History and the people who make it: Fred Pratt (Part 2)

This is the 22nd in a series of transcript excerpts from the collection of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida.

Fred Pratt was interviewed by Jessica Clawson [C] in 2012; the first part of this transcript was featured in the May-June 2014 Iguana.

P: We need to fight for each other.

I see it in the African American community, I saw it, I don’t see it too much now, in the disabled community. When we have something that’s really shaking, we do come together.

In the African American community, being gay is becoming accepted but it’s still not as accepted as it should be. I blame the churches. There are a lot of black ministers who are still preaching homosexuality is a sin. 

They didn’t want to acknowledge AIDS in their community, in the African American community. For years they were like, “No, no, no, we don’t have any people with HIV or AIDS.” And I think that that’s changing, and that is changing the churches. And if that changes the churches, I’m seeing but I’m hoping I’m seeing it right, that it will change the perspective of LGBT members in that church.

C: What did you see in Tampa and/or Gainesville the reaction to AIDS?

P: In Tampa it was an immediate reaction. Organizations started coming up, people started working to fight AIDS, HIV. Here it was, mmm, maybe we will, maybe we won’t. A few brave people out there started the North Central Florida AIDS Network, which no longer is in existence. I became their phone coordinator for awhile.

C: Why do you think there was that difference between the two cities?

P: In Tampa, it happened all of the sudden. There were so many people getting sick, with the same symptoms so soon. Here, you would see one person here, a few people here, a couple people over there.

C: Was the response in Tampa coming from the gay community or the medical community? 

P: It came first from the gay community.

We were hitting the medical community over the head, saying, this is here! They were slow to respond. They weren’t as slow as I’ve seen other places but they were slow.

C: There’s this famous story of Shands shipping an AIDs patient to San Francisco and basically dumping him.

P: I was phone coordinator at the Network when that happened.

They didn’t know what to do with this person – just, he wasn’t getting services. And they come up with this brilliant idea of sending him off to San Francisco where he could get services.

It looked real bad. They could have made a better response. They could have done things here that they did in San Francisco for this guy. But the people who were high up in the Shands administration, my personal opinion is that they would just bury their heads in the sand.

The people in Tampa were not letting it be silent, because it just blew up. It blew up in Miami, too. Even larger, though. And we were scrambling around like, what do we do?

Talking about HIV and AIDS, we have North Central Florida AIDS Network, which was doing some things, and other things they weren’t. I was a founding member of Gainesville Area AIDS Project, where we did social things, and tried to get people things that they couldn’t get.

I still see a lot of homophobia out there.

When I started working with the LGBT community and getting sexual orientation added to the county anti-discrimination ordinance the other side thought they could target me and make me go away.

They got my phone number. They would call me up every hour of the night, leave me messages, and they thought they could get rid of me. What they didn’t know was that I’d had ten, fifteen years of dealing with these people, and fifteen years of disabled rights because I’d heard the same things. 

C: It’s interesting how those two strains of activism have supported each other for you.

P: No, they don’t support each other. The disabled community and the LGBT community do not speak to each other.

I have no idea why. I’ve spent years trying to figure it out. Matter of fact, I went to a statewide disability conference in Orlando. They do breakout sessions on housing, education, health, and employment. Then they added in a segment on sex and sexuality. Four of us were out there and saying, “Hey, we want to be included, too.” We started talking about our relationships, and they didn’t want to hear it. They went so far as to close down the whole program.

C: When was that?

P: 1990, ’92. So that’s the disabled community. And the gay community here, I had a hard time. The women loved me, I mean, I was fighting for all the causes, I was talking to them. The gay men didn’t want anything to do with me.

I think they just saw the disability. Straight people do the same thing. They just see the disability, they don’t see what I can do, you know?

I was working to get sexual orientation added to the county anti-discrimination ordinance and one day a guy turns around and says, “… there’s that crippled queer.”

C: Woah.

P: They referred to me as “that crippled queer” the whole time. One of the anti-gay community groups, you know.

That only happened probably because the media wanted to talk to someone who was a member of another minority group. And I volunteered. That’s when the phone calls started, and the threats.

It got to the point where, I knew this wasn’t true, but I felt like the only disabled gay man in the country.

My community banquet story? They had nominated me, as man of the year one year. And they didn’t want to tell me, but they told me to keep my Friday open. Well I got my days mixed up and I went out with somebody that Friday night. I got this phone call, “Hey, I accepted the award for you.” I was like, awwww!

A friend of mine living in New York, said, “Why don’t you come up and we’ll go to Stonewall 25.” The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. I said sure, why not. After the parade had started, we’re coming around one of the corners, and there’s a media camera, and they’re going to me, “Fred! There’s a camera! Do something!” So I wave at the camera. Six months later I get a call from a friend, and he says, “My partner and I were at the San Francisco gay film festival and you’re on a movie!”

Jeffrey. It’s about a twenty-year-old movie, but if you can find it, I’m on there for about three seconds.

I was talking about how I’d gotten these phone calls and whatever. I had these two very, very good friends who were drag queens, and they said, if something happens to you, we’ll start a Stonewall riot.

That’s here in Gainesville, at the University Club. They were real adamant. They were like, “If anything happens to you, we’ll start our own Stonewall riot.” And I said, “No. I want you to keep a lid on this community.”

C: Scary times, we’ve gone through.

Search for “Fred Pratt” at http://oral.history.ufl.edu/collection/ for the full transcript of this interview.

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