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“Once you join Front Runners you are always a member.”
Marty King was president of Front Runners New York in 1993. He met his partner Javier Guillen, in 1998, and they moved to Lima, Peru three years ago. Marty, a retired healthcare provider, is a former town crier of Provincetown, Mass., a position he held for 10 consecutive summers. He hopes to celebrate his 75th birthday in November by running the 2015 New York City Marathon. He has already run many marathons, including the Boston Marathon. Marty spoke to Quentin Fottrell at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York on June 15, 2015.
FRNY: Hi Marty. Do you think the role of the club has changed since 1993 and, if so, how has it changed?
Marty: Well, back in 1993, it certainly was the ‘post-painful’ part of the Aids crisis. We had a great sense of freedom about running, but we also had an obligation to people who were ill and a few members of Front Runners New York as well as Front Runners International were ill at the time. We had a commitment to purpose – running, and we all knew it was healthy for us, it reduced stress. But then, on the other hand, we had a lot of bus rides, it seemed like an awful lot of bus rides, we were constantly going to Washington, D.C.
We had a sense of elation when President Clinton was elected for his first term and we really had hopes of great things – and then the worst thing he did was to [sign] part of DOMA and that set us back. The focus on running kept us level-headed and it kept us together. We were Democrats, liberals and Independents, and had our own sense of what running should be and should not be. Our logo back then was the Lambda [an international symbol of LGBT rights] and it meant liberation and that was our politics. Running Lambdas meant we were free.
FRNY: What was your platform running for President?
Marty: My simple platform was running. If you wanted to be part of another organization like Act Up or any other political organization, you can join that. But you could still be a Front Runner. Did they conflict? In other people’s minds, they did. I didn’t have a problem with that. I certainly laid on the ground pavement in front of City Hall with a lot of Front Runners for [the government’s] inaction, their insensitivity to people, in particular gay men who were not only still dying of Aids, but sick with Aids. I guess we were activists.
FRNY: Did you have fundraisers for HIV/Aids through Front Runners?
Marty: We had just organized the Charitable Foundation [more information in the FRNY and the HIV/AIDS epidemic exhibiton] and we did have fundraisers for it. It was not only for people with Aids, but it was also for people in need who didn’t qualify for city or state funding.
FRNY: Did you have breakfast at Rutgers Presbyterian Church at that time?
Marty: We’d been part of that for a few years back then. Our claim to fame during 1993 was that we had a marathon breakfast, plus a marathon pasta party [the night before], and there were a few members who thought we couldn’t possible pull that off.
FRNY: What was the biggest challenge during that year?
Marty: Probably the most painful part was in March, a great teammate of mine in the Gay Games in 1986 and 1990 in Vancouver, Mickey Zacudo, died very suddenly of a bacterial infection [a dedication to her is included in the 1993 Pride Run program]. She was our first woman to die and, emotionally, it really set me back more than anything. That was probably the most depressing time for me.
FRNY: Were you going to a lot of Aids-related funerals during that time?
Marty: Oh, sure. Going back to the first Front Runner member who died, every one of them was very special and the memorial services were also special and different. To go through that and run the next day was kind of bizarre. It kept us strong. Again, as Front Runners, we’re a family and, for a lot of members, we are the family to them. I see Front Runner members as my family, closer to me than my genetic family.
FRNY: You raise a good point. Society, people’s families and even their friends, perhaps, weren’t as accepting of their sexuality as they are now, 20 years later.
Marty: That’s for sure. Don’t forget we had members who could not be listed in our directory and didn’t want their telephone numbers listed. It was sobering and also disturbing. We still had a long way to go. That was 1993, for God’s sake, not ’68 or ’70.
FRNY: How did you get the updates to Front Runners about things that were happening? Was that done through snail mail back then?
Marty: We had a great newsletter and telephone calls. It was like today’s email.
FRNY: Did you have to be mindful of how you identified yourself if you called somebody or sent them something through the post?
Marty: No, you certainly wouldn’t call someone at their job, you’d call them at home and there wasn’t a problem with that.
FRNY: So, Marty, tell me about one of your proudest moments during 1993.
Marty: Oh, God. There were many. Putting on the Gay Pride Run was the highlight of the year and we had two co-chairs that did such a great job that it just made us all proud and, very special.
FRNY: So what was your style like as president?
Marty: I saw myself as outgoing, friendly to everybody. It was important back then to greet everyone, to find out who the newcomers were, to run with them. I never led a run. I always stayed in the back and ran with them at whatever pace they were running at. I was capable of running with anybody. But I always felt that that was very important to feel that they were included and to invite them to breakfast.
FRNY: None of that seems to have change since then.
Marty: Hopefully, not. Now as one of the senior members, I automatically say hello to somebody anyway. I don’t wait for someone to come up to me. Even back then, I didn’t wait for someone to come up to me to say hello.
FRNY: At the moment, most of the Front Runners skew younger in age, although there is a great variety of ages, has that always been the case?
Marty: We always had young people. And then every now and then we’d get the older fellow or woman that would join. Some would stay and some would not. They came for many reasons, be that they lost a partner after so many years and were finally alone and isolated. We’re great for that. We can help.
FRNY: In 1993, it might have been the first experience people had of coming out or socializing with other LGBT people. Were you more aware of that back then?
Marty: For sure. They would talk about that – that this was their first time that they had been exposed to a gay organization, which was kind of like shocking to me. It was ’93, not ’73. Where were they the last 20 years? Again, we reinforced the friendliness.
FRNY: I guess everybody’s on their own path, right?
Marty: Yes, exactly that. More than anything, it was all about running. If you want to enjoy the beauty of running, join us. We had Tina [Isselbacher] and Jeff [Singleton] and their gorgeous child, Haley. They were probably our first heterosexual couple and they were so supportive in many things. Even today, I still love them both dearly.
FRNY: They still come today?
Marty: No, that’s part of life. People move on. But once you join Front Runners you are always a member. You may not be a dues-paying member, but you’ll always be a Front Runner and I’m a great believer in that. I remember one fellow – that was part of his obituary, that he was a Front Runner. That was more important than his job, his profession, his great athletic ability, that he was a Front Runner, and I was very impressed with that.
FRNY: What does the club mean to you today?
Marty: Going back to the book, “The Front Runner,” [available at libraries and booksellers] by Patricia Nell Warren, there’s a time when we dance close and times when we dance apart. There are times when we are very active in Front Runners and then there are periods where we are not. Like your own family, there are times when you don’t get on, but you still show up, and it’s the same with Front Runners New York. No matter what, we still show up. I loved the idea when I first joined that, at some point I will be competitive, I just have to hang in there and it will be my turn. With any Front Runner it will be their turn to shine. We all have to be willing to cheer them on.
This interview has been edited for space and style. For the full audio interview, please listen here.