GARY, Ind. — Two women who worked at a local steel mill hid a secret from their co-workers — they lived together and were romantically involved.
But one sunk deeper into depression until her partner returned home one night to find her with a gun in her mouth.
She pulled the trigger.
The steelworker frantically tried to resuscitate her partner, but it was too late.
Though grief-stricken, she still had to show up for her shift the next day because no one at the mill knew they were a couple or even that they were lesbians, and she feared being exposed. She could not let on that anything was wrong.
That was one of the stories Indiana University Northwest English professor Anne Balay gathered while interviewing 40 gay steelworkers for her book, “Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Steelworkers,” which was recently published by the University of North Carolina Press.
The first-of-its-kind book was written for a wide readership, and has won praise. Author E. Patrick Johnson, who wrote “Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South,” called it “a fascinating and insightful look into the lives of queer steel mill workers.”
Balay, who lives in Gary’s Miller Beach neighborhood, had been a car mechanic before she became an English professor and knew what it was like being gay in a blue-collar and traditionally male workplace. When she started to teach in Gary eight years ago, she became fascinated by the steel mills -- by how they hulked majestically like prehistoric dinosaurs and yet were mysterious. She wondered what it was like for gay and lesbian steelworkers who toiled inside.
She could not find any academic literature on the subject. She scoured local libraries and a Pittsburgh library with an extensive collection of research on the steel industry, but to no avail.