TOBIN: First of all, welcome back!
KATHY: Thank you! It’s really nice to be back.
TOBIN: Yeah! How are you — How’re you feeling?
KATHY: I feel much better. I feel [BEAT] pretty much a hundred percent. And I’m very, very happy that, um, I’m back on the show. I heard you do my voice and it was fabulous. It was, like, a hundred perfect.
TOBIN: [MIMICKING HIS KATHY VOICE FROM LAST WEEK] “Thank you! I get a lot of compliments on it.” [BACK TO HIS REGULAR VOICE]
KATHY: Yeah! Everybody’s like, “Oh my god, I didn’t even know you were gone!”
TOBIN: I know. It’s — it’s uncanny, really.
[NANCY HORN FLOURISHES START TO PLAY]
TOBIN: But I have to say, I’m glad to have you back because what a moment for you to return! ‘Cause you know what episode this is, right?
KATHY: Oh, yeah! This is our one-hundredth episode! Can you believe it?
TOBIN: One-fricking hundred! I cannot believe it. We’ve done a hundred mother-fudging [BOTH LAUGH] episodes of this thing.
KATHY: I am very proud, and very tired.
TOBIN: Yes. Same, same. [KATHY LAUGHS] And, y’know, we figured, “What better way to celebrate this milestone than by bringing on somebody who has been with us since the beginning?”
KATHY: The very beginning. [BOWIE THE DOG BARKS]
KATHY: Oh, sorry, my dog is barking. [OFF-MIC] Bowie, can you go outside? Come on, get outta here. Go, go, go. [BACK ON MIC]
KATHY: Sorry, I’m back. Since the beginning, we’ve had Sound Designer Extraordinaire —
[MUSIC COMES TO A HALT]
KATHY: — Jeremy Bloom!
JEREMY: [IN A MUPPET VOICE] Hello!
KATHY: [LAUGHS] So, Jeremy, you’ve been hyping up that you have quite the story to tell us.
JEREMY: I do. It’s got everything: love, war, history, bird poop, royal scandals! And [PAUSE] it all starts with a postage stamp.
KATHY: Alright, continue.
JEREMY: So, Kathy, I know how much you love mail and you love postage and I was just, like, super inspired by your passion.
KATHY: [CONFIDENTLY] I am very inspiring.
JEREMY: So, I was up late one night going down one of those many, like, late-night rabbit holes of Wikipedia curiosity, and I came across the stamp blog. There are awesome stamps from, like, New Guinea and Zanzibar; stamps from the Samoan Olympic team; lots of birds, and fish, and official-looking people; a stamp from Bhutan that's round, and you can even play music from a record player on it somehow.
JEREMY: But I really wanna show you the craziest set of stamps I’ve ever seen. They’re on this old envelope I printed out for you. [PAPER RUSTLES]
TOBIN: [LAUGHS] Oh my god!
KATHY: Wow. Wow!
JEREMY: I know! So, I know nothing about stamps. But — and I think you’d agree — these are clearly [EMPHATICALLY] really, really gay.
[HI-HAT MUSIC PLAYS]
BRUCE HECHT: We have a wonderful stock of worldwide stamps from Malta, Gibraltar, Great Britain, Australia, Ghana. [VOICE CONTINUES UNDER NARRATION]
JEREMY: I was so blown away by these old stamps that I just needed to learn more, so I took them to an expert.
BRUCE: Hi, my name is Bruce. We're sitting here at Champion Stamp Company. [VOICE CONTINUES UNDER NARRATION]
JEREMY: Bruce Hecht is the guy you go to with any question about stamps in New York City. He has a gray beard, glasses, and he sits at an old wooden desk on this elevated platform where he can look over the entire store.
BRUCE: [DISTANT, ON A RECORDING] Come right up the ramp.
JEREMY: He’s been doing this since 1976, and I guess you could say he’s the king of stamps. And he kinda acts like it too.
BRUCE: So, give me a little background.
JEREMY: I show him the envelope I found. On it there are many markings, and a stamp the likes of which I’ve just never seen before.
BRUCE: This is non-philatelic with all sorts of unusual markings. It's a local label. That — that's how I would describe it. It's got, uh, bars of colors.
JEREMY: Bars of color — like a rainbow!
BRUCE: It looks like it has a footprint on it.
JEREMY: A bear paw.
