Saturday, May 23, 2009

Interview of Anna-Lesbian-Olympia

Q - So what do you want to know?

Some of the things I have connected to use and was suggested to come to you about are things like nanny noodles. Do you know anything about Nanny Noodles?

Nanny noodles was one of a number of women’s households that were created in the seventies as a part of the broad-based intentional communities movement, a part of which was the women’s space movement or do it yourself feminist revolution. Since it was clear that we couldn’t take over the country, we could at least take over our immediate home space and work together to create the sort of community that we envisioned.

After the Vietnam war ended, activists realized we weren’t going to have a cultural or political revolution in this country. As a result, politically active people either went into politics and ran for office, or they got involved in urban organizing, or they got involved in building intentional communities. This created a sort of Leftist Diaspora, a dispersion of Lefties and hippies and feminists who migrated out across the country looking for places to create these intentional communities.

Some of this was the back to the land movement that created communes across the country, including here in Washington State. This movement also involved a sort of urban homesteading where leftists would buy houses in the city and make them into land trusts so that no one individual owned these homes as real estate, instead the occupants were stewards of an ongoing home base for political activists.

As part of this, lesbians came to the conclusion that heterosexism would not allow for gay equality, so we had to create women’s space to build up our own equality. And so we did by creating intentional communities across the country. Olympia was one of those areas were people migrated and created collective households. So in this way, this movement for intentional communities went from the national or macro level to local then to the micro level, which is the household unit.

In Olympia what that meant was that people would create households based on an affiliation to being lesbian identified. In those days there were many interpretations - that could mean being straight, bi, asexual, and some cases that meant straight male or transgender male or gay male or bisexual male. The unifying element was being women identified, believe there needed to be a safe place for women and children in the face of an extremely homophobic world.

This is the context in which Nanny Noodles was created as one of those households. It was located in rural area on 11th Ave NW. For a period of time I lived right next door in the neighbor lesbian household called Millet House. Nanny Noodles was called Nanny Noodles cause it was covered with painted squiggles and it had some amazing people like Kathryn ford, Rhoda, and other people who came and went, obviously someone along the way was arty enough to paint the noodles on the house. The really exciting thing about living out there at that time was that there were many musicians and artists in the neighborhood and throughout the women’s community, as well as the greater Olympia community. One of my house mates was a woman names Barb Marino who’s an amazing saxophone player who now lives in Seattle area. She’s been a saxophone player all her life helped organize the Northwest Women’s Music Festival which was held in our joint back pastures. We brought down Ferron and a bunch of other people which names I can’t remember. Barb’s band at the time was Abraza, an all women’s jazz band also played. There weren’t as many telephones back then you had one line that was in the house you had to be there to answer there was no answering machines either that or we couldn’t afford them. I was home a lot and I always ended up taking all the calls for the festival. Anyhow, these households were little oasises of equality and safety, providing a home where people could live and not be evicted not be attacked not be abused for not being a woman or being lesbian.

Q- Were they collectively owned?

Nanny noodles was a rental but I’m not sure. Millet house was owned by two women who lived there and they opened it up to become a collective I moved from millet to the house I’m at now which at that time was a collective house in the process of becoming a land trust. We called ourselves Gold Flower Brigade after a character in a story from the Chinese revolution. One of the women in our collective was Debbie Leung, a very kind and generous woman who put up the money to buy the house with another woman. Debbie is first generation Chinese-American, her parents actually fled China prior the cultural revolution after WWII. The name Gold Flower came from a Chinese Cultural Revolution story of a woman whose husband beat her and treated her very badly for years. But after the cultural revolution came all of her comrades said we are going to help you reeducate your husband, we’ll stone him to death. [laugh] However, by the end of the story she threw herself in front of him to save his life from stoning. She said they scared the hell out of him and he would never mistreat her again. So we all liked that story about reeducating sexist jerk men so we called ourselves Gold Flower Brigade.

So there were series of houses Nanny Noodles was one, Millet House next door was another Nancy Lache who still lives in the same farm lived in a place I can’t remember if it ever had a name was the next farm over. I became an urban dweller then and I lived in gold flower brigade. Jene Eberheart lived in raging women, there was another household called revolting women and there were I’m not going to remember the names of all the households.

Were these all about the same time?


Was there a particular time or year they started showing up?

Some people say these collective households sprang up as the alternative sorority and fraternity houses for Evergreen, which opened in the late 1960’s . These women’s households formed in the early 1970’s and continued to exist until the mid 1980’s. Alexander Berkman collective or ABC House was another one, Emma Goldman collective was another. They were often politically identified and affiliated households with people with similar beliefs about making community. It was focused on creating intentional community. My perspective as a Socialist is that it was a way that people with financial means could share the resources of daily survival with people of lesser means so that everyone could get what they needed to survive. It was an amazing expression of communal philosophy.

