Audio Interview, Marlene Gordon, September 24, 2012

  • EVELYN BAILEY: The date is September 24,
  • and I'm sitting here in the (unintelligible)
  • room with Marlene Gordon, who was
  • an original member of the Gay Liberation Front
  • at the University of Rochester.
  • And what I really want to ask Marlene
  • is not only what she remembers, but a little bit
  • about her own history so we can get
  • a sense of how the Gay Liberation Front fits
  • into your own life, as it were.
  • Were you born in Rochester?
  • MARLENE GORDON: No, I grew up just outside
  • of Boston, Massachusetts.
  • And I was lured up here by a part scholarship
  • to the University of Rochester, undergraduate.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: In what program?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, I started in psychology,
  • but by the second year, I switched to English.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And what year was that?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, I started at the U of R in 1968.
  • And I believe it was 1970, I saw a notice in the Campus Times
  • about this gay group.
  • And I think it was that year.
  • And I started going to meetings.
  • I wasn't exactly sure why I was going.
  • I had a boyfriend at the time.
  • And so I walked into Todd Union to a meeting,
  • and people were-- am I talking loud enough?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • MARLENE GORDON: Oh.
  • People were sitting around in little groups
  • with some discussion topic.
  • And I was sitting with a bunch of guys who said to me,
  • are you gay?
  • And I said, I don't know.
  • And I was surprised I even said that,
  • because it was very subconscious or pretty subconscious
  • at the time.
  • So anyway, so they said, have you ever been to a gay bar?
  • And I said, no.
  • They said, you want to go?
  • I said, OK.
  • So I got in this truck with these guys I didn't even know,
  • and we went downtown to I think Dick's
  • 43, which is no longer there.
  • And anyway-- oh.
  • So I walked into this bar to these guys doing a chorus line
  • to "I'd Rather Be Blue," and I thought that was a lot of fun.
  • And I started drinking gin and tonics immediately, nervously.
  • And then this rather large woman asked me to dance slow.
  • And I remembered dancing and thinking,
  • why aren't I more uncomfortable?
  • Why aren't I more uncomfortable?
  • And so we had a good time.
  • And then there was somebody--
  • there were two women who were students at RIT.
  • I think NTID.
  • And they and a couple of guys said,
  • oh, let's go over to our place.
  • So we went to this guy's apartment.
  • We were hanging.
  • Anyway, I don't remember too much more about the evening,
  • but--
  • (laughter)
  • --it was fun.
  • So I started going to these GLF meetings.
  • And meantime, I was telling--
  • I shouldn't use names.
  • Anyway, I was telling my boyfriend
  • about going to these meetings, and I was curious about it.
  • And he was very supportive the whole time.
  • And actually, we ended up being friends for a very long time.
  • So then-- but I remembered that dance, that first dance.
  • And I remember these beautiful decorations,
  • silver decorations.
  • And I remember-- afterwards, I remembered
  • how nice it was that the men and women were
  • working together and having fun together,
  • and there wasn't a big split between the men and women.
  • And I was very nervous to go into that dance,
  • because it was right on campus in the--
  • I think it was the dining hall where the bookstore is now,
  • downstairs.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Was there a name for that?
  • MARLENE GORDON: For the dance?
  • I don't--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: No, for the dining hall.
  • MARLENE GORDON: Oh.
  • It was Frederick Douglass Building.
  • And I think it was that dance--
  • there's a poster for it that's still around in the--
  • in the office here.
  • And it was so much fun.
  • It was really, really nice.
  • And I eventually met someone in that group
  • and got involved with her.
  • And you know, I was living in the dorms,
  • and I remember being very careful.
  • Of course, the people next door who
  • had given me a hard time, turned out they were--
  • it was my resident advisor and another student,
  • and it turns out they were in a relationship.
  • And they were giving me a hard time about it.
  • But anyway, so that was the year I came out.
  • And so that's what I remember about the beginning of GLF.
  • And you know, Patti Evans was there.
  • I don't know if I mentioned any names or not.
  • Anyway, Patti Evans became friends with me.
  • We were-- there were three of us, I think,
  • undergraduate students.
  • Larry Fine was the other one--
  • at first.
  • And a lot of the people in GLF were actually from the city,
  • but it was being housed at the U of R.
  • I believe it was much more--
  • many more people who were not actually from the campus.
  • Students from other campuses and people from Rochester.
  • And I remember Karen.
  • Of course, Karen Hagberg and RJ were there from Eastman School.
  • And But I remember that period of the dances being--
  • because it was different later--
  • the men and the women working together
  • and having a really good time together,
  • and those are happy memories for me about that.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • Now let me go back a bit.
  • When you say Todd Union, do you remember where in Todd Union?
  • Because you walk into Todd Union and they are seating areas.
  • MARLENE GORDON: You know, I don't know how it is now.
  • Because at that time, there was no Wilson center.
  • And so that was the student union.
  • That's where our mailboxes were.
  • I think there was-- you know, I haven't been there
  • in such a long time, even though I lived in Rochester most
  • of the time since.
  • I think it was upstairs that there was a rather large room
  • where we met.
  • Yeah, I seem to remember that was the room where
  • we gave blood one time--
  • (laughs)
  • --for a fellow student whose sibling needed it.
  • Yeah, it was a big room upstairs.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And do you remember
  • when those meetings were?
  • What day of the week?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Oh, no.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: What time?
  • MARLENE GORDON: No.
  • I'm sure the Campus Times would have that.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah, I think they were on Sunday.
  • MARLENE GORDON: Yeah, I really--
  • I really don't remember.
  • But I know Dick's 43 was open that night.
