The airman and the playwright

Posted on 12 Feb 2016 at 7:15am

Gregory Craft and Buster Spiller celebrate their first wedding anniversary, after 19 years together, with advice for other couples

Couple-with-Dog

 

DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer

“Respect one another,” Gregory Craft said, sitting next to his husband Linus “Buster” Spiller as he offered advice for couples. “And never go to bed angry.”

Spiller agreed. But he pursed his lips as he said, “Even if it’s one, small peck on the lips.” He narrowed his eyes, obviously thinking of a recent fight, then advised to put the argument off until the next day.

Craft continued with his advice about how the couple has managed to stay together for 19 years: “Never introduce him as ‘my other half.’ He’s a whole person.”

Spiller added, “We have schedules that provide distance,” with a side-long glance at his husband that suggested he might be relishing the thought of distance.

Gregory
Craft works for Delta Airlines as a global ticketing supervisor, where, he said, “I deal with chaotic international travel issues. I have a passion to make people enjoy their journey.”

And from the moment he starts talking, it’s obvious Craft is passionate about everything he does. Before joining Delta, he spent 24 years in the U.S. Air Force. He served in Operation Desert Storm and in Kosovo.

The way he tells it, he had to serve. His father was among the Tuskegee Airmen, that valiant group of African-Americans who fought during World War 2.

Craft enlisted at a time it was illegal for gays to serve, thanks to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. When he was challenged regarding his sexual orientation, Craft replied, “I didn’t tell, why you asking?” His accusers, he said, backed off.

Craft said when he signed up he didn’t see much conflict in signing the paperwork vowing he had no active homosexual tendencies. After all, he had no boyfriend at the time so there was nothing active going on.

“I’m willing to give my life for my country and they’re worried about my sexuality,” Craft said, dismissive of the antiquated thinking.

He said he entered training with a group that he described as everything from guys who came “from the ghettos of Harlem” to the Ku Klux Klan.

When an officer challenged him, saying, “Mr. Craft, a lot of guys think you’re gay,” Craft said to himself,

“Let’s stop this right now.” So he answered, “Sometimes I’m happy. Sometimes I’m not. I signed a contract to give my life for this country.”

He then threatened to sue for defamation of character, thinking to himself the whole time, “This is one sissy who will whoop your ass.”

Craft said being gay has never been an issue for him. When he was young, his godmother recognized he was gay and told him, “Many people in the world aren’t going to like you, but I’ll always love you.”

He said he never thought being gay should present any obstacle, even before he realized how many gay people were out there. But it wasn’t until he was stationed in Germany and went to a huge disco filled with servicemen dancing together that he realized just how many gay men were actually in the U.S. military.

By the late 1990s, Craft was stationed at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, and that’s when he met Spiller. They met at Iguana Mirage, a straight bar near NorthPark Mall. Straight friends had invited each of them out that night. Spiller, who had just broken up with a partner of seven years, said he saw this cute man across the room; Craft recalled, “I was smitten.”

He walked over to Spiller and asked if he had a pen. “I put my number on a card and said, ‘Use it,’” Craft said.

Couple-NoH8

Buster Spiller, left, with his husband Gregory Craft, dressed in his military uniform, pose for a NOH8 photo. (Courtesy Spiller and Craft)

Spiller added, “We parted and I didn’t call him for four months.”

Spiller said he set the card aside, but finally one day decided to call. He got through to someone Craft was doing contract work for and left a message. He didn’t expect to hear back.

A half hour later the phone rang.

“This is Linus,” Spiller said.

“I know,” Craft said. “What in the hell took you so long to call me?”

Craft asked what time Spiller went to bed, an odd question, Spiller thought.

“I want my voice to be the last voice you hear before you go to bed,” Craft explained.

For the next year, the couple courted, Spiller said. He met Craft’s father, who welcomed him into the family, and then made an immediate connection with other members of the family. It was a closeness

Spiller said he doesn’t have with his own family.

Craft had planned to retire from the military in 2001. But then came the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and he was caught in the new “stop loss” program. His retirement was denied and his tour-of-duty extended four years.

“I was pissed,” Spiller said. But Craft understood. He knew the military needed all its experienced personnel. So he continued in the military, working on deployment while remaining based in the Dallas area. He finally retired from active duty in 2005, but spent several more years in the reserves.

Buster
Spiller describes his own career in education-related fields as “the day job” that supports his true passion — entertainment. He has won playwriting competitions, and he had a theater company based at the Dallas Black Academy for four years. He said he is currently working on a screenplay and a documentary.

Spiller said he is planning to go to his hometown — Flint, Mich. — where his mother was a water commissioner, to document the stories of some of its residents who are affected by the water supply contaminated with lead. He said he doesn’t want their plight forgotten when the headlines shift to a crisis somewhere else, since the children impacted by the lead poisoning will be affected for the rest of their lives.

Craft stands behind his husband’s creative endeavors. “I’m waiting for my red carpet moment,” he said.

Family
Family is important to Spiller and Craft. They took in three teens from other relatives, raising those children as their own. The kids are grown and on their own now, and have already given Spiller and Craft five children with another grandchild AND a great-grandchild on the way.

A year ago, on Feb. 12, the couple married legally in Washington, D.C., before the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision in the Obergefell case, but after the court’s decision striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act in the Windsor case. Because the men had to be married for Spiller to receive Craft’s military pension, they decided Lincoln’s birthday in the nation’s capital was a good place to make their relationship official.

“I was in the military too damn long to lose that money if anything happened to me,” Craft declared.

While the ceremony was private, they’re still planning a more public ceremony for the family.

Craft makes it clear they’re together for life: Divorce isn’t part of their religious belief. Spiller agreed: “At this point, we know each other so well, we’re glued together.”

The two had more advice for other couples. “Be with someone who complements you, who celebrates your existence,” Craft said. ”It wouldn’t be a good day for me if he weren’t in my life.”

Spiller added, “There are going to be days you’re lovey-dovey. Other days you just have to be civil enough to pay the bills and get past whatever it is.”

One of the keys to their 19-year relationship, the men said, is still doing date nights: “He’s my boyfriend again,” Spiller said. “We go to the movies and share popcorn.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 12, 2016.

 

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