University of Houston
Friends of Women’s Studies
The Living Archive Series
In the 70s and 80s
Interviewing/Recording lives of Lesbians over 70
Dr. Joyce Gayles
Clinical Psychologist and Success Coach
Jane: Let’s start with—did your sexual orientation have anything to do with bringing you to Houston? Was Houston as attraction or did you just come here? Let’s start with you because you were the last to come to Houston.
Joyce: Directly, I came to Houston to do my internship in Psychology. Houston was not a place I was thinking about coming. If it hadn’t been for the internship, I wouldn’t be here.
Arden: I came to Houston for a teaching job. I had taught one year in West Texas in 1951 and it was very isolated out there. It was a wonderful job, but not a real good place for a young person. So I came to Houston—I had a college friend here—and that’s how I wound up here.
Pokey: I came to Houston in 1972 and there was one reason. Her name was Barbara. I was just in the middle of the transition of coming out and this was a college friend of mine who had moved back here where her parents were in Richmond, Texas. So after college, I followed her here and proceeded to come out, and she proceeded to date men, so Barbara went by the wayside. But there were many other women in Houston, luckily.
Jane: So there was no sense that Houston was a town that would be receptive to you as lesbians. I mean, was it the climate?
Arden: I don’t think so.
Jane: Did you all come out as you were in Houston, or were you openly lesbian when you came? You had gone through this process before you came to town?
Joyce: Yes, I had come out, probably about 1972. And I was pretty much an out-lesbian. When I came to Houston, it took me about eight months to really hook up with the lesbian community here in Houston. Part of that was because I was really involved with the internship, and not quite looking yet.
Arden: I was pretty closeted. I was in public school work. If I had been discovered, I would have lost my job and never had another one. We’re talking back 1952, so we’re talking about a totally different environment.
Jane: If you had smoked a cigarette in public in ’52…
Arden: It would have been pretty bad. So although I knew a lot of people, I was not an out-lesbian at the time.
Jane: Give us a sense of what your lifestyle was. Pokey, I’ve known you about that long, and I’ve known—I’ve never had any doubts that you were lesbian. You were very upfront about it, in that sense, and you were active in the community as a lesbian. Tell us about it.
Pokey: Well, I started my career as a lesbian—the fringe benefits are good, but the pay is rotten—in about ’72 in Florida, where I was in college. I was living with a couple gals right after college. We were trying to figure out what we were doing. One of them started going to the gay bars there in Saint Pete, Tampa. They took me along, and I said, “This is just for research, of course. I just want to see what’s going on as an anthropologist.” I thought that was pretty fine. Okay, this is it!
When I first went into that lesbian bar—actually it was a gay bar—in Florida, I thought everybody’s going to be like Martians. I had never been around lesbians. There were no organizations in 1972 where I was. There were very few anywhere in the country, in terms of organizations, although there have always been bars. But organizations where you can turn on the lights and see people – there weren’t any. So I started going to the bars, but I didn’t have a girlfriend.
I came to Texas, following Barbara, and there weren’t any lesbian organizations in Houston in 1972 when I came. There was one mixed group, well really it was a men’s group, called “Integrity.” There were about twelve men in it, and I checked that out. There were several bars.
The first real contact I had with lesbians in Houston was going to the first National Women’s Political Caucus convention at the Rice Hotel. That was in February 1973. The whole gang was there – Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan. It was so exciting to be with all those women. The top floor was where the lesbians were, and I just kept going up there, and meeting all these wonderful women from around the country. Then I found out that there was a Gay Community Center on Fairview and Whitney that was there for about nine months.
So I went, and as people are wont to do, I sat in my car and stared at it for a while before I went in. I may have even gone once, and not gone in. But then I went in, and met some people. There were only a few women there at any given time, and I remember we had this fantasy that someday we were going to find 75 lesbians. In one room, not in a bar, but somewhere else. So we’d get there and we’d say, “Okay, where did the 75 go? They aren’t here.” We had to have this fantasy that they were somewhere, so we would say, “They just left.” In those days it was very hard to find more then a few lesbians in any given place. It was a private lifestyle. People had parties at their houses—Arden knows more about that—but it wasn’t a public lifestyle.
Arden: That’s right. You have to understand that I’m a generation older then my good friends here. I’ve been out since 1948. We’re talking about a time when there was no vocabulary, there was no written word, there were no organizations. I don’t know how we found each other. I found myself, and who I was, when I went to college. That’s where I got my “aha”.
You had friendship groups. My partner when I came to Houston, who was my partner for 33 years; she died in 1985. But she was part of the fast-pitch softball era that was big here in Houston at the time. So I knew a lot of the softball group nationwide. Of course there’s always the good old PE teacher. So I knew a lot of people in public school work, because I originally was a physical education teacher when I came to Houston. The last nineteen years, I was a secondary counselor. You found people by word-of-mouth, and by association, not because you had a place to go; we didn’t.
