, because it’s been so wonderful. Also, to inspire other parents to support their kids. Being gay, it’s not our choice, it’s who we are; we can’t help it. So we hope other parents will see and understand that perspective.
KAREN: How old were you when you came out to your mother?
LUKE: I came out to my mother when I was 19. But previous to that when I was younger, I already knew that I was different. I knew that I liked boys, that I was attracted to them. But I grew up in Colorado Springs, and there it’s a very religious town, it’s a very conservative town. You must be married, you must have kids, buy a house, have a dog. That’s really what the culture was there and I felt like I had to follow that. I struggled a lot with feeling different and feeling that I didn’t follow what everyone else was doing. That was my struggle for a while, but after I went to college everything changed in my life, everything. I met so many different kinds of people at RIT, my college, and I thought “oh, that’s what it means to be gay.” And I really started to understand who I was and it was a true self-realization for me. When I was 18, 19 years old when I first went to college, I was really nervous to talk to my mom. I wanted to tell her, because we were incredibly close; I didn’t want to hide myself from her – I didn’t feel right about that. Finally when I told her I thought “Oh, thank God, she accepts me, I’m so happy, I’m relieved that she accepted me.
KAREN: (To Margie) How did you feel when he came out to you?
MARGIE: I felt relieved because I had suspected for quite a long time, from the time he was a little boy. I don’t know, I grew up with five brothers and Luke was not anything like any of my five brothers, and I just thought that there was something different and special about Luke. I suspected that he was probably gay and I talked to some people about how I should approach him. And they said “Oh, let him take the first step, don’t force it, and if he’s not ready to tell you, then he’s not ready to tell you.” So, when he told me, I was more relieved than anything else, I was like “Finally he can talk about it.” He asked me to call his sister and let her know and I said “She already knows, you think we haven’t been talking about this for a long time?” So we were all just really happy that he was comfortable enough to express to us what his life was like, because I know it was a struggle for him and I could actually see it was a struggle. But I just didn’t know how to approach it. I wanted to say something but we weren’t exposed to a whole lot of gay people growing up, me growing up in an Irish Catholic family from the northeast. If they were gay, nobody knew it. I was just really happy and relieved when we finally had a dialogue about it, it was nice.
LUKE: I really appreciate the fact that my mom helped me so much, because I know that she gave me time to really figure out who I was. And even though I knew I was gay, and she probably knew I was gay, she gave me the time to come out and do it in my own way. So I really appreciated that – thank you mom.
KAREN: Here’s a little bit of what Luke had to say on center stage during PrideFest about coming out to his mom:
***Audio recording from Denver PrideFest – Luke and Margie address the crowd at the Pridefest rally right before the interview adjacent to the stage.***
LUKE: I didn’t know what the response would be. I didn’t know if she’d be afraid or if she’d be scared. I was scared to tell her, and she’s my best friend. She’s my mom, and I love her and so we got together and I said “Mom, I want to let you know that I’m gay, and you mean everything to me and I love you.” And she said “Hon, you mean everything to me. I love you and it doesn’t matter; you’re my son.” I was so relieved, so thank you mom, thank you so much. Our relationship has really been so close since then, and I’m so grateful to my mom for all of her support and all of her love, and I’m really proud of her too. To be able to race around the world with her – sorry I’m crying. Anyway, I want to say thank you for having us here today, what an honor, and have a wonderful day.
***Interlude ends. Interview with Margie and Luke resumes.***
KAREN: I’d like to hear from each of you on how it changed your relationship to be out.
MARGIE: You know, I don’t think it really changed our relationship so much. It maybe strengthened our relationship. I think we developed a deeper trust in each other, and I think that’s what really helped us on The Amazing Race, is that we were able to trust each other. And of course there are things that we don’t know about each other and that’s fine, we’ll keep it that way. But I felt that Luke trusted me enough to confide in me and to trust me to continue to love him, and so I think it just gave us that deeper level of trust and I don’t think there’s anything that I could tell Luke that would surprise him or make him love me any less, and that’s the way I feel about him. That’s the thing he was so afraid of, that I was going to love him less, and I said “You are the same exact person that you were 20 minutes ago before you put that label on yourself that ‘I’m gay.’ Nothing has changed, nothing has changed. You’re my son, I love you.” But just having him feel more relaxed and able to confide was really nice.
