Audio Interview, Bess Watts and Anne Tischer, September 28, 2012

  • EVELYN BAILEY: Today we're sitting here
  • with Anne Tischer and Bess Watts,
  • two gay activists in Rochester who have really
  • been in the forefront of gay marriage issues
  • for the past five or six years, or longer.
  • BESS WATTS: Closer to ten or eleven.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And this day is Friday, September 28, 2012.
  • So my first question, to both Anne and Bess,
  • is where were you born.
  • ANNE TISCHER: I was born in Rochester, on the east side.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And Bess?
  • BESS WATTS: I was born in Murray, Utah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Utah?
  • BESS WATTS: Yes, Utah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Were you a Mormon?
  • BESS WATTS: Yes, baptized when I was eleven.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Oh my.
  • When did you come to Rochester?
  • BESS WATTS: I came to Rochester probably in 1995.
  • I moved here from Hornell.
  • I worked at Alfred University .
  • But before that, I was in San Diego.
  • I was in the military.
  • After I graduated from high school.
  • I served in the US army for six years.
  • And then--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: What did you do in the army?
  • BESS WATTS: I was in administration.
  • I served in Germany.
  • I worked anywhere from the United States Army
  • in Europe for the headquarters for the post office.
  • I was responsible for unit's mail
  • and then in Presidio, San Francisco,
  • I served in the military police unit
  • as a dispatcher and the court liaison between the Presidio
  • and the city of San Francisco.
  • And then I went back to Germany.
  • And then I ended up getting out after six years, honorably
  • discharged.
  • I couldn't continue serving without being
  • out of the closet.
  • I just found not being able to be
  • true to who you are was very intellectually
  • and psychologically demanding.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: When did you know?
  • When did when did you come out to yourself?
  • BESS WATTS: Well I knew--
  • I often joke that I knew when I was two days old.
  • But I always knew there was something--
  • I mean I wasn't--
  • I would say high school definitely.
  • But I knew I was different.
  • I knew that I was not attracted to men.
  • I knew I was a lesbian.
  • But I had no no--
  • it was a very lonely experience because I
  • didn't think there was anybody else in the world that
  • thought like I did.
  • But until I joined the army, I think maybe there's
  • somebody like me, you think?
  • But then it was like, whoa.
  • But it took a long time to develop my identity.
  • And comfortable.
  • And overcome my own internalized homophobia.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And were you out to your parents?
  • BESS WATTS: Not--
  • I didn't come out to my mother until I was probably
  • in my mid twenties.
  • I always referred to my girlfriend as Don.
  • It was Donna.
  • Don this.
  • Don that.
  • How's Don?
  • And then finally it was guess who's coming to dinner?
  • In more than one way, because Donna was African-American.
  • So it was really gay or African-American in Utah.
  • but I think it was difficult for my mother.
  • But my sisters-- and I think it's
  • one of the reasons you leave home
  • is to find your own family.
  • And create your own family.
  • But now I'm probably closer now to my mother and siblings
  • than I ever was growing up.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And your father?
  • BESS WATTS: My father was disabled World War II veteran.
  • And my parents divorced when I was thirteen.
  • And I ended up going with my mother to Washington state.
  • And my father and I--
  • I always idolized him, but he was not the best of fathers.
  • But yet I used to joke that he lost his leg in Bouganville
  • Island in the Solomons.
  • And I've often joked that I followed in his footsteps
  • when I joined the Army.
  • I know it's kind of corny but.
  • He was a great guy, but he was never--
  • I think the war really impacted him in more ways
  • than anyone can comprehend.
  • We were close, but very superficially.
  • And now I'm really discovering and researching
  • what unit he served in.
  • And that's probably about it for me as far as growing up.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And Anne, you were born in Rochester
  • and raised in Rochester?
  • ANNE TISCHER: Yes.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: All your life?
  • ANNE TISCHER: Yes.
  • Well I have escaped Rochester several times
  • to go live in Colorado or Rhode Island.
  • But have always wound up back here, largely for employment.
  • But I was raised in a comfortable white bread
  • environment out on the side of Rochester.
  • I never spoke to a person of color
  • until I went away to college.
  • I went to Catholic schools.
  • By temperament, I think that I tend
  • to be kind of bossy and combative.
  • And, unlike Bess, I had no idea that I
  • was lesbian until I accidentally fell in love with a woman
  • when I was about twenty-three.
  • And when I say it was a surprise.
  • I mean I fully expected to have a completely heterosexual life.
  • OK.
  • I had been proposed to by a guy who had a brand new Lincoln.
  • So that's why I was dating him.
  • And I when I fell in love, I of course, by temperament,
  • wasn't likely to go in the closet.
  • So I pretty much announced it to the world.
  • My family disappeared for about five years.
  • The plus side is that I found a tribe of lesbians
  • and I started--
  • we were lipstick lesbians out in the suburbs.
  • And it started one of the happiest,
  • funnest times of my life.
  • And so through the eighties, when
  • everyone else was dealing with maybe coming out struggles,
  • I was playing.
  • And so I barely, barely even hooked
  • into what was happening with AIDS until someone relatively
  • close was afflicted.
  • But at the same time, for me, I was still active
  • because I was at Xerox.
  • They had a diversity thing.
  • I was never in the closet at Xerox.
  • But because I was femmy looking, I had to keep coming out.
  • They kept forgetting.
  • When I went to Brockport, early nineties,
  • I restarted their gay club.
  • OK.
  • Wrote things.
  • Came out in the college paper.
  • So even though I wasn't what I would call an activist,
  • by temperament I was pretty much open.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: For both of you, when
  • you came to Rochester, Beth, and you're living,
  • were there resources available to you to support your journey?
  • To support your life?
  • ANNE TISCHER: The Gay Alliance, for me.
  • The Gay Alliance had some groups.
  • I won't say that I necessarily came here
  • to really struggle or overcome my struggle.
  • But I needed education.
  • All right.
  • Because I didn't know what was going on.
  • And certainly the woman that I was involved with
  • was struggling with her sexuality.
  • So I came to the Gay Alliance for some of the offerings
  • that they did.
  • And they had a coming out thing at one point.
  • And so they had that piece and I was grateful for it.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Were there were other things in the community
  • that you found?
  • ANNE TISCHER: Scotch and water.
  • The bars.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: What about your church?
  • ANNE TISCHER: We didn't--
  • Bess and I didn't get-- well I left the Catholic church
  • when I was twelve, when I figured out I couldn't be pope.
  • And I was a big feminist.
  • And when I talk about being assertive around these issues
  • immediately, it was because I had gone
  • through the feminist stage.
  • And so equality is equality.
  • And the Catholic church was very--
  • I was refused communion once.
  • And so even though for a very long time
  • I wouldn't go anywhere else, the Catholic church
  • was impossible for me to stay there.
  • But when Bess and I got together,
  • which was eighteen years ago, I think you want a fellowship
  • and frankly, we're getting older.
  • You want some of the spiritual development
  • that helps you answer the big question in life.
  • Why am I here?
  • And so I wanted to go to Open Arms Metropolitan Community
  • Church.
  • And I made her come along.
  • BESS WATTS: That's true.
  • Yeah.
  • I've been kind of anti-religion pretty much.
  • Maybe I can attribute that to the Mormon background.
  • But it's funny because I think that as far as community goes,
  • I mean we've always had very close friends.
  • And me growing up, I've always depended on my friends.
