Columbus Woman Recounts Growing Up With Interracial Parents, Gay Father


Local dancer Alexis Wilson was the daughter of two stage performers at a time when interracial marriage was taboo.

Her parents, a black American dancer and a Dutch prima ballerina, fell in love and got married while working together in Holland. Billy Wilson and Sonja Van Beers had successful careers performing ballet across Europe, until something turned their lives upside down.

"I kept my home life very private which is what one did then, everything that was at home, stayed at home," said Alexis in her self-published memoir ‘Not So Black and White.’

Her story is one of a childhood in Holland, family vacations in the Mediterranean and a career in dance all her own.

The family eventually moved to Boston where Billy and Sonja started their own dance company. But their marriage unraveled when another dancer entered it. His name was Chip Garnett.

Alexis said her father didn't talk much about the relationship.

“When it did come up, the way my father reacted to it was... ‘This is who I'm with, not everyone's going to like it. But, that's what it is,’” Alexis said.

Sonja left her husband and the kids, and Billy Wilson raised Alexis and her brother Parker, with Chip.

The men kept their relationship private during a time when same sex relationships were not lived as easily as today.

"All I really knew at that age was that this was my father's very dear friend. And that was sort of the protocol then. You didn't talk about this being your partner. It was sort of very unusual," Alexis said.

The two spent 18 years together, but Chip contracted AIDS, and then Billy did also.

Billy was 59 and Chip was 49 when they died within six months of each other in 1994.

Alexis said although her father had few regrets about his life personally or professionally, he probably would not have been interested in joining the marriage equality movement. She said he would just be happy enjoying the life he had.

"I think it reinforced the importance of acceptance and to sometimes understand that love doesn't always come from an expected place and that it's up to us to either accept or embrace what that is," Alexis said.

Alexis Wilson is the wife of Columbus jazz orchestra director Byron Stripling and has retired from dancing, but not the stage. She recently produced a two-day run at the Lincoln theater of a music and dance performance entitled "Suite Rosa," Dedicated to civil rights pioneer, Rosa Parks.

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