“Peggy Burton was a teacher at Salem High School who got fired in the late ‘60s or early 70s because she was gay. Charlie Hinkle took her case. In those days, there was hardly a gay rights movement, it just barely started. He took her case to the ninth circuit. They won the case, but he took it on free speech grounds.”CINDY CUMFER
The Tapes, Conversation III is the third in a series of conversations about a collection of archived audiotapes that are held within the Portland State University Special Collections and Archives. What the tapes hold are the intimate stories of lesbian mothers and gay fathers who were up against court systems that denied them of custody and their parenting rights because of their sexual orientation and gender identies in the 1970s and 1980s. The tapes are closed to the public because there is no information about who is recorded, therefore gaining permission to share their stories has been a difficult path to forge. Together, we; Marti Clemmons and Rebecca Copper, are working to track down who is on these tapes in hopes to gain permission to release these valuable stories to the public. In our search for those identities, we’ve recorded conversations with those we have been able to get in touch with. Through these conversations, we’ve simultaneously garnered first-hand accounts of the LGBTQ history in Portland, Oregon as it connects to parenting rights.
In the first conversation, we spoke with Gilah Tenenbaum, whose name Marti found written on one of the audiotapes. Gilah spoke to us about their connection to the tapes and led us to Katharine English, who we spoke to in the second conversation. In the second conversation, we invited both Gilah and Katharine to discuss the tapes with us. The two of them talked about the history of the Portland queer community and the cases they remembered together. In this conversation, we learned that Cindy Cumfer and Pat Young could be tied to these audiotapes. In the following conversation, Cindy Cumfer and Pat Young with Katharine, Gilah, Marti, and myself met to discuss the possibility of who could have been a part of making these tapes. We also discuss their past work as laywers in the queer community and one as a writer for Just Out.
Cindy and Pat both helped add historical context to the conversation. Though Cindy and Pat were not parents themselves, they understood the importance of the right to parent. Cindy was the first lawyer to get a signed adoption for a gay couple in the United States. Together, Cindy and Pat co-organized feminist resource spaces in Portland to support queer parents in the community.
Rebecca Copper: This meeting is about a group of audiotapes Marti shared with me that were donated or given to the PSU archive. The audio tapes are closed to the public. Marti works in the archive and could probably speak better to the audio tapes than I can.
Pat Young: The tapes are from the women’s bookstore, right?
Marti Clemmons: Yeah, from In Other Words. The collection was donated when they closed down a few years ago– four or five years now. One of the boxes contains multiple cassette tapes, some of which are labeled with a name of the person interviewed, but not the interviewer. It makes it a little harder to identify the voices. There’s about 50 tapes in here. They all date from, like, ‘78 to ‘81, ‘82.
Katharine English: What are you trying to do with these tapes, Marti and Becca?
Marti: For the archives at Portland State, it’d be great to have whoever we can identify sign off forms so we can eventually digitize them. Of course, there are things that come along with that. Not everyone can be identified by voice. Pat, I think that you are on one of the tapes. I took a class with Pat in 2012, a capstone LGBT class. I recognized Pat. Really, I swear, it’s your voice. Katharine, you mentioned that Pat was the one that interviewed you, right?
Pat: That was for Just Out, the newspaper.
Katharine: I remember it being for archives, for Portland State. It might have been for Just Out; I did a lot of interviews.
Pat: That’s when I wrote that article about those two women or something, or a wedding? I don’t know anymore. Obviously, we’re all old. [laughter]
Katharine: Well, I think you were questioning me about all the work that I did in gay custody. I think it was broader at that time, but you asked me about the leatherbound women case. [laughter] I call it my “leatherbound women” case. I think it was for more than that, but that was a story that stood out.
Pat: Yeah. I’m not remembering. So, there you have it.
Marti: All these tapes are custody-based. Pat, do you know—sorry, this is the archivist in me talking, but, the Just Out interviews, are those at OHS (Oregon Historical Society) with Robin?
Pat: I have no idea, you’d have to check with Robin or Oregon Historical Society. I don’t know what happened to all of the Just Out items. I mean, other than their paper versions, I don’t know what happened to any of them. If they had any audio files, certainly they had a lot of photos.
Marti: Great, thank you.
Rebecca: To give a little bit more information about why we’re all here together; as Marti mentioned, we are trying to find who is on these tapes. When we first found Gilah Tenenbaum, who’s not here right now, I had an interest in documenting these conversations as we were trying to find who is on the tapes. It was published in the SoFA (Social Forms of Art) Journal. I’m a graduate student at Portland State University. This journal is put out by my program. A lot of this history has come up in these conversations. While searching for who is on these tapes, we are simultaneously trying to document these conversations. Marti and I are collaborating on an archive that is based on the single parent experience and Marti shared these tapes with me one day when I was visiting them at the Portland State Archives.