  • And I didn't really realize that there were organizations
  • out there to help you struggle with your coming
  • to terms with your sexual orientation or overcoming--
  • and it wasn't until we got into activism that,
  • for me, that I really learned a lot more and connected
  • with the Gay Alliance, and other community.
  • Because I've always depended on my friends for community.
  • But as far as a resource, the gay alliance
  • taught us, or taught me, how to speak about GLBT issues
  • in a comprehensive way.
  • And it really was the catalyst in almost all the education
  • that I do to this day.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: When did you come to Rochester?
  • You were in Hornell.
  • BESS WATTS: I was in Hornell.
  • And when Anne and I got together, we were together--
  • we knew each other about seven years
  • before we actually got together.
  • ANNE TISCHER: I didn't know she was single.
  • BESS WATTS: Yeah.
  • And that's another story.
  • But we actually--
  • I had lived in Hornell for seven years.
  • And then when Anne and I got together,
  • we corresponded by letters, hand-written letters,
  • not email.
  • And we really got to know each other through those channels
  • for about six months.
  • And then I moved to Rochester to be with her.
  • And so that's been eighteen years now.
  • Since 1995.
  • So for there--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Where did you work?
  • BESS WATTS: In '94.
  • Yeah.
  • Where did I work when I moved to Rochester?
  • It was funny.
  • I worked as an administrative assistant
  • for this-- it was called Monroe Livingston Regional Emergency
  • Medical Services, for about six months.
  • And it happened to be at the Dammon Campus.
  • That's where I saw the test for MCC.
  • And then I've been to MCC ever since for libraries.
  • Because I've worked in libraries for--
  • gosh, twenty-eight years.
  • In San Diego, I did and here.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So you are both--
  • both come from a very professional background.
  • BESS WATTS: Yeah, somewhat.
  • Yeah.
  • Most of my education is through experience,
  • and working with people.
  • But I do have a lot of college.
  • But I don't have a degree.
  • Anne has a degree.
  • Don't you have a bachelor's?
  • ANNE TISCHER: It took me twenty-two years to get it.
  • I was a child in the sixties.
  • BESS WATTS: And I often joke I'm a professional lesbian.
  • So I'm a go-to lesbian at work.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: But Anne became involved with Xerox Galaxy,
  • at Xerox?
  • ANNE TISCHER: Actually it was before Galaxy.
  • I worked at Xerox.
  • But they were very supportive for diversity
  • and women's issues.
  • And so I was out there.
  • And it was--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Do you remember the year?
  • ANNE TISCHER: I left in the late eighties.
  • So I left in '87 from Xerox.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And they still didn't have Galaxy?
  • ANNE TISCHER: They were just starting that up.
  • And I was not aware of it.
  • But I wasn't looking.
  • Again, if you are in a nice little nest.
  • Everyone that I worked with was comfortable.
  • I was out, joking about sexuality.
  • And if you're in a nice little nest,
  • you don't necessarily go looking to fight a battle.
  • And at that time, life was good.
  • I was healthy.
  • I was making great money.
  • I had a home.
  • We had a cottage.
  • Life was good.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So would you say the same of MCC?
  • That it was an open?
  • BESS WATTS: No.
  • Well not really.
  • Not in the beginning.
  • I was very-- I guess you could say I was somewhat--
  • Well I wasn't in the closet, but I wasn't real out either.
  • Because when you're starting a new job,
  • you need to to get the culture of the institution.
  • And I didn't think at the time--
  • I've been with MCC for fifteen years.
  • And I remember going to a diversity speaker.
  • And he didn't once mention sexual orientation.
  • And I regret not saying anything about that at the time.
  • But I wasn't out at the time.
  • I mean I wasn't vocal.
  • Now I would-- people, make sure you mention--
  • Bess is here.
  • Make sure you mention sexual orientation.
  • And I think that because there was no faculty that
  • was out or pressing the issue is because it wasn't
  • an inclusive-- it didn't feel to me to be
  • an inclusive environment.
  • It wasn't until I started advocating for domestic partner
  • benefits at MCC that--
  • and that happened in 2004 or 2005.
  • ANNE TISCHER: 2004.
  • BESS WATTS: I went to my union president at the time
  • to see if they could negotiate domestic partner benefits
  • because they didn't have any.
  • And Anne's mother had died.
  • And I had to take vacation time to go to her funeral.
  • And then shortly thereafter, then that following year, Anne
  • had to have major surgery in Ohio.
  • And I had to take--
  • I had depleted my vacation back by literally
  • nursing her back to health.
  • And I really was resentful for that.
  • And in part of my personal testimony, when
  • I was advocating for DP benefits,
  • was I put that in the story, or in my essay.
  • And I talked about attending the diversity conference
  • and not hearing sexual orientation.
  • I said, in other words, I didn't hear me.
  • I talked about Kodak and Bausch & Lomb,
  • and how inclusive they were.
  • And how can we as an institution espouse diversity and inclusion
  • when we don't treat our faculty, staff,
  • and students in the same way.
  • And I believe that it was through that testimony
  • that the domestic partner benefits was negotiated.
  • It was approved by the board of trustees,
  • which Wayne Zira was on the board of trustees at the time.
  • And we got it.
  • And I remember the date before it was ratified,
  • I was there listening to the count.
  • And I don't remember, but it passed overwhelmingly.
  • And I really, literally burst into tears
  • because it was the first time that I felt included in,
  • and an equal to my peers.
  • And that was really the catalyst that turned me
  • into an accidental activist.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • That's what I was going to ask you,
  • if that was the turning point for you to become
  • more active in the community and in gay issues.
  • BESS WATTS: Absolutely.
  • And especially, within labor, because the one thing
  • about Bausch & Lomb, and Kodak and, Xerox,
  • it's good for business.
  • They want to attract the best talent.
  • But when you're negotiating contracts,
  • somebody has to come out and ask for those contracts
  • to be negotiated.
  • If you're a pipefitter or you're an electrician,
  • are you going to go to your business
  • agent or your representative and say,
  • hey, I need my boyfriend to be on--
  • or my girlfriend to be on my health insurance.
  • It really creates a vulnerability.
  • And that was the catalyst that got me involved,
  • not only in labor, but also it planted the seed
  • for starting the chapter of Pride At Work.
  • So labor would have a resource to go
  • to for the voice of those union members under contract.
  • And to know what the correct language would be
  • or how we could speak for them or anything.
  • It's so important to be visible.
  • And I'm convinced to this day that we're
  • doing labor an enormous favor and they're happy
  • that we're there.
  • Because everybody has a son or daughter or a community
  • member who identifies as GLBT.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: What was the catalyst, for you, Anne?
  • ANNE TISCHER: It was the same thing.
  • Prior to that, anything that I had
  • done that might be construed as activism,
  • was just kind of emotionally driven
  • without a plan et cetera.
  • It would be in response to a social injustice
  • that I was experiencing or--
  • so it would be just an emotional response.
  • What happened here when we went--
  • after Bess achieved domestic partner benefits
  • at the college, she tried to get it into, of course,
  • the entire county, for all the employees.
  • And I had been a county employee.
  • After Xerox, I ended up working for Monroe County.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: For Maggie Brooks!
  • Oh, my gosh.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Where I worked with three gay men,
  • none of whom were out.
  • I was out.
  • OK.
  • So I experienced that hostile environment.
  • Well, by 2004, I wasn't with the county anymore,
  • but I knew it was a hostile environment.
  • As Bess tried to get domestic partner
  • benefits for the county workers.
  • And we started to go to Monroe County legislature
  • to speak every month.
