James Leos Interview ~ clip001

Dublin Core

Title

James Leos Interview ~ clip001

Subject

Gay, AIDS, family, youth, philanthropy

Description

James Leos shares his stories as part of the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project. He tells of growing up in rural Arizona. One key story revolves around his father's death from HIV/AIDS. He discusses why he supports youth through his philanthropy.

Creator

Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives

Source

MiniDV tapes recorded on Panasonic DVX-100A digital video camera

Publisher

Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives

Date

21 March 2012

Contributor

James Leos for the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project of the Arizona Queer Archives

Rights

Rights given to the Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project and the Arizona Queer Archives

Relation

Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project

Format

H.264 300Kbps streaming QuickTime movie, 320 x 240

Language

English

Type

MovingImage
Oral History

Identifier

Arizona LGBTQ Storytelling Project of the Arizona Queer Archives

Date Available

25 May 2015

Date Created

21 March 2012

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Tom Buchanan & Jamie A. Lee

Transcription

Interviewer:
So. James I really appreciate you taking time to talk with us today for the LGBT Oral History Archives and this is going to be a very open conversation but for starters I’d like to ask you to introduce yourself. Tell us anything you think people might be interested in about you and specially how did you happen to come to Tucson.

James Leos:
Sure I came to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona. I grew up in a small Mormon community, Eager Arizona. Very small. I grew up very very poor and that stuff is very important for everyone to know. I let people know that because the wealth that I’ve accumulated I’ve worked for. Grew up just as a kind of a farm boy.

Interviewer:
You mentioned that Eager is a predominantly Mormon community or did you grew up as part of the Mormon community?

James Leos:
My stepfather was Mormon but pretty much the lady that mentored me was a former catholic nun and she pretty much took care of me most of my life.

Interviewer:
And what was she like and what was that relationship?

James Leos:
She was great. Rose Angela Ellis, she was a writer, musician, she could play the dulcimer, she could play the harpsichord, she could play piano. She was a genius. She left the convent because she was raped by a priest and became pregnant. I never knew this until after she passed away that she had a daughter and they kicked her out of the convent because of that.

Interviewer:
Wow! But it sounds like she was very important.

James Leos:
She was very important. We built her cabin together. She taught me construction. She taught me how to drive a stick shift, standard vehicle. She taught me how to drive a motorcycle. She taught me how to build an irrigation ditch. She was magnificent.

Interviewer:
Tell me a little bit if you will about the rest of your family and I have a feeling that maybe your situations are similar that when family situations can be challenging sometimes having someone like your friend who becomes the real role model becomes very important. What would you like to say about your family?

James Leos:
My family. I think that it was a very fragmented family. My mom had married three times and my father was bisexual and he took his life about when I was about 30 because he was dying of AIDS. My sister was my only biological sister. She died 10 years ago. She was a lesbian. Magnificent person. Very artistic. My three older brothers I’m not very close with. The youngest of the three I’m somewhat close with. His name is Andrew and I love him dearly. The other two I don’t know that well.

Interviewer:
When we are growing up, at some point in your childhood or adolescence did you realize you were gay?

James Leos:
Yes.

Interviewer:
And what was that like?

James Leos:
When I was five years old I remember falling in love with Elvis Presley. I was in love with him and then I remembered that I was in love with him and when he died I was very sad at this weird love affair with Elvis Presley. I remember that he died on the toilet, and I thought, how wonderful would it be to be that body guard that got to see him. It’s a beautiful man. A very tragic life.

Interviewer:
How did your realizing that you were gay change or affect you and did it have any other effect on your family and friends.

James Leos:
I didn’t come out until I was about 20 years old. My fiancé and I she became pregnant and her name was Naomi. I loved her dearly and she died with my baby. But she always told me I was gay. And so I’ve always wanted a baby that I could have. I mentored many kids in my life. A lot of my advisors that work for my investment firm are like my children. But that’s what I think gave me a nurturing soul.

Interviewer:
that must have been hugely traumatic.

James Leos:
But then I started dating men and I realized that I was gay. But my Naomi I loved more than life.

