Ada Bello (born 1933), Interviewed February 7, 1993
by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2014. All rights reserved.
I interviewed Ada Bello on February 7, 1993, at her home in East Falls, Philadelphia. I knew about Bello primarily because I had earlier transcribed the audiotape of a 1983 public forum in Philadelphia in which Bello and Barbara Gittings discussed their involvement in the homophile movement. I was particularly interested in interviewing Bello because she was a leader in the Philadelphia chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Philadelphia-based Homophile Action League; I also thought that because she was a Cuban American and an immigrant to the United States, she would have useful and interesting things to say about Philadelphia gay and lesbian life. I may have first met Bello at the Philadelphia gay and lesbian community center, where I was an archival volunteer and did research on my Ph.D. dissertation. In October 1993, I provided Bello with a copy of the transcript of our interview; she made several corrections that I have incorporated into the text that follows. I occasionally corresponded with Bello over the next several years, partly because in 1996 I began a long-term relationship with a Cuban American man and they were interested in learning more about each other; the three of us met for lunch during one of my visits to Philadelphia. Before my book was published in 2000, Bello provided me with several photographs of her and Carole Friedman, which are included below. In 2013, I contacted Bello to ask her permission before posting our interview on this website. She agreed, though she reminded me about her earlier corrections and asked me to use my discretion in making additional editorial changes. In 1993, Bello provided me with the following biographical information:
Date of Birth: 6 November 1933
Place of Birth: Havana, Cuba
Place of Mother's Birth: Madeira Island (Portugal)
Mother's Occupation: Homemaker
Place of Father's Birth: Cuba
Father's Occupation: Lawyer and Judge
Race/Ethnicity: White and Hispanic
Religious Background: Catholic
Class Background: Middle Class
1958-61: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
1961-62: Picayune, Mississippi
1962-70: Germantown, Philadelphia
1970-??: West Philadelphia
19??-Present: East Falls, Philadelphia
1962-80: Medical Laboratory Assistant, University of Pennsylvania
1980-??: Medical Laboratory Researcher, University of Pennsylvania and Food and Drug Administration
Marc Stein Interview with Ada Bello, February 7, 1993. Transcribed by Katharine Bausch, Kate Wilson, and Marc Stein.
MS: I thought I would start by asking about your early years in Cuba and then in Louisiana. Could you start by describing how it is that you came to decide that you were a lesbian?
AB: Well that is something that surprises most people and surprises even myself. I don't think I ever had any doubt that I was a lesbian.
AB: And at first I perceived it as a problem. What am I going to do with this peculiarity? Once I realized that it was possible to actually live that lifestyle and once I left Cuba, just leaving your family and friends behind gives you a lot of leeway.
MS: Did you know lesbians or gay men when you were growing up in Cuba?
AB: Not until I got to the university. Well I'm sure I did, but I didn't recognize them and we didn't acknowledge each other. Of course I remember having crushes on teachers.
MS: And other girls who were good friends?
AB: Yes, but I saw that it was a tremendous burden on me, having these feelings. But once I got to Havana University and a wider circle of people, they started popping up.
MS: And you were there in the '50s?
AB: I was there from '53 to '56. And then Batista closed the university. He closed the university in '56. I don't know if you're familiar with the autonomy of the universities in most of Latin America and also some countries in Europe. They're autonomous in the sense that the police of the country had no control over the territory. It was almost like it's foreign territory. And I suspect that it coincides with countries that had a strong Catholic background and population. And it was thought of as a way to protect academic freedom, but also produced the fact that all of the revolutions were plotted inside the universities, because the students could actually run into the university for cover and the police couldn't follow. So that's what was happening in Cuba at the time. I mean that was happening in Cuba in every revolution. That was in effect as long as the constitution was in effect, so Batista would lift the constitutional guarantees ninety days at a time. And that gave the police free hand to go into the university, not only following students but also for searches, real search and destroy operations.
MS: Were you caught up in any of that?
AB: Yes, in several shootings, because they would come in without announcement. The students would throw rocks and they would shoot. I mean they killed two presidents of the student association within six months.
MS: Is that right? And you said you were politically active?
AB: I wasn't particularly politically active. I think I was the representative of my class to the student federation, but I was very low. So personally I wasn't particularly threatened other than the fact that a bullet would get anyone. But the effect was that they had to close the university because once they sent them in, it was just too much. Without the constitutional guarantees to protect the autonomy, the students would have risks. So I waited for a year to see if anything happened and then it didn't happen, so I decided to just come here and finish.
MS: And that's when you went to Louisiana State?
AB: Right. And that was '58.
MS: You said you knew some lesbians and gay men at the university in Havana?
MS: I assume they weren't organized in any groups.
AB: We were very closeted. I'm sure they had social groups, but the idea of being organized politically for any kind of civil rights issue was totally out of the question. And it's interesting to me that people think that the antigay feeling in Cuba came with Castro. Well it had been there all along. It was tolerated. Gay life was tolerated in Havana because it was, for the tourists, an attraction. In Havana, the reputation was you could buy anything you wanted of any gender. But there was no acceptance and they could actually be beaten up without any consequences. That would happen all the time.
MS: Did you ever meet with any kind of violence or legal problems?
AB: No, because I never did much. I mean I had some girlfriends. It was very narrow. It was a very confined sort of situation. We were very discreet and we had to not only protect ourselves from our families, but also from friends. The student residents were about seventeen women and we had very little supervision. Everybody had a key and you could go in and out anytime you want. But it was far worse than the dormitory at LSU, where I had to sign in and out, because it seemed to me that out of the seventeen women, there were sixteen guardians. If I had done anything that would have made me suspect, I would have been in really big trouble. It was not the university. It was not even whoever was running the house. It was my peers. They were quite effective.
MS: So then you went to Louisiana State. And did that sort of life continue for you there? Not much legal trouble?
AB: Yeah. I had no particular legal trouble. Again, it was a question of being discreet and there it was a little bit easier because nobody knew me. I had some friends, but by then practically everybody that I knew was a lesbian. I didn't know many gay men. In fact I knew some guys there that I didn't know were gay. I found out later that they were gay. Everybody was keeping it very secret. So to me, it was a revelation. I mean going to New Orleans, going to a place where there were women dancing, blew my mind. So that became the favorite thing to do on the weekend, go to the French Quarter.
MS: So would you go to bars and clubs and things?
MS: And had you not done that in Havana?
AB: Well I didn't know of any place that was exclusively gay. I used to go to some that I had heard were where gay people went. I mostly went just to see, but I never actually had any particularly interesting encounter or anything like that in Havana.
MS: Why don't you describe for me some of the places you went to in New Orleans?
AB: Well there was quite a range. There were quite elegant places in the Quarter that attracted an older clientele. I can't remember the name. It probably had a French name because it had been there for a long time. In fact, I think it was owned or run by a woman who was like a character. And then there were the places by the river that were really rough dives and I used to go down with some male friends. So that was actually often where I could go. I could go anywhere I wanted because I wasn't alone.
MS: Were they gay men?
AB: Yeah, by that time I had met some gay men, some Cubans and Americans. And I remember actually going to some tavern by the river that was called something like La Casa de los Marinos, which is the Mariner's House, and running into my German teacher, who was obviously cruising.
MS: It was a man or a woman?
AB: It was a man.
MS: And what did he say?
AB: Nothing. He said, “Hello,” and so I said, “Hello,” and that was it. We never mentioned it.
MS: So were most of the places mixed, gay men and lesbians, or were some places just lesbians?
AB: Well most of the places in the Quarter were mixed. La Casa de Los Marinos was mostly men. And this rather upper class place, that was mixed. And outside the Quarter there was another bar that was all lesbians and it was called the Tender Trap, which I think had been a movie title.
MS: I think I've seen a news item about that because I think there was a fire there.
AB: Oh really? Well I'm not surprised. But I couldn't even tell you where it was. I remember driving there a couple of times with friends, but I wasn't doing the driving, so I don't remember where it was. It seemed to me that it had more working class clientele. It was in one of the neighborhoods rather than in the Quarter.
MS: What about the cultural differences? Did you find anything substantially different from Havana because you weren't a native to this country? Or was New Orleans such a special kind of place that it didn't seem so strange?
AB: You mean in terms of gay life or in terms of everyday life?
MS: In terms of gay life.