BRUCE: And, if I read it correctly, it says “Heaven, GLK Post Office.”
JEREMY: There’s also a crown — a very royal-looking crown in front of a pink triangle. Super official-looking.
BRUCE: And, uh, that's all I can tell you.
JEREMY: Gotcha. And can you just read what it says?
BRUCE: It says, “Gay Kingdom of the Coral Sea.”
JEREMY: If I told you in 2004 there was a country called the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands, what — what's your reaction to that?
[PAUSE, MUSIC OUT]
BRUCE: You're wrong. [PAUSE] Okay? It doesn't exist. There is no such country or territory with that name.
JEREMY: Well, let’s see about that.
[NANCY THEME MUSIC PLAYS]
VOX 1: [WITH AN AUSTRALIAN ACCENT] From WNYC Studios, you’re listening to Nancy.
VOX 2: [WITH AN AUSTRALIAN ACCENT] With your hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
[THEME MUSIC OUT, WHISTLE]
KATHY: Okay, Jeremy. So, you found these stamps, they’re clearly very gay. Um, what — like, what’s the deal? Where do they come from? I’ve never ever heard of this, uh, “Gay Kingdom.”
TOBIN: What is it, where is it, and how can I move there?
KATHY: Yeah. Are you just messing with us, Jeremy? Is this even a real thing?
JEREMY: It’s actually real, and I’ve been working day and night to find out more. I’ve called experts from the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations. I’ve made burner phones. My apartment’s walls are, like, covered in Post-It notes detailing the epic story behind this Kingdom —
KATHY: Did you use yarn? Did you connect them with yarn?
TOBIN: [LAUGHING] I was just gonna ask the same thing!
JEREMY: Yes. It’s — it’s required. And, after lots of lost sleep, I think I finally have some answers.
[OLD-TIMEY STRING MUSIC PLAYS]
AUSTRALIAN ANNOUNCER: Homosexual people have honestly endeavored everywhere to merge ourselves in the social life of surrounding communities and to be treated equally.
JEREMY: This is an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands. A nation created for life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and all things gay.
AUSTRALIAN ANNOUNCER: Well, technically, it's a micronation.
DEREK THOMAS: So a micronation is a place that declares that they are a nation but aren't recognized by other countries. Uh, so it's basically — someone walks out into their front yard and they're like, “My front yard is a nation.” Um, in their mind, they are their own country, but they don't really have any recognition or any kind of, uh, legitimacy in terms of the global stage.
JEREMY: This is Derek Thomas. I tracked him down after he made a fun video online about the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom.
DEREK: I created a YouTube channel that has an ongoing series on micronations and kind of the funny stuff that they get up to. So there's Sealand, Akhzivland, Elleore, Molossia, Liberland, Freedonia and the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands.
[WAVE SOUNDS AND OLD-TIMEY STRING MUSIC PLAY]
JEREMY: Derek told me that this Gay Kingdom was born in 2004, when Australia passed a law saying that marriage was strictly between a man and a woman.
NEWS ANNOUNCER: [WITH SOUNDS OF RALLIES IN THE BACKGROUND] With gay marriage all the rage in America, the changes here are designed to thwart any similar attempts of legal recognition. Activists say their community is facing a new wave of homophobia.
JEREMY: Here’s John Howard, the Prime Minister at the time.
FORMER PRIME MINISTER HOWARD: The definition of a marriage is something that should not, over time, potentially be subject to redefinition or change.
JEREMY: So in an attempt to protect against future gay marriages, the law said “marriage is by definition between a man and a woman.” And at every single wedding ceremony in Australia, that definition had to be recited.
[WEDDING ORGAN FLOURISH PLAYS]
JEREMY: Like, at your wedding, you’d need to say the words, “Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman.”
KATHY: That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.
TOBIN: And so romantic, really! [BOTH LAUGH]
JEREMY: But Derek said it kinda backfired and drew a lot more attention from activists about gay marriage than ever before in Australia. Including one group …
DEREK: In 2004, a group of gay rights activists who were attending the Brisbane Gay Pride Festival, uh, were frustrated with the 2004 Marriage Amendment Act in Australia. So they got on a boat —
JEREMY: — well, a seaplane —
DEREK: — um, that they christened the Gayflower, sailed it out to an island in the Coral Sea Islands territory called Cato Island, planted a flag and said, “This is our country now. Um, gay marriage is legal.” And that's kind of how the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands began.