Jane: Did you meet your partner in Houston?
Arden: Yes. I came to visit a college roommate, and met my partner, and stayed.
Jane: And you came for an internship in Psychology?
Joyce: That’s right. My story is very different. When I came to Houston in ’82, I think it was at a time when things had changed. There were organizations. I first got introduced to the lesbian community by being involved with a women’s group, which still exists. So that was my entrée into the community here in Houston.
I remember the next kind of lesbian experience I had was Women’s Space, which was a house, a kind of a community space over on Norfolk. Even though I came out in 1972, and things were still pretty closeted, I came out in an environment that I felt I could be myself, and be open. It was in Florida that I actually fully came out as a lesbian.
Pokey: Maybe we were at the same bar some of the time.
Joyce: Except I was in Tallahassee. I came out into a feminist lesbian community, and there was a real thriving one in Florida. So when I came to Houston, it was really culture shock. And I remember in Florida, all of the lesbians, or almost all of the lesbians looked a certain way. They wore jeans and boots—kind of cowboy-ish stuff. So when I came here to Houston, and I saw, I don’t remember where I was—maybe it was a rodeo—here were all these women dressed this way. I remember calling friends and saying, “There are so many lesbians here!” And then I found out it was just the cowgirl thing.
Jane: Track it for me over the timeframe that you’ve been here. It started out as the Gay Political Caucus, and then it was a great triumph when it became the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, but I’m to that point of dementia in my life where I can’t remember beyond vague memories. How is it that the gays and lesbians got together in Houston? Have they worked well together?
Pokey: Well, we started the Gay Political Caucus in my living room in 1975. It was me, three men, and my terrier dog.
Jane: Who were the men?
Pokey: The men were Hugh Crill, Cliff McGee, and Bill Booie. Rainhill likes to claim he was there, but he wasn’t.
Jane: He likes to claim he was everywhere.
Pokey: It’s been a point of contention for twenty-seven years now, but he wasn’t there.
Shiffling was a later president, but he wasn’t there at the beginning. Gary Venottingham came out in front of Harris County Commissioner’s Court; I guess it was that same year. And we were all like, “Who is that?” We found each other, and Gary became the first president.
It’s hard to say whether men and women in the gay and lesbian community have gotten along. That’s such a generalized question, because at any given time probably most men and women in the community have friends across gender lines. The different organizations, I think, still tend to attract more of one or more of the other. There was a period of time when around the country there were some very strong separatist lesbians. We never really had a strong separatist movement here in Houston. We reflected it there for about ten minutes, and it just wasn’t Houston. We had a concert for Meg Christian and the people with Meg said, “We think that having men in the room, women will look to the men to know how they should react, because its such a patriarchal culture. If men are going to be allowed to come, we want them to sit in the back where their presence is not so strong.” Well, there was just hell to pay about that, people just couldn’t get that. I think that was the beginning and the end of the separatist movement in Houston. For a long time there was just not enough of us to split up because then there would be two in each room.
So, I think we’ve gotten along relatively well, although our concerns tend to be different. If you look at the concerns of the gay male community, a long time ago it was probably getting arrested for public sex. And then of course there is the tragedy of AIDS – that has been a huge concern, and women have helped with that. But women’s concerns are more in line with what other women are worried about, which is violence against women, and equal pay for equal work. Things like that which affect all women. Its nice when a man works on women’s issues, and the women have certainly worked on the men’s issues. But I think it’s important to remember that we do have different issues.
Jane: What about the situation in the public schools?
Arden: Now? Well, I’ve been retired twenty-one years. So, I can’t speak from my own knowledge. I know that it’s some better. I know that there are out teachers; I’m not sure if there are any out counselors. I know that there is a lot of work being done to help the teenagers, the students. We have a couple of organizations that are very involved in that—HATCH (Houston Area Teen Coalition of Homosexuals) is one. They are trying to make life easier for the gay teens, the gay kids in school. We couldn’t even discuss it when I was working.
Jane: I’m probably naïve in that I don’t think of any company or organization having any thought about the sexual orientation of its employees. It seems to me that would be a thing decades past. Is my assumption correct? Would a lesbian today have any conflict in a working situation if her orientation were known?
Joyce: I think it depends. There’s a wide variation in corporate America in regards to lesbians and gays. You have some corporations that have very clear diversity policies, and even have gay/lesbian organizations. For example, Shell in Houston. Then you have other corporations where the gays and lesbians working in those companies may still feel uncomfortable being in that environment. I think things are much improved because of the diversity policies.
Jane: Would this be large companies or small companies?
Joyce: Large companies. With small companies, depending on the consciousness of the company itself, that would be an influence.
