“Now listen, dress up, okay? You want to look really, really nice. So, dress up… Up stride my clients, up the stairs in their finest leathers. Oh, my God, they had jackets and pants, and a hat. They just looked super grand, and super butch.”KATHARINE ENGLISH
This interview is the second in an ongoing series. It is part of a larger collaboration between Rebecca Copper and Marti Clemmons. Marti Clemmons wrote the introduction for this conversation.
This project, The Tapes, and this piece, Conversation II, is based around the 1970s-1980s history of lesbian parents in custody battles for their children. The places and identities are specific to Portland, OR― but these battles took place nationwide and set the stage for parental and partner rights leading into the AIDS epidemic. The Tapes is part of the Single Parent Archive, which Rebecca Copper and I started in March 2021. We created the archive in hopes of connecting with others around the often forgotten traumas of single parenthood, as well the triumphs.
As a queer single parent and an archivist at Portland State University’s Special Collections and University Archives, I had a difficult time knowing which ‘self’ to present during this conversation– my queer self? The parent? The archivist? We all have various forms of self. Identities that we embrace and shadows that we hide. Yet, my queer identity is one that leads all others. It guides me as I raise two children, and it steers my archival practices.
Judy Grahn, an American poet, clarifies my purpose in searching for queerness in archives in her piece “Tracking Past and Present”: “I just knew the outrage, roused to a white-hot anger, because we could not read about ourselves, could not learn about, or from, people like ourselves. And so like others of my generation, and those before, and after, I determined to make changes so that we could find ourselves – resolute to leave plenty of tracks for others to follow.”
Finding queerness in archives can be about subversion and, many times, perversion.
It is about information and experience. Identifying queerness in archives and creating ways to make it accessible is something I am deeply passionate about. To connect, be present, and learn from the voices and names lost in the heteronormative narrative. Even in queer-identified archives, particular themes, events, and history is whitewashed, ignored or forgotten because of a lasting controlled narrative. We have been constantly relegated to queer sadness, shame, trauma, violence, and death.
In the following conversation, there are elements of those themes, but there is also community building, awareness, support, and optimism. There is hope that an additional narrative will eventually be told. Who better to join the conversation than some who were present during a turbulent time of custody battles, diminished parental rights and rampant homophobia and patriarchy within the court system?
These conversations will eventually be archived at Portland State University’s Millar Library, arranged under the Single Parent Archive sub-series in The Art + Social Practice Archive at Portland State University. I hope that this conversation between us, which brought together our various identities, helps those that engage with it to understand our shared world a little better.
This conversation continues from Conversation I. We engage in a conversation with Gilah Tenenbaum, a gay lawyer whose name was found on one of the tapes, and Katharine English, who won the first lesbian custody case in Oregon.
Gilah Tenenbaum: What is our purpose for today?
Rebecca Copper: Currently, these tapes are not legally available to the public. There’s no information in terms of release forms, so no one can listen to them. This conversation is a documented process that Marti and I are going through in attempts to uncover who are the people recorded on the tapes. We hear multiple voices on these recordings, but there’s little or no identifying information. In order to share these tapes with the public, we need to figure out who’s on them. We are having conversations about everything that was happening at that time that is related to queer mothering, specifically the use of courts as a kind of abuse through custody battles. So, that’s what we’re doing today: we’re having the second conversation, which will eventually be published. These conversations will hopefully lead us to figure out how we can get these tapes to be accessible.
Katharine English: Can we not sign releases now, Becca?
Rebecca: So far, the only two people that we’ve found who are on these tapes are you and Gilah.
Katharine: And, Gilah and I cannot sign release forms?
Marti Clemmons: Yes, you can. The only problem is that there is a person interviewing you [that needs to be identified], I’ll just show you [showing audiotape through Zoom screen]—because this [tape] doesn’t have any other name on it besides yours. Katharine, can you see that?
Marti: Gilah, this is your tape. [showing audiotape on screen]
Marti: The introduction on Gilah’s tape cuts off the interviewer’s name, so I don’t know who did the interviews.
