In high school, Hal Heath always wanted to be in color guard. At 29, he finally achieved his goal — by forming ROTC Dallas
RICH LOPEZ | Contributing Writer
High school seems like a comparative breeze for many gay boys nowadays: They go to prom together, come out at commencement speeches, get named “cutest couple” for senior superlatives and are treated as simply fabulous by their peers.
But for those less than a generation older — indeed, just a few years out of high school — the closet was a place to hide away from the name-calling and bullying. But oh, how those missed opportunities can still bite.
Hal Heath was in such a place during his high school years in the small town of Azle, Texas. But recently something in him snapped — in a good way — and he decided, at age 29, that the time had come to do what he had always wanted in those teen years. He was finally going to be a member of the color guard.
“I had wanted to do it but never auditioned because I was afraid of being picked on or called gay,” Heath says. “Finally, when I came out in my 20s, I [decided I] shouldn’t be afraid of who I am.”
There were always cheerleading and drill team, but the color guard was a different breed for Heath. An offshoot of the school marching band, the traditionally all-female squad would perform with flags set to the music of the band during halftime performances. How fab is that?
The question for Heath became: How could he incorporate that into the Dallas queer community. Where even to start?
“I wished there was a color guard here,” he says. “Then I found the Oak Lawn Band, and with them being primarily an LGBT organization, I asked if they were interested in doing color guard.”
Heath took it upon himself to start what he dreamed of and soon was born the Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps of Dallas — ROTC Dallas for short.
“Tim Stallman from OLB suggested that, because it’s a name other groups are using in other cities, even though there isn’t an actual national ROTC organization,” Heath explains.
“The band was not able to manage a color guard year-round because of its other musical priorities,” says Stallman, former president and drum major of the OLB. “It just made sense to create a stand-alone flag and rifle color guard that could grow and perform throughout the year on its own.”
The second hurdle was slightly more complicated. Because he hadn’t done color guard as a kid, he didn’t have any experience to back up his dream. Heath never learned to spin and twirl flags … and it ain’t easy. So he set up a Facebook page, and members have stepped in as mentors.
With active guard members at eight and 25 friends on Facebook so far, Heath sees a genuine interest in the community. And he was thrilled to meet others with both experience and enthusiasm.
“We have a couple members, like me, who are new and fresh to color guard, but our experienced members have also been so great,” he says. “And I’ve had to pretty much learn all of it: how to spin and hold the flag, how to maintain heavy and light flags. But I’m loving all of it.”
ROTC Dallas made their official debut at Razzle Dazzle’s Main Event earlier this month. With a high-profile start, nerves were abundant, but Heath feels the group made a positive first impression. Now, they are extending their visibility by lining up performances at Houston and Austin Pride events — and of course, Dallas Pride in September. And as with Razzle Dazzle, if they don’t perform with the band, they’ll perform to recorded music.
“We want to be a group that performs with the OLB, but when they have their down time usually in winter, we still want to be out there,” Heath says.
As a new group, he encourages those with even a hint of interest to come check them out — they are open to everybody.
“There is still much we have to do but we plan to have a website where potential members can get info on our page,” he says. “And we’re cool with people watching us rehearse! Or if they wanna help out in any way, that’d be great.”
ROTC Dallas rehearses Sundays at 6 p.m at Reverchon Park, but Heath plans to find an indoor space away from the Texas heat. In addition to his full-time day job, Heath has a lot on his plate to make ROTC Dallas the group he envisions it to be. Then again, dreams are usually worth the work.
That’s something he found out already.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 21, 2013.