Pokey: Historically, I think school teachers have been among the most closeted. School teachers, Scout Leaders, anyone who works with children. Because there is this myth that they will recruit your children, that gays and lesbians will molest their children. I have friends who have relatives who won’t let them be around their kids. It’s just ridiculous to me, because people who are molesting kids are child molesters. They’re not gay or lesbian or whatever. They’re just messed up.
Jane: If you read what they are saying in the Catholic Church, a lot of people are saying it’s contagious.
Pokey: There’s all kinds of stuff. I think people are rightly worried about what kinds of messages their children receive. What I worry about is the kinds of stuff I see on TV – the violence, sexual objectification, complete commercialization of everything. What is it? Kids see I don’t know how many thousands of murders on TV by the time they are eighteen. I mean, that’s the stuff I worry about. But other people seem to be concerned that if their kids are exposed to an even-handed treatment of gay partnership or lesbian partnership, they are all going to want to be that. As somebody once said, “Don’t they have any faith in their own sexual orientation?”
Jane: Coming back to Houston, on a scale of one to ten, do you think Houston has been particularly hostile, particularly open, or down the middle in the acceptance of gays and lesbians?
Arden: I would say not even quite to the middle. I think they are very conservative here. You have some administrators, some teachers, some counselors that would be willing, if there was a policy, to work with children and be open-minded. But there is no policy. We keep working with groups to try and do that. We just have a very conservative atmosphere here.
Jane: The society as a whole?
Arden: Yes, I think so.
Joyce: I guess from where I sit, as a therapist, having worked with hundreds of lesbians and gay men over the years, I would see Houston as more middle-of-the-road. One of the things is that Houston is a very entrepreneurial city. From what I see, Houston has a very powerful lesbian and gay community. In terms of the political aspect of the city, almost since I came here in the eighties when Kathy Whitmire was mayor, it seems to me that lesbians and gays have been pretty strongly involved in the politics of this city. I’m not sure what other city of this size is like that. I certainly know that there is a large population of lesbians/gays who are kind of the business movers and shakers in the city. In terms of that aspect, I see it kind of in the middle, if not to the left, or whatever direction.
Pokey: By the time Joyce got here, I was already at work. It was better then it might have been. We started the Gay Political Caucus with four people. At some point it had 13,000 people on the mailing list. People were saying it was one of the stronger political groups in the city. Whether that was overstated or not, I can’t tell you.
Jane: Of course it was. All those sorts of things are overstated.
Pokey: Right. But we helped get Kathy Whitmire elected. We met with Fred Hofheinz. I remember that we did that. I personally met with Barbara Jordan, trying to get her to support legislation on the national level. I’ve been to Mayor Lanier’s house when he was mayor. I’ve interviewed Lee Brown. I think this is a city where people say, “What did you do for me yesterday and what are you going to do for me today?” You’re right. It’s entrepreneurial.
When Anise Parker was elected at-large city council person, she represented more people, because Houston is so big, than any other out lesbian or gay in the nation. At least more than any other lesbian. And I was very proud of that. There’s always going to be some people who won’t vote for whatever—whether you’re African American, or female, or gay, or whatever. And enough people said, “I’m going to vote for Anise because she’s the best candidate.” I think that’s really good. And she was the best candidate and she still is.
Jane: In terms of that, do any of you live in the suburbs?
Joyce: Well, where I live is a little bit south of Meyerland.
Jane: That’s probably the suburbs.
Joyce: I guess. But when people first called it the suburbs, it was not my definition of the suburbs.
Jane: It’s outside the Loop.
Joyce: And actually, the subdivision I live in, which is called Willowmeadows, has a significant gay/lesbian population, and some people call it Montrose South, or we call it the Willows.
Jane: Well, then, I guess you answered my question, that you do feel comfortable in the suburbs.
Joyce: Yeah, in my version of it.
Jane: In terms of activism and experience in the seventies and eighties, I feel that at least a couple of you have not felt very comfortable in your sexual orientation and the lifestyle it caused you to lead, but that you found a role in which you found some happiness—that you haven’t felt persecuted and driven, and I guess in that sense I want to know did Houston, at least in the size of it help, or hurt, or… I’m trying to place it in terms of Houston.
There was a gay demonstration in Houston in ’77 when Anita Bryant appeared in our association, and that probably came after the Westheimer festivals started. I don’t remember when the Westheimer festivals started, but I think they may have been before that and that was kind of Montrose. I’m so old I remember when Montrose wasn’t Montrose; it didn’t have a name. I lived in Montrose and we didn’t know what to call it. I actually wrote a piece in the Houston Post about the difficulty of living some place and not being able to tell people where you lived. The only way you could describe where I lived was that I lived across from George’s Bar, and it was kind of awkward. And I lived in the 400-block of Westheimer, and so the only real true gay demonstration I can remember was in 1977. It was a very peaceful one.