Gilah: Interviewer or interviewee?
Katharine: It was Pat.
Marti: Pat Young?
Marti: Okay, that’s what I thought. I took a class with Pat (1). When I heard Gilah’s tape, I was like, “That’s got to be Pat. I know Pat’s voice.” But, when I emailed Pat about these tapes, Pat didn’t know anything about it. Which was very surprising. Anyway, to answer your question, yes. If you sign a release form, and if we’re able to identify it as Pat on the tape, then we would have Pat sign the form, and then that would be like the first public tape that would be able to be digitized and released.
Katharine: Gilah, was your interviewer Pat Young?
Gilah: To tell you the truth, as I’ve told Rebecca and Marti, I have only the vaguest recollection of any of this. Do you remember it happening?
Katharine: Yes, I do.
Gilah: Oh, good. [laughter]
Katharine: I remember it happening at Old Wives’ Tales (2) and that Pat was the interviewer.
Gilah: OH! [in response to Old Wives’ Tales] Okay. Well, sure. I remember Pat.
Katharine: I’m surprised she doesn’t recall any of it.
Gilah: Maybe if you remind her about Old Wives’ Tales?
Marti: Maybe! Yeah, I mean, all of this is new information. And, Katharine, you remember Pat?
Katharine: Yes. We were at Old Wives’ Tales and we were having the interview. Then, Cindy Cumfer came and interrupted us. She sat down with us. So, maybe that will trigger Pat’s memory. Pat and I agreed to finish the interview at some other time. We tried a couple of times unsuccessfully.
Marti: Yeah, I haven’t listened to yours [audiotape], Katharine. I’ve only listened to and digitized Gilah’s tape. I don’t know how long it is. Rebecca, I know that you wanted to email Pat? Maybe, CC all of us on it?
Rebecca: I’d be happy to.
Katharine: Yeah. And, then can you send Gilah and I release forms that we can sign and return to you?
Rebecca: Gilah, you introduced us to Katharine’s name in the last conversation.
Gilah: I remember telling you that Katharine was the person you should talk to, I promoted her extensively. I talked about how she, and whoever was working with her, was responsible for educating the Multnomah county courts. Wasn’t it Judge Lennon, Katharine?
Katharine: Well, it was not Judge Lennon, he was the final holdout. I don’t know that he ever really transformed. It was mostly Judge Herrell, Judge Nactigul. and Judge Deiz, who were the primary recipients of our educational project (3). In 1979, maybe it was even 1978, when I first began to work on lesbian custody cases, there were no victories. What we sought at that time were visitation rights, and sometimes even just contact. The fights were fairly brutal, with arguments being that lesbians would raise lesbian children, would raise queer men, would influence these children badly. So often, we settled for supervised contact. It was very tragic how many queer parents lost custody, lost contact, and lost visitation rights.
I was working at the Community Law Project, which was a law firm of all women, mostly lesbians. Ruth Gundel and I worked on a particular case. I was just an intern at the time. Ruth was the supervising lawyer. We decided we would take this particular case to trial, we weren’t going to settle it. We had quite a preparation where we issued subpoenas for depositions. We would set them at six o’clock in the morning. We would file motions. We strategized on how to bring this case to fruition. Finally, it was set for trial. Then, we found out that it was set in front of a very homophobic judge. So we prepared what is known as a Brandeis brief, which is not just a brief that sets out the facts of the case, but attaches all kinds of studies, all kinds of personal affidavits. It was very thick [laughter] and very imposing. We served it to the other lawyer the day before the trial and served it to the judge. We fully expected to lose the case, because the judge was known for being homophobic. But, when we got to the courthouse, the other lawyer caved. She said that she just wasn’t going to go to trial. She was not going to fight this huge case. It may be that she had not prepared. It may be that she knew her client couldn’t afford it. For whatever reason, she said she would settle. Well, the judge had the brief. And I knew that when the judge read the brief, the judge was not going to let us settle it. And, so we strategized.