  • For the very first time, I realized
  • there is a skill to this.
  • All right.
  • We had spoken a couple of times.
  • And Harry Branson, who was--
  • BESS WATTS: The county legislator at the time.
  • ANNE TISCHER: The county legislator.
  • Harry Branson sent us a message that perhaps if you girls are
  • serious about making change, perhaps you
  • could stand some mentoring.
  • BESS WATTS: And Anne set up a meeting to meet with him.
  • ANNE TISCHER: With him.
  • Through him, we had Tom Privitere.
  • up here in our life, who is an organizer for--
  • a statewide organizer for--
  • BESS WATTS: Public Employees Federation.
  • He's actually a-- he's not really an organizer.
  • But he administers the contracts and negotiates the contracts.
  • ANNE TISCHER: So we started lobbying and learning
  • because genuinely, when we went to the county
  • legislature, my attitude, my thought
  • was that it was just an oversight.
  • That if they've done it for MCC, the college, well
  • all we had to do was make them aware of this problem
  • and of course they would extend it to all the employees.
  • BESS WATTS: It's important to note that at one time
  • MCC's contract was tied in with Monroe County.
  • And it was I think early 2005 that actually, MCC fragmented
  • from the county.
  • So while we got domestic partner benefits at MCC,
  • I felt that we were jumping the ship on Monroe county unit,
  • that we had once been a part of.
  • So it was through that, my naivete,
  • that we said, well let's go to the county.
  • It's an oversight.
  • We'll just ask them at the county legislator.
  • I mean it's kind of really funny if you think back, because--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Somewhat naive.
  • BESS WATTS: Oh yes.
  • Oh we were totally naive.
  • They'll do it.
  • It's the right thing.
  • ANNE TISCHER: And, Evelyn, we would
  • go talk one on one with the Republican, or the Democrats
  • too, but the Republicans.
  • They would agree with us, that yes, there should
  • be domestic partner benefits.
  • Some of them owned companies and their own companies had it.
  • Wayne Zira had approved Basses' domestic and he at the time
  • was president of the county legislature.
  • And ultimately, it was a resounding no.
  • They don't have it today.
  • BESS WATTS: --But which the reality is political ideology
  • influences the benefits that employees get.
  • I mean it's really a sad.
  • Factor.
  • I mean, because it's certainly dominantly Republican
  • and they're not going to negotiate domestic partner
  • benefits.
  • And they think of it as a gay benefit, when the reality,
  • we know, that heterosexuals overwhelmingly take advantage
  • with domestic partner benefits, more so than gay couples.
  • But it was really telling, and I think a life lesson for me,
  • how much political influence dictates
  • how they treat their employees.
  • I mean, that's my opinion.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So as many people as
  • you spoke to in the county legislature
  • who were supportive, they would not cast a vote for--
  • BESS WATTS: No.
  • Well, they actually were playing as both sides.
  • They said, well you need to get this through negotiations.
  • By this time, the contract wasn't up until 2010.
  • I don't-- But they kept on.
  • And then you would go to--
  • And they said, no this can be a resolution at the county.
  • So they really were playing this--
  • they were playing both--
  • ANNE TISCHER: Yes.
  • We were being led around by the nose.
  • And as this happened, every time they said no or we felt used,
  • we ramped up our education.
  • We sought out new mentors.
  • We brought more people in to speak.
  • We started doing more education.
  • BESS WATTS: We sent a letter to Maggie Brooks,
  • asking her specifically.
  • And we got a response that it would have
  • to be part of negotiations.
  • We knew then that it was not.
  • So then our focus turned on.
  • just really educating the community, and particularly
  • labor on that end.
  • ANNE TISCHER: And then likewise, at the same time,
  • we were seriously involved in social justice ministry,
  • LGBT stuff using the church.
  • OK.
  • But at that time, even when we were talking at the county
  • legislature, when it became apparent that DP benefits would
  • not happen, we alternate;y were talking about other rights.
  • But in particular marriage, because that
  • was before the first failed marriage vote.
  • And so we were already cranking up with the church.
  • BESS WATTS: And the Pride agenda.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Oh yes.
  • Todd Plank.
  • He was another person that fell from the sky into our lives.
  • And he came to our church, collecting petitions,
  • doing some education early on.
  • That would be possibly the late nineties--
  • and so he gave us direction and we worked with him a lot.
  • And sometimes when he couldn't do something
  • that needed a response, for instance, when we started
  • doing the tax day rallies, because Pride agenda
  • wouldn't want that.
  • So we would do it under the church's social action
  • for marriage equality.
  • BESS WATTS: And if we couldn't do it under the church,
  • that's where we created SAME, which is the Social
  • Action for Marriage Equality.
  • And it's funny how things evolve.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Let me stop you for just a minute,
  • and ask you--
  • tell me about your first impressions and interactions
  • with Harry Branson.
  • BESS WATTS: Well first of all, can I--
  • when we got the phone call, Anne and I--
  • isn't it funny?
  • We got this from his receptionist.
  • Legislator Harry Branson would like to meet you.
  • And we're like, Harry Branson.
  • Oh my God.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Yes.
  • We were intimidated.
  • OK.
  • BESS WATTS: We were intimidated.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Because he was a muckety muck to us.
  • BESS WATTS: And it's so funny how it was like--
  • when we met with him, what was our impression?
  • He was always nice.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Professional.
  • Well he's an attorney.
  • BESS WATTS: He's an attorney.
  • ANNE TISCHER: He looked and sounded like an attorney.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Why did he call you?
  • BESS WATTS: I think it's because we spoke--
  • when you show up once, it's a fluke.
  • When you show up twice, oh well they're maybe serious.
  • When your third, time these people are serious
  • and we're looking for people.
  • And I think that he saw some potential
  • in what we were trying to do.
  • And he wanted to help us.
  • I mean he believed in what we were trying to do.
  • ANNE TISCHER: We also--
  • we had a fairly balanced-- we knew enough to be respectful.
  • We weren't crack pots when we went there.
  • And that made a big difference.
  • I think.
  • BESS WATTS: We capped at two minutes.
  • I mean we know exactly what it takes (laughing) two minutes.
  • And we were-- Yeah.
  • I agree.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And was he helpful?
  • BESS WATTS: Yes.
  • Well he introduced us to Tom Privitere.
  • And Ove Overmeyer.
  • I mean you--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And tell me about Tom and tell me about Ove.
  • BESS WATTS: Well, Tom--
  • well, first of all I met with--
  • Tom is like telling a story.
  • It was like sit down for two hours.
  • But the guy was just--
  • I've never met anyone like Tom, who
  • just treats everyone the same.
  • And he is so gracious and kind.
  • And I just have a deep love and affection for him.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Talk to me about his heart.
  • BESS WATTS: His heart.
  • Anne and I went to Washington DC with Tom.
  • And I'm like, oh, you know any time you're
  • going on a free trip, this is like oh, a third person.
  • It was the most delightful time.
  • He is a Buddha.
  • He's just so calm, influence.
  • He's great at telling stories.
  • He's empathetic.
  • He makes you see things.
  • You can be bragging on something.
  • And he'll go, perhaps--
  • he'll explain it in a different way.
  • And you're like, you know you're right, Tom.
  • He just has a great demeanor and--
  • ANNE TISCHER: Wisdom.
  • BESS WATTS: Wisdom.
  • Ove wind him up and watch him--
  • ANNE TISCHER: Watch him go.
  • BESS WATTS: Ove is one of--
  • as a president now.
