Audio Interview, Sue Cowell, January 23, 2012

  • SUE COWELL: So even though I've worked on other races--
  • I mean, honestly, with Tim's, it wasn't an issue.
  • But in the early stages of working
  • on Louise Slaughter's race, it was a little bit of an issue.
  • I ended up-- that was more Fran Weisberg's paranoia.
  • Because there is a whole article here about Louise's race.
  • And there was going to be an interview.
  • And they had wanted to interview me.
  • And the kibosh was put on it.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Can we go back to your earlier days before 1970.
  • SUE COWELL: Before 1970?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Where were you born?
  • SUE COWELL: I was born 1952 in Jamaica, New York.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Jamaica?
  • SUE COWELL: New York.
  • It's a--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Queens.
  • SUE COWELL: --city.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Right.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah.
  • Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Did you go to school in New York?
  • SUE COWELL: No, we moved out to Long Island.
  • I don't even know exactly when.
  • Probably when I was, like, four or five.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And high school?
  • SUE COWELL: We lived in Hicksville,
  • the home of Billy Joel.
  • Billy Joel had a garage band, Plainview, East Meadow,
  • all those towns.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • Were you out then?
  • SUE COWELL: Oh, no.
  • No.
  • But I mean--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Did you know you were gay?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, I knew I was a tomboy.
  • And I knew I liked playing with my male friends, plus the age
  • breakdown on my street is like, the boys were my age.
  • But there were a couple of girls,
  • they were a couple of years older than me.
  • And at certain points, that doesn't really work,
  • because I'm a little shrimp.
  • And they're into boys, and I was just into playing with boys.
  • But I knew from having a major crush on--
  • I was always the teacher-pet type
  • of thing, and not for all my classes,
  • but I had my favorites.
  • So my art teacher was one of those first adults who
  • sort of treated me like I was the adult, not like I was
  • a kid, like you would actually have conversations
  • and things like that.
  • Then I'd help her prepare--
  • even after I left and went to junior high,
  • I'd go back once a week or sometimes more and just help
  • if she was doing art shows and things like that.
  • And so I think that was more where
  • I started to develop emotionally as opposed to just being
  • a little rug rat running around and playing baseball
  • and beating up boys.
  • Only once.
  • So that was a turning point just to be able to start
  • to even know yourself.
  • And I know at one point that I wanted to marry her.
  • But I wouldn't let me think about it
  • for too long, because I knew it was never going to happen.
  • It's sort of like titrate the thoughts, control them.
  • So I knew it, but I didn't act on it
  • until when I was in college, right around the time
  • that I was graduating.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Where did you go to college?
  • SUE COWELL: SUNY New Paltz.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Was that around about '69, '70?
  • SUE COWELL: '70 to '74.
  • But again, I liked it so much that I stayed around
  • for an extra year.
  • It was kind of wild times, because my friends that I--
  • my friend Kathy-- that was my Joni Mitchell hair,
  • and that was my friend Kathy.
  • And so we both were able to--
  • we both wanted to go to SUNY New Paltz.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: You almost look like twins.
  • SUE COWELL: I know.
  • And we were actually able to share,
  • to get the assignment we wanted, which we wanted
  • to share a room together.
  • And so I don't know.
  • New Paltz was just really--
  • it was in the Woodstock days.
  • And we had the Tripping Fields, so people would just
  • drop acid and go listen to Joe Cocker and The Airplane
  • and whoever else was coming through town.
  • And it was just kind of really wild times.
  • And then I had been interested in journalism.
  • So in high school, I had taken a journalism class.
  • And then in college, we took one.
  • There was a group of us.
  • And we put together an alternative newspaper
  • to the regular one, and--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: It wasn't banned?
  • SUE COWELL: No.
  • I mean, it wasn't really banned.
  • I mean, the journalism person sort of stood up for it.
  • I mean, it wasn't like all that ridiculous.
  • But there were some satiric pieces
  • that maybe they didn't appreciate,
  • like we were trying to just explain that--
  • I did a column about cooking the iron board.
  • Because basically, the only place
  • you could really have the strong enough outlets to have anything
  • that you could really put up a frying pan on
  • would be where you could plug your damn iron in.
  • And we would just mock the fact that they
  • think the place is so safe, and everybody in the whole freaking
  • university is blowing out these thing.
  • So serious but kind of stupid also.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: But it was alternative politically,
  • socially.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah.
  • Yeah.
  • Yeah.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: It wasn't a gay newspaper, right?
  • OK.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, no.
  • I don't know-- I wish I'd-- that's the one thing I
  • don't think I have is a copy of it.
  • It was called The Anduril.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The what?
  • SUE COWELL: Anduril.
  • I don't know.
  • It was something from one of those crazy Tolkien
  • or whatever that people were into back then.
  • I don't have it.
  • From my high school journalism I do
  • have my layout sheets for the Cowell Courier,
  • and writing about the Chicago people
  • and when Easy Rider came out.
  • And I don't know.
  • See, and then you didn't have computers.
  • So you actually wrote each word.
  • And you could cut things out of newspapers
  • if you wanted a comic or something.
  • But you had to do the headlines and write the copy
  • and everything.
  • It was kind of fun.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: God, I can't imagine.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: What was your degree in when
  • you graduated from New Paltz?
  • SUE COWELL: Psychology.
  • I was going to go into teaching, because like I said,
  • I had a lot of good teachers, and I enjoyed that.
  • But I took one education class, and I couldn't stand it.
  • I feel immediately-- it's like just because I might want
  • to teach kindergarten doesn't mean
  • I want to be treated like one.
  • Again, it was just very--
  • I just have a streak if I don't want to do something,
  • then I just won't do it.
  • And then the psychology was-- they
  • were always cooler professors anyway.
  • So I did that.
  • But then I just realized that back then, things
  • were all more behavior mod stuff,
  • so we'd go to institutions with children,
  • and just make it simple.
  • Give them M&M's, they'll do whatever you want.
  • And it's sort of like, this is ridiculous.
  • This is not what I want to spend my life doing.
  • I did do an internship at the children's
  • psychiatric hospital.
  • And that was different, because it wasn't this big state
  • institution.
  • But then I wasn't really exactly sure
  • what I was going to do when I graduated.
  • So I took a year off.
  • I knew what I was going to do, which was to have fun,
  • because I had--
  • there was a group of friends who were a year younger than me.
  • So my cohort left.
  • Actually, Kathy stayed around for a while.
  • But then I thought, well, let me just hang out here
  • for the summer and go be a waitress,
  • and did the twenty-four hour waitress thing.
  • And I don't even know when I had the epiphany that--
  • because I always did like sciences.
  • I liked biology and all that kind of stuff
  • when I was going through school.
  • So I had this flash of well, what about nursing?
  • Because that seems like a perfect combination,
  • because you have to have the technical skills.
  • And you have to have the medical background.
  • But you also have to be able to deal with people.
  • And that's just as big a part of that.
  • So I just got this idea.
  • And I swear to God, I don't even know exactly where or when
  • or how at any point.
  • So I'd already graduated.
  • So I started to do research and figure, OK--
  • because then nursing was really militaristic.
  • It's like you have to get your bachelor's before you're
  • a nurse.
  • So you have to--
  • and it has to be in nursing.
  • It can't be in any other field.