Rebecca: Can I ask a question? Excuse my ignorance of law— can a judge do that? If there’s a settlement that’s been agreed upon between two parties, can the judge disrupt that settlement and say no?
Katharine: Yes. The judge has a right to say, “I won’t accept the settlement.” We were very fearful that that would happen. So, I went into the judge’s chambers and I took the brief back. By the time we got in to say that we had settled the case, the judge was not really aware of all the issues involved and accepted the settlement. That was the first time a lesbian had secured custody of her children (4). We were really quite thrilled. The next time that we had lesbian custody cases, Ruth and I decided that the best way was to educate the judges off the bench. We began to set up lunches for the judges and invite them to come. We would provide lunch, and we would provide a little lecture for them. We had several of those lunches where we showed videos. There was a movie called In The Best Interests of the Child. We showed that movie, we got a panel together of lesbian parents, and one gay man, a parent. They talked about their experiences. I came out to the judges and told them that I was gay. And, we took them to lunch.
We worked on this for about six months before we ever took another case to trial. The first case we actually won in-trial was— I don’t think she’d want me to reveal her name, so I won’t— but she had sued for custody. Her husband was in a cult religion. So, we thought we had a pretty good case. He wanted to raise the children in this cult. He wanted to tell them how evil lesbianism was. He demeaned his wife in the trial. He was generally a very despicable man. The judge, when he came back to rule, said he thought that lesbianism, per se, was not a factor that would lead him to award custody to the father. He awarded custody to the mother. And, he required visitation to be supervised with the father because of the father’s terrible feelings about the mother. He was afraid the father would bad mouth the mother. That was our first real victory.
That was in front of Judge Herrell, who was a Catholic judge. We were very surprised. We [originally] thought we might get visitation out of it. We were very surprised that we won custody. That started a string of victories. By then, Kathleen Nactigul (5) was very much of the mind that lesbianism per se was not a factor. Judge Deiz really came around. She was an African American judge who compared the discrimination against gay people with her own experiences of being an African American woman. We had many conversations about that with her. There were a couple of the other judges who were very willing to come to these lunches. That’s how that project began. By then I was a practicing lawyer. It took many years for us to bring this about. Now, I don’t even think judges blink. They look at the parent or parents themselves, instead of who the parent is in a relationship with.
Gilah: I remember a case, Katharine, if my memory serves me, of somebody moving from somewhere else in Oregon to Multnomah County so that they could get in front of one of these judges.
Katharine: That’s right. These were two women from Tillamook, who had worked in the fish factory there. They came to me for a consultation. I told them if they filed in Tillamook County they didn’t have a chance in hell. That they should move to Multnomah County and wait to file for the divorce. So, they did that. They moved to Multnomah County and resided here for six months, so they could file in my county. We did a lot of that kind of underground work in order to prepare clients before they filed for divorce. Those two particular women were both motorcyclists. This is a fun story. They both were rabid motorcyclists. When we got set for trial, I told them, “Now listen, dress up, okay? You want to look really, really nice. So, dress up.” We were all sitting there in the courthouse lobby waiting for the trial to begin. Up stride my clients, up the stairs in their finest leathers. Oh, my God, they had jackets and pants, and a hat. They just looked super grand, and super butch. [laughter] The other lawyer was Nancy Snow. She was with legal aid, she was representing the father. I looked at her and she looked at me. I said, “Oh, Nancy, please do me this favor.” She and I went to the judge and said, “ Something has come up that is just terribly important.” So we sent them home. Nancy, I could never repay her for that, because our clients won custody. They never would have in their leathers. That was a very fun case.
Rebecca: I was just thinking about how hard it can be for some parents to relocate with their children.
Katharine: They agreed to relocate. One of them moved to Multnomah County first and got a job and found an apartment. Then, they moved with the children. But, they drove back and forth so the father could have equal custody. They would drive to pick them up, drive home, drive to Tillamook, and drive home.
