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‘Re’Flecting’ on Bill Kelly

Posted: February 17th, 2017 | Features, News, Top Story | No Comments

By Morgan M. Hurley | Editor

Local senior advocate profiled in new documentary

San Diego’s PBS affiliate, KPBS, recently aired a documentary on LGBT senior activist and Gay San Diego contributor William “Bill” Kelly.

The nearly 27-minute-long documentary, part of a series on local seniors produced by KPBS called “Re’Flect, Successful Aging Defined,” focuses on Kelly and his activism and day-to-day life.

“Join us as we profile six San Diego seniors who are breaking the mold and aging on their terms,” the trailer filmed for the project states.

The series premiered in January, though Kelly’s documentary was just recently posted on the news organization’s website, as the fifth of the six in the series.

Screen shots from “Re’flect: Successful Aging Defined.” (Courtesy KPBS)

Creators say the project “provides insight into the active and engaged world of today’s seniors who are living out loud and defying stereotypes associated with aging.”

Theresa Hoiles, who co-created, co-wrote and co-produced the series with her longtime friend, series director Heidi Rataj, told Gay San Diego why they decided to include the segment on Kelly.

Kelly being interviewed in his home for the KPBS documentary series on local seniors. (Photo by Matt Nothelfer)

“We feel Bill’s story is important to be told because the LGBT senior falls out of the spotlight within their own community, and in the greater community, they often find themselves retreating back into the closet where they are nearly forgotten,” she said. “We hope to introduce viewers to vibrant, hopeful and active older adults from all walks of life.”

Kelly’s part in the series is called, “William Kelly, making a difference,” and in the teaser listed below his documentary on the website, KPBS states: “He helped bring the first LGBT senior housing community to San Diego, only one of three in the country. This episode features William’s endless efforts to support and establish rights for LGBT seniors and his 37-year marriage with his husband Bob. We meet William’s husband Bob, colleagues and friends.”

To clarify, Kelly and his husband, Bob Taylor, have been together nearly 38 years, but have only been married since 2008, when it first became possible in California for same-sex couples to do so.

The film, shot primarily last summer and fall, includes intimate moments between Kelly and his husband at their home and follows Kelly around the streets of Hillcrest as he distributes information about the upcoming LGBT-affirming housing being built in North Park at the northwest corner of Texas Street and Howard Avenue.

Kelly shares a moment with Mayor Kevin Faulconer in the documentary. (Courtesy KPBS)

Kelly can be seen stopping into various locations such as the San Diego LGBT Community Center, Babycakes, Community HousingWorks and a dermatology office, and also participating in AIDS Walk.

“It was far more involved, time consuming and rewarding than I had ever imagined it would be,” Kelly said. “There were months of being interviewed and more than 100 hours of filming my day-to-day life as a senior advocate. This was followed by hours of editing for each of the segments.”

Kelly is also shown interacting with various local leaders — often with regards to the senior housing project — including Sue Reynolds, LaRue Fields, Todd Gloria (who was still a City Council member at the time of filming but is now a member of the state Assembly), Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and Benny Cartwright, among others.

“I think our [LGBT] community can support successful aging by making sure the voices of seniors are actually at the table,” Gloria said in the film.

Gloria called Kelly a “trailblazer,” adding, “For those of us that are going to be seniors one day and are openly gay, I think our lives are going to be a lot easier because of Bill and his activism.”

Kelly studies a part of the AIDS Quilt, on display at the starting area of AIDS Walk, during the documentary about his activism. (Courtesy KPBS)

As only one small part of this activism, Kelly authors a column in this newspaper called Senior Matters, and also administrates a Facebook page aimed at lessening the resource and information gap for seniors, called “Caring for our LGBT seniors in San Diego.”

One of the more poignant moments of the film showed Kelly and Taylor looking through boxes of mementos they have kept through the years, which document the 38-year history of their relationship.

Those keepsakes include dozens of audio cassette tapes the couple made for each other while separated by the Atlantic Ocean for an extended period of time due to work obligations, at a time when it was impossible to be together due to social views on homosexuality.

“Most incredible of all has been the reaction from people all over the nation who have responded most often that it made them cry and they had no idea how hard it was for LGBT persons back in the ’70s and before,” Kelly said. “It has opened a lot of eyes, hearts and minds, and contributed to some very compassionate conversations and questions.”

On the film’s website, Rataj, a lesbian, said in her bio that she wanted to bring positive awareness to the senior community due to her own concerns about growing older and navigating those years, both socially and financially.

“What Heidi has discovered through her own personal journey in this series is that there is so much more to growing old than rocking chairs and knitting socks,” the bio states. “In fact, the inspiration she has gained through this series has moved her to attain a master’s degree in gerontology from USC. Heidi has sat on numerous panels to discuss aging and hopes to be an advocate for the growing population of seniors throughout the nation.”

(l to r) Ben Cartwright, Bill Kelly and Kelly’s husband Bob Taylor, in a scene from the film. (Courtesy KPBS)

The documentary, which can be streamed from the KPBS website, was created and produced by Rataj and Hoiles; directed by Rataj; videographed and edited by Matt Nothelfer and Alicia Wszelaki; with original music by Andy Reed.

To watch the series, Kelly’s individual documentary, and the trailers for each documentary, visit tinyurl.com/zk3l4xl or visit reflectseries.com to learn more about the filmmakers.

—Morgan M. Hurley can be reached at morgan@sdcnn.com.

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