  • So when I did the research, there were three places
  • where you could take a bachelor's
  • in something that was somewhat related,
  • maybe not bioengineering or some crazy thing,
  • but that you could go and you could
  • get a master's in two years, and would be for the nurse
  • practitioner program.
  • And what they would do is--
  • it was a stepped-up program.
  • So you were heavy-loaded sciences the first year.
  • And then they start to build in the practical part of it.
  • And it was Yale, Case Western, and Pace University.
  • Those were the three programs at the time that would give you
  • that opportunity.
  • And then you'd do an internship.
  • So I spent the summer in Santa Rosa
  • in between when I graduated.
  • I went out to Santa Rosa, because my friend
  • from the nursing program had friends there.
  • And they had a family medicine area.
  • And some of my friends from New Paltz
  • had gone out to San Francisco.
  • So I figured, well, what better place to do that.
  • And then we also--
  • my friend that I went up to Santa Rosa with--
  • we went and took the nursing boards down in LA
  • on the St. Mary's cruise ship, because that's
  • where they were doing it.
  • (laughter)
  • It was a repurposing.
  • It wasn't moving.
  • So it kind of worked out.
  • I went to the program, and it was good.
  • You had different placements, so we were in Flower Fifth Avenue
  • Hospital.
  • We were in the VA Hospital.
  • We did public health nursing, home visits and stuff.
  • And so for me, it worked out really well.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So from there, you came here?
  • SUE COWELL: Mm-hm.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: OK, I wanted to step back, though,
  • before we get that far yet.
  • I want to first touch base on your coming-out experience.
  • Was it in college?
  • Was it after college?
  • When did you first start realizing it?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, I realized it in college
  • when I was an undergraduate.
  • But I didn't really act on it until after I had graduated.
  • And I was still--
  • that time when I was going to just be carefree.
  • And there was also a thing that-- because I
  • had boyfriends.
  • And of course, they all turned out to be gay.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: That's usually the case.
  • (laughter)
  • SUE COWELL: Danny and Larry and Pedro.
  • But yeah, then it was actually when
  • I was doing the night shift at the diner, these group of women
  • come in.
  • And it's like, oh, so there actually
  • could be others like me around here.
  • We had more than one.
  • And so I just somehow hooked up with one of them.
  • And then it was obvious to me that that's what was missing.
  • Even though before you came--
  • the straight women at the time-- because it was also
  • the whole overlay of just the whole feminist movement
  • was emerging.
  • But the straight women, they weren't really--
  • I don't know-- accepting, but they basically
  • didn't believe that I could be gay, because I had long hair.
  • So it's like, all right, well, I guess maybe I'll have a drink
  • and then maybe just mosey on down the road here.
  • But for real, it was just a different time.
  • I mean, people were just feeling their way through all of that.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And the images were really significant,
  • though.
  • I mean, the fact that you weren't gay
  • because you had long hair speaks volumes
  • of what women thought gay women or lesbians or dykes
  • would look like.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: During that time,
  • did you ever either experience or hear
  • about any kind of tension or animosity
  • between what was the women's rights movement
  • and what was, maybe then, gay and lesbian rights movement?
  • SUE COWELL: No
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • Yeah.
  • SUE COWELL: No
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Because I've heard some rumors
  • here and there--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • SUE COWELL: No.
  • No.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: --that the women's liberation movement
  • wasn't always that accepting.
  • SUE COWELL: Right.
  • Because-- yeah, I think that they just
  • felt that if it was known that there were
  • lesbian activists within the group,
  • that it would sort of handicap or it would just make it more
  • difficult for them to get their message out
  • and received in a proper way.
  • But the reality of it is that we were there.
  • The first NOW conference down in Houston or wherever the hell
  • it was--
  • maybe we were involved.
  • We've been involved with every social movement.
  • My partner marched in Selma.
  • I worked around AIDS stuff.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: OK.
  • So what brought you to Rochester and why?
  • When and why?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, the job.
  • So I graduated in '74.
  • I play around for a year.
  • And then it was time to go to graduate school.
  • So after I was done with Pace University
  • and I was in my internship out in the West Coast--
  • my partner and I were still together.
  • Just we were separated for the summer.
  • And the nurse practitioner movement was very early.
  • And the nurse practitioner movement actually
  • sort of grew out of Rochester.
  • I don't know if you caught the story about Loretta Ford.
  • But she was the dean of the School of Nursing
  • for many, many years.
  • And she was inducted into the women's hall of fame
  • this past cycle, because the nurse practitioner
  • movement was really born out of Colorado and Rochester.
  • And it was just the whole concept
  • that women could do more, nurses could do more than just fluff
  • pillows and give you Jell-o.
  • And so at that time, it's why I'll say--
  • not maybe like a priest, but I feel like I got called here
  • because where else would I find two jobs for nurse
  • practitioners in the same city and in Rochester of all places?
  • So Holly got a job at the Anthony Jordan Health Center.
  • And then I got my dream job at the University of Rochester,
  • because I wanted to work with young, healthy people
  • because I wanted to have fun and not be in a--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: So Holly was your partner?
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: What year was that?
  • SUE COWELL: That was in '77.
  • So you know, I was out on the West Coast.
  • And then I get this letter saying
  • that she took a job at Jordan Health Center in Rochester.
  • And I cried.
  • It's like what the fuck?
  • (unintelligible)
  • Rochester?
  • You gotta be kidding me?
  • But I thought, well, I can be alone, or I could say,
  • all right, I'll try, and if I don't like it,
  • I guess I'll have to make a decision then.
  • But it wasn't--
  • I really was more interested in Boston,
  • because I had a group of friends who went up there.
  • I was more interested in being in a city
  • than being in the hicks.
  • But again, fate has a way of trumping what you want.
  • I don't know.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Well, if you didn't get here until 1977,
  • then you pretty early on got involved in gay activism here.
  • SUE COWELL: Oh, yeah, just about immediately,
  • because I lived around the corner from the co-op.
  • So what happened is--
  • so I come from my interview.
  • Holly's in town.
  • And we know that we're going to be looking for an apartment.
  • And I turn on the TV.
  • And the gay alliance was picketing city hall
  • over CETA funding.
  • So I'm like, now a different kind of WTF,
  • like, what is this all about?
  • So in between that happening and then just driving
  • around and looking for the cool parts of the city that
  • would be the hippie whatever, we found a place over there
  • by the Co-op.
  • And once I sort of got settled, I went over and checked it out.
  • And Pat Collins was there.
  • And Pat talked with me for a while
  • and just gave me the lay of the land.
  • And then I was at the University of Rochester then.
  • And so I was in the health service
  • over in the medical center, but I also did a lot of stuff
  • with student affairs staff because we had a student
  • advisory committee and we did different types of health
  • promotion trainings at that point.
  • And we developed a whole series on sexuality, brochures that--
  • contraception and other things, too, and
  • worked to just be able to provide good sexuality
  • services there.
  • And she called me up at work and said, can we go to lunch?
  • So we went to lunch.
  • And she threw the potato, and I grabbed it.
  • (unintelligible)
  • But only because it's fun.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Because I don't want
  • to just jump over this, your initial impression
  • or involvement in the gay community here in Rochester--
  • in your talk with Pat or in your first kind of trying to scope
  • things out, what was your initial impression
  • of who we were as a community, particularly a gay community?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, I wouldn't say completely heaven,
  • but it was pretty damn good compared
  • to what I had even when I was down in Westchester.
