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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- And I made her come along.
- BESS WATTS: That's true.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- I mean, because it's certainly dominantly Republican
- and they're not going to negotiate domestic partner
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- If you want to find out how to handle a certain person,
- if you're lobbying, there's Tom.
- Who talks from the heart.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- And he was deceased by then.
- 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.
- 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,
- The opportunities that have opened up
- to us, the people that have crossed our paths.
- 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.
- And I was always loud and noisy.
- But I was never directed.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- They were still supportive.
- But they weren't doing that hardcore thing.
- This came down to my guess is about ten people.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- Now that there was a success.
- Well I wasn't there.
- And it has taken quite a while.
- 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.
- 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.