  • He's one of my vice presidents.
  • And I chose him because we needed someone
  • in communications for labor.
  • I felt that was one of your weak areas,
  • of communicating to members.
  • And I say to Ove, Ove, do you ever
  • talk in conversational tones?
  • He goes, no! (laughs) But when I talk with Ove,
  • Ove doesn't wake up and live one day.
  • His purpose is to make the world a better place.
  • And one could ever question his passion, his care,
  • and his dedication to making the world a better place.
  • ANNE TISCHER: And all of these mentors that came in our life
  • fill different niches.
  • For instance, if we needed to know political insight stuff
  • to do analysis, there's Ove.
  • OK.
  • If you want to find out how to handle a certain person,
  • if you're lobbying, there's Tom.
  • OK.
  • Who talks from the heart.
  • OK.
  • BESS WATTS: Or who also has worked in labor in the city
  • of Rochester since 1970's.
  • And he knows everybody and he knows
  • where the bodies are buried.
  • And he won't tell you where they're buried.
  • And when I came for the press conference
  • that we have for marriage equality.
  • It was because of Tom working with these labor leaders,
  • that every labor leader showed up for this press conference,
  • including the fire department and the Locust Club--
  • ANNE TISCHER: And the police.
  • BESS WATTS: --Mike Mazzeo.
  • I mean that's unheard of for such a social issue, that
  • could be potentially hurt their re-election chances.
  • But it didn't.
  • I mean--
  • ANNE TISCHER: That was the straw though.
  • The labor push here with Senator Alesi, was in fact
  • the thing that flipped it.
  • And it didn't happen anywhere else across the state.
  • And it was unbelievable that they turned out.
  • They actively called, wrote, appeared, actively
  • lobbied for marriage.
  • BESS WATTS: And that wouldn't have
  • happened if we hadn't established a Pride at Work
  • chapter here in Rochester.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • So now let's go back to--
  • you have domestic partnership benefits at--
  • BESS WATTS: MCC.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: MCC.
  • And you were living your life.
  • What catapulted you into the next battle on the front?
  • ANNE TISCHER: Marriage Ambassador Training
  • with Nora Yates and Todd Plank.
  • The momentum for marriage equality was there.
  • And we had been continually building,
  • in terms of doing educational things, because we
  • were part of the Gay Alliance Speakers Bureau.
  • We did the gay history fair events.
  • So we were doing visibility and education, things.
  • But the thing that took us out of our comfort zone
  • was Marriage Ambassador Training,
  • because now we were going to be lobbying,
  • and in a serious mode.
  • BESS WATTS: But it's also more than that.
  • We learned what we didn't know.
  • I mean you don't know-- you don't think
  • about all those protections and benefits, and your place
  • in society, until you get that training.
  • I mean even with domestic partner benefits,
  • I was stunned when I found out the taxes I had to pay
  • on having her on my insurance.
  • I mean it was just--
  • it was like getting kicked in the gut when
  • I got my first paycheck.
  • They said it was taxed, but holy cow is it taxed.
  • But taking the Marriage Ambassador
  • Training, it really--
  • we're a family.
  • Our place in society--
  • we just took the ball and ran with it.
  • Because we had no choice.
  • ANNE TISCHER: It was consciousness raising for us,
  • much like I had experienced with the feminist movement.
  • And it never occurred to me that LGBT people
  • have to have consciousness raising
  • to be able to feel their own oppression.
  • And from that time, we changed our approach.
  • OK.
  • Because now we realized not only did
  • we have to educate the politicians,
  • we had to educate our own people.
  • So that was a big--
  • BESS WATTS: If they want to be educated.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: But it seems to me
  • you were challenged at one point,
  • to put your bodies where your voices were.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Well it's been continual.
  • It's every time you take one step up to another plateau,
  • you're going to run into another obstacle.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So what obstacle did Jim Mulcahy present to you?
  • BESS WATTS: Oh yeah, the marriage.
  • (interposing voices)
  • ANNE TISCHER: Totally forgot that.
  • Yeah.
  • BESS WATTS: It's so funny because they
  • were looking for a couple.
  • And Anne Anne I, we love each other.
  • I mean we're-- on my gravestone, I'm going to have it pointed
  • at her.
  • Attila my Hun.
  • I think that's what we decided.
  • We had no idea what that day would be like.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: How did it come about?
  • BESS WATTS: It came about because the denomination,
  • Metropolitan Community Churches was having a day of action
  • to highlight the marriage equality.
  • And they were asking for local churches
  • to do something to highlight that.
  • And so Jim wanted to have a wedding in Washington Square
  • Park.
  • ANNE TISCHER: With-- there were a dozen other clergy involved
  • largely through interfaith advocates or--
  • BESS WATTS: Who were some of those clergy?
  • It was Denise Denato.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Rabbi Kats.
  • BESS WATTS: Rabbi Kats.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Will Seals.
  • BESS WATTS: Will Seals.
  • Oh that's right.
  • is I have pictures of them.
  • I mean people that we didn't know.
  • But it was so touching.
  • And go ahead.
  • ANNE TISCHER: So we actually were not the first choice.
  • Jim had asked someone else who turned him.
  • Down and he knew that we'd been together several years.
  • And that we were already expressing
  • that we wanted to get married because otherwise he would not
  • have married anyone just for a political statement.
  • OK.
  • BESS WATTS: It was a serious wedding.
  • I mean we were--
  • ANNE TISCHER: As, far as he was concerned that
  • was marriage in the church.
  • And so he knew that he wouldn't be doing civil disobedience
  • and could be arrested for it.
  • He asked us and, of course, we said, oh certainly.
  • We would do anything for Jim and to advance
  • the cause by this point.
  • We went down the day before.
  • We were the first couple in Rochester
  • to ask for and be refused a marriage license.
  • And Carol Lee Cochlan was the clerk at the time.
  • BESS WATTS: And Deputy Dan, who is now the city clerk.
  • ANNE TISCHER: She took us--
  • and it was so funny.
  • The people at the desk were all nervous and jerky.
  • All right.
  • And we, of course, were terrified.
  • OK.
  • We didn't know what was going to happen.
  • BESS WATTS: Yeah.
  • The clerk said, you mean you want to marriage
  • for both, each other.
  • And she goes to the desk, and talks to the lady at the desk.
  • And they look at us.
  • And then she picks up the phone.
  • ANNE TISCHER: And out comes Carol Lee and Dan.
  • BESS WATTS: She said, We've been waiting for you.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Yeah.
  • So they took us into a site room.
  • She had a folder--
  • BESS WATTS: No.
  • They took us up to the conference room
  • on the third floor.
  • Not to correct your story, honey, but --
  • ANNE TISCHER: And she had a folder
  • of court cases, information, anything
  • to do with marriage equality.
  • And she said-- she handed it to us
  • and she said, find a way to sue us.
  • Find a way to sue me personally.
  • BESS WATTS: She said she would be arrested.
  • Or she could not legally give us a license.
  • And it was probably the politest refusal
  • that we could have ever asked for.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Do you want to talk about empowering?
  • To have done that and found unexpected support
  • on that level.
  • BESS WATTS: Yes.
  • People expect people to be unreasonable.
  • And they could not have been kinder.
  • And it's important to note also that about three weeks prior
  • to that, we were interviewed by Jim McDermott from the DNC
  • about marriage equality.
  • And he rode-- came to the house.
  • And then Annette Lynn came and took pictures.
  • That night after we were refused, I called Jim.
