Ed White's Sideline: Historian

Our story on "The Resolution" would not have been written without the persistence, dedication, and research skills of Ed White, who long ago recognized the need for someone to preserve the history of Knoxville's gay community. An annotated video of the entire meeting can be found at White's website devoted to the event, knoxcocom1993.wordpress.com, along with links to the text of speeches delivered, contemporaneous news coverage, and White's essays.

White is a lifelong learner, a husband and father, a master gardener, and was one of the most able and giving AIDS care volunteers in Knoxville during the height of the plague. He is also a bisexual man who took his first tentative steps "out" when he was still a student at the University of Tennessee. Joining the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Student Union was an important step for him, as was joining Knoxville Pride. Both these groups exercised great caution when it came to protecting members' anonymity, and attendees at meetings were required to sign confidentiality statements promising not to reveal the identity of anyone else in the room. Most people used pseudonyms.

White, whose given name is Ronald Edward White, used the names Rochester, June Cleaver, and Biff Howard in those days, and had good reasons for introducing himself as Ron White when he addressed County Commission at the March, 1993 meeting.

"I decided it wasn't a lie to simply use my first name, which hardly anybody knew me by personally, as a compromise between being truthful/out and protecting my identity," he says. "I've sometimes gotten some incredulous looks when I explain that there were real reasons for some fear and caution back in those days—mostly from younger people who came into the movement in the 1990s, folks who had felt less threat being out.

"But remember, the AIDS Response Knoxville office—housed with the Metropolitan Community Church at the time—was firebombed in 1990. And just before the 1991 Knoxville Pride march, a white supremacist was on local TV news marching followers around in armed formations saying he would protest the Pride march—saying he wasn't planning violence, but was going to be ready for it."

(Note: One year, the Klansman White mentioned showed up to picket a Knoxville Pride parade wearing a moon suit and carrying a sign that said "Thank God for AIDS.")

"There had also been a number of murders of drag queens in those years, and bashings and discrimination were still a random threat you would hear stories about," White says. "This is why I used Ron White addressing the commission and in the Metro Pulse column I wrote afterward for the same reason, but I don't think I've used it since."