NARRATOR FROM ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE: [OVER THE SOUND OF BOOBIES] The Gay Kingdom.
JEREMY: This is, believe it or not, original footage from their landing.
NARRATOR FROM ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE: [OVER THE SOUND OF BOOBIES] On the 14th day of June, 2004, at this point in the Coral Sea, Emperor Dale Parker Anderson, the gay rainbow flag and claimed the Island of the Coral Sea in his name as the homeland for the gay and lesbian people of the world. God save our Kingdom.
[DISCO MUSIC PLAYS]
TOBIN: Holy shit. A gay country. So can I, like, move there and watch Golden Girls all day? We’re gonna cancel the show. I — Sign me up.
KATHY: I dunno, Tobin. It just sounds like a silly publicity stunt.
TOBIN: Kathy, it would be amazing! Like, what if there were leather-working workshops, Xena cosplaying, Janelle Monae as minister of culture? [KATHY LAUGHS]
KATHY: Okay, that would be amazing. [BEAT] But, there are plenty of gay people out there that I definitely don’t want to live with on small island in the middle of the sea. And plus, what about all the cool bi folks, and trans folks, non-binary people, and everyone else?
TOBIN: Yeah, are we talking, like, Fire Island Pines circuit party central here, or is there something more for indoor gays like myself?
KATHY: [MORE INDIGNANT] Yeah, Jeremy! I need to know what the amenities are. What are the amenities? Please?
JEREMY: Well, let’s let Derek describe the island.
[TROPICAL MUSIC & PARADISE SOUNDSCAPE]
DEREK: So this island, Cato Island, um — picture a tropical paradise, an island with beautiful palm trees. You kind of lay out on the beach with a nice piña colada [SOUND OF A DRINK GETTING POURED IN THE BACKGROUND] or something like that and, you know, a nice volcano in the background. Um —
[MUSIC REWINDS, THEN ENDS SUDDENLY]
DEREK: — and then picture the opposite of that. And that's what Cato Island is.
JEREMY: It's kinda like just a bare sandy treeless mound that, uh, rises just a few feet above the water. Not — not much going on since the 1870s, when it was mined for bird shit used as fertilizer.
TOBIN: [LAUGHS] Gorgeous.
KATHY: [SELF-RIGHTEOUS] I knew it! The whole thing was just a silly stunt. Tobin, you’re not moving. The show goes on. It’s not a real country.
JEREMY: Wait, hold on, though! They had land. They had a community, united by a kind of common cultural connection. Those are the two things that make a nation-state. And they didn’t just plant a flag — they also really did all the things they thought were necessary to establish a legitimate country: they made those postage stamps; they decided on a capital, called “Heaven,” after a famous nightclub in London; they actually had a government — an elected parliament, organized online, consisting of representatives from all around the world.
KATHY: Okay, but did they have an anthem? It’s not a country without a national anthem.
JEREMY: Yeah. Gloria Gaynor’s “I Am What I Am.”
[CLIP FROM GLORIA GAYNOR’S “I AM WHAT I AM” PLAYS, AND THEN WAR SIRENS SUDDENLY PLAY OUT OF NOWHERE]
DEREK: … and then they declared war on Australia.
JEREMY: Wait, wait. Hold on, Derek. How do you even go about doing that — [DEREK MAKES OVERWHELMED SOUNDS] declaring war with Australia?
DEREK: Well, they basically just drew up a Declaration of War into a formal document and delivered it to the Prime Minister of Australia. And they even sent the Declaration of War to the government of Switzerland. It had Switzerland deliver it to Australia, uh, getting a third party involved. And they considered themselves at war with Australia.
KATHY: Wait, so the Gay Kingdom considered themselves at war with Australia, but, like, [LAUGHS] did Australia consider themselves to be in this quote-unquote “war”?
JEREMY: They never directly responded to the Declaration of War, but it was noticed — and discussed — in Australian Parliament.
A government office had coincidentally flown a rainbow flag during Pride. When they did, a right-wing Tasmanian senator named Eric Abetz got [PAUSE] very upset.
ABETZ: This particular flag, you will realize, is, uh, the flag of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands that declared war on Australia. I dare say that wasn't the reason it was flown?
AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL: On — on … Look, Senator Abetz, as the secretary has, uh, indicated, there'll be a flag inquiry.
ABETZ: A flag inquiry?
AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL: There’ll be flag inquiry. And we certainly don't want to … It’s certainly not the government's intentions in any of our official buildings to fly the flags of hostile nations.
ABETZ: Very good, very good.
JEREMY: It’s kind of remarkable that this scrappy Gay Kingdom was actually discussed on the floor of the Australian senate. But the weird thing is, then, like, why have we never heard of it? Even a bunch of Australian queers I reached out to had little to no memory of the Gay Kingdom. It’s kinda like it just faded into obscurity. But I still really wanna know what happened. Like, who made it? What were their intentions? Um, did they really want to build a gay society on Cato Island? Where did they go?
TOBIN: Also! Why can’t I move there to live a life of coral luxury?
KATHY: So many unanswered questions, Jeremy.
JEREMY: Yeah. The only way to get to the bottom of it is to find the man behind it all, Emperor Dale Parker Anderson.
ARCHIVAL FROM ISLAND LANDING: Dale Parker Anderson!
JEREMY: According to Derek, he has quite the royal résumé.
DEREK: He actually claims to be a descendant of King Edward the Second. And if that's true, that would technically make him related to all of the royal houses of Europe.
JEREMY: Dale Parker Anderson, I am going to find you.
KATHY: Go get him, Jeremy!
[TIMPANI ROLLS, THEN IMPERIAL MUSIC]
JEREMY: Every night I stay up until 3 AM trying to find a way to get in touch with Dale. Finally, Producer Gibbons and I find a number.
[CUT TO TAPE OF ZAKIYA AND JEREMY GETTING READY TO CALL THE NUMBER]
ZAKIYA: Why am I nervous? [LAUGHS]
JEREMY: I'm so nervous too. This is our biggest interview ever.
JEREMY: [ON THE PHONE] Hello Dale, this is Jeremy calling from WNYC.
JEREMY: He doesn’t answer. [ZAKIYA SIGHS]
JEREMY: [ON THE PHONE] Hi, Dale. This is Jeremy. I'm here with Zakiya at WNYC.
JEREMY: We call him again and again and again.
ZAKIYA: [EXASPERATED] Ay-ay-ay.
JEREMY: It felt like we had the first date jitters. Like he was standing us up.
JEREMY: [ON THE PHONE] We’ll give you one more try.
JEREMY: But then, on the very last try —
JEREMY: [ON THE PHONE] Hey, is this Dale?
JEREMY: Thank you so much for taking our call. I’m here with Zakiya.
ZAKIYA: Hi Dale. Thank you so much for your time.
DALE: Thank you very much for um, your, uh, pleasant inquiry.
JEREMY: Thank you. So are you the Dale Parker Anderson who's the emperor and founder of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of, uh, the Coral Sea Islands?
[MUSIC CRESCENDOES INTO CLIFFHANGER]
JEREMY: Nancy will be back in a minute.
JEREMY: If you could found your own nation, describe what it would be like.
VOX 1: It'd be a multicultural, pluralistic, libertarian, utopian paradise.
VOX 2: It’d be nature-filled.
VOX 3: Very similar to New York City.
VOX 4: It would be fair. It would be equal. It would be nice. It would have a great mix of people and, uh, the weather would be [PAUSE] temperate.
[VOX OUT, IMPERIAL MUSIC RESUMES]
JEREMY: So are you the Dale Parker Anderson, uh, who's the emperor and founder of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands?
DALE: [LAUGHS FOR A LONG TIME] I am the Emperor of the World!
DALE: No. But I'm definitely not the Emperor and the Founder of the, um — the Coral Sea, um, Kingdom. Uh.
[LONG PAUSE AND EXASPERATED BREATH]
JEREMY: Have you heard — have you heard of it before?
DEREK: Yes, I have. Most definitely.
JEREMY: Huh. And are you often confused for that Dale Anderson?
DALE: Never before in my life.
JEREMY: Turns out this Dale is just some random dude with the same name.
ZAKIYA: Are you, like, honored to share a name with the Emperor?
DALE: Of course I am.
ZAKIYA: Wow. So if you were to break off and make your own micronation, what — what would that land be like?
DALE: Okay, yeah. The — the one thing that, you know, I'd like to be upheld is that, um … let's get the hell rid of plastics.
JEREMY: Cool. Land of no plastics.