AB: To tell you the truth, I had so little experience of full gay life in Havana that my idea of what people who were gay in Havana did was that they lived through a lot of trouble trying to cover up or they went into phony marriages in which they would marry somebody who was also gay and then they would just go their separate ways. I mean here people were open, fairly open anyway, as far as sharing apartments and things like that. So that was an improvement. I didn't like the idea of having to either cover up most of my life or just going through a marriage of convenience.
MS: Was your sense in the Louisiana days that gay men and lesbians got along pretty well?
AB: At that point, yes. I think so. It wasn't so much that they got along; it was that the women were more willing to take the way men were. But I knew several women who had very good male friends of long standing and they supported each other whenever they have problems. They even might travel together.
MS: But there were some things that women would have found to be a problem later on?
AB: Well I think that there were things that probably they would have.
MS: Can you think of what some of those were?
AB: Well the attitude that they had that whenever they wanted to ridicule something they would use female names or pronouns, which still exists today, but I think they're a little bit more careful. You see it on the stage. And there were some gay men that I felt were anti-female. And they were able to say things about females, perhaps not gay females but straight women, that now they would probably think twice before saying: “bitch” and all that sort of stuff. But nobody thought anything of that then.
MS: What about what I know later came to be called role playing and butch/fem? Was that part of life in the bars?
AB: Very much so. It was a pain, because it sort of limited whom you could approach. And also in a relationship, I was never too impressed with that. I tried not to do it, not so much because I was trying to be politically correct but because I thought it was stupid. Some women wouldn't even allow their girlfriends to cut their hair short. It was obvious that they were trying to mimic heterosexual couples. So I was very glad when that disappeared. But that was very much enforced at the time.
MS: So did people try to fix you as one or the other?
AB: Oh yeah. I mean I was always a butch, except I couldn't fix a car. I mean I couldn't do a lot of the things a butch was supposed to do, so I was at a disadvantage. I was a sissy butch.
MS: Is that the phrase they used?
AB: No, but I think that is how I would have defined myself. I didn't know anything about baseball, football. So for me, it was never a problem in terms of whom I related to. But in a couple of cases I might have developed more interest in somebody except that I knew that this person considered herself a butch and I couldn't approach her. I guess it would have been true homosexuality.
MS: And that would have been shocking.
AB: Yes, right.
MS: But it was very present in the bars?
AB: Yeah, it definitely was.
MS: And was that true for the Cuban Americans that you knew in Louisiana, as well as for the native-born Americans?
AB: Yes, for the Cuban Americans. I think because the more restrictive a society you come from, the more you tend to see yourself as a reflection of the society that oppresses you. I mean to this day, when I saw the Cubans coming in 1980 with the Mariel exodus, they were still playing husband and wife. That was very much the thing in Cuba.
MS: If there was a Cuban person here who said to you that you didn't get into the butch/fem lifestyle because you were becoming more American, how would you have responded? Do you know what I mean?
AB: Yeah, that's a good one. Well I think they could have said that. I don't think I would take it very seriously because I see the reason to present that sort of differentiation as a hangover from oppression. And whether it was here or in Timbuktu, once I felt that I could be myself, I didn't have to mimic the larger society.
MS: Right. Sounds like a good response to me. So was it in '61 or '62 that you came to Philadelphia? Or you moved to Mississippi first?
AB: Yeah, I was there for a year and then I just came to Philadelphia. A friend of mine had moved here and I knew that I had a place to stay until I found a job.
MS: Was it a lesbian?
AB: It was a lesbian, but it wasn't a lover. It was another Cuban, in fact.
MS: How did she come up here? What was she doing here?
AB: Well she had come here to go to school even before meeting me. I met her in Baton Rouge, where she had been in school. She had dropped out and gotten a job. She had a job there for several years and then eventually decided that she wanted to move north. So she came up. She actually became one of the chairs of H. A. L.
MS: Can you say her name?
AB: Yes. Lourdes Alvarez. She owned a print shop, the Replica Print Shop, which is still the name. Until recently she and her lover owned it. She lives now in the Pines, out in New Jersey somewhere.
MS: And so she gave you a place to stay when you first moved here?
AB: Yeah, Wayne Avenue. She had an apartment and had gotten a job in Philadelphia.
MS: Where was she living?
AB: Wayne Avenue in Germantown. That's why I ended up settling in Germantown, because she was there and so I just found an apartment in the neighborhood.
MS: How long did you stay with her? Do you remember?
AB: Probably about six weeks, until I found a job and I could get an apartment.
MS: And why did you want to move north?
AB: Well there were several reasons. I didn't like the South. When I first came to this country, I was aware of the tremendous discrimination, but somehow I didn't think it was real. Coming from a Latin country where there is a very sharp distinction between what the government tells you to do and what you do, I guess I thought it was like that, that people didn't feel like that, that they were ruled. And it blew my mind when I realized that it was for real, that you couldn't even drive with a black person next to you in the front of your car. And there were cases in which it would be raining outside and I would be eating in a restaurant and it would have a take-out window and blacks would come to the take-out window. They couldn't come inside. So that bothered me.
MS: So you didn't experience anything like that yourself as a Cuban? It was more what you saw.
AB: Oh no. Well first of all, I was white. Second, I looked too much like everybody else. Integration at the level of the middle class was so much easier. So I didn't have any problems like that. I had some incidents that I found funny, never having experienced discrimination. I thought they were the stupid ones, not me. My parents came to visit for a month the last summer that I was in school and I had to get an apartment for them. So I kept calling from the paper and nobody wanted to settle on the phone. Everybody wanted to see me. I was going through finals and I didn't have time to be driving all over town. So I mentioned this to an American friend and said, “Why is it that they don't want to commit themselves over the phone?” She said, “They want to see you and see if you are white.” That blew my mind. To me it was funny, because I had never really been discriminated against. It was, “How stupid can you get?” But I can imagine somebody who had suffered serious discrimination would want to kill. So basically I can't say that I was at the receiving end of their stupidity. Going to Picayune, Mississippi, didn't help, because that was even worse. I mean there it was really serious. There had been lynchings and I think probably the last lynching in the South occurred about six months before I got there in a town that was not far from Picayune. And the Freedom Riders had started coming through. And the place where I worked was a lab; I was a chemist. I had to put up with some of the conversation about the Freedom Riders. I was basically afraid that they were going to ask me my opinion. I couldn't actually say what I didn't feel. I mean I was going to have to be truthful. And that was going to put a barrier between me and everybody else. Somebody did ask me once and I just tried to explain to them that I thought that it was very unfair. I used some grammar school example. Ralph Bunche, the black guy, had just gotten the Nobel Peace Prize. So I said, “See? He comes to town, he can't stay in a hotel? How will the world look at that?” So they didn't lynch me, but the reaction was, “You are a foreigner. You don't understand.” So I guess in a way I was saved by the fact that I wasn't one of them. So they didn't expect me to know better. But I didn't feel very comfortable in the South. I felt that as long as I stayed there I was part of their system. So coming north to me was a great liberation in that respect. I remember walking around Germantown and seeing the variety of people. I was so sick and tired of seeing pale, blond people. I mean the black population was tremendous. It probably was higher, I'm sure, in Picayune, Mississippi, and in Baton Rouge than the percentage of the population black population up here, but you never saw black people. You saw the servants, but you never saw them in the street going to stores and so forth.
MS: And why Philadelphia? Was it because you had a friend here? You didn't know people in New York or other cities?
AB: Well I had some family in New York, but that wasn't the reason. Mostly because Lourdes came here and I knew her and I knew she knew other people here, so I felt that it was easy to get integrated into not only the gay group but just friends.
MS: What were your first few weeks here like? How did you go about finding a job and finding an apartment?
AB: Well finding a job, the newspaper. The first night I went to a gay bar. They took me. Lourdes was seeing somebody at the time. I just had driven up in two days from Louisiana and was half dead. But I just took a shower and it was a place on 15th Street across from Fifteenth Street Bookbinders. It was called the Businessmen's Association. It was a lesbian bar. It was upstairs. And I remember I was very tired. I got very drunk, going home very late, and then the next morning going to Atlantic City with a tremendous hangover.
MS: Was that for another adventure with lesbians?
