This spring term, the OSU Queer Archives (OSQA) once again collaborated with the history class HST 368 Lesbian and Gay Movements in Modern America with Professor Mina Carson. In the Spring of 2016, Dr. Carson, along with OSQA co-founders Natalia Fernández, Curator and Archivist of the Oregon Multicultural Archives, and Professor Bradley Boovy, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, had developed an oral history project for the students. Using Carson’s network of Corvallis area activists, in total, these students conducted 9 oral history interviews and added them to the OSQA oral history collection. This year, the HST 368 students of the Spring 2017 term have continued the project, adding another 9 interviews to the collection! We are so grateful for the outstanding contributions of these new interviewees, as well as the students who interviewed them.
Brenda McComb Oral History Interview
Date: May 17, 2017
Location: Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Interviewee: Brenda McComb
Interviewers: Evelynn Castillo, Madeline Mathewson, and Sami Quintero
Bio: Brenda McComb was born November 8, 1952 in a small town near Hartford, Connecticut. She comes from a rural, blue-collar family who were very vocal about their conservative views throughout McComb’s youth. This made things difficult for Brenda who, from a young age, did not identify with her gender assignment. However, due to her parents’ conservative views, and the general intolerance of the times, McComb kept all feelings related to her identity struggle to herself. After high school, McComb went to college at the University of Connecticut, earning a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in natural resource conservation. It was also at the University of Connecticut that McComb first heard the term transgender, though she did not relate to the concept at that time. Afterwards, McComb pursued a PhD at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where she met her wife. McComb continued attempts to conform to her assigned gender identity throughout this time, moving to Kentucky with her wife to teach in the University of Kentucky’s Department of Forestry, and even starting a family. However, she faced many years of depression, and after years of therapy, finally built up the trust with a therapist to break more than forty years of silence about her gender identity. While her therapist at the time was not an expert with that subject, the therapist referred McComb to someone who was. By this time, McComb and her wife had already divorced, and her oldest son was a senior in high school. At 49 years old, McComb took her first dose of hormones to begin her transition. At this time, McComb was working at the University of Massachusetts as a dean, following a 10-year stint at Oregon State University. However, after 13 years of work at the University of Massachusetts, McComb returned to OSU, and has remained in Oregon since. She has come to terms with her identity and is happier now than ever, blessed with an understanding family with whom she still maintains a close relationship despite the divorce.
Summary: In the interview, retired Oregon State University faculty member and administrator Brenda McComb begins by describing her early life in a conservative, blue-collar family, and growing up on a New England farm. McComb details how she struggled with gender identity for most her life, not knowing who to talk to or how to articulate her experience. Having no one to confide in, McComb explains that she always preferred to share her time with her dogs and other animals, spending long hours in nature. McComb describes the many ways that gender expectations were rigid in the 1950s and 60s, and how the actions of her peers made it clear from a young age that it was not safe to reveal her true self.
McComb explains how and why she continued living under her assigned gender for most of her education and career, all the while struggling with severe depression and depending on coping mechanisms like throwing herself into work and abusing alcohol. Nevertheless, McComb did her best to maintain a “normal” life, marrying her wife Gina and raising two sons. Not long after their son’s birth, McComb and her wife decided to move to Oregon, where she taught and conducted research in the Department of Forest Sciences and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University. After moving to teach at the University of Massachusetts, McComb explains that she finally began to seek therapeutic help for her depression and suicidal thoughts. She describes how this was a breakthrough moment in her struggles with gender identity, given that this was the first time she understood the cause of much of her unhappiness. In the interview, McComb describes the difficult situation she faced at this point in her life—to continue suffering with depression and risk suicide, or to begin the transition process and finally fell comfortable with herself.
McComb shares that she waited to “come out” to her colleagues and students until her oldest son had graduated from high school, as he had requested. When this time came, on a Friday afternoon, McComb sent an email to over 300 faculty and undergraduate students stating that on Monday she would like them to use she/her pronouns and referred to her as Brenda. After years of silence, depression and struggle, McComb was finally able to live her life openly and honestly.
