Sharon Owens (born 1947), Interviewed January 19, 1993
by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2021. All rights reserved.
I interviewed Sharon Owens in January 1993 at her home in West Philadelphia; this was my second oral history interview. I knew Owens because we had lived together in a six-person collective house in West Philadelphia in 1989-90, my first year of Ph.D. studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Of the six residents, three were lesbians, three were gay men, two were African American, four were European American, two were graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania, and one was a graduate student at Temple University. At the time and over the next several years Sharon was a librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia. After I moved to Center City in 1990, I was in touch with Sharon occasionally; in early 1993 I arranged to do this interview. I was interested in learning about her experiences as an African American lesbian feminist in Philadelphia in the 1970s; Sharon later introduced me to Anita Cornwell, the author of Black Lesbian in White America, whom I interviewed in October 1993. Before the taped part of the interview began, Owens provided me with the following biographical information, which she clarified and updated in a 1997 telephone conversation:
Date of Birth: 18 December 1947
Place of Birth: Shippensburg, Pennsylvania
Place of Mother's Birth: Franklin County, Pennsylvania
Mother's Occupation: Part-Time Domestic Servant
Place of Father's Birth: Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Father's Occupation: Civil Servant
Race/Ethnicity: African American
Religious Background: Methodist/Pagan
Class Background: Lower Middle Class
1947-69: Shippensburg, Pennsylvania
1969-70: 4400 Pine St., Philadelphia
1970-72: Ivory Coast, Africa (Peace Corps)
1972-73: Shippensburg, Pennsylvania
1973: Fairhill St. and 5th near Olney Ave., Philadelphia
1973: Knox St. and Manheim St., Philadelphia
1973: Chelten Ave. and Wayne Ave., Philadelphia
1973-74: 3500 Sansom St., West Philadelphia
1974: 42nd St. between Baltimore and Chester, West Philadelphia
1974-75: 42st St. between Osage and Baltimore, West Philadelphia
1975-78: 36th and Hamilton, Powelton Village, Philadelphia
1969-70: Case Worker, Philadelphia Welfare Department
1970-72: English Teacher, Peace Corps
1973: Case Worker, Philadelphia Welfare Department
1973-76: Law Student, University of Pennsylvania
In 2020 I learned that Owens was retired and living in southern New Jersey.
Marc Stein Interview with Sharon Owens, 19 January 1993
Transcribed by Marc Stein.
MS: This is Marc Stein. I'm here interviewing Sharon Owens in her house in West Philly. And I think I'll just start by asking you to say something about your first coming out experiences.
SO: First coming out experiences, O.K. Actually my first sort of pre-coming out experience was finding myself at a lesbian party in West Philadelphia after a program of the Women's Cultural Weekend at Penn. And sort of being very freaked out.
MS: And when was that?
SO: This was in the spring of 1974, when I was a law student at Penn.
MS: How did you come to be there?
SO: The Penn Women's Center, different women's groups at Penn, sponsored a Women's Cultural Weekend. And they would have speakers and workshops and entertainment. And so they had an evening with Florynce Kennedy and Naomi Weinstein speaking. And I ran into some of my fellow law students, who had also been Penn undergraduates, and ran into some of my friends who were still Penn undergraduates. And we all wounded up being invited back to this party in West Philadelphia. And I sort of realized after I had been at the party for a while. It was interesting because Naomi Weinstein was there and a bunch of us were talking to her. And we went upstairs as things started to get noisier. And we went upstairs and were talking. And then she left and everybody went downstairs and the party was in full swing. And by the time I came downstairs....
MS: Everything was different from the party you left.
SO: And it was different, right. There were all these women dancing together.
MS: And do you remember what your reaction was?
SO: I was sort of shocked and sort of freaked out. And interestingly enough, I went to workshops the next day and went to a dance that night. Deadly Nightshade was the performer for the dance. And for some reason I think I had blocked out the party. It didn't occur to me that this was also going to be a lesbian dance until I got there. So at that point I had been hearing little bits about gay rights, some of my classmates at law school talking about encounters they'd had with gay rights stuff.
SO: Sympathetic, yeah sympathetic. Which was my first exposure to the whole idea.
MS: So when you walked into this party....
SO: I was not ready.
MS: There was nothing from your childhood or your teenage years that you could draw on at all as an experience that would have taught you anything about what you were seeing?
SO: No. So I was mostly in shock. And then I would date my coming out from later that year, when I realized that I was in love with one of my friends.
MS: Was she also in law school?
SO: She was also in law school, although she was at Temple Law School. But she lived in West Philadelphia and spent a lot of time at the Penn library.
MS: And did you two end up together?
SO: No, no.
SO: Unrequited. She was straight.
MS: Did you ever tell her about your feelings?
SO: I did, a while later. And then the next academic year I went through this gradual process of dealing with the fact that yes, I was a lesbian and getting involved with stuff at Penn. It was the winter of '74-75 when I actually started doing stuff with the Women's Center and really got in touch with a lot of lesbians at Penn.
MS: Maybe I'll ask you a couple more questions about this party. Can you describe something about the scene? Was it all young people or mostly young people?
SO: It was mostly young people. It wasn't all students. At that time there was a lot of cross-contact, cross-organizing between students and women in the community. And there was, I'm not sure exactly when it folded, maybe '73 or ‘74, a West Philadelphia Women's Center. And that was a lot of lesbians.
MS: Was that on Chester?
MS: Chester Ave.?
MS: But you were never...
SO: I was never involved with that. I sort of heard about that after the fact. So it was young women, mostly in their 20s.
MS: And would you say it was class- and racially-mixed?
SO: I'd say it was not particularly racially mixed. I'd say there were a few Black women there. And I don't know about class. I mean it was a lot of students and a lot of West Philly women. I think there was some degree of class mixture there.
MS: Right. And was the party in one of the well-known lesbian collective households.
MS: It was. So did you know something about who lived there and what their living arrangement was?
SO: No. Well now I know that, for example, Sherrie Cohen lived there. I don't think she lived there at the time. I think she moved in there later. But yeah, it was on Baltimore Avenue and it was one of the big old Victorians, six-bedroom places.
MS: Did anything strike you when you were there about how it was different than any other kind of household?
SO: Well at the time I wasn't particularly acquainted with collectives or anything like that.
SO: And I didn't know any of the women who lived there. So mostly I was freaked out because I came downstairs from this discussion and heard Alix Dobkin on the record player.
MS: And anything else you remember about what went through your head in those moments?
SO: I was freaked out because what little I had heard about gays was just sort of the sense that these people are abnormal, that sort of stuff. And it was only that year that I had begun to be exposed to the idea of gayness being normal or O.K. or that there was a liberation movement.
MS: Do you remember what some of those messages were from your childhood and teenage years. Do you remember where they might have specifically come from? Family? The church?
SO: Well I heard very little from my family or church. Very little in high school. Sort of passing references to homosexuals.
MS: You do remember that in high school?
SO: In high school. That that was something abnormal. The most I sort of heard about it was in college. And it was like the psychology course sort of touched on homosexuals.
MS: Where did you go to college?
SO: Shippensburg State College.
MS: And what years were you there?
SO: From '65 to '69.
