LGBT Aging: Barry and Bailey — ‘two of us against the world’

They met the third Thursday of July 1966 in Baltimore, Md.

Barry Homan was running up the steps for a job interview and the boss who was seeking a new employee was at the top of the stairs waiting.

“I still remember that day clearly. I saw this gorgeous young thing literally running up the stairs. He was wearing a checkered shirt. I fell in lust right away,” says Bailey Conaway, 78, with a laugh.

That man in the checkered shirt and the man who was hired to be Conaway’s secretary because he was the only person able to keep up with Conaway’s demanding, but fair, work ethic is Homan, 67.

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Bailey Conaway (left) and Barry Homan in a photo shortly after they met in 1967.

“Bailey was 30, I was 19, a country bumpkin from Pennsylvania, and Bailey was a part of the big city life,” Homan says.

Conaway hired Homan and then asked him out to dinner that night, but Hamon politely declined. When Conaway returned from a two-week vacation, he asked him out again. Homan accepted.

“He brought me this expensive bottle of cologne from that trip. I still have it and you can still get a whiff of the scent,” Hamon says.

“I grew up in a town where there no black people. He was so warm. So sweet. So hot looking. I was intrigued. I thought his is going to work out fine. I couldn’t get enough of him,” Homan says. “He was very intelligent and did not play games. I liked that a lot.”

And that first meeting led to love for almost five decades.

In August, they drove from their Snellville home back to Maryland where they met to get legally married on their 47th anniversary.

“We got married in Howard County and went to the courthouse where I worked on occasion,” says  Homan, who is a former of court reporter. “And we had an absolute wonderful experience. The clerks, the policemen were all great. How things have changed.”

It is a much different time for the couple. Conaway, who is black, and Homan, who is white, were met with much resistance from anti-gay and racist people in Maryland at the beginning of their relationship in a time when gay people, and black people, were hated by a majority of people.

When they bought a home on the outskirts of the big city in the late 1960s, the KKK showed up in their white robes and burned a cross on their lawn. But even when they went to a gay bar in Florida not too many years ago, a bouncer would not let Conaway into the bar although his other friends and husband walked in with no problem. They were at another gay bar when a man jumped in front of Conaway and made aping noises and gestures as he left.

Conaway and Homan at their wedding in Aug. 2013, on their 47th anniversary.

“We’ve not had a great deal of acceptance from either of our families and have had to deal with bigotry our entire lives, against us being gay, against me being black,” Conaway says.

“Largely it’s been two of us against the world. And I think that’s one of the reasons we have such a strong relationship. We work our problems out with raw honesty and mutual respect.”

‘I knew it was important’
As a child, Conaway spent a lot of time at his grandparents’ home who lived down the street from Thurgood Marshall. Marshall successfully argued the Brown v. Board of Education case and would go on to become the first black person appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. Conaway played with Marshall’s grandchildren and knew the adults were discussing serious issues.

“I didn’t understand what all was going on but I knew it was important,” Conaway says.

At his home, Conaway was dealing with tought issues. His father and then stepfather abused his mother,

“People on both sides of my family were well-educated and had money, but we’re talking about black folks good money ― they earned it by teaching, practicing medicine, law. It was very difficult though because my mom was, excuse the language, the ‘black sheep’ of the family. She was the only one who didn’t go to college of six children,” Conaway says.

Conaway excelled in school, graduating from high school when he was 16 and then Morgan University. He spent a couple years in the U.S. Navy and had plans to become a clinical psychologist. His career steered into a different direction and he did a lot of psychological consulting for the federal government before he took a job with the Department of Health in Baltimore.

That led to a job that was part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty ― a federal department dedicated to serving elderly Americans and responding to their needs. This program became the basis for what we now know as home health aid, Conaway says. When this federal grant was up, Conaway was hired to become department head of the Maryland health department ― the first black person to earn the title.

And, Conaway stresses, hiring Homan was not nepotism. His experience as a court reporter made him the best qualified person to accurately transcribe important documents and testimony.

During this time, Bailey also hired a social worker, a white woman named Barbara Mikulski. She is now a U.S. Senator for Maryland.

On a 20-year honeymoon
Homan’s upbringing was vastly different. He grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and decided to move to Maryland after he graduated from high school to go to a court reporter school a friend told him about.

Before he left, though, he worked at a shoe factory and a book company. He also fell in love with the neighbor boy.

“He was not gay. He had a hard, disturbed life and he liked the attention I showed him. But he was never going to fall in love with me. I knew if I ever wanted anything else I had to go somewhere else,” Hamon says.

To pay for court reporting school, Homan worked for an elderly antiques dealer who did appraisals of rare paintings. “He put a price on priceless objects,” Homan says.

When the antiques dealer died, Homan needed another job. He went to an agency and the woman said she knew the perfect person.

“He’s demanding but fair,” she told him. And that led to Homan and Conaway meeting nearly 50 years ago.

The two have rented a condo in a Naples, Fla., retirement complex. There they still deal with sideway glances and glares from racist and homophobic people. But they have also made friends as well. As long as they have each other, they say, their lives are completely fulfilled.

“When we got married, someone asked us if we were going on a honeymoon. We told them we’ve been on our honeymoon for 20 years,” says Conaway.