On Gay Liberation and Softball

“It was important to me that whether it be through our softball games or these events we planned, we spread joy.”
-Rose Bond

A central part of my work is exploring queer history, learning from elders, and finding and sharing stories that may otherwise be lost. So when Cayla McGrail invited me to an event they were planning meant to encourage elder lesbians in Portland to consider archiving their personal collections, I saw it as a great opportunity to make connections with a community I was interested in working with and learning from. 

At the event, I met Rose, who shared that she’d been a part of the Lavender Menace softball team in the 1970s and had a large collection of material from that time in her life. I approached her later to ask if she might be interested in sharing more about that experience with me. She agreed, and invited me over to her apartment to share tea, stories, and photos.

Olivia DelGandio: Can you tell me a bit about your coming out experience?

Rose Bond: Well, I didn’t think I was gay but I did have this friendly neighbor who seemed to know everything like gay bars and gaydar. She said she could walk downtown and guess who was gay. I was like “what? how?”

Olivia: You were in this queer relationship but didn’t think you were gay? 

Rose: No, I could appreciate or be attracted to people regardless of gender but I didn’t have the vocabulary. I thought I’d marry a really nice guy and be a really good parent. Maybe I wasn’t very self-reflective, but there really weren’t many women I was attracted to. I went to an all girls high school and nothing was sparked there, so, you know. 

Olivia: How did you meet this woman? 

Rose: I moved in next door to her during college. It was a crummy apartment down by Portland State and just randomly, our two apartments were joined by a balcony. It didn’t take very long to start.

Olivia: That’s funny, I met my partner in pretty much the same way.

Rose: And did you know you were a lesbian?

Olivia: I think I felt similarly to you. I didn’t really have any lesbian representation growing up so I didn’t know what was quite possible. 

Rose: Yeah, pretty similar. At the time I was working this work study job where I’d make posters and go around and put them up on campus so I always knew what events were going on around Portland State. At some point my boss, Carol, who knew I was gay, sent me out to get this alternative newspaper but I think it was a ploy on her part. I took the paper home when I saw that the centerfold was about gay liberation and women. It was written by someone named Holly Hart. She was sharing info about a gay liberation group and threw out a bunch of names of people that were meeting next to discuss these topics. Turned out she made all of the names up just to get people interested and come to the meeting. My girlfriend said we should go and I said, “whoa, I don’t know if I’m just gay. I think I’m just having a good time with you.” So anyway, we both went over to this little house in Southeast Portland, and that was the first gay liberation meeting. There were about seven women present, none of which were the names from the article. 

Olivia: That’s so funny. How did things go after that first meeting?

Rose: Well after that, we had regular meetings. We’d meet at a coffeehouse called the 9th Street Exit in

Centenary Wilbur Church. We started to really get to know each other and go out to these lesbian

centered bars. It was your typical butch femme scene. I had long black hair and I was wearing tie dye

and bellbottoms. I could play pool really well and the older dykes were sort of like “what are you?”

They didn’t know what to make of a long haired butch. Roles were so de

ned as butch or femme. I

was intent on not being put into a box. I wanted women’s identities to exist in a wider range.

Olivia: When did you finally admit that you were gay and not just having a good time with this girlfriend? 

Rose: It was during that time of gay liberation and having girlfriend after girlfriend that I was like oh, there’s a gender thing happening here. 

Olivia: What else was going on at that time?

Rose: We started a softball team called the Lavender Menace. [Rose shows a photo] This was our first team. We sang and made a performance out of our games. We would take pop songs and change the lyrics to make them girl friendly. I saw it as a sort of political theater. 

The Lavender Menace softball team projected at one of the team member’s home, early 1970s, photo taken by Olivia DelGandio, courtesy of the team collection.

Olivia: Were the majority of you lesbians?

Rose: All of us were.

Olivia: Wow. And what year was that? 

Rose: The first team started in ‘73, I think.

Olivia: How old were you at the time?

Rose: Early twenties. We would go around regionally, up to Bellingham or Mount Vernon and we were totally out, we were the only ones wearing long pants. Everybody else was wearing shorts, you know, just because that’s what girls did.

Olivia: Do you think most other teams were queer?

Rose: A lot were, but they weren’t out. 

Olivia: Interesting. How did you get involved with the team in the first place? 

Rose: My girlfriend at the time, Clarice, was an organizer.

Olivia: Had you played ball before? 

Rose: I played in Catholic school and then I went to St Mary’s Academy where I played sports until I was a junior. After that, I became kind of anti-sports until joining the Lavender Menace. 

Olivia: Were you guys good? 

Rose: The first year we weren’t that good but the second year we got good. Some women felt like they couldn’t play because maybe they were married to a guy or had a job they couldn’t risk losing or a family that wouldn’t approve. But we were like a magnet, we brought so much joy to every game, every tournament. We would go out in these small towns, in places like Mount Vernon, Washington, and we would dance. And everyone there would dance with us. We spread joy.

Olivia: What did your family think?

Rose: My mom would say, “you know, I had a girlfriend, too.” She probably could hit both ways, but she also really liked men. 

Olivia: That’s so funny. So your mom had to be totally fine with it because she got it.

Rose: Plus there were nine kids, so it didn’t really matter, right? They had enough to worry about. 

Olivia: That’s great. So all of this came out of gay liberation and then the bar scene?

Rose: Yes. There would be one popular lesbian bar and then it would go out of business and another would open and that’s where we’d all go. There was one perennial bartender that would go from place to place with us. 

Olivia: I wish I could experience that. It feels so different from the bar scene now. I feel like there are so many gay bars for men but not a lot of lesbian options.
Rose: It was great and I would meet so many people that way. We did a lot of events and readings and such. I used my art experience to make the posters to advertise what we were doing. I was also part of putting together a women’s film festival. That was cool because we got to really dig into film and find the women directors, I mean we really had to dig.

Rose’s collection of posters and materials from events held during the Gay Liberation movement in Portland in the 70s, photo taken by Olivia DelGandio at Rose’s home

Olivia: When was that?
Rose: That was when I was starting to make films in the early 80s. I had met women through film, most of them were straight but they were feminists and wanted to see more women represented in art so that’s how the Women’s Eye View festival started. It was important to me that whether it be through our softball games or these events we planned, we spread joy.

Rose Bond (she/her) is an animator and media artist who has been honored with numerous awards and fellowships from prestigious agencies such as the American Film Institute, The Princess Grace Foundation, Bloomberg L.P., and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2013 Bond presented her animated installation, Intra Muros, on the Media Façade of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Croatia. She is currently working on a proposed media installation for the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building.

The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a publication dedicated to supporting, documenting and contextualising social forms of art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal takes an eclectic look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions and the public. The Journal supports and discusses projects that offer critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.

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