Pokey: There’s been more than that. There was that one, there was—I think it was 1982—or ‘83, Fred Pious was the secretary of the Gay Political Caucus and he was pretty much shot execution style by one of Houston’s finest, and there was a march of a thousand, ten thousand, a bunch, in protest to that. Then more recently, a bank teller, Paul Broussard, was murdered outside a gay bar, and there was a very large march after that. Lots of people came out, and took over the corner of Montrose and Westheimer.
Jane: I kind of remember that, but I kind of remember it as being more of a spontaneous demonstration.
Pokey: It was pretty quick, not like a parade where you plan it all year, because this fellow was killed on July 4th weekend, and some kids came down from the Woodlands with two-by-fours with nails in them and knives.
Jane: But I guess what I’m saying is that the demonstration went rather well. I don’t remember the cops wading in and there being a great conflict.
Pokey: Well, that’s one of the things about this city that I think a lot of people need to congratulate ourselves for, is that I think the conflicts happen behind closed doors where people level neighborhoods and do all sorts of things—destroy streams. In terms of trying to deal with social conflict, the city has been a pretty peaceful city.
We had one riot in the early part of this last century, of African Americans. In terms of desegregation, the lunch counters were desegregated when people got together and decided they were going to do it with the City Fathers and people from TSU and they just got together and they did it peacefully—Boom! It was done, considering what could have happened.
The same was true of this march. The police were on horseback, and they got back about a block, and there was an agreement between them and the people that ran the march: “We’re going to take over the intersection, and you’re not going to stop us.” And if the police had waded in there and tried to stop them, I was there, a lot of people would have been hurt. We were mad. But they exercised restraint.
Jane: So in that sense, we can recall no open warfare.
Pokey: Well, not by us against them. It used to be about every election the police would go and do raids in the bars and arrest a bunch of people.
Pokey: I don’t know why. This is more of a thing that affects the fellows, cause they would be in the bar more often, but they would tell you every election the police would be in the bar arresting people. When I was talking to Lee Brown he did say at times the police force has been out of control, that the mayor had no way to control the police in this town.
Jane: I remember Herman Short was chief. I can say there was an element of truth to that, but that’s beside the point. Does anyone in the audience have a question?
What are your thoughts on last year’s city elections, and what are your thoughts on how anything could have been different, and is there anything Houston could or should do politically? I don’t know if that question is directed towards the mayoral race.
Pokey: The referendum? Well, I worked on Proposition 2. For those of you who don’t remember, it was a partner benefits for city employees allowing same sex couples to access things like health insurance in the same way that opposite sex couples can. Before that we did get a non-discrimination clause passed by the mayor, and executive order, although one of the gentlemen in City Council held that up in court for several years. So we actually got non-discrimination, but we didn’t get any extra.
Previously we had a referendum in 1984 just on the non-discrimination part, and that referendum, which was in an off-election time, when not many people showed up, we lost four to one. I was in City Hall when the Ku Klux Klan was there, on a day when the City Council was discussing it, and so we’ve come a ways since loosing four to one and having the Klan show up. That was on non-discrimination of City employees. You couldn’t fire somebody just for being gay or lesbian.
Jane: That was the most poorly run operation there ever was. It was bad politics.
Pokey: It was bad. It was a split in the gay community, and some were for somebody, and some were for somebody else…. You’re right. But that was also a time when AIDS was just reaching the public consciousness, they were sending out flyers that mosquitoes carried AIDS, you name it.
Jane: I know so many people that voted against that one. That was bad politics.
Pokey: There was a lot of malarkey that went on. On this one, we were relatively close. I think with a little more time, a little more money, maybe be a little smarter…it’s a long-term process. In Vermont, in order to get a partner union law passed, they campaigned left, right, and upside down; they just went to all kinds of community groups, and I think that’s what it takes. And it also takes more people coming out, and getting to know their neighbors.
Audience member: Do you think that’s possible, here in Houston, being such a large city and kind of split?
Pokey: Yes, I do. In any community, obviously 100% of the people in that community are not going to be activists, and it’s probably a very small per cent of people who are going to get out and do something for their community, but we have gays and lesbians in every zip code in this city. I’ve done mailing lists, and we’re in every zip code. If there are people there, we’re there. We’re everywhere. If people are willing to talk to other people. The p-flag group has been very effective in that way, of getting out and saying, well, my son is, or my daughter is, or whoever, or my parent is, and that really helps, because those folks can go places and say things where we may not be, and I think they have more credibility.
Jane: Joyce, how do you, a lesbian and African American experience that?