  • (laughter)
  • Afternoon, actually, I think.
  • No, I don't remember if it was evening or--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Did you meet Martha?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Martha Brown?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: At Dick's 43?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Martha?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Who owned Dick's 43?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Oh, no.
  • You know, and I-- after that, the only bar I really remember
  • is the Riverview, I remember fondly.
  • We used to--
  • I guess it was after I graduated,
  • I remember when I first started teaching
  • after being so closeted all week long,
  • loving to go out on Friday nights and see all my friends.
  • And it was-- although-- oh, I had two.
  • I have one funny memory of back when I was still on campus.
  • I thought the campus was forty-five minutes
  • from downtown, because I didn't have a car ever in college.
  • And we would, freshmen week, take the nineteen
  • South Plymouth, which wound all through the 19th Ward
  • and took forty-five minutes.
  • So I thought we were forty-five minutes from downtown.
  • And it wasn't until I student taught
  • senior year that I borrowed the same guy's car to go student
  • teach.
  • It was like, oh, it's five minutes.
  • But I forgot what I was going to-- oh,
  • I remember being so impressed Linda Pancos knew
  • her way around the Inner Loop.
  • (laughter)
  • That was very impressive.
  • I've told her since.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Was Linda a student at the U of R?
  • MARLENE GORDON: No.
  • I don't know where she came from.
  • But she was in the early--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Did you meet her at the Riverview?
  • MARLENE GORDON: You know, I don't remember.
  • But we were just a bunch--
  • I don't remember.
  • Maybe she was in GLF.
  • I really don't remember.
  • But I remember the Riverview in those days being such a--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: What year are we--
  • MARLENE GORDON: --wonderful place.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --talking?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, I'm trying to remember if I was still
  • in college when we went to the Riverview,
  • but I don't remember.
  • We probably did.
  • I graduated from the U of R in 1972.
  • But I just remember Lou being there
  • and being so welcoming to everybody, and it was just a--
  • well, there was that fight, but--
  • (laughs)
  • I seem to remember a bottle breaking one night.
  • But basically, it was just such a fun place
  • to go and see your friends and dance with everybody.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Was there a bar?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Yeah.
  • Oh, yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And tables?
  • MARLENE GORDON: I'm trying to--
  • I think there was a pool table.
  • I'm not-- I don't remember tables.
  • There probably were a few.
  • But you know, it was the '70s.
  • It was disco.
  • It was so much fun to go out dancing.
  • And you know, and then Saturday night, I
  • remember when I was with Shirley with whom I later
  • moved to San Francisco in '77.
  • But I remember just being so eager to go out
  • Friday nights to be surrounded by all your friends
  • in a gay environment.
  • Then Saturday night would be date night, you know?
  • (laughs)
  • Or girlfriend night, whatever.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Was the Riverview ever raided?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, I remember hearing rumors
  • that cops would come and write down license plate numbers.
  • We would hear that regularly.
  • Well, I remember hearing that anyway.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: But do you recall anyone ever
  • saying that the Riverview was raided?
  • MARLENE GORDON: No.
  • Not in my-- no.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And what was Lou like?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Oh my God.
  • You know, when I moved to San Francisco in '77,
  • I missed that bar.
  • Because in San Francisco, there were eight million men's bars,
  • and there were about four or five women's bars.
  • But you'd never see the same people twice.
  • And the Riverview was like-- it was like a warm feeling,
  • partly because of your friends and partly because Lou.
  • Lou was like a little old lady with white hair,
  • short white hair, who I think was the mother of the guy that
  • owned the bar.
  • But she was the one that was there all the time,
  • and she would welcome her girls and, you know, she knew us,
  • and she was very kind.
  • And I remember, you know, teaching all day
  • and then having to come back for parent night and thinking, oh.
  • I've got to go to the Riv.
  • And I'd go to the Riv.
  • I'd sit down, have a drink.
  • And if I didn't know anybody, Lou would chat with you.
  • And she was very kind.
  • And I think she died when I was away.
  • I was in San Francisco--
  • I was in the Bay Area from '77 to '80,
  • and I was so sad when I heard she'd passed away.
  • I don't remember what year she passed away,
  • but I think it was while I was gone.
  • Do you know?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes, I think it was.
  • MARLENE GORDON: And it was like, oh, it's terrible.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I don't recall exactly what year it was,
  • but I do recall that Claire took Lou's dog, Kiki--
  • MARLENE GORDON: Oh.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --when she passed away.
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, I remember there
  • was a young woman with a motorcycle who
  • lived above the bar.
  • Donna.
  • Yeah.
  • I think her name was Donna.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Donna?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Yeah.
  • I'm pretty sure.
  • And I think I did have one motorcycle ride.
  • (laughs)
  • Anyway-- well, I do remember a little bit of unrest.
  • There were a couple of women who were radical,
  • and I think there was actually a fight in the bar.
  • And they-- yes, I was still on campus.
  • They painted my door.
  • Marlene is a fake lesbian, or something like that,
  • because I was in the dorm and I had a boyfriend or a friend,
  • whatever.
  • And I was living with some very straight women.
  • I wasn't out to them.
  • This was my senior year.
  • And it was kind of freaky.
  • Yeah, it was pretty freaky.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • MARLENE GORDON: And they didn't ask me about it,
  • and I didn't say anything.
  • We just tried to get the door fixed up.
  • But they were pretty out there.
  • And I think one of them was involved in a fight one time
  • that involved a bottle of beer.
  • A bottle, I think.
  • But for the most part, it was just-- you know,
  • it was set off in this little nook, and it was, you know,
  • it was such a nice place.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: People have described
  • it as similar to a family--
  • MARLENE GORDON: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --and a place that they could always
  • go and be welcomed.