MS: And what were the messages in the psychology courses?
SO: Oh just that this was an abnormality, a sexual pathology. And then I guess there was a sociology course on minority groups where the teacher touched on it. Mostly what she had to say was against stereotypes, telling us that all gay men weren't swishy and all lesbians weren't truck drivers. That sort of thing. And that you really couldn't tell by looking at someone.
MS: So that was a little bit of contrary perspective.
SO: Yeah a little bit of a liberal message. Most of the message was that this was a pathology and that there were a few abnormal people around who were like this.
SO: And I really didn't think it had anything to do with me.
MS: So moving back ahead, then, you said that after this party you went to the rest of the weekend. And it was out of your involvement with the Penn Women's Center that you were even at this event.
SO: No, I don't remember how exactly I got to the weekend. It was something that was in The Daily Pennsylvanian. It looked interesting.
MS: Were you involved at all with the women's movement in any way before, when you were in law school? Or in the civil rights movement?
SO: I did some stuff. I hadn't been before I was in law school. Then I got involved. While I was in law school, I got involved with stuff at the Penn Women's Center, basically. At the time there was a lot of stuff happening at the Penn Women's Center that wasn't necessarily related to the university. It served as the headquarters for feminist groups in West Philadelphia.
MS: Do you know what the history of the Women's Center was at Penn? When it started?
SO: It started in 1974. I guess it was spring of '74, although the impetus for it came from earlier in '73. There was a point at which there were a lot of rapes at Penn. And I guess in like the spring of '73 or something like that there was a particular case of two students who were raped just off campus, who were gang-raped. And a group of women from Penn and the community took over College Hall and occupied it for three days. And they had this list of demands.
MS: This was in '73?
SO: This was in '73. This was either in spring or fall of '73, I'm not sure. But they occupied College Hall, held it for three days, had this list of demands, a long list of demands, including things they didn't really expect to get, one of which was funding for a women's center. And after three days the administration just sort of caved in and gave them practically everything on the list.
SO: And that was how the Women's Center got started.
MS: Do you know what the other things were on the list?
SO: Well it was things like having a special person on the security force to deal with violence against women, the Penn Bus Service.
MS: Some of the same old issues.
SO: Yes. Yeah, I forget what all. Stuff dealing with women's security.
MS: And as far as you know, and from your experiences, was the Women's Center from the start O.K. on lesbianism?
MS: So it didn't go through any of those harrowing experiences that other feminist groups did?
SO: Not really harrowing in terms of a gay-straight split. But one of the things that I think was true a lot was that there was an assumption that women involved with the Center were lesbians.
MS: Was that true?
SO: A lot of them were. It was certainly a much higher proportion than the general population.
MS: And how did the Women's Center deal in the first couple of years with race issues, would you say?
SO: I don't know that they really dealt with them that much. I mean they sort of talked about the litany of things to be dealt with--sexism, racism, homophobia. And I'd say that there were a fair number of Black women who went there. There were a few Asian women. I don't think any Latina women.
MS: Were there any problems in the first couple of years that you remember in terms of racism that erupted. Or that people were called out on?
SO: No, no.
MS: Why do you think the Women's Center was spared all of that? Was it that it was a little later than some of those splits happened in other feminist groups?
SO: That may be. And the fact that lesbians were so much involved in having set it up in the first place. And the first director was a lesbian.
MS: What was her name?
SO: Sharon. Her name now is Sharon Malali. At the time she was still using her married name, which was Goldberg. And so she and Emi Tenuka were officially director and administrative assistant. But they had arranged to split their salaries so that they had the same salary.
MS: Is that right?
SO: Basically they functioned as co-coordinators.
MS: And the second person you mentioned, was she Asian American?
SO: Yeah. Emi Tenuka. I think she's working for the Community Women's Education Project now. She's a photographer.
MS: What sort of things did the Women's Center do?
SO: It was a meeting place for different groups within the Penn Women's Alliance.
MS: Where was it, actually? I should ask you that.
SO: Well I can't remember the name of the building. The building that's like catty-cornered across from the Christian Association. As you're looking at College Hall, it's to the right of College Hall. But it's on 36th Street, right beside that.
MS: Williams or Logan?
SO: Logan Hall.
MS: Logan Hall.
SO: Yeah, it was in Logan Hall. A nice large suite of rooms.
MS: Oh that's where the Women's Studies Department is now.
SO: Yeah, yeah. And actually I think setting up a women's studies department might have been one of those demands. Because it was right about the same time that the Women's Studies Department got started.
MS: So you were saying that it was a space that held a space for meetings.
SO: Yeah, it was like two rooms that were sort of together, like the living and dining room here. And then a couple of small offices behind them. So it was a lot of space for meetings. And the Free Women's School started about the same time as a project of the Women's Center.
MS: And what was that?
SO: It was basically on the order of free universities, where classes were offered for a whole bunch of different things, from auto mechanics to feminist history and theory.
MS: Do you know when that started?
SO: That started, I believe, let's see, there was a day of workshops, maybe in the spring of '74. And there was such a huge response to it that they started the Free Women's School in the fall of '75. And it got quite extensive. I mean at one point, I think by the summer of '75, summer of '76 maybe, there were like forty courses.
SO: 400 women.
MS: Going to classes.
MS: And the classes were held at Penn?
SO: Yeah. Most of them, a lot of them were. Different places around campus. Or maybe also people's houses off campus. I think most of them at that point were at Penn.
MS: Why don't I ask you one of my big questions? For this period of time, right when you were first coming out, when you were getting involved with the Women's Center in '73, '74, '75, what was your sense of relations between lesbians and gay men, where relations stood?
SO: I don't really have a sense of that. Because what I was involved with was mostly lesbian feminist stuff. And I had very little contact with gay men.
MS: Do you remember the first gay man you met in Philadelphia?
SO: Probably Tommi Avicolli.
MS: And do you remember how you met?
SO: There was a meeting about Susan Saxe stuff, which I guess would have been late '75 or early '76. And there was Tommi, who was this cute little faggot in platform sneakers.
MS: Was he the only gay man there?
SO: He may have been. Or there may have been like two of them. There were very few. Not many others.
MS: And as far as the other things were concerned, was there just very little contact between lesbians and gay men, would you say?
SO: I would say that among the lesbians that I was involved with, there was very little contact.
MS: And little hostility as well? Or was there hostility underlying?
SO: There was not really strong hostility. A lot of the women were separatists. Just didn't want to deal with men period. And there was a certain level of hostility toward men in general. But it wasn't like they really hated men or hated gay men or were actively hostile to gay men. But they just didn't deal with men any more than they really needed to.
MS: And would you say relations were any better with gay men than they were with straight men?
SO: Well, somewhat better, yeah.
MS: But it sounds like what you're describing is very little contact.
SO: Yeah, yeah. I mean there was some sense that gay men were a little better, that we had some common cause with gay men. But most of the women were involved in doing women's things.
MS: Right. And was your sense that that was the case in both the white community and the African American community?
SO: At that point I knew nothing about African American lesbian/gay community. So I don't know.
MS: Some people have suggested to me that relations were better between Black lesbians and gay men, certainly in the bars in the '60s. There were more mixed bars.