Interviewer:
And how did your family or other friends respond. Did they keep that separate or did they know you are gay.

James Leos:
When I came out I really didn’t have to because I was always showing up, his name was Darrel, that was the first one. The first partner I had. My grandma and I, I was her favorite child and she used to always tell me “You need to be with a man-woman. I’m so proud of you”. My whole family has embraced my homosexuality and I wish more Hispanic families were like that because they embraced it and they love me dearly. And I’m the patriarch of the whole family, the whole tribe. I think that that is a different situation than most.

Interviewer:
what drives the motive of (inaudible 8:43)

James Leos:
I think a lot of this whole religious drive from Catholicism is a sin and I don’t think it’s a sin. I think that God made us the way we are and I just wish that …and that is something that is a very political statement, God made us the way we are why not embrace our children, why not embrace people that are our family regardless of if they like the same sex. And I think that that is what the difference between me and most Hispanic families is that I grew up in a family that was very nurturing, even though we were poor as church mice we were very nurturing to each other.

Interviewer:
Was there a strong religious tradition in your family?



James Leos:
Not really. No, I was baptized catholic. I was never confirmed. I chose to grow out of Judaism and that’s the way I rolled.

Interviewer:
So tell us a little more about life after coming out and where life took you and how things went for you over the next couple of years.

James Leos:
I dated a lot. I’ve had probably five major partners in my life. What was so interesting was the first love of my life, and I have to say this, twenty one years ago we dated, we went on dates and then he moved away. After 20 years he said he had been searching for me. He finally found me and we are now back together. Coming out being gay at times it was scary. I worked for a very conservative company. One time and I can remember my boss, he thought that I had made some poor choices in my life and as far as who I want to be with and thank God that that company was absorbed by AIG because I think that that is their Karma. What else would I say about being gay? I think that is who I am and I’ve had people try to fag dash me but I can hold my own. My friend Cindy. I recently was in New York, and we were leaving a night club and someone tried to fag bash me. When I say fag bash me I don’t mean derogatorily, its just a term because I think that we are just humans and I knocked him out and Cindy told me I want to make a shirt, so she worked into making this shirt for me that says “This fag is the basher, beotch!” (laughter)

Interviewer:
So do you think this guy targeted you just because you were coming out of a gay bar?

James Leos:
Yeah.

Interviewer:
You’ve accomplished all kinds of things in your life. Materially, in terms of relationships, family things that you’ve accumulated, things that you’ve given, but what would you say you’ve done in your life that you are most proud of?

James Leos:
I’m most proud of building a firm that is like a family. Most of my employees, my advisors, my colleagues, I don’t think anyone should call their people employees, they are colleagues. My colleagues protect me, everyone sits at the same table and we all put our pants on the same way and we respect each other and these young men and women I brought up through college when they started with me and its so nice to see them starting their families and its so nice for me to drive up to the office and see that we have a successful firm. Even during the market downturn I told everyone, you know, you can sit around and mope or you can get off your butts and work harder and our firm each and every year has made positive gains because they respect my opinion. And that is the most important thing for me is that we have a family. And it’s a family that we chose.

Interviewer:
I know too that you’ve been really generous with your resources and recently you decided to make a major commitment to the institute for LGBT studies at the U of A and other major areas at the U of A. Can you say a little bit about what went into that thinking and what motivated you to do what you’ve done?

James Leos:
Sure. First of all I have a friend that became the director of development for the LGBT institute who I wanted to give the gift for and I waited. I waited until he became formalized as a director of development because he’s one of my dear friends and his story is very important to me. That’s why. It reminds me of my father’s story. Department of surgery, Gabriel Gifford’s, a dear friend of mine, we need a trauma center here, a cancer center I was misdiagnosed with terminal cancer. So I had to scurry around and get everything taken care of, my estate, because I thought that I had a few months to live. I can’t believe the great Good lord, they are monitoring it but I don’t have cancer. But that’s my dear friend Ralph Taylor who was in charge of the [Milk] (17:40) Program at the U of A. His dying wish was to spend his last day with me. He was dying of cancer. He was a friend and I’m not compromising confidentiality, he’s my friend. His last dying wish was to spend his last day with me and used to go to COSCO and get hotdogs and converse. He is my buddy and that’s another reason because I saw him deteriorate and because I’ve seen cancer take so many people. Like Bryan, his momma, died of cancer. The LGBT institute is so important to me is because I think that the money that I leave will legitimize that someone really cares about an institute that academic institute that does research that is statistically is going to allow people to know that you are born this way or you made this choice whatever people think is going to legitimize that its not a sin, its not something that is wrong. We are just human beings.