  • MARLENE GORDON: Like Cheers.
  • (laughs)
  • Everybody knows your name.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • Do you recall at the time if there was any action or marches
  • that you were involved in?
  • Because Stonewall occurred in '69.
  • MARLENE GORDON: Yeah.
  • So I-- you know, I can't remember now if I was even
  • aware of that, because I don't think I got involved--
  • you know, sometimes I wonder if gay--
  • GLF hadn't come to campus, when I
  • would have been aware of my own sexuality, because it really--
  • you know, it was unconscious.
  • But like, you know, now I think I probably
  • was in love with my best friend freshman year,
  • but it wasn't in my consciousness.
  • It wasn't like now.
  • We didn't have Ellen or Will & Grace or Modern Family.
  • It was such a different world, and you could easily not
  • really hear much.
  • But I do remember the New Women's Times,
  • and I remember being on the New Women's Times softball team
  • one summer.
  • It was Peyton Place.
  • That was my only summer.
  • But I think it was--
  • I was out of college by then, and it was right
  • before I moved to San Francisco with Shirley.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Did you write for the New Women's Times?
  • MARLENE GORDON: No, I didn't, but one of my first year
  • students, when I was in California,
  • I would still get the--
  • they would sell it there.
  • I would still get the New Women's Times,
  • and I saw one of my students, and realized
  • she was with somebody I knew.
  • And I was like, oh, my little baby's with her.
  • (laughs)
  • But no, I didn't.
  • Although I student taught in the city
  • and didn't get a job in the city.
  • I was in Spencerport a year and Gates-Chili four years.
  • And I was so sick of the isms.
  • Those were in the days you could write your own courses,
  • so I wrote a course called Minority Literature
  • and the Minority Experience and taught it
  • as a critical thinking course first.
  • So the kids were kind of trained to catch each other
  • on critical inference making.
  • In other words, stereotypes.
  • I taught them that connection.
  • And then when we did different units,
  • first we did a unit on women.
  • And people from the New Women's Times came in.
  • And-- well, first I did a unit on the elderly,
  • because I figured everybody could relate to it.
  • This was about 99% Italian Catholic school at the time.
  • And you know, so everybody had--
  • most everybody who had a grandparent.
  • We talked about how the elderly are treated in our society.
  • And then we did a unit on women.
  • And I had ordered books for all these units.
  • And I even had a unit about--
  • oh, and we did physically different,
  • which is what we called it at the time,
  • and African Americans, which I thought
  • was very important to do.
  • Oh, Jews.
  • We visited a synagogue.
  • And so we tied in literature-- fiction and nonfiction,
  • actually, with all these units.
  • So we did some very serious stuff like Night, Elie Wiesel,
  • but also stuff like Fiddler with humor.
  • So I did write a unit on homosexuality.
  • But the first year-- and I did order a very good teen novel,
  • Trying Hard to Hear You by Sandra Scoppettone.
  • And we actually got the books.
  • I had decided the first year I didn't want the course
  • to get banned right away, so I didn't teach the unit.
  • But inevitably, someone-- this was a semester junior,
  • senior course--
  • someone would do a project, because they had
  • to do a project on something.
  • So a student that I knew--
  • I had ran into at the 212, and I--
  • we each had a secret about each other,
  • because one of their mothers taught there.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The 212?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Anthony's?
  • Down on Main Street?
  • MARLENE GORDON: No.
  • It was, like, Colvin Street near Maple Street.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • MARLENE GORDON: I think it was the 212.
  • Yeah.
  • I think Anthony's had a different number.
  • I'm not sure.
  • Anyway, whatever.
  • So I had heard a rumor that she was--
  • she was in ninth grade at the time--
  • that she was hanging out--
  • I should be careful what I say.
  • Anyway, that she was hanging out at this bar.
  • So I was at the Riverview with a teacher, another teacher
  • friend, and I was telling her, I said,
  • oh, I really want to go down there.
  • So again, I'm drinking gins and tonics to get my courage.
  • So we walk in there.
  • And when you first walk in, it's the bar area.
  • And I didn't see her, so I was relaxing.
  • So I go in the back room where the dancing is.
  • And across a crowded room, I hear (high pitched voice)
  • Ms. Gordon!
  • (laughs)
  • Like-- and then she asks me to dance slow,
  • and I'm so uncomfortable.
  • So at about three feet length, we were dancing.
  • And then I went over to the wall and somebody said, oh, you're
  • the English teacher.
  • And I'm like, oh, why is she saying that?
  • So anyway, we did kind of an outrageous thing.
  • I decided that-- we got the class
  • in a circle and each person had to say
  • how they would feel if they found out
  • their best friend was gay.
  • Now this is back in 1976.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: You were brave.
  • MARLENE GORDON: '75 and '76, yeah.
  • And everybody said, you know, I wouldn't care,
  • or I would throw up, or I wouldn't talk to them anymore,
  • or I would freak out, or I'd jump their bones.
  • No, nobody said that.
  • (laughter)
  • Nobody said that.
  • (laughter)
  • And--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Marlene, you little--
  • (Gordon laughs)
  • MARLENE GORDON: No, no one said that.
  • And finally, it came to the student.
  • And she said, well, this woman sitting next to her
  • is my friend so-and-so, and she's gay.
  • And all these kids were like--
  • (gasps)
  • Oh, what did I say?
  • Oh my God, oh my God.
  • And we had a discussion, an amazing discussion.
  • So then at lunch some little girl comes running up to me.
  • (high-pitched voice) Ms. So-and-so,
  • how could you let me say that in front of that girl?