SO: No, it wasn't something that I was aware of. I mean the only bars that I went to were Rusty's and the Second Story.
MS: Why don't we talk about that for a bit? Where was Rusty's when you were going to it?
SO: On Quince Street, right by the Forrest Theater.
MS: And when did you first go, do you remember?
SO: It would have been probably sometime in late '75 or '76.
MS: Do you remember who took you there?
SO: No. I mean I went with a group of friends, but I don't remember who specifically.
MS: Did you like the atmosphere?
SO: At the time I hadn't really been to bars. Before I came out, I hadn't been to bars at all. So it was all very new.
MS: Even just as a bar.
SO: Just as a bar, yeah.
MS: Can you describe the scene to me? Can you remember anything about it?
SO: I'm trying to remember 'cause it's sort of mixed up with the Upstairs.
MS: Which was a different bar?
SO: The Upstairs was a different bar which was on Second Street, I think. Might have been Front Street.
MS: What do you remember?
SO: When you went in Rusty's, the bar was right as you came in the door. The bar was on the left as you came in the door. There were women sitting at the bar. I can't remember if there was a pool table in Rusty's. I think there may have been. And I really can't remember where the pool table was in relation to the dance floor. And the dance floor was kind of small. It was very smoky. The bars were, and still are, very smoky.
MS: And did you mostly just talk to the people you came with?
MS: And what about the Upstairs. You said it was on Second Street?
MS: Same kind of bar?
SO: It was I'd say a little more elegant. The way it was decorated and the atmosphere.
MS: Were both bars mostly white?
MS: Did you encounter any sort of racism in any of the bars?
SO: No. Actually I was never hassled about buying drinks in Rusty's. I’m sure you heard stories about people being pushed to buy drinks.
MS: What do you mean being pushed?
SO: Well I think I remember when I went to, it wasn't D.C.A. I can't remember the name. It was an after-hours place that I went to with somebody once. And we were like harassed from the time we came in the door.
MS: To buy drinks?
SO: Yes. It was like we weren't allowed to be there if we weren't immediately buying drinks.
MS: And where was that? Where was that club that you were talking about?
SO: I don't even remember now. It was one of the places downtown. It was actually kind of a mixed place.
MS: Mixed male/female.
MS: Do you remember any other mixed bars that you went to?
SO: Sometime in '76 I went to the D.C.A. once, when my roommate took me there.
MS: What was that like?
SO: I remember the night I went, it was like ten or eleven at night when we went. Gloria Gaynor was there.
MS: Oh really?
SO: Gloria Gaynor was performing at the bar.
MS: The disco queens.
SO: Yeah. It was a lot of loud music, bright lights. And it was sort of fun. And I watched her perform. And then they had a women's room. It was one room upstairs that was mostly women.
MS: I see.
SO: So that's mostly where I spent my time.
MS: Now did you or anybody that you knew ever have trouble with the police or the legal system for being lesbians in those few years, '73, '74, '75?
SO: No, I was never at a bar that was raided or anything like that.
MS: Ever hear about any custody problems during that time?
SO: Well yeah, yeah. Later I was involved with CALM.
MS: Which stands for what?
SO: Custody Action for Lesbian Mothers.
MS: And when was that group formed?
SO: That was formed sometime actually in the fairly early '70s. And you might want to talk to Rosalie Davies about that. And also Mickey, who's her lover. It was around that time that it was formed, because Rosalie had lost custody of her children earlier.
MS: Is that right? In the '60s?
MS: Do you know anything about that story?
SO: I don't know whether she came from Canada or whether her husband was living in Canada. I know her children were in Canada with her former husband for a while. And eventually, as teenagers, they came back to her. But she had lost custody legally when they were small.
MS: They came back to her in Philadelphia?
SO: Yeah, yeah. And so she was actually in law school around the same time that I was and forming this organization to help lesbians fight for custody of their children.
MS: And she lost them specifically because her husband accused her in court of being a lesbian?
SO: Being a lesbian, yeah.
MS: Do you know anybody else at that time who had similar experiences?
SO: The people I knew were around the mid-‘70s or later. But yeah, I knew some men and women who had lost custody who were involved in custody fights.
MS: What about police harassment, police harassment on the street, or in demonstrations, or anything like that? Anything you recall?
SO: I can't recall. I mean of course the police were around when Dyketactics was active. And then of course there was Dyketactics.
MS: Why don't we talk about Dyketactics?
SO: We were harassed at the first demonstration. We formed to demonstrate at the City Council hearing about the gay rights bill at that time.
MS: Why don't you start at the beginning of that whole gay rights bill struggle?
SO: O.K., there was a gay rights bill. I'm not sure how long that had been going on. It was in 1975 that this was happening. This was sort of the end of that. And I think it had been going on since earlier in the year.
MS: This was Bill 1275.
SO: Bill 1275. And George Schwartz was the head of City Council at that time and was real nasty.
MS: What part of the city was he from, do you remember?
SO: George? I don't really know.
MS: So do you know who had proposed the gay rights bill initially?
SO: I don't know.
MS: But when you came on the scene, it was being debated by City Council?
SO: Yeah, and it was being buried in committee. And there was a certain time for it to be reported out of committee, or it clearly wasn't, or nothing was going to happen to it. And so this was in December of '75. And this was going to be like the last, last Council meeting in which this bill could be reported out of committee. Or it clearly wasn't going to be. And somebody in the gay community had organized a silent protest where people walked in with signs and sat there. And a couple of women got the idea that this shouldn't be a silent protest because this woman named Jessie Ford in her testimony had said you will never have the comfort of our silence again.
MS: Where was this taking place?
SO: In City Council chambers.
MS: Which was in City Hall?
SO: City Hall, yeah.
MS: How many people were at the silent demonstration? Or was it held?
SO: It was held. There had actually been, over the last couple of weeks, a couple of these silent vigils.
MS: How many people were involved, would you say?
SO: Well I wasn't at the earlier ones, but probably a hundred, a couple hundred. And so I was at the Penn Women's Center waiting for a bus. Let me tell the story. So I was just waiting for a bus, waiting for the Penn Bus. And some friends of mine were there, sort of organizing this demonstration and I got involved. We were going to chant “Free 1275.” And we were making up a press release, talking about what to call the group. And Sherrie Cohen wanted to call it Dyketactics because she had seen this movie called Dyketactics.
MS: Do you know anything about the movie? I hadn't heard that before.
SO: Yeah, it's a movie by Barbara Hammer, who's a lesbian filmmaker. It's really a strange movie, because she makes these semi-abstract things. The movie's called Dyketactics. And basically there are these scenes of women playing softball, I think, interspersed with these women making love. I saw the movie years after the fact.
MS: But it had come out in the early '70s?
MS: So she came up with this idea of...
SO: ...calling the group Dyketactics.
MS: And did everyone like this idea?
SO: Yes. It was Sherrie Cohen, who you know was David Cohen's daughter.
MS: No, I didn't know that. And David Cohen, remind me what his role was then.
