Frank McNeil first heard of Chase Brexton in local gay media. When his late partner, Chris Duncan, was diagnosed as HIV positive, it was the first resource recommended to them.
“Initially it was personal since my late partner was positive,” the 57-year-old Memphis native says. “Then it became important partially as a thank you for all the assistance they provided while he was alive. My parents and grandparents raised me in the vein of the old spiritual, ‘If I Can Help Somebody,’ my living will not have been in vain. That has been a guiding principle for me.”
McNeil served on the Chase Brexton board and event committee from 1992-2002. On Saturday, he’ll pick up the Legacy Award at the Chase Brexton Charm Ball 40th anniversary event at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel. Details at chasebrexton.org. He’s being honored for his “devotion to Chase Brexton’s mission,” the organization says. “Frank is well known and respected for service to his community.”
“I am merely representative of the many friends and fellow committee members who served with me,” McNeil says. “They did all the hard work while I served as chair. This award is really in recognition of their dedication.”
McNeil, a Marine veteran, is a community development banking officer with PNC Bank. He and husband Paul Fowler, a radiation oncologist, live in Baltimore’s Guilford neighborhood. McNeil enjoys traveling, gardening, theater, entertaining and TV in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Interestingly, I think that I knew in third grade but back then, because of family, church and society, it wasn’t a lifestyle that was celebrated or commonplace like it is now. It was hardest to tell my parents because of the sacrifices they had made raising a son of color in the South and all of the doors that they had opened and the expectations they had for me.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
There are so many but I admire those who were bold enough to stand up and be first when it was unpopular and often dangerous to do so like those who fought at Stonewall or some of my military comrades who fought the system to change it so that we could serve openly in uniform.
What’s Baltimore’s best nightspot, past or present?
I really enjoyed The Stage Coach when it was opened because I like to dance and that was a place to line dance, waltz and two step. Now I like any place that we can go and feel comfortable being ourselves that has a good DJ and where we can enjoy a nice drink like Grand Central or Leon’s.
Describe your dream wedding.
My husband Paul and I had it in 2013. We were married by our minister in our home church, where we had met 18 years prior with his father (who had previously married all of his four siblings) also officiating, followed by a reception in our home in our garden under tents and amongst the lighted statuary, with dinner while the Peabody Jazz Ensemble played swing and big band selections and then a DJ played all of our favorite music while family and friends celebrated and danced the night away.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Citizenship, whether globally or locally. We are all on this big ship together so we have to do our part to leave it a better place than when we arrived.
What historical outcome would you change?
In a heartbeat, this past presidential election. I think we are now suffering the consequences of not understanding the importance of voting. The impact on things like the court appointments etc. may be profound and lasting for many years to come.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
As a person of color, whose formative years were in the ‘70s, seeing the accomplishments of communities that were more marginalized in the past. I know that we still have a long, long way to go but to participate in the March on Washington in 1993 and the subsequent ones that followed, the Women’s March in 2017 and events like Gay Pride give me chills when you consider what those who lived before us had to endure.
On what do you insist?
I work with someone who ends all of his e-mails with “be well and do good” and I think that is a good way of leaving this place a better place than we arrived.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
I don’t actually have my own Facebook page. I occasionally post on my husband’s page since he captures my entire life anyway as our “class historian/documentarian.”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Hang in There — Things Are Going to Change and For the Better!”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Ask those who have such a heartburn with others’ sexual orientations to walk a mile in their shoes; especially if they are in a position of power to affect change.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
An afterlife in some form or another.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Improvise, adapt and overcome.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
First of all, my husband, my family and friends and a just cause.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
More than a stereotype, I am annoyed when someone says, “Oh you are a ___ so you must be or do___.”
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
I like just about any of them where the guy or gal ends up with the guy or gal in the end! I am a hopeless romantic in that respect. I don’t like the “Brokeback Mountain”- or “Call Me By Your Name”-type movies when the lovers don’t end up together.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Discrimination of any type.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
I don’t think I covet anything but it might be fun to have an Oscar because of all of the fun things associated with getting one, going to the parties and the awards ceremony.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
It might have been nice to know that life would be the way it is now in terms of the relative acceptance of the LGBTQ community, the fact that we can get married, serve in the military, etc. It almost seemed back then that it would not happen in my lifetime.
I know that it isn’t perfect, but Baltimore is a great place to live and it has so much potential. We have a lot of work ahead of us but nothing worth having is easy.