Another interesting case I had was in Washington County, our first case in Washington County. The mother was a heavy machinery operator, she operated a crane. She was very, very strong and very big. She looked like the typical dyke. Her partner, not that she was not feminine, but she was not quite as virtuous as my client. The father was a mechanical engineer. We had a lot of fears about that. The judge, his perception of strong women was of course very skewed. That was a very difficult trial. That was a five-day trial. I think the only reason we won it, is because she’s a very good mother, and so was her partner. He was not a bad father, but we advised the mother to videotape him when he did weird things. He was kind of a strange man. She happened to get a videotape of him in the empty swimming pool. He jumped down into the empty swimming pool, where he lay and watched the stars. She videotaped him in the morning when he couldn’t get out of the swimming pool. It showed him trying to climb out of the swimming pool. He tried over and over and over again. I was very reluctant to show that videotape because it was so strange, but we did. So I’ve always wondered if I did the right thing in that case, he was a very nice man and a very good father.
That judge called me into chambers toward the end of the trial. He said, “Katharine, I’m going to rule for your client.” I was shocked because lawyers are not supposed to go in front of the judges without other lawyers there. But, the judge had asked me to come into his chambers. He said, “I want you to know, I’m going to rule for you.” I thought, “This is so inappropriate.” Before I could say anything, he said, “I want to ask you, what do you girls do in the bedroom?” I was stunned. And I said, “Judge ‘so and so’, I think this is really inappropriate.” He said, “That’s all right. If you don’t want to tell me, you don’t have to.” And, I left. I always wondered why we won that case. I was always grateful that we won the case because she was a good mother. What relieved my conscience was that she and her husband got along very well. They shared the children. That made me feel a little bit better.
Marti: Were you afraid of losing the case because you didn’t answer the judge?
Katharine: Oh, I had no clue what was going on. It’s never happened to me before or since. I was very surprised. I told Peter, who was the other lawyer. I said, “The judge called me into his chambers.” I didn’t tell Peter what he said. If I had, Peter would have probably declared a mistrial. This was at the end of the fourth day. Peter said, “That’s okay. I don’t care. Let’s just keep going with the trial.” I don’t know Gilah, [laughter] you’re the ethicist here. Should I have declared a mistrial? [laughter]
Gilah: No, you revealed it to the other attorney on good enough terms. I think that’s as far as you had to go.
Katharine: That was my most peculiar incident. We lost other cases. Oh, the first case, I’ll tell you about the first case I ever tried. I tried as an intern with Bill Riggs, who became a Supreme Court justice there in Oregon. He’s retired now. He represented a champion, Olympic gold medalist (6).
Gilah: Oh, I remember the case.
Katharine: A teacher of the year! She was beautiful. She was perfect. He had no idea that we would lose because she was in a lesbian relationship. I was just an intern, but I said, “Bill, you gotta understand, this is going to be an issue.” He said, “It’s no issue. It’s no issue at all.”
[On screen, Rebecca holds up a copy of Tough Girl: Lessons in Courage and Heart from Olympic Gold to the Camino de Santiago]
Marti: Wait, hold on, what is Rebecca showing here?
Rebecca: It’s a book! The last time I had a conversation with Katharine she told me about who she’s talking about now. There’s a book published. I just bought it, but I haven’t read it yet.
Katharine: Carolyn Wood. She refers to her custody case in there. So, I guess I’m not revealing anything. I said, “Bill, your expert has five rings on his finger. He may not be gay, but the judge is going to think he’s gay.” He was effeminate and he had five rings on his finger. He had a wife and five children. He wasn’t gay. Sure enough, this guy came on to testify on Carolyn’s behalf. The judge was so put off by the expert’s rings and Carolyn lost. Her husband was a lawyer. It was a fiercely fought case. Her son called me when he became an adult to ask me about her case. He turned into a fine adult and that’s great. But, I think Carolyn was very wounded by that case.
Marti: That’s the thing with these tapes, the parents discuss the custody cases. I don’t think they mention their kids’ by name, but now you have to wonder about the children. For these tapes to be public, do we need to get the children’s authorization? It’s their lives that are discussed.