AB: Well yeah. In Atlantic City on the boardwalk, there were bars on New York Avenue. There was one called Dirty Eddy's or Dirty somebody. It was supposed to be a gay bar. But we mostly went to the gay beach, which was on Indiana Avenue. It might still be there, if anybody goes to the beach in Atlantic City anymore. That was really a rather large concentration of gay people.
MS: Gay men and lesbians?
AB: Yes. And of course the men—now I'm going to sound like the old gay guys sounded about women—always took the whole apartment to the beach. They had a blanket and they had books and they had radios and hair dryers. I mean it was amazing. So it was fun.
MS: And all that was in the first few days?
AB: Yes, it was. I knew I had made the right decision.
MS: And can you tell me something more about the Businessmen's Association?
AB: Well it was a bar the way bars were at that time. I'm sure it was protected by the Mafia and they paid the police. There was a woman, actually, who received everybody on top of the stairs and insisted on kissing them. It was like a ritual. She probably was just the bouncer, but I don't think that would happen today.
MS: All women in the bar?
AB: All women.
MS: And was it mixed racially?
AB: Yes. The number of black lesbians in most bars in Center City was very small. I don't know of any bar that had an explicit policy not to admit black women. I don't even know if they had other bars that we didn't know about or maybe they just didn't go to bars.
MS: You didn't know then and you don't now?
AB: In fact, this is going to sound truly weird, but I went to Rusty's for the first time with a black woman who was straight. She was good friend of people I knew and of my friend Lourdes. She was one of the contacts that she had had when she came to Philadelphia. And she didn't mind going out for a drink to gay bars. So I just went with her.
MS: Do you remember what year that was?
AB: That must have been the same year, 1962 actually, because that was the year that I covered all bars.
MS: Could you describe for me some of the other ones? There were those two?
AB: Actually for lesbian bars, that was it. I don't think there was anything else.The Businessmen's Association didn't last too long. I don't think it lasted more than a year.
MS: Did you ever go to the gay men's bars?
AB: Not then, I don't think so. Next to Rusty's, you know where Rusty's used to be?
MS: Why don't you tell me? I think I know.
AB: On the side of the Forrest, upstairs, it used to be Barone's, the bar. I think there's a bar there now. Barone's fronted on Walnut Street and upstairs was Rusty's. You had to go down the alley and up the stairs. So that was the main women's bar. That was there for a long time. Now next to that there was an after-hours club and it was also upstairs and it was called the USA&A or something like that.
MS: Was that just men or was it men and women?
AB: I think it was mixed and I usually went there after Rusty's closed, because it was a private club and you could go there and get more drinks.
MS: And who were you going out with at this point, friends that you made through Lourdes?
AB: Yeah, mostly.
MS: And was it mostly other Cubans or was it a mixed group?
AB: No Cubans. Lourdes was the only Cuban I knew for the longest time. Well I knew some of the people from Baton Rouge, but they didn't live here. They had scattered. To a surprising extent we have kept in touch over the years, but in Philadelphia there was only Lourdes. And for the longest time, that's what I did. I used to go to Rusty's almost every Saturday and meet friends and hang out. I guess a lot of people did that. And then Sundays I went to Atlantic City to the gay beach.
MS: You did that a lot?
AB: Yeah, especially the first two years here. I feel that I did that almost every weekend. I mean in a way it was like a kid in a candy shop.
MS: How do you mean, because there was so much?
AB: Yeah, there was so much. I had found people like me and there was a world that I could just go in anytime I wanted. I wasn't particularly oppressed at Penn. It's the sort of environment where you could be yourself within reason. Remember it was the sixties.
MS: Did people at Penn know that you were lesbian?
AB: Some did. I don't think that I made any particular effort to let them know. At the same time, I didn't cover particularly because in a way they were not only liberals, but they had an obligation to act liberal. So even if they didn't like it, they couldn't do much.
MS: So you didn't ever have any trouble?
MS: Did you know any other lesbians or gay men who worked there?
AB: No actually. I'm sure again that they probably were there, but I never did meet anyone there.
MS: Did you know any other gay or lesbian businesses in the city, aside from bars, that you would go to because you knew that it was a comfortable space? Restaurants or stores?
AB: No. Restaurants came much later. No, I don't remember. There were a couple of restaurants maybe. I remember one in particular. It was a French restaurant. It was owned by two women, but I don't think they were lesbians.
MS: And no bookstores or anything like that?
AB: No, only the men's bookstores like the Clark Polak type of place, but not until Giovanni's.
MS: You didn't have any contact in those first early few years with the political movement in the city? Is that right?
AB: No, not until 1967.
MS: Maybe before we move into that phase, I'll ask a couple more questions about the early 1960s. Did you have a sense at that time that there were any lesbian or gay neighborhoods in the city?
AB: I wouldn't say neighborhoods. Of course there were areas where I knew gay people would congregate, mostly downtown. There were certain restaurants and some of the Dewey's, which was a chain of fast food places. If you went after the bars, everybody went there. Sort of like the Savoy now, where everybody goes after the bars. But that was the extent of it. I didn't really know if there was any particular neighborhood where there was a large congregation.
MS: What about Rittenhouse Square?
AB: The Square or the neighborhood?
MS: Well the Square itself.
AB: No it never occurred to me. Like a cruising place?
MS: And what about Germantown itself? Did you know a lot of lesbians or gay men in Germantown?
AB: Not really. There was a bar once on Germantown Avenue. Again, it was upstairs. No wonder they go up in flames. They're always such firetraps.
MS: When was that? Do you remember?
AB: That was probably in the late 1960s. Maybe Barbara remembers the name. Barbara never went to bars unless there was some political action involved. But that was the closest I think Germantown came to any type of gay involvement in the time I was here.
MS: A lot of people talk about there being a lot of gay house parties. People would have them in their homes.
AB: Oh yeah.
MS: Did you go to a lot of those?
AB: Yeah, because I mean friends would have them. Other than the bars, that was the way people got together. And a lot of people couldn't go to the bars because they had jobs that they considered sensitive, like schoolteachers, because remember the bars got raided quite frequently.
MS: Were you ever in a bar that was raided? I know that you described that time in Rusty's.
AB: Right. That was the closest. Actually no, I take that back. After that, I was back at Rusty's with somebody who I don't know if I would say she was a lesbian. I don't think she is a lesbian. And I was having not a sexual but a romantic involvement with this woman and we had had dinner and we were going to Rusty's and she was applying for her citizenship. So she was quite reluctant. And I said, “Oh, just for a drink.” And they came. And because I was so anxious to protect her, I think they got suspicious. The minute they came into the room, I just popped up and said, “She's here as a visitor. She doesn't have anything to do with this place.” So they pulled me out and they made me show my identity and they shouted out loud in my face, but then they left. But by then I was a citizen, so I really didn't feel too threatened. But it wouldn't have been very good.
MS: When did you become a citizen?
AB: Early '60s. I would say about 1963. No, I take that back because I remember joining the Daughters of Bilitis under a false name. So did Lourdes because we were both going for citizenship. I'd have to look up my visa application.
MS: The time you were with the other woman must have been in the late '60s.
AB: That was much later, yeah.
MS: What were the house parties like? Were they really big groups of people or small dinner parties?
AB: Well it depends. I had a friend from somewhere in Jenkintown and she had a lot of friends. And she loved to cook, so it was a combination. She would have a big dinner party and then everybody would stay and drink and sometimes sleep over if they didn't want to drive back. My friend Lourdes used to have parties for New Year's instead of going to the bar, which was always too crowded on New Year's.
MS: Would these be mostly all women or gay men as well?
AB: Well it changed. Parties usually were mixed, but Lourdes's were usually all women.
MS: So there was some amount of socializing back and forth?
AB: Oh yeah.
MS: But there was also some amount of socializing separately, it sounds like.
AB: I think that it was divided more out of whatever people felt comfortable with. If you had a circle of friends that was mixed, you just invited them. If you had a circle of friends that were all women, then that's who you would invite. I mean Lourdes and I both had some male friends, but they just partied elsewhere.
MS: And did you ever have people over?
AB: Yes I did, but I had a very small place, so I didn't have a big party. I mostly had small dinner parties. Later on, when I moved to the house of course, it was different. But back then the parties had a different connotation. It was a real party for an occasion, not just an opportunity to get together because there was no other place to get together.
MS: Right. But you said a second ago that you think the house parties were as important as the bars?