SO: He's on City Council now and was basically responsible for getting through the gay rights law that actually passed. He wasn't on City Council at the time, but he had been before. And he had been a state representative of some kind. So he's a long-time Philadelphia politician. So Sherrie was there. Kathy Velmoski, who had been scheduled to become a nun in New Jersey and had delayed going into the convent to come spend some time in Philadelphia and had come out. And Barbara Ruth. I'm trying to remember what Barbara's name was; Ruth wasn't her last name then. It was something else. And a woman named Mary something, who dropped out afterwards. Linda Norwood, Barbara and Sherrie, and Linda and Mary and me. And there were six of us, actually. I can't remember the other name. It will come back to me.
MS: Six of you who actually did the first demonstration?
SO: Yeah. Well we had talked to other people about the fact that this was happening, so that when we started chanting, other people joined in. So we went and everybody was there with signs and stuff.
MS: About how many people this time?
SO: I'd say there were a couple hundred.
MS: Inside City Hall?
SO: Yeah, City Council.
MS: And 1275 was a bill to eliminate...
SO: It was basically the same as what eventually passed, to add sexual orientation to the human relations bill.
MS: And it covered the same things as it covers now? Employment, housing, public accommodations?
MS: Those three things.
SO: Yeah. So we started chanting. And George Schwartz started gaveling. And he eventually ordered the police to clear the chamber. And the police came and shoved, literally shoved everybody out.
MS: Was anyone hurt?
SO: Occasionally throwing people. I'm pretty sure Michael Seltzer was one of the people who was thrown across the chairs and was bruised up. Nobody was seriously hurt, fortunately. A lot of people got bruises.
MS: What about you specifically?
SO: I wasn't hurt.
MS: You were shoved?
SO: Yeah. So everybody was out in the hallway and we stayed and kept a vigil out in the hallway until the City Council meeting was over. And then we went. And there was a woman in town at the time who made these huge puppets, these giant things that get held up on sticks. And she had a huge witch puppet there. And people were cackling and talking through the witch.
MS: Outside City Hall?
SO: Yeah outside City Hall chambers and then outside George Schwartz's office.
MS: So inside City Hall but outside Council chambers.
SO: Outside the Council chambers. And when most other people had left and Dyketactics was still demonstrating outside George Schwartz's office, then the police decided to move us out and shoved us down the stairs. And a couple of women fell a couple of times on the stairs. And nobody again was seriously hurt.
MS: Verbal harassment as well?
SO: Not really, just very purposefully shoving us down the stairs and out the building. So we trotted over to Holly Maguigan’s office.
MS: Who is she?
SO: Holly Maguigan? She isn't in town anymore. She's in New York. She and David Kairys and David Rudovsky had a practice together.
MS: A law practice?
SO: Yeah, a law practice. You're probably familiar with David Kairys and David Rudovsky, no? Rudovsky, I guess, does a lot of criminal stuff, but they're all Lawyer's Guild types.
MS: I see.
SO: As well as doing criminal stuff, did a lot of civil rights type stuff. So we sat down with Holly and we said we want to sue the police. So we wound up bringing suit against the police in federal court.
MS: Was she your lawyer for this?
MS: In federal court?
MS: And what was the outcome of that?
SO: Well, it took about a year to come to trial. It didn't come to trial until fall of '76.
MS: Were there a lot of machinations behind the scenes during that year?
SO: Well, there was the usual discovery process. We had to be deposed by the City Solicitor's office. And we did things to raise money so we could pay for the legal process.
MS: And what was the suit about?
SO: It was basically undue force.
MS: Undue force.
SO: Violation of our civil rights. We lost.
MS: Do you remember the judge?
SO: The judge's name was Wiener, Judge Wiener. I think he may still be there. I don't know. But it was Charles Wiener maybe. He didn't like us.
MS: Were you in court for the whole trial?
SO: Yeah, yeah. There was a whole jury trial. He would clearly get very testy at the end of the day.
MS: How long did the trial last?
SO: It was about a week or maybe two. It was between a week and two weeks. The police testified about how afraid of us they were.
SO: And Michael Seltzer testified and there was some other man whose name I can't remember, John somebody, who had gotten thrown across chairs and stuff. And so they questioned him about being gay.
MS: What kind of questions?
SO: Oh it was very peculiar. Because first the City Solicitor asked him what he was wearing. Was he wearing a polka dot shirt or something. And then on the heels of that if he was one of the gay demonstrators. And then one of the women witnesses refused to answer, because she was a teacher. That was Marty, I think. She was a teacher in the school system at the time.
MS: Is that right?
SO: So she wasn't going to sit up there and say she was gay. So then there was a whole go around, with Holly objecting to the relevance, and the judge wanting her to answer, and her refusing to answer, and the judge threatening her that he was going to put her away for contempt, which sort of went over to the next day.
SO: And Holly managed to get them to drop it. But the City Solicitor managed to persuade the jury that we were a bunch of rowdy dykes who deserved to be shoved down the stairs, basically.
MS: And was there news coverage of the trial?
SO: There was some. There was some coverage in the Inquirer and the Daily News.
MS: What about back to Bill 1275? Did it progress at all during that period of time?
SO: Oh no. I mean that day of the demonstration was like the last chance for that year. And that was the end of it.
MS: And then did it come up again the next year?
SO: No. Well we just had the tenth year celebration last year, so I guess it was '82.
MS: Not until ‘82 was it passed?
MS: And I think I remember a story that there was someone, a closeted gay man, who was on City Council who was speaking in favor of 1275.
SO: Well that's a story that I hadn't heard.
MS: So were there any supporters on the City Council?
SO: I wasn't really aware of any support. I mean there must have been in order for it even to get in committee. So at the time, I'm trying to think who might have been supporting it. Blackwell may actually have been supporting it. I can't remember now who all was on City Council. George Schwartz, who's in jail or went to jail afterwards. Franny Rafferty, who's finally gone.
MS: And did Dyketactics continue to meet?
SO: Yeah, we continued to meet. And we continued to do demonstrations. And the next demonstration, well actually we went and decorated the City Hall Christmas Tree with lesbian visibility signs. It was sort of funny. We went and climbed up on the tree and hung these signs. And then this cop came along and said, “You can't put those there. Take them down.” And Barbara Ruth said, “Well I can't climb up there because I have my period.” We all had our periods and we couldn't climb up the tree.
MS: This was in...
SO: City Hall Courtyard, yes, that December '75.
MS: What else did you all do?
SO: And the next January or February, the whole Bicentennial stuff was starting off. They had some big event at Independence Mall that was celebrating all the different kinds of people in America. And so we went to that with signs about lesbian visibility, ‘cause of course they weren't celebrating lesbians and gays. So we went there, we did that. That was a sort of mini-demo.
MS: Were there events in Fairmount Park for the Bicentennial?
SO: Oh yeah.
MS: Was that where the big celebration was?
SO: Well the big July Fourth celebration was on Independence Mall.
MS: And that's where you all went?
SO: Well no. This wasn't the big Bicentennial. This was just a Bicentennial event, ‘cause they were doing things all year.
MS: All year, right, right.
SO: There was a Bicentennial Women's Center that was set up just off the Parkway in a space owned by the Quakers. I'm trying to think if it was a gay coffeehouse or a lesbian coffeehouse that was in Quaker space on 2nd Street.
MS: Do you remember going to it?