  • So that's more towards the city, but it really
  • has a big rural overlay.
  • You have to go into bars along Route 9,
  • and it's not really a sense of community.
  • And I dated one woman for a little bit of time there.
  • But I didn't really click with the people there.
  • And this certainly wasn't a sense of community.
  • And it was also a little different.
  • I mean, not that people don't organize around alcohol,
  • but it was pretty much like drinking fast.
  • And I had my one straight friend at college just
  • tell me, "Well, it sounds like it's good
  • that you don't fit in."
  • So I had that balance.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: So by 1978, you're with the Gay Alliance.
  • You're writing for The Empty Closet,
  • doing commentaries and stuff.
  • Just kind of talk about those early days for you.
  • SUE COWELL: Well, there's a lot of stuff in here.
  • I was on the board.
  • I was-- I don't know--
  • maybe only twenty-five or twenty-six
  • when I became the president the first time.
  • I can ever do the math.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: What year was that?
  • I forget.
  • SUE COWELL: Well, I came here in '77, and I was born in '52.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: That's twenty-five.
  • SUE COWELL: Twenty-five.
  • So I was twenty-five.
  • And then--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: You were president after Pat.
  • SUE COWELL: Um-hm.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: After Pat Collins.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And that would have been '78.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, probably right around that time, too,
  • just the precursor to the Rally for Rights.
  • Yeah, because the other thing was I just
  • worked in a really supportive environment at the University
  • of Rochester at that point.
  • But at a certain point between coming here with Holly
  • and then Holly leaving because we separated--
  • I was with somebody else then-- but they were always
  • really cool to any of my friends and things like that.
  • And there would be little work parties.
  • And people were accepted.
  • And they were a site for residents to come and do
  • training and learn things.
  • So they were accepting.
  • But it wasn't like I wore a rainbow
  • flag to work or whatever.
  • But then when this Rally for Rights
  • came around based on the whole Anita Bryant coming
  • to town and that craziness, I thought, well,
  • I should at least tell my boss before she just sees me on TV.
  • So I did that.
  • And it was like a non-event.
  • And then my administrative person was Ruth Hopkins.
  • And she was a feminist.
  • I mean, she probably could have been a lesbian.
  • But she named her daughter Susan B., Susan B. Hopkins.
  • So I was just really fortunate to be
  • around a really great group of people
  • so that I didn't feel any threat to my life or my work
  • or anything.
  • If anything, it just enhanced.
  • And my boss, the head of it, was Cliff Reifler,
  • who was a psychiatrist.
  • And he could look kind of intimidating and kind
  • of gruff, whatever.
  • But I would say having my father that I had, who was Italian--
  • he was kind of old-fashioned.
  • I just always say if I didn't make my own way,
  • I'd still be home listening to the radio.
  • So I was always--
  • if somebody says I can't do something,
  • then I'm going to do it.
  • He wouldn't take my training wheels off
  • because the boy across the street got his off.
  • He said, well, I'll take them off,
  • but I'm not putting him back on.
  • Well, I waved to him.
  • "Thanks Daddy."
  • Just stuff like that.
  • And that kind of stuff is just sort of, I guess, just nature.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: This Is a totally off subject,
  • but how do you have an Italian father
  • but with a name like Cowell?
  • SUE COWELL: Because of Ellis Island,
  • and it anglicized when they came.
  • It was my dad's dad.
  • It was actually originally Callo, like C-A-L-L-O.
  • And it's funny because now with everything so computerized,
  • my sister and I actually went to the website at Ellis Island.
  • And we have the manifest and everything.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: I did that with my grandparents.
  • One of my-- my grandmother's brother, when he came over he
  • changed his name from (unintelligible) to Richards.
  • Going through the obits, I'm like,
  • who the hell's this Christopher Richards?
  • SUE COWELL: I know.
  • There are sometimes I wish--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Anyway, It was totally off-subject.
  • SUE COWELL: --my name was Italian.
  • Yeah.
  • So I don't know.
  • So I just got involved and--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Yeah, just talking about those early days
  • of, again, the Rally to Rights.
  • What was the atmosphere like?
  • What was the sentiments like in the community?
  • What were you trying to achieve?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, in some ways, it
  • was a little bit controversial.
  • It was sort of like you had the lesbian feminists.
  • And then you had gay men.
  • And then you had some women, like lesbians,
  • who were trying to just bridge the whole thing.
  • And I wanted to call it the Rally for Human Rights,
  • not the Rally for Gay Rights.
  • Well, all the radical women didn't like that
  • and whatever, whatever.
  • But that was the whole point, is why do we
  • have to be the only ones advocating for our rights
  • and freedoms?
  • Other people could come help.
  • God knows we've helped plenty of other movements.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Were you one of the people heading it up?
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah.
  • Yeah.
  • Yeah.
  • And it's even a picture here of crazy George Moore.
  • Not the-- there were the two George Moores.
  • But the one that really was psychotic.
  • Yeah.
  • And we did things like this.
  • That was Mike Macaluso from the Citizens
  • for a Decent Community.
  • they call it the original CDC.
  • Yeah, I don't know.
  • This is a lot of stuff here.
  • Oh, and we went big with it.
  • We brought Leonard Matlovich, who
  • had been discharged from the Air Force.
  • We brought Kate Millett.
  • One of the men in the community had a little prop plane
  • and went down to Poughkeepsie and picked her up
  • and brought her in.
  • Karen DeCrow, who was still sort of
  • closeted, but she was the president of NOW for the state.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Was that Kate?
  • Kate DeCrow?
  • SUE COWELL: No, Karen DeCrow.
  • Yeah, I'd have to go back and get some more of the names.
  • OK, so here's one of the pictures
  • from the Rally for Rights.
  • And over a thousand people came to this thing.
  • And it was basically conceived as an answer
  • to Anita Bryant's visit to Rochester.
  • The rally marked the beginning of the community
  • through the enlargement of our understanding of oppression,
  • according to Kate Millett, 1970.
  • Other speakers were Leonard Matlovich,
  • Adam (unintelligible), national gay lobbyist Karen DeCrow,
  • former NOW president, Dr. Ken Smith, Colgate Rochester
  • Divinity School.
  • And perhaps Matlovich said it best
  • when he said, "If Anita Bryant is a born-again Christian,
  • she should try, try again until she gets it right."
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Love it.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah.
  • So that was a pretty big thing, to get that many people out
  • there.
  • And we got a lot of media attention.
  • And Bill (unintelligible) spoke at it.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And she came to the--
  • Henrietta--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Dome Center.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The what?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: The Dome.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: The Dome Arena.
  • Do you know the Dome Arena has no record of her coming?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Did she actually come?
  • I had heard somewhere along the line
  • that she canceled out that event.
  • SUE COWELL: No, I'd have to really go back and look and see
  • if we have that in here.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: That's something we have to question,
  • if she actually came or not.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Well, the Dome says
  • that there was no such rally.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: No rally?
  • This rally.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: No, she never--
  • she did not appear at the Dome.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Which makes me question even more if she
  • actually came or not.
  • Because if she didn't, if she cancelled out, then no,
  • they wouldn't have any record.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Did she actually--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: What was the date of that rally?
