Jeremy Williams could well be the gay posterboy, the ray of home in the wake of Katrina's wrath on New Orleans.
According to a Washington Blade article posted at their website for this week's issue, (read it at http://www.washblade.com, Jeremy, whose hometown is nearby Opelousas, Louisiana, had just gotten settled into his New Orleans apartment last month to begin school, continue his love of dancing and love of New Orleans. But that big broad, Katrina had another future for him and countless other survivors.
He was looking forward working during Southern Decadence to make some extra money for school and life. He went to work at the gay club, Oz, the evening of Saturday, August 27, during the remaining hours that NOLA stayed intact.
That night, business was slow at OZ, but the guys who worked there were confident that things would blow over and were looking forward to the crowds to show up during Labor Day weekend for Southern Decadence. That would be too optimistic beyond belief.
Oz is a 24/7 club like all of the French Quarter. But the music stopped at about 3 am on Sunday, August 28. Th owner had stopped the music and told customers and employees that the hurrican was headed straight for the city. He paniced at first. Most of his buds had already fled the city. But it so happened that one bud, Perry Stelly could give him a lift later that Sunday to Lafayette.
On Monday, Labor Day, it appeared that the storm had veered to the east and had spared NOLA. But as we later all learned, it wasn't to be. The 17th St levee broke, flooding vast areas of the city.
The Lakeview area, a gay mecca, was flooded. Gay men had spent vast sums of money to restore many of the old homes there. Now their investments, their homes, their lifestyle, was in ruins. But Williams was resourceful. He had internet access and post updates of his whereabouts on his bigmuscle.com profile. Sites like bigmuscle and bigmusclebears have been a lifeline for many gay men during this crisis.
Jeremy isn't the kind of guy that just sits around. He volunteered for six days at the Lafayette Red Cross shelter. He started out manning one of the registration tables. His job was to answer questions about who had registered at the shelter. Most of the inquiries were about finding loved ones. Sadly he had to turn away so many to the next nearby shelter because those who were missing had not registered at that particular shelter.
But a guy, however good natured and well meaning, can take this dispear for so long. After nearly a week, he had to quit volunteering. So gay men to the rescue for a fellow survivor.
Jeremy had met Howard Marr and John Spano of Hollywood FL, four years ago. John managed CUPID's, a gay dance club in West Palm Beach. Jeremy got several dance gigs at the club and returned to the area from time to time to work. In fact, Williams had lived in Fort Lauderdale with the two men earlier in the year before returning to Louisiana in July. He contacted them, but at first could not get to Fort Lauderdale. Luckily, Stelly's mother back in Lafayette, could give him a lift to Houston, where he was able to purchase a ticket for a one way flight to Fort Lauderdale. He got to Howard and John's place on Wednesday, September 7th.
Jeremy is ever so grateful to his two buds. But he fears about the prospects of New Orleans gay bars returning to their past glory. He worries about his friends and whether they will be able to return to work. Most of Jeremy's possessions are still back in his New Orleans apartment.
He also suffers from hearing loss, and was eligible for a hearing aid from the state. Now all of that documentation is lost in the red tape, probably lost, because of Katrina. So he has to struggle with this and also postpone training to become an emergency medic.
He says that he misses above all, his magical circle of gay friends back in NOLA. I think Jeremy will bounce back. His story is but one of thousands that could be told by gay men after Katrina.
They are in our hearts. Things will bounce back. And guys like Jeremy will, hopefully soon, be able to return to their beloved New Orleans, to party and to live their lives again, but with a twist. I don't think any of them will take for granted next time the uniqueness and spirit that New Orleans offers to gay men. And it will be gay men that will contribute to its rebirth.