Champions of LGBTQ life and culture in Rochester, NY since 1973.
Tuesday November 21st 2017

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Interview: Mark Ellenwood

Mark Ellenwood. Photo: John DeHaas

By Susan Jordan

Electrician Mark Ellenwood has run his business, Ellenwood Electric (“We do it without shorts”), for 37 years. In the early years he helped to defy the stereotype that gay men can’t be masculine and do “butch” things.

Before starting Ellenwood Electric, Mark was a DJ and also installed light shows at gay clubs. He said, “I was a DJ in the ‘70s and one place I worked at was Jim’s Bar. Ducky, the owner, asked if I could install a light show, and so I did.

“Fixing electrical things was just a hobby. My father was a jack of all trades and was good at everything. He taught me little bits of being an electrician. Ducky needed a licensed electrician and he hired one to work with me installing the light show. He taught me a lot.

“This was before computers. Light computers were just coming in and electricians had no experience wiring them, and they were blowing light fuses. I read manuals on wiring light computers, so I had that knowledge, and the licensed electrician had the electrician knowledge, so together we got it done.”

Mark continued, “Then I did light shows for Friars, Rosie’s and the old Bachelor Forum on E. Main St., where I was employed as manager. Eventually I went full time as an electrician, doing residential work. I started the business part time in 1979 and went full time in 1982.”

Mark has hired both gay and straight men to work at Ellenwood. “The straight employees have always been very accepting. I’ve never had an issue. Over the last 37 years I’ve found I’ve never had to pretend I’m straight to get business. Now it has gotten to the point where I can be totally open with straight customers. I’ve only ever had one customer who hired me and then told me to leave when he learned I was gay. I’ve had over 16,000 jobs over the past 37 years.

“(Contractor) Rick Fenwick and I have always made sure that we were in the Pride Parade and had ads in The Empty Closet. I used to be convinced that gay men could only be hairdressers or florists. Then I learned you could also pick up tools and do whatever you wanted. But back in the day that wasn’t represented. Now it’s a non-issue!”