SO: No. I was never there. And they closed it. When they gave space for the women's center, they took away the space from this coffeehouse.
MS: Oh really.
SO: But that had been there for a few years on 2nd Street somewhere. So anyway this thing that we went to with the lesbian visibility stuff in January was just one of the many mini-Bicentennial events, not the biggy.
MS: I see.
SO: And then there was Snuff. There was this movie called Snuff. I don't know if you're aware of that. There had been some news stories the year before about the fact that movies were being made somewhere in which women were actually killed during sex acts.
SO: These things were called snuff movies and men were paying big money to get these. So then some Hollywood person made this movie called Snuff that was advertised as though it was one of those movies. So Dyketactics organized this demonstration. And it was at, I think it was called Budco at that point. Budco Theater at 16th and Chestnut. That was the name of a chain of theaters which I think may now be AMC or something. I'm not sure who took over, but it's not Budco anymore.
MS: How many people went to this demonstration?
SO: It was quite big. It was like three days of picketing. And I'd say that over the three days there were probably about eighty people who participated.
MS: Forty or fifty each day?
SO: Yeah, yeah, different times. And eventually they decided not to show it there anymore.
MS: So would you consider that a success?
SO: Yeah, yeah. So there was that. And there was a lot of publicity, a fair amount of publicity about that.
MS: Let me ask you about that and go back for a second to the gay rights bill. Was that all women demonstrating? Were there gay men there?
SO: There were a few gay men there.
MS: Do you remember who any of those people were?
SO: I don't remember who they were.
MS: But just a few?
SO: Just a few.
MS: And what about the gay rights bill. You were saying before that your involvement with the Women's Center, and coming from this house party, these were not spaces where gay men and lesbians were interacting.
MS: But the gay rights bill: I would imagine that it was pretty mixed in terms of lesbians and gay men.
SO: Yeah. And there was a committee of some kind that had organized the silent demonstration and stuff, that organized stuff around the bill, that was mixed men and women.
MS: Can you remember anything at all in detail about how gay men and women interacted at those events where you were there?
SO: Actually the only memory that sort of sticks out, when we were in the corridor outside City Council and reporters were talking to people, mostly they were talking to Mark Segal, who at one point said something impassioned like, "They were attacking our women." We were all saying “aahh.”
MS: People were upset about that?
SO: Yeah, or they were sort of “aahh, aahh.” And women were upset because the reporters were mostly talking to Mark and other men and were not talking to any of the women.
MS: Did that get communicated to the gay men?
SO: Yeah. I mean I don't know how much actual communication there was, but people said things audibly.
MS: Right, right.
SO: But there were some gay men who came. And also some gay men who were going in to see the movie.
MS: So you were describing for me some of the other things Dyketactics did.
SO: So there was the Snuff demonstration. And then there was the demonstration at Girls' High. I guess Girls’ High still exists. Girls aren't as anxious to go there now that they can go to Central. But at that point, the two elite high schools were Central for boys and Girls’ High for girls.
MS: And was that in North Philly?
SO: It's at Broad and Olney, which is Olney, sort of north of North Philly. And two of the girls there had been suffering a lot of harassment as lesbians and had particularly gotten in trouble with the administration because they wanted to bring female dates to the prom.
MS: Really? This was in '76?
MS: Do you remember their names?
SO: Judy somebody, Judy Bolton? That was a young Black woman actually. And I want to say Chris, but I think Chris was actually her lover. No, no. Catherine was the young woman's name. I can't remember her last name. A white woman.
MS: They were not lovers, but each of them wanted to bring their lovers?
MS: For dates to the prom.
SO: To the prom. And were getting lots of flak. And so Sherrie, who was an alumnae of Girls’ High, wanted to do something about this. One of the things she did, actually she got several other alumnae to do it with her, because at that point I think alumnae were allowed to come to the prom. And so they tried to get tickets to the prom. But the administration figured out what was happening and said, "No, we're not going to allow alumnae to come to the prom anymore." But we had a demonstration there one day in May of '76.
MS: About how many people were in the demonstration?
SO: There were maybe about ten. And basically we stood outside the building with signs about lesbian visibility and lesbian/gay rights and talked to any of the girls who came by and wanted to talk to us.
MS: Do you remember how the girls responded?
SO: Some of them were curious. Most of them were upset that this issue was being raised and that we were bringing notoriety to their school by raising this issue. So we were there from around noon to late in the afternoon when school was getting out. And there was some publicity about that, including in the Tribune, which interestingly enough did the story, but started it off focusing on Sherrie Cohen and saying, “Sherrie Cohen, the twenty-one-year old daughter of David Cohen and sister of.” What's her brother's name? Arthur, I think. Her brother was a state representative at the time, I think. “And the sister of Arthur Cohen was leading this demonstration.”
MS: What were they doing by doing it that way?
SO: We couldn't quite figure out whether it was just to identify her as somebody or whether they were actually out to embarrass her father and her brother.
SO: We suspected that they were out to embarrass her father and her brother. We did that and we did Bicentennial stuff. For the Bicenntenial, everybody was doing demonstrations at the Bicenntenial of course, the big July Fourth bash.
MS: That was the one at Fairmount Park, or is that not right?
SO: I forget what was happening at Fairmount Park, but the main thing was downtown. I'm sure there were events all over. But on July Fourth, it was at Independence Mall, with a big parade, and the president and everybody was down at Independence Mall.
MS: What were the main demonstrations?
SO: There was actually a coalition of groups. I forget what it was called, the Bicenntenial Coalition or something. But it was just to raise all these different issues around what wasn't happening.
MS: And lesbian/gay issues were included fully, without trouble?
SO: That's a good question. I think they were included. Dyketactics did its own thing. And we actually went to the suburbs. We went to a couple of different places. It was a Sunday, I'm pretty sure, and so we went to a couple of churches. And we also had a manifesto from the DAR, Dykes for an American Revolution.
MS: And what was the point of going to the suburbs?
SO: It was dealing with oppression by church and state, and the oppression of lesbians by churches, by the church. And the point of going to the suburbs was that this was where people who were really running things lived. And we wanted to say that they couldn't hide out in the suburbs and avoid all the problems.
MS: What suburbs did you go to?
SO: We went to Ardmore, the Presbyterian Church there. And there was another church. I can't even remember which other suburb. It was right near Ardmore. And we did slow walks.
MS: What are they?
SO: Well we just walked in slow motion, which was very attention-getting.
MS: In the church?
SO: This was outside the church.
MS: You were holding signs as well?
SO: Yeah, we had signs. Somebody, Sherrie I think, was dressed as the Statue of Liberty, in a white robe and this torch. And so we had signs and we had this manifesto, which was actually published in Hera.
MS: Is that right?
SO: They should have it. All my stuff from Dyketactics is at the Lesbian Herstory Archives.
MS: Is that right?
SO: Yeah. The gay library might have issues of Hera.
SO: So it was in whatever issue of Hera came out right around summer of '76.
MS: Do you remember what the gay demonstrations were back at Independence Hall?
SO: I don't know. And I don't remember if there were specifically gay demonstrations or if it was part of the whole coalition that was demonstrating against racism, sexism, homophobia.
