This year marked the tenth anniversary of Augusta Pride festivities. It is hard to believe it was a short decade ago when the idea of a Pride event held in the city was controversial. There was actually an outcry over allowing Pride flags to hang from the light poles in downtown Augusta. On the tenth anniversary, Augusta can pride itself on the city’s collective embrace of the event.
We remember an institution of the local gay community who passed in 2015, Keith Buck.
As the longtime manager and bartender of Club Argos on Walton Way, Buck was known as everyone’s best friend because he was always open to listening to people’s concerns and problems. He also had a quick wit and could easily fill a room with laughter.
Over the years, Buck was someone that many in Augusta’s gay community came to for help and advice when they were faced with the difficult challenge of coming out about their sexuality.
He was there to encourage them to be honest with themselves and enjoy the freedom of living life out in the open.
“During his many years as manager and bartender at Club Argos, Daddy Keith was often the first face a new person met when they ventured into our community,” Isaac Kelly, the former president of the Augusta Pride, wrote in an online tribute to Buck this week. “His friendly smile, his caring demeanor and his open personality helped many in our community come out, feel safe and learn to be happy living as who they really are.”
Buck understood people’s struggles. In 2010, Buck sat down with the Metro Spirit and described how, for more than three decades, he could not admit to himself or his family that he was gay.
“I knew all my life that I was gay, but for me, because I was brought up very strict Southern Baptist, I just kept pushing it back and pushing it back, saying, ‘No, no, no,’” said Buck, who moved to Augusta with his family when he was 8.
“I couldn’t face the truth until I was 36 years old. In fact, I was married for nine years.”
Religion and his close relationship with God were the main reasons Buck couldn’t accept his sexuality.
“Being told that homosexuality is a sin and those people are perverts was tough,” he said. “I still consider myself a Christian. I believe in God and it took a long time to really let the two combine.”
Buck said the same was true for his long-time partner, David Jay.
“His father is a Southern Baptist minister and he has been in the pulpit for years saying that homosexuals are going to hell. And his son was sitting out there going, ‘Dad. You don’t know,’” Buck said.
It wasn’t until a former boyfriend threatened to tell his family years ago that Buck decided to have a talk with his mother.
“Ever since I was a little boy, my dad was always telling everybody that he had a ‘queer’ son. Me and my dad didn’t have a very good relationship anyway,” he said. “My parents were divorced when I was 18 and it wasn’t really an issue of telling my dad, but I just asked my mom, ‘Can we have lunch together?’”
Inviting his mother to lunch was a little out of the ordinary, so she knew something was going on, he said.
“I told her, ‘I really want to tell you something. I know it has come up over the years and you know what Dad has always said about me, I just want to let you know it is true, I am gay,’” Buck said.
Buck said that he was prepared for her to breakdown in tears, but something extraordinary happened.
“Probably the most profound thing that she has ever said to me in her life was, ‘So, do you think I love you any less?'” Buck said, smiling. “That was it. Now, she doesn’t agree with it. But she loves my partner to death and his family loves me. But we don’t push it in their faces.”
That is why events such as the Augusta Pride festival and Boys Night Out were so important to him. It was a chance for the entire community to celebrate the acceptance of all people, he said.
Buck had the honor of being the first Grand Marshal of Augusta Pride and it meant the world to him.
“Everybody wants to be accepted,” Buck told the Metro Spirit in 2010. “They don’t want to be pointed at or laughed at. It is just to show Augusta, we’re people just like you.”
When Buck looked back over his life, he joked that it had been a roller coaster ride.
“It is a completely different life than I ever thought I would have being a manager of a gay bar,” he said, laughing. “It is not something that my career counselor talked to me about in high school.”
Story by Stacey Eidson/Cover Photo Credit: Robbie Ready Photography