  • Because if you can just do a search in the DNC
  • and see if she actually came or not.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: It's in that Rochester chronology, too.
  • SUE COWELL: Looking for the bumper stickers.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: That's OK.
  • We can find out later.
  • Just do a search on the DNC.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: It would have been 1979 and 19--
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, OK, yeah, it says here, too,
  • Sue Cowell, George Moore elected co-presidents in January
  • of '79.
  • And then--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Yeah, the whole Anita Bryant thing
  • was in '79, right?
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, the Rally for Rights was in '78.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: '78?
  • SUE COWELL: It does--
  • it says, "Anita Bryant performs at the Dome."
  • EVELYN BAILEY: But when I sent Nicole,
  • the first archival consultant, over to the Dome arena
  • to ask them and to talk to them, they
  • said they have no record of her being there.
  • SUE COWELL: Well, maybe they don't have a record,
  • but I'm just thinking somebody who
  • does the Ride for Pride with Jeanie is managing the Dome.
  • He was interested in me going out there and looking
  • at what spaces they have in case we ever wanted to rent.
  • So maybe I can have Jeanie--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: There are--
  • (unintelligible) has video clips from the Rally for Rights
  • and from Anita Bryant.
  • I'll check on those again.
  • But it would be interesting to find out if she didn't come,
  • why she didn't come.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Well, it sounds to me like she did.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, yeah, because this is our information.
  • I don't think we would have made it up.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: No.
  • It comes from The Empty Closet.
  • SUE COWELL: Right.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: You know?
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah.
  • So--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: So let's move forward.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So in '78, it was the Rally for Rights.
  • And in '79, you were elected president of the Gay Alliance.
  • That election wasn't public, though.
  • Did people vote at that point?
  • SUE COWELL: Oh, I don't know.
  • I can't say, really, they did things legitimate. (pause)
  • But I'm just looking for that picture
  • that we had already seen.
  • 1980 board-- well, no.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I don't think we sent out a mailing or anything.
  • I think it was the slate was presented,
  • and the board voted on it.
  • SUE COWELL: Right.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Yeah, it's usually just a board vote,
  • right?
  • SUE COWELL: Mm-hm.
  • Especially in those days, it's not
  • like when you're a member of an organization, a membership--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: So '78 you're active with the gay alliance.
  • You are doing rallies around town.
  • SUE COWELL: And marching with the women,
  • Take Back the Night crew, too.
  • Flower City Fights Back Peacefully.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And were you a part of Women Against Violence
  • Against Women?
  • SUE COWELL: No, I mean, I wasn't a member of it.
  • I supported what they were doing.
  • But they were also--
  • the things came back around.
  • They were also kind of the more radical
  • and really wanted to focus their energy on women's issues.
  • And that's why I just felt like, well,
  • it's really about everybody having rights.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So what was Take Back the Night about?
  • SUE COWELL: Basically, just women taking to the streets
  • to protest violence against women, rape of women,
  • and that women don't feel safe walking the streets.
  • And there was also tied to different ads that were out
  • at that time, like when alcohol played an even bigger role,
  • so Black Velvet ones with all the sexy women and all.
  • So that women would go out repasting--
  • they'd climb up there.
  • They'd throw paint.
  • Or we'd paste over offensive images.
  • And it was just the dynamics of women waking up and saying,
  • you know what?
  • I have a brain.
  • I can have more out of my life.
  • I don't need to let other people define who I am
  • or what I can do and when I can do it.
  • And so it was just--
  • it was that kind of thing.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So that was '70--
  • you were president '79 and '80, and then--
  • SUE COWELL: And again in '85, I thought.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • Were you still at the U of R?
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, I was at the U of R until--
  • I was there eleven years, '77 to '88.
  • Because at that point, then, it was
  • a couple of different things.
  • One, I sort of had done everything
  • I felt like I could do at the U or R. I established--
  • at the infirmary where kids would stay overnight
  • if they were sick, we established a nurse manager
  • there.
  • Instead of just having the different nurses float
  • in and out, you do a shift.
  • And then nobody's in charge of anything.
  • And it was one of those things I talked
  • to my administrative boss, because things were just
  • getting kind of screwed up a little bit.
  • And she said, well, that's a great idea.
  • Do you want to be the manager?
  • Well, I'll get it going.
  • I don't really want to be the manager manager, but--
  • so I did that.
  • And then I started the health education program.
  • And I left as the chief of the health education unit.
  • And then with all the AIDS stuff that I was doing,
  • I became involved with the area task force.
  • And we developed on that with Bill Valenti, myself,
  • John Altieri, some other people, the first regional plan
  • that really addressed the issue of AIDS.
  • So I got to work with the deputy director of the Health
  • Department, Mark Merkens, because he
  • was involved with that.
  • And there were changes going on at the health department.
  • Because we actually-- the early days of AIDS Rochester,
  • it was really Jackie Nudd, myself, a few people.
  • And we were always trying to get into the Health Department
  • to talk to people about testing and what are they doing
  • to address the issue, and--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: OK.
  • I'm going to pull you back, because I don't
  • want to rush through this.
  • Let's start at the beginning when AIDS reared its ugly head
  • in Rochester.
  • You were still at the U of R. Where did the beginning start
  • with you and Bill?
  • And how did that all come about?
  • Because from what I understand, the first meeting
  • was on your front porch or something like that.
  • SUE COWELL: Well, yeah, we named it on my porch,
  • but we probably met in some other places.
  • So Bill Valenti had two positions.
  • He was in the infectious disease unit,
  • but he was a hospital epidemiologist.
  • And then the other part is that he also
  • worked down in the University Health Service.
  • And the thing that was just so valuable to me
  • working in that setting is that they would have Journal Club.
  • So people would bring different articles
  • that were contemporary of issue, and that's
  • when those early Center for Disease Control reports
  • started to come out.
  • And see, I already knew in the late seventies--
  • I was writing stuff about increased rates
  • of syphilis in gay men.
  • And so the medical community knew that, but--
  • not that it's a great thing to have,
  • but it could be treated with an antibiotic.
  • But as more and more evidence surfaced that, well, there
  • seems to be even more going on than just syphilis,
  • I had already been writing about that.
  • So when the first official reports came out through the--
  • the morbidity and mortality reports.
  • We needed to start addressing that locally.
  • And Bill Valenti told somebody else up
  • in the infectious disease, because Bill was more
  • dealing with hospital-acquired infections and things
  • like that.
  • He wasn't really doing the research part of things.
  • So he told one of the people up there to come down and see me,
  • because they had gotten to the point where
  • they wanted to start doing a screening clinic locally
  • to see if--
  • is this an issue in this community and if so, where
  • are we going with this?
  • So Tom came down and talked to me.
  • And this is the other thing that's
  • so cool about where I worked because they allowed
  • us to then, after hours, do a screening clinic that we
  • publicized in the community that they could come in.
  • At that time, it was just pretty simple stuff.
  • You could do a blood draw, and you could
  • look at the t-cell counts.
  • But you still really didn't know exactly what it meant.
  • And that's this whole part of it here.
  • Because Tim Sally--
  • I don't know if you remember Tim?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Um-hm.
  • SUE COWELL: But Tim and I went to the Red Cross
  • when they were going to not allow gay men to donate blood.