MS: Was your sense at that point in this period, '73 to '76, that there were pretty good relations between the movements concerned with those three things? The civil rights movement, the women's movement, and the gay movement?
MS: Things were not good?
SO: I think that the Black civil rights movement didn't want to be bothered with anything frivolous like gay rights. And of course there was one part of the feminist movement that was still not wanting to be identified with lesbians, but people who were doing lesbian organizing and calling themselves lesbian feminists were really focused on lesbians and women's stuff and not so much on working with gay men. I think there were a lot of women who were working with gay men in gay organizations that had women, women who called themselves gay women. But there was a split there. I mean there were the gay women who were working with men in the mostly men's organizations and then there were lesbian feminists.
MS: Who were in the women's organizations.
MS: And do you remember any interactions with the gay women, as you called them?
SO: Very little. I think there were some, when women's events happened, big events, women who identified themselves as gay women would also come to them.
MS: Do you think this was primarily a generational thing?
SO: Yeah. Somewhat, not totally, not totally.
MS: Time of coming out.
SO: But time of coming out, yeah. The women who had been out in the '50s and early '60s tended to be gay women and worked more with gay organizations, whereas the women who had come out in later '60s and '70s, most of whom had come out in the context of feminism, were the ones who were in lesbian organizations specifically.
MS: Right. Let me shift gears here and ask you about something else. Did you participate in any of the first gay pride marches in Philadelphia?
SO: Yes, I'm trying to remember when the first one was. It may actually have been '76.
MS: No, there were earlier ones. It was either '72 or '73.
SO: Those I didn't participate in.
MS: So the first one you remember?
SO: Was '76 or '77. I think it may have actually been '77.
MS: So you don't necessarily remember whether it was the same year as the Bicentennial.
SO: No, because I think it was actually in relationship to the Anita Bryant stuff, which was in '77.
MS: Right. So that was the first march. So do you remember hearing about the marches earlier?
MS: Was it really something that, as you were saying, lesbian feminists were not participating in.
SO: They may have. At the time I wasn't out and I wasn't even in Philadelphia. So I wouldn't have heard about them. And I'm fairly sure that there weren't any from like '73, '74, '75, that they weren't happening then.
MS: Well I think I've seen...
SO: Well maybe. I was unaware of them anyway. I know the one that happened in '77 was the first one for at least a couple of years.
MS: I see. Well let me ask you another set of questions then. You mentioned Alexandria Books. And I wonder if you could talk about that bookstore and other businesses that you saw as safe spaces for lesbians, or lesbian businesses, in the early '70s.
SO: Well Giovanni's Room was started by a woman, Pat Hill. And it was down on South Street. And it was one of the first places I encountered as I was coming out.
MS: Was it not started by Tom Wilson Weinberg and two other men?
SO: I don't think so. I think it was Pat Hill who actually started it.
MS: And when did you first go to it?
SO: This was in '74, late '74. It was on South Street. It was on South Street near where Knave of Hearts is. Between 2nd and 3rd.
MS: And what did you think when you walked in? Do you remember what it looked like?
SO: It was sort of a surprise. It was a small space. It was sort of homey. It was nice. I mean it felt good to have that space. That was my first contact with lesbian or gay space.
MS: It was the first time really?
MS: First time you were in a space like that. You said it was surprising?
MS: You were surprised?
SO: Yeah, yeah. I mean I sort of walked by and there it was.
MS: So you hadn't intended to go there?
SO: No, no. It was just on South Street. So I went in and Pat was working. I was scared to go in, actually. But Pat was a very sort of motherly person.
MS: How did she make you feel comfortable?
SO: She was just a very warm person. So I went in there a few times while it was there.
MS: What other places?
SO: There was Alexandria.
MS: Where was that?
SO: It was finally on Walnut Street, the same block where the Pleasure Chest is. It was like a couple doors down from the Pleasure Chest and then downstairs.
MS: Near Rittenhouse Square.
SO: Yeah. And when it first opened it was also near Rittenhouse Square, but it was like on 20th Street or something like that. And then it moved.
MS: And was that a lesbian feminist bookstore?
SO: Yeah, yeah.
MS: What was the first time you went in?
SO: I think they actually opened around '75 or so. So I was in there a fair amount then. And I'm trying to think what other places. The bars, of course.
MS: Were there restaurants that you thought of as good lesbian restaurants?
SO: There were a couple of women who had a cafe for a while. This was later, though. This was like '77, '78. They had it briefly. There was a gay community center.
SO: On Kater Street. I think it opened in about '75 on Kater Street. It was there for a couple of years and Dyketactics had a dance there. And there was a gay coffeehouse there.
MS: How many people came to the dance? Do you remember?
SO: It was pretty successful. I don't remember exactly. Maybe like 150.
MS: And why do you think these dances were so successful? It does really seem like a lot of people were coming.
SO: It was a place for people to get together which really didn't exist, other than the bars. And a lot of people weren't particularly anxious to go to the bars, or wanted an alternative, so the dances were popular. The gay coffeehouse wasn't super well-attended, but it was fairly well-attended and it happened every week, I think.
MS: Was that another mixed lesbian and gay space, would you say?
SO: Yeah, yeah.
MS: And why did people not want to be in the bars. Was it the drinking? Was it the kind of people who were in the bars?
SO: I think it was the drinking, the fact that it really wasn't a place where you could talk. I mean usually the music was really loud and it was fairly crowded and smoky. So people went to bars, but they didn't like them being the only place where they could get together. I think there was not as much consciousness about drinking then as now. But a lot of people didn't want a place where they were being pushed to drink.
MS: Do you remember going to the coffeehouses?
SO: I went to a couple of them.
MS: Do you remember who you heard perform?
MS: Were they mostly local artists?
SO: Yeah, yeah. Local singer or poet or somebody.
MS: In terms of the bookstores, I'm curious, you reminded me of another question I wanted to ask you about what you were reading at the time or what you first remember reading as a new lesbian.
SO: Lesbian/Woman by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. Sappho Was a Right On Woman by Sidney Abbot and Barbara Love. And what else did I read?
SO: There were a few novels. Novels were just starting to have a lesbian presence. Like Daughter's Press was starting and Diana.
MS: Had you ever read anything when you were younger?
MS: You weren't one of those lesbians who read The Well of Loneliness while you were in high school?
SO: No, I had never heard of The Well. I read The Well of Loneliness later. The only novels that dealt with lesbianism that I encountered were these male-oriented porn sort of things that I found that I think were my brother's or something that I found in the attic.
MS: Is that right?
SO: Yes. Which were pretty ghastly. I mean they were all about this poor normal woman who somehow had been latched onto by predatory lesbians until this man comes along and saves her.
MS: So that's quite a significant encounter that you had.
SO: Yeah, as a teenager.
MS: Yeah, along with the college classes that you were talking about.
SO: A sort of very negative picture. And I mean one other thing that I remember. It actually had a sort of bearing on Philadelphia. Was it Lois Forderer? [Editor’s note: This may be a reference to Lois J. Farquharson.]
MS: I don't know.
SO: There was actually a story about her a couple of years ago, because she has been in jail. This case happened in the late sixties. And she was a therapist; she was a psychiatrist. Her name was Forderer or Forder or something like that. And she got involved with this woman who had been a patient over at the hospital where she worked.
