Bruce Grimes and Geoffrey Kaiser entered a committed relationship in 1973 and together served as primary organizers and leaders of Friends for Lesbian and Gay Concerns (now Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns) for almost three decades.
Bruce was born in 1949 in southern California. His parents divorced when Bruce was nine and his mother took him, along with his older brother and three younger sisters, back to her home area in Dayton, Ohio. The family was nominally Protestant with Bruce and his siblings occasionally attending Sunday school at the Methodist Church down the street. He was also active in Boy Scouts, eventually becoming an Eagle Scout. It was in Scouts where Bruce had his first serious crush on another boy, the son of a Methodist minister. Bruce recognized that these strong feelings were not acceptable and did his best to hide them.
Bruce studied sociology and anthropology at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), graduating in 1971. During a college summer working at Yosemite National Park, Bruce came to face his sexual orientation through the advances of a male co-worker. In his senior year upon the advice of a friend, Bruce decided to attend a Quaker meeting (Clear Creek Meeting on the campus of Earlham College). After graduation, still lacking a clear direction, he decided to move far away to San Francisco where he could explore the gay scene in anonymity.
Geoffrey Kaiser was born in 1945 in Abington, Pennsylvania. His Lutheran mother had attended Quaker schools and meetings; his father had been Episcopalian. Both parents were Republicans. They stopped attending Gwynedd Friends Meeting because of its stance against the Korean War. Geoffrey began going back to the meeting around the age of 16. He got connected to the Young Friends of North America (YFNA), an autonomous, self-directed Quaker association that encouraged social thought and activism. Through YFNA, Geoffrey travelled widely among Friends and became involved in the Black Civil Rights Movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement and other social movements of the 1960s. YFNA became his primary educational setting (he graduated from Ursinus College and briefly attended Earlham School of Religion). Small groups of Young Friends formed living communes, each called New Swarthmore, in different locales that enabled their organizing efforts. Geoffrey’s commune was based in Sumneytown, Pennsylvania. They organized crews to pick apples in the summertime to underwrite the commune’s expenses which then allowed each member to follow his/her own leading in social activism.
Geoffrey had had a sexual experience with his best friend in high school—both were drunk and did not acknowledge what happened—and then hooked up with men in YFNA and college settings. YFNA was the first Quaker group to publicly state its support for gay rights and provided the opportunity for Geoffrey to begin gay organizing.
Back in San Francisco, Bruce began to attend the Friends meeting where he met other gay Quakers and learned about Ron Mattson, openly gay Quaker minister in Minneapolis, and Bill Johnson, ordained openly gay clergy in the United Church of Christ in Berkeley. Bruce was not able to find meaningful work (he was working in a Safeway) so joined four Quaker lesbians in the summer of 1972 to drive to Michigan for a YFNA conference. He had also learned about a Geoffrey Kaiser who had “a gay Quaker commune” and wrote to him. However, Geoffrey was the only gay person in his commune and questioned the purpose of this letter from an unknown person in San Francisco, so did not reply.
Meanwhile, Geoffrey had seen a letter in the Friends Journal (1970) from Jim Bradford (pen name for Jim Osgood) writing about being Quaker and gay. Geoffrey sent a letter in response that was also published under a pseudonym. Ron Mattson followed up with Jim and Geoffrey and organized an initial meeting of some gay Quakers in Philadelphia during an American Friends Service Committee gathering in 1971. This was the genesis of the formation of Friends for Lesbian and Gay Concerns at the 1972 Gathering of Friends sponsored each year by Friends General Conference (FGC). (See full story in Ron Mattson’s profile.)
That summer Bruce rode in a car from California to Michigan for the YFNA conference. There he met Geoffrey. While they were attracted to each other, Geoffrey was in a relationship at the time with Kim Palmer (another FLGC founder). Bruce had travelled to the conference with the intent of getting onto the New Swarthmore apple-picking crew in Barnesville, Ohio. Geoffrey saw to it that Bruce had a place, but then he left while the crew was still picking – purposely avoiding temptation while his lover/husband/partner Kim was at school (Earlham). After the apple-picking season, Geoffrey did help arrange for Bruce to settle into another New Swarthmore community—this one in Leyden, Massachusetts. On a trip back to visit family in Ohio in January 1973, Bruce stopped in Sumneytown to see Geoffrey. The drama heightened when Kim visited at the same time to announce that he had a religious experience and had decided to go “straight.” (The sexual complications of this scenario are left to the reader’s imagination.)