DALE: And, y’know, let's make sure that the fish and environment, as it surrounds the islands, you know, shares the same civil liberties of just pure freedom.
JEREMY: Okay. Civil liberties for fish.
ZAKIYA: Okay. Thank you so much for your time. It was really great talking to you. I appreciate it.
DALE: It was my pleasure talking with you. And thank you very much for, you know, coming and asking me for my opinion. Uh, if I can assist you or if I can assist people in general, I'm always here for you.
KATHY: Okay. Alright.
TOBIN: Okay, okay. Okay.
JEREMY: So, Dale Parker Anderson, Emperor of the World, wants civil liberties for fish, but he’s the wrong guy! I need to find the other Dale Parker Anderson, the one who wants civil liberties for gay people. I have so many questions for him. But now the biggest question I have is if he really exists.
JEREMY: I searched high, I searched low. I asked a prominent queer historian and even he didn’t know. His name is Dennis Altman.
DENNIS ALTMAN: Quite honestly, I mean, I think you are — I don't know that you're flogging a dead horse. I think you're flogging a dead centipede.
JEREMY: [LAUGHING] What does that mean?
DENNIS: I have no idea who the people involved were. Um, and I don't know if you'd be able to track down anybody who does.
JEREMY: So, right as I was losing all hope, I found out that just recently the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives got a major donation from a donor, curiously named Dale Parker Anderson.
TOBIN: [LAUGHING] No!
KATHY: So, a real person!
JEREMY: So I called them up, and the curator —
NICK ANDERSON: Nick Anderson.
JEREMY: — was like, ”Oh, yes…” —
NICK: There is the flag … [NICK’S VOICE FADES UNDER NARRATION]
JEREMY: We’ve got the flag that they planted on the Island, we’ve got the Declaration of Independence, we have the plaque from the embassy, we have Dale’s two official crowns, we have lots of official correspondences.
KATHY: Wait, wait, wait. He had two crowns?
JEREMY: Apparently. I guess one was a backup.
TOBIN: But it’s, like, all real physical shit, like, objects?
JEREMY: Yeah! Real physical shit. And Nick was like, “Oh, yeah. I’ve talked to Dale Parker Anderson. He’s real. He’s, like, a real guy out there who really did this.” And I was like, “Okay, can you put me in touch?”
DEREK: “You know, we have, uh, various steps in terms of privacy and — uh, that we need to adhere to.”
JEREMY: So, essentially —
[MUSIC ENDS ABRUPTLY]
JEREMY: — no.
JEREMY: So I know Dale is real.
[FILM NOIR MUSIC PLAYS]
JEREMY: I found the contact info for the firm that designed the Kingdom’s website.
JEREMY: I emailed them and they wrote:
AUSTRALIAN VOICE: Hi, Jeremy. Dale is a very private man, hence the reason why it is very hard to contact him. The only method of contact that I'm permitted to distribute is his postal address at the Embassy of the GLK P.O. box.
[MUSIC AND VOICE CUT OFF]
JEREMY: Okay. So I got the address of the Embassy — I mean, uh, P.O. box. [KATHY LAUGHS]
JEREMY: [READING THE LETTER] “To his majesty, Emperor Dale Parker Anderson the First, with my humble duty greetings from New York.
As to my knowledge, there is no Gay and Lesbian Kingdom Consulate in New York City. Please consider this an official international diplomatic request of urgent importance.”
JEREMY: “I’d also be honored to receive some official Coral Sea Islands postage stamps for future correspondence.”
JEREMY: Surprise, surprise. I never got a response.
KATHY: Goddamn it.
[BRIEF REGAL MUSIC]
JEREMY: So next I looked up ownership of that PO box in the Australian postal records.
KATHY: What’s a — what’s a postal record?
JEREMY: It’s, like, a public record of who owns which post office box. And so, from that, I finally found the phone number of who I believe to be the real Dale Parker Anderson.
[SKYPE PHONE CALL SOUNDS PLAY]
JEREMY: I called the number and I said:
JEREMY: [ON THE PHONE] Hey Dale. Uh, this is kind of crazy. My name’s Jeremy. I'm actually calling you all the way from the United States. Um, so this — this might strike you as a weird question and I can't believe I'm asking you this, but are you Dale — Emperor Dale Parker Anderson the First?
JEREMY: And he said, “Yeah. That’s me. Uh, but I’m at work right now.”