MS: And when was this again?
SO: This was in the late ‘60s, maybe 1968. And anyway, this woman killed this male psychiatrist who was an enemy of hers or who didn't like her because she was a lesbian and he thought she was a bad therapist, and so this woman who was her lover killed this guy. So there was all this stuff in the Inquirer about the lesbian murder case, and actually it was sort of ironic. I mean this woman is still in jail. And there was this story about how she was trying to get parole or clemency or something a few years ago.
MS: And was denied.
MS: And you brought that up as something that you read in the sixties.
SO: Yeah, yeah. I was in high school or college, college I guess, if it was like '68. It was sort of a very negative impression of lesbians.
SO: Anyway, there was also the Women's Cultural Trust at Penn, which actually had two locations. One was a bookstore and one was a women's craft gallery that was set up. The crafts gallery was somewhere else to begin with, maybe at International House or something. The bookstore was at the Christian Association and eventually the craft gallery moved to the Christian Association also, and was set up to sell books by and about women and crafts by women. So I spent a lot of time there and volunteered at the bookstore.
MS: And this was '75?
SO: This was '75, '76. It lasted up until about '77, I think. So that was a hangout for lesbians at Penn and where I got a lot of my reading material.
MS: Where exactly was that again? Did you say that already?
SO: It was at the Christian Association, at 36th and Locust Walk.
MS: Maybe before we run out of time, I should also ask you questions about your homes and the neighborhoods that you lived in. Were there parts of Philadelphia that you thought of as gay neighborhoods or lesbian neighborhoods?
SO: West Philadelphia and Germantown.
MS: You thought of as what?
SO: As being an area where there were a lot of lesbians, and gay men to a certain extent in West Philadelphia, too. I knew there was a gay men's house.
MS: In West Philly?
SO: Yeah. And there were a lot of lesbian houses. There was a whole lesbian party circuit.
MS: And it was West Philly-based?
SO: Yeah, West Philly.
MS: And what were the gay male neighborhoods? You said West Philly?
SO: Downtown. I didn't really think of West Philly as a gay male neighborhood, although I think there were a fair number of gay men who lived in West Philly.
MS: But you did think of it as a lesbian neighborhood?
MS: And what does it mean when you say that?
SO: There were a lot of lesbian collective houses, a lot of lesbians who were involved in the different co-ops.
MS: And was Germantown the same sort of place? Or were there differences?
SO: Yeah. I mean I didn't spend much time in Germantown, because it's hard to get back and forth between West Philly and Germantown by public transportation, but I knew that there were a lot of lesbians who lived in Germantown, who were involved in things there.
MS: And you were talking about the group living situations. Was that mostly where you were living during this time? Or you said you were in the dorms at Penn for part of the time?
SO: Yeah. In my first year of law school, I was in the dorm at Penn. And then I moved out to an apartment with a couple other women. Some classmates of mine and I were supposed to get this apartment together for the fall and that fell through. And then I lived with two other women in a house on 42nd Street. And then I actually lived for the rest of that time first with a roommate who was straight, who moved out in '76, and then I had a couple of lesbian roommates, until I moved into a women's collective in '78.
MS: So you did have that experience, at least one experience, of living in a lesbian household?
SO: Yeah, later, like starting in '78, I lived in a lesbian collective.
MS: But earlier, it was just that one time, with the two lesbians who you said moved in?
SO: No, actually, that wasn't lesbians. I was living with two other women, but they weren't lesbians. I really didn't live in a lesbian collective until '78.
MS: And you had places in Germantown for a little while.
SO: Yeah, it was the summer before I started law school, I was basically house-sitting.
MS: Oh right. And then you were in Powelton Village.
SO: Yeah, and I had an apartment there. And my first roommate there was straight. And then after she moved out, I had some lesbian roommates. So that was a roommate situation.
MS: Were there things that you would say that were lesbian about your living situations? Were there differences that you think that being a lesbian made in how you were living your life in your home?
SO: The reading matter that was around and the music that was on the stereo and the people who came to visit. There was a lot of cross-socializing and people running around to each other's houses.
MS: Right. Some people have said that because of women's lower salaries on average that women's households, in general, tend to be less economically well-off than gay men's.
SO: Yeah, I think that's true.
MS: Did that manifest itself in particular ways in the places where you lived?
SO: We certainly looked for low rent.
MS: So do you think that had anything to do with the neighborhoods where you lived?
SO: Oh yeah. I think the fact that lesbians were living in West Philly and Germantown, as opposed to gay men living downtown, had a lot to do with economics. At the time West Philadelphia--you wouldn't know it now--was a cheap neighborhood. So there was that. And I suppose if you went in a lesbian household it wouldn't be quite as fancy in terms of the interior decorating, the kinds of food you'd find in the kitchen, that sort of thing. It was very hippy-ish, I suppose. In the typical lesbian collective house, you'd see a lot of jars of beans in the kitchen and that sort of thing.
MS: And what about patterns of relationships. Were most of the women you were socializing with single or were they in long-term relationships?
SO: I'd say they were in flux, because I was at this point in my twenties or early thirties, and most of the women I was hanging out with were in their twenties. So they were really in shifting couples with a few people really carrying the banner of non-monogamy, having five lovers at once.
MS: So there were women known to be living that sort of lifestyle?
SO: Yeah, yeah. But mostly it was serial monogamy.
MS: And were you doing a lot of dating?
MS: Was there anyone you were involved with for any period of time?
SO: I wasn't actually in a relationship until '79. So at the time, I wasn't in a relationship. I spent most of my time doing organizing, doing stuff like Dyketactics.
MS: But lots of interests?
SO: Some interests. I was really basically shy. I am a shy person, so it was hard for me to try to reach out.
MS: Were there people in the social networks that you were in who were often trying to introduce other women around?
SO: No. There wasn't really a focus on that. Alas.
MS: It sounds like you wished there had been. And what about the parties you were talking about going to?
SO: There were a lot of lesbian parties, a lot of parties that were these open house parties, where the word was just sort of spread. It was probably like once a month. And that used to be the hallmark of a good party, a West Philadelphia lesbian party, if the neighbors called the police at two in the morning. It was like at every party, the police would arrive at two in the morning.
MS: Was there ever trouble?
SO: There was trouble. There wasn't trouble. They would come up and say, “Your neighbors are complaining about the noise. Can you keep it down?”
MS: So it really would be noise-focused.
SO: Yeah, yeah. It was noise-focused. And so they would say something and whoever was in charge, whoever was living at the house, would talk to the police and say, “O.K., we'll keep it down.”
MS: And was it loud music?
SO: It was loud music. Plus it was having a hundred women in a house. In warm weather, they'd be out on the front porch, on the back porch, in the back yard, so there was a lot of noise. So the police would usually stick around for a few minutes to see that the noise level in fact went down a little bit. There was a very funny incident. At one party, there was a house called HOWL, House of Women Loving, and they had a party. And the police arrived at two or three in the morning and the cop was sort of standing there, seeing if the noise level went down and talking to one of the women from the house, and he was sort of looking at the porch, and saying, "Aren't there any boys at this party?" And she said “no.” And he said, “What is this, a sorority?” And she said, “Sort of.”