  • And I said, well, you probably say things
  • in front of gay people all the time
  • without knowing they're gay.
  • Oh, yeah.
  • So you know, those were the days of consciousness raising.
  • So it definitely was.
  • And the guidance counselor said to me--
  • a guidance counselor said to me in the faculty room.
  • Oh, I hear you had a very interesting class today.
  • And I said, yes, we did.
  • (laughs)
  • Yeah, and that was way back.
  • And I heard later, years later, that the kids were really
  • asking to read that book.
  • And that made me really happy.
  • And all my books--
  • you know, my novels and books were still in there,
  • and so I felt I had some influence.
  • When I got to California, and I wasn't Ms. So-and-so anymore,
  • I was like--
  • I was really missing that course,
  • because they had to keep journal,
  • and we had lots of discussions, and I saw--
  • I really saw a lot of attitude change.
  • And that's what I wanted, and it really made me feel good.
  • And they really had to do a research paper
  • on a group of their choice.
  • And you know, it had to be scholarly.
  • And so it was a very humanistic course, but also very academic,
  • and I was very proud of it.
  • And actually, when I went to graduate school at Berkeley,
  • I was involved in an English social studies curriculum
  • project on adolescent prejudice.
  • And I later saw some of my stuff published--
  • (laughs)
  • --under someone else's name.
  • You know.
  • Actually, it was in the teaching diversity
  • journal of the Southern Law Poverty conference.
  • So yeah.
  • So I learned a lot about graduate school too.
  • (laughs)
  • But so that was a long story about missing the Riverview,
  • I guess.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • Tell me a little bit about what it was like to be closeted.
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, it was terrible.
  • You know, as a public school teacher,
  • it was frightening too.
  • I mean, toward the end of my career,
  • I was open in the faculty, but I wasn't open with my students.
  • I actually did some research in education law
  • and came to the conclusion that, you know,
  • your job is defined by--
  • your ability to keep your job is defined
  • by your ability to do your job.
  • And if the parents are in a rage and keeping their kids out
  • of your class, you can't do your job.
  • And I really concluded that it all
  • had to do with the mores of the community
  • as far as if you could do your job.
  • And so it was very hurtful that I knew that a lot of the kids
  • that I cared a lot about and cared about me, if they knew--
  • without Will & Grace and all the awareness
  • and Ellen and Rosie and da, da, da, and Modern Family,
  • you know, there was a lot of misconception and fear,
  • and people didn't know they knew gay people.
  • And I just felt like my students wouldn't be with me.
  • You know, I knew Tim Mains way back.
  • And before I became a teacher, we did speaking engagements
  • at colleges.
  • And when he told me about coming out at Greece, I knew--
  • I didn't think I had the strength that he had,
  • because he talked about being called faggot in the halls.
  • And I just didn't think I could do that.
  • And I also felt very dependent on my job for my livelihood.
  • And I wanted to teach.
  • I liked teaching.
  • And then as far as with the faculty, it was--
  • you know, everybody else could talk about their lives,
  • and I couldn't.
  • Or if you were going through a terrible breakup
  • and you were upset, you know, you
  • weren't going to talk about it like other people could
  • talk about their relationship.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Do you remember any time
  • when you had to lie in order to not come out?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Oh, yeah.
  • Well, you know, we were always changing pronouns.
  • That was a common habit.
  • You know, he instead of she.
  • And actually, I did have a few bad experiences with coming
  • out-- well--
  • (laughs)
  • I went to visit a high school friend in Sicily.
  • She had moved there.
  • She had married a Sicilian and practically
  • didn't know English anymore.
  • And I was reading Rubyfruit Jungle,
  • and I didn't remember that I had borrowed it from GLF,
  • and it had a stamp in it.
  • And she picked up the book and looked inside and said, oh,
  • are you involved with that?
  • And I said, well, kind of.
  • And do you know, I haven't seen that woman since?
  • She was really kind of freaked out when I left.
  • I mean, I didn't get kicked out.
  • And her mother had been very close friends of mine.
  • She was an English teacher, and I
  • used to always call her and see her when I come home.
  • And she helped me at the beginning of my career.
  • And she didn't answer my calls.
  • I have not seen either of them since.
  • And another friend's parents, same thing.
  • So it's-- yeah.
  • I mean, if you have some bad experiences with coming out,
  • you're going to be very hesitant.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: No.
  • When did you-- did you come out to your family at all?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Yes.
  • Gradually.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And was that--
  • MARLENE GORDON: Why, you want to hear about that?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Was that a positive experience for you?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, was it--
  • it was mixed.
  • It depended who it was.
  • Like, for example--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I mean like your mother and father.
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, it was like this.
  • My girlfriend Shirley was visiting,
  • and we were lying on the bed talking,
  • and my mother opened the door and said, oh, excuse me!
  • And closed the door.
  • And I was, like, frozen solid.
  • So I went downstairs.
  • She was on the phone.
  • And I said, Ma, we're going out.
  • She said, I'll call you back.
  • And she says, please sit down.
  • I've been wanting to talk to you.
  • Now you haven't mentioned any guys since Jimmy.
  • Or no, she said, I'm sorry I walked in on you.
  • I said, oh, we were just talking.
  • No problem.
  • She says, I know you haven't-- anyway,
  • we had this conversation, but the gist of it was I ended up
  • telling her, who knows what the future may bring?
  • Which I partly believed, and I knew
  • it would relieve her a little bit.
  • But she asked questions that were--
  • you know, she was trying, but she
  • would ask me questions that really were kind of insulting.
  • Like, well, don't you ever want to have
  • a permanent relationship?