  • We said, well, we've got to go talk to them,
  • because they at least have a responsibility
  • to educate the community, not just say, no thanks.
  • And so this was the first piece of literature.
  • It's the only one I have left.
  • But look at the number on it.
  • It's the Gay Alliance number.
  • And--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Well, the hotline was here.
  • And Jackie Nudd was president--
  • SUE COWELL: Um-hm.
  • Right.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: --of the Alliance.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: OK, but we jumped ahead a little bit,
  • because initially we didn't even have a name for it yet, right?
  • SUE COWELL: Right.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: So through the screening clinics
  • that you started developing, what, then, came out of that?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, we started to--
  • I guess the turning point was there
  • was one fellow who had moved back to Rochester to be
  • with his family.
  • He had been in New York.
  • And he was seeing friends get sick.
  • And he was thinking that he was getting sick.
  • And he was getting sick.
  • But his family did not welcome him with open arms.
  • And so he had an apartment.
  • And it became evident that the medical establishment was not
  • going to take him shopping or pick up
  • his prescriptions to him.
  • So now we need something else to help people
  • like that in that situation.
  • And that's where Helping People with AIDS kind of developed.
  • Although initially it was kind of more fundraising.
  • But it wasn't as involved with HPA.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: HPA happened after AIDS Rochester
  • came into existence.
  • SUE COWELL: Right.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • And HPA took care of costs that could not be
  • covered by medical insurance.
  • SUE COWELL: Right.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And for many men--
  • at that time, it was mostly men--
  • when they lost their job, they had no place to go.
  • And they couldn't pay their rent.
  • And they couldn't pay for prescriptions.
  • They couldn't pay for AZT, because it was so expensive.
  • So HPA arose, came into existence
  • because men in the community-- the community needed the money
  • to help these people survive for as long as they could.
  • But AIDS Rochester started--
  • that hotline began on your front porch with you and Holly.
  • Was it Holly (unintelligible)?
  • SUE COWELL: Don (unintelligible),
  • who is a psychologist at the U of R, Mark Allenwood
  • and his partner, Randy.
  • I think Valenti was there.
  • He probably was.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: I think he was because he mentioned that,
  • having meetings on your porch.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah.
  • And--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Holly.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah probably, to some degree.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Jackie Nudd?
  • SUE COWELL: No, not at that point.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Talk to me about that meeting on the porch.
  • And what were you guys talking about?
  • And what were you identifying as being the greater need
  • to address?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, basically, what I
  • said that there are people who are getting sick,
  • and they don't necessarily have the support of family
  • or even friends, like the one guy that moved back.
  • He had lost touch with people.
  • And so it was really more the social support for them.
  • And we had the vision that this was just the beginning.
  • It's not like this is going to get better overnight,
  • so that you kind of had to realize
  • that the sooner you can start building this network,
  • the more prepared you're going to be when the shit really
  • hits the fan.
  • And that's also just part of that medical background.
  • As you know, things can smolder.
  • It's not like everything just happens gradually,
  • but it's like it smolders, and then
  • you're already behind the eight ball
  • because it's out of control.
  • And I remember even when the kaposi
  • sarcoma, which is the skin cancer that used to be
  • (unintelligible) and when it was referred to as a gay cancer.
  • And I don't know if I actually used that term.
  • But I know Mike went and got really upset about it.
  • Saying, "That's ridiculous.
  • There is no such thing."
  • But it was--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: So talk to me about some
  • of the initial challenges that you
  • had to overcome within the community as a whole
  • in trying to get this organization going,
  • trying to deal with the perceptions of what
  • this gay disease is.
  • SUE COWELL: Well, part of it is that I
  • didn't try to go it alone.
  • And there were some really good allies.
  • There was this woman, Kristen, who was
  • a nurse in the cancer center.
  • And she became a really great ally.
  • And we would go out and do presentations on campus.
  • And let's see if I have--
  • I think there's another one that has some other stuff in it.
  • (pause) Yeah, there was a poster of something we did. (pause)
  • Yeah.
  • I'll have to find it.
  • I have other bins of the stuff.
  • But-- yeah, I don't know.
  • So we knew that we needed to get volunteers.
  • We knew we needed to get money.
  • We knew that we needed to try to interface
  • with the other organizations that have been more established
  • but would be somewhat amenable to working with us.
  • And the Red Cross, they were more so
  • than the Health Department at that time.
  • It's funny because in the Health Department
  • they have this mentality, you save every piece of paper.
  • When I went back over there to be the AIDS Coordinator in '88,
  • there was all this stuff.
  • There's notes, like had Jackie and I
  • gone there to talk to them.
  • I wish I had kept copies of them.
  • Because the county delayed the offering
  • the test because they weren't getting money to do it.
  • And they really were, because under public health law,
  • the Health Department gets a major subsidy from the state
  • of 40 percent to the dollar.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Yeah, isn't this public health?
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, right.
  • And so it was like they were like in a pissing match.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Let me ask you this--
  • interesting question.
  • You came to Rochester, and you started working at U of R,
  • and you became really active as a gay activist
  • for the gay community, gay and lesbian community.
  • At some point, did the AIDS activism
  • start to upstage or overshadow your initial gay and lesbian
  • community activism?
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah I don't know if upstage is--
  • it definitely added another thing to my plate, so to speak.
  • Because it was kind of a more immediate crisis
  • that was going on.
  • But I think, just with the careers
  • that I have sort of strung along,
  • it kind of has all worked through relatively seamlessly.
  • And even the political stuff that I have done, I ran--
  • God, almighty.
  • Loud through that door.
  • Running Tim's first race, and I ran Susan John's first race.
  • And then I worked on Louise Slaughter's race.
  • And I took a six-week leave of absence from the U of R
  • because I went into Ruth Hopkins and said,
  • "I'm never going to ask for maternity leave,
  • but I'd really like to have six weeks off
  • to go work on this campaign."
  • And she said yes.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Wow.
  • Great way to approach it.
  • Wonder if I could get away with that?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: But the other thing
  • that's true about the AIDS crisis is
  • it was the activism arena--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: That became the gay rights movement
  • with itself.
  • That's where I was trying to go with it,
  • but I didn't want to put those words in her mouth.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, well, for better and worse
  • it became the movement, because it
  • did divert a lot of other resources and energy
  • away from some of the issues that we still have today.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: But there were also
  • medical issues that were addressed simultaneously
  • in terms of gay rights in that arena--
  • partners being able to visit partners, access to care--
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah.
  • Well, it certainly exposed a lot of issues
  • that maybe we hadn't really confronted,
  • because it would just be individual couples or whatever.
  • But now when it's the whole community knows somebody or--
  • it was a catalyst for other things, for sure.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: At any point during your involvement
  • with the AIDS epidemic, did you get to a point
  • where you practically threw up your hands and said,
  • we can't stop it?
  • SUE COWELL: No, because it's an infection.
  • It can be stopped.
  • But the biggest problem was not the disease.
  • It was really people's--
  • it's not so much behavior as the fact
  • that you're dealing with human beings.
  • And it's like my thing.
  • Most people do the best they can on any given day.
  • And sometimes that's not enough.
  • Because the hard part about change is you
  • have to actually change.