Q When did lesbian as a term change. In previous conversations and here I keep hearing about this lesbian community and dyke community as interchangeable terms. Where here you say a man can be a lesbian. When did that change because now I don’t think it’s the same in my peer group I don’t think that would happen.

Meaning how a gay man wouldn’t be considered a part of a lesbian community now days?


Well in those days it started off like we were all simply “gay”. We were all gender outlaws, we were all sexual orientation outlaws and it made a lot of sense that we had a strong affiliation across the broad range of GLBT. Of course, not everybody agreed with that. There were women that felt strongly that “women only” spaces were sacred and men should stay out, even to the exclusion of male children. To them it didn’t matter if you were lesbian, bisexual, or straight - - it only mattered if you were women identified. For other people it was a political identification based on gender identity and sexual orientation. For them the whole arc of gender and sexual identification was family. And then for other people it meant lesbian separatism, and that the men, bisexuals and transgendered folks needed to go elsewhere for community. But for the most part, these households were predominantly women identified with a few men, bisexuals and transgendered folks.

When I became part of the community, I indentified as a bisexual for a year or so, not so much because I wanted to sleep with men but because it was really important to have an identity that included bisexuals, men who were political feminists or woman-identified in their personal politics.

You were a political bisexual?

Well ,yeah I identified as a political Bisexual but I just didn’t sleep with men. After a while I realized this was kind of a joke and had to acknowledge that yes, I guess I am a lesbian. But it was important to me to be part of a continuum, I guess I believed in the GLBT thing before we invented it.

Let me tell explain this better. At that time, different people had various identities that were essential to how they lived their lives. Some people call this identity politics, where you focus your affiliations your sense of community your sense of social belonging around an identity that’s important to you. This can be whether you’re a generic leftist, a socialist, an anarchist or a democrat. It can also be about your sexual orientation as a lesbian, bisexual or gay. It can be about your gender identity it you are transgender ftm or mtf. Where was I going with this story? [laugh] So that’s how I indentified?

When I became involved in the women’s community, there was a lot of conflict in the community about is this a lesbian community or is this a more broad-based women’s community. I was kinda militant about being a bisexual because I thought it was important about not to cut men out of a political community, so I challenged a lot of people. I kinda made an ass of myself pushing them to acknowledge the holes in their political analysis when it came to men and transgendered people. For those women in the Olympia women’s community who were lesbian identified and said they were also anti-racist, anti-classist, anti-sexist I challenged them, “how can you be anti-racist and anti-classist if you don’t also acknowledge that men suffer as a result of racism and classism?” This was a really hard issue for some people because for them because they seemed to want a more purist women identified or lesbian identified kind of community.

So there was an ongoing controversy that simmered throughout the community in the mid to late 70s about who’s a “real” lesbian, who’s in and who’s out, with a lot of conflict over how these bisexuals were diluting our lesbian purity.


Sometime in the mid 1970’s, a group of women decided to organize a “Lesbian Community” meeting to really bring the community together. It was billed as a “Lesbian Identified” meeting, which caused an uproar among lesbian separatists who were all flipped out that bisexual women and straight women would come in and “rip off our culture”. There was a lot of debate over who’s really out, who’s really a lesbian who’s not a real lesbian. So, on the night of the meeting a group of organizers went early to set up the room at the old Senior Center, which has long since been torn down.

Once we got to the senior center, we saw that the Senior Center director had stayed late specifically to meet us and tell us we couldn’t meet there because we were beasts and that we didn’t belong in his building. Then he threw us all out. It was one of those horrible experience of straight up, in your face bigotry. So there we were in the street, staring at each other, and when other women arrived, we explained we had been kicked out. While just about everyone had come prepared for a rousing political debate about our differences, we instead found ourselves quietly facing the reality of how much we needed each other. This was an incredibly unifying experience for everybody - - we realized that we were a women’s community and that we needed each other to pull together to survive.

One of the women there offered to let us use her coffee shop as a meeting place, so we pulled ourselves together and walked over to the Intermezzo, owned by Carolyn Street. That profound experience of being hated as the same “beast” was all that we needed to get cracking – that meeting was like an absolute house fire of ideas of all the things we could do to build up our community. Some women talked about starting a cultural performing arts collective, a women’s health collective, more housing collectives and all kinds of great ideas. My big idea was to start a lesbian community newspaper. This was the origins of Matrix, Olympia’s lesbian community newspaper, I still have them all in archives.

I pulled an organizing trick in presenting the newsletter idea, where I kept referring to the collective as “we” this and “we” that. It was really only me but I talked about the “collective”. Later, at the first meeting when three or four people shoed up to join and they asked where everyone else was and I said [laugh] well here you are!

