"The Biggest Freak in the World" - Side Show's Bill Russell on Coming Out Among the Cowboys

By Bill Russell
10 Jun 2014

The next summer was my 10th year class reunion — a dinner at the American Legion Hall. As I was walking into the basement venue, I suddenly thought, "Holy shit! I gave that interview last year. Everyone knows I'm gay." Seldom have I been as paralyzed with fear. Then our homecoming queen saw me across the room and shouted, "Bill! You came back!" And that put me right at ease. During the dinner, I was aware that some of the guys were keeping their distance but most of my former classmates were very friendly.

Afterwards a lot of people were going to the new hot spot in town — the bar at the Holiday Inn. So one of my good friends and I drove up there. As we were parking we noticed a group of guys in a corner of the lot. They were passing around a bottle of Canadian Club and called for us to join them. There were a couple in the group who had really given me a hard time in high school.

But nostalgic spirits were running high and the whiskey was making them run higher. One of the guys said, "Bill, some of us were talking about that interview you gave last year." I was a little apprehensive of what was coming next but he said, "And we think you had a lot of guts to do that." Nice! And then he added, "And I just want to apologize for any shit I gave you in high school." Wow — who doesn't dream of that??!

So we continued passing the bottle and another guy said, "Who would have thought? Ten years later Ken has his own business, Roger works for the state, Jerry's in grad school and Bill's (wait for it) — a homosexual." And I said, "Well, I don't do it professionally. But I'd like to!"

Since that time, I take every opportunity I can to remind people in that area that they have an out gay native son. I frequently host evenings of my songs performed by local talent at the lovely Matthews Opera House in Spearfish and always talk about being gay.

In 2003 I was invited to be the key note speaker for the first Black Hills Pride. And my speech was in the afternoon at Mt. Rushmore. About a hundred people turned out for the mile march to the monument. I spoke at an outdoor amphitheater beneath the huge granite heads of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt (Teddy).


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