  • And I said, Hey Jim, we were applied for and refused.
  • And then they scheduled the wedding.
  • And on that morning of the webinar,
  • our picture appeared in the DNC above the fold.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Follow the story.
  • BESS WATTS: Gay couple to be wed.
  • I can't remember the headline.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Was that the interview he did?
  • BESS WATTS: Yes.
  • Three weeks prior.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Three weeks prior.
  • OK.
  • I have a copy of that.
  • BESS WATTS: Oh.
  • Do you really?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Did you notice the little cross cookies that we
  • were both -- (laughter)
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes I did.
  • ANNE TISCHER: To the nth degree, they will be.
  • BESS WATTS: Well it was not--
  • We made it.
  • I mean we're a family.
  • We're normal.
  • I mean we were trying to project--
  • And that Liam did a fabulous job.
  • But the timing and everything--
  • So on the day of the wedding, I mean
  • we did not expect the media to just be so in force.
  • I mean every news station--
  • and also channel-- which channel?
  • Eight or ten?
  • That came to the house that morning?
  • ANNE TISCHER: Interesting things happened.
  • We were pushed into being in heterosexual roles.
  • Even in the coverage, they noted that I carried a bouquet
  • and she had on a boutonniere.
  • But when they came to the house, the reporter
  • was trying to steer the operation into,
  • what are you wearing that's borrowed and blue.
  • So it was--
  • BESS WATTS: And we had our friend Carol there, who says,
  • this is your wedding.
  • It's not what they want you to be.
  • We said, you know what, We don't have anything borrowed, blue,
  • something new.
  • That is not who we are.
  • So we scratched that from the interview.
  • ANNE TISCHER: But it was really obvious that they were--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: They wanted--
  • BESS WATTS: To put us in--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The box to be--
  • ANNE TISCHER: Yeah.
  • Who's was the man?
  • Who's the female?
  • And many of the questions were, well who takes out the garbage?
  • Or things like that.
  • You know what I mean.
  • BESS WATTS: But assume good will.
  • People don't know.
  • And that's why it's so important to be
  • out and visible to give people the permission
  • to ask those stupid questions.
  • ANNE TISCHER: And that was why we did it.
  • Visibility, visibility, visibility.
  • I'll tell you how stupid some of the questions were.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I wasn't because you loved each other?
  • ANNE TISCHER: Well that too. (laughter) We'd
  • been together long enough.
  • I knew she wasn't going anywhere.
  • But when you talk about the fact that you
  • have to have that level of visibility.
  • When we were doing the speaking at the county legislature, one
  • of the legislators--
  • we were actively lobbying.
  • And the session broke up.
  • And there were a couple other people with us.
  • They left And he said, Anne-- this is a GOP guy,
  • owns his own company.
  • Anne, can I ask you a couple questions?
  • Wait a minute.
  • And when he was alone with me--
  • this guy was a president of a company.
  • He said, these are stupid questions.
  • Do gay people raise their children to be gay?
  • Do lesbians mind being called gay?
  • He had an HR department of his own.
  • And they're obviously very educated, very successful.
  • So that's the level of ignorance that
  • is out there if there is no visibility.
  • And that's--
  • BESS WATTS: It perpetuates the stereotypes.
  • ANNE TISCHER: And that's--
  • from that moment, when we get married, job one for both of us
  • has been to be the most visible, noisy, out
  • BESS WATTS: True to your self.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Obvious person.
  • BESS WATTS: Yeah.
  • I was told once that if you're not out or if you're white,
  • it gives people permission to ignore you.
  • And so people say-- and you're not out and that's it.
  • As you well know, Evelyn.
  • I mean it's just--
  • it's every day.
  • We've come out to the clerk at the grocery store.
  • I mean it's just who we are.
  • And we introduce each other as wife.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Intentionally.
  • We work the word wife into the conversation no matter what.
  • BESS WATTS: Every labor council meeting when I do a report,
  • I make sure I say the words, gay, lesbian,
  • bisexual, transgender so they can hear them.
  • Not GLBT because that's too easy for people.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Easy, right.
  • BESS WATTS: But to say the words, and for them
  • to hear them.
  • But to go back to the timeline, to the wedding.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Well you you agreed
  • to be married at Washington Square Park by Jim.
  • The intent was already in your psyche.
  • I mean this was not something that came about--
  • BESS WATTS: Yeah we had been together ten years.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --out of the blue.
  • What did Jim Mulcahy--
  • did he have to say anything to you to get you to respond yes?
  • BESS WATTS: Well he did--
  • I have the video of our wedding.
  • And do you take thee, Anne?
  • I mean it was just--
  • ANNE TISCHER: By this point, we recognized
  • Jim Mulcahy as an activist.
  • He had always supported anything we wanted to do.
  • OK.
  • That he could do under the licensing of a church.
  • BESS WATTS: And it was a coming out experience for the church
  • themselves because Open Arms by that time,
  • I mean the entrance wasn't behind the door.
  • And I heard a sermon once when he described the day
  • that he married Anne and I. He said that Open Arms had
  • been hanging on to a pole, and that day we let go of the pole.
  • And Open Arms is now--
  • I mean he is much more eloquent than I could ever be.
  • But Open Arms came out that day as well.
  • As as a gay church, a gay inclusive church.
  • Everyone is welcome at Open Arms.
  • And it's like when I tell people,
  • if you come to my office and you're gay,
  • don't expect me to whisper.
  • I mean that's the way it is.
  • I don't whisper and you shouldn't either.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Was he personally under any threat?
  • BESS WATTS: Yes.
  • He was under threat.
  • Because of the time, Jason Westin in what state?
  • Not Lake Placid.
  • But what city was in where he was arrested
  • for saying the words marriage?
  • ANNE TISCHER: Yes.
  • He could have been arrested because he's
  • an agent of the state when he performs marriages.
  • An interesting little side note here
  • is that there happened to be a person in the district
  • attorney's office who was LGBT, who talked the district
  • attorney out of arresting Jim.
  • BESS WATTS: But he could have been arrested.
  • And it was really a leap of faith.
  • And he was very nervous about that.
  • There's a lot of risk.
  • And we were worried about protesters as well.
  • And I think that was one lonely protester.
  • And Jim also said this sermon that I recall hearing.
  • Of course, the cameras interviewed that one.
  • And all he said was what used to be done in the dead of night
  • can now be done in the light of day.
  • And Jim goes, yes.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Hardly a protest statement.
  • BESS WATTS: Yeah.
  • Exactly.
  • But it's funny how the media has to find a negative to something
  • so positive.
  • But they do that all the time.
  • But not so much anymore maybe.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So were you nervous?
  • BESS WATTS: Go ahead, honey.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Yes.
  • Yes.
  • But my guess is no more nervous than a bride
  • would be on her wedding day.
  • A lot of it is just kind of a blur.
  • But I, for instance, was not even
  • conscious of who was up with Jim, in terms of clergy.
  • I had to look at the pictures afterwards to get that.
  • BESS WATTS: What I found interesting
  • is because I really low-key at work.
  • Because I knew I was getting married on Thursday.
  • And I kind of subtly told my director at the library.
  • And people went on when I asked Evan Moore to be the.
  • Reading and she works with me at the library.
  • And I didn't invite people because I
  • didn't want to put them in a spot
  • to where they thought they--
  • I didn't want them to have to choose.
  • You know what I mean?
  • Pete Genovese was the director at the time.
  • And staff meetings were always on Thursday afternoon.
  • He canceled the staff meeting.
