At age 56, Bob Walsh says he is living a genuine life.

Born at Loretto Hospital on Chicago’s West Side, the life-long Oak Parker is the oldest child, and only son, of Bob and Marietta Walsh, the long-time owners of the former Logos Bookstore. Walsh’s parents were also among a small group of couples that formed the Family Mass at St. Giles Church in Oak Park.

Among the descriptors Walsh attaches to himself: the devoted dad of two college-age children, and the first openly gay member of the District 97 school board where he served from 2001 to 2005. 

In the past he worked as a legislative director for U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, issues director for Sen. Carol Mosely Braun, and as issues analyst for Richard M. Daley during his 1988 campaign. He also worked in the office of fair housing and equal opportunity for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development until he was outed as a gay man.

Currently, although he is an attorney, Walsh works as a parent mentor with emotionally disabled kids and their families, and several times a week volunteers as a homework helper at Hephzibah Home. He is engaged to his partner of 13 years. The couple is planning a spring 2016 wedding, a marriage which for Walsh will be his second.

The first marriage ended when at age 38 Walsh came out to his wife and family.

On a recent sunny day in May, Wednesday Journal shared a cup of coffee with Bob Walsh as he told his story.

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WJ: Did you know you were gay before age 38?

BW: I really didn’t. Some men that I have spoken to knew when they were four or five (years old). I simply didn’t work with that knowledge until much, much later. I was a good Catholic. I was an altar boy. I went to Ascension and St. Giles and St. Ignatius. I toed the line. Back in the ’70s and ’80s gay people certainly existed, but it wasn’t part of my experience growing up. 

WJ: You told me that you always wanted to work in Washington D.C., and in college taught workshops in the Capitol. What happened there?

BW: There was a guy who worked for the workshop and I considered him to be a close friend. He, in collaboration with an older gentleman who lived in Georgetown, took me to a dinner club in Georgetown. I remember having one drink, and after that I remember nothing. The next morning I woke up and realized that I had been sexually assaulted by these men. I was very freaked out and disturbed by that. And in denial, I believed my friend when he told me that he was not involved in the process.

WJ: How did that assault affect you?

BW: I know now, that anytime I ever had any, even the smallest inclination of an attraction to a man, I attributed it to the sexual assault. The assault happened when I was 19. And for the next 19 years I lived happily and successfully as a straight man.

WJ: How could that be?

BW: I dated women all through my 20’s, and I got married when I was 30. My ex-wife and I spent five years before we had kids traveling, and we had a wonderful time. At the time, I worked on Capitol Hill and she was in politics, as well. When my ex-wife was pregnant with my son, I started being deeply depressed and I didn’t know why, so I started to see a therapist. She (the therapist) and I, over the next two years worked through this whole issue, and we had a breakthrough. She convinced me not to hate myself for being attracted to men. This was after I was married for six years. She asked me “what’s the worst that could happen with you,” and I said, I could lose everything. I could lose my family. I could lose my career. I could lose everything that’s important to me. And unfortunately a lot of that happened. 

WJ: What do you mean?

BW: Once I got in touch with the fact that the sexual assault had compelled me to deny in my heart and soul who I really was, everything in my life fell apart. All of a sudden when I came out, there were no rules, no expectations, and I was a stranger in a strange land. It was confusing and disturbing.

WJ: How did you come out to your friends and family?

BW: I told them that as a result of the sexual assault, I didn’t have this awareness at an earlier age, and I was in deep, deep denial in my heart and soul about who I was. 

WJ: How did they react?

BW: The biggest reaction initially was concern for my kids, who were very young, and for my ex-wife. Any type of discussion of the sexual assault just went by the wayside. At the time that I came out my dad had a gay manager at the bookstore (Logos), and I knew that. It was a comfort to me to know that he was that accepting. My dad’s reaction was, “We don’t understand, but we love you and we will work on trying to understand.” Over time, especially since I’ve been with my partner for 13 years, they now know and love him, and we have become accepted and a part of our family’s fabric. 

WJ: How did you handle your professional life?

BW: I was working at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and a co-worker managed to get a hold of something incriminating and put a copy of that piece of paper on all 60 of my co-workers seats. So, suddenly, I was outed to everyone. I worked there for another eight years, but I experienced a lot of discrimination, and left because I knew it was only going to get worse. 

WJ: How have you been able to bounce back?

BW: My kids have been, and continue to be, my priority. They are what I focused on during my transition when things were very, very bumpy. Since then, things have gotten considerably better. Living in Oak Park was a blessing. It was enormously helpful to be in a place that was so accepting and so diverse.

WJ: So, again, you really didn’t know you were gay until the age of 38?

BW: No. When they assaulted me, they took a lot more away from me that I realized and I’m not willing to allow for that to stand. I had to do what I considered the honest thing and live a genuine life, and the only way that I could do that was to start over. And that’s what I essentially did.

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....