LUKE: That helped me, tremendously. I feel exactly the same way.
KAREN: Did it change your relationship with your sister? How did your sister react?
LUKE: Oh, my sister, she didn’t mind, she didn’t care. She said “Whatever, you’re gay, that’s fine.” Same as my mom, she said “That’s fine.” Now she thought, oh she could go shopping with me, but, sorry, I don’t really enjoy shopping.
MARGIE: (She laughs) Yeah, we’re a little disappointed that he didn’t get the home decorating gene, or the fashion gene, but we love him anyway. (More laughter)
KAREN: Any changes in relationships with people that you were friends with or worked with previously or any other organizations?
MARGIE: Luke had a friend growing up, and he was a very close family friend. He spent summers with us, his dad was also in the military, and he was also deaf. He and Luke were best friends, and they did everything together. Luke went to RIT and this boy went to RIT two years after Luke was there, or a year after. They had made arrangements to be roommates, and they were so excited. And I went out and was helping them to get everything together for their room. Then Luke came out and that was it. That was it. His friend recently got married and was posting pictures on Facebook and it made me so sad to see his wedding party, and Luke not being in that wedding party, because they were such good friends. I feel sorry for that young man because his own fear has kept him from continuing on with the wonderful relationship that they had. And that’s all it is, it’s fear, it’s totally fear. And I feel sorry for him. It just makes me so sad.
LUKE: And I do feel the same way. But he hadn’t been exposed to the gay community enough, he hadn’t been educated enough about it. So, I thought, maybe if I educated him more about the gay community, what it was like, maybe I would change his mind. But when I came out, it didn’t do anything; he was still afraid. The whole experience of coming out, in general, besides him, has been a really great experience. I have an incredibly big family with lots of aunts and uncles, and they’ve all been so supportive. And then after I came out I had three younger cousins that came out too, so that’s been really nice. It’s good for my cousins to be able to see that they have support from somebody who’s the same as them. From my aunts and uncles as well, they have their support. There’s several gay people in my family, and there’s been so much appreciation for us. Once I came out I noticed that some of the girls maybe say, “Oh, he’s gay, that really sucks,” but, sorry ladies. (Laughter) No, but everyone’s been fantastic, everybody’s been wonderful. There hasn’t really been any sort of backlash. I’ve only seen support. I’m really lucky. I feel really grateful that I have wonderful friends and family who support me no matter what.
KAREN: What about the deaf community within the GLBT community? What kind of acceptance or difficulties are there within the deaf community for GLBT people?
LUKE: From my own experience, the deaf community has been very open minded and accepting of us. Because if we’re gay or we’re deaf, it doesn’t matter, we all support each other. It’s been a very positive experience for me. Not that there’s been many gay, deaf people, but everyone who I have met has been wonderful. The gay deaf community and the gay community, separately – there is no true connection between them. They don’t really connect, so that’s sad to me. Because many gay deaf people don’t feel any connection to the hearing community. They don’t communicate the same, they have no access to communication the way that other hearing people do, and it feels strange and awkward. Often, when I go out to a bar I’m always with my hearing friends, because they invite me along. But my deaf friends say, “No, I’m tired of the hearing people not understanding us.” They don’t necessarily want to hang out with the hearing people. Sometimes they’re tired of trying to make such an effort to be around hearing people and to have hearing people accept them. I think it would be better if both communities, if everybody, made an effort to be together: the hearing and the deaf cultures, the deaf gay group, the hearing group. If we could all support each other and educate each other that would make it so much better, but it’s tough. In Washington D.C., wow, the gay community and the hearing community and the deaf community, there are so many interpreters there in Washington D.C. Everybody has access. It’s different, compared to Denver. Yes, of course there are interpreters here, but there are not as many gay interpreters. So the amount of people that have access in Washington D.C. is a lot different.