Matrix intentionally identified itself as a feminist -lesbian publication as opposed to a lesbian-feminist publication. While that might seem like semantics, it was really important to a couple of us to recognize that a lesbian political identity did include bisexuals, men and transgender people. It included a lot of gender outlaws we didn’t have the terminology that people of your generation have now, tho I think you’ve really taken that concept much further in order to get people to recognize that gender identity is something that should be more open ended and should exist along a continuum. We didn’t have the words for that but that was our intent. So that probably knocks off three of your questions right there.

Q Yeah you kinda did! I have a whole list here of things I was hoping to get to. Such as the intermezzo, it was something I read about in an old newspaper but could you tell me more about the matrix. What did it actually talk about, address, and who exactly did it serve?

Matrix was part of a nationwide phenomenon of feminist & lesbian newspapers. Even tho they were way “indie” and way low tech, they weren’t yet called zines and were no longer called underground newspapers. When I was in high school and the Vietnam War was raging the counter culture movement and the anti-war movement spawned hundreds of underground newspapers. This was a cultural phenomenon for people who were shut out of the mainstream press. They created underground news papers that were cranked out on mimeographs (historic machine used for cheap reproduced printing) because that was the most accessible means of production. And we were big on seizing the means of production.

In those days there were no computers, few telephones, expensive long distance rates – so it was hard to communicate. Many of the women who were involved in the lesbian community came out of the anti war movement where there were a lot of underground news papers. In Madison, Wisconsin where I’m from one of these newspapers was called “Takeover”. It was an amazing publication that served as a rudder in the anti-war movement. So when I moved to Olympia and came out, it seemed pretty clear to me that we needed a lesbian community newspaper to serve as the rudder of our community. All across the country there were many such women’s community newspapers. In Washington dc there was a publication called Off Our Backs, in Seattle there was one called “Out and About” . Eugene had one was one called I can’t remember what. I’m sure I have old copies but I’ll be damned if I can remember what it was called.

There were different newspapers across the country and we all exchanged copies, it was this amazing inter-community dialogue in print, with the old-fashioned time delay of the US mail, because there was none of this online business.

So Matrix was pretty funky little rag. We had it printed at Hard Rain Printing, a political collective print shop at the time. By the third or fourth issue we enlisted Don Martin, a local graphic artist, who was one of our wonderful lesbian identified, political lesbians.

The honorary Dyke I’m told.

Well honorary dyke but really he was a gay man. Don was more identified with the politically oriented women’s movement as opposed to the socially oriented and closeted gay men's community which in those days if you weren’t in a community 500,000 or larger it was very dangerous to be out as a gay man. People were killed and it sometimes it wasn’t even reported. The police would not protect you they often would treat you worse if you went to them. But anyhow, Don was a great graphic artist and he designed our Masthead logo. We had a lot of discussion over what to call it and finally decided to call it Matrix as a way to bring in all the diversity of our community. The Idea was the it was a “matrix”, it was serve as the nexus of all the different political currents and divergent people, it was the common ground for the community.

We had weekly meetings to develop our list of material and put out a call for writers. We would receive articles from all kinds of people, Every week, we would have robust arguments about what we would print or not. Some people were really dedicated to the freedom of the press and others were more into censoring material we thought was bad politics, offensive or somehow inappropriate. Or sometimes we would run articles and then print rebuttals right next to them in the same issue. It was a wild and wooly exploration of community based journalism. We sustained an intense, often pitched discourse over the entire 5 year run of the publication, which underscores the power of the written word.

It was a very wonderful and exciting publication to be a part of. It also had it’s bad parts, in some ways Matrix served to define boundaries, drawing lines where some people thought they were in and some people thought they were out. That was one of the challenges of building a sense of community - when people identify themselves as a community, they often identify who’s in that community and who’s out of that community. There are times when I was a strong advocate for inclusion and there were other times where I was an asshole and created those divided lines of who belonged and who didn’t. I know that we hurt a lot of people who felt excluded because they were not in the same place politically or socially or in their personal coming out process. But you know, when people are young, they make mistakes, hopefully learn something and move forward.

In Matrix, we addressed a broad span of issues, including anti-Semitism, Palestine, the politics of warehousing the poor in prisons, Native American rights, a lot of issues around transgender rights and medical issues, bisexual inclusion, lesbian mothers, and the lesbian mother’s defense fund in Seattle. So while Matrix was facilitating that discourse here in Thurston county area, we also mailed out copies all across the county. We also exchanged them with publications across the country, and so we had an ongoing discourse with them as well. So in this era before internet, you had to put something in the mail and ship it off to somebody who would get it in 5 days. Then it would take them another five days to ship back their response. It was an amazing to have this call and response, nation-wide discourse.

Q Every month? That’s really great. And this went on for how long?