Cindy Cumfer: Gilah’s connection with all this… I didn’t know she didn’t work in this area, so I’m just curious.
Rebecca: Gilah was on one of the tapes, one of the first names that was identified. So, then I got on the internet and we got a hold of Gilah.
Cindy: Katharine, do you know if she did work about custody?
Katharine: I don’t think she did. She was in the community, but I don’t think she did work on custody cases. What did you do, Cindy, in custody cases?
Cindy: I litigated a few of them. Maybe late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Then, I did the first two same-sex parent adoption, which is a different topic, in ‘85.
Katharine: Was Judge Deiz the judge on those adoptions?
Cindy: I did a number of adoptions, but she was the judge on the first adoption, yeah.
Katharine: On the first single sex adoption?
Cindy: Yeah, in ‘85. Then, some of the other judges fell in line.
Katharine: Would those clients mind if you reveal their identities?
Cindy: I don’t know. I’d have to ask them. I do still know them. You helped out on that.
Katharine: Oh, yeah. I know who they were.
Cindy: I dragged you into that. [laughter]
Katharine: Haha, you didn’t drag me into it.
Cindy: I think you were late. She (Judge Deiz) had already signed the order. But then she looked at you and started laughing when you came in. She said, “You came to check-in on me, huh?”[laughter]
Marti: When was the last time that you spoke with Cindy, Katharine?
Katharine: Oh, gosh, when did we last speak, Cindy? Years ago.
Cindy: I came to town for your book reading.
Katharine: Oh, yes. That’s right. That was about five years ago, wasn’t it? But, you’re always in my thoughts, dear.
Cindy: [laughter] You too. Are you in Utah right now?
Katharine: Ah, yes, I’m in Utah, by the mountains and the conservative community. [laughter]
Pat: I’m sure you’re good for the community there. [laughter]
Katharine: I’m not sure if that’s how it will go, it’s fine [laughter]. I figure I’ve passed the torch, I can kind of be in the background again.
Cindy: Does anybody know how Gilah is involved? I’m just wondering because we’re waiting for her. Her name just popped up? Did she do custody work? I thought she was a (workers’) comp hearing person.
Katharine: She did some wills in the States. I’m not sure. She didn’t do any custody work. She always sent her custody cases to me, or perhaps to you. I got a lot of referrals from her.
Marti: Yeah, she’s mentioned on the Excel spreadsheet as someone who was in the community, but not necessarily involved in the custody cases, but more as a support. I know on tape, she does speak specifically about the judicial system and just helps give a kind of a background.
Cindy: I see. I was one of the people who helped start the Women’s Place bookstore. I didn’t realize they had all these tapes, good for them. That was in 1973 I think or something. That was before law school.
Katharine: Oh, that’s right, when it was on Grand Street? I remember that. [laughter]
Cindy: Back when it was a women’s center. You came to our opening.
Katharine: [laughter] I came, I was in my little frotte dress.
Cindy: Nobody had thought a man would come. Madeline Warren and I sat and chatted about it. [laughter]
Katharine: I know! I came with my husband! It was too funny. I had on red, white, and blue stars on my little jumper. I had on nylons and heels. I was all dressed up because I came to this planning meeting. I walked in and I was sort of surprised when my husband walked in with me. Some woman, who looked at the time to me, like this great, huge, hulking lumberjack, came out and said, “Hi, what are you here for?” I said, “I’m here for the planning meeting.” She said, “Well, it’s through those beads.” We both started to walk through and she stepped in front of my husband and said, “Men aren’t allowed.” [laughter] I thought, “Oh, my God, what am I gonna do?!”
Cindy: That was a different occasion. I don’t know about the planning meeting. This was the grand opening of the bookstore, which was in the front half. You guys just came in. Madeline and I looked at each other. It hadn’t dawned on us that a man would even want to come. We knew we had to be open to men when we were open to the public.
Katharine: Oh well, it must have been a different time. But, It was all downhill from there. [laughter]
Cindy: That was a great project.
Katharine: Yeah. So, what kinds of things did you need to know, Becca?
Rebecca: These conversations have unfolded in an organic kind of way. First, I reached out to Gilah. Then, Marti and I had a conversation with Gilah who mentioned Katharine’s name. So, I tracked down Katharine and we had a conversation with Gilah and Katharine. Pat, your name came up several times, and, Cindy, your name came up as well. I thought it would be good to connect everybody and talk about what was happening when these tapes were recorded and hopefully figure out more about who is on these tapes.
Katharine: You might be interested in Cindy talking about the work that she did. I told you a lot about the work I did. I think it’d be really helpful to hear the work Cindy did.
Cindy: Are we talking about legal work or work with Women’s Place? Or the bookstore?
Rebecca: Both! We are focusing on custody though.
Cindy: Legal work… all gay stuff? Or, are you talking just custody?
