From airlines to airwaves

Thomas Edmondson strolls into his classic truck club meetings in what many would designate a macho atmosphere. Most of the members know him, but at first glance the newly minted members see his salt-and-pepper colored hair, conservative glasses, and confident smile leading them to assume he’s just like them until he introduces his fiancé Lynn.

“I’ll say this is my husband Lynn and their expressions say ‘wow you guys are married,’’’ Edmondson said. They fall into the stereotype of thinking ‘where’s his wife?’ before I introduce him,” Edmondson said.

At 61 years old he’s witnessed the highs and lows of the gay movement.

“The stereotype that every gay person is a fashion designer or does hair has to stop,” Edmondson said. “I like getting my fingernails dirty and working on my classic cars.”

Some ignorant encounters are followed up with the comment ‘you’re not that type’ which prompts him to reply ‘What type should I be?’, we’re typecast and it’s not fair,” Edmondson said.

His youth was spent in St. Paul, Minn., the state known as the land of 10,000 lakes. The majestic lakes, camping areas, and resorts provided countless outdoors activities.

“Our family was big into archery,” Edmondson said. We would also go fishing, hunting, and camping. During the winter there was snow up to your neck so we did winter sports from snowmobiling to ice fishing.”

He was the only son and middle child of blue-collar workers. His parents were hands-on and would often sit and help him and his siblings with their homework. He became conscious of his homosexuality early when he felt drawn to other boys in his neighborhood.

“I knew when I was six years old,” Edmondson said. I am, what I am like the song from the Broadway musical La Cage aux Folles.

As a teenager he proudly came out as gay. After high school he set his sights on the airline industry. He trained for a year at Humbolt Institute, an airline academy in Minneapolis. Soon after, Edmondson landed a job in Chicago before transferring to Ozark Airlines in St. Louis where he would meet his future husband. In 1986, TWA bought Ozark Airlines and the two merged.

“TWA was huge and it was a drastic change overnight for us going from a regional airline to an international airline,” Edmondson said.

The switch gave employees an opportunity to travel the world.

“You could go first-class for $100 anywhere in the world that TWA flew,” Edmondson said. You name it, we were there Paris, Hong Kong, London and Honolulu to name a few. The airline career was better than any history book I ever read. To actually be standing at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and touch it, or be standing a feet away from the Mona Lisa painting. I’m very lucky that I had that in my life and I will always cherish the memories.

In 1991, he and Lynn applied for highly competitive positions as customer assistance consultants in Kansas City, Mo., with Worldspan, a company partly formed by TWA. They both secured the position and have been working together for 25 years. An alternate outcome would have separated them and possibly jeopardized their future.

During the same year they attended the Kansas City Gay Pride parade and ironically Edmondson was plucked out of the crowd to replace the absent grand marshall with the same name, Tom.

“I was in a parade, sitting in the car waving at people,” Edmondson said. It was a blast.”

As he was settling into his new surroundings in Kansas City he noticed vehicles with 90.1 FM bumper stickers. His curiosity led him to tune in and hear an announcement asking for volunteers. He was soon answering phone calls for the station, and eventually became an executive producer, on-air host, and vice president of board of directors.

Thomas Edmondson

Thomas Edmondson

“I was on three to five committees at 90.1 FM and volunteering 60 to 80 hours a month, which is a lot for a volunteer at the station, but that’s what it meant to me,” Edmondson said.

His interest in radio stemmed from his St. Louis stint with the airlines where he was complimented on his golden voice after he delivered boarding announcements.

“I tended to put on this radio voice when making boarding announcements, and people would come up and stop me and say ‘have you ever considered doing radio?’’’ Edmondson said. “I heard it over and over so it was in the back of my mind. Who would have known I truly would be behind a microphone at a radio station in a few years”.

Edmondson said he appreciates the stark difference between community radio and mainstream corporate radio.

“It’s one of those radio stations that you call or walk-in and get a real person,” Edmondson said. It’s a human factor. So many radio stations today have lost communication with people. They’re kind of robotic and under control of the owners of the stations and their big conglomerates.

