Kenneth Felts, at 90 years old, just came out as gay to his family and friends after pretending to be straight for nearly a century.
A former counselor and supervisor for his state of Colorado, Felts told The Denver Post that he’s known he was gay since he was 12.
Felts says he never planned to come out — he planned to take his secret to the grave. But while isolated during the coronavirus pandemic, Felts said he began working on his autobiography which brought back a flood of memories about a romance he had in the 1950s with a man named Philip, whom he identifies as his one true love.
“The two men fell in love in California in the late 1950s, but Felts ultimately decided to live as a straight man; it was just easier that way, he thought at the time,” he told the Post. “While chatting with his daughter a few weeks ago, Felts let slip that he has always regretted leaving Phillip. It was the first time he’d mentioned being gay to Mayes. Felts searched for Phillip, but has never been able to track him down. Mayes, Felts’ only child from a marriage that ended in divorce, tried her best to comfort her heartbroken father.”
More than 20 years earlier, Mayes came out as a lesbian to her father. And though it took some getting used to at first, Felts quickly accepted and supported his daughter and her wife, Tracie Mayes, despite his own internal struggles.
After coming out to his daughter this year, Felts decided to let everyone in his life know that he was gay.
He sent emails and shared a message on Facebook, explaining that he’d always felt he had two personalities living inside him: Ken, a straight man, and Larry, a gay man. After years of suppressing Larry, it was time to allow him to live freely.
Felts says the response was overwhelming. His inbox was flooded with positive emails and loving Facebook comments started pouring in.
“I’ve been in the closet all my life — deep in the closet, behind rows and rows of clothing. I’m way back there,” he said. “Opening that door at the front, I had great trepidation as to what people would say. I was very concerned because I needed people and I couldn’t stand the thought of losing them just because I decided to finally be who I really was.”
As an enthusiastically out and proud gay man, Felts said he first bought a rainbow flag to hang behind him on the wall for his virtual LGBTQ senior coffee group meetings organized by the Center on Colfax.
Then he ordered a rainbow hoodie, which he wears most days. He’s also raising money for and participating in events to support the LGBTQ community, including an upcoming virtual 5K.
“He just really seemed to take it and run with it,” said daughter-in-law Tracie Mayes. “He seems to be making up for lost time and really is owning it, which is fantastic.”
Felts says he doesn’t regret being married to a woman because without that relationship, he wouldn’t have his beloved daughter Rebecca. That’s a point he’s tried to make clear to her since coming out.
He’s also glad that society has become more accepting of LGBTQ people.
“Coming out in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s was horrendous,” Felts said. “That was part of the reason I didn’t ever consider coming out (before). There was no gay community, there really weren’t gay organizations or anything. People who came out came out on their own, without support. And I guess I didn’t have the courage to face society at that time, so I just went ahead and buried it.”
It’s never, ever too late to be yourself, he said.
“Don’t underestimate your friends and family,” he said. “You might be surprised at how they react if you were to decide to come out. Enjoy what you’ve got while you’ve got it, because you’ve only got it once.”