Joyce: They interact quite nicely. I’m going to elaborate in terms of my personal experience. It blends well for me, because as an individual, the way I experience myself is that I’m multi-dimensional, and being lesbian and African American and being a woman and all the other things that I am make me, and I don’t specifically identify with one aspect of myself to the exclusion of the others, so I think for me from sort of a psychological perspective it’s been a nice blend. I also think that because I approach life from that perspective, and I engage in the outer world from that perspective, that’s what kind of the outer world reflects back to me personally.
Now I know that certainly one of the experiences I have had here in Houston is to see that African American lesbians are very little involved in the larger lesbian community, and I think certainly in the eighties and nineties, African American lesbians tended to be still pretty closeted. And I think that is changing, but I still find that African American lesbians tend to not be as out, still, at this point in time.
Jane: Arden, what do the women you interview speak of as their main concerns?
Arden: Main concerns? Well, we’re talking about women in their 70’s and 80’s.
Jane: I bet it’s their knees.
Arden: Yeah, that definitely is a concern for a lot of us, you know. They feel a lot of internalized homophobia.
Jane: On their own part?
Arden: Yes. It’s very difficult for them to talk. A lot of them will not. It comes from the way we’re socialized. Many of these women—more women of this generation—we had no information, and we had no place to go, and we had nobody to talk to, they did what society said they must do, and so they married and they had their families, and many of them didn’t come out until they were in their fifties, and so there is a lot of conflict involved. They love who they are, but there’s still that internal fight about who you’re supposed to be. And so I see a lot of this in the old women that I’m working with. I have a lot of women, for whom, naming themselves out loud is more than they can do, saying this is who I am. It’s been an amazing experience working with these women.
Audience member: How do you find them?
Arden: Well, it’s a very invisible population. I happen to be involved in a national organization, that you have to be sixty in order to be involved with them, so I have a nation-wide network of lesbians, some into their 90’s now, and so I have a very large population to draw from, and I travel a lot to do this work. But people I’ve known all my life get right down to having set the date (and then are stopped by) the internalized homophobia.
Jane: Do each of you consider yourself an activist? What does being an activist mean to you, and at what point do you identify as an activist, if you did, and why? Dr. Gayles?
Joyce: Well, that, in fact, in coming on this panel, that was a question I had to consider, in terms of whether I consider myself an activist, and I go to the “personal is political”, and in that sense, I see myself as an activist. I mean I have been involved in a lot of, well I guess maybe a moderate amount of organizations in the gay and lesbian community, but I see my activism as—my focus is on—supporting women, lesbians, to change their life, transform their lives. And my position is that if one woman deals with her internalized homophobia, if one woman is able to be herself truly out there in the world, then I’d have done my “activist”, because that ripples out.
Arden: I guess I’m an activist.
Jane: You don’t have to be!
Arden: I think it has to do for me with making a difference. All of my activism has occurred since my partner died in 1985, and all my activism has revolved around old women. The formation of the group LOAF here in Houston, which is 15 years old now, my twelve-year affiliation with OLOC, Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (we do not use euphemisms), the oral history project…but everything that I have been involved with has revolved around making a difference for old women. So yeah, I guess I’m an activist.
Jane: Come on. Let’s hear you do that.
Pokey: Oh, I’m not an activist! They just call me The Legend now. I keep trying to retire, and it doesn’t happen. I guess I’m too young. I actually made my first political speech when I was eleven, in front of the whole school. I just have always thought that if one bunch gets one pile of stuff, and one bunch gets half of that, you ought to look at it. And I have a very strong sense of injustice, and I always have. It just so happens that I know very well what happens to women, what happens to lesbians, ‘cause I happen to be one, but it hurts me that millions of people are dying in Africa of AIDS. It hurts me to see what goes on all over the place. My aunt used to say “Put your bucket where you are”. And where I am is Houston, Texas, in the lesbian/feminist community, but if I can I try to lend a hand to whatever else happens my way, either. If they’re cutting down redwoods or whatever, I have my own vision about the way the world ought to be run, and I just wish somebody would listen to me. I’ll tell them!
Jane: How did you come to your orientation? Was it by choice, or a more physical thing, or an emotional thing?
Joyce: Well, for me I would say it was a combination of all the above. Initially, it was emotion. I was a rather late bloomer in terms of my coming out, because I didn’t recognize that I was a lesbian until probably I was in my mid-twenties. Well, maybe that’s not such a late-bloomer, in light of what you’re saying about old women. And for me it was, when somebody used the word, or asked me, when they had read—in fact it was my very first therapist, and she was reading some journal writing that I had done, and when I came for my next session she said to me, “Have you ever thought that you might be homosexual?” It was like a light bulb went on, and it just explained everything over the whole course of my life that I didn’t have a word for, and I was elated. The people around me were not so elated.
Arden: Well, I popped out of the womb a dyke. That’s just the way it was. I always had a best girl friend, I always was attracted to women, I always was out of step with all the rest of my peer group when I was growing up. I never fit. And I never knew why. And like I told you before, I got my “aha” when I went to college, and there were my sisters, and everything fell in place for me. So I had seventeen years of just miserable existence, because I never, ever fit with anybody.