  • And so we're doing education and stuff like that, but it's--
  • that was the thing when I went and worked
  • at the county, because it was all
  • about trying to train people using a model of stages
  • of change so that you can actually help facilitate
  • the change as opposed to making them run out the damn door
  • because you're judging them or saying, why don't you do this
  • or why don't you do that?
  • But it's still a long, upward--
  • doesn't matter if it's smoking or weight or anything.
  • I mean it's just--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Who were the players that
  • were supportive of beginning AIDS Rochester, beginning--
  • not just the hotline?
  • Do you know?
  • Were you a part of that growth?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, Bill and I and John,
  • we put together one of those first grants to the state.
  • The one thing in New York state, the first director
  • of the AIDS Institute, was Mel Rosen,
  • who was a gay man who was a social worker.
  • And so I think early on the state,
  • New York state relatively speaking, things were moving.
  • People understood this is really like something
  • we better pay attention to.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And so you wrote a grant.
  • For what?
  • SUE COWELL: For a health educator.
  • Because that was the other epiphany.
  • It's like, OK, now we have HPA.
  • So we have parties.
  • We have money.
  • But then it's like, well, another WTF--
  • our taxes.
  • We pay taxes.
  • Our issues should be being addressed
  • through the systems that already exist right now,
  • but we're out here creating a whole parallel universe
  • to address things that really we have to do,
  • but we really shouldn't have to do.
  • You see, people are really naive.
  • I've been through so much.
  • Makes me feel really old.
  • When I went to the county, Mark Merkens, who's the deputy,
  • wanted me to apply.
  • So fine.
  • So I apply.
  • I get the job on a--
  • not a temporary basis, but I would
  • have to go through the civil service and all
  • this other crap.
  • That was the year that Tom Frey got elected
  • as the county executive.
  • Well, I was the Democratic leader
  • for the twenty-third legislative district,
  • which was Tom Frey's district.
  • So he knew me.
  • And I knew some of the other players.
  • So when I was actually appointed,
  • the health director was Joel Nitzkin.
  • And he was all about smoking.
  • And they were coming in as a new administration
  • with this really long, long history of Republican control.
  • And just lots of nonsense that's sort of the same now.
  • And so I reported directly to the county executive's office.
  • And when I went to meet Joel, he didn't even hire me.
  • It was downtown hired me.
  • And so then when I meet him, he gets his pencil
  • and he writes the org chart.
  • They're advisory, but I'm a direct report to him.
  • So I just take it.
  • It's OK.
  • And then my next meeting when I go down there
  • and meet with Clay Osborne and Bridget Shumway,
  • Clay takes out his pencil and makes eraser marks.
  • No, you report here.
  • And I became a little bit of a mole in the sense of they
  • were trying to clean house and get things to be functioning
  • the way they should.
  • And I said, well, as far as the Health Department goes,
  • maybe you take a dumpster out there
  • and you just start all over.
  • Everyone's idea is spending the morning reading the paper.
  • And so it began a process of professionalizing it.
  • And they ended up asking Joel to leave.
  • And there was a woman deputy director
  • who really wanted the position.
  • But I'd seen her in action, and I don't know.
  • I just didn't think that that was really going to be helpful.
  • There are some people that are good,
  • or they maybe lack some things, but they have others.
  • I didn't think that would be a really good idea.
  • And there was somebody else who had
  • come to town who I did know, which was Andy Doniger,
  • because his wife, Pat Coury-Doniger and I met
  • each other a long time ago.
  • And I had been doing some training with her and all.
  • And he has a MPH.
  • He's more than qualified.
  • He had been the director for the health department down there.
  • And so my whole thing was, all right,
  • so there's going to be public pressure to hire Karen.
  • But you can take your lumps now and end up with no problems,
  • or do the reverse.
  • I think you gotta go for the best person for the job.
  • And there'll be some political flack.
  • But there was really very little.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: So Doniger became the--
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And his focus was--
  • SUE COWELL: Public health.
  • Andy, he was a public health professional.
  • The department just needed a lot of help.
  • They weren't really involved so much in the community
  • as maybe they really needed to and then
  • creating the partnerships with the University of Rochester,
  • where instead of sending all of the labs to ACM or something,
  • send it over to the area that does all the infectious disease
  • stuff so that when they started to develop the technology
  • to test for chlamydia or these other things,
  • you were there and even doing viral cultures.
  • So it was that kind of thing.
  • You just step up your game if you really want to be leading.
  • You want to be on the cutting edge.
  • And so they went that way.
  • And he's still the health director today.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Was there any negativity
  • toward the community in that?
  • Not in-fighting or not negativity toward Doniger
  • or other people who were players, but was
  • the attitude positive toward really moving on, working
  • in education and prevention?
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, I think for the most part, yes.
  • I think in the beginning people were still
  • kind of afraid of it.
  • But again, a lot of it is when you--
  • it's the individual people who are
  • drawn to a cause that kind of make it or break it.
  • And if you go there, and you're not
  • going there to preach or say stupid things,
  • you're there to provide useful information
  • and to give whatever kind of support you can give people,
  • then people are pretty perceptive.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: In comparison to other communities
  • around the country, would you say
  • Rochester was unique in the way we reacted to the AIDS crisis
  • really early on?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, I think so, too.
  • Because it's a smaller community,
  • it was sort of like when Chuck Schumer voted for DOMA
  • and the Brooklyn LGBT community picketed his house.
  • And then Mark (unintelligible) and I
  • are saying, in Rochester, upstate, we don't
  • have a whole lot of allies.
  • So the thought of marching outside of Louise's house just
  • doesn't make sense.
  • Rather pick up the phone and make an appointment
  • and talk with them.
  • So I think it's just how you approach it.
  • And we were very lucky to get other professional people who
  • were willing to--
  • so it wasn't just one person doing all the education.
  • And then because I had that political background,
  • it was useful.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Well, let's get into politics.
  • You were going to say something.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I was going to ask about the separation
  • from the U of R and CHN.
  • That whole process whereby they get
  • into research, the U of R. And Bill and Steve Schiebel
  • got into direct care.
  • What was the position of the Health Department
  • or the community in that?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, I don't know.
  • The university was doing research,
  • but they were moving towards realizing they need
  • to provide medical care also.
  • It's hard for me to say entirely.
  • Honestly, I think we needed the community-based health
  • care as an alternative to the infectious disease unit.
  • But I think part of what accelerated
  • that is that Bill was getting a lot of media attention.
  • And so some people don't like to be upstaged.
  • So I think it was really a combination.
  • It wasn't all black and white on either side.
  • And even clinically, there are probably some things
  • that the U of R can do better clinically.
  • Or it has more resources than AIDS Care.
  • I don't know that for a fact.
  • But I think it is good to have a community alternative.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: When did the perception of it being
  • a gay disease begin to change?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, I think when more women were
  • being identified either through sex or IV drug use.
  • But it's also hard to know about the early demographics,
  • because if you were a junkie and you died in the place
  • that they found you in the street,
  • they're not necessarily at that time
  • doing autopsies or trying to figure out what you died from.
  • They see the tracks and it's like, that's it.
  • So it took a while to just dig a little bit deeper than just
  • beyond gay men.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: I think we covered AIDS.
  • Among all this, you're still politically active,
  • getting involved in the political scene for local reps.
  • SUE COWELL: Well, right now I have
  • to be a little careful about that.
  • But I did go to the (unintelligible) fundraiser.