Our first issue was in late 78’ and the last issue was in 1984.

Q So I was talking to Jene Eberheart and she talked a lot about how the lesbian community was lesbian community was very very visible in the general community and how there was lots of actions and protests. Can you explain to me further how it was visible and what kind of actions that went on? Were you apart of the Conestoga, do you know much about the Wednesday nights at the rainbow cafĂ©? And also, I’m curious what happened to all of it? What was the end of what seems to be much more visible and active community?

I don’t know if that’s the case, not from my perception. My perspective is that before Stonewall, the GLBT communities were deeply closeted. After Stonewall, people slowly started to come out, beginning in the larger cities. By the mid-70s people in college campuses and larger urban areas started thinking about how GLBT people could create community and build a political movement. Here in Olympia, Don Martin founded the Gay Resource Center at Evergreen and that served as a hub for a lot of political activity for gay rights. Kenneth Shulman was another one of the early participants in that. Don is still in town you should talk to him ...

Q Already have.

Oh good. Around that time there was a lot of dialogue about fighting back. There were direct actions against businesses that were discriminatory to queers, like the Conestoga. One of my ex-girlfriends Alexis Jetter was one of the organizers. She was there dancing with another woman and they got thrown out. The Conestoga was on the 9th floor of what’s now called the Community Trade Economic Development at 8th and Columbia. The 9th floor there was a dance bar with windows looking out over the lake at the mountains, it was a great bar. We still didn’t have a gay bar here so if you wanted to go out dancing, you had to scrape together gas money, pile into the one car that could drive on the freeway to get up to Seattle cause we were all incredibly poor.

So Alexis got thrown out and soon thereafter called a meeting to explore what we should we do to fight back. We decided on a strategy of doing weekly actions by sending in a steady stream of same gender couples to dance until they got thrown out. We put together flyers that said “Gay Night At the Conestoga” and featured the Conestoga logo and we put them up all over town. So people would show up and the hilarious part was that we were so incredibly poor that we had maybe three changes of clothes to a person and there were a lot us who were gay had no girl clothes or boy clothes respectively. We all had to go shopping at Salvation Army and try to find girl clothes. It was pretty funny because I had no idea of how girls dress. So the plan was to go in as opposite gender couples and get up to dance in same sex couples. Of course they would always throw us out. The straight men would smash into us on the dance floor and be nasty. The Bar kept trying to figure out how to get rid of us, so they created a dress code. That meant we couldn’t just wear casual, which made it even harder. I mean geeze it’s hard enough to dress as a girl how does a nicely dress girl dress like? So I kept showing up looking like a librarian it’s the only thing girly I could find. I wore ruffles it was just hilarious. Normally, I dressed like you except I had two pairs of blue jeans one jean jacket and a couple of button down style shirts - - that was how I dressed all the time so it was really hard for me to try and figure out how to dress like a girl. Anyhow, we kept going back and eventually they closed down rather than keep fighting us. So that was a very empowering success.

This was during the 70s where there was a lot of disco dancers it was very highly stylized dance steps and girls dressed like total chicks and guys dressed like super studs and all the guys had these ruffley shirts open down to their navel and gold chains and all this stuff. So they were very freaked out by us. We would ride up the elevator in close quarters and they’d realize, “oh Christ here they come again what the hell are we going to do!” It was very fun because it was different parts of the community that came together and put together a plan and people all worked together and kept moving forward.

Some of the other actions targeted the homophobic movies that were very popular at the time. One of the movies I remember most clearly was “Windows” and “Cruising” both of which I starred Al Pacino, who I love, but they were horribly homophobic films. He has always been drawn to these kinda edgy characters where he plays a cop that infiltrates the gay bar scene. We would picket the films to try and discourage people from going to see these homophobic films. One of the Matrix covers has a picture of me trying to talk to the ticket taker to stop selling tickets. Later that night I grabbed a tape recorder, (I don’t remember where it came from) and I saw the police chief and I did a confrontation interview with him asking why he was going to see a homophobic film. I wrote an article in Matrix about it.

We did a lot of things like that, people were just very out. Particularly those of us who lived in a collective house - - we knew we couldn’t be evicted. We were very very out but we were also very harassed. Our car windows were broken, our houses were tagged with graffitti, our neighbors would harass us. I know neighbors would go to the police and ask “why can’t you arrest them or take their house away from them”. Just ridiculous, the things they thought they could do to us. Which brings us back to why it was so important to have collective households - - if people got fired for being gay they wouldn’t become homeless. If they had their children taken away from them they had a supportive household to support their fight to get them back.

