Broad Ripple’s Van Kirby: A Gay Dad in Indiana

Dan Detrick and Van Kirby.

by Dan Carpenter

The judge told Van Kirby to go ahead and pick up his kids, but the kids had other ideas.

The little ones, Michelle and Lora, hid under a bed in their maternal grandmother’s house and kicked and screamed when he pulled them out and carried them into his van. Then he drove to Scott’s youth baseball game, where Debbie was in the stands. Getting those two into the vehicle was every bit as ugly: Kirby wound up tackling his son in center field.

There is much more to that harrowing incident in April 1976, as detailed in Kirby’s memoir, On the Table by the Window: The Journey of a Gay Dad in Indiana. What really matters is that there’s a happy ending. Scott, Debbie, Michelle, and Lora have made full lives for themselves, and their offspring enjoy the company of Grampa Van.

They also enjoy Grampa Dan, who was there every step of the way, even though Van never dared admit to the court that they were not just friends, but lovers.

Van Kirby and Dan Detrick were already partners when Kirby won a bitter custody battle after the dissolution of a long marriage, and they remain so to this day. Both 70, they operate Hair at 6310, a well-established Midtown styling salon they plan to turn over soon to their co-manager, Van’s daughter Debbie. They divide their time between Indy and Sarasota, Fla., and by Kirby’s reckoning are a textbook example of happy, responsible, productive married citizenship.

And they will not be legally married, Kirby vows, until Indiana or Florida allows it.

“I’m one who pretty much digs a foxhole, to be where I am,” he said. “I’ve always loved Indiana, even if it’s a very red state. We truly grow where we see and hear different opinions.”

Growing pains are graphically presented in Kirby’s book, which recounts a half-lifetime of confused sexual encounters, including his rape by a beguiling stranger.

“It was very painful” to write the book, he said. “”I just didn’t really feel I could regurgitate all this.”

Kirby felt—and set aside—a fear his children might be hurt by the book’s revelations. It was his kids’ future grandchildren, who probably won’t know him and Dan, for whom he felt compelled to write. The kids’ reaction to his manuscript? “Go for it, Dad.” “They’re older,” he chuckled. “They won’t suffer like they would if they were in junior high.”

“It’s the main thing you want out of life,” their dad said. “Permission from your children to be who you are.”

Dan Carpenter is an Indianapolis native, longtime Midtown resident, a survivor of 36 years at The Indianapolis Star, and the author of four books. A version of this article appeared in the February/March 2014 issue of the magazine.