Long before the Stonewall riots helped spark the modern LGBT rights movement, and before the place itself was even part of the national vocabulary, Dominic “Don” D’Orazio knew he was gay. “The first guy I met like me was probably 30,” says the vibrant 80-year-old, “and I was 17 or 18 – and the rockets went off.”
But, looking back over a life that included three major relationships, he admits he never really “came out” to his family. “They always knew,” he says, but it never seemed to be the right time to say it, in fact, most people were afraid to say it at all.
After spending a summer in the early 1950s working at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlantic City, the Kennett Square-born D’Orazio fell into a career in banking. “I was with a company where you had to be married and play golf,” he says. “I was told I would never get ahead if I told anyone.”
The atmosphere outside work was just as oppressive, with Frank Rizzo, then a police captain‚ carrying out a campaign of raids on gay bars. To meet other men, D’Orazio remembers sneaking down alleys to bars like Maxine’s (now Tavern on Camac), which didn’t even have a sign on the door. “I was so careful,” he says. “I could have been fired.”
One of his longtime lovers even had to get a post office box for fear that their landlord might figure out they were living together, or worse, that his boss might find out.When they went on vacation to Provincetown each summer, D’Orazio remembers, they had to keep that a secret, too. “Even when we went out in Philly,” he says, “we would go in couples with women. Everyone would just assume we were together.” But the women were lesbians looking for the same cover.
D’Orazio eventually retired from banking as a vice president and has made his home in Philly. He’s volunteered at MANNA since 1990 and traveled to Italy a dozen times‚ and to 23 other countries. And while he may never have said “I am gay” to his family, when his longtime partner died, much of his immediate family was at the funeral, offering their condolences and (in true Italian tradition) their homemade pasta dishes.
“It’s getting better all the time,” he says. “There are couples I know who have been together for 50 and 60 years. To young people, I would say be honest with yourself. Don’t live a lie, though it may not always be easy.”