There was a horrible incident after a “Take Back the Night” march, probably the first one. One of the kind of edgy uppity women whose name is Pat Schafer got mouthy with the cops and ended up getting arrested. When they took her in, they beat here black and blue in the holding area and told her, “get the hell out of town and tell you dyke friends to get out of here too”. She took photos and got a lawyer and tried to fight it, which in those days was very dangerous – it was very risky to go after people with the means and license to hurt you and call it “keeping the peace”. At her court date, she was told by the judge that they couldn’t admit those photos because they were not taken by a court authorized photographer. Then her attorney asked who would that be and the Judge said “a police office”. No way in hell would she go into the Police Department where she was beaten and ask to have a police officer take photos of the bruises they put all over her.

Another incident around the same time was a covert police campaign to harass local gay men. Again, this was something that was going on all around the country. In fact, it was this sort of harassment that gave rise to the Stonewall Rebellion. Before Stonewall, there was an accepted routine where gay bars were allowed to operate in really seedy corners of the communities - you know, they were ratty fire traps, dangerous, not pretty places. The police had a routine of coming in periodically to raid the bar and extort money from the patrons and owners. After Stonewall, people refused to be treated this way and started to fight back. I can’t just blame the police because they were a part of a national consciousness of anti-gay hatred. It was like they saw how uppity those gays were getting after Stonewall and to tried to figure out how to stuff this Genie back into the lamp and keep them from pushing for their rights. So across the country, police departments became a tool of homophobia with active campaigns to harass gay men.

Here in Olympia, they would send uniform officers into their offices and in very loud voices accuse them of being gay and as a way to get them fired and drive them out of the community. There is a great deal of documentation on how this campaign was conducted, the police knew it would either get people fired, leave the community or to commit suicide. So a group of us marshaled up a and went to the police department. This was before I worked for the City of Olympia. The Police Chief trouped us all into the Council Chambers, because there were so many of us. We presented our concerns and demanded that the Chief of Police stop this harassment. Chief Warner sat there, smiling smugly. We presented a copy of the actual list that we knew officers were working off of. We confronted him that it was bigotry, homophobic, and it’s just Unamerican. We said we won’t stand for it. There was a little back and forth, then I remember him saying, “well you people have your Wayne Glacys” who was a heinous mass murdered in Chicago who kidnapped little boys and murdered them after sexually abusing them. Then Grace Cox, who was my hero always fast with the one liners shot back, “ Yeah, and you Straight people have your Ted Bundy’s” another mass murderer who killed and mutilated straight women.

So there were many incidents like that. There were also actions at the college to force the administration to be more accepting of GLBT students and faculty. I don’t know as much about that history because I was based in the community. There were direct actions at the college to make College Housing accept same gender roommates and queer identified housing and that went on of a long period of time.

Q Evergreen just this year got queer housing but it didn’t really work well. It’s mostly straight couples that want to live together and a lot of the gay couples moved out and some were being harassed really badly. I’ve been working with folks this year surrounding the problems. But it is there now, we got it.

Yes, it took a long time.

Q You speak clearly and tell a good story, much like a writer. So it seems you were much more engaged then just the feminist actions so I hear you were involved in the co-op movement. Does that relate to the gay community much?

It did. I was one of the first two Co-op staff people hired. The co-op started downtown in the store front where Mekong Restaurant is. The Co-op grew out of food buying clubs that served as wonderful community building activities. There was controversy when people went from food buying clubs to having a store front. Community people felt that change would detach people from involvement from their food. And it did but it also mobilized a huge base of involvement around supporting a co-operative food store. From the very beginning,the store had a least one queer working for it or a couple queers or soon to be queers that would come out later. And many queer shoppers frequented it. This helped the heterosexual people realize that GLBT people were very much a part of a community. The Co-op was important to me because food is a very political issue. We in this first-world nation are able to have some choice about where buy our food, and we have lots of choices. Even if we are poor, we have the best access to food in the world. It always blows me away how much food we waste way up here at the top of the food chain. This becomes more egregious when you realize that it comes from third world countries where their economy has converted from a diversified economy to cash crop like beef or coffee or sugar. And most of these food goods would be exported to countries like ours.

I actually did a cover article for the Cooper Point Journal, called “Agribusiness a View from the Dumpster”. It was a politically oriented article talking about how agribusiness destroys indigenous economies and produces the food brings it to America sells it to people who often don’t eat it all, and waste a fair amount. Then when stores can’t sell the food, they just throw it in the dumpster. They had made it illegal to dumpster dive and to glean it for use by hungry people. I was trying to get a Legislative bill passed called “the Good Samaritan Bill” to allow gleaners to take produce and then redistribute it to poor people who have no food. So the purpose of the article was political activism, though I actually submitted it for academic credit. My faculty hated it, and thought it was not scholarly. It wasn’t, but I felt that academic was most valuable when it made an impact in society – as sort of applied academics. It made a hell of a lot more difference than any dumbass scholarly paper that nobody would ever read. And the bill did pass, forcing grocery stores to allow gleaners to salvage food. So that was my entre to food.