MS: So do you think that maybe the police didn't harass you very much because they didn't realize?
SO: I think they didn't realize, yeah.
MS: They figured it was a girls' sorority party? That's interesting. What were some of the other house names? 'Cause it seems like you have a good memory for that.
SO: There was House of Women Loving and Full Moon Fury. I can't remember. Not all of the houses really had names.
MS: And they’d be anywhere from like three to ten women, would you say?
SO: They were usually five, six, seven bedroom places, and about that number of women.
MS: Were most racially mixed?
SO: No, most were all-white. And then there were a few Black women who were involved in that.
MS: Were there other Black lesbians who you were friends with?
SO: Yeah, a few.
MS: Any older Black lesbians who you looked up to in any way?
SO: Anita. Anita Cornwell.
MS: Did you know her at that time?
MS; How did you meet her?
SO: I don't remember. Now Anita doesn't go out too much to meetings and such. I think at that point she was a little more out, coming out socially, so it was at some meeting or other.
MS: And what was your impression of her?
SO: She was a very tough lady.
MS: Tough how?
SO: Just a very no-nonsense sort of person. Very clear in her views.
MS: Did you agree with her views?
SO: Most of the time, yeah. So she was really the only older one. And of course Julie Blackwomon was starting out then, starting to get writings published and stuff. Becky Birtha.
MS: You knew them in '74, '75?
SO: Yeah. And some other women who aren't around now.
MS: And did you become close to any of those women?
SO: Yeah, we became good friends. It seemed like there was constantly either meetings or parties happening, so that you saw people a lot. Then of course the Women's Center at that point was still pretty much of a center for community women as well.
MS: Right. So when you think of it as a lesbian neighborhood, West Philly, you're not necessarily thinking about a lot of businesses.
SO: No, I don't think there were really any.
MS: Mostly you're talking about the households and maybe the Women's Center.
SO: Yeah, right. I'm trying to think if there were any businesses. People went to the Eatery. The Eatery was this restaurant in the basement of the Christian Association, which was like a bunch of hippies who would make whole wheat pizza and rice and veggies. That was the main staple there, rice and veggies and vegetarian things, and it was quite well-frequented with Penn students and other people. Eventually they got closed down because the CA wanted to go upscale, find somebody who could pay two or three times as much rent, but a lot of people hung out there. And there were lesbians and gay men who were on the staff there.
MS: During this period, who was your closest gay male friend? Is there anyone who stands out?
SO: Nah. I don't think I had any gay male friends really. I mean I was acquainted. There was a guy who was in my class at law school, and I knew Tommi slightly, but that was about it really.
MS: And what were the publications you were reading? You mentioned books before.
SO: There was Hera.
MS: You said you weren't reading Wicce until a little bit later.
SO: Right. Yeah, Wicce, I think, was only publishing until about '74, '75. There was Hera. And there was the Gayzette. There was something that preceded the Gayzette and I can't remember what it was called, but there was some little newsletter that came out. Those were the local publications. There was Majority Report from New York.
MS: What was that?
SO: That was a feminist paper that was published in New York.
MS: Starting about when? Do you recall?
SO: I don't know when it started. It published up until the late seventies. Lesbian Tide.
MS: Did you read The Gay Alternative?
SO: No. There was Lesbian Tide. That was the national thing.
MS: Off our backs?
SO: I don't remember reading off our backs then. I may have started somewhat later reading that. There was Lavender Woman from Chicago.
MS: Do you ever remember reading novels about or newspapers by gay men?
SO: No, other than the Gayzette and whatever preceded that.
SO: I don't remember national publications. I think I may have seen one Christopher Street when it first came out. I had seen that. And they published a newsletter from the Gay Community Center a couple of times that I saw. But I'm trying to think of what else I read. There were the things that were published by Karla Jay and Allen…
MS: Allen Young. Out of the Closets?
SO: Yeah, yeah. I don't remember exactly when they came out, but the first one may have been mid-70s.
MS: And as we were talking about before, you didn't know of the local Radicalesbians group?
MS: Is there anything else?
SO: I can't think of anything else.
MS: We covered your homes, your neighborhoods.
SO: And Dyketactics.
MS: And Dyketactics. How did Dyketactics stop?
SO: People lost energy and people started moving out of town. We really didn't do much after the trial.
MS: Was that a real low point, would you say, for the community? After the bill going down?
SO: Yeah. I mean I don't know how aware the rest of the community was of the Dyketactics trial, but that was discouraging. So that just sort of fizzled out. There was also the SisterSpace weekends. The first one was either '75 or '76, in June.
MS: What was in June?
SO: It was called the Lesbian Feminist Weekend. It's still going on, usually a couple of weeks after Labor Day.
MS: In the Poconos, right?
SO: In the Poconos.
MS: Is that where it was?
SO: Yeah, that's where it was. When it first started, in the first couple of years, it was in June, like in early June in the Poconos. And so I remember going to the first couple of those.
MS: And what would happen at the weekends?
SO: Basically, there would be some workshops. Mostly women went to play, just to hang out in this lesbian camp.
MS: So was it literally camping?
SO: It was a camp. There were cabins. Some people tented, but there were also cabins. It was a kids' camp that they would rent for the weekend.
MS: How many women do you remember there being when you went?
SO: I think the first couple years it was a couple hundred. I mean now it is usually about 800 women.
MS: And mostly from Philadelphia?
SO: Mostly from the Philadelphia area. There are a lot of women who come from the New York area now. I think there may have been a few women from New York even back then, although at the time it was mostly women from the Philadelphia area.
MS: Who organized it?
SO: Well now the group's called SisterSpace.
MS: Right. But in the first couple years?
SO: Well it's basically the same group, but it's gone through a couple incarnations. When I first came out, there was all this organizing going on to raise money for a lesbian center. And the group was called something like Lesbian Center Committee. And there were all these concerts. I mean Meg Christian came and did a benefit concert and Teresa Trull came a few times, because she was living in New York then. And they had all these concerts and fundraisers, and eventually a lesbian center actually opened in '77, or maybe it was the end of '76 when it opened, but it only lasted about a year, because the space was too expensive. And at the time they opened it, they couldn't find any place that would rent to something called the Lesbian Center.
SO: So they changed the name to Amazons, and they actually changed the name of the organization to Amazons, Inc. And it may have been under the name Amazons that the first couple of weekends happened.
MS: I see.
SO: And then eventually they changed it to SisterSpace.
MS: So it wasn't called SisterSpace in those first couple of years.
SO: No, I don't think so.
MS: Do you remember where exactly the camp was?
SO: No. It was at some camp in the Poconos, but I don't remember where exactly.
MS: But you had a good time?
MS: And they were fun?
SO: It was fun. I mean there was a lake and we'd go swimming, and there was canoeing, and just being able to wander around the country and have women running around naked. That was a time when a lot of the festivals were getting started and women were starting to make the circuits of the festivals as well.
MS: Oh right.
SO: Being able to find lesbian space, at least starting in the summertime.
MS: Well anything else?
SO: I can't think of anything else. I will contact some of these other people.
MS: Thank you.