It's been 42 years since Steve Dunham and Dick Hanna met in a bar in New Orleans. They've been a couple ever since.
"We call ourselves the team that works," said Hanna. "We do whatever it takes to get things done."
"We go back to that bar every five years," said Dunham. "We show up and they say ‘Oh it's you again,' and bring out the champagne."
I met Dunham and Hanna last weekend at the Saturday Social, a monthly party sponsored by First City Network (FCN). FCN is a Savannah non-profit "chartered in 1985 by concerned citizens seeking a gay and lesbian positive community," according to the group's February newsletter.
FCN makes its way into the media on a regular basis, working earnestly to end discrimination for GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered) people. Based on that public profile, I thought that the Saturday Social might not live up to its name, that it might be less like a party and more like a Saturday Rally for a Cause, with intense conversations about Don't Ask/Don't Tell, same sex marriage, or political candidates.
When FCN says "Social," that's what they mean. The party was as congenial, comfortable, and laid back as it could be with over 100 people jammed shoulder to shoulder into a three bedroom house in Coffee Pointe, a gated community in southside Savannah.
"The Socials are held all over. Rincon, Tybee, Richmond Hill, Burnside Island." said Mark Kreuger, one of FCN's founders.
The mostly middle aged, mostly white crowd was about 90 percent male. According to several people there, another monthly function, called the "FCN Potluck" is an almost all female affair. Partygoers seemed evenly split between those attending for their first or second time, and those who've been regulars for years. Most who attended brought beverages or a snack, but eating and imbibing took a back seat to conversation and fellowship.
Gabriel and Christopher, both men in their 20's, were the first people I met. Dating for four months, they met on Twitter, when both were commenting on an Episcopalian organization's tweet. Gabriel is an inquirer to be a candidate for Holy Orders, which means he's planning to go to seminary to be an Episcopal priest. Soon he and Christopher were comparing notes about local faith congregations with Dan and Jamie, middle aged men who've been partners for 31 years and are leaders in their church.
Dan & Jamie, and Steve Dunham & Dick Hanna are two of fifteen couples who were recognized at this Saturday Social in celebration of their long-term committed relationships. During the only "meeting-like" moment of the night, party host and FCN board member Billy Wooten introduced fourteen local same-sex couples (seven women, seven men) plus one out-of-town couple who heard about the party and came to join the fun.
Each relationship has been rocking along for over twenty years, and as they were introduced each couple was greeted with shouts, whoops and loud applause.
"What about ten years or more?" someone called out. The nods and backslaps that ensued suggested that at least another ten couples would fall into that group.
My conversation with Hanna and Dunham turned into a reunion, as we realized that we'd been neighbors on Charlton Street in the late 1970's, when I was in high school and they first moved to Savannah.
We talked about the Night in Old Troup Square parties that are still going strong after 30 years, gossiped about who was still together from the old neighborhood (only them and two other couples), and who got divorced (everyone else including my dad and his wife, both now deceased). We discovered that we're all Presbyterians -- Hanna and Dunham are active in their church in Chicago where they live half time.
For Gwen and Jo-Ellen, another of the fourteen celebrated couples, Saturday was their first time attending the Social. Together 26 years, they moved to Savannah four years ago when Jo-Ellen took a teaching job here.
I met three other teachers that night, all reluctant to share their names due to their job vulnerability. One, a 25 year old high school teacher, was sipping import beer and holding court with several other twenty-somethings in the kitchen. Another teacher, indulging in a rum soaked maraschino cherry, confessed that this was his second time at the Social, to "try an out of the box experience."
Elyse Anderson and Mary Warrick, both in their 20's and a couple for two years, are relatively new to Savannah. They've started an informal Friday Night Bowling Group for GLBT young people.
Warrick was pleased to see the recognition for long term couples as part of the evening.
"Coming from Seattle, it's good to feel like there's a place that's welcoming. You know that there's a community out there to support you."
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"And you deserve better."
Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.