  • And don't you want to have kids?
  • And you know, and I'm telling her,
  • well, it could be permanent and I could have kids.
  • But one of the most painful things to me about everything
  • is that I really wanted to have kids,
  • and I wanted to raise a kid with a--
  • I wanted to give birth to a child,
  • and I wanted to raise a child with another woman.
  • And it was unheard of then.
  • First of all, a public school teacher,
  • not married, being pregnant.
  • Forget it.
  • Now it's nothing.
  • Raising a child with another woman.
  • It's almost nothing now.
  • Not everywhere, but a lot.
  • And it's kind of funny.
  • I was in a peer counseling group with a bunch--
  • a gay peer-- a gay support group.
  • And I think every woman in that group--
  • lesbian support group-- has had a child except me.
  • And I was the one that was talking about that.
  • You know, they either had a child or adopted a child.
  • A lot of them adopted children.
  • But I wanted to do it with someone.
  • I took it as such a responsibility,
  • and I was so overwhelmed by my job
  • with papers outside the classroom.
  • I just-- and very isolated, feeling very isolated,
  • and actually being very isolated.
  • I have no family here.
  • They're all somewhere else.
  • And so I didn't really know how--
  • I didn't think it would be good for me or the child
  • to try to do it by myself.
  • So that's one of my big regrets in life,
  • not having raised a child.
  • And it was because of the times I was living in.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • Was that different in California?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Everything was a little different there.
  • But you know, I had a two-year plan of being out there,
  • and turned into a three-year because I got a consulting job.
  • But I didn't feel very integrated there at all,
  • and I didn't find a gay community per se,
  • except for the fact that I did work on Harvey Milk's campaign
  • in Newham.
  • And that was another thing.
  • When he got shot and killed, it was
  • the first day I was back in a public school,
  • and someone told--
  • was talking about it in the faculty room.
  • I just went in the bathroom and cried.
  • It was like, I thought I was going to gay nirvana,
  • and when I arrived there, there was No On 6 campaign
  • in which any schoolworker, teacher or schoolworker accused
  • of being gay could be immediately fired.
  • And it was like, what?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Was that here in Rochester?
  • MARLENE GORDON: No, no.
  • This is out in San--
  • California.
  • It was Senator John Briggs.
  • And you know, there was--
  • so Harvey was working on his campaign,
  • and we did defeat Prop 6.
  • But I'll never forget being in the auditorium of Mission High
  • School in the Mission District of San Francisco
  • when the big scream--
  • watching this debate where on one side
  • you had Harvey Milk and Sally Gearhart who
  • was a professor at San Francisco State, a news
  • commentator in the middle, and on the other side,
  • you have Senator John Briggs, who's bill it was,
  • and the minister.
  • And the debate was kind of crazy.
  • And the moderator at one point said to John Briggs, well,
  • Senator, how do you feel about the fact
  • that even Governor Reagan is against your bill?
  • And he said-- he paused.
  • He hesitated, and then he said, well,
  • he's with that Hollywood crowd.
  • And it was like-- yeah.
  • He was making no sense, and it was just--
  • it was so pathetic.
  • But anyway, so that was defeated.
  • And Harvey won, and we were all joyous.
  • So this was my first year--
  • I remember riding down Market Street on the top of a cable
  • car in the gay parade.
  • It was wonderful.
  • And you know, it was the days of Anita Bryant.
  • So it was Barkey, Briggs, and Bryant.
  • And you know, there was jubilation when he won
  • and the bill got defeated.
  • But when he was shot, you know, like in the movie,
  • I was there in all those scenes.
  • I mean, I was there during the candlelight vigil.
  • And then when Dan White got acquitted, people went crazy.
  • Went crazy that a supervisor and a mayor, of a major US city
  • could be shot and killed, and the guy gets off
  • with a Twinkie defense.
  • So you'd be in the supermarkets, and the Twinkies
  • were piled high.
  • There was a big boycott.
  • And I was riding down one of the 490-type roads
  • around San Francisco.
  • I think it was 101, but I'm not sure.
  • And there was a big billboard for Twinkies,
  • and someone had spray painted, eat these
  • and you can get away with murder.
  • And it was just--
  • I mean, the community was just devastated.
  • And it was also, when I first got there, it
  • was Guyana, which was a church that had
  • been founded in San Francisco.
  • The Zebra killings had just happened.
  • You know, there was so much violence.
  • It was such a mix of joy and grief.
  • It was such a tumultuous time.
  • And for me, being in a couple of earthquakes when I first
  • got-- you know, the earthquake symbolized
  • the whole thing for me.
  • I had, as I say, I had this illusion of gay nirvana,
  • and it wasn't so.
  • And you know, the community was just rocked.
  • So when the riots happened, I mean, you
  • could totally understand it.
  • Turning over police cars, setting them on fire.
  • I mean, the justice system hadn't worked at all.
  • So later when Dan White killed himself,
  • I wasn't at all surprised.
  • But that was-- you know, and that scared me.
  • It scared me a lot.
  • So here when Tim Mains was running as an openly gay man,
  • I was scared.
  • I didn't tell him that, but I had just been through that,
  • you know, when he ran for--
  • I guess it was for city council.
  • So I think of him as a very brave person.
  • Well, he is a very brave person.
  • But unfortunately, that experience
  • scared me to death, really.
  • It's so personal to me.
  • I was there.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So you were teaching in California
  • at the time.
  • MARLENE GORDON: No, actually.
  • I had promised-- I was always teaching and going to school
  • for five years here first.
  • So I had my thirty graduate hours.
  • And I promised myself I would not go to school
  • or teach for a year.