Jane: Where did you grow up?
Arden: I was born in Wisconsin, lived my first 12 years there, and then my father moved to Dallas because of business, and I finished high school there.
Jane: That explains your trouble.
Arden: Then I got lucky and I went to Texas Women’s University, so it was Texas State College for Women at the time, and I went there because it was one of the top three colleges for physical education in the United States, and it was close to home, and it was affordable. So, that’s where I went, and I’m blessed.
Pokey: Because it was crawling with lesbians.
Jane: You’ve got a question?
Pokey: You did better than I did. My college was not crawling with lesbians. I kind of knew in Junior High, but I didn’t have a word for it, and I didn’t know anybody else felt that way. It sounds so mundane and cliché to say it, but I really didn’t know there was anyone else on the planet who felt the way I did, so I just kept submerging it. I remember I was even going to write to Ann Landers, and say—this, this, this…and maybe I’m a lesbian—even if that doesn’t mean you are, just to write to Ann Landers and ask means you are, so I’m not going to write. So she’s smart enough to know, if you’re worried about it, you are.
Jane: Explain to me. Was there no literature? I mean, how did this escape you?
Arden: The well of loneliness was it.
Pokey: No, I didn’t know about any of that. In high school I snuck over to the library, I wouldn’t dare check it out, and the book The Group was there. There was a passage in The Group that referred to lesbians, and I was like okay…and I was like I still have a lot of questions. I would go to the card catalog, and remember in those days it wasn’t on computer, and you could go to the H’s, and find homosexual because all the cards were so worn. Other people were looking for the same information. But those books were so bad. They were awful. This was the 60’s. When I was a child in the 50’s with the McCarthy period, so believe me, they didn’t have Ellen DeGeneris on TV.
Audience Member: I do research on teenage lesbians, and they reported the exact same experiences you were talking about—feeling like they were the only one on the planet, going to the card catalog and finding those outdated books; they were all about men and so thinking only men can be gay. So just because it’s the year 2002, their experiences are not any different then what you’re describing.
Jane: The Houston Lesbian community is less visible, with fewer resources, then other major cities. What role do you feel the larger Houston culture plays in that? Actually I think you’ve kind of dealt with that in assessing the community’s openness.
Arden: Well, we have a lot of Lesbian organizations.
Pokey: I mean, if Arden wants to argue the premise… I would say that the greater community, while many individuals have been supportive, the greater community as a whole has kept us invisible, and has not given us equal access to resources. For instance, in terms of producing concerts for women—we’ve been kicked out. And we would behave ourselves really well, let me tell you. We would put every chair back where it was. But we’ve been kicked out of numerous facilities over the years just because they found out that Lesbians were going to come there. You know, St. Thomas University kicked out the Gay Man’s Chorus and Hazel Witch productions, because two people of the same sex were found kissing in the parking lot, or maybe they were just holding hands, it doesn’t really matter. And some trustee got upset, so out we went. In terms of philanthropy, a lot of us are little bit non-profits trying to do things and the mainstream philanthropy institutions, correct me if I’m wrong, but I would say they have given a fair amount of money to AIDS, and pretty much zero money to any of the rest of the organizations. Over time, that makes a difference. Actually there have been a few small donations from some of the big companies.
Jane: How actively have you solicited?
Pokey: We have. Maybe we haven’t done as well as we should, but for the most part we have had to raise our own money and give it out in things like Uncommon Legacy.
Jane: What would you solicit it for?
Pokey: Well, for instance, we do lesbian health fairs, community centers, scholarships—we’ve done a lot of that on our own.
Jane: Which leads to the next question. How do you talk to young girls who think they may be lesbian about what their experience may be? I guess that assumes a young girl would approach you in the first place. I don’t know if that’s the case. I’m not suggesting you’re out approaching young girls.
Pokey: Well, that hasn’t really happened to me.
Jane: Okay. Moving right along. Do you feel there is a bigger threat to gay men or to Lesbians when it comes to violence against Gays in Houston?
Pokey: If you’re gay, is it more dangerous to be male or female, is that the question? I would say in the sexual preference part of it, it’s more dangerous to be a gay male. But I would say it’s more dangerous to be a female of any kind, unless you’re locked safely away in your house, and even then you’re not safe.
Joyce: You don’t have to be gay to get in a bad situation, just female.
Pokey: Right. I mean, when you think about all the rules we have to obey as women about when we’re going to go out, and with whom. And how you have to look over your shoulder, and where are you going to park, and how many people are you going to take with you, and you know.
Jane: This kind of deals with the difference, and the changes over the lesbian scene in the 70’s and 80’s, and the bars, and the community groups, and that sort of thing. I think the question really is—are the bars better now? And community groups—are they more important now?”