JEREMY: [ON THE PHONE] Oh my god, I found you! [FADE UNDER]
[CELEBRATORY DISCO MUSIC]
JEREMY: And he was like, “Oh, of course I'll talk to you. I have off from work on Sunday morning, so let's talk then.”
JEREMY: And he was just, like, a sweetheart. Total sweetheart. I sent him a text message, just confirming that we were going to be talking.
JEREMY: And he wrote back …
[MUSIC TAKES A SINISTER TONE AND ENDS]
TOBIN: Oh no.
JEREMY: [READING FROM THE MESSAGE] “Hi, Jeremy. I've been speaking to former members of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom government, and we have all moved on from our roles with the kingdom after it was handed back to Australia, when the Parliament passed the same-sex marriage law. So that part of our lives is now closed. I feel it's best if I do the right thing by the former members of my parliament and do not do interviews. Sorry for the disappointment. Our focus on that of the Gay and Lesbian government was always on marriage equality rather than on me, so I want to keep it that way. God bless, Dale.”
TOBIN: Damn it, Dale!
JEREMY: And he blocked me. [TOBIN GASPS]
KATHY: [INCREDULOUS] He blocked you?
JEREMY: He blocked me on WhatsApp. Yeah. I've been trying to reach him. He won’t answer my calls.
TOBIN: Wow. So he just really, completely shut the door.
TOBIN: Huh. [PAUSE] I just gotta say, Jeremy, I'm super fucking impressed.
KATHY: Yeah, you got pretty far. You got — you got — you basically got the jackpot, but then the jackpot blocked you. [ALL LAUGH]
TOBIN: But here’s the thing. This makes me even more curious. Like, why doesn’t he want to talk? Was there some scandal in the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom?
KATHY: [INSISTENT] I need to know what happened!
[SLOW OMINOUS MUSIC PLAYS]
JEREMY: Me too. So, I went on the GLK’s web forums and found the names of all of the old government officials from Mexico and Germany and Australia and even the United States. And I just started calling them.
BILL FREEMAN: [SOUNDING FAR AWAY AND ECHOEY] I don't know how you found me. I'm still — I’m sort of interested in “Why me?”.
JEREMY: This is Bill Freeman. He has a big beard, an even bigger smile, and he was the answer to my prayers, a miracle that came down from Gay Coral Sea heaven to spill the Kingdom’s deepest secrets.
JEREMY: As for why him …
[JUDGE JUDY THEME SONG]
JEREMY: [ANNOUNCER VOICE] You are about the enter the court room of Judge Bill Freeman. The people are real. The cases are real. The rulings are final. [EMPHATICALLY] This is Judge Bill.
[END THEME SONG]
BILL: I ran the courts.
JEREMY: In other words, Bill was the Kingdom’s Chief Justice. It's a position that makes sense for him.
BILL: I'm a civil law notary. I was a lawyer for 20 years in Birmingham, Alabama.
JEREMY: And Bill says that Alabama was not the best place to grow up gay.
BILL: To this day, I'm a 55 year-old man and my momma still tells her friends in Alabama that I'm married to a woman here in Canada. And yeah, I'll talk about things that will truly blow your feelings away. But that's Alabama.
JEREMY: These days, Bill lives in Victoria, Canada. In 1999, just five years before the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom, a man named Billy Jack Gaither was murdered not too far away from Birmingham just for being gay. He was burned to death. So, now, imagine living in this kind of environment, and then hearing about a distant gay island utopia.
[GENTLE SWING MUSIC SLOWLY COMES IN]
BILL: It sent me on a tear to find “Where did this come from? Who, what, where, why, and how?” I was so eager to get on top of it. I couldn't stand it. And I got — I got connected straight to Dale within two or three days.
JEREMY: How so?
BILL: I just called him on the phone ultimately. And we talked for an hour or two and uh, I said, “I want to help you make this happen. I think I see what you're trying to do.” And when I got involved with the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom, they already had the idea of trying to float the actual kingdom as an actual kingdom. But no one knew how.
JEREMY: Bill didn't know how either. But he knew he could help. He volunteered his legal expertise. And he was part of a growing number of international volunteers who believed in the idea of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom. They were working together to make it happen.
BILL: We had nicknames for one another. We loved one another. We worked hard together. We got along. Every one of us worked as hard and tried as hard and sweated and bled together and made what we could do together happen. No, none of — none of what we talked about sounded pie-in-the-sky or idiot's quest to me. It — it seemed like very practical, basic nationalism things you could do that might help.