Katharine: I don’t think her [Carolyn] son’s name is in the book. I read her book, and I don’t think she revealed her son’s name. That’s a good point, Marti. I would never talk about my personal custody case without my children’s permission, especially my one child. My other child, Greg, went on The Geraldo Show as “the son of lesbians.” He was sixteen years old. Geraldo Rivera called me and asked me if I would go on the show as a lawyer representing lesbians. I said, “I will not. I’m not going on your tacky little show.” Oh, it was so disgusting. When I got home from work that day, my son said, “Guess who called me…” It was Geraldo! He was going to go on the show. I said, “Greg, how can you do that? Those are conservative, republican, prejudiced people you’ll be talking to.” He said, “Well, that’s who I should be talking to, isn’t it?”
Rebecca: I’m not super familiar with The Geraldo Show.
Katharine: Oh, it was one of those spectacular shows that take everything and turn it into this great, big show. How do I describe it? What would you say it was like, Marti or Gilah?
Marti: Pre-Jerry Springer. Think of what Jerry Springer became. Geraldo was like the roadmap. I mean, I remember seeing fights on Geraldo.
Gilah: As sensationalist as they could make it.
Katharine: I have to say Geraldo was just darling to my son. He protected him. One person in the audience said, “Don’t you think your mother should have thrown you both in the river rather than raise you like an albatross around her neck?” Geraldo said, “Now, wait a minute. Does this look like a fine young man? Does this look like somebody who’s suffered?” You know, I mean, Geraldo was really good. I was very grateful to him. [laughter] But anyway, Greg wouldn’t mind if I spread it to the world, but my other son might care.
Gilah: I remember a case that you had in which the mother got custody, but had the condition that her partner could never come in the house or something like that.
Katharine: Right. The partner could never be there when the child was there. She was awarded custody and the condition was the child should never see the partner. So, the partner could not come over to the house or be anywhere near when the child was around. It was a pretty cheap shot. I can’t remember if they defied the order secretly, or if they split up. I can’t remember, Gilah. We had to endure, sit and listen to things like that. Judge Lennon was particularly bad. Bless his heart. This is all public record. Well, let me think.. Yeah, divorce cases were public records. I would always tell my clients, “Here’s a list of the names that Judge Lennon is going to call you. Let’s check them off, as he calls you. Don’t take it personally. He does this to everybody.” And he would say, “You, young lady, are a slut. You are sexually obsessed. You are slovenly and supine.” We would mentally check off all these, “Okay, he’s gonna call you slut. He’s gonna call you a pervert.” One client I had when we lost custody of her children as he was lecturing her, she actually smiled. She was, in her mind, checking off the adjectives of what he would call her. Judge Lennon always assumed all my clients were gay. If I had a straight client I would try to not get him as a judge. It was really hard to sit through lectures from him, and from other judges who were dismissive of lesbians and gay men. It was a very difficult six or seven years. I never held it against the judges because it’s a matter of education, how people grew up, and what they’re taught. But I did hold it against him. I felt he was very inappropriate, but he was a much-beloved judge.
Rebecca: Was he a judge in Multnomah County?
Katharine: Yes, he was a judge in Multnomah County. When he retired, I went to his retirement party, and he shook my hand. He said, “Well, it was nice having you appear in front of me.” I said, “I am so glad I never have to appear in front of you again.” He never changed, to his last day. I don’t know if you should print his name. I’m trying to think about that. Eventually, up until 1984, that was my primary practice: gay and lesbian custody. I represented gay men, too. I represented clients whose who were leaving their husbands or leaving their wives for same-sex partners. It was very, very rewarding, but very difficult work. Gilah, you never had a lesbian custody case?
Gilah: No. If I had a client that was in that position, I’m sure I referred them to you because you were the queen of this.
Katharine: Oh, how interesting. I always think of you as being involved [in these cases].
Gilah: I was involved in other ways, as you say: being an advocate for lesbians. Katharine, do you have a copy of the book that we put together? I think it was called Know Your Rights.
Katharine: Oh, Women’s Rights? You know, I don’t!
Gilah: I did, but I’ve been unable to find it.