  • So anyone who wanted to go to the wedding could.
  • ANNE TISCHER: And they all showed up.
  • BESS WATTS: And they all showed up.
  • And I was-- it at least put a mirror in front of me
  • that I should have invited people and let them decide.
  • But I didn't.
  • I was being too--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Sensitive.
  • ANNE TISCHER: You don't know what
  • the response is going to be.
  • BESS WATTS: Not only did Pete, the director, show up.
  • He took photos and he also filmed the vows.
  • Those are images that I would not have
  • had if it hadn't been for him.
  • And it was just the support I got at work
  • and the people overwhelmingly was just
  • so joyous and positive.
  • And the next day, I got a call from Dianne Cicero,
  • who's a legal counsel and the diversity chief for MCC,
  • wanting to see me.
  • And I was nervous.
  • I'm like, oh my god.
  • Because it was obvious that I was
  • on the front page of the paper.
  • I she mad because of this--
  • that I worked at MCC.
  • But she said, if you hear anything negative
  • or if anybody says anything to you, you let me know.
  • And nothing.
  • I heard nothing but positive feedback.
  • Someone who works in building and facilities came to me--
  • Hector Cortez.
  • He says, why didn't you invite me?
  • And he talked about his own experiences being Puerto Rican
  • and having faced his own discrimination.
  • So it was such a growing experience for me
  • in what I experienced at work that I had no choice but to be
  • out and true to who I am.
  • Because we expect people to be unreasonable.
  • And to me, that was probably the most empowering thing,
  • was the human response.
  • And people were crying at our wedding.
  • And I was crying.
  • It was a beautiful wedding.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Our neighbor gave us a wedding gift.
  • Our next door neighbor.
  • My Canadian relatives sent us wedding cards.
  • I have a priest, who was an uncle.
  • OK.
  • And he was deceased by then.
  • OK.
  • But this was huge for us.
  • Fear of the unknown is the worst fear of all.
  • And so every time we've done something like this,
  • it takes us to another level.
  • Until you finally reach a point where you realize,
  • well I can step off and do this.
  • OK.
  • So far we haven't run into anything that--
  • BESS WATTS: We have not yet once had anybody
  • bash us to our face.
  • I mean to say anything negative to us.
  • But people fear what's not--
  • fear rejection.
  • And I often say I've reached a point where people
  • have to fear me rejecting them.
  • Once you reach that mind shift, then--
  • but that's not to say it's easy for people
  • because I have a very inclusive workplace now, a very
  • diverse workplace.
  • And I have a loving family.
  • And I have a support network.
  • So I'm safe.
  • And it's so important to be safe to be able to do this activism.
  • Because it is a vulnerability.
  • ANNE TISCHER: I personally believe, not
  • that I grew up very religious.
  • But I believe that there's a hand of God, Karma, fate,
  • something.
  • The opportunities that have opened up
  • to us, the people that have crossed our paths.
  • OK.
  • The fact that we are even together.
  • Because we fit and complement each other so well,
  • that as a team we can do this.
  • BESS WATTS: Yeah.
  • On our own, forget it.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Forget it.
  • It wouldn't happen whatsoever.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Talk to me just a little bit about the effect
  • this has had on your relationship.
  • BESS WATTS: We could have more fun.
  • We're serious.
  • But we just have such a deep love for one another.
  • ANNE TISCHER: It's like a rock.
  • BESS WATTS: It's like a rock.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Bess used to be enormously shy.
  • Enormously.
  • And I was always loud and noisy.
  • But I was never directed.
  • OK.
  • So I would go from one project to another.
  • One of the things that I think this,
  • especially in the beginning, it drew us closer together
  • to support each other as we developed in leadership skills.
  • No one else can give you support like someone
  • who is going through the same fears.
  • BESS WATTS: But I would like to say Anne is very task oriented
  • and I have a tendency to be more personable.
  • I tell Anne remember to ask how they're
  • doing, how their son is.
  • She'll tell me, have you done that task?
  • I mean, we really do complement each other.
  • And 10 years ago, you would never
  • see me speak in front of people.
  • Now I just-- a week or so ago, I presented a workshop
  • in front of 150 people.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Without me.
  • BESS WATTS: But I can't do it without her.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • I understand.
  • BESS WATTS: I don't know.
  • But we are much better together than we are separately.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Going back to Todd Plank, talk
  • to me a little bit about Todd.
  • BESS WATTS: The gay mayor of Rochester.
  • You would speak--
  • At first, I'll tell you.
  • I thought he hated women.
  • I didn't really care for Todd at first.
  • I mean, because I thought he ignores women.
  • But I've grown personally.
  • He's probably one of the smartest men and articulate men
  • in explaining the issues that I know.
  • And I don't think anyone has a bigger heart.
  • But Anne and him have a really--
  • I'll talk more about Todd.
  • ANNE TISCHER: After a while-- and again, we started.
  • It was very up down of course.
  • But over time, as I became a little more skilled,
  • and especially after he left Pride agenda so that we were
  • operating kind of as peers, we get
  • so we could finish each other's sentences.
  • And so we would feel comfortable.
  • If he wanted to commit to something
  • but didn't have quite enough time or something.
  • OK.
  • That sort of thing where I'd say--
  • if he thought it was appropriate to have an article in,
  • he'd make up a quote for me.
  • So you know what I mean?
  • That sort of a tight working relationship.
  • I think that what impresses me most about Todd is never
  • say die.
  • I never saw him lose it, in terms of anger, self-pity,
  • or any of the emotional stuff.
  • BESS WATTS: And he's one of the funniest people I know.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Yes.
  • He is.
  • But just kept it--
  • dogged persistence again and again and again.
  • And when Pride agenda let him go--
  • BESS WATTS: We took it personally.
  • We did.
  • ANNE TISCHER: And we set as big a fire in Rochester, New York.
  • OK.
  • Under Pride agenda that we could.
  • BESS WATTS: And didn't somebody call you?
  • I think Rosley might have called you directly.
  • I mean it was--
  • ANNE TISCHER: Because he was made a scapegoat for the failed
  • vote.
  • And that was clear.
  • Anybody who worked with him and saw
  • what he had done in Rochester.
  • BESS WATTS: It was a huge mistake I think their part.
  • I mean not to rehash all that.
  • But we were really like pit-bulls.
  • We didn't have anything nice to say about Pride agenda.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Although we say our piece and then we move on.
  • OK.
  • BESS WATTS: We don't hold grudges.
  • ANNE TISCHER: But that that particular thing
  • was handled poorly.
  • But I never heard Todd say anything bitter about it.
  • Try that.
  • After all the work that he did.
  • BESS WATTS: He is always positive.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Yes
  • BESS WATTS: I miss him.
  • He's been busy going to school.
  • But we were pleased to see that he was grand marshal this year.
  • I mean we were disappointed that we
  • were grand marshals last year.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Before him Yeah.
  • We genuinely view him as the person
  • that really pulled together the LGBT movement in Rochester.
  • OK.
  • We stepped on board.
  • But he was the engine that was driving it and so.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Finally, when LGBT marriage
  • came to the floor of the assembly
  • and then to the floor of the Senate,
  • you had really worked on influencing
  • Alesi to vote positively.
  • What went through your heart and your mind
  • when he voted that way in the Senate?
  • Or was it anticlimactic because you already
  • knew how he was going to vote?
  • ANNE TISCHER: We don't know how it was going to go.
  • But we had lobbied Senator Alesi.