AB: Well especially for people who couldn't go to the bars. I knew a whole group of lesbians that I had met indirectly through Lourdes who were all schoolteachers. They were terrified. At some point, in fact, they actually distanced themselves from me because they found out I frequented bars. And they did a lot of socializing among themselves. But that was just about the only thing they could do and then go out together, but to straight places, like restaurants. They had to go out as a group and then they would go to one of their apartments and maybe have coffees and drinks. But they were totally cut off from the community at large because they were very fearful.
MS: Did you have any relationships during these first few years in Philadelphia?
AB: Yeah, I had a relationship with somebody I met at a bar for several years. And then I had a relationship with Carole Friedman. Carole and I were lovers for all the time when we were putting out a newsletter. Once the newsletter died, we separated.
MS: That's a good reason to put out a newsletter. So the first relationship was with someone you met in a bar?
AB: Yeah. It was the first relationship I had in Philadelphia. I had another relationship in Baton Rouge. And I had some quasi-relationships in Havana, but they were so furtive you could hardly call it any kind of relationship.
MS: The first one here, what was the relationship like?
AB: It was a Cuban friend that I had met in Cuba, in fact, and I didn't know she was a lesbian. I guess she didn't know I was a lesbian. We probably both suspected each other. In a way it was almost like an extension of the friendship, maybe because we were in a strange environment together.
MS: You just ran into each other in the bar?
AB: No, no. Actually I knew that she was at LSU when I came to LSU. And then after that I had a relationship with an American woman for maybe a year and a half.
MS: That was here?
AB: That was in Baton Rouge. And then I left to go to Picayune and then I came here.
MS: And the first relationship here in Philadelphia?
AB: Was with this woman, whom I met in a bar, at Rusty's in fact, and lived in New York. She used to come on the weekends. It was very good. We both had a lot of freedom because she lived in New York and I lived here and we'd just get together for the weekend. It was almost like having a vacation.
MS: Did you go up there as often as she came down here?
AB: Yeah, I went to New York sometimes, but actually she almost preferred coming here. Because I think she knew very few gay people in New York and here she got incorporated into the larger group that I already had.
MS: How did you get introduced at the bar? Did one of you come up to the other one?
AB: I'm not sure, but I think she came over with a beer and she sat down and she started asking me questions about the place. She had come to Philadelphia, jumped in a cab, and asked the cab driver to take her to a gay bar.
AB: It was that brazen. And the guy said, “I don't know of any, but I think I can get somebody from the office who does.” And then he called on the radio and got the address of Rusty's.
MS: Is that right? That's interesting. So someone at the cab company knew?
AB: Right. I don't know if it was somebody who knew somebody who worked there or went there or if this was something that was standard information they gave to tourists. But that's how I think I met Nancy. She just came there because of a cab driver.
MS: And then you said you got involved with Carole Friedman. That was later on?
AB: That was later on.
MS: Well maybe we should talk, then, about the DOB. So you weren't at all involved with the Mattachine Society that was started here in '65 or '66, the second one?
MS: So you hadn't heard of the Janus Society or Trojan Book Service or any of that?
AB: I had heard, I think, of the Janus Society. I had heard of the ONE Institute and the Daughters of Bilitis.
MS: Do you remember how you heard about them?
AB: Well I knew people in Baton Rouge who had been more politically radical within the movement. One of them had been instrumental, I think, with ONE Institute at some point, either working with them or giving them money or something.
MS: Do you remember the name or could you say the name?
AB: I'd rather not involve them. You can turn this off.
MS: So you hadn't heard of any of the local groups?
AB: No, I had not heard of any of the local groups. I think that I had heard of Barbara Gittings. It was probably through Nancy. Nancy, who was my lover at the time, had been in some function in New York and Barbara had been there. So I knew she existed. I knew she lived in Philadelphia, but that was it. And then somebody owned a print shop and she had an office in the Land Title Building. I think it's still there on Broad Street.
MS: What's the cross street?
AB: It's either Chestnut or Walnut. She started contacting people. And I don't even remember how she knew about me, but somehow I got contacted and she wanted to start a chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis. It was an older woman who had had a long relationship with another woman and the other woman had died. So she was probably about two or three years from retirement, but she had more time on her hands.
MS: So it was an older woman?
MS: Now was this Edna W.? She's listed as the president.
AB: No, she was the president. This was, I think, Lindy.
MS: She was an older woman who decided to start the chapter and somehow she got in touch with you. And I know the chapter was started in July of '67. And I saw something about how there were seventeen women at the first meeting. Does that sound right?
AB: Yeah, that sounds right. It was a small office, a lot of women.
MS: And you were there at the first meeting?
AB: Yes and so was Lourdes actually. We both joined under false names. I was Maria Smith and she was Lois Smith or something like that.
MS: Were all the women white?
MS: All middle-class, you think?
AB: Yeah, I would say.
MS: And what happened at the first meeting? Can you remember anything about it.
AB: I think there was a little bit of confusion as to which direction we wanted to go. I think the feeling of a lot of the people there was that they wanted a social group. Lindy, I'm sure, basically wanted a social group because she felt probably very lonely at that point. So I think we had a little bit of trouble getting off the ground. We didn't know in which direction to go. There was no real friction. Obviously there were people there who wanted to do other things, but we didn't know how to start. And also being a chapter of Daughters of Bilitis meant that anything you did you had to bounce at the national and wait for them to say yes or no, which precluded any kind of fast action. They start raiding the bars. You want to just contact the police. You can't. You have to contact the president of Daughters of Bilitis who happened to be vacationing in Florida.
MS: It's interesting that it was not until '67 that there was a DOB chapter. I know that when the women wanted to start something in 1960 they started the first Mattachine and then there were some women who were involved with the Janus Society. And then when some of the women were unhappy with Clark Polak, they started Mattachine in '65 and not a DOB chapter. So that's one of the things I've been confused about. Why did it take so long in Philadelphia and why did the women who were involved earlier twice affiliate with the Mattachine Society and not with the Daughters of Bilitis?
AB: I don't know, because I didn't even know anybody who was associated with any kind of political group before. Marge McCann, I understand, was part of the Mattachine.
MS: Right. I need to ask her about that. But did people in the group know about the Janus Society?
AB: I don't think so. I know that some people there knew Clark Polak. In fact, Edna, I believe, did. Edna was, I think, working for IBM at the time. And she had been in the city. She lived in Jersey, but she often hung out in Philadelphia and she knew quite a few people. And I think Clark was one of them. But I don't think she had had any kind of political involvement before.
MS: Well I know the first newsletter came out in August of '67 and C.F. and A.B. are listed as editors. So that was you and Carole Friedman?
AB: That's right.
MS: You two were lovers at that point?
AB: Yeah I think so. Yes, I'm sure we were.
MS: Is she still around?
AB: She's in Albany. Last I heard she was in Albany. She's the director of some museum. And that was about maybe two years ago when I heard from her.
MS: Do you remember who you sent the newsletter to, how you generated a mailing list?
AB: Well the newsletter was printed by Lindy, I guess, because she had a print shop. And we tried to distribute it. We didn't mail it at the beginning. I don't think we did mail it. We tried to distribute it to places. I'm sure that Clark took some. I know that I tried to put some at the bookstore at Penn and they wouldn't take them.
MS: Is that right? The Penn Book Center?
AB: Yeah, I guess. That was way back. That wasn’t the first issue. That came a little bit later.
MS: You distributed them in the bars? Is that what you were doing?
AB: We did that. If we were going downtown on a Saturday night, we would just take some and put them in the bar.
MS: What were the bars that you were going to at that point? Still Rusty's?
AB: Well I don't remember taking any to Rusty's. I don't know why. I sort of remember just putting them in some of the mailboxes, but I think that happened when we started having programs because we started having forums. That was later. We might have mailed some of these to other organizations. And we definitely had to send some to the national DOB.
MS: And you said you think Clark took some and distributed them?
AB: Yeah, I'm sure he did, because he actually liked to cooperate.
MS: He liked to cooperate?
MS: Do you know what would he have been doing with them?
AB: He had a warehouse at the time. There was also a place. Was it Jay's Place?
MS: Jay's Place was a little bit later.
AB: It was a little bit later.