  • I mean, I sort of say I still am a United States citizen.
  • So I do have some freedoms.
  • But I can't--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Where did it start?
  • Did it start with Bill?
  • Was that your first?
  • SUE COWELL: Oh, you mean in terms of politics?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Yeah.
  • SUE COWELL: No, no, it started in '85 with Tim Mains.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: OK, so it started with Tim first.
  • OK.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah.
  • Pfeiffer, Ellen Pfeiffer, I think
  • was going to be his campaign manager.
  • And then she decided to run for a city court judge position.
  • So then they came to me to see if I would run Tim's campaign.
  • And I had never done a race before.
  • I can't remember if I'd been on the committee then.
  • But anyway, it just seemed like, well, I'll give it a shot.
  • It's organizing.
  • It's making phone calls and trying
  • to get everybody moving in the same direction.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: What was it about the request
  • to run his campaign that appealed to you?
  • SUE COWELL: That it would be a challenge.
  • I'd learn something.
  • I'd meet people.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: But also you were
  • running a campaign for the first openly gay person running
  • for office.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, I didn't necessarily
  • think of it as a cause.
  • It was a cause, but that is not even the whole reason
  • why I did it.
  • It's sort of like there is a selfish part of it,
  • too, that it's, oh, this will be interesting.
  • I'll learn something.
  • I'll meet people.
  • I'll see what this is all about.
  • I'll just deepen what I really know.
  • And I had been the committee chair for a while,
  • and I learned stuff from that.
  • And that came in handy when then Susan
  • decided to run because I was the leader of one
  • of the committees.
  • And that's how you would get nominated
  • at that point, of who's going to be the endorsed candidate.
  • So I don't know.
  • I just--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Do you run Susan's campaign,
  • her first one?
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: OK.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah.
  • With the whole political thing is that as time has gone on,
  • people get more sophisticated on how to actually win an election
  • and what you have to do to target your people.
  • Well, in theory, it's easier to get a supporter to the polls
  • than to convert somebody to be a supporter.
  • And so it started where a couple of people
  • decided that it would be a good idea to primary Gary Proud,
  • because he really wasn't that good on our issues
  • other than he gave us money.
  • And at the same time in Westchester,
  • there were women who were developing voter identification
  • campaign, where you would actually call people and test
  • questions with them to see where they
  • stood on a spectrum of things.
  • And so we had this meeting.
  • And there was a group of people, Allen Gallant, Susan John,
  • Fran Weisberg and I think Patty McCarthy, to talk about this.
  • Is this the kind of campaign we could do here locally and maybe
  • pull off a win?
  • And so everyone talked about it.
  • Seemed like a good idea.
  • Then it's like, oh, who's going to run?
  • And I thought Susan would be the best one,
  • because she was an attorney.
  • But I understood she was an attorney,
  • and she was very smart and this and that.
  • But Susan's also got her own peculiarities,
  • and she really didn't want to run.
  • So then it's like, did I want to run?
  • It's like, no, I'd rather elect them than be them.
  • But--
  • EVELYN BAILEY: That would have been interesting.
  • SUE COWELL: I know.
  • Well, I think it would have been just a little bit too
  • before the time.
  • But you never can tell at this point.
  • Well, it was 1990.
  • Maybe not.
  • But all you have to do is go sit in the assembly chamber
  • and think oh, my god.
  • It's-- no.
  • Not where I want to spend most of my time.
  • Yeah.
  • So again, it was just like another challenge.
  • And the thing is that even with Tim's race,
  • because the Democratic Party here has always
  • been really supportive, it's like I didn't really
  • have to do it alone.
  • My kitchen cabinet was Fran Weisberg, Patty McCarthy,
  • who was the county clerk, and Brian Curran, oh,
  • and Betsy Rowland, who was the commissioner
  • for the Board of Elections.
  • So that was my kitchen cabinet.
  • We would meet.
  • They would help.
  • We'd make decisions.
  • Brian was really good at basically doing the strategy
  • plan of what you have to do to get to 50 percent plus one.
  • And it's sort of based on the demographics
  • and how many are primary voters, people
  • who are really committed, and just different things
  • that you deal with.
  • And he worked out a whole plan that
  • involved a street campaign of just introduction,
  • like an introductory thing on the candidate,
  • reinforcing name recognition, than getting out the vote,
  • so that each person would kind of
  • have at least three contacts.
  • And (unintelligible) got involved with the race.
  • He ran that field operation.
  • And then at that point, he was at the Health Department
  • also, but at the State Health Department in the Sexually
  • Transmitted Disease Clinic.
  • He was working as a public health rep there.
  • So up on the eighth floor, where my office was,
  • there would be a whole lot of activity going on there.
  • They used every damn day of vacation time I had.
  • And when the whole race was over and we won,
  • they looked at my time sheets, but I was all legit.
  • So it was just stuff like that.
  • It just felt really cool to get a woman in there who
  • is pro-choice and pro-LGBT.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Yeah, that would be my next question.
  • When you worked on Tim's campaign, and Susan's campaign,
  • and Bill (unintelligible) campaign,
  • and whoever else's campaign, what significant impact
  • do you think getting those people elected
  • had on the local gay and lesbian community?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, I think quite a lot because it's not
  • like we were a minority group.
  • We were part of the pack.
  • We were integrated into it.
  • Yeah, we were a part of what made it happen.
  • And the community kicked butt on all those races
  • and turned out the volunteers and the fundraising.
  • And oh, geez, there's so many things, even
  • like the military ban at the school district.
  • Well, we got that because we raised money for the school
  • board candidates.
  • Yeah, there's just so many different things that
  • being a player in the political arena
  • resulted in tangible benefits for the community.
  • Then it just becomes a snowball.
  • Then it's like you're screwed if you don't
  • support the gay community.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: But it was because of your success.
  • SUE COWELL: Right.
  • Well, yeah, if we had failed every race we'd be nowhere.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: But I think you alluded to this--
  • at some point along all of this, you kind of learned
  • how to play the game.
  • SUE COWELL: Well, yeah, I'm going
  • to really make myself tired.
  • What happened-- so I did all--
  • I did Tim's race in '85, Susan's in 2000,
  • and then Louise's in '86.
  • So I tell people I had three different races, three
  • different partners, not a coincidence.
  • (laughter)
  • But Susan John's was my last race
  • because when I finally hooked up with Marta, I thought,
  • I'm not going to blow this.
  • (laughter)
  • Because it is very demanding.
  • And thankfully, I got finally got partnered
  • with the right person who had her own life
  • and wasn't dependent on me to feel good about herself.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: That's the important thing.
  • SUE COWELL: So then I took a year off or something, the year
  • honeymoon.
  • And then in '92--
  • when was the pink flamingos?
  • Wasn't that '92?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: No, it was before we moved to Atlantic Avenue,
  • I think.
  • SUE COWELL: You think so?
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Or maybe it was after.
  • SUE COWELL: I have something about that at home.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Maybe it was '92.
  • Maybe it was '92.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, I think it was a little bit later.
  • So anyway, so Larry Champoux sets up
  • that thing in the political caucus, whatever.
  • And then Dick Dadey, who was the founding director of the Pride
  • Agenda comes up to Rochester, and he did a little scoping
  • out ahead of time.
  • I think he talked to Tim.