  • So I sold sandwich--
  • I wanted to work in a cafe, but somehow
  • I ended up, because I talk to people--
  • (laughs)
  • When I opened up a checking account,
  • I was offered a job as a part-time teller, so I did it.
  • And talk about a high pressure job.
  • And it was right after Patty Hearst,
  • so we had to see all these bank robbery movies.
  • You know, my car was named Tanya.
  • And so you know, and I had to dress all up.
  • I had to get dressed up.
  • And the only good thing was Halloween,
  • because Halloween is wonderful in San Francisco.
  • And I thought of dressing as my Aunt Jenny in Brooklyn
  • and saying, what?
  • You're going to take money?
  • You couldn't give a little?
  • But I decided I shouldn't do that.
  • And then the other idea was dressing as a bank robber,
  • but I didn't think that was a good idea either.
  • So after a week in teller school--
  • two weeks in teller school, in the basement of a bank with no
  • windows with eleven out of thirteen people smoking,
  • including the teacher--
  • in those days, you couldn't-- it wasn't politically correct
  • to ask someone not to smoke, and watching Patty Hearst--
  • you know, you weren't thinking about stealing a penny.
  • You were worried you weren't going
  • to balance by the end of the day, you know?
  • Not that I wasn't balanced anyway, but you know,
  • at the time.
  • So yeah, so I did various little jobs the first year.
  • And then I became a resident.
  • I wanted to go back to school without going into debt again.
  • So I was going to either go to Berkeley
  • in this English social studies (unintelligible)
  • or to Santa Barbara, which had a very humanistic education
  • program.
  • And I went there to meet some professors whose book I
  • had read in Rochester.
  • So I decided it would be better to come back with a--
  • come back east with a degree from Berkeley,
  • so I did that program.
  • But I spent a quarter down in Santa Barbara.
  • It was wonderful.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: How long were you in California?
  • MARLENE GORDON: So I was there three years instead of two.
  • And I was going through a breakup--
  • in the first fall, I was in a couple of earthquakes,
  • there was No On 6, my parents split up,
  • my relationship fell apart.
  • I was not in a good way.
  • But I didn't believe in therapy, one-way therapy.
  • I was into that peer counseling, and I wasn't
  • into medication at the time.
  • So I was on function mode, though.
  • I mean, I had a full-time--
  • I got my master's degree from Berkeley,
  • and I had a full-time consulting job.
  • And you know-- and I came back.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And when did you work on Harvey Milk's campaign?
  • When he ran for--
  • MARLENE GORDON: When I first got there,
  • he was running for town supervisor, and he won.
  • Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And then two years--
  • how long after that--
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, it was the following year
  • that he was killed.
  • He was-- I got there in '77, he was killed in '78.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • MARLENE GORDON: I believe--
  • it was the fall.
  • It was the fall, because it was the next school year,
  • and I believe it was something like October.
  • I don't remember the date, but it was early in the school
  • year, maybe six weeks into the school
  • year, something like that.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Share with me a little bit
  • about your observations of other people
  • when the word came out that Harvey Milk was assassinated.
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, in the school they were discussing it.
  • And they were upset.
  • You know, I think he was well respected.
  • But as I say, I didn't get in a discussion.
  • I went in the bathroom and cried.
  • But the teacher whose class I was supposed
  • to be going into and doing a lesson
  • must have realized, because she said, you know, you don't have
  • to go teach if you don't want.
  • I said, no, that's OK.
  • And as I said, you know, the gay people in the city who were--
  • it was just a feeling of mourning.
  • It was just terrible.
  • And as I said, the city was already
  • shaken up by Guyana and the Zebra killings.
  • It was just-- a lot of stuff was happening.
  • A lot of violence somehow related to San Francisco.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And you attended the candlelight vigil?
  • MARLENE GORDON: No, I watched it on TV.
  • I just-- I couldn't go.
  • I couldn't get my-- you know, I couldn't go.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And what was the feeling
  • when Dan White was arrested?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Oh, people were angry.
  • So angry.
  • That's why there were riots.
  • I mean, well, there was disbelief first, I think.
  • It was a combination of total disbelief and amazing anger.
  • And of course, sadness.
  • But there was a lot of anger.
  • Well, you know, I remember--
  • I think I remember, it was a long time ago--
  • but it being on national news.
  • I mean, as I said before, a mayor of a major--
  • you know, I think if it hadn't been linked with Harvey Milk
  • and it was just the mayor, he would have been convicted.
  • The thing with Dan White was that he was Mr. All-American.
  • I believe he had been a cop, and he was--
  • I think he was Catholic.
  • He was in several good boys clubs.
  • He just was-- you know, they were like polar opposites.
  • And I think that was something--
  • I can't recall-- but something about redistricting,
  • and it had to do with his constituency, and da, da, da,
  • da, da.
  • But-- can you stop that?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Little more.
  • So--
  • MARLENE GORDON: Do you want me to finish that other story?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Harvey Milk died.
  • Dan White was arrested.
  • There was tremendous uproar.
  • MARLENE GORDON: No.
  • There was tremendous uproar after the trial when he was--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Acquitted.
  • MARLENE GORDON: --acquitted.
  • That was the horrible uproar.
  • Before that, it was just terrible sadness.
  • And of course, an expectation that he was going to be
  • convicted.
  • They knew he did it.
  • They didn't know about the Twinkie defense,
  • that he had too much sugar that day.
  • I mean, he walked--
  • he walked into-- did he walk or go through a window?
  • Anyway, he walks into City Hall and shoots the mayor
  • and supervisor.
  • And he's acquitted.
  • Anyway.
  • So yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And that was the second year
  • you were in California.
