It took a lifetime, but William “Bill” Joseph Bryan, 92, has done it.
He finally came out publically as a gay man to his hometown by donating the collection of five books he authored in his retirement to the Gulfport Public Library. Four are gay-themed and one is about the dogs he has had in his life.
The current library building was posthumously named after his mother, Marie Elizabeth Bryan, who is a co-founder of community library services in Gulfport. She served as the library director from 1935 to 1966.
“There was nobody gay there [in Gulfport] when I was a boy,” said Bryan who lived locally for the first 18 years of his life. He now lives in Fountaingrove Lodge in Santa Rosa, California, the nation’s first LGBT retirement community. Bryan was the first person to move into the property on November 22, 2013.
“There was no such thing as an LGBT youth support group” or a local library resource collection when Bryan was growing up, he said. In an email Bryan wrote, “Of course I recognize the extreme irony of my contributing gay literature to my mother’s former library, especially as ‘coming out’ in my day was unheard of!”
Bryan described his parents as being prominent in the community. His dad, Bart Bryan, worked at the St. Petersburg Times as a salesman, the advertising manager and then the public relations director.
He said he never discussed his sexual orientation with his parents.
“That’s what you did in those days – you spent your life hiding,” said Bryan. In fact, Bryan didn’t come out until after he was retired from his professional life of being a pianist, a public school teacher and a college professor.
He attended The Julliard School, has a master’s in music education and studied in Paris as a Fulbright Program scholarship recipient.
Bryan’s books will be added to the LGBTQ Resource Center, said Gulfport Director of Library and Information Technology Dave Mather.
Opened June 4, 2015, the unique collection won a prestigious national honor in 2018 from the American Library Association. It was like winning an Oscar for the library, said Mather.
The collection has about 2,300 pieces and 3,000 are checked out each year, which is significant, said Mather.
Bryan’s niece, Beverly Bryan, a seasonal resident of Town Shores from Michigan, sent him a copy of a Gabber article dated February 21, 2018 that detailed the library’s national award.
“It’s fantastic,” said Bill Bryan. “When I read the article, I couldn’t believe it.”
He said his mother championed the library having a resource center where students could do their homework.
“She was very hands-on when showing students where to find things,” he said. “She guided them. The fact that the center eventually becomes an LGBT Resource Center providing a safe place for the youth follows what she had already been doing, except it didn’t consciously include LGBT. She made youth feel welcome in the library.”
He believes his mother, a Smith College graduate, would have been progressive enough to help LGBTQ youth with their research.
However, to live his private life, Bryan says, “I had to leave town in order not to disgrace” my parents. He left to go to college and eventually to live and work in California. “In my time, California was the golden destiny,” he said. It was there that he found acceptance for who he was.
Bryan wants the local LGBTQ youth to know that he thinks it’s a miracle that the center at the library exists. “My mother would be fully supportive of the endeavor. She would be happy that the LGBTQ Resource Center happened.”
Speaking of her uncle, Beverly Bryan said, “Now, as of several years ago, he’s not having to pretend he’s somebody else. He is a character. He’s living a wonderful and enriching life in his community. He has just blossomed.”