As a college town Princeton has always had a strong hold on alumni of the university bearing its name. Alumni by the hundreds find their way back to live in central New Jersey, enjoying the community that most of them only briefly encountered as undergraduates.
Doug Worthington, a Princeton University graduate, Class of 1989, and a graduate of George Washington University Law School, could have pursued his career and personal goals in a big city environment. However, after graduation, he decided that he preferred to move to an area where he could be active in a community and have a fairly typical life. “Princeton was a fine fit for me,” says Worthington, an in-house attorney for Bristol-Myers Squibb, “because what I do after work is as important as my work.” In that respect, coming back to the university town where he had spent so many years and which he knew quite well afforded him the opportunity to create the life he desired.
While at Princeton Worthington was not officially out as a gay man. In Washington, D.C., in law school he found that the big city offered more opportunities to live a gay lifestyle, a place where Worthington felt more comfortable to explore and develop his sexual identity.
But the sense of community mattered more, and Worthington joined the corporate practice group of a Princeton law firm in 1993 after interning for them during his second semester of law school. The firm was small but growing. At the time he joined, Worthington was the 19th lawyer; when he left in the fall of 1999 the firm had grown to 55 attorneys. He says that while he was employed at the firm, there were never any discussions about gay men but “to me the atmosphere never felt right to come out.” While nothing was said, it was a situation where he felt it best to play his cards close to the vest and keep his private life to himself.
This vague feeling of discomfort was high on the list of factors when he chose to make a professional move in-house with a large company, where there were a lot of people and, he says, “you would be freer to be who you want to be.” While working at the law firm, Worthington worked extensively on Bristol-Myers Squibb (B-MS) projects and ended up leaving to accept a position at B-MS’s corporate offices in Plainsboro. It was a perfect match. From the beginning, he felt that he fit in very easily at B-MS and was able to express himself without fear of reprisal.
He says B-MS has an atmosphere where people come to work and live their lives. “It’s not a matter of being straight or gay but rather just being who you are, an atmosphere where I can be a man, an attorney, and a good worker who happens to be gay.” In this accepting company atmosphere, Worthington brings his partner of three and half years, Jim Hall, the manager of the Lambertville Station restaurant, to corporate social functions, just as any other colleague would bring their spouse. The week before going on their Cape Cod vacation, Worthington received a promotion and brought Hall along to the company celebration. In addition, colleagues from work often come to his house for parties and other social occasions.
Reached by phone while on vacation in Provincetown, Cape Cod, his warmth and intelligence came through as he described growing up in Moorestown. For 30 years, his father worked as the registrar at the College of New Jersey and his mother, an elementary school teacher, worked the last six years of her career in the admissions office of the College of New Jersey.
Since 2002, Worthington’s work at BMS supports the information put out by the company’s U.S. Medicine group, which markets medicines in the United States, specifically those for HIV, oncology, and hepatitis. When asked, he says that there are several gays who work on the HIV projects, but many straight people as well. In fact, there is a mixed group of people working in all of the various areas including cancer and cholesterol, as well as HIV.
In interviews with prospective employees who are gay, Worthington often offers the following advice to those considering the move to Princeton: “If you can’t find a gay church, just find a church that welcomes.” He offers that the Nassau Presbyterian Church has always been very accepting.
Worthington says that when he made the decision to come out in the late 1990s and specifically 2000, he joined the New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus (NJGMC), which turned out to naturally offer a built-in social group. The chorus rehearses every Monday evening at the Nassau Presbyterian Church. At the time, Doug was on an ad hoc committee that was also meeting in the church on Monday nights and that was how he first became aware of the chorus. For a time, he debated about joining the chorus but when the committee ended, he decided to come out as a gay man and join.
Men from all over New Jersey, New York, and Bucks County comprise the NJGMC membership. Because many members find their home communities offer few outlets for gay men and since many of them travel so far to attend the rehearsals they tend to capitalize on getting everyone together after rehearsal for a relaxed social evening of drinks and dining. The Annex used to be a favorite place; now they tend to go to Ruby Tuesdays. “It’s for the camaraderie as much as for the singing,” Worthington says. “It’s a place to go and hang out with other gay men. The vision statement of NJGMC says they want to be role models for the gay community and to live affirmative lives as active members of the community. “It is a very mixed group of people. We have businessmen, teachers, some who are involved in retail, healthcare professionals, and a few retirees. Only about a half dozen of the men are in the arts as a profession; it’s a good cross-section.”
