Family Portraits: Kevin R. Gilmore

When I want to get in the holiday spirit, there’s one place that always does the trick: New Hope and nearby Peddler’s Village.

New Hope is a sleepy little gay hamlet that was once a riverside version of Fire Island. If you haven’t been there in the winter, it is a sparkling gem, with candlelit storefronts, horse-drawn carriages and a North Pole Express train complete with Santa, Mrs. Claus, hot chocolate and Christmas carols. Just down the street, Peddler’s Village is chock full of restaurants, specialty stores and some of the most beautifully lit trees this side of Longwood Gardens. The gingerbread-house competition alone will help get your creative juices flowing. For the LGBT community, New Hope has found new life in recent years. Led by president Dan Brooks, New Hope Celebrates has been putting New Hope back on the map with wonderful events throughout the year, including a festive Pride Weekend and parade in the summer and, in the winter months, a film festival coordinated by the always-fabulous writer and director Stephen Stahl. The latter event is what prompted this week’s column. My neighbor Jody and I, both ready for a little Christmas boost, decided to head out and catch “Make the Yuletide Gay” at the New Hope Celebrates LGBT film festival. Before viewing the film, we had brunch at the newly reopened Raven’s award-winning restaurant. The food was delicious and our waiter was attentive, funny and charming. So charming that I decided to find out more about Kevin R. Gilmore, a New Hope resident for over 20 years.

PGN: This is a part-time gig for you: What’s your day job? KG: I run a group home called Triad for LGBTQ teens. I’m very proud of it; I started there in June and it has been a wonderful experience. It’s the fourth one of its kind in the nation.

PGN: So you’re a part of both the service and the social-service industries? KG: Yes, I used the bar and restaurant work to put myself through school. Now I do it to get out of the house and meet people. [Laughs.] And to have some grown-up conversation after working with kids all week! It’s very therapeutic. PGN: This must be a great place to work. KG: Oh yes, I love the town of New Hope. It’s like having one big extended family. I think what I like most about it is that it takes care of its own. In fact, we just had a holiday benefit for my group home and raised money for the home and to buy gifts for the kids. It’s that kind of place where everybody helps each other.

PGN: Where did you go to school? KG: I graduated from Temple University with an undergrad major in communications and a master’s in education.

PGN: Did you ever teach? KG: I did some student teaching and realized that teaching was not for me. I think I wanted to get out of the classroom before the kids did. I was constantly looking at the clock waiting for the bell to ring!

PGN: What turned you off? KG: I think schools don’t really give you the opportunity to teach anymore. Your hands are tied to the curriculum they want taught and you only have so many minutes to impart the information you want them to learn. I give teachers a lot of credit, but for me it was more like babysitting and that was really frustrating. I found in social services I could really make more of a difference. This job at Triad is wonderful because it allows me to be who I am and I can really help LGBTQ teenagers who are going through some rough times. I can be a role model for those who are trying to find themselves and let them know that they are OK just as they are.

PGN: Where are you originally from? KG: I was born in Bucks County.

PGN: Any siblings? KG: Nope, I am an only child. My father worked for quite a number of years as an employment trainer for the Opportunities Industrial Center, training people for jobs and then, more recently, he worked in administration within the prison system. My mother worked in social services, which I guess is where I get it from. PGN: So what was New Hope like in its heyday? KG: Oh, my God! It was amazing. We had the Raven, which was the hub of gay life, we had the Cartwheel, we had the Prelude, the Barron, all places that were there when I first started coming out. There was always something going on seven days a week. A common joke among locals was that the town had no hardware store but three gay bars. New Hope was also a popular spot for Broadway shows to come to work out the kinks before going to Broadway. A lot of theater people bought homes in this area as a result. It was a wonderful, artsy place to be. There are a group of us who are really trying to restore it to what it was and we’re slowly getting there. It’s good that the Raven has reopened. Hopefully, we’ll start getting people to come back like they used to.

PGN: What was coming out like for you? KG: I was very fortunate: I think I came out of the womb gay! I was always comfortable in my own skin. It never was a problem for me. At the end of day when I put my head on the pillow, I’m really the only person I have to answer to. Other people are entitled to their opinions, but I control how their opinion affects me. Even when I was young, I was never able to hide being gay. So I realized that there was no point in it, I just had to claim who I was.