MS: But I know he had a building where I think you all shared an office. In September of '67 the newsletter lists the new office, 34 South 17th Street, the Middle City Building. And that's the same building where the Janus Society and Clark's office was. Does that sound familiar?
AB: No. That's funny because I thought that we moved. Oh, yeah, O.K. I guess we were getting too big for Lindy's office. That's probably where we went.
MS: So first you were meeting in Lindy's office? Was that the Land Title Building?
MS: She had the printing business.
AB: Yeah, but we couldn't actually use that address officially.
MS: Right, because it was a business.
MS: You do remember moving to the office over there? Because I noticed one of the July Fourth demonstrations was coordinated out of the DOB office over there.
AB: It has to be. Somehow the office I remember was the one on Arch Street that came much later. But I'm sure that we existed somewhere.
MS: Did you know Clark Polak? Had you met him?
AB: Yeah, I met him a couple of times.
MS: What did you think of him? A lot of people have strong feelings.
AB: Actually I remember taking issue with one of the things he said at Temple that rape was natural. And I wrote something about that.
MS: I just read that last week. So at least in that instance you weren't too pleased.
AB: Yeah, but that was an example of the insensitivity. You assumed men were going to be insensitive and you almost took it for granted and you might just scream a little but try to dismiss it. You know, they just don't know better.
MS: But you said that he was pretty cooperative.
AB: As far as being cooperative, I think he was helpful. He might have even contributed some money.
MS: Maybe I'll just refer, then, to some of the things I saw in the newsletter. I know that what you said about Polak was from the Temple University News. I know that there was an article that Carole wrote about the Nancy Love piece that appeared in Philadelphia Magazine. At first she praises it. And then she said, "The only negative note was a short reference to DOB, which implied that the organization's aims are primarily of a social nature. A letter has been sent to the editor of the magazine correcting this impression and commending the article.” I guess this is what you were saying before, that some of the people wanted it to be social and others wanted it to be political.
AB: That's right. And Carole and I were very interested in getting at the civil libertarian issue and political issue. Nobody there had a lot of experience. Barbara Gittings wasn't part of the group and we didn't actually bring her in because we didn't have anything to offer other than sitting around and trying to decide what we wanted to be in the future.
MS: In the piece that Nancy Love wrote in the Philadelphia Magazine, I'll just read you this passage. She wrote, “Unfortunately homophile organizations don't seem to get anywhere in Philadelphia. The Janus Society, for male and female homosexuals, is still in existence, but most of the women members left it in a row about the kind of male cheesecake artwork that was appearing in the society's magazine. They started their own group, a chapter of the national Mattachine Society, but that petered out very quickly. Now a few local women have started a chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis to, among other things, provide a homosexual meeting place outside of bars. This, they believe, would elevate their image and it probably would if they could attract more than a handful of members.” You were going to the bars and didn't necessarily have the same feelings as Barbara Gittings. And yet this article suggests that the DOB was trying to distance itself from the bars. What do you remember about that?
AB: You mean in terms of why did I join DOB?
AB: Definitely I didn't join because I needed the social contact. I guess by now I had started to realize that there was a need to organize and that was an organization that had already been established and it wasn't getting anything off the ground.
MS: Do you remember any attitudes that some of the members had about the bars that you took issue with?
AB: Well a number of them did actually go to bars, but bars were never a very good place to make friends. They were too loud and involved a lot of drinking. That was actually something that was very prevalent among lesbians, I think, of that generation. A number of them tended to drink more than they would have liked and at some point they might have decided they didn't want to go to bars because they didn't want to do that. Bars are an environment in which they are so loud you can't talk, so the only other thing you can do is either dance or drink or both. I don't think that there was anybody who was there because they couldn't go to the bars, because they wouldn't have come. I mean people who were deadly scared of being identified as a lesbian weren't going to go and join something called the Daughters of Bilitis. But I'm sure it was nice to be in an organization that was all women and gave you the opportunity to meet other people. But basically everybody moved over to the Homophile Action League. Nobody left because we stopped being the Daughters of Bilitis. So I think they were ready also to join into political action.
MS: I know that in late 1967 there was an article in the newsletter criticizing some proposed changes in the Pennsylvania legal code where they weren't going to decriminalize consenting adult sexual relations. And the article thanks the ACLU and Tom Harvey for doing some sort of presentation or explaining the law. Do you remember contacts with the ACLU?
AB: Yeah. Was Barbara Gittings part of us at the time? I don't remember. But I know that he came to the office and he had a presentation and we had a long meeting and we asked a lot of questions.
MS: Do you know how the contact was made?
AB: Maybe Carole did it.
MS: And they seemed pretty cooperative, right, the ACLU?
AB: Oh yeah. Yeah.
MS: I wanted to read you another thing I found. This came in the November issue and it's an article you wrote called “The Masculine Feminine Mystique.” You write, “Are we so concerned with being lesbians that we tend to forget the fact that we are also women and as such members of a quite numerous minority group because women are still subjected to a great deal of discrimination in our society? Laws exist that overtly place females in a position of disadvantage concerning job opportunities.” And you go on to talk about discrimination against women in the workplace. This is really a very early mention of this sort of issue in the movement.
MS: This sounds like the feminist movement that only really took off a couple of years later.
AB: I think that both Carole and myself were very much like that. We had some other friends who felt like that too and weren't part of H. A. L. or the Daughters of Bilitis. I mean we were aware that feminism should be an issue. And I remember exactly how when we took over the newsletter, we made a list of editorials that we were going to write. There were three people at the time. Carol Thomas, I think, wrote another editorial. We proposed whatever topic we felt that we wanted to get off our chest. I felt very strongly about the feminist issue even then. I didn't know how it was going to be taken because at that time the one-issue approach to social change was very much the rule. You don't fight two battles; talk about gay rights or talk about women's rights. Nobody talked about women's rights at the time. But it went over very well actually. Maybe they didn't read it.
MS: Where do you think you got those ideas? You weren't involved with the women's movement at that time?
MS: Just from reading?
AB: I always felt like that. Coming from a Catholic Latin country, if you're a woman and you don't feel like that, there's something wrong with you. I mean you either buckle under or leave. At that point, maybe I just was feeling the vibrations in the air. Women were starting to speak up.
MS: Was there anything that was happening at your job that was making you feel that way?
AB: Yes and no. At Penn at that time, there were problems, even if it wasn't something directly affecting me. For example, the woman who was the business administrator or who would be now the business administrator in the Microbiology Department couldn't be promoted because the next step was going from an A3 classification to an A1. And at the time they didn't want to promote her because those were slots that they were saving for Wharton graduates. So this woman who had been there for forty years and was running the whole department was still considered a secretary and she was paid accordingly. The Wharton graduates wanted to try their wings in administration and they had these slots. They couldn't reclassify this woman because that would have made her an A1 and that was that. And this was said openly. Nobody was supposed to get upset about this. I mean this is the way the world is. And the fact that at that time most of the Wharton graduates were male—now maybe it's different--that was actually very offensive. It was almost like apartheid. I mean forty years.
MS: What about the women you knew in DOB? Were any of them experiencing job discrimination?
AB: Well they didn't recognize it as such. I mean Lourdes, for example, because she never did finish architecture school, she had to be a draftsperson. She had to work in an architectural firm but she couldn't do design. She had to do the drawings. And most everybody else at that level were males and they would all go up. And she would remain behind. And there wasn't any kind of opportunity to travel or go to conventions. The men would go and she would remain behind. And again, that was the law of the land. That was the way. Personally, I felt that in my particular position, working in a lab with graduate students and post-doctorates, I knew I was at a disadvantage. I would never be part of the faculty. I had a Master's. I didn't have a Ph.D. So that was totally out of the question. I was given little chance to publish. Now I don't know if it would have been different had I been a male. I doubt it. The hierarchical strata there goes more like faculty/non-faculty. But most of the people at my level were women and people at the other level were men. It was all over. It was very obvious and it wasn't considered anything that was bad or that should be changed. People didn't even cover themselves.
MS: So what were the other sorts of issues that DOB took up in the year that it was around? I know one of the things was trying to get announcements in the media.
AB: Well we tried to put some ads, I remember, and they were turned down. At some point we wanted Barbara Gittings to get a job to see if she was refused, but I think that came after the raid at Rusty's. That was the first big action. And I think that that made people realize that we were at the crossroads, that once we had contacted the police there was no going back.