JEREMY: So, what I learned from Bill was that the most of the people involved didn’t want to live on Cato Island, that rock in the sea.
BILL: I don't think it was possible, it was a coral atoll with birds.
JEREMY: “It’s a coral atoll with birds.” But Bill and his peers were still dead serious about trying to create many of the institutions that make established countries what they are. Real elections, a real parliament, stamps, an attempt at printing passports, laws …
So, in Bill’s mind, the Kingdom created all these institutions to boost their credibility, demand equal rights from Australia, and, really, force a response. But those aspirations did not stop with Australia.
[UNITED NATIONS HYMN INSTRUMENTAL]
BILL: “Let's create a gay nation, and let's see if we can use this idea to enforce human rights in a unique way for gay and lesbian people around the world.” Well, what we wanted to do was see the gay rainbow flag in the UN set of flags.
BILL: That’s what I wanted to see.
JEREMY: So like recognized by the UN?
BILL: Yeah, so we did that.
[MUSIC CRESCENDOES, THEN ENDS]
KATHY: [INCREDULOUS] Wait, Jeremy. So you’re saying that the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom had a seat at the United Nations?
JEREMY: Well, that’s what Bill wanted. He thought a seat at the UN would give them a platform to improve civil rights for queer people worldwide. So he and Dale drafted a letter to the UN Secretary General at the time —
TOBIN: [SHOCKED] Wait, wait wait wait? Kofi Annan?
JEREMY: Yeah, Kofi Annan! — saying that the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom fully submits itself to all the laws and regulations of the International Court of Justice. Maybe this was the first step towards a seat at the UN, and thereby civil rights protections for queer people around the world, as enforced by the International Court.
KATHY: Wow. Okay, I mean, I can respect that. That’s very official. Did the Secretary General respond?
BILL: No. The document never reached the court.
TOBIN: Come on, Kofi! [KATHY LAUGHS]
JEREMY: So, I — I dunno if they didn’t put enough gay stamps on it, or what happened. [TOBIN LAUGHS] So, I called the UN —
JEREMY: — and I said, [MORE ANXIOUSLY WITH TIME. “Hey, I know this is gonna sound kinda weird, but there’s this gay island, Cato Island. It’s a kingdom. And they declared war with Australia. Uh, the Gayflower. But I think they sent an application to you to be a country. What happened? Can I see it?”
[SOUND OF A PHONE BEING HUNG UP]
JEREMY: And I didn’t get very far.
KATHY: Aw, Jeremy! So what happened to the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom then?
JEREMY: Well in 2017, 13 years after this whole Gay and Lesbian Kingdom thing started, gay marriage was finally legalized in Australia by a nationwide mail-in vote. And, uh, with that, the kingdom dissolved.
TOBIN: Hey, look at that! Marriage for all, down under!
KATHY: Yeah, the Kingdom basically served its purpose. But the truth is, even by the time gay marriage was legalized, the Kingdom had already unraveled. It turns out, creating a country comes with a lot of responsibility. Bill says they started getting messages from desperate queer people all around the world who sincerely wanted to move to the island.
BILL: So there — there were a lot of people that actually wanted to go and live there and I didn't want to be responsible for people getting in a situation that was untenable.
JEREMY: And for some of those people who wanted to move to the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom, the stakes were quite high.
WILLOUGHBY POTTER DE GRIMALDI: Many sought asylum from oppressions in their own countries at the Gay Kingdom.
JEREMY: This is Willoughby Potter de Grimaldi, another volunteer. He goes by Willough. And he said it was difficult to have to turn those people down.
WILLOUGH: I reached back explaining the problem with that and how there isn’t a residence there. There — there’s nowhere specific to go. But, although you can’t necessarily seek asylum there on Cato Island, your voice is not lost. We could then connect those people with local organizations, to offer protections for discrimination and things like that.
JEREMY: All the things the Gay Kingdom was working working towards weren’t coming together. The Kingdom’s application to the UN went unanswered. Hopeful requests for asylum weren’t realistic. And honestly, it’s not clear if it really made a significant impact on the gay marriage issue in Australia. With growing international media attention, there were also more and more internal disagreements about what the Kingdom’s priorities should be.