  • And then you stayed one more year.
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, I stayed because I
  • had started a graduate program, and I
  • wasn't happy with what they were doing,
  • because I felt I had already done it and taught it.
  • And so a professor knew and asked me
  • if I wanted to join him as a multiculture consultant
  • at an elementary school.
  • So I said, sure.
  • And interestingly, Leval Wilson at the time
  • was the superintendent of Berkeley Public Schools.
  • But this job of mine was in a district outside
  • of Berkeley called Richmond, which was kind of urban.
  • I mean, the sixth grade girls were in gangs already.
  • Let's put it that way.
  • But anyway, I loved doing that.
  • I modified what I did with the high school kids
  • to an elementary level, and I loved it.
  • I had never worked with elementary kids.
  • But anyway.
  • So I got to appreciate what--
  • and California was way ahead of us with multiculture.
  • But I mean, they had a whole multicultural center
  • in Berkeley.
  • But in any event, yeah, that was a very good experience.
  • And they wanted me back, but I wanted to finish my degree
  • and come back east.
  • I knew I wasn't staying out there.
  • Shirley stayed out there.
  • She's still there.
  • And you know, we've become very good friends after all these--
  • I mean, we have been very good friends.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: When you came back east,
  • did you return to Rochester?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, I always thought I'd go back to Boston,
  • but I realized my whole adult life had been here.
  • My connections were here.
  • I thought I was coming back to a job in the city, which
  • fell through at the last minute, so I took a one-year job
  • in Webster.
  • And then the next year, I started in the city
  • and did the rest of my career in the city.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Mm-hm.
  • So going back to your coming out experience with your family--
  • MARLENE GORDON: Oh, yeah.
  • I was--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Your mother--
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, after that conversation--
  • she did her best, but she was never comfortable.
  • You know?
  • And partly it was me, because she said, you know,
  • some people at work would talk about their gay kids,
  • and she wasn't sure if I would want her to.
  • And I wasn't sure I wanted her to either.
  • I don't know why.
  • But so it was a combination of my and her discomfort.
  • But I mean, she had a hard time with it.
  • My father-- oh my God.
  • The story with my father is really funny.
  • It's before that story.
  • Let's see.
  • Oh.
  • When I had first come out here, I went home for the summer
  • from college.
  • And-- oh.
  • A bunch of us met in New York City for the gay parade
  • over the summer.
  • And by the end of the weekend, my first lover
  • was with somebody else from Rochester,
  • and I was devastated.
  • Oh my God.
  • So I came home, and who was I going to talk to?
  • So I found in the Boston alternative papers
  • that there was a gay support group in the city.
  • So I would borrow my parents' car and go into these meetings.
  • So one day, my father comes into my bedroom.
  • Says, Marlene, sit down.
  • I want to talk to you.
  • I said, OK.
  • (laughs)
  • And he says, your mother thinks you're hanging out
  • with a bunch of lesbians.
  • And I said, what?
  • And he said, well, you know those women-- those meetings
  • you're going to in the city?
  • I said, oh, those women's liberation meetings?
  • And he says, hm.
  • And he says, well, what about all that literature?
  • I said, what literature?
  • He says, under your bed.
  • (laughs)
  • And I cannot remember if I said, well,
  • you know how they hand you things in the street in Boston,
  • or that I was doing a research project for the U of R.
  • But he looked at me.
  • We both just started laughing.
  • And I just said, well, just tell her not to worry.
  • He said, OK. and he walks out.
  • And that was it.
  • And he's never-- he's never given a shit.
  • I mean, he's always been totally cool about that.
  • And then when he had moved to New Hampshire,
  • he said to me, oh, you know, we have
  • two lesbians building the foundation of this building.
  • I said, oh, that's nice.
  • As a matter of fact, in his later years,
  • he got very politically active, and he ran for state rep.
  • He got killed because it's so Republican there.
  • But he was on school board, and he
  • was on the board of the Civil Liberties Union.
  • Then he was president of it for the state of New Hampshire.
  • And then he got tired of the politics.
  • But he had a branch on campus at Keene State.
  • So one fall, he says, Marlene, listen what happened.
  • I said, what?
  • And he said, I went to the campus,
  • and my mailbox was gone.
  • So I went to the Student Activities office, and I said--
  • and I found out that you have to,
  • every year, have at least ten students enrolled.
  • So he says, well, out of the corner of my eye,
  • I saw that there was a gay group meeting that night.
  • And I went back there--
  • I went to it and I asked them if I could speak.
  • I said, you know, I'm a member of PFLAG, and you know,
  • the ACLU is on campus.
  • You know, we're working for your rights too.
  • And he said, the next day, I had my mailbox back.
  • (laughs)
  • Isn't that great?
  • He's a riot.
  • Now my sister, I always had this terrible conflict
  • with my mother.
  • And one time, I guess I was back home from college
  • and she was still in high school.
  • And I said-- oh, no.
  • I was out of college, but I was visiting.
  • I had this big fight with my mother,
  • and I said to my sister-- we were--
  • we always shared a room.
  • So we're both in bed.
  • And I said, you know, you never support me in arguments with--
  • conflicts with Mom.
  • And she says, well, I'll tell you this.
  • I support your relationship with Shirley.
  • And I just started crying, because we had never
  • talked about it.
  • I couldn't believe it.
  • I was just-- it was amazing.
  • And then my brother and I didn't talk about it for many years
  • later.
  • And then one day we just talked about it, and he was fine,
  • you know?
  • It wasn't-- it actually wasn't till about a month ago when he
  • was visiting me here that I asked him about his kids.
  • He said, oh, you know, a while ago it came up,
  • and so I talked to them.