Audience Member: How have things evolved?
Joyce: Well, what it seems to me is that there are certainly fewer lesbian bars, and more lesbian/gay organizations. I think also, if you look at our generation’s bars at this point in time would be less important in the social interaction then for younger gays and lesbians or when we were younger. So I think in that sense there has been a really positive evolution to a proliferation of organizations, different kinds of organizations, organizations that are there for different age groups, and I think there are fewer bars.
Jane: In that sense, someone did ask a question, what are the names of lesbian organizations in Houston and nationally? Are they secret or public, and do they have websites? I think if they are secret you don’t have to tell.
Joyce: The organization that I’m most affiliated with, which has been mentioned awhile ago, is Uncommon Legacy Foundation. It’s a national organization with a very strong chapter here in Houston. What we do is raise money for scholarships for out lesbians and we give grants to lesbian organization. And we do have a website.
Pokey: There’s another one called Houston Women’s Festival, and its run by lesbians, but all women, and actually I think men come too, to the annual festival in a Garden in the Heights in October. And that’s really fun. They do have a website. I think its houstonwomen’sfestival.org. Is that right? LIB, Lesbians In Business, was a very strong organization with a great New Year’s Eve that would get 300-700 women.
Jane: The University of St. Thomas does loan its gym to the Lone Star Gay Volleyball League, and had done so for several years now. I think you should stand corrected.
Pokey: I do not stand corrected. We were kicked out.
Jane: Was it because of your rowdy behavior?
Pokey: No, it was not. You can tell what a lovely lady I am, I would never cause trouble.
Jane: You’re saying the University of St. Thomas does not rent out their gym?
Pokey: No, I’m saying that at the time they kicked us out because of one trustee’s upset, and that they didn’t stand behind us. And I understand, now this is just hearsay, in the recent conversations about child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, that they had a conversation on campus where they blamed the gay community. I wasn’t there, so that’s just hearsay.
Jane: About the child abuse in the Catholic Church? I think you could safely say that has been mentioned as a cause.
Audience Member: The gay community of the 70’s and 80’s caused this? I’m unclear, are they saying gay men or gay community?
Pokey: Well, homosexuality. I don’t know for sure. It’s the same way that the Jerry Fallwell people, immediately after the attacks of September 11th, were blaming feminism, and the ACLU, and homosexuals.
Jane: Well, the suggestion is that abuse of young children in the Catholic Church is because of homosexuals. They don’t mention pedophiles.
This is kind of apropos of nothing, but I’ve kind of run out of questions. I was once at a Republic State Convention. I had become the floor leader of the press delegation, and I was moving for adjournment, but I couldn’t get recognition. They were going through a lot of homophobic resolutions. A woman rose, and I have no idea if her figures were correct, but they sounded wonderful—“Whereas so many children were molested, therefore be it resolved no heterosexual man should be allowed to teach in public schools nor hang out with any child under six years old.” I seconded it immediately, but I was not recognized. Which leads me to say that I although I think the lesbians have made great strides since the 70’s and 80’s in Houston, you may still have a way to go. Anymore questions?
Audience Member: Do you feel that feminism in the lesbian community has declined over the last ten years?
Audience Member: Could you speak a little bit to why you think that might be?
Pokey: I think feminism has reached some of its goals, certainly people have hear the ideas of feminism, and some of them have been incorporated into our lives. We haven’t won, yet. But feminism as a word, and as a movement, has more seeped into the culture as opposed to being organizations out there raising cane.
I think the gay or queer movement has much more of a live, vibrant, organizational presence, and young women coming up have identified more with queer rather than with feminism, and somehow missed some of the things I’ve been talking about. As a lesbian, you are also a woman and many of your political concerns have to do with being a woman, and not so much with the things that you share with your gay brothers. I mean, there are those things, too, but to me, and I’ve done all kinds of work in all the different arenas—the gay and lesbian, the just lesbian, and the feminist. So I’ve seen what’s around. But I think its too bad if young women only identify with the gay part. But I don’t know what can be done about it.
Jane: I would submit to you, from the standpoint of an observer, that the demise of the feminist movement removed a meeting place for lesbians that served a purpose. Which I suggest that Pokey has demonstrated very well in the biography resume that she submitted and spoke of earlier. When she went to the first NOW convention—there was a period in Houston when you had the national NOW convention, the organization of the National Women’s Political Caucus, and the International Women’s Year. As someone who had to cover all three of them, there were a lot of women there. They were a terrific opportunity for young women in Houston to participate in things.
Pokey: Let me just say something in honor of Helen. If I mangle it, just tell me. But I remember something Helen Cassidy used to say. People say, “Why are you in favor of rights for old people, disabled people, and gays and lesbians?” And she would say, “With any luck, I’ll be one of them, and I could be any of the three.”