  • And on a couple of occasions--
  • BESS WATTS: We went to Albany in the snow.
  • Remember in January?
  • Just me and you went and lobbied him.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Yes.
  • And so we knew that a change had happened.
  • I took one of his religious--
  • Well I took his former pastor.
  • And some of the people that we had in
  • lobbying him right before the vote.
  • He burst out kind of an angry exchange with me.
  • And he said, well, what do you expect me to do?
  • This is a political world I'm in.
  • And that was different than he had ever done before.
  • And I believe that that particular time-- because we
  • had a guy in there who he had a partner who
  • had died of an awful neurological disease.
  • BESS WATTS: Lou Gehrig's disease.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Yeah.
  • Lou Gehrig's disease.
  • OK.
  • Had been together twenty-three years.
  • And it was that awful story where
  • the family comes in and takes everything out of the house,
  • won't let him go to the burial, the funeral The worst
  • possible thing.
  • OK.
  • And so that particular lobby session,
  • I saw him emotionally rocked.
  • And so in my heart, I thought, and I told people
  • when I left, that there's something different.
  • There was a shift.
  • BESS WATTS: This year, I mean, it
  • was different lobbying and working.
  • I mean it wasn't just Alesi though.
  • Assemblyman Bronston, I mean has been a supporter for years.
  • But there was something different in the air.
  • And also the coordinated--
  • ANNE TISCHER: Cuomo.
  • Governor Cuomo.
  • BESS WATTS: Yeah.
  • But you needed the boots on the ground.
  • You needed the collecting the signatures
  • at the farmer's market.
  • You needed to deliver those postcards every week.
  • Every week.
  • How many?
  • ANNE TISCHER: Over 1,000.
  • 1,000 a week per senator.
  • And, 300 phone calls.
  • I want to back up one minute.
  • After the failed marriage vote, it hit us--
  • because I called Pride agenda.
  • I said, what happened?
  • And what's plan B?
  • What's going on?
  • And they didn't have plan B. And they couldn't explain it.
  • At which point, I realized that we had been
  • blindly following leadership.
  • OK.
  • So we went down to marriage equality in New York
  • to see how they were putting the pieces together.
  • Of course, they are grassroots oriented.
  • What happened with the 2009 vote,
  • after they did the analysis, was they
  • didn't have enough grassroots then.
  • When Governor Cuomo got elected and he wanted to make change,
  • the very first thing he did was draw together
  • all the grassroots leaders, formal or informal,
  • or whatever.
  • And let them know that he would not introduce legislation.
  • I believe they called it the grass tops.
  • But he would not introduce legislation
  • until we proved to him that we had
  • an organization in operation.
  • And well in Rochester, we already
  • had that going because we never let
  • it go after the failed vote.
  • And So they dictated--
  • his office said we want to see 1,000 letters per senator
  • per week.
  • 300 phone calls.
  • BESS WATTS: And we were the only ones that produced.
  • ANNE TISCHER: We were the only ones that produced.
  • OK.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: New York City?
  • ANNE TISCHER: No.
  • They were pathetic.
  • Long Island.
  • I mean pathetic compared to us.
  • BESS WATTS: And we had Alesi. and we had labor.
  • Don't forget labor was huge.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Kitty Lambert.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And you had the faith community.
  • BESS WATTS: And we had the faith-- and the business.
  • ANNE TISCHER: No.
  • Well, faith had fallen off.
  • All right.
  • After the failed vote, when I say people fell off,
  • we had them in name only.
  • They were not running the LGBT groups anymore.
  • OK.
  • They were still supportive.
  • But they weren't doing that hardcore thing.
  • This came down to my guess is about ten people.
  • OK.
  • HRC sent in a couple of organizers.
  • BESS WATTS: Denise and--
  • ANNE TISCHER: Courtney and Denise.
  • Courtney Mitchie and Denise Finerty, they got the--
  • BESS WATTS: The Fairport canal days.
  • The farmer's market.
  • I mean you can do all the coordination.
  • But when you have the petitions and I mean--
  • they were hard-working towards--
  • ANNE TISCHER: They are tireless.
  • And they now carry the flag for LGBT rights in Rochester.
  • OK.
  • As I have backed off from equality in Rochester,
  • they have taken it over.
  • And they are finding their own path.
  • But going back.
  • After the failed vote, everything backed off.
  • The governor wanted this to happen.
  • We had a mental change.
  • We realized that when we went down
  • to talk to Marriage Equality of New York,
  • we were looking for them to give us a plan.
  • And they said, what's your plan?
  • So I had gone down with Kitty Lambert
  • from Buffalo, who did outspoken for equality.
  • And so all of a sudden, we realized
  • if it was going to happen in Rochester,
  • in Buffalo, that grassroots organization was on us.
  • OK.
  • That we in fact were the leaders we were looking for.
  • And so that was changing.
  • Hugely changing.
  • BESS WATTS: But Alesi.
  • When did we find out that he voted yes
  • or that he was going to vote yes?
  • Because we had actually went to Utah for vacation like a week
  • before.
  • I mean it was great.
  • We needed it.
  • Because we were so to here with marriage lobbying.
  • ANNE TISCHER: On the verge of a nervous breakdown.
  • We burned out two copiers.
  • BESS WATTS: And printers.
  • I mean I can't tell you how many cartridges.
  • I mean those are the things that people
  • don't think about is how much--
  • I mean we still have stacks and stacks of photo copies.
  • I mean ridiculous time.
  • ANNE TISCHER: We had fourteen, sixteen hour days every day.
  • And because I'm not working, that was my full time job.
  • We were doing it seven days a week.
  • Not ending.
  • And so we knew in advance that he
  • was going to support marriage.
  • But I'm not sure exactly how we--
  • BESS WATTS: Well, I think, probably, a text or something.
  • Joan Maleka let's not forget her.
  • But we knew we also needed another senator, that it wasn't
  • enough just to have Alesi.
  • Because we were worried about democrats as well who had voted
  • no.
  • So it wasn't until we watched the vote on C-span.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Until we really knew.
  • But what was interesting, this time around, when HRC
  • and when the big organizations came in.
  • All right.
  • They made themselves available.
  • I had the cell phone number for Marty Rust from HRC.
  • And at one point, they are putting all their energy
  • into Alesi.
  • And then they decided, OK, he looks like he's going to flip.
  • We need to focus on Robach.
  • And I said, this is ridiculous.
  • Robach will never go.
  • He's got thirty-eight fundamentalist churches
  • in his district.
  • And so this is the type of accessibility
  • that they were willing to do because they recognize totally.
  • And the analysis showed it was the grassroots effort
  • piece that was missing.
  • BESS WATTS: But we're also credible and dependable.
  • I mean we had had experiences in the past.
  • I mean you have to give people an opportunity--
  • what I'm saying is we've been visible.
  • We've had rallies.
  • We had a reputation of getting things done
  • and getting what we wanted to achieve.
  • So we were trusted.
  • ANNE TISCHER: When HRC came to Rochester,
  • it was Aaron Doyle and James Brag.
  • They came in and they said, what can we do for you?
  • And I said we need three cases of paper
  • and thirty-six clipboards.
  • I mean this is how grass roots--
  • BESS WATTS: And we're going to Aaron Doyle's wedding tomorrow.
  • ANNE TISCHER: So that piece and then the mobilization.
  • But there was never ever more than ten people at that table.
  • We had Pride at Work.
  • We had us.
  • Because people had gone away.
  • For instance, that great activity that we had,
  • the great church support.