Bruce and Geoffrey stayed in touch in the following months and agreed to room together at the 1973 Gathering of Friends, which was at Earlham College that year. They then agreed to spend a month traveling together to California—Geoffrey describes this as “our honeymoon” while for Bruce it was a “trial run.”
That fall they settled back into the old house that Geoffrey owned in Sumneytown. They engaged in various income-producing activities and eventually settled on one of Geoffrey’s early avocations—rebuilding pianos. This allowed them to follow their “leading” which was to support and organize gay and lesbian Quakers. They participated in the Unami Monthly Meeting that Geoffrey had helped found in 1972.
Ron Mattson had ceased publishing the Committee of Concern Newsletter (later Friends for Lesbian and Gay Concerns) in 1975 having passed it to Arthur Gross in New York City. Arthur published three issues, but then floundered. Bruce had the feeling that he had the skill and was best positioned to take on this task, but was avoiding the responsibility. At the summer 1976 Gathering of Friends about a dozen gay men were present seeking direction. It became apparent to Bruce that he (and Geoffrey) must now step forward and accept the responsibility -- if there was to be an organization for gay Friends.
In the early days when the newsletter was centered in Sumneytown, it seemed Bruce and Geoffrey were free to act on their own in behalf of gay Friends. Such was the case leading up to the confrontation at the beginning of the All Friends Gathering in Wichita Kansas in the summer of 1977. This was to be the first gathering ofall Friends – from both the evangelical to the progressive wing – since the cataclysmic separation of 1827, 150 years earlier. The Gathering nearly aborted over the inclusion of gay Friends. After those events, Bruce and Geoffrey decided that gay Friends would benefit from having an organized regular business meeting of their own. Subsequently, the group chose a pair of co-clerks (one male, one female) and Bruce continued in the administrative position – taking and keeping the minutes.
While FLGC was meant to serve gay/lesbian Friends in all Quaker yearly meetings, Bruce and Geoffrey were also active in the mid 1970’s on a local level -- on the Committee on Homosexuality of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Here again, the committee was looking for purpose or direction. With Geoffrey’s knowledge of Quaker polity and Bruce’s quiet attention to detail, the issue of marriage equality was chosen. Over the ensuing years they did educational work that laid the groundwork for same-sex weddings in some Monthly Meetings in the Philadelphia area.
It was Geoffrey’s knowledge of Quaker history and polity and Bruce’s administrative skills that helped guide the meetings for business at FLGC’s two annual gatherings: the Midwinter Gathering (which alternated between New York and Philadelphia) and during the summer Gathering of Friends (FGC). Bruce produced a high-quality quarterly publication for the next nineteen years. Because of the generally supportive response of Friends General Conference to lesbian/gay issues, FLGC did not have to focus its attention on confronting the institutional leadership. Instead one of the key issues for FLGC’s organizing became encouraging Friends meetings to affirm same-sex committed relationships among their members. As different meetings around the U.S. adopted minutes that affirmed celebrations of committed relationships (later called “celebrations of marriage”), Bruce published these in the FLGC newsletter. This became the prime source of communication and helped build a groundswell of support for marriage in the Society of Friends. Bruce retired as the newsletter editor in 1995. Changes unfolding in FLGC led Geoffrey and Bruce to recognize that it was time to pass on the mantle of leadership to others, so they began to withdraw from the organization. As part of their legacy they compiled a journal (1971-1999) documenting their activities and travel among the Society of Friends to organize FLGC and to encourage meeting to bless same-sex marriages (link to collection above.)
Geoffrey and Bruce publicly celebrated their marriage under the care of their home meeting (Unami Monthly Meeting) using the Gwynedd meetinghouse in Pennsylvania in 1987. More than two hundred persons attended, including both sets of parents. They moved from Pennsylvania to northern California in 2006. They were then legally married in Sonoma County in 2008.
(This biographical profile written by Mark Bowman in cooperation with Bruce Grimes and Geoffrey Kaiser. Above picture: Geoffrey on left; Bruce on right.)
Biography Date: January, 2014