MS: I know you said in another interview that a group of the women who were in the bar when it was raided came to a DOB meeting and demanded action. And you said, I think, that Byrna Aronson was one of the people.
MS: And that then you went to the police?
AB: I didn't go personally because I had applied for citizenship, but I remember Carole went to the interview and Edna and somebody else. I think at that point we brought Barbara in because we needed somebody who had experience and now we had something to offer her. And I think it did surprise people. “Gee whiz, what have we done now?” But everybody fell in place very easily. Nobody said, “I cannot participate in this because I'm scared.”
MS: You said you didn't lose any members?
AB: I don't think so. I think Lindy eventually dropped out, but she dropped out for health reasons. I think she moved to Florida or something like that. Perhaps she wasn't particularly interested in that part of the activity, but it's understandable. She was at the end of her career and she was ready to retire.
MS: Is Edna still around?
AB: I don't know. I never hear from her. Her lover is still around. She sent me a Christmas card, but I don't think she keeps in touch with Edna.
MS: One other thing I want to ask you about DOB before switching to HAL is that it seems that a lot of the editorials and articles that you wrote consistently compare the position of homosexual men and women, as they were called then, with racial and ethnic minorities. It seems that that was something that you saw very clearly.
MS: And it was a way of explaining to people the issue. And I wonder if you'd say a little bit about that.
AB: Well I think that probably Carole was more instrumental in formulating that. Did she write an editorial about what defines a minority?
MS: She might have.
AB: I think at that point, that was a way in which the movement was starting to perceive and gay people were starting to perceive themselves as a minority and an oppressed minority. So the comparison with other minorities was natural.
MS: So it wasn't so much people from the other movements coming into the gay movement? It was more people in the gay movement watching what was happening around them?
AB: Yeah. I mean Carole had some involvement with early civil rights. Her brother was very active, so she had some political background. So she actually was able to superimpose the two pictures.
MS: I see. Was that true of anybody else in DOB that you can think of?
AB: Well we were writing the newsletter, so we actually floated the balloons. The ideas came out of that. I'm sure that probably wasn't totally original and definitely nobody had much trouble with it.
MS: Maybe your experience in Mississippi made you sensitive to that.
AB: Yeah, I had always thought in political terms. Maybe that's my background. That's in my genes. So I didn't really have to go through any kind of period of adjustment to refocus my concepts.
MS: You saw it right from the start.
AB: Yeah. I mean in a way, the only time that we encountered some opposition, and it wasn't tremendously strong, was when at some point some group was formed in New York that explicitly said that they would accept women. It was a gay male group. They would accept women, but they cannot be officers. They can only be members. It was our policy to welcome everybody new in the movement and we didn't like that. So we said so in the newsletter, that we couldn't really be very enthusiastic about them.
MS: What was the group?
AB: I don't remember the name. The name of the guy who started it was Craig Schoolmaster? Barbara probably remembers. And I think there were questions like, “Do you realize that this is a departure?” We never attacked any other group because it was a tacit policy. We said, “Well the only thing you can do is you can put a disclaimer in the newsletter that it doesn't reflect us.” But at that point, the newsletter was the thing we were doing, so they weren't about to do that. So that was the only time in which I think there was some difference between us. Perhaps we were a little bit ahead of everybody else in the organization, but there wasn't any serious dissension.
MS: There's a reference in one of the newsletters to the Reading picnic.
AB: Oh yes.
MS: What was that? I haven't heard much talk about it. It was an annual event, right?
AB: It was an annual event. There is an advertisement in one of them, in fact. Eppler's Grove in Reading. It was quite unique. Nobody knew exactly who put it on and there were all sorts of rumors about this extremely wealthy man who was very closeted and the only way he could actually go out into a group of gay people was by having this picnic.
MS: Where in Reading was it?
AB: It's a place called Eppler's Grove. If you look it up in the newsletter, they advertised one year. There was a lot of drinking and invariably there were people who were really drunk and they would start doing a strip tease. There were very few fights. It was always surprising to me to have that many people drinking so much and still the worst they did was to take off their clothes.
MS: Was this men and women?
AB: Yeah. The women didn't usually take their clothes off. It was mostly the guys.
MS: How many people would you say were there? Hundreds?
AB: Yeah. Quite a few. I mean it was an event. I went to maybe three of them.
MS: Do you remember the first one? Was it after you got involved with the movement or was it before?
AB: I think the first one was before. But I remember going there with most of the people from DOB.
MS: Was there anything else like that during the year?
AB: Not that I know of. It was quite unique. And the mystery was who ran it.
MS: Well I'll have to find out. I'll have to track it down. So the Homophile Action League starts up in late 1968 after the Rusty's raid. I know you've talked about HAL starting up and wanting to be more militant than the DOB, not have the constraints of the national organization and also wanting to be open to having male members as well. Is that pretty much why it was decided?
AB: Yeah. It was difficult to function under DOB logistically.
MS: Politically as well? Were there political differences?
AB: I don't know to what extent they wanted to be involved politically. They would have felt, perhaps, that we would have demanded more resources that they wouldn't give. But I know that the problem was having to bounce everything you were going to do at somebody in the central organization. And they weren't paid officers, so they were doing their everyday lives or taking vacations. They weren't available.
MS: It's surprising to me that the Mattachine Society, the male organization, is not centralized that way and is not hierarchical that way, but the Daughters of Bilitis was.
AB: Yeah. In fact Barbara Gittings probably was there more at the beginning of the Daughters of Bilitis. Maybe she can tell you why it was that way.
MS: And you said that it was hard to attract male members at first?
AB: Yeah, it was. And as far as I can remember, the majority remained women.
MS: Do you remember the first men who came to meetings?
AB: Yes. I don't think any of the males that came at first stayed for too long. Later on, after actually I stopped being very involved toward the end, there were more. But I don't remember anybody who came and became very active. I can't remember any names.
MS: What about Rick Rosen? Does that sound like a familiar name?
AB: Yeah. But I think he came after I had stopped participating in a lot of stuff.
MS: When was that? When did you stop?
AB: I think around 1970? It was around the time I moved to West Philadelphia, when I bought the house and got involved with fixing it.
MS: Maybe I'll check out some other names with you, some of the other men whose names I've come across. Peter Curtis or Jerry Curtis?
AB: Oh yes. Curtis.
MS: Were they the same person?
AB: Jerry Curtis.
MS: Who's he?
AB: He used to work for Western Union. No, he used to work for some shipping company in Center City. They eventually moved to a communal house in West Philadelphia.
MS: Who's they?
AB: Byrna and Curtis and I don't know about Rick and a couple of other women from H. A. L. Barbara probably knows more about that than me because I remember they organized the first dance. It was at St. Mary's?
MS: But that was after you weren't so involved.
AB: Yeah, I wasn't involved in organizing the dance.
MS: When men started coming to meetings, were there problems between men and women?
AB: I don't think so. But remember they were in the minority and they were new and the chair was always a woman.
MS: Who were the chairs after Edna?
MS: When was she chair? '69? '68?
AB: She was the chair during the first Christopher Street march because she was on the organizing committee.
MS: You mean the first parade in 1970?
AB: Right. And she probably had been chair for about a year. And then I think Byrna Aronson was chair.
MS: I know she was listed later on in '71 or so. Well let me see what goodies I dug up about HAL. I guess you at first had the same office at 34 South 17th? Is that that same place you were sharing?
AB: Yeah, we must have functioned out of somewhere.
MS: And I know that there's some mention that you started distributing an ACLU pamphlet, “If You are Arrested,” in the bars?
AB: Oh yes. That we did. Actually I remember getting signatures in Rittenhouse Square on summer nights for a petition that was going to be handed to Councilor Cohen. So that started very early, but never got much support.
MS: For the gay rights bill?
MS: And why Rittenhouse Square?
AB: Because in the summer, I think they had concerts or something. Anyplace where there was a bunch of people, you could take your petition and I remember people signing.
MS: And I guess Rittenhouse was gay enough so that you thought that at least you'd get some names?
AB: Yeah. Somehow I didn't feel that I was taking much of a risk.
MS: I came across a reference to this employment survey that HAL was doing for the Eastern Regional Conference, ERCHO. HAL agreed to coordinate this survey of several hundred East Coast employers?
AB: Yeah, I don't remember much about that. Did we actually do it? Was anything published? When was that?
