GARY, Ind. —
Since Balay could not find any book on the subject, she decided to write one herself.
Balay wanted to let people know that gay steelworkers exist and suffer harassment, ostracism and isolation despite progress made with gay rights. She also wanted to let gay steelworkers know they are not alone.
“We have a picture of what it’s like to be gay in America and often perceive gay people as affluent, as white architects who live in Boystown,” she told The Times (http://bit.ly/PLwuxg ). “But there’s a growing body of scholarship that shows what it is like to be gay wherever you are, in rural areas or elsewhere. Not everybody moves to the city. They might be attached to the area or their family might all live there. It’s hard not to go to a city where it’s easier for gay people to live, but they should be able to figure out who they are wherever they are.”
Clad in her auto mechanic jacket, Balay sought out subjects to interview in steelworker bars and gay bars throughout northwestern Indiana. The university required they sign consent forms even though she protected them with aliases and by avoiding any identifying details, such as race or which mill they worked at.
“It was hard. It’s not like they have rainbow stickers on their cars,” she said. “They were trying to be invisible. I was looking for people who were trying not to be found.”
The steelworkers were used to hiding their sexuality but wanted to be heard after years of silence, Balay said.
“I showed up to one steelworker’s home and he just hemmed and hawed, and asked me to tell him what he was supposed to say,” she said. “I asked him just to talk about what the job is like, and he talked about his life for eight hours. The thing about the steelworkers is that they’re storytellers. They live exciting and dangerous lives. It isn’t boring - there’s always something happening, always danger and excitement. Being gay isn’t boring. There’s love, excitement and fun.”