I have always believed that food is one of those commodities that binds us to people across the globe in ways that we don’t understand or respect or appreciate. This is what made the co-op a significant intentional business as part of a intentional community. It encouraged shoppers to be more conscious of where food comes from and whether we offer a fair price to growers and engage in fair trade to obtain that food, and do we distribute the food with less packaging. And most of all, to urge that we all respect the food we have and not waste it.

So the short answer from the very beginning, the Co-op started as a model of how the personal is political and the personal is also very global and the Co-op offered one way to participate in that global activism. It drew in quite a number of GLBT folks that care about glbt issues and that all cared about food issues too.

Q What were lesbian work days there?


Q I read in an old gay resource newsletter that there was a monthly lesbian workday at the co-op in the late 70’s I think.

Oh yes, now I have a vague memory of that. I worked there for a year and then would do something else and work there for a year and then would do something else and work there for a year and then would do something else. We just had so many GLBT people working there, we didn’t really need a Lesbian work day. It was a great place to cruise and pick up chicks, that’s where I met a lot of my girlfriends. Not as an employee but it was great place to meet people because it was a community cross roads. I have a dim recollection of there being lesbian shifts because as much as the internal co-op community recognized glbt people are a part of our community there is going to be some friction because diversity means celebrating differences but it also means friction from differences. There’s a lot more friction as part a part of that relationship-building effort. It’s important to understand diversity both in terms of celebrating and addressing the friction that come of it.

Q Same issues today it seems.

You shouldn’t ever expect it to be otherwise.. I mean I don’t know what your struggles are around race I don’t know if you are white, I know that as a white person I’ve said and done a lot of really dumb things in community and have learned how hurtful that is. And I’ve learned that celebrating diversity means unlearning oppressive behavior and how to become a better ally. And I think that the queer community, we owe it to our allies to help support them to become better allies. I think the whole concept of ally-ship is a very important one that is sometimes lost on identity politics. When you’re gathering in your troops to build a defensible border against oppression, you can forget you need allies.

Q When did the concept of ally ship become a queer political issue here?

Oh hell, I can’t remember when we started talking about allies but people like me have always had it in our minds. People like Grace Cox always had it their minds. I remember jJean and I used to go back in forth on this. She’s both really understanding of allies and she’s done a lot of cross issue work but there was also a period of time where she was a militant lesbian-separatist. I was always bugging her and driving her nuts. Ha. I had people push me hard like that too, they had to work on me to get me to open up my arms to embrace more people.

Q Alright, interesting. So on a different note what was the impact of HIV/AIDS on the lesbian community.


Q I’m sure that some lesbians felt there was no impact or visibility because of the separate realms of gay men and lesbians so could you speak to why that impression would be there and then what the impact was from your perspective?

Sure. It was a huge impact of those who defined ourselves as political queers. Up until then in smaller communities like Olympia, it was Lesbians who were out and doing all the political work. Gay men were most closeted. Part of it was white gay men could do better in society if they passed as straight. They could be in business or government and still make money. If they were out, they jeopardized their careers. Another reason is that lesbians are less scary and less threatening to homophobes. Gay men are more of a red flag for bashers who want to kill. So it was more common for Gay men to stay closeted. Up until HIV/AIDS in smaller communities gay men were deep closeted and nowhere to be found. That’s why people like Don were honorary lesbians. The lesbians were the ones that were out, the ones doing all the work, they were involved in all the social work, as school teachers, as nurses making healthcare better and in the community really addressing political issues. When HIV/AIDS came, suddenly gay men were outed through the disease and through their deaths. People realized “holy shit there’s no way we can fight this from the closet, if we don’t come out we’ll all die”. That mobilized the entire generation of Gay men to finally stand up and fight back, They began to fight for a braod-based medical healthcare response to a hideous disease that was being neglected because the victims were expendable.

In larger communities I think men and women were equally out. This is another critique of male privilege and their differences with gay women. I can’t speak about for the transgender community, but transgender people are marginalized in a similar way that women are. Generally, women get politically involved for the work, whereas men tend to get involved to run for office, get the GLBT jobs and go for the glory. In most communities, the activist men are out for one or two years and they are running for office or they’re going after a job, whereas the women stay focused on the work. It’s a harsh thing to say but I see a lot of it. It is what it is.

When HIV/AIDS came, Matrix started writing some of the earliest articles about it in 80-81’ and it was lesbians who realized, “Whoa! This is bad and we’ve got to jump on this”. In Olympia, Lesbians did all the heavy lifting until gay men came out of the closet. And that was really a turning point in smaller communities for gay men to become active; up until then they were not.

Q What was the heavy lifting you mentioned that happened?