Katharine: I wonder… Mary Forest keeps a lot of stuff. Ruth Gundel keeps a lot of stuff. That book we put out, wasn’t it while I was at the Community Law Project?
Gilah: I believe so.
Katharine: I think so. I bet Ruth, who is a massive collector of things, has a copy. What was it called? Know Your Rights?
Gilah: That’s what comes to mind.
Katharine: Or, Women’s Legal Rights in Oregon? Oh, I’d love to see a copy of that.
Gilah: I know that I wrote an article for it, but I don’t even remember what it was on. [laughter]
Katharine: Oh, that’s so funny. There was another book. What was that big national book about lesbian rights? Shoot, I can’t remember. We had articles in that too. It was a pretty active time, Becca. There was a lot happening, it was a very thrilling and exciting time. Lon Mabon, if you haven’t heard his name, from the Oregon Citizens Alliance, started this huge group in Oregon. He proposed all this legislation (7) throughout the state that banned gay people from doing this, that, and the other. It would have jeopardized teachers, judges, and all kinds of women in these jobs. The backlash was very exciting. All of us decided, “You know what, the only way we’re going to fight all this stuff is for everybody to come out. Come out to your parents, come out to your friends, come out to your neighbors.” I think it just galvanized the gay community. It was a very, very exciting time. We had all kinds of groups: the Oregon Women’s Feminist Federal Credit Union, the Woman’s Place bookstore, the Domestic Violence Alliance. There were just all kinds of things that happened for lesbians and gay men. That was the period of time during which I practiced, and I had a lot of support. I was not isolated in any regard. I had a lot of support from my women lawyer friends and a lot of support from the community.
Gilah: We were at an age, you know, early 30s-ish, that we had all this energy.
Katharine: Gilah, were you part of the Oregon Gay and Lesbian Lawyers Association that started, the OGALLA? Now, it’s just ho-hum. It’s just another arm of the Oregon State Bar. But back then, we met in apartment houses, people’s places, with our feet up on the hassock. Sharing bonbons and, you know, talking about, “Ooh, can we do this? Do you think we could? Do you think anybody would join?” It was just a real thrill.
Gilah: I’m thinking I must have been. Why wouldn’t I have been? I was out.
Katharine: I think you were. Not the first meeting, which happened in George’s apartment. What’s his last name?
Gilah: Eighmey? E I GH..
Katharine: George Eighmey— yeah, yeah! [laughter] He and Peter, his partner, thought, “Let’s start the Gay Lawyers Association.” We all thought, “Oh, I don’t know. Do I dare?” Then, when Lon Mabon and the Oregon Citizens Alliance came out with this horrible, horrible statute that they were trying to pass, the Oregon State Bar, which never did anything political before, came out against it. After a very exciting bar conference down at the coast, several people spoke, they decided, “Yes, we need to do this for our fellow gay lawyers.” They came out opposing Lon Mabon’s terrible legislative statute, I think it was called Measure 9?
Katharine: It was a real thrill of a time.
Gilah: There must have been half a dozen lesbian bars in town.
Katharine: Oh, yeah. I remember Rising Moon, Tasha’s, and The Other Side of Midnight.
Gilah: Wow, good memory Katharine! [laughter]
Marti: Keep going, keep going…[laughter]
Katharine: [laughter] We’d go and we would dance with each other. We’d feel so liberated, so free, and so secretive. [laughter]. It was really quite fun.
Marti: It’s always fascinating to hear about the lesbian bar scene, just because there aren’t really any spaces now. It’s a disappearing space across the United States, which is really unfortunate.
Katharine: It’s unfortunate and it’s fortunate. It’s like a two-sided coin. It’s really good that women can go to bars now and dance with each other. I remember going out with Sid Lezak and his wife, Muriel. We went to a western bar and Sid wouldn’t dance. So, Muriel and I got up and danced. They threw us off the dance floor. They said, “We don’t let women dance with women.” Sid Lezak, he was the U.S. Attorney! It was so funny.