I feel incredibly honored that they picked me as Grand Marshal. I’m the first deaf person in the whole U.S. that’s been asked to be a Grand Marshal – I’m sorry, my mom is crying. I feel incredibly honored because I’m the first person, and I’m the only deaf person who has given a speech. And I think inspired other people, and hopefully I inspired the deaf community here to hopefully make it better. We’ll see.
KAREN: If you’re just joining us, I’m Karen Raforth presenting an interview with Luke Adams and Margie O’Donnell at PrideFest. Luke was the first deaf gay man to be a Grand Marshal in this country. You’ll hear his voice through a female interpreter.
***Interlude ends. Interview with Margie and Luke resumes.***
KAREN: What do you suggest for the hearing queer community that would make it better to invite in the deaf community that is both queer and straight? What suggestions do you have for us?
LUKE: For example, one experience when I was in L.A., I had an event where there was a TV screen with instant messenger on the screen, and there was a text number, for the bar. All of the people had numbers labeled on their shirts, so 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and whatnot. If we texted the bar number, it would show up on the TV screen in front of us, and then we’d see the text message up on the screen. So if you see that person, number 11, let’s say, then I text that number and you could say “Hey, I think you’re cute,” and it would show up on the TV screen. The person who had number 11 would text back and say “Thank you,” or respond in whatever way they wanted to. I think that’s great technology for everybody to be able to communicate with each other, especially at a place like a bar. A deaf person, if they’re trying to meet a hearing person, a hearing person doesn’t know how to sign, if they see a deaf person they run the other way. I feel like it’s very awkward. I wish that they had that technology access in more bars for deaf and hearing people, or really everywhere to be able to build community better. They should do events like that three or four times a year if possible for deaf and hearing people to get together. Also, Hamburger Mary’s did something like that three years ago, but they haven’t done it since then. We should talk to them and maybe they can do it again.
KAREN: (To Margie) Do you have advice for the hearing community?
MARGIE: The only advice I have for the hearing community about approaching a deaf person is to make the effort, you know, gesture, finger spell. We had friends when we were on season 14 of The Amazing Race, there was a big party in New York City. And everybody took out their iPhones and they’re all just texting, and Luke had the best time. He had total access to everything that everybody was saying, and he was included in the conversation. Some people feel uncomfortable doing that, or think that’s maybe in impersonal way to communicate, but if that’s the only way you have, do it, it’s really cool. We have people that just gesture. It was really funny, we went to The Center the other day and, Gary, I think was his name, had learned sign language years ago and he was adorable. He made the nicest effort to talk to Luke and he was communicating very clearly – very slow, mind you – but very clearly. That gesture was so appreciated by both Luke and myself. And I just feel sorry for some people because they miss out on the opportunity to get to know Luke. Because it is not easy, it’s hard work to communicate with a deaf person. You have to pay attention. I could have a conversation with any person, and I could be doing anything else I want to be doing and still have a conversation. When you talk with a deaf person you have to have eye contact, you have to pay attention to what they’re saying, and it is a lot of work. I know Luke has had a few relationships with some very nice men that have ended because it’s exhausting. They’re hearing, they’re trying to learn, and it’s exhausting. I think it’s worth the effort to get to know some people. It’s a shame that people miss out on having a relationship just because it’s hard work.
KAREN: Communication is often a difficulty just in day to day life, but when you two were on The Amazing Race, how on earth did you manage to stay in touch sometimes, you and your mom, particularly?