Interviewer:
If you could have a vision of what the institute for LGBT studies would look like in five years or ten years or further down the line, what would you see?

James Leos:
I’d like to see a huge library that is an archive for LGBT literature, history. I’d like to see something that is, research that is published that legitimizes who we all are and that is lesbian, gay, transgendered, bisexual, and the Nuevo term queer. I get it. I get that its legitimately a human thing. And its always been so swept under the carpet and to have an intellectual institute that is treated as intellectually as the athletics department. I can’t believe that the athletics department has tutors and they are self funded, why not –and I thank God we have Dean Comry- why not spend some money on educating people about human beings and we are all human beings and the worst animal in the world can be a human being. Because they destroy each other. I would like for that world to know that we don’t need to destroy gay people. Or torment them, or bully them, they are part of our family.

Interviewer:
And what you are doing through your request ensures the long term stability and future of the institute and it gives everyone who is involved with the institute something to live up to, be worthy of, grow in to being able to accept and strive and the big part of that from my point of view is going to be in the very near future and in the medium term and looking for the next few years out is building that financial base now for things like this archive to make this a really key research center to be able to publish some of the peer reviewed journals and to be able to sponsor some of the research programs that we have and anyway, what would you say to people in term of encouraging support in here in now?

James Leos:
I think everyone need to look at their family. Realize that some of your family members have been tormented so badly that they resort to destroying themselves. And they are probably one of the most precious components of that family. I think that everyone like the SPCA it should be like a non-issue, we tied, lets allocate a quarter of our tiding and or lets give to the institute and this is not a commercial. There is no bullshit. So many of our family members that we lose due to not being understood, not being protected, not being legitimately accepted because of really uneducated stupid decisions and judgment. People need to not have judgment with their family. There’s never been an animal that’s kicked that’s cold their flock because one of the flock is gay. Human beings do that and that’s really not right and I think everyone should give money to this institute with the hopes that their loved ones even though they know they are are treating their loved ones wrong or in a bad manner will be some day treated legitimately like a normal human being. Martin Luther King, I mean, factoring the days when the African-American population were treated like second class citizens, that is going on today with gay people. That’s why people need to give to this institute.

Interviewer:
Thanks. The archive in which this video is going to be housed I hope that within, in the very near future is a place that researchers and academics and members of the general public, people can come to study and hear the stories of people like you. What else do you think that people who look at this video, whether if its in a few years or in a few decades, what else would you like them to know about you?

James Leos:
I would say that I’ve traveled the road where I had to act straight. And I say acting straight I mean hiding my sexuality. And pretty much using a separate bathroom the way that they did when segregation happened. About me I think that I persevered because I was [resident] (27:07) in that I don’t give a damn anymore. And there is a song that says, “I remember when, I remember when I lost my mind.” I finally stopped giving a damn and saying “I am who I am” and I want to build a great business and I’m going to work my butt off to just let people know I’m a good person. The only thing that I stole in my life was when I was five years old I stole a bottle of cologne from a store and I still have guilt about that. About me, I think that we need to embrace our culture. Society does. Society needs to embrace people living with HIV because they stigmatize it as being the gay disease. It is not. One thing that is important to me that I really want to lobby for is if a child is born as a hermaphrodite that child should not be re-assigned until the child choses its sex. It shouldn’t be decision of the physician. That’s who I am. I just feel that everyday when I look in the mirror I think about when my father committed suicide. They didn’t call me for three weeks. No one entered that home because they knew he had AIDS. His pets ate him. And I had to scrape him off of the floor. That is not the way society should be. And everyday I look in the mirror and I say “I’m going to be the best damn person I can.”