Rising Moon was one of the first lesbian bars. Before I came out, I was nine months pregnant with my second son. I was involved in planning a conference. There were all these lesbians who were planning this conference. I thought, “Oh, this is disgusting, but I’ve got to keep going because I’m a straight woman. I’ve got to manage the conference so that it serves straight women, too.” So one night, they all asked me if I wanted to go dancing. I thought, “Wow, that’s pretty neat.” I was eight and a half months pregnant, huge belly, and I thought, “Well, I can go down to the bar with them. Nobody’s going to bother me because I’m pregnant.” I went down, and they swarmed around me, “Oh, can I hear the baby kick? Oh, can I feel your belly?” [laughter] It was so hilarious. I just froze in my tracks, all these women who were accosting me! [laughter] It was really very affirming for me. That was before we knew that drinking was not good for children. So, I got smashed. I had a wonderful time! I don’t think I ever shaved my legs again! [laughter]
Rebecca: [laugher] That’s wonderful. I was born in 1989. There’s so much information that I don’t know. I feel like there’s a lot of people who are my age or younger who have none of this context.
Katharine: That’s right. And that’s really sad in some ways. It’s really not too bad in other ways. When I came to Utah, I taught high school at Roland Hall, which is this private school. It was all rich people. All the girls were just completely oblivious to the women’s suffrage movement, to the gay rights movement. We had a lot of gay teachers. The girls would say, “Yeah, it’s no big deal.” And, I would think, “Oh, you have no idea. It’s no big deal, because some of us suffered in making it true.”
Gilah: Well, look what’s happening with abortion now. Fighting the fights that we fought, you know, in the 60s and 70s.
Katharine: Right? That’s just shocking. It really is shocking. Here we go again. But you know, we passed the torch to younger women like you, Becca, and Marti, you guys.
Rebecca: I mean, we wouldn’t be here without Marti. Marti found the tapes.
Marti: From my point of view as an archivist, I very much want to see more of myself in archives as a queer person, a queer person of color. When I saw these tapes, you know, I knew that it’s not a known history, the lesbian custody battles. Any chance I get, I want to make queer history accessible to the public.
Katharine: Oh, that’s wonderful.
Gilah: Marti, do you think that there might be a copy of Know Your Rights in your archives?
Marti: Yeah, it sounds familiar. With the In Other Words (8) collection, we have numerous zines from back then. I want to look through the newsletters they have and see if I can come across it.
Katharine: Ruth Gundle? G- U -N -D- L-E. She’s very accessible. Flight of the Mind is her literary side. She offers lots of workshops, two of which I’m taking right now. She can be very easily found. She’s the partner of Judith Barrington, B- A-R-R-I-N-G-T-O-N: a poet. A pretty well-known poet in the literary community.
Marti: Yeah. Ruth is on one of these tapes.
Katharine: Good, good. She was the founder of Community Law Project, which was a great law firm. How long have you been there [at Portland State] for Marti?
Marti: I’ve been here since 2012.
Marti: We have a really good relationship with the WGSS: the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department, and with Johanna Brenner. The students, they’re very eager to come in and view the collections. I do feel that in that way the torch is being passed. It’s good when they learn about this history.
Gilah: In our day, it was just called Women’s Studies! [laughter]
Katharine: Gilah, are you retired now?
Gilah: Oh, yes. I retired in 2007 at 59, which was early.
Katharine: Oh, yeah! I didn’t finally retire ‘til 72. [laughter] I’m 77 now.
Marti: You know, for me, on a personal level, as a divorced parent with kids, this history is hard to hear about. At the same time, I can imagine that living through it, that sense of community and the support that you had was exciting at times.
Katharine: That’s not to say that it was all just a barrel of laughs. The other side of it, of course, was really hard. I don’t know what it’s like now for lesbians, if they have the same kind of community. I’ve been out of that community for quite some time here in Utah. Don’t get me started on Utah!
Gilah: I wish that there was still a strong community in that way. Especially in the old days, you know, lesbians were often cut off from their families. You had to create your own community.
Katharine: Yeah, there was a place in Southeast Portland, that was known as Lesbian Lane.