LUKE: On the race, in terms of communication between the two of us, we’re really close. We’ve known each other, we know how to read each other’s minds, we have eye contact, I can read my mother’s lips really well. One thing that people often ask me about was, “Can you read lips?” I can a little bit, but I’m really good with my mom, reading her lips, because we grew up together. On the race, our communication really was good. Sometimes we didn’t even have to sign and we knew what the other was thinking. A lot of the teams were shocked, they said “How do you guys do that, how do you talk to each other?” Well, we’re mother and son, we get each other. There a few challenges though, when my mom was stuck. For example, one challenge where the two of us had to build a bamboo raft. So mom had to sit in front of me and I had to sit behind her, and obviously we couldn’t see each other. We were stuck in that way, so we thought “What are we going to do? But let’s just go and do our best.” We did the challenge the best we could, and we did well, but it was tough. Otherwise, we communicate really well. And when we drive in the car together, I usually sit in the back, because we have a camera crew on the race, and my mom would sign and drive. The camera guy was really scared because he kept saying “Please pay attention to the road, I don’t want to get killed here.” It’s what we do; when I was growing up, when I was a little kid I’d sit in the back and she’d sign. And I could look in the mirror and we’d see each other, and we never got into an accident. Once she did get into an accident and we weren’t even signing to each other, so we were fine.
KAREN: So let me ask you this: it may be incorrect, but what I had read online was that, for the first race, they did not want you to be out as a gay man. Is that true?
LUKE: No, I want to clarify that point. With TV, it’s all about politics. On the first season of the race, they really wanted to focus on my deafness, because I’m the first deaf participant who’s been on the race, they’d never had that before. So that’s what they wanted to focus on, was the deafness and also education related to the deaf community. Many people were so enthralled with that, you know. “How do you guys communicate, how do you travel?” They asked so many questions, and they were so fascinated with all of the deaf issues. But with the team and the crew, I was out. Everybody knew. It wasn’t a secret. My mom said, “Hey, my son is gay.”
MARGIE: (She laughs.) I was trying to set him up with all the single gay men on the race.
LUKE: It was the first day of the race, my mom went ahead and told everyone, and I was like, “Mom, oh my god.” The first season, it wasn’t official that I came out on TV, because they wanted to focus on my deafness. Then we were called back for the second season. It was the same kind of thing, the producers of the TV program said they know that Luke is gay, but they really wanted to focus on our relationship, and how we changed and [had] grown together. But again, they never showed it on TV, about me coming out. I did have a few magazine interviews, of course, for Out Front, for example, after the first season. They interviewed me, and it wasn’t a secret that I was out. But even though I was out, the TV program didn’t want to do it because it was more about politics. Then this recent season, the third season, the producer said, “OK, now we’re ready to focus on some new things. Everybody’s seen the deaf thing over and over again. So let’s focus on a new aspect of you.” That’s when we talked and I explained about being out. Even though I’d already been out before, we talked about all of that. It happened on TV, during the third season, that finally they showed it. On the first show of the third season they didn’t say anything about it. The second show, they didn’t say anything about it. I kept thinking, “Come on.” Third show, they didn’t say anything, and I’m thinking “What are they doing? I thought that we were going to focus on me being gay?” Finally, on the fourth show, I was sitting and watching with my family at home, and finally it showed that I had come out on TV. (Margie and Luke laugh.) I wished that CBS had warned me that that was the show that it was going to happen. I’m really happy, though, because it’s really important for the deaf gay community because, especially for younger deaf gay people, I can be a role model for them. They can see a gay deaf man on TV and doing wonderful things. And I’m not different than any of them. I gave a presentation to a deaf group in Texas, it was for college students. And they came out to me and said “Thank you so much, I’m really thrilled that you can be my role model.” They really looked up to me. I’m really happy that I’m out officially on TV so I can be a role model to the younger people.
KAREN: (To Margie) How was that for you?
MARGIE: I was glad they finally addressed it on TV that Luke was gay. There were always gay people on the show where they did talk about them being gay. We had Mike White and Mel White, who are some of our favorite people in the whole world, and they were both openly gay and out and on the show. There were a couple other people on the show that did not want their sexuality exposed on the show. So that was a secret, and I think still is for some of them. That made me sad. Young, professional men that are in their mid-thirties and still have to keep it a secret. It’s kind of sad. I was really happy and I was really proud. I was happy of the way CBS depicted it. They let Luke and I tell it in our own words. And they allowed us to do it in our own way, so I was glad that it finally came out.
