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born July 29, 1949

I met Bethea years ago at the start of my transition. He was working at MLK Health Care and he always had kind words for me every time he saw me. Always dressed in his African attire. And one day I got the pleasure to see why he worked there. The man with the magic hands is all I can say. If you know, you know. If not, you need to be booking a appointment to get them old dogs you call feet looked at. Hands down one of the best foot specialists in Milwaukee.

Bethea come from the west side of Chicago and moved here in the 1980s. When gay bars discriminated by saying you had to show three pieces of ID and buy at least two drinks. Some made you be members to get in, and of course it was real easy for whites to become members, but not us. One of the things that the guys in Black and White Men Together (BWMT) did was the white guys were “passports” for their Black friends, helping them get into places and be left alone. They also learned each other’s views on different topics through group discussions. One year the BWMT national conference was here in Milwaukee. Before BWMT, Bethea was part of Club Muse, which had Black gay men and women in it and was like another way you could hang out, instead of the gay bars. 

Bethea still hangs out with his friends from BWMT. He also volunteers with the homeless. There’s this thing his mother used to say that he says to his children and grandchildren that I really like: “Be a beggar, be a thief, be my sunshine or my grief. Be anything, but darling, be mine.”

(J. Sanford)



Illustration by Sebastian Penn

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