There are five sections of the chorus; the fifth section is for non-singing members — usually friends and family of a singing member who want to participate in some capacity. Doug’s partner, Jim Hall, is a member of the fifth section and is a trustee. These days, in addition to their regular performance schedule, the chorus gets more requests to do concerts than they can accommodate. They perform mostly in New Jersey, although they have done expos at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City a few times. Locally, they perform in Washington Crossing, New Brunswick, Princeton, Bound Brook, and at Middlesex County College. They will be performing at the Unitarian Church in Washington Crossing and also in Plainfield during December.
Once a year, the chorus performs in Atlantic City on the Sunday before Thanksgiving at the Episcopal Church, an AIDS memorial service, honoring the memory of those who have died of AIDS and for their caregivers; this year the concert will be on November 19. Worthington says that “AIDS is still very bad and deadly — it always has risk of rebounding as an epidemic when people treat it too lightly because of the drugs that are available. They think they can just take drugs and be okay. Now AIDS has become very big in various socio-economic groups other than the gay community.”
In terms of coming out and making a life for yourself, Princeton has a lot to offer, Worthington says. “Aside from being an hour away from New York and Philadelphia, it is within easy reach of Trenton, New Hope, Lambertville, and New Brunswick, where there are many groups to join and lots of outlets.” Having lived in Princeton during his college years, Worthington knew that this was the right place for him to build a life while at the same time giving him access to major cities. “I don’t know that I would have chosen to live here if it was not such an easy trip into New York for the restaurants and theater, “ he says. “But, being that it’s only an hour away, Princeton offered me the perfect balance of a normal life in a close community with the excitement and rich opportunities offered by the big cities.”
Last November, Worthington and Hall had a commitment ceremony. Worthington met Hall in Provincetown in May, 2003, when he went on vacation with a friend. He was not looking for anyone in particular at the time but, as fate would have it, he met Hall in the parking lot of the complex where his friend had a place. Hall was living in Philadelphia at the time but was working in Lambertville. In January, 2005, they filed to become domestic partners in New Jersey, an option that became available in July, 2004, and was a prelude to a commitment ceremony. After being together for two and a half years and waiting for New Jersey to legalize same-sex marriage, they decided to move ahead with the commitment ceremony.
First they talked to Presbyterian ministers they knew well and learned that they could have a minister bless the same-sex commitment. A very close friend who is a minister agreed to performed an hour-long ceremony. The ceremony, which is identical to a marriage ceremony but without the legal papers, took place in Santa Fe, New Mexico, because it was a place they had visited together and loved. “The spirit and feeling there is different than any place I had ever been” Worthington says.
Because the local church was under construction, the actual ceremony took place at Bishops Lodge, a 100-year-old resort that was the summer retreat of the bishop of Santa Fe. Worthington describes it as a small ceremony with about 45 people — family, friends, and co-workers — in attendance. “Several friends and their spouses came from BMS,” he says. “It ranged from people in mid-level management up to the senior vice president of the division I was working in.”
These days, the couple live a well-rounded life in Princeton. Aside from their professions, they volunteer at Nassau Presbyterian Church. They spend at least three months working with the church preparing for the annual Loaves and Fishes event in Trenton, which takes place on a Saturday morning at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, where approximately 500 homeless people are served morning coffee, a hot midday dinner, and a take-away supper. (For more information call 609-683-4427.)
In town Worthington says that he places Mediterra in Palmer Square high on the list as a great place to hang out if someone is looking for fine dining. “It has a good bar and is nice place to spend an evening with friends.” For a relaxing evening after work, he prefers the Tiger’s Tale on Route 206 in Montgomery. “It’s a terrific neighborhood bar for burgers and beer. The local baseball teams come in as well as little league people. Locals are there watching sports, swapping stories, having parties, and just meeting up with friends. It’s just a great local hangout.”
He adds that in addition to the New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus, there are a lot of churches, theaters, and restaurants easily available in the Princeton area. “It’s a nice outlet to go up to New York City. We’re very lucky to have that within easy reach.” As for Princeton, Worthington says: “You seek out communities that are accepting. I have never found any people or places in Princeton who were totally unaccepting.”