KAREN: Any reactions after it went out on TV from other people?
LUKE: There was no negative feedback, whatsoever. Everything was positive. There were a few of my friends that didn’t know that I was gay – I don’t know how they didn’t know I was gay. (Laughter) I thought it was pretty obvious, but I guess they didn’t notice. All the reactions were pretty positive. And people who were fans of The Amazing Race and everyone from CBS, everyone was incredibly supportive.
MARGIE: The reaction I got, a lot of people said “I wish you were my mother, because my mother kicked me out of the house, it took us five years to establish a relationship.” To parents out there, your child is the same exact person that they were before you got the news. There’s nothing different. It breaks my heart. Luke has a lot of friends who don’t have relationships with their parents anymore, which makes me very, very sad. I was glad he came out. And I was happy with the way they depicted it.
KAREN: Many people say that there’s a coming out of the son or daughter, and then there’s a coming out of the parents as well. And that’s what you’re talking about. And you end up both as role models, each for different groups. Do you have other things that you would like to tell our listeners before we wrap up today?
MARGIE: Luke is single and he’s moving back to Denver. (She laughs.) And his mom is looking for a cute man for him. So any listeners out there, find him on Facebook.
LUKE: (Luke and Margie laugh.) Mom! Only because my mom wants more grandkids, that’s the only reason she’s saying this. I want to say thank you to Denver Pride, and I want to thank The GLBT Center for inviting us to be Grand Marshals for the event. It’s such an honor for us, and it’s been such an incredible experience for us both. The parade this morning was fantastic, the people were all so great. People were telling us they loved us and calling our names. I’ve been so happy that I’ve been here, and I want to thank all of you guys. I want to thank the interpreters who are voicing for me and signing for me. I want to thank them too.
KAREN: Thanks Margie and Luke. We really appreciate you taking time out of the parade and the festival today. Thanks so much for being here and being role models.
***End of interview with Margie and Luke. Beginning of Outsources events and news section of the episode with Sean Kenney, a member of the Outsources Collective***
You’re listening to Outsources on KGNU, and we’d like to wrap up this week’s episode with review of events and news happening in the LGBTQ community in Boulder, Denver, and beyond.
On June 25th, a US district court judge struck down a law banning same-sex marriage in Indiana. The state of Indiana began issuing marriage licensees on the day the decision was announced, and the Indiana Attorney General’s office has already announced that it will appeal the ruling.
On June 30th, the US Department of Labor announced that it would work to update anti-discrimination guidance to make it clear that transgender people are fully protected under federal non-discrimination laws. The US Department of Labor indicates that discrimination based on transgender status is considered discrimination based on sex.
PrideFest season isn’t over yet. Colorado Springs Pridefest 2014 will be held on July 19th and 20th at America the Beautiful Park in downtown Colorado Springs.
On Tuesday nights in Boulder, come to a weekly queer hosted dance party aimed at providing an inclusive community experience for LGBTQ individuals. This weekly event goes from 9 pm to 2 am at the Alphabet Club at 1109 Walnut Street. There is a $3 cover after 10 pm.
If you have news or events relevant to the LGBTQ community that you’d like us to share on Outsources, or if you have questions or comments about tonight’s program, please email email@example.com. In order to make tonight’s program available to the deaf community, a transcript of this episode will be available on the KGNU website starting July 8th at www.kgnu.com/outsources.
Join us next week, Monday at 6:30 pm for another episode of Outsources. We’ll be talking with with Andrea Poiniers (poin-yers), Alicia Lewis, and Janis Bohan, who are involved with Boulder County Allies for Inclusion. BCAFI is a collection of agencies and individuals who are pursuing innovative efforts to increase equality for LGBTQ people. Their projects are as abstract as changing the conversation about who LGBTQ people are and as down-to-earth as creating bathrooms that are accessible to all. Join in for this discussion about where LGBTQ rights are headed.
I’m Sean Kenney, and you’ve been listening to Outsources, KGNU Boulder Denver.