“The Tenth Voice”, one of 90.1 FMs longest running shows, is entering its 24th year. It is a team show with five producers who alternate hosting on-air segments. As executive producer Edmondson scheduled shows with staff weeks in advance. The public affairs show addressed issues within the LGBTQIA community.

A study by Dr. Alfred Kinsey, a sexologist and pioneer in the quantitative study of human sexuality who discovered that one in 10 individuals is gay, inspired the show name.

“Times have changed and we think that number has drastically changed, but we didn’t want to change the name since it’s been historic at the station,” Edmondson said.

One of the highlights at “The Tenth Voice” was interviewing Chaz Bono, Cher’s son who identifies as a transgender male. Through discussions and interviews Edmondson began to despise a frequently said acronym on the show.

“I hated the letters LGBTQIA,” Edmondson said. “It put use in categories and I said I refused to use that. I started using A.W.O.L., All Walks of Life. It’s inclusive of everybody on this planet. It has gone nationally and I know gay music artists I interviewed that go on stage and say it. It’s gone like wildfire around the world”.

Thomas Edmondson on the cover of 'Camp' magazine.

Thomas Edmondson on the cover of ‘Camp’ magazine.

The word “tolerance” was dissected on another show segment.

“The LGBT community doesn’t like the word tolerance when referring to us,” Edmondson said. “We hear that all the time from religious organizations. They’ll say ‘our church or organization shows tolerance’. If you look up the word tolerance in the dictionary it means I’m going to put up with a person or thing. If they had total acceptance that means they would accept me and what I represent.

After years of building up the radio show, Edmondson felt he couldn’t commit to the six mandatory volunteer hours required for on-air staff along with the many long hours producing the show. With the addition of new staff he felt the show was in good hands so he left in an effort to maintain a healthy balance in his life.

“Three years is a good time, and in radio life that’s when you either walk away or recreate yourself, and I thought it was time for me to step away,” Edmondson said.

Edmondson currently produces promotions for several shows at the station including “This Way Out”, “Art of the Song” and “New Dimensions”. When he’s not at the station he’s a full-time senior business analyst for Travelport where he writes technical documents that computer programmers use to develop programs for travel applications. Hosting another radio show and venturing into the commercial radio arena has crossed his mind, however.

“If I was given the opportunity where I could do a weekly show I would jump at it in a New York second,” Edmondson said. Right now my full-time job is secure. If they offered me an early buyout to retire I would pursue a show that plays contemporary club/dance/disco music and interview music artists around the world.

Edmondson continues to rally for the LGBTQIA community and believes racism parallels homophobia.

“It is all about how they were raised in their homes,” Edmondson said. I was raised that if you cut my arm and an African-American cuts their arm we’re going to have the same color blood.”

He was elated when he heard that Michael Sam, an All-American defensive lineman from Mizzou, came out as gay.

“I jumped for joy, said Emdondson. For a young person in a sports environment to do that is astounding. Just think of how many people questioning their sexuality were watching that broadcast. Their probably thinking ‘How can it be wrong when this person is telling the world he’s gay and he’s proud of it”’, Edmondson said.

Last year during the Supreme Court Ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act he went to downtown Kansas City, Mo., with more than 300 people and rallied, waving their rainbow flags when it was announced that the ruling was overturned.

“There are more than 3,000 benefits that a traditional couple get from marriage, but it wasn’t being extended to same-sex marriages and now they are,” Edmondson said. That is a milestone and something that we could never have imagined.”

Edmondson has witnessed significant progress for the LGBTQIA community throughout the years.

“The amazing Harvey Milk—every time I hear about all that he has done for the gay movement, and then Martin Luther King Jr. for civil rights, I’m so proud for what they did and stood up for,” Edmondson said. Every year I sit and listen to the entire Martin Luther King speech and at the end of it I always say out loud, ‘thank you, Martin Luther King. Thank you, because without him we wouldn’t be where we’re at today.”

After three decades together Edmondson and Lynn plan to officially and legally tie the knot in October in Ames, Iowa.

“For me to be 61 years old and getting married, yes it’s late in life, but it’s finally happening in my lifetime,” Edmondson said.

Thomas Edmondson and husband Lynn.

Thomas Edmondson and husband Lynn.

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