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Ninety-year-old Kenneth Felts had a "secret" he was prepared to hold forever.
That was until the coronavirus pandemic hit and the Colorado resident decided to pen a memoir. Felts quickly realized the memoir would be incomplete without acknowledging his true self.
“I had been keeping this secret most of my life, and I had planned to take it to the grave,” he said during a Friday interview on the 3rd Hour of Today.
“In 1942, when I was 12, I realized I was gay,” the Navy veteran shared, adding that he never came out for fear of being ostracized. “If you came out, it really would cost you — your family, your job, all of your relationships. You would immediately be called a pervert.”
After joining the Navy, Felts fell in love with a man, named Phillip, and the pair embarked on a two-year relationship. “It was a void in my life that had suddenly been filled by another person who, apparently, had some of the same needs," he said. "And we just melted into each other.”
As Ken Felts, 90, worked on a memoir, old memories gave him the push he needed to reveal openly for the first time that he was gay.— 3rd Hour of TODAY (@3rdHourTODAY) August 7, 2020
Watch his inspiring story and see how his message is helping others find the strength to live their truth. pic.twitter.com/x8wddun46F
Felts ended the relationship, however, after struggling to reconcile his identity with his religious beliefs.
He went on to marry a woman, have a daughter, and later got divorced. He first came out as gay on Facebook in late June, once he had told his daughter Rebecca, who had come out to him as a lesbian in 1995.
“One day I was talking to Rebecca and I just happened to mention, I wish I had never left Philip,” Felts told Today.
Felts’ coming out post — featuring him smiling in a pride-themed sweatshirt — quickly went viral, and some fellow social media users helped him locate where Phillip had ended up.
Unfortunately, Phillip had died. “Phillip Allen Jones was the love of my life. I have a very sad and lonely heart today. My first and greatest love has passed away,” Felts shared in a Facebook update.
“It is so terribly frustrating to be so close to and yet not reach my lost love and horribly painful to not be able to say good-by,” Felts' Facebook post said. “But the whole world now knows what a loving man he was with me and to me while we were together. My heart has turned to stone and I need my tears to wash away my sorrow.”
Despite his heartbreak, Felts said his story has inspired others in the LGBTQ community. “A lot of them telling me that they've got more courage now to come out,” he said on Today. "I'm out, I'm gay and I'm free.”