Historical Context: The context of transgender issues in the late 20th century had a huge influence on not only the availability of resources for transgender individuals but also on access to knowledge about gender identity. Beginning in the 1970s there was increased activism for lesbian and gay people; however, this activism did not typically extend to people struggling with gender identity. Since transgender people were not commonly represented in mainstream culture, or even within the LGB culture of that time, many people struggling with gender identity often felt isolated.
In the early 21st century, transgender issues became more prevalent in mainstream media through movements like Transgender Nation, an early transgender organization that aided in bringing awareness to many people about the discrimination experienced by the transgender community. Increased awareness and public knowledge allowed more people to understand and explore their own gender identities.
In the 2000s, transgender visibility in the LGBT community increased markedly, and some transgender individuals entered public life. In 2003 Theresa Sparks was nominated and named “Woman of the Year” by California State Assembly, becoming the first openly transgender woman to be awarded this title. To be publicly recognized was a huge leap in transgender rights and recognition. While much activism has occurred in the last decade for transgender people, there are still leaps that we as a society need to make. Extreme discrimination continues to target transgender people, including job discrimination, housing discrimination, hate crimes, and so much more.
Searainya Bond-Frojen Oral History Interview
Date: May 19, 2017
Location: Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Interviewee: Searainya Bond-Frojen
Interviewers: Brooke Wendland, Sanghyeon (Han) Yu, and Ariana Rabette
Bio: Bond-Frojen was born in Florence, Oregon on October 10, 1971. Bond-Frojen’s mother, a radical activist hippie, named her Searainya because she was born by the sea, in the rain. Bond-Frojen’s father, a chef by trade, struggled with alcoholism, passing away when she was only 26 years old. Bond-Frojen has four half-siblings, but she only grew up with her half-brother Cassidy, who is four years her junior. Bond-Frojen attended K-12 schools in Florence, and discovered community and mentors through the Evangelical Christian church beginning in elementary school. Bond-Frojen attended Eugene Bible College, and though she took a break from pursuing her degree between ages 19 and 35, she ultimately earned a degree in Bible and Christian counseling. While on break from attending college, Bond-Frojen worked with developmentally disabled adults, and as a receptionist at Adventist Medical Center in Portland. After finally receiving her bachelor’s degree, Bond-Frojen went on to pursue a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. Although she had worked as a mental health counselor since completing graduate school, at the time of this interview Bond-Frojen was seeking new employment opportunities closer to her home in Corvallis, Oregon—where she lives with her partner Robin, and her stepson Colin.
Summary: In the interview, Bond-Frojen describes her atypical childhood in Florence, Oregon, under the care of an extremely progressive, politically active mother. Bond-Frojen explains that drugs and alcohol were prevalent in her early life, due to her “pot smoking” parents, and her father’s struggles with alcoholism. Although she describes her mother as a good parent, she also recognizes that drugs and alcohol sometimes interfered with consistency in her upbringing. In Bond-Frojen’s youth, she was heavily involved in the Evangelical Christian church and was extremely passionate about music—participating in both her school’s drumline, marching band, and jazz band. Bond-Frojen shares that religion and spirituality have played a large role throughout her life, and she forged many meaningful relationships with mentors through the church as a young person. Bond-Frojen did not identify as lesbian throughout most of her youth, and so experienced no conflict between her sexual identity and religious beliefs. Although LGBTQ+ issues were not discussed in her K-12 schools, Bond-Frojen recalls her mother using terms like “lesbian” and “gay,” and giving her the classic book Our Bodies, Ourselves to help her explore her sexuality. Bond-Frojen’s mother even told her that she knew Bond-Frojen was a lesbian and that she was supportive of it—even though Bond-Frojen herself was offended at the time, given that she did not yet identify as such.