  • And they said, well, how come you never said anything sooner?
  • And he said, well, I wanted--
  • I want-- I don't know.
  • I didn't know how I felt, and I wanted you to love your aunt.
  • And they said, don't be ridiculous.
  • (laughter)
  • So that's my whole family.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: That's great.
  • When you look back, Marlene, over your life, what--
  • MARLENE GORDON: My so-called life?
  • (laugh)
  • EVELYN BAILEY: No.
  • MARLENE GORDON: No, I'm kidding.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: What stands out most
  • in your mind about gay liberation?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Well, I really hate to say this,
  • and you can't put this in the documentary.
  • But you know, I'm a little bit resentful that--
  • I always seem to be the pioneer.
  • But when I--
  • I mean, I'm proud of the political work I've done
  • and the things I did, and especially the thing
  • in the school.
  • But I think-- you know, I know that my life
  • would have been very different had I
  • either been braver or crazier.
  • I'm not sure.
  • I mean, I would have liked--
  • I mean, the kids nowadays are growing up
  • in such a different world.
  • It's not completely fabulous and wonderful and OK,
  • but in terms of acceptance and raising
  • a child, that kind of thing.
  • And you know, I know that that's a terrible attitude,
  • because you know, I mean, I think if some black friends
  • of mine said, I'm resentful that I grew up in-- you know,
  • it would seem--
  • it wouldn't seem like the right way to be,
  • although I could understand that too.
  • I don't know.
  • I just-- it was very, very difficult, especially
  • being a public school teacher.
  • You know, I know there are some other professions.
  • But I mean, you know, when I was out in California,
  • the phrase you heard over and over again
  • was impressionable youth.
  • You know, they're going to get to impressionable youth.
  • You know, like, you were going to spread something or at least
  • proselytize or something.
  • And you know, I mean, I went through a whole AIDS education
  • scandal here in the city school district
  • in a parent-teacher meeting that was close to a lynch mob.
  • Oh, it's a whole story.
  • I'll have to write about it sometime.
  • But you know, even AIDS education,
  • as late as I believe that was in the mid to late '80s,
  • parents were, you know, a certain community,
  • religious right in the city.
  • Whoo!
  • You can't touch that with a ten-foot pole.
  • I remember a community leader who
  • will go unnamed coming to the school
  • and talking to a group of African American boys
  • and telling them that there was no such thing as a gay African
  • American boy.
  • And actually, some faculty members, you know,
  • put up a stink about the fact that he was allowed
  • to preach that in our school.
  • And you know, I mean, things have
  • changed some in that community too, but you know,
  • they're still--
  • you know, I find it politically scary right now too.
  • When I think about social agendas going back
  • fifty, sixty years, it's scary.
  • So you know, I guess I'm not supposed to be
  • saying all this stuff, but--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Why not?
  • MARLENE GORDON: --it's very deep-seated with me.
  • Well, you know, I don't know.
  • I'm supposed to be rah, rah, rah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: It's It's how you feel and it's what you think.
  • MARLENE GORDON: Yeah.
  • Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And that more than anything
  • motivates you to do what you do.
  • You know?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Yeah.
  • I mean, I have a very strong--
  • from my childhood, sense of social justice.
  • But it's tough.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yes.
  • MARLENE GORDON: It's really tough.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And it's almost--
  • I mean, what I'm hearing from you
  • is you are almost a person out of sync with the time.
  • MARLENE GORDON: Yeah, on a lot of things
  • I felt like I was ahead of my time or something.
  • You know, with the critical thinking work.
  • Then it became a buzzword, you know?
  • I called in minority literature.
  • Now it's diversity, you know?
  • Wanting to raise a child with another woman.
  • Oh my God.
  • Are you kidding?
  • And that, you know, I do feel like that a lot.
  • Like, ahead of my time.
  • And just not having-- well, I think even relationships.
  • You know, I think a lot of relationships, gay or straight,
  • are supported by--
  • have a lot of social support by this community
  • or that community, or even your immediate-- especially
  • your immediate family.
  • And wasn't there.
  • And I think that's--
  • personally, I think that's why a lot of relationships
  • early on were short-lived.
  • I mean, nowadays if you're in a strong relationship, I mean,
  • your family and the larger society
  • is kind of expecting you might have a long-time relationship.
  • And what are you doing to keep that relationship together?
  • And supporting you in doing that.
  • That's very different.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Well, the image and the attitude
  • of what being gay is all about has changed tremendously
  • in the past fifteen years.
  • MARLENE GORDON: Yeah.
  • Definitely.
  • I mean, you know, Modern Family.
  • Oh, we're going to have a baby.
  • Oh, how cute.
  • Not, oh my God!
  • You're going to make the kid gay.
  • You know?
  • It's just so different.
  • And Modern Family won again last night for best comedy.
  • And two of the actors for best actors.
  • And I believe supporting actress too.
  • I'm not sure.
  • But anyway, yeah.
  • And that program has won three years in a row.
  • I mean, that's a big change.
  • And that is regular TV.
  • It's not even cable.
  • And that's a big deal.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: One more question.
  • When all is said and done, how do you
  • want Marlene Gordon to be remembered?
  • MARLENE GORDON: Oh!
  • It sounds so final!
  • That's tough.
  • Well, you know, this word came to my-- brave.
  • And I just was saying I'm not brave.
  • But integrity, bravery, kindness, persistence,
  • intelligent.
  • (laughs)
  • I don't know.
  • Boy, that's quite a question.
  • But those are the words that popped into my mind.
  • Bostonian.
  • No.
  • (laughs)
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Thank you.
  • (laughs)