MS: I think so. The first reference is in April 1969 and then in March of '70 it says, “A recent survey of 500 major East Coast employers sponsored by ERCHO and conducted by HAL gives evidence of our precarious positions in the private sector as well. Of the 500 companies surveyed, only about 20 even considered the matter serious enough to warrant a reply.” And it goes on to describe some of the responses.
AB: Yeah. I remember the survey. I don't know that I was very much involved in tabulating.
MS: Do you have any idea where they might be? I'm anxious to see if I can find them. Maybe Byrna Aronson would be a person to ask?
AB: Maybe Byrna Aronson would know. I don't know what happened to them when they moved from Arch Street. I don't know where the files went. I assume they went to that communal house.
MS: Maybe Rick Rosen would know. What do you remember about the office at 1230 Arch Street? Why did you end up going there?
AB: Because I think the one on 17th, the building was being torn down or something. I remember one Sunday afternoon where we were agonizing over where to find an office and where to find a space and how much we could pay. We found the place on Arch Street and it was really small. And I remember moving there one Sunday afternoon, just carrying everything over.
MS: Were you sharing that space with anybody else?
AB: I don't remember. But it was very small. It was somewhat more cramped than the other one. It wasn't a question that they threw us out selectively. I think they were tearing down the building.
MS: In July of '69 there's another reference to the Reading picnic that says a thousand people were there, so I guess a lot of HAL people went out to that.
AB: Yeah, probably that was the last one I went to. That was quite an event.
MS: And I know also that ERCHO met in November of '69 in Philadelphia for a big conference, a big movement conference. And it was at that conference that they decided to not have any more of the Independence Hall demonstrations and to start having the Christopher Street parade.
AB: I think that was a conference where the Gay Liberation Front came. They were convinced that we were worse than reactionary. I mean they treated everybody like that.
MS: So you were there at the conference?
AB: Yeah and I was on the wrong side obviously. I mean I was on the receiving end of the rap. But things were happening. We just became obsolete overnight, just from the name. I mean after Stonewall, anything called homophile was just ready for the dustbin. So in a way I understand. I mean they were part of the making of the future, except it was somewhat unpleasant. We actually had the conference in a bar. It was called My Sister's Place during the day and then it became a bar at night.
MS: So the restaurant was called My Sister's Place?
AB: I think it was a bar. But it could have been a bar and a restaurant.
MS: Do you remember where?
AB: Yeah, I think it was on Walnut on the second floor at about 20th.
MS: About how many people were at this conference?
AB: I would say about maybe fifteen or twenty, no more.
MS: So it was a relatively small. And were the people from GLF men?
AB: There were three people. I think there were two men and a woman.
MS: And the rest were Philadelphia people?
AB: Yeah. And some people from New York, some other groups from New York.
MS: The West Side Discussion Group was a calming influence?
AB: Yes, obviously we were being zapped and we were reacting to the zap and they were trying to calm both sides.
MS: So was it GLF versus HAL? Was that how it really was?
AB: Well I think it was GLF versus the organizers. And because it was held in Philadelphia, HAL was the organizer. We found the space and one of the things they said is that that was a segregated environment that we were meeting in. In fact, that happened to have been one of the few female gay bars that had a large number of black women.
MS: Did they mean segregated racially?
AB: Yeah. But everything was happening like that at the time. It was a big transition. In fact, the last Fourth of July picket, that must have been '68.
MS: It was 1969. It was right after Stonewall.
AB: Stonewall, right. That was when people started holding hands. And that was like an era ended and another one began. I mean that was it. Because before we all looked like we were ready to go to church.
MS: Had you been to the pickets?
AB: Yeah, I had been. I think it was the second year I was picketing.
MS: In '69. So maybe you went in '68 too?
MS: And you noticed there was a big change from the previous year?
AB: Oh there was a big change. And I don't think they even planned it. I mean all of a sudden one couple started holding hands and then everybody started holding hands. And actually Frank Kameny got a little bit upset, because we weren't supposed to present this type of image. We weren't supposed to be doing it in public. And of course I'm sure that the press picked it up because it was the first time. It was good.
MS: Do you remember who the New Yorkers were who came down for that?
AB: I don't remember. I know that Craig Rodwell brought a whole bus from the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop?
MS: For the July Fourth?
AB: Yeah. Do you mean who came down for ERCHO?
MS: For the ERCHO conference.
AB: I don't remember the names of the three people from GLF. I know there were two women who were very active in the West Side Discussion Group. Barbara and Kay know. I don't know if they know where they are. And they came down.
MS: Did you say, in the other interview that I listened to, that HAL tried to act as a bridge between the old guard and the new guard?
AB: I guess we did. I mean as you saw we actually talked about other issues besides the narrow gay issue. But you have to remember that at that point there were starting to be serious protests against the war and the issue of protesting the war, while marching as a gay contingent, that was about to tear some organizations apart. Maybe we didn't even go that far. I don't remember actually having to make any kind of decision. I mean we used to go to Washington and protest the war. We didn't carry a HAL banner.
MS: But a lot of the same people were involved?
AB: So I think that HAL was probably fairly liberal for the time, but with that name it couldn't survive. The name itself dated us.
MS: Beyond HAL, I'm curious about what happened between lesbians and gay men in the early '70s after Stonewall, because certainly by the middle of the 1970s, with the rise of lesbian feminism and radical feminism, there was a lot of anger and tension being expressed between lesbians and gay men. I'm trying to understand what the roots of that were. You were saying before that there were often these assumptions made by gay men about women in general. Did you ever begin to feel like things were beginning to heat up and relations with gay men and lesbians were not what they ought to be?
AB: I think that we were aware of the fact all along that whenever you had dealings with organizations that were mostly male, the males would want to be doing all the talking. And at some point I guess women realized that unless they separated and made their own organization and maybe go back in only after they had found their strength, they would never be treated with any kind of equal footing. I don't remember, personally, having to leave any organization because of that. But in a way I actually stopped being very active in the movement when that started to happen. I know people in the early '70s and the late '60s who wouldn't participate in anything that males participated in. At that point, I guess, everybody was very much into rejecting tradition of any kind. I remember going to a DOB dance in New York in 1969 or 1970. At midnight on New Year's, the music stopped and everybody screams. And that was out. You couldn't do that.
MS: Because that was tradition.
AB: That was tradition. I mean that sort of thing, I think, was very symptomatic of what was going on in the country. I think basically it was a good thing.
MS: For women to separate like that?
AB: To question tradition. You might even re-accept the tradition, but you stop a minute and look at it. And sometimes you look pretty silly, like at midnight there's not much gender involved in that. I remember Rita Mae Brown was there. The first time I saw her I was really impressed with the way she looked. She looked really like a tragic figure. She was all in black. And I was really looking forward to the free-for-all at twelve o'clock. But she didn't move. She was sitting on the floor surrounded by her acolytes and never even moved or acknowledged.
MS: This was the same time you were moving to West Philly, right, in the early 1970s?
AB: Yeah, probably I was already in the house because I remember I was there with Frances, who was the woman that I bought the house with. She was my lover at that time.
MS: That was after Carole?
AB: That was after Carole. She's a friend of Walter [Lear]'s. Walter knows her very well.
MS: Oh is that right? And you two bought a house together?
MS: Did you have any trouble doing that as two women?
AB: Well, yes and no. The first time we tried, a different house, we were just exploring the possibility. They said, “Nobody would give a mortgage to two women.”
MS: Who told you that?
AB: The real estate person, somebody in Center City. We just went and explored the possibility. But then, because I was at Penn and she wasn't and I was on Penn payroll, the house had to be in my name. So there was no question.
MS: Why do you think the real estate person told you that?
AB: Because at the time that was the way it was.
MS: Was the bank, you think, going to deny you?
AB: We never went that far. The person told us and I assume it was a man. I don't even remember exactly. I don't even remember who he was.
MS: Would he have said that to any two women?
AB: Yeah, I'm sure he would have. Oh yeah. I mean who would want to buy a house with another woman? Most likely she would be a lesbian, but he didn't even have to explain.
MS: Right. How about the neighbors? How did the neighbors react when you moved in?
AB: That was West Philadelphia. That was one of the beauties of West Philadelphia. It was fine. There was no problem of any kind.