PGN: How was the family? KG: I’ve been fortunate there too. They have always been very accepting from day one. I’m very grateful for that.

PGN: What did you like to do as a kid? KG: I liked to read. My favorite book was “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak. I also always loved to cook and design things when I was a kid. And I was a big entrepreneur! I was always finding a way to make a buck, whether it was my lemonade stand that I set up or some other project. When I was in high school I used to sing. I’m in America’s “Who’s Who” for my singing and I got to tour in Germany when I was in school.PGN: Any other extracurricular activities? KG: I ran track. I ran the 4:40 and was in the relay races at Penn. I couldn’t do it now, but back then I was quick! I also did theater.

PGN: What’s a crazy theater mishap? KG: Well, I was in New York once doing drag. I went out to a restaurant in a fire-engine-red outfit with 5-inch heels and, as we were going in, I suddenly felt shorter. I realized that both heels had snapped, leaving me flat-footed. I was absolutely mortified! My lover at the time tried to get me to go in anyway, but I said, “I absolutely cannot go in. We have to find some heels or we have to leave.” So we left. I mean, you have to have your drag right or you can’t do it.

PGN: So tell me a little about the youth home, Triad. KG: It’s a group home and we provide all sorts of services for LGBTQ teens from 14-18 years of age. We are able to host 12 youth residents at the home. A lot of the young people have abuse and neglect issues. We do group and individual counseling, independent-living skills training to get them ready for life, we deal with substance-abuse problems, planning for higher education and job readiness — all sorts of things. And it’s a wonderful place to work. It’s great to see LGBTQ teens who have been in the system for a long time finally have a place where they can be comfortable being themselves. PGN: What were you doing before Triad? KG: I had a company that taught people with disabilities how to make and sell gift baskets. We had a store that we sold them out of and I’m proud to say that it’s still in existence to this day. And before that, I had a coffee shop called the G-Spot, since my last name is Gilmore and it was my spot. All my employees wore T-shirts that said, “Honey, I finally found the G-Spot.”

PGN: What’s the worst thing that has happened in the service industry? KG: I had a guy die in a plate of spaghetti. It’s not funny, but he apparently had a massive heart attack and just fell face first into his plate of spaghetti. That was crazy.

PGN: Any hobbies? KG: I love camping. And bike riding.

PGN: What was your best camping adventure? KG: Well, the best stories are X-rated, so I can’t share them! What I can tell you is that a bunch of friends and I like to camp together, usually upstate in Binghamton, N.Y. There are about 12 of us who go camping about four times a year and, one year, we decided to do Thanksgiving dinner in the woods. We pulled out all the stops. I cooked an 18-pound turkey in the middle of the woods with cranberry sauce, stuffing and all the trimmings. We hung a chandelier from the trees over the fire pit and set the table with real china. And everyone wore tuxedos. We did it just because we could, just because we’re gay! It was fun.

PGN: So, random question: If you were a candy, what would you be? KG: A Raisinette: They’re cute, dark and delicious!

PGN: A historical figure you admire? KG: It would be two people, JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. They were both selfless and helped change history.

PGN: What’s something you would love to learn how to do? KG: I would love to learn to ice skate.

PGN: What’s you most interesting possession? KG: I guess it would be my collection of vehicles. I have a 1965 Chrysler Imperial, the same car that Mrs. Drysdale drove in “The Beverly Hillbillies,” the black one with the electric-blue interior. I have a 1966 Ford Econoline panel van from “Josie and the Pussycats.” I have a 1993 convertible Saab, which was from my midlife crisis. I have a 1970 convertible VW bug. I also have a 1973 Saab and I still have the 1969 convertible Mustang that I got for my 16th birthday. [Laughs.] I guess cars are one of my boy traits.

PGN: What’s the best advice a parent gave you? KG: Never do anything in print or film that you would be ashamed of.

PGN: Well, hopefully you’ve heeded that advice during this interview. Finally, now that it’s the holiday season, any family traditions? KG: Yes, I always put my tree up on Thanksgiving. I open up my house and cook for everyone, especially those who aren’t able to go home for the holidays. Everyone brings an ornament and we have a big trim-a-tree party. I’ve been in the same house for 20 years and done it every year since I moved in. It’s become a tradition for a lot of people. It’s great: You should stop by next year!

To suggest a community member for “Family Portraits,” write to: Family Portraits, 505 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 or [email protected].