BILL: So, we — we came under pressure. The pressure didn't stop. It just kept going, and people would tell us what they wanted us to do, but we were trying to do what we thought made sense. Yeah.
JEREMY: And of course, this caused people to start questioning the leadership.
BILL: The guy that was the king, Dale, was a nut. I think the original beginning was a bar bet with Dale that this could be done.
JEREMY: According to Bill, the whole Gay and Lesbian Kingdom was founded on a bar bet.
TOBIN: [UNBELIEVING] What?!
KATHY: [LAUGHING] What?!
TOBIN: Just like a dare between friends?
JEREMY: Yeah. Dale’s friends dared that he couldn't found a gay island nation, and he did. And then he attracted all these people who, like, were really into it — maybe even more than he was — and so an all-too common issue with monarchies — even gay monarchies — presented itself.
BILL: The problem that ultimately stopped the organization, I think, was a power struggle that couldn't be sorted.
JEREMY: And what was that?
BILL: Dale wanted to be the monarch more than he wanted to build an entity.
[GENTLE MUSIC COMES IN]
JEREMY: After a controversy regarding the kingdom’s finances, Dale’s leadership was challenged. So with nearly every person involved, there seemed to be a different vision for what the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom should be. Some people felt it should be a kind of viral ad campaign. Some thought it should be a UN-recognized nation. Some wanted to monetize it. And others really did want to settle on that little gay island in the middle of the sea. In essence, it was the classic struggle: A strong unified vision for what the kingdom could be, against the inclusion of everybody’s idea for what it might be. Like, there’s a reason why hundreds of leaders around the world, with even the best intentions, still make a big mess of things. Trying to create something that everyone can get behind is just hard.
BILL: And I think having lived through that — good googly-woogly! It gives you background that helps you understand why government doesn't work when it doesn't work.
TOBIN: Good googly-woogly.
JEREMY: Good googly-woogly indeed, Tobin. At the end of the day, Emperor Dale Parker Anderson, Chancellor Bill Freeman, volunteers like Willough, and everybody else went their separate ways.
[MUSIC QUIETS, THEN CHANGES TONE]
BILL: I've had 20 years to think about it. So yeah, we — we — we were careless 30-somethings. I don't blame Dale. I think he was sucked up in something he wasn't suited to, just like we were. The experience of creating a small country has colored my life in so many ways. It was great. It was — it was one of the best things I think I did in my life. I — I wish it had actually done what we wanted it to do. I think if that had happened, you could absolutely, positively change the world.
[LONG MUSIC TAIL PLAYS UNDERNEATH]
TOBIN: You know, even if it didn’t work out, I have to say, what an amazing story!
JEREMY: Yeah! It’s incredible. [BEAT] I think what’s so inspiring about the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom is just that they didn’t hesitate to dream up a totally different reality. Like, they were able to say,”Look, this isn’t the way things have to be. We can imagine a place just for us, with rainbow stamps and a Gloria Gaynor anthem. And with that, we can make the world a more equal place.”
That kind of courageous imagination is hard to come by, especially now. We’re on the cusp of this huge change. And, probably, we’re gonna have the opportunity to rebuild a post-COVID world from the ground up. And, at least for me, I think that’s the kind of imagination we need to do it.
KATHY: I’d move to an island with you, Jeremy.
JEREMY: Aw! I’d move to an island with you, Kathy.
KATHY: Maybe not you, Tobin.
TOBIN: And you’ve lost me. [BEAT] Just kidding. [KATHY LAUGHS]
[CREDITS MUSIC PLAYS]
KATHY: Alright, credits.
TOBIN: Special thanks to Albert Behar, who wrote some of the music in this episode.
KATHY: Producers —
TOBIN: Jeremy Bloom, Zakiya Gibbons, and B.A. Parker.
KATHY: Editors —
TOBIN: Stephanie Foo and Sarah Geis.
KATHY: Sound Designer —
JEREMY: That’s me! Jeremy.
KATHY: Executive Producer —
TOBIN: Suzie Lechtenburg
KATHY: I’m Kathy Tu!
TOBIN: I’m Tobin Low.
KATHY: And Nancy is a production of WNYC Studios.
[CREDITS MUSIC PLAYS OUT]
JEREMY: Okay. And this marking, can you, uh, read what that says and describe it? And can you read what this says here?
BRUCE: Yeah, I can — I can read it. It says “Royal Gay Mail,” which — there was no such thing.