OUTSTANDING VIRGINIANS 2013

Guy M. Kinman, Jr.

Billboard Pioneer

Guy J. Kinman, Jr.

When ROSMY gave Guy Kinman its 2012 Catalyst Award for service to Richmond youth, the write-up was short and sweet: “Guy Kinman, a longtime Richmond-based LGBT activist who in the 1980s, as president of the Richmond-Virginia Gay Alliance, initiated the Billboard Project, in which billboards intended to educate people about LGBT issues were placed throughout Richmond.”

Though indeed sweet in a courtly way, the 95-year old former Air Force chaplain and pioneering gay rights leader isn’t short, and neither are his conversations. Talk with him, and you will get swept into a world full of brave deeds, people known and loved, and deep insights into the meaning of it all. It is fitting that the Richmond Times-Dispatch devoted 1,650 words to telling his story in a lovingly written 2011 profile by Bill Lohmann—the product of three days of interviews. Guy has an ample soul and a way with words. That is why we are turning over the rest of this biography to Guy himself:

On existence: I am grateful to be here by the grace of God. For me, life and God are the same.

On reading the RTD article: I was fascinated to know who this guy was—meaning me.  I realized I’m quite a different person than I was before. I realized at last that my life is worthwhile, that it makes sense.

On then and now: The day I graduated college was the saddest day of my life. I had no friends. People are surprised to hear me say that because my life now is full of friends.

One of the messages during the Billboard Project.

On the famous billboards (“Someone you know is gay…maybe someone you love”): I have rethought what inspired me and hundreds of others to put them up in the 1980s. I thought then that only if every last gay or lesbian declared themselves would we begin to feel more comfortable in our own skin. But now I see the lasting change came about because we didn’t need to explain who we were—just to work, play, be in our churches and our interest groups—just to live.

On equality in the workplace: Co-workers aren’t fooled. When there’s a social event or a celebration and you never show up or never introduce the important people in your life, they know there’s love somewhere. In a work situation, you will be honored for becoming indispensable, and the company will say, “We want you.”

It’s not about sex:  I came to realize that being gay is not about sex, it’s about the nature of human beings, about the hidden hope of finding the one for life, the one that’s best for you. The question should not be “why are people gay?” but “why does anyone abhor people who are?”

Kinman served as a military chaplain.

On love: When I was 21, I met the person who could have been my partner for life. We were in training to become Air Force officers. He was going to become a pilot. One weekend, on furlough, I brought him home to my family.  At breakfast, sitting among my family, his eyes and mine met in that way that says, “I know just what you are feeling.” Gayness was unknown to anyone at that time—I had no way to know what our feelings might mean.  My mother took it upon herself to find a “wonderful girl” for him. The two were engaged to be married. Eventually, she married someone else.  Fifty years later, I re-connected with her and asked what had become of my friend. She told me that shortly before they were to be married, she was waiting for him at an airfield. His single-seat plane crashed. He was killed.

On community: I believe that the labels “straight” and “gay” are unnecessarily limiting. People talk about their particular communities, but sometimes I just want to say, we’re all just human beings.  I was with some friends recently, and we were wondering, which gay-owned restaurant should we go to tonight? Then we thought, what’s wrong here? Why don’t we just go to the Olive Garden if that’s where we want to go?