Arden: What haven’t we talked about?
Jane: You’re a hard interview; I don’t know why I always get the hard interviews. Most people just want to talk; you people are hard to get stuff out of. I think that I would prefer it if you’d tell me that you had terrible childhoods, and you burned buildings in your teen years, but I think that you demonstrated probably pretty remarkably that you grew up rather naturally and became quite responsible adults. I’m sorry, Pokey, but you did, and you have only one fundamental difference with a lot of people, but there are more of you than a whole lot of other people think. When you get right down to it, we’re all pretty much alike. And that in the 70’s and 80’s a lot of us were fighting probably the same fights.
Audience member: Do you think that any of the things that this was talking about in terms of feminism not being something that young people are so connected to now has to do with a general kind of anti-feminist move that’s kind of disempowering to young women? Because what you’ve described in terms of young lesbian women—in a way you’ve suggested that there is a more accepting culture, there’s more opportunities, but then there seems also to be other messages coming at the same time, which is true also generally in terms of women’s situation, that you get these very conflicting messages. You get a sense of that there has been progress, but then there is, as you say, this commercialization and objectification that flies in the face of all that.
Pokey: Somebody made the point that the media doesn’t cover protests in the same way that the media covered protests in the 70’s and 60’s. In those days, they would actually ask the people what they were protesting about. And now, if you look at, for instance, World Trade Organization protests, the media stand on one side and they just shoot coverage, and they don’t actually interview people to see what they’re complaining about. And they just call them a bunch of whatevers.
I think we were able to get coverage in the days of the Civil rights, the women’s movement, and early gay coverage and that now, not to get too far off the topic, the number of corporations that own the media is growing smaller every day, and basically we get homogenized coverage of our world, and we don’t get a lot of feedback from people that aren’t interested in the corporate message. And the corporate message of course includes packaging and selling women’s bodies, so, once again, if you’re blond and thin and young and able-bodied and straight, you’re probably doing pretty well if you’re a female, but for the rest of us, it’s a struggle. And our salaries—parity is only a tiny bit closer, maybe a nickel closer than it used to be. Sixty-nine cents to seventy-four cents on a dollar. Oh, is it seventy-six cents?
Audience member: They don’t see the issues as clearly as we did, because they’re not so oppressed, and they say, “What do you mean? Why should I do this? Why should I join women’s (groups)? There’s no difference.
Audience member: I’d like to quote my sixteen-year-old daughter, who says “Get over it Mom. We’ve won.”
Jane: I had to break the decks, I had to fight so damn hard to cover police in this town, because no woman was ever going to cover police in this town, and now no woman wants to cover it. It’s a bad thing. I killed myself. I begged, I screamed, I pleaded, I did everything possible, and I got to do it. I kicked the door down, and now they say “God, I don’t want to work with the police.”
Pokey: Well when we first started, and this wasn’t one of my issues, but I remember it was happening when I first started looking for a job in the early 70’s, I said, “Okay, I want to drive a truck.” And they said, “You could drive a flower truck.” I’m like, “I don’t want to drive a flower truck. I want to drive a big truck, and, you know, bear down on those little sports cars.” It seemed like old days, but this wasn’t that long ago when I was looking for a job, they had the ads “Man wanted” or “Woman wanted” and nothing in between. And that had to be stopped by the women’s movement.
Audience member: The only reason I got a job in the 1950’s was because of the Korean War; they needed women to work in the shops.
Jane: I covered race riots in the 60’s and they made me take a man with me. And he got in my way and I went off and left him and he cried, and made me go back and get him. And all they cared about was that if I got raped they could have said, “We sent a man with her to protect her.”
Audience member: I just wanted to kind of add that I think part of the reason why young people, although I disagree with this, I think part of the reason why the impression is out there, or why a lot of young people might not get into it, is that I don’t think very often we tell the whole story. We kind of tell a piece of it. The little piece that makes sense from where we’re sitting now, but not necessarily the part about the other things that were going on, like what were the more radical elements within it. I think some of those tendencies tend to get shut down or not talked about as much, so we don’t hear about—say, the women on the shop floor in the fifties organizing unions, or we don’t talk about the women at TSU in the race riots. You know we end up talking about stories that bring us to where we are today, which is like—we’ve gotten over everything. Does that make sense? We just tell the story about we went from where things were bad to where things are good, and there’s a lot of stories that get lost.
Audience member: Well, I think that at this time feminism has been assimilated so well that they’re talking about it in the church. They say that Christ was the biggest feminist. I heard this from a friend whose brother is a priest, okay? She told me that. From the perspective of the left and gays, I don’t know if it’s well accepted in the church. That’s as conservative as you get.
Convener: Well, maybe we could thank our panel and go have some wine and talk with them some more.