  • People, when it was a fail, people
  • went away to lick their wounds.
  • We could not get Open Arms people involved.
  • We had filled up half a bus the last time
  • we went to lobby before that failed vote.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Was Rob Carter out of the picture too?
  • BESS WATTS: Well kind of.
  • ANNE TISCHER: No He was probably doing his own thing.
  • But Interfaith Advocates was non-existent.
  • BESS WATTS: But everyone we went, I had marriage letters.
  • I mean I had people sign them there.
  • I mean were we going to a church service?
  • We would make sure that we had--
  • I mean everywhere we went.
  • There's nothing but eat, breathe to get
  • the marriage bill passed.
  • If it wouldn't have passed, I can't imagine
  • what it would have been like.
  • I mean it would have been devastating.
  • I don't know if we could have recovered.
  • ANNE TISCHER: We were both on the verge
  • of a nervous breakdown.
  • And So the fact that she had a family reunion that she
  • had promised her mother to attend in Utah
  • the week before the vote.
  • BESS WATTS: But we did wear our marriage equality t-shirts
  • to the Mormon temple.
  • It was our way of activism.
  • But we were--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: That must have gone over well.
  • BESS WATTS: Well it was actually--
  • Utah's very nice on the surface.
  • Everybody's nice.
  • ANNE TISCHER: What was kind of interesting is
  • at the family reunion, which Bess
  • was a little nervous about, et cetera, her mother, of course,
  • had already told me that her Aunt Margaret was that way.
  • BESS WATTS: Yeah.
  • A gay.
  • ANNE TISCHER: But one of the in-laws who
  • had married into the family, saw Bess and I.
  • And we must have gaydar reeking all over us.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Oh I'm sure.
  • ANNE TISCHER: OK.
  • Because she couldn't get over fast enough
  • to introduce us to her gay--
  • BESS WATTS: Daughter.
  • Not saying the words in the Bible.
  • But here I want you to meet.
  • OK.
  • What do you do?
  • But it's so funny how that is.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So how did people respond to your leaving
  • a week before the vote?
  • BESS WATTS: Well we actually--
  • was checking on airfare to get back.
  • But actually we kept on texting back and forth.
  • Well except when we were in the mountains, we had no access.
  • It was great, wasn't it?
  • We had almost decided to come back early.
  • But then decided not.
  • And we were glad we didn't because it
  • was delayed another week.
  • I mean it kept on being delayed and delayed.
  • I think that people--
  • ANNE TISCHER: They were busy right up until the end.
  • Letters, the phone calls, the phone banking
  • to the day of the vote.
  • BESS WATTS: Yeah, the vote.
  • And then we were home together.
  • We didn't go to open--
  • or hop around like everyone else.
  • I was updating Facebook I don't know.
  • It was just to watch it in person--
  • and I took a picture of the TV screen.
  • ANNE TISCHER: It was so personal.
  • That was something that we had done as a couple.
  • And ultimately, we shared that moment as a couple.
  • It makes me cry.
  • BESS WATTS: What's so funny is because we did--
  • A month later, they had licenses on Sunday
  • and they opened City Hall.
  • And we prepared the reception.
  • We did the trellis and we had signs.
  • And all the people in line for marriage
  • license, we didn't know a soul.
  • ANNE TISCHER: Well we knew some, but the vast majority--
  • BESS WATTS: What was this about correcting stories?
  • No.
  • I did not know a soul.
  • We knew Deputy Dan.
  • I didn't know anybody in line for the marriage license.
  • ANNE TISCHER: But people had been together thirty-two years.
  • Long, longterm.
  • A lot of those people.
  • And one other interesting thing is
  • some of the people that got married
  • that day have since showed up at Equality Rochester.
  • There's nothing like marriage only at the state level.
  • There's nothing like that to turn you into an activist.
  • Within weeks, we started getting phone calls, especially Bess.
  • Did you know I have to pay taxes?
  • BESS WATTS: I can't sign her up for flexible pending.
  • Flexible spending is a federal benefit.
  • It's not covered by DOMA.
  • I mean, Pride at Work has been really a resource
  • because those units and those labor unions that do not
  • have domestic partner benefits have to recognize marriages,
  • unless they're under ERISA and self-insured, which
  • is another story.
  • But it's interesting how they all of a sudden say,
  • I have to pay taxes or I can't sign my wife up
  • for flexible spending.
  • I said, well you can write your congressman and your senator
  • about repealing DOMA.
  • ANNE TISCHER: What's interesting there were some--
  • Marriage Equality New York came up to Rochester, then here.
  • And all kinds of new faces showing up.
  • But they were not in a position to step up and take the lead.
  • And after marriage passed, I knew--
  • Well, I have a heart valve problem, it turns out.
  • All right.
  • But I knew that what she's doing in the union
  • is far more important than my next steps would have been.
  • I felt like I'd closed that chapter
  • once marriage passed here.
  • And I was moving on to other things.
  • But a lot of new faces would show up
  • looking for someone to follow.
  • OK.
  • Now that there was a success.
  • Well I wasn't there.
  • And it has taken quite a while.
  • OK.
  • Now Courtney and Denise are taking the lead in Rochester.
  • But it's an interesting dynamic that you can't always
  • assume there's going to be a leader there.
  • You have to grow into the leader that you're looking for.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Well I think it's also true
  • that you need to have a very clear articulated need that
  • must be met, that is affecting enough people personally,
  • that someone will move to the point of one team needing,
  • having no choice for themselves to do this.
  • BESS WATTS: That's what turns you into an activist.
  • That's what happened and how it started with us.
  • ANNE TISCHER: And you're seeing it now
  • with the transgendered community.
  • Now Courtney and Denise have been
  • wonderful about doing the education and the letter
  • collections and lobbying.
  • But until transgender people come out,
  • be their own advocates, , et cetera it wasn't going to get
  • off the ground.
  • Well you're seeing it now in Rochester.
  • So it's becoming a force.
  • BESS WATTS: But yeah.
  • There's no change without direct action.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And that will take time
  • because their coming is much more complicated
  • than our coming out.
  • BESS WATTS: I agree.
  • And there's so much more education.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So what would you say,
  • in terms of looking back over the past years of your life,
  • and being involved in gay activism, what would
  • you say is the next step to equality?
  • BESS WATTS: For me, I was just elected
  • as the executive officer for Pride at Work.
  • National.
  • And I think through that capacity,
  • to influence some action on DOMA.
  • Repealing DOMA.
  • It's critical that the president Obama be re-elected.
  • I say that personally, not in my capacity
  • at the Pride at Work or CSEA.
  • Because if the election were to go otherwise,
  • I think that we'd be set back a decade at least.
  • But there's too many families that are being torn apart
  • through immigration.
  • We have some dear friends that are Pride National couples.
  • I get tired of filing five different income taxes.
  • I mean I believe that DOMA will be overturned in the Supreme
  • Court, but it's no guarantee.
  • And I think there's a lot of education.
  • People need to be out.
  • I mean, the most important thing one person
  • can do is to be out because it's easier to say
  • no to an invisible person.
  • ANNE TISCHER: A myth.
  • BESS WATTS: A myth. than it is to someone you love.
  • So that's best advice I can give anybody is to be out.
  • Be out.
  • Come out, come out where ever you are. (unintelligible)
  • ANNE TISCHER: And it can't be stopped at this point.
  • It cannot be stopped.
  • We right now have five states that
  • are addressing marriage equality-- or four states OK.
  • By referendum.
  • Right.
  • This coming election.