It takes a hell of a lot of work to develop a support and advocacy organization. And back in those days AIDS was a horrible death with tremendous social stigma. HIV/AIDS patients would be evicted and lose their jobs. There was no protection so there was a lot of work to do to get people jobs or sustenance and a home and basically homecare services until they died. It was literally heavy lifting, chore services. I don’t know if you know people who are in home care working with elderly or disabled but that’s what the a lot of the work was about. I consider that women’s work. I don’t mean that in a way that’s sexist against women but we have always done that work. We’ve always care for children we’ve always care for the elderly. Gay men and bisexual to a lesser degree participated in that but it’s predominately women’s work. So that part was carried by women and starting the agencies in these smaller communities was done by women.

Starting these agencies in larger communities where there was more glamour and press, that’s where the guys got active. When there was money to be made the men were right there. When it was changing shitty bedpans you know it was mostly women. And as far as women who were really separatist and focused on women who didn’t know gay men probably only saw bits and pieces of that or read things in the news paper or saw things on television. But if they didn’t have personal gay friends that were dying, you didn’t realize how many men died. A lot of amazing, talented, passionate, promising, beautiful and vibrant young men and middle age men and older men died in droves. It was very intense. Very hard times.

Q Was it then more obvious that there were a lot more gay men as they came out and as they got sick?

Yeah. There were high level Republicans and business men that were dying. There were famous actors and sports figures that were dying. It was amazing to learn all that all these men were gay, and we only learned once they died. Very sad.

Q So I’ve got a few more things I really wanted to know more about. You won the collective queen ship at the co-op with Jene Eberheart.

Oh Jean and I used to be in Construction business together before I got disabled. I was in business with another woman in a business called Artemus construction going back to the Greek goddess. And then Jean she had a business called Nozama which is “Amazon” spelled backwards.

Q Yeah I love that story.

Yeah it’s a great story. I used to drive her nuts with all my talking and singing. At the time she was actually dating two women and her time at work was supposed to be quiet time. But I was always a little chatter box and I was always making up songs. I don’t know if the co-op had a competition or if we just started one that caught on. Anyhow, there was this “Harvest Ball” event going on and we may have just inserted our “Queen of the Harvest Ball” thing into that. So we came up with this song to the tune of “You are my Sunshine”

You are my co-op, my Oly Co-op
I buy sprouts there and all my beans
And from your free box I get my blue jeans
So Jesus beans wont you make us your queens.

Q It ridiculous you remember it!

I ran actually for queen for another thing when I was there in 78’. Evergreen didn’t have proms or anything like that. My friends and I thought it would be hilarious to just start this campaign, “Elect Schlecht from the Anarchist Sect”” Prom Queen for the Masses”. There was an academic dean named Dean somebody, so we made him a candidate too, created posters and put them up everywhere. My posters had a characture of me. I always wore a baseball hat, big round glasses and curls. It was pretty ridiculous. We crashed a dance that was already happening and got the band to announce me as the winner of the Prom Queen Campaign. I thanked everybody for electing me their homecoming queen and I’d do my best although I was a dyke. You know there was all these straight people some of whom were just like, ” what the hell is this??” but there were a lot of gay friendly people too. It was radical queer theater activism. If you could get ‘em laughing they wouldn’t be so scared of the gay menace.

Q Do you have much knowledge about the drag balls around here and thecla? I’ve had great difficulty catching anyone who knows much about it.

Olympia got its first gay bar when Thekla opened up. It was a true old school gay bar with the entrance in the back of the building in the alley. Since it was a downtown ally, it was a little spooky for those of us who had our lives threatened, been spit on or beaten up downtown. The idea of opening a gay bar here in Olympia was like, “oh my god we’re going to get killed”. There’s something safer about going to Tacoma, you still got spit on or beaten up, but it just felt safer when you were out of town.

Q Not in your hometown.

Yeah, at least they couldn’t follow you home. Thekla was opened by Pit Kweizinski, who was a great straight guy ally who had the Midas touch for dance bars. He owned this great Seattle dance bar called Rebar, at the time it was the hottest dance bar. I don’t know how much you’re into dancing.

Q All the time, love it.

Yeah, the queer dance bars are always the best. And what usually happens is that there will be a tota;lly hot gay dance bar, then straight people will start going because it’s a great place to dance because they know queer people know how to party and really dance their guts out.

Q I just turned 21 and I already know the progression.

