We have some real-life heroes in Philadelphia, and the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund will honor them Sept. 25 at its third annual HEROES Party, a fundraiser recognizing leaders and allies of the region’s LGBT community. This year’s recipients — Gloria Casarez, the city’s director of LGBT affairs; the nonprofit group AIDS Fund; and the corporate awardee PNC Wealth Management — were chosen by members of the community who had attended prior Heroes events and with input from numerous community organizations. We took a moment to speak with Ron Lucente, a member of the Heroes planning committee.
PGN: So how excited are you about this year’s event? RL: It’s going to be great: We have such a wonderful evening lined up and the nominees are all so deserving of this honor. The AIDS Fund just met the $2-million mark raising money through GayBINGO.
PGN: What superhero trait would you want to have? RL: I’m a cautious person, what you might call risk-averse, so I’d like to be psychic — to be able to predict the future and see what things should be avoided and what should be embraced would be great.
PGN: Who are two real-life heroes, other than family or the nominees? RL: Off the top of my head, Harvey Milk comes to mind. And Pedro Zamora from “Real World.” He put himself out there at a time when there were not many openly gay people in the media. As a closeted gay man, he really opened my eyes to the LGBT community. He also inspired straight people as well. His roommate on the show, Judd Winick, became an AIDS activist and he and his wife Pam Ling (also on the show) were at his bedside when he died.
PGN: Any pets? RL: We have three cats, Jesse, Lola and Casey. We got Jessie and Lola from Morris Animal Shelter and Casey is a stray my partner Josh and I found a few months ago at our house in North Central. I never really had pets until Josh and I got together. It’s a bit of an adjustment because I tend to be neat and clean, and when you have pets you have to learn to be a little less rigid about that sort of thing.
PGN: What’s the worst damage they’ve caused? RL: Josh’s mother took an old window frame and created a stained-glass work out of it. It was perched in our window so the light could come through it, and Jesse knocked it over and shattered it. We also had a problem with our washing machine leaking. It turned out that the cats had chewed through the hoses!
PGN: Are you from Pennsylvania? RL: I grew up in a very rural area north of Pittsburgh called Bradford Park. It’s along the Ohio River and I lived there most of my life. I went to Penn State for a while and then moved back home again and got my MBA at the University of Pittsburgh.
PGN: How do you like Philly? RL: I love Philly. I moved here in ’95 to the Wayne area for work and never really ventured into the city. Since I grew up in such a rural environment, the whole concept of the city was intimidating to me. A few years ago, I took the plunge and moved into the city and I love it.
PGN: Were you an only child? RL: No, I’m the oldest of three. My brother is the middle child and I have a younger sister. All our names start with “R.” My father is Ron, like myself; my mother is Raylene, my brother is Rich and my sister’s name is Rhonda.
PGN: How were you as a big brother? RL: My sister and I were very much alike. Neither of us could sit still, we liked to be outdoors doing things. There weren’t many kids around, so my sister and I used to play in the woods near our house. We had great imaginations, so we would pretend we were pioneers and clear brush and make forts or houses. One time we were bored, so we borrowed an old golf club from my father, cleared out a section and made our own miniature-golf course. My brother was more apt to stay inside playing games on the computer. Today, my sister and I are very liberal and my brother is a very staunch, evangelical conservative and Republican.
PGN: Thanksgiving must be fun. RL: [Laughs.] Oh yeah, Thanksgiving got a little heated this year, especially coming right after the election.
PGN: Nothing like turkey, tryptophan and a little bit of wine to get you ready to rumble. RL: Yeah, there was a lot of discussion about the direction of the country and the image we have around the world. Josh and I were arguing that since the Bush administration came to power, the country has fallen in the eyes of the world. We’re kind of ignored now and we don’t have the respect we once enjoyed. Of course, my brother disagreed and said that everything we’ve done overseas was necessary to restore order in the world. I mean, I love my brother dearly, but as Josh pointed out, he does what a lot of the conservatives do: They take a Bible quote or a part of a person’s speech out of context to make their point, but when you want to expound on it and put it back in the proper context, they don’t want to hear it.