MS: What do you mean about West Philadelphia?
AB: I think they're accustomed to a lot of variety, as long as you don't trash the neighborhood.
MS: Why do you think it's a neighborhood like that? Because of the school being close by?
AB: Well I think that because of the school and because it's a neighborhood that had gone through a lot of transformation. I understand it used to be a very fancy apartment building sort of neighborhood and it went down and then they started to gentrify in a very slow process, mostly because Penn was doing that. Penn was bringing people in the neighborhood. It was program that I'm sure was thought about for the faculty, but then they extended it to everybody.
MS: You said something before about how it was around this time that women were moving to Germantown and maybe also West Philly because of real estate?
AB: Yeah, the real estate was more accessible there at the time. I moved to West Philly in 1970. We got the house for $15,000. And only like five years later you couldn't touch it. But I think it was a tolerant environment. More so than something like Roxborough or Manayunk. There weren't so many families; that's another thing. There were a lot of people associated with the university: students or people who just were working and living there.
MS: What were the areas of Philadelphia that you socialized in the most? Or felt most comfortable in? Did it continue to be Germantown and Center City and West Philly?
AB: Yes, Center City and Germantown. I knew some people in the suburbs, but again once you were out of the environment of the city you had to be more careful.
MS: But no other part of the city?
AB: No, not at that time. I know now South Philadelphia is quite gay, but it wasn't at the time.
MS: And were each of those three places as gay male as they were lesbian-oriented? Center City, Germantown, and West Philly?
AB: I think more males in Center City than in Germantown and West Philadelphia. For two reasons: males go to bars more, so they feel more comfortable if they're within walking distance. The area is not that important for women. And also it's cheaper out of Center City.
MS: So lesbians were going to Germantown and West Philly. And I know you were telling me before that your mother ended up coming to live with you sometime in the early '70s.
AB: Yeah, in '72 she came.
MS: Did she know by this point?
AB: She never asked. She never actually acknowledged it. But she was a smart woman. I'm sure she knew, but she was a totally different generation. There was such a difference between the way she experienced her life and I experienced my life.
MS: Did you have to act differently in front of your mother with your partner?
AB: Well we never were very explicit, but I'm sure she knew. And definitely she was an inhibited person. In a way, all of the things that I had gained by leaving all my friends and family, all that feeling was somewhat curtailed by the reality of the situation. It wasn't as terrible as I thought it was going to be. I mean the fact that she had a space.
MS: Explain this to me again. When she came, you then sold the house and moved into an apartment?
AB: No, no. I had bought the house because of that. There was an apartment up on the third floor. So she had a separate space, but it was still convenient.
MS: So you had the rest of the house?
AB: Yeah, I had the rest of the house. Frances and I had the rest of the house. Basically we had two floors and she had the third floor. It's a very prevalent sort of design in West Philadelphia houses. In fact, they call the third floor apartment the mother-in-law apartment.
MS: So that was sort of true for you.
AB: Yeah, right. But the large houses, especially of that vintage, had these arrangements. They don't have an outside entrance. It's very definitely designed for a relative to live up there. Maybe originally it was for the servants, but I doubt it. I don't think any of those houses were fancy enough for people to have servants.
MS: And she had come because your father had died?
AB: Yeah, my father had died and she didn't have anybody left in Cuba. Traditionally that's what was expected of her, to come and live with her single daughter. I didn't have any brothers and sisters, so there was no question.
MS: You were an only child. I see. Maybe in the last fifteen or so minutes I could ask you some things I haven't asked you totally off the subject of what we've been talking about. I didn't ask you at all about any experiences with the psychiatry or psychology professions here in Philadelphia. I know there were two big psychiatrists: Samuel Hadden at Penn and Joseph Wolpe at Temple. I wonder if you ever had any encounters with them or with anybody else through the movement or in any other way?
AB: Socarides is the one that I remember. We wrote a very funny editorial. We often attacked psychiatry as a profession, but I didn't have any dealings with anyone in particular.
MS: You didn't target those two locals? Did you know of them?
AB: I don't remember. I mean Hadden sounds familiar and I think Carole did write something about him.
MS: He was a pioneer in what was called “group psychotherapy” for changing homosexuals into heterosexuals.
AB: Well definitely we must have said something about him, because I can remember we actually tried to bring that up. That was another thing that was changing. My generation, when they were young, they all thought that they were sick, so everybody was going through therapy, which is fine if what you want is to feel comfortable with who you are. But these people, even the best ones, even the ones that didn't particularly try to change you, were more into trying to make the best out of a bad situation rather than defining it as positive.
MS: What about children? Were any of the women who you knew in DOB or HAL or in the community involved with raising children or in custody battles? Anything like that?
AB: No, as Rusty would say, dykes at the time were real dykes. They didn't have anything to do with men. I knew very few people who had been married and had children. And nobody was about to get pregnant by a third party. That happened later.
MS: You were talking before about some of the teachers being very concerned about their jobs. Did you know of anybody who was ever fired or ever lost a job?
AB: I didn't know. I'm sure that it happened. Many of these women made that the centerpiece of their lives, trying to cover up.
MS: Did you ever know anybody who was arrested and put in jail by the police?
AB: I know somebody, but that happened before I met her. I don't know if she actually got put in jail, but they arrested her because she was necking with a woman in a car. She was arrested. I don't know what they actually charged her with.
MS: This was in Philadelphia?
AB: That was in Philadelphia.
MS: Do you remember around what time period? Early '60s?
AB: It was before I met her and I met this person probably in the very early '60s or late '50s.
MS: Let me try a couple of other names on you. Did you know someone named Barbara Harris? She worked at the Janus Society.
MS: How about Jody Shotwell? Mae Polakoff?
AB: Quite honestly, no. They don't even ring a bell.
MS: I'm just trying to find a needle in a haystack. You were still going to bars in the early '70s?
AB: Yeah, sporadically. The newness and the excitement were gone, but every once in awhile.
MS: Were there other gay businesses by that time that you were going to? Women's businesses or anything like that?
MS: Do you remember any of them?
AB: There was a woman's bookstore. In fact, there were two.
AB: No, the one that was on Pine Street. There was a woman's bookstore there that lasted for maybe two or three years.
MS: Maybe I'll try this with you. This was from a HAL newsletter and lists the places it was being distributed in March and April of 1970. There was one place called The Bookmark, 11 North 13th, Easy Reader, 21st and Sansom, Jay's Place II, 1344 Spruce, Middle Earth, 1701 Spruce.
AB: Middle Earth I remember. I can't remember exactly what it was. That was a bookstore?
MS: Yeah, I think so.
AB: Yes, and I think it was beyond gay stuff. They had gay stuff but they also had other stuff.
MS: Record Rendezvous, on 20th, Robin's Bookstore, and then Oscar Wilde in New York City.
AB: Well Robin's always carried a lot of gay stuff together with a lot of other stuff.
MS: Do you know why that was? Was it the owner?
AB: I think probably it was the owner. To this day I think he's politically very progressive.
MS: So it's a man who owns the store?
AB: I think so. Yeah, I'm quite sure it is.
MS: I thought it was a woman.
AB: There was another store where the Pleasure Chest is now, on Walnut Street. That used to be a woman's bookstore way back. Not necessarily lesbian, but it probably was.
MS: I have here the mention of a 1970 meeting with three HAL members and a local women's liberation group.
AB: I didn't go to that. I was actually going through my comprehensives at the time. Carole went. That was when they started talking with women's groups. They started coming together. There was a reluctance at the beginning of the women's movement to associate with lesbians. I'm sure you're aware of that. Betty Friedan was very definite about that. And I think that tension was starting to disappear. I know Carole went.
MS: It sounds like she had a good impression.
MS: Well is there anything that you want to add that I've left out?
AB: I don't think so. But I'm here, so if you have any other questions—you know somebody pulls one thread— just feel free to call.
MS: That would be great. It sounds like you were most involved in that DOB year and then maybe the first year or two of HAL.
MS: I don't whether I'll find anybody who knows as much about those two or three years. But it does seem that HAL lasted as late as 1973. I know Byrna Aronson was still listing herself as being the chair of HAL. So maybe I should track her down in Boston.
AB: Oh you haven't actually talked to Byrna?
AB: Yeah, she would know. She was very much in charge at the time.
MS: I think I'll turn this off now. Thanks.