The same thing happened to Thekla. This bar evolution is an interesting social dynamic. I have family in the bar business and have seen that happen - - the life cycle of bars and how the patrons change. In Milwaukee, where all of my family are, a bar can be a black bar, then its Hispanic bar, then it’s a gay bar then it’s a everyone bar then it’s a white biker bar. So, here in Olympia, as soon as there was a bar in town some of the Queens wanted to set up a court system here. One of the people it remember doing this was Richard Pimentel I and there was a bunch of other people but he is the only name I can remember. And they started doing drag shows at Thekla. There were three or four other people one of whom was our co-founders of Capital City Pride, a very handsome young man who soon drifted away to Seattle. Then there was Adrienne Schlueter who is still in town, he owns a house on 9th 900 block ave. If you look him up its s-c-h-l-u-e- or e-u-t-e-r he was an amazing performer. I don’t understand the whole drag court world, it’s a world unto itself but they developed a series of drag balls and it was very cool.

Around that same time, the next GLBT magazine came out, a monthly called “Sound Out”. This was a publication that Camey Combs and her partner Wendy Morissette put out. They had a great crew of folks working on it. After “Sound Out”, came Capital Q which was produced by Alan Artus. But first there was Matrix.

Q Weren’t there issues right around the end of Matrix?

I have copies I’ll have to call you about them. But they (Camey and Wendy) are still in the phonebook.

There’s an interesting dynamic in any community. Queer generations seem to run every ten years, at which time there’s a new generation of what are gay bars are about, what are collective gay households and publications about what are gay politics about. It turns over about every ten years. I mean there’s not like there is a formal transition where one generation passes the torch on to the next 10 year generation so their shift starts until they turn it over next shift starts. But it pretty much turns over every 10 years.

Q That’s a little discouraging and good. I feel like that’s where I’m at now, where my friends are at now.

No, no. if you just turned 21 there will be a lot of this in your life. There will be a lot.

Q In this list here are there any other things you feel would be important to this history or the community?

I didn’t really talk enough about the significance of the Rainbow Restaurant. The Rainbow Restaurant first started off as a grocery store then expanded into a bar & restaurant that served as the physical hub of our women’s community. It was run by Laura Mae Abrams, a wonderful person and has since moved to California, and her then husband Abe Abrahams. Laura Mae was married to Abe but was bisexual. She was actually the first person I met when I came to Olympia.

I was a sweet young 18 year old with my backpack and a guitar and the only thing I knew as a little hippie chick was to go to this hippie restaurant I had heard about when I worked at a hippie restaurant back home in Madison, Wisconsin. So I hitch-hiked 2,000 miles, walked up to the Artichoke Mode, a hippie restaurant but it was closed. I thought “Fuck! I came 2000 miles, this place is closed and now I don’t know what to do! Laura Mae Abraham walked across the street from the Rainbow Restaurant (Where Cascadia Grill is now at 200 4th Avenue West) and she is wearing this amazing blue turquoise band masters jacket looking very hip. She says to me, “Honey, what are you doing there they’re closed you can’t eat there. Come with me I’ll take you to the Spar (Now McMenimans) and introduce you to some people. You look like your new in town, are you new in town?”

I think she was hitting on me but she introduced me to some people and got me hooked up to stay the night with some people. Because Laura Mae was a bisexual woman who was in business, we all gravitated to her business as an oasis. Laura Mae was trying to run a business and she knew we needed a touchstone but that if here restaurant was known as a gay bar she’d probably get firebombed. She hired a lot of gay people, and she was supported by gay people but if people showed up and were making out in the corner all the time

She told her wait staff and her bartenders you’ve gotta get these people to stop groping each other its going to kill me. It was hard. There was some controversy back and forth, sometimes people understood it and sometimes people felt like she was pissing on the people who helped build up her business. But you can’t stay in business if you get fire bombed.

The Rainbow was right around the corner form the co-op and Laura was really supportive of the co-op. they were always helping us when we ran out of stuff and vice-versa, there was a real sense of community. So we had a restaurant but we didn’t have a dance bar, but at lease it was a place where we could hang out and be accepted. For laughs sometimes when we’d get drunk and go outside and we yell “greener!” and “Dyke” at straight people driving by. Just to jerk them out of their reality.

Jackie Dennee has driven bus for intercity transit for thirty years and she is the one gay person that almost all local GLBT people knew. She’s is an incredibly warm open person who is so affirming that people absolutely love her. She’s the kind that if there's a dog that she knows on her bus route she’ll stop to open the door and throw a part of her sandwich. There are dogs always out there waiting for her on her route. But she was a really affirming and really amazing person who supported people to be who they were, gay or straight but especially for gay people. Jackie was a touch stone for a lot of closeted GLBT people, and every community needs that. She wasn’t really politically identified, but what she did was so political – she helped people be who they were. She had also been a waitress for the Rainbow Restaurant before she got a job driving bus. But she is a remarkable human being, without her I think a lot of people would have had much worse lives or killed themselves. Jackie gave them hope, hope that some day they could live without fear.

So that’s all I can think of and my time is up.

Q Damn alright thanks.

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