  • He said, "I'm looking to recruit some board
  • members from Rochester.
  • Who should I talk to?"
  • So he said Don Belack and me.
  • And it was really good timing for me,
  • because I was sort of at a point where
  • I would love to be able to meet new people,
  • learn something else, just learn from other people.
  • And so it worked out really well for me.
  • And it was a great experience.
  • And that's the twenty-five thousand from Jeff Sorauf
  • that we got.
  • And it was a whole different level.
  • You had fifty-thousand-dollar-a-year
  • donors.
  • You had this powerful, massive community compared to us.
  • And I got to make some big decisions
  • because they wanted to have an upstate-downstate type
  • of thing.
  • And I was co-chair for almost six years, first with one guy
  • and then by myself and then with Jeff.
  • But it was really great, like the whole endorsement
  • of Chuck Schumer.
  • I remember we were sitting around the table,
  • here HRC is going to support D'Amato, which I understand,
  • and he supported ENDA.
  • But that's on a federal level.
  • We're a state organization.
  • And D'Amato did nothing to help LGBT issues in New York state.
  • And so we took a chance.
  • We took a risk.
  • If you're going to call the question,
  • then he better freaking win.
  • So we did.
  • And he did.
  • That's when, on the national level,
  • people started to really take a look at the Pride Agenda.
  • That kind of stuff, I just think, is really fun.
  • Do the calculus.
  • I can do calculus when I'm thinking about strategy,
  • but I can't do regular math.
  • (laughter)
  • So it's just been wild.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Well, let's talk about more recent years.
  • What is going on in this community?
  • Where do things stand?
  • And what do you see as still being
  • some of the greater challenges?
  • SUE COWELL: Sustainability of the organizations we have.
  • It's kind of a universal thing.
  • As much as we all fundraise, it never
  • seems quite enough to push through to that other side.
  • And I've talked with Matt Foreman who--
  • he had been a past ED of the task force
  • but also the Pride Agenda.
  • And he's now with the Haas Foundation in San Francisco.
  • And the studies show that 3 percent of people who are LGBT
  • give to LGBT organizations.
  • 3 frickin' percent.
  • And he's saying, we don't really know why that is.
  • And for Rochester, I make an assumption.
  • And it's a used assumption, but just
  • the fact that overall, we have it pretty good here.
  • And so maybe there's no imperative,
  • like, well, you know, I'm good.
  • Are you good?
  • Good life.
  • Who's hurting?
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: But I'd put that in perspective
  • that that's pretty much a general consensus
  • with the overall population of what they support.
  • Only about 3 percent or less of the overall population support
  • anything.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, that's true.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Only about 1 percent
  • to maybe close to 2 percent of the population
  • support the arts.
  • It's closer to 1 percent, really.
  • SUE COWELL: All right, well, I didn't know that statistic.
  • So we're not really different from the rest of the world.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: So if you've got 3 percent--
  • yeah you're thinking, why isn't everybody supporting us?
  • And part of that is, well, they don't see the need,
  • because they're not affected by anything.
  • But if you look at the overall community,
  • that 3 percent number is really about the average of anything.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Well for many years,
  • I think we had battles to fight.
  • We had benchmarks to make.
  • SUE COWELL: Yeah, there were things to coalesce around.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: There was domestic partnership.
  • Then there was marriage equality.
  • Then there was affirmative action.
  • Here in Rochester, you had major opposition
  • with Michael Macaluso and the Moral Majority
  • and the Decent Minority and--
  • SUE COWELL: (unintelligible)
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Yeah.
  • And also you had a tremendous number
  • of people who not only were involved politically,
  • but for the size of Rochester, you
  • had an incredible number of organizations
  • operative and working.
  • SUE COWELL: Well, back then, they
  • didn't have the city newspaper but they had the Rochester
  • Patriot, which was the lefty paper
  • and Louise Slaughter and Fran Weisberg,
  • they were all part of that thing.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: And back then also,
  • it was part of being part of the community.
  • That's how we developed or built our community.
  • Nowadays, that sense of community, I don't think,
  • is as important to a lot of gay and lesbians.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: I think the sense of community for anyone
  • is not important until crisis hits.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Yeah.
  • Exactly.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: And that's personally and community wise.
  • When do you need your family community most?
  • When you're in distress.
  • And so then you pull together and people come together.
  • What's next on the political agenda
  • that the gay community, the LGBT community,
  • needs to have happen?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, we need to get more involved
  • with the federal races.
  • We need more-- until DOMA is repealed,
  • we're not really going anywhere.
  • So I don't know.
  • But it's going to be, I think, a much longer cycle
  • to get that done.
  • But we have to-- it's like with anything.
  • You're never going to finish if you don't start.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: GENDA?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, that's important.
  • I think that that will pass in New York state.
  • It's unfortunately, a lot of--
  • I'm sure Cuomo spent a lot of his political capital
  • on marriage, which is not saying that it's fair.
  • But it's-- like with--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: It's reality.
  • SUE COWELL: Well, back to the Pride Agenda.
  • I mean, my whole mantra is that we don't make the rules.
  • We just play by them.
  • And it's been shown that money makes a big difference.
  • 1996 was the first time we had openly gay delegates
  • at the presidential convention.
  • And that was because Jeff Sorauf was a big money guy,
  • and we got--
  • I went to Chicago in '96, and we had a smattering.
  • I think we had about seven or eight LGBT delegates in '96.
  • And then in 2000 I went again, but I don't know.
  • We work hard.
  • And then I think people who were running the party politics see
  • it, and you get kind of pulled into things.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Where does New York state go?
  • Where do we-- what's the next challenge here?
  • Or are we out of challenges?
  • SUE COWELL: Well, you always have
  • the challenge of maintaining.
  • Well, we're going to have a big challenge keeping Harry
  • because of the redistricting.
  • And so I just decided to have breakfast
  • with Tom the other day.
  • And they're trying to make sure he doesn't just get cut out
  • of his high performing city districts and get
  • thrown into Henrietta.
  • So Harry's going to need help.
  • That's part of the problem.
  • You can go on a roll, and it's success, success.
  • You're really going up there.
  • But then through things that you can't control,
  • like these stupid legislators who,
  • instead of doing an independent redistricting,
  • are just doing their own goddamn thing anyway.
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: What about the future generations coming up
  • behind us?
  • SUE COWELL: I don't know.
  • I pray for them.
  • I don't know.
  • The social networking and everything,
  • it does kind of put you instantaneously in touch.
  • So I think that there is definitely
  • a group of younger activists and philanthropists who
  • will come up through the ranks.
  • I don't want to judge them harshly
  • like our parents maybe judged us.
  • But I don't know.
  • It's, unfortunately, it's that time will tell.
  • EVELYN BAILEY: Talk just a little bit about the Riverview.
  • Because you were--
  • KEVIN INDOVINO: Riverview but any of those places
  • that you were pandering when you came here.
  • SUE COWELL: Well, that's actually in here, too,
  • which-- (pause) well, I think this was
  • something with the Riverview.
  • It was totally the hangout for women.
  • And so we actually did a fundraiser for the Riverview,
  • because we wanted to clean it up so it would be a nicer place.
  • So, "The first annual picnic and all around fun time,
  • Alix Dobkin, lesbian feminist singer and writer,
  • will be our guest of honor, joining us