Rebecca: All of it really, I feel like as these conversations have kind of unfolded, that there’s a lot of important contextual information that comes up. A lot of history.
Pat: Sorry, it’s my cat. [laughter] Like I said in my email to you, Rebecca, I was not involved in any of the custody cases. I’m not a lawyer or anything. I just started doing research around gay history. Most of my emphasis had been on the political things, but I can certainly talk to you later and share some links with you. There’s this woman—Sandy Polishuk. She did a series of three panel discussions around gay history and social justice stuff. She did one about the Mountain Moving Cafe. I know these are on YouTube, which will give you a really good background of what it was like for folks living in Portland at that time.
Katharine: You can reach Sandy Polishuk through Ruth Gundel. Ruth Gundel is the name I gave you the last time. Sandy’s in a class that I’m taking now, online. She’s accessible.
Rebecca: How do you spell Sandy’s last name?
Katharine: You mean Sandy? S-A-N-D-Y. Polishuk. P-O-L-I think it’s, S-H-U-K. She is in touch with Ruth Gundel, G-U-N-D-L-E. Ruth is a lawyer who started the Community Law Project, which did lesbian custody cases. That would be an excellent source for you.
Cindy: I see Gilah’s here—my involvement really started when I helped start the bookstore. That was in ’72. It started before I went to law school. I was involved with the bookstore; it was a combination bookstore and Women’s Center. We had some pretty cool guest speakers at the Women’s Center. We’d Invite people who usually were in town because Portland State University had an introduction, book signing, or something. Then, they’d come over and join us for a potluck dinner, or whatever.
One of them, pertinent to the lesbian issue, our first one, was actually Peggy Burton from Salem [Oregon]. Peggy was a teacher at Salem High School who got fired in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s for being gay. Charlie Hinkle took her case. In those days, there was hardly a gay rights movement, it had just barely started. He took her case to the ninth circuit and eventually, he won. They won the case, but he took it on free speech grounds. He did not take it on the grounds that lesbians should have the same rights as everybody else. He figured he would lose. I heard him talk about the case a few years ago. He took it on free speech grounds because she had come out. It was her speech that caused, in his theory, the firing. The Ninth Circuit agreed that it was a free speech violation. But the result didn’t require the school to rehire her. So, she came up and talked to us just after the case settled, I think it must have been, either ‘72 or ‘73. One of the things she said that stuck with me was that her students who were freshmen when she got fired, were seniors then. This was in Salem, Oregon in 1973. They voted to dedicate the school album to Peggy. So, her picture was on the school album. [laughter] The principal was so upset about it that he tore her picture out.
So anyway, she was our first speaker. We had Adrienne Rich come. Also, Dell Martin and Phyllis Lyon came. They had put out a book on battered women that was sold at the bookstore. We talked about other things, besides battered women. After that, I went to law school. I didn’t keep up with what they were doing with this program, behind the scenes; I was down in Eugene, [Oregon] my first year of law school. There was a lot going on in the space. The front part of the building was the bookstore and the back part was a women’s center. We’d have parties back there with musicians and women’s music, and it was a lot of fun. It was a very community-building kind of thing. The bookstore itself and the Women’s Center, were not specifically gay. It was probably about half and half—half were gay and half were straight. The straight women were very supportive.
I went to law school after that, and the bookstore moved downtown after that. I think the sort of camaraderie that we had, it seems like it split at one point over the gay-straight thing. We had really worked hard not to let that happen, but you know, politics change, people change. I went to some kind of meeting downtown. I don’t know if you were there, Katharine. I don’t think you were there. They had a community meeting to address, what I think was, the heterosexual women in the bookstore. Their boyfriends were coming in to pick them up and some of the lesbians had gotten more radical and they didn’t like that. I went down to listen to what was said. I miss the days when we all worked together. [laughter]
Katharine: When did you do your first case with lesbians, Cindy? Did you do that after you graduated?
Cindy: Oh yeah, I was at Wilner and Bennett’s. I remember you came in for that one case or something.
Katharine: No, I was there and did tax law. God, I hated it. I worked with Bill Riggs on Carolyn Wood’s case.
Cindy: I saw her at a book signing a few years ago. She’s written a book about that.
Katharine: Oh, yeah, she’s written a couple of books now.
Cindy: I had written a book on my church history and OHS has people displaying books and I saw her there.
Katharine: Oh, good.
Cindy: She looked good. It was a horrible thing.
Katharine: That was a terrible case. That was not the first lesbian case in Portland. There was one in Klamath Falls. Who were those women? Do you recall?
Pat: Nance and Estelline?
Katharine: Yes. Nance and Estelline. Bill was doing their appeal. It was just terrible. I kept saying to Bill, “Bill, you’ve got to raise this as a constitutional issue. This is a gay rights issue.” And he just didn’t see it. He changed. He did a fairly dramatic change, I think.
