Duane and Judy Roland are this year’s Honorary Pride Marshals, an annual tribute bestowed on heterosexual allies of Houston’s LGBT community.
The Rolands have three sons, and the youngest two are gay. Duane and Judy both grew up in Richmond, Indiana, a city due east of Indianapolis, near the Ohio border, where they lived until 2005. They first met and began dating in high school when Judy was a junior and Duane was a sophomore.
After high school, Judy attended college for a year, then worked for three years at Purina Mills. In the meantime, Duane worked as a draftsman before enlisting in the Army, where he was a water supply specialist stationed in Frankfurt, Germany.
After two years in Germany, Duane was on leave in Richmond in 1959 when he proposed to Judy. “He proposed and then told me he would have to return to Germany,” Judy remembers. She later joined him in Frankfurt, where they rented the first floor of a German family’s home. There, in 1960, the first of their three sons, Brett, was born.
After completing his tour, while Judy worked as a secretary, Duane enrolled in college and earned a degree in civil engineering. He found work in the aircraft manufacturing industry after graduation, just as the Vietnam war was beginning to build.
Duane was asked to solve a major problem that the F4 Phantom Jets were experiencing. The planes flew low to drop bombs, and the bombs were exploding too quickly—sometimes taking the F4 down in flames. Duane’s team developed a bomb with fins that contained small parachutes and a fuse that took five seconds to detonate the bomb, thus giving pilots the needed window to escape the bomb’s fury.
During the years at the aircraft factory, Judy and Duane had two more sons, Brian and Eric. Judy was a full-time stay-at-home mom while the boys grew up and went through high school. “There was a lot of driving to and from athletic competitions,” Judy remembers.
In the early 1970s, Duane joined a local construction company as a project manager, working on the building of schools and factories. By 1983, he had an engineer’s license and started his own business, Whitewater Construction. “It was a design-and-build company,” Duane says.
Judy managed the office. “I never had to worry about anything,” Duane says with a smile.
While the Rolands launched their new construction company, their eldest son, Brett, married and began a family. Brett lives in Richmond, Indiana, with his wife, Cathy, and their six children. He is president of a construction company, and Cathy works as an ob/gyn nurse practitioner.
Coming Out Times Two
Youngest son Eric was 18 and a college sophomore when he came out to his parents. “I kept getting little hints,” says Judy. “Finally I asked him if he was gay, and he said yes. I can’t say I was surprised. I just accepted it.”
Mothers, it seems, just have a way of knowing if their children are gay. Or do they? “Five years later, [our middle son] Brian came out,” says Judy. “It was a total shock. Duane and I had no idea. Brian had hidden it well.
“The hardest thing for me is realizing how Eric and Brian had to struggle alone with the issue for so long,” says Judy. The Rolands dealt with the issue alone, too. “There were no support groups for gays or their parents in Richmond, Indiana.” Finally, Judy found another mother whose son was gay and they confided in each other regularly.
Brian moved to Houston to work for Continental Airlines, where he designs aircraft interiors. Eric moved to Houston in the early 1990s, working first as a bartender at Missouri Street Station (now Riva’s), then next joining the writing staff at OutSmart. In 1998 he joined Legacy Community Health Services and is today their Senior Director of Marketing and Communications.
Supporting Houston’s Gay Community
When the Rolands sold their business in 2000, Brian and Eric convinced their parents that Houston was where they should spend their retirement. After the move to Houston, the Rolands attended their first PFLAG meeting. “It was very emotional,” says Judy. “We had never sat in a group of people before and said our names and that we were the parents of two gay sons. I wish we could have had this kind of support years ago.”
Duane and Judy soon found themselves becoming more and more involved in PFLAG. Duane is now a member of the PFLAG board and serves as chairman of the membership committee. Judy is a volunteer with the PFLAG Help Line, working a two-week shift every three months. “We’re here for anyone who needs to talk,” she says.
Duane notes that PFLAG has a smaller membership than it had years ago. “Maybe that means we’ve been doing our job well, and there isn’t as much need for us,” he says.
“However, we still see parents needing support coming to meetings,” Judy says, “and also gay youth who are afraid to come out to their parents. We are careful not to give advice—we mostly just listen and then share our own stories.”
But Duane says he does offer one piece of advice to gay youth who are planning to come out to parents who might reject them: “Make sure you have a place to go before you tell them.”
The Rolands are also involved in the PFLAG booth at Houston’s annual International Festival. They provide brochures and are available to chat with festival-goers who want more information about PFLAG and Houston’s LGBT community.
One of the family’s most memorable evenings was the night Annise Parker was elected mayor of Houston. “We had eaten at The Grove to celebrate Duane’s birthday,” Judy remembers. “Then we went across the street to the Parker victory party. Our sons were in tears. It was very emotional.”
Riding Down Lower Westheimer
Duane, Judy, and their two gay sons are no strangers to the annual Houston Pride Parade. Judy has ridden on an OutSmart float, and both she and Duane have marched with the PFLAG contingent. Eric helped build that same OutSmart float, and Brian has been in charge of the Continental float. “He built it in our driveway,” Judy says.
This year’s parade will be the most special yet for the Rolands, as they ride in a convertible down Westheimer as Houston’s 2011 Honorary Marshals. It is doubly special to them, as Brian will soon be moving to Chicago as a result of the recent Continental-United merger.
After 52 years of marriage, the Rolands have three sons, six grandchildren, and a lifetime of special memories. “We were high school sweethearts,” says Judy. “[Now] we feel happy and complete.”
Brandon Wolf is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.