Gregory Hinton (Bus’77) is a California-based author, historian and founder of Out West, a national museum program series exploring the contributions of LGBTQ communities to Western American history. By discussing these cultural themes and how they connect to communities through his work, Hinton hopes to educate people about LGBTQ history and culture in the American West.
How has the LGBTQ landscape in the American West changed since you were a CU student?
Countless rural-born western gay men and women of my generation (myself included) intially evacuated to the urban coasts — Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle — seeking community, companionship and safety. Fortunately, this evacuation has slowed over the years, and now, some are returning. Despite progress in areas like marriage equality, however, non-discrimination protections and hate crimes legislation still have not passed in many western states.
Tell us about the work you’ve done as an author and historian.
I attended CU on a creative writing scholarship, always hoping to have a literary career. Though I ultimately graduated with a business degree, I have since published three novels — Cathedral City, Desperate Hearts and The Way Things Ought to Be — along with several short stories, plays and film productions. In 2009, quite by chance, I created an educational program series called Out West. The Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles was the first museum to invite me to create programming — lectures, exhibitions and plays — dedicated to shining a light on LGBTQ history and culture in the American West. Since then, we’ve shared stories all over the country.
Tell us about the work of the Gay & Lesbian Rodeo Heritage Foundation (GLRHF), where you’re a founding director.
GLRHF was formed after the acquisition of the International Gay Rodeo archives by the Autry Museum of the American West in 2009, and it has been closely connected to my public programming for Out West. Its purpose is to support scholarship that illuminates gay rodeo visibility and to ensure gay rodeo receives recognition and its own place in rodeo history.
Which of your three books means the most to you and why?
It’s tough to choose just one — almost like admitting you have a favorite kid. But I would have to say that because it’s my own coming out story, The Way Things Ought to Be, set against the backdrop of 1970s Boulder.
If you could give one piece of advice to other LGBTQ folks who want to make an impact on the community, what would it be?
Don’t wait for permission. Act on your hunches. Don’t be afraid to write a letter or email or tweet to get what you need. Never deny who you are.
What is one of your favorite memories from CU?
I always loved to walk around campus, especially on winter days when the frozen Flatirons would actually sparkle in the sun. I also loved my Spanish teacher — her name was Maddie. I used to watch her from the second-floor window of Old Main coming to class in her long fur coat. She was so glamorous. I’d wave and she’d wave back. I think about her often.
What is your biggest takeaway from your Out West journey so far?
I am so happy to find that we don’t need to leave our small western communities behind if we don’t want to. I love telling our stories. And I love the solitary drives they afford me into the most beautiful country you can imagine — I feel most like myself on those drives. Out West was just a whim I had, a spark that got fanned by the flames of need. I remember watching a young waiter in Red Lodge, Montana, as he was serving a large table of cowboys. He was so professional, and they treated him courteously. I later ran into him in a bar and asked how things were for him in Red Lodge. “At least I know I am safe here,” he told me. “At least I know I am accepted.”
What do you hope people will take away from the Out West series?
I hope they will see the value in telling all the stories of the American West.
Interview condensed and edited.
Photos courtesy Gregory Hinton