Gilah: Yes, I lived on it! [laughter]
Katharine: [laughter] All of the lesbians lived on it! Within about a three-block radius, you could find all these apartment houses with tons of lesbians. It was quite a community.
Marti: It’s still here. It’s just in pockets. You just have to find it.
Katharine: Gilah, all the old dykes are moving to Rosevilla or Rosewherever. [laughter]
Gilah: They’ve had my deposit for several years!
Katharine: [laughter] Oh, that’s funny. Well, Judith, Mary Forest, and Ruth Gundle, everybody is talking about doing it now that everyone is in their 70s.
Gilah: Rosevilla is a CCRC, a Continuing Care Retirement Community. That means that you can opt for independent living, assisted living, or memory care if necessary. They have a little nursing home. It was started, I believe, by some men who moved from Willamette View, which is another CCRC down the road from it. They were gay men who wanted a place that was more friendly to lesbians and gays. I mean, you have to have money, that’s really the bottom line, but it’s a wonderful place. It’s really quite lovely. Nothing is taller than three stories. There are a lot of lesbians moving there if they weren’t already there.
Marti: Here in Portland?
Gilah: Well, actually just over the line in Milwaukee on River Road.
Katharine: In fact, that would be a very interesting article. If somebody does this big spread, “Where have all the old dykes gone?” [laughter]
Marti: I get asked that question all the time, “Where are all the old dykes?”
Katharine: Really?! Oh, how Interesting!
Marti: Oh, yeah. People are curious.
(1) Pat Young taught an LGBTQ History Capstone at Portland State University. (https://www.glapn.org/670025PatYoung.html)
(2) A restaurant and women’s center on Burnside Street in Portland, Oregon; it opened in the 1980s and recently shuttered in 2014.
(3) Casual luncheons set up with the local judges to educate them about gay and lesbian parents.
(4) In Oregon, one of few nationally.
(5) Oregon judge
(6) Carolyn Wood was an Olympic swimmer and wrote an autobiographical book, Tough Girl: Lessons in Courage and Heart from Olympic Gold to the Camino de Santiago.
(7) In the 1980s Lon Mabon began an anti-gay campaign which led to Meaure 9 in 1992. Meaure 9 proposed language to the Oregon Constiution which denied recognition of gay rights.
(8) A well-known feminist bookstore in Portland, Oregon.
Rebecca Copper (she/her) is currently a graduate candidate at Portland State University, through the Art + Social Practice MFA Program, where she worked in 2020 as a research assistant for Portland State University’s Art + Social Practice Archive. Rebecca’s work centers on ontology; how our being and perceptions of reality exist against one another. And, how that reality is mediated, dictated back to us in varying forms. She is deeply invested in vast inversion of imperial/masculine archetypes, power dynamics, and ideologies. And, the reduction of hyper categorical, industrialized research.
Marti Clemmons (they/them) is an Archives Technician at Portland State University’s Special Collections and University Archives located in the Millar Library and previously worked as the Archivist for KBOO Radio. They are interested in using archives as a place for Queer activism.
Gilah Tenenbaum (she/her) was born and raised near Boston. B.A. Government and Political Science, Boston University, 1970; J.D. Northwestern School of Law of Lewis and Clark College; Member Cornelius Honor Society and recipient of the first Wold Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Progress of Women’s Rights Through Law,1978. Admitted to Oregon State Bar 1978.
Katharine English (she/her) practiced law from 1977 to 1984, then was a juvenile court referee and pro tem judge from 1984 to 1998, and then the Chief Judge of the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde from 1998 to 2003.
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.
Created within the Portland State University Art & Social Practice Masters In Fine Arts. Program, SoFA Journal is now fully online.
Conversations on Everything is an expanding collection of interviews produced as part of SoFA Journal. Through the potent format of casual interviews as artistic research, insight is harvested from artists, curators, people of other fields and everyday humans. These conversations study social forms of art as a field that lives between and within both art and life.
Sponsored by the Portland State University Art and Social Practice MFA Program