We moved to this oasis, little hippy queer town in the middle of the Ozark Mountains”. Here they thrive, and the town is all the better for having them standing up prowdr.
Eureka Spring’s Zeek Taylor is a trailblazing Hintergay. Without trailblazers like Marsha P. Johnson, Larry Kramer and Ellen DeGeneres, where would the LGBT community be? People willing to stand up for things, like basic human rights, are the cornerstones of our community.
While metropolitan areas continue to be safe havens, there are still many places in America where being an out LGBT person is uncommon and could even be considered a political act. In such areas, grassroots trailblazers are helping to make changes in even the most conservative places. Welcome to the Ozarks.
Photo courtesy of John Rankine
Award-winning artist Zeek Taylor of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is that brand of pioneer. His stylized watercolors, using a dry brush technique, have hung in the Arkansas governor’s mansion. He is the recipient of the Arkansas Governor’s Art Award for Lifetime Achievement—quite a feat for a southerner who’s lived his entire life out and proud.
Zeek doesn’t consider himself an aggressive activist, however. Instead, he works “from the inside.” “I participate in community involvement as an openly gay man,” he points out. “There is no one in this town who knows me and doesn’t know I’m gay.”
“The more people who are in contact with an LGBT person—the more visible we are—the more accepted we become.” Zeek believes. “I just try to be visible, be friendly and participate and get to know people—all kinds of people,” he adds. His goal is to strive to be affable. “If you like a person and you know they’re gay, it’s harder to hate other gay people. It’s pretty much the way I work it.”
In Eureka Springs, he has been deeply involved in the community. He served on the arts council for several years, was part of the parks department committee and was on the board of directors for the chamber of commerce. In addition, he’s acted as a liaison for a committee from Eureka Springs to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in nearby Bentonville, Arkansas.
For his contributions, he was selected as the Grand Marshall of Eureka Springs’ annual Fourth of July parade this year—the theme of the parade was freedom and equality. “Spectators probably didn’t say: ‘Oh, hey, there’s a gay guy.’ They just said, ‘Oh, there’s Zeek.’” That’s what he loves about living in Eureka Springs: Everyone is accepted as viable members of the community, not just tolerated.
Zeek and his husband of forty-five years, Dick Titus, have been legally married for three years. In fact, they were the first same-sex male couple to be married in any southern state after marriage equality was legalized! “Because of that,” Zeek adds, “we ended up getting worldwide press.” Eureka Springs was the only city issuing marriage licenses the day after a judge issued a ruling making it legal. “Dick and I were happy to be a part of that. We feel that we, and Eureka Springs, made history in the south.”
Zeek was born in a small town of 650 people in Northeast Arkansas. “My mother had a beauty shop, so I grew up with that. In fact, I worked for a long time as a hairdresser, while I established my art career,” he explains.
In the mid 1970s, he moved to Memphis to attend art school. It was there, in 1975, in a bar called the Psych Out, that he met his husband. “Life for gay men in Memphis was like living in the shadows,” he recalls. “It was a hidden life, in a sense.” The bars weren’t in the best areas of town, so there was a constant threat to one’s safety. At that time, it was still illegal for two men to dance together in Memphis. They could be arrested for dancing together, and their names would end up in the newspaper’s police report. “It was a difficult atmosphere. There was harassment.” Zeek remembers. One of the few safe places was the Psych Out, where every Saturday night they would close the doors for a private party and dance all night long.
Once finished with school, Zeek and Dick decided to move to Fayetteville, Arkansas—a university town of about 33,000. After arriving, they went to a college bar—a mixed bar with mostly college students—and saw guys dancing together. “It was a shock to see men dancing together legally, we felt liberated.”
“Still, I longed to move to Eureka Springs,” Zeek acknowledged. “In 1987, when my art career got to a point that I could do that, we moved there.” They’ve been there ever since.
Eureka Springs is a small, resort town in the Ozarks, only about 2,200 full-time residents. It’s almost crime free. “In Eureka Springs, we can walk down the street holding hands and no one thinks anything about it. It’s amazing.”
It is an oasis of liberalism in the state of Arkansas. “One reason I wanted to live in Eureka Springs was because it has a reputation as an art colony. Being an artist, I still wanted to have that stimulation.” There are not too many small towns that have that strong of a focus on art. “Cities always do,” he concludes, “but not many small towns do.”
From hairdressing to dancing and finally to art, Zeek has always worked in professions where people expect you to be gay (or, at least, are not surprised to discover it), but for Dick it was different, he admits. “He’s a licensed electrician and had to hide his sexuality on the job in Fayetteville, for fear of being fired or harassed,” Zeek recollects.
When they moved to Eureka Springs, Dick said, “Enough’s enough.” He opened his own business as an electrician and got so busy that he couldn’t keep up. It was very liberating. “We moved to this oasis, little hippy, queer town, in the middle of the Ozark Mountains”. Here they thrive, and the town is all the better for having them standing up prowdr.
To learn more about Zeek Taylor or to see more of his work, check out his website: www.zeektaylor.com.
If you, or someone you know, is a Hintergay (you live in a small town or rural America) and would like your story to be featured on Prowdr.com, feel free to email MK Bateman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hero Image Photo courtesy of Jeremy Mason McGraw
MK Bateman is a writer and recovering urbanite, based in Central Vermont. He writes about an assortment of subjects, including travel, food, cinema and health. He is currently working on his first novel.
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