PGN: What did your parents do? RL: My mother was a homemaker and my father worked for the railroad, which at the time was Conrail. He was a freight conductor.
PGN: My nephew would have been mad to have a dad who worked at a train yard when he was little. Did you go through that “Thomas the Tank Engine” mania too? RL: [Laughs.] No, I was never into “boy” things. We have old Super-8 movies, and there’s my brother playing with little tractors and trucks and there’s me playing with my little toy sweeper. I loved to sweep and vacuum things. My grandmother said I would go to people’s houses and take my vacuum with me and people would ask her, “Why is Ron cleaning our floors?” I guess I’m lucky no one got offended!
PGN: Was that the only “baby homo” sign? RL: Well, I think it really became evident after my sister was born and when she got old enough to get real toys. I definitely liked her toys better than mine and used to try to steal her stuff. We used to fight over her mermaid dolls.
PGN: Were you ever into sports? RL: Never. In fact — most people don’t know this — when I was young, I was very overweight. I didn’t participate in any sports and I used to eat a lot. One day, halfway through high school, I just decided I’d had enough and said, “When I go home from school today, I’m not going to eat any junk before dinner.” I lost 50 pounds after that.
PGN: When did you come out? RL: Very late. I just came out to my family about six years ago, in my late 30s. There’s so much fear and anxiety about what we expect will happen and yet, when I finally came out, I was pleasantly surprised. I had figured my dad might have an issue with it, but surprisingly he was the more accepting of my parents. It’s not that my mother wasn’t understanding; she was just more matter-of-fact about it. Where my dad was the one saying, “This doesn’t change anything, we still love you.” When I came out at work, people were also very accepting. It was a complete nonissue. Aetna, where I work, is very committed to having a diverse and open workplace. We have a group called ANGLE (Aetna Network for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Employees). Looking back, I wish I’d come out much sooner. When you’re not out, you really overestimate the fear and the consequences you might face. Granted, there are some who make a big deal about it, but the average person doesn’t care as much as you think they do about it.
PGN: What do you do at Aetna? RL: I am a project manager in their IT organization, so I work on a lot of the interfaces between Aetna and their customers, such as the Web sites and the phone voice-recognition systems.
PGN: How did you meet your partner Josh? RL: We actually met online. He’s an architect and we found out that we worked near each other, so we agreed to meet for lunch and it was a disaster. He said that at our initial meeting, he was trying to get away from me as fast as he could. At the time we met, I was training for the Philadelphia Marathon so I was very, very much underweight. I looked really thin and gaunt. We met at a supermarket with a food bar and I’d gotten there early and ordered a salad. When he walked up, I smiled at him and he said I had spinach stuck in my teeth. Later I asked him, “If I was that bad, why did you agree to meet me again?” and he said, “I felt bad for you!” After that, we began to hang out more and talk, and he started going to a church that I started attending with him and the rest is history. It’s been five years. PGN: So as a healthcare person, what do you think about the healthcare reform we’re trying to enact? RL: I don’t speak for the company, but personally I think it’s encouraging. I think everyone deserves healthcare coverage. I do think the healthcare industry is sometimes unfairly judged: Working in it, I see some of the good things we do. I mean, shouldn’t it be OK to question a doctor when they charge $250 to see a patient for four minutes? We want to find out what’s driving costs so high.
PGN: As an IT guy, what’s up for the future? RL: I think personal computers have become part of our lives and with things like the iPhone, we’re going to be able to access information in ways that are unimaginable. I think of the times when I’ve been reading and thought, “I wonder where that word came from?” Now, you can pull out your phone and have the answer. One of the things we’re doing at Aetna is helping people be proactive with their health. We are developing personal health records that you can access and share with whomever you need to — whether it’s with a doctor or trainer or for yourself to keep abreast of your health concerns. I think the future will have new ways for us to maintain and share information. It has concerns that will come with it, privacy issues for instance, but overall, as we get control of it, I think it is going to benefit people greatly.
DVLF will present its Hero awards Sept. 25 at F.U.E.L. House, 249 Arch St. For more information, go to www.dvlf.org.
To suggest a community member for “Family Portraits,” write to: Family Portraits, 505 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 or [email protected].