Audio clip about the consequences of a lesbian relationship in the 1960s
Cathy Chandler grew up in North Carolina in the 1950s and early 1960s. In high school, she fell in love with a girl, and they were turned in for being lesbians. In this clip, Cathy tells of her subsequent experience with psychoanalysts.
Transcript My pediatrician recommended my parents send me to a psychoanalyst. The psychoanalyst asked me, “If your husband was in politics, would you help him with his campaign?” I said yes; it seemed like the right answer. Actually not. Both driving and politics were male, and from a psychiatric perspective, a woman who showed any interest in politics was, by definition, a lesbian. (Applause and laughter) At the time, I had no interest in politics, and was ambivalent about husbands. (Laughter)
I had dressed up for this man: wrap-around skirt, villager blouse, Weejuns, and a charm bracelet. Still, he told my parents I needed to see him three times a week for two years. That was about like a death sentence to me. I felt branded as sick. Under the law, he could have suggested institutionalization, shock therapy, aversion therapy, or lobotomy. …
I fought back. We [she and the other girl] both remained true to our feelings and concerns for how each other was doing, but we had to face our own individual futures. I fought to maintain my own sense of self, that sense of who I’d been and the values I had. Religion, the law, and psychiatry were my adversaries, but after holding my own for years with my mother, I felt I was equal to the fight. Even though it was the weakest of the three, psychiatry—by branding us, branding me, as sick—was the worst, the one I’ve railed against the most.
Durham Women’s Health Collective (DWHC) (later Durham Women’s Health Cooperative) founded 1974
Based on similar programs in Berkeley and Boston, DWHC provided information to women about health care issues and doctors (particularly ob/gyns), trained volunteer health counselors, provided referrals and problem pregnancy counseling, and offered pregnancy tests. Learn more about the Durham Women’s Health Collective here.
Members of Women’s Health Teaching Group (WHTG), a subgroup of DWHC, served as models to guide medical students in how to give proper, respectful pelvic exams. Even simple suggestions such as warming the metal speculum before inserting it would improve a woman’s experience. By teaching doctors-in-training (most of them male) how to give exams, the WHTG improved the experience of women seeking health care.
Go to this Duke University site for more history and interviews with DWHC and WHTG members:
Recollection about the The Newsletter’s treatment of the AIDS epidemic
In this written recollection, Patience Vanderbush reflects on the role of lesbian publications such as The Newsletter in bringing men and women together during the AIDS epidemic.
Transcript I think an interesting area of study of lesbian publications over this period would be the degree to which HIV/AIDS was in our consciousness and changing the ways we interacted with and worked with gay men and the ways we perceived our sense of community with them. The very first article that I wrote for The Newsletter was about the Lesbian and Gay Health Project (LGHP) (“Health Project’s Outreach is Community-Wide,” August 1986), and I also wrote articles about “Lesbians and AIDS” (January 1987) and “Lesbians, Gays, and Sodomy Laws” (August 1988). (During the same period that I wrote for The Newsletter, I also wrote some articles about HIV/AIDS and other issues for the Front Page, a statewide gay and lesbian newspaper published in Raleigh by Jim Baxter.) I believe that the community building, organizing, and visibility that came about as a result of the onset and early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic were major factors in the civil rights gains for our LGBT communities in subsequent years.
NC Lesbian and Gay Health Project and HIV/AIDS, 1982
In 1982, a group of four Durham-based activists founded the North Carolina Lesbian and Gay Health Project (LGHP) in response to widespread stories of homophobic treatment by health care providers. The project was notable in being a collaboration between lesbians and gay men at at time when the two groups often maintained separate activities and organizations, and in being a project focused on gay health issues before the arrival of the AIDS crisis.
In its early days LGHP created a telephone referral network and and presented “Homo 101” workshops to health care providers. With the onset of AIDS, much of their work began to focus on its impacts. LGHP supported the start-up of a number of other organizations focused on HIV, including the Piedmont HIV Health Care Consortium, the AIDS Community Residence Association, and ACT-UP/Triangle.
Some local gay and lesbian activists held protests at the offices of the drug company Burroughs Wellcome in Research Triangle Park, NC. The corporation had developed AZT, an antiretroviral drug used against HIV/AIDS, and the activists charged that the prices were set too high to be accessible to many people who needed the medication to survive. For more information, see the NCLGHP papers at Duke University’s Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
In this audio clip from oral history with Mignon Hooper, she speaks about how her time working at the National AIDS Hotline, then based in RTP, allowed her to develop relationships with people living with HIV.
Transcript It was a way for me to connect with other people who were out and proud. I was out but not quite as proud because I was still fearful of all the vulnerabilities. But it was really great to be immersed in a group of folks who were proud of who they were, who were fighting this battle against HIV and AIDS together, and who were supporting each other in it. It was also a privilege to work with people who were living with HIV who helped me understand what it means to be a friend, a real friend, in those situations. And I became very good friends with a man by the name of Jim Cole, James [??] Cole, a man of Norwegian heritage. He and I became good friends; we were very, very close, and we were bosom buddies. At one point he said, “You know, if things were different, you and I probably would have been married.” And I said, “You’re probably right. Even though you’re a little bit of a wimp, you know. [laughter] You’d have to man up a little bit. But you’re probably right.” Because he was just such a love.
And I met him as a co-worker, and in the end I was changing his diapers. Right down off of 15-501 in his cute little house. Friends and I were taking turns caring for him. He wanted to be in his home and not in a hospital or hospice center. And we cared for him, we took turns, we tag-teamed. And so we took turns, I would find someone to babysit my dog so I could go stay at his house. I would pay someone to babysit my dog, go stay at his house, and we bought baby monitors so we had baby monitors in each room. And so when I heard him getting up–even though I told him, “Do not try to get up without assistance.” Because he’d lost so much weight, even though he was like 6’3’’, he was too frail to try to walk. So I would walk him into the bathroom and let him stand there and I would step outside and tell him to call me when he was ready, and I’d walk him back to the bed.
But it was an opportunity for me to understand the epidemic in a much more intimate way. And also to understand what it means not to be a queer separatist, a lesbian-feminist separatist. I was able to, first of all, befriend this man, and then absolutely love him, and then be there for him when his own family rejected him. The rejection for being queer didn’t come anywhere near the rejection for being infected with HIV, and told not to come home for future Christmases, because, “We have to think about the grandbabies, after all.”
Black and White Men Together (BWMT)
Several groups formed in the 1980s to address race in the LGBTQ+ community and create social, cultural, and educational spaces for African-American gays and lesbians. Among these were Black and White Men Together, led by partners Gary Lipscomb and Joseph Fedrowitz. The organization featured film nights, dances, educational play shops, sports-related events, and more for the community.
Triangle Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays
Several groups formed in the 1980s to address race in the LGBTQ+ community and create social, cultural, and educational spaces for African-American gays and lesbians. Among these were the Triangle Coalition for Black Lesbians and Gays, led by Mandy Carter and Gary Lipscomb.
Lesbian Health Resource Center/Lesbian Resource Center, 1996
In the early 1990s the North Carolina Lesbian and Gay Health Project shut its doors. In 1996 a group of lesbians who felt more attention was needed on women’s health opened the Lesbian Health Resource Center. It provided health advice and workshops for lesbians, training on lesbian health issues for health care providers, and community health education. The group’s name eventually changed to the Lesbian Resource Center in order to better represent its focus on a wide array of issues affecting women. For more information, see the oral history with Beth Bruch in the Durham County Library North Carolina Collection or the Lesbian Health Resource Center/Lesbian Resource Center papers at Duke University’s Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
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