From Homeless to Hopeful: How One Weekend On Fire Island Changed Gay Teen’s Life.

by Scott Riedel

Hi, I’m Scott Riedel. I’m from Ironton, Ohio. It’s a small town in southern Ohio. I moved to New York about twenty-five years ago and met my partner Gil. Gil was born and raised in New York City. I thought, how can I get to know Gil better and how can he get to know me better? The only way I could figure it out was I told him to take two weeks off work.

He said, “Why?”

I said, “Just take two weeks off work.”

I drive up in my little convertible and say, “Get in. We’re going for a road trip.” So it started in West Virginia, where I went to college, took him all through the hills of West Virginia. We went to see – we went whitewater rafting in the New River Gorge, then drove down to my bible college in Tennessee – I went to bible college in Tennessee. Then I thought, how can I really top this off? He could really get to know my roots. So we, of course, went to – Dollywood!

So we’re in the little cart driving into Dollywood, from the parking lot, driving into Dollywood. I hear this guy talking in front of me to this woman.

I said, you know, “Excuse me. How much does it cost to get in here?”

He goes, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

I said, “No. I went to college not very far from here.”

He goes, “C’mon. I’m gonna get you in. We work here.” So Earl took us in.

We were at Dollywood for probably, maybe, a couple, three hours, two hours, going to the shows. Earl’s taking us around, showing us off, showing everything to us. And there’s a guy playing the fiddle on the stage.

He snuck over to me and he said, “Scott?”

I said, “What?”

“That’s my hunny.”

I said, “Oh! Your hunny!” Nothing had come up to that point. “That’s my hunny.”

I said, “You know, Gil’s kinda my hunny.”

He goes, “I figured.” We had the most fabulous day ever. Gil said to me, you know, we’ll go, buy a few gifts and we’ll leave. Well, we left after the fireworks because it was such an incredible day.

Just off the cuff, I said to Earl, “If you’re ever in New York City, you’ve got to let us return this favor.” Cut to about three months later, I get a phone call.

“Scott? It’s Earl. I’m coming to New York!”

I said, “Oh my gosh, that’s fantastic.” We get the dates, we get everything all right.

I heard a knock, knock, knock on the door. I open the door. There’s Earl.

“Earl!” And there’s this kid standing with him.

I said, “Who’s this?”

He said, “It’s my boyfriend.”

I said, “Earl, may I speak to you for a minute in the back room?” I took him in the back room.

I said, “Earl, who is that and how old is he?”

“His name is Nathan. He’s 20 years old.”

I said, “Earl, how old is he?”

He said, “He’s 18 years old.”

I said, “Earl, how old is he?”

He said, “17 years old.”

I said, “Stop right there. I don’t need to know any more. I don’t want the law showing up here.”

He said, “You don’t understand, Scott. I found him sleeping in the bathroom at Dollywood.”

I said, “Why was he sleeping in the bathroom at Dollywood?”

He said, “His parents kicked him out.” His mom and dad separated. His dad married a very religious woman. His mom married a preacher. And they disapproved of his lifestyle so he was living in the bathroom at Dollywood.

I said, “Earl, that’s terrible. Who could throw their child out for being gay?”

So Earl says to me. “What’re we going to do this weekend?”

I said, “Well, we’re going to Fire Island.” Fire Island is a, basically a fancy sandbar about sixty miles from New York City. It’s full of big, expensive houses. It’s notorious for its outlandish lifestyles. To be on Fire Island, you have to have a certain amount of money or a certain amount of good looks or a certain amount of something.

So we get in the car. The kid, Nathan, probably said ten words driving out to Fire Island. That’s about an hour drive, hour and a half drive.

We get off the ferry at Fire Island and I say to Nathan, “Do you see this shoulder right here?”

He said, “Yes, sir?”

I said, “You don’t leave this shoulder this whole weekend. This is your shoulder this weekend.”

He went, “Okay, sir. Okay.”

So I take him to our house. At that time, our house, we had probably, I don’t know, eight or nine housemates. It’s a big house that was on Fire Island. We were renting a share out there. I layed down the law to the housemates. Best behavior. Told them the history of what we were doing, what the boy was doing out there with me.

Then I proceeded on Saturday to take him to every rich, successful artist, lawyer, doctor. They were all so welcoming and accommodating. It was like watching a flower unfold that weekend with that kid. He started talking more. He started asking more questions. He started laughing.

We come back to New York. The drive back was completely different than the drive out. The flower had unfolded, let’s just say it had unfolded. We get back to New York. They leave, I think it was a Tuesday after that weekend. Then about, maybe a month later, I call Earl in Tennessee.

I said, “How’s Nathan doing?”

He said, “What did you do to him?”

I said, “What do you mean?”

He goes, “Oh. He came back to Tennessee, bought a car, got an apartment, and got another job, and is doing really well.”

Fire Island did that to him. Not me, not Earl, not Gil. But the community. It was important for Nathan to see not just these rich, successful actors, lawyers, doctors. It was also important for him to see people that have it together. And in that sense of them being role models, he could reflect on them and the struggles that they have gone through. To see these people happy, successful, not letting anything hold them back, that’s why it’s important to me. I was very proud of my community. Very, very proud.

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