Interviewer:
I have three questions. From your interview I gather you are an activist and an advocate and a successful businessman how do you balance that because sometimes they don’t go together.

James Leos:
It’s spinning plates. Because sometimes there are clients that when they find out that I’m gay they leave me. Its their loss because I think that no one will ever care about them as much as I do. And I think that –sorry for crying- I really do think that homosexuals have a deeper passion for humans because they really know what its like to be oppressed at times. It’s a balancing act because you don’t know when you can be who you want to be. And I don’t think that being superficially an actor is right. So if someone doesn’t want to look at me because I’m gay, they can look at their shoes.

Interviewer:
My second question. You started off in Catholicism, then went to Judaism, as a gay man what did you find in the Judaic faith that …

James Leos:
In the progressive Jewish faith I find that there is no judgment. There’s more love. Yeah and that’s what I really appreciate and that’s why I really appreciate the religion.

Interviewer:
And my last question, you said that you came out at the age of 20. Where you living in Tucson?

James Leos:
Yes. I was living in Tucson.

Interviewer:
What was Tucson like for a young gay man and what was the University of Arizona like. Where there resources?

James Leos:
There were resources. Wingspan had a youth group it was called the BeYouth Group. I was a member of the first youth group and it was so liberating to know that you are normal. And I have to say this, my friend Randy Spalding saved my life. I have to give him props every time I can because he was the youth group facilitator and one of the most wonderful men in the world. He is actually The Person that saved my life because I did try to kill myself a couple of times because I thought that I was not worthy to live because I was different. Having a youth group, having a support network allowed me to know you are loved, you are just normal.

Interviewer:
So did you deal with shame?

James Leos:
Oh a lot. A lot of shame.

Interviewer:
And how did you get through it? Was it with the youth group that you were able to?

James Leos:
it was with the youth group and with family accepting me. Finally some of my family started, like my grandma, it was so empowering to know that she was cool with it. And its not with it, it should be she was cool with loving her grandchild. Human being. God! How many people have the power to change a person’s life by telling them “I love you. I love who you are,” and how many people have the power to destroy a life by ridiculing someone who is not like them.

Interviewer:
what advice do you have for any of the kids at the Eon Youth Group right now?

James Leos:
you are beautiful. God made you the way you are. Go out in life enjoy life and know that you are beautiful. Know that you are God’s own creation. And I say God but whatever belief you have, the heavens, the Buddha, creation. You are loved by so many people. Don’t let anyone, anyone ever diminish your soul because you have a soul that is equal or better than most.

Interviewer:
Anything else that you can think of? Any questions from you Brian?

Brian:
I don’t think that there is anything that Jim needs to redo but when I asked him in the question about his gifts to the U of A and the institute I kind of stumbled all over myself. Is it okay? Because I don’t know if you do much editing.


Interviewer:
If you want to you can re-state it.

Brian:
To put it in a knot I just want to say you’ve been extremely generous to the University and the Institute for the LGBT studies and the other institutes and could you tell us a little bit about that gift and what motivated you.

James Leos:
What motivated me was, I want to put us on the map. The day that my ashes are spread I want to have children, young people that are part of Eon to know that they’re valued to know that gay people are valued. The gift at the end of the day is going to be worth about 75 million dollars and I really do think that with that type of a gift it will open eyes that we can be come successful as gay people even though going through the trials and tribulations that are actually magnified by our sexuality in the pubic eye and there is going to be a day where it is not an issue any more and that gift means that we can legitimately use the same restroom, serving the same service and talk about who we are. It also means that we can not worry about donating blood. I remember when I went to donate blood, they asked if I had sex with a man before and I said, “You know, I just had a quickie and I’ll leave.” It will legitimize, and I keep saying legitimize, its going to create the word normal. Its just part of society. Normal human beings with a knack for dressing and actual singing.

End of Transcription

Citation

Jamie A. Lee, Project Director, Arizona Queer Archives, “James Leos Interview ~ clip001,” Arizona Queer Archives, accessed December 8, 2021, http://azqueerarchives.org/items/show/157.