CIndy: Bill did their appeal? Is that right?
Katharine: I think so, yeah. I was working on the appeal, so I must have been working at Willner Bennett’s.
Cindy: Yeah, I know you did the Carolyn case.
Katharine: No, I did the Estelline case, too. I read the whole transcript trying to find appellate issues. Maybe he didn’t do the actual filing of the appeal, but we read the transcript to try to find appellate issues. I tried to get him to see that there were constitutional issues here. He did not buy that. I’m not sure they appealed it after that.
Cindy: You said the two women from K Falls?
Katharine: Yeah, the two women from Klamath Falls. Pat, do you remember their names?
Pat: I know. It’s Nance and Estelline, but I don’t remember their last names right off the bat. I know they’re good friends with Helen and Lynette, who Cindy knew. Also, on the GLAPN website, the G-L-A-P-N , the gay archive website, there should be a link to an article about them that was published in the Portland Town Council newsletter. Yeah, I can find that link and send it to you guys, too. What are their last names? O’Harra?
Katharine: O’Harra? Yeah, something like that. So, Cindy, Nance and Estelline are friends of yours?
Cindy: I haven’t seen them in a while. They were friends of Lynette and Helen.
Pat: The irony is we are all now the age that when we were looking at Helen and Lynette like, “Wow, these great older lesbians!” You know?
Cindy: We’re now the old generation.
Pat: Cindy, one of the things that I remember—you were one of the first lawyers, at least that I heard of, who would help set up domestic partner relationships, the legal stuff, so that they would be protected. Did you have an office above a Chinese restaurant on 28th Street? Was that you?
Cindy: I did have an office on 28th. It was down the street from a Chinese restaurant. But, I was downtown before that.
Katharine: Were you in the governor building with me?
Gilah Tenenbaum: I was in the governor building, but not with you guys.
Cindy: On the other side of us, do you remember who was there? Your office and my office, which connected with your office, and on the other side there was a door that was locked by management.
Katharine: Juvenile Rights Project and Sierra Club? Well, the right hand.
Cindy: Rupert Kinnard was in that office next to me.
Katharine: Rupert Kinnard! Everybody moved out after Paula threw the typewriter at me. [laughter] They said, we aren’t going to stay here.
Rebecca: Can we hear a little more about that story?
Cindy: You have to know Paula.
Katharine: Paula Nielsen is marvelous. She’s the drag queen, transsexual, who worked at Darcelle’s for many years and wrote her own memoir. She was our legal secretary. She was a bruiser. She was so big. I just grew to love her. But she and I did not get along because I like to work at four o’clock in the morning and she liked to drag in at 10 o’clock. So, one time she came in at 10 o’clock and I said, “You’re late, you’re late! You haven’t gotten the statements out.” She picked up the typewriter and she threw it at me and said, “Then you do it!” After that, I was very gentle with her. [laughter] Julie MacFarlane and Juvenile Rights Project moved downstairs within two weeks.
Oh, gosh, guys, I gotta go to my doctor. So sorry. Maybe, we can do this again sometime sometime soon. Bye. I love seeing you all.
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. They 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. She received a B.A. in Government and Political Science from Boston University in 1970, attended the J.D. Northwestern School of Law at Lewis and Clark College and was a Member of the Cornelius Honor Society and recipient of the first World Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Progress of Women’s Rights Through Law in 1978. Gilah was admitted to the Oregon State Bar in 1978.
Katharine English: (she/her) practiced law from 1977-1984, was a juvenile court referee and pro tem judge from 1984-1998, and was the Chief Judge of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde from 1998-2003.
Cindy Cumfer: (she/they) was an out-lesbian in law school from 1974-77 and helped start a Lesbian/Gay law student group at Lewis & Clark Law School. After law school, they worked at the Community Law Project for 3 years. Cindy set up their own law practice in 1982 where she represented LGBTQ+ clients on a number of issues, including lesbian custody and domestic partnership agreements, as well as various legal paperworks to protect these clients with reference to donor insemination, incapacity, and death. They wrote several editions of a legal handbook in the 1980s through the ‘90s called The Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples in Oregon. Cindy got an Oregon judge to sign the first adoption by two same-gender parents of their child in the United States in 1985, which was used by an attorney in Washington in 1986 to get an adoption signed. Later that year, the National Center for Lesbian Rights won over a California judge to sign a gay adoption in San Francisco.
Pat Young: (she/her) has an extensive background in writing and has written for Just Out, the Portland queer magazine that was founded in 1983. Pat taught an LGBT history capstone at Portland State University in 2009, where students interviewed 165 people crucial to the gay and lesbian history of Portland. She is currently a member of the Gay and Lesbian Archivists of the Pacific Northwest, of which she was also a president and board member in previous years.
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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