Bond-Frojen describes how she continued to express her faith after high school, attending Christian universities for both her undergraduate and graduate education. Bond-Frojen earned her bachelor’s degree in Bible and Christian counseling from Eugene Bible College, after taking a 15-year break from her education. Bond-Frojen details how she spent her time during this break—working with adults with developmental disabilities for five to seven years, and as a receptionist at Portland’s Adventist Medical Center for almost a decade. Following this period, Bond-Frojen pursued a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from George Fox University from 2006 to 2010, even receiving a student-of-the-year award for her major. Bond-Frojen explains that it was during her time in graduate school that she came to identify as lesbian, though she did not feel safe “coming out” for fear that it would jeopardize her educational opportunities. In the interview, Bond-Frojen also describes the inner turmoil she faced when her spiritual and religious beliefs came in conflict with her sexual identity.
After much reflection, and while working as a mental health counselor following her academic career, Bond-Frojen found a way to reconcile this conflict. In the second half of the interview, Bond-Frojen describes her relationship with her wife Robin Frojen, whom she met online through the dating website OkCupid. This portion of the interview includes a lengthy discussion of Searainya and Robin’s relationship, including how it has evolved over time. In addition, Bond-Frojen briefly speaks about how the marriage equality act affected them as a couple.
Historical Context: Bond-Frojen joined the Evangelical church and for the next twenty plus years, she was an active and committed member of the denomination. During this time, Bond-Frojen was indoctrinated to believe that being homosexual, homosexual marriage, and abortion were all sinful and wrong. The leaders of the church actively supported Measure 9 in the early 1990s. Measure 9 was the anti-gay rights measure in Oregon that was supported by about 47% of the population. She remembered speaking with people about equal rights in the 1990s and being strongly against homosexual issues. Towards the end of her graduate schooling, Bond-Frojen had come to realize that she was a lesbian, which she knew would cause issues between herself and the church. After graduating, she did choose to separate herself completely from the group, with some negative responses from her past parishioners. When marriage equality passed in the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote in June 2015, it proved that LGBTQ+ and other minority groups were well on their way to achieving equality under the law, which made it a very emotional experience for Sea. She was a domestic partner with Robin Frojen at the time, but Romer v. Evans meant that the couple was finally able to get married and have the wedding that they had dreamed of.
One defining event for Bond-Frojen and her partner Robin Frojen was the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016, when a mass-shooter specifically and tragically targeted the LGBTQ+ community. Omar Mateen entered the Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016, killing 49 people, and injuring 53 more. It really stirred the couple and they decided to start fostering youth who felt unsafe or threatened in their current living arrangement or community. Although they had to pause this endeavor recently, they still are taking in friends who feel unsafe in this current political and social climate and plan to continue fostering in the future. Her effort to support the LGBTQ+ community has been more as a social activist and as a mental health advocate rather than a political activist. Bond-Frojen has been active in the local Pride festivals, as well as other community functions, but would rather spend her time helping those around her. Bond-Frojen is an interesting person to interview for the queer archives because she was what one might classify as “questioning” for her whole life up until about ten years ago when she transitioned to “in the closet” and then became openly gay 5 years later. She is a good example of what people who belong to a strict religious affiliation experience when coming out as LGBTQ+. Bond-Frojen plans to continue her social activism by establishing a “intentional living community” of tiny houses that pools their resources and skills to coexist harmoniously in a world where they feel excluded and unsafe.
Jill McAllister Oral History Interview
Date: May 22, 2017
Location: Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Interviewee: Jill McAllister
Interviewers: Zachary T Barry, Chad Lee, Khalaf Albaqawi
Bio: Jill McAllister was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1958, and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. McAllister’s family was active in the Methodist church during her youth, which ultimately impacted her own spiritual journey. McAllister attended high school at Kirkwood High School, in the suburbs of St. Louis. After completing her secondary education, McAllister pursued a bachelor of science degree from Duke University, a master of arts degree from Washington University, and a master of theological studies from Mt. Angel Seminary. She married at 22 and moved to Corvallis in 1981. McAllister went to seminary while living in Corvallis and left in 1998 to act as pastor of a church in Michigan. From 1998 until 2013, she was the minister at the People’s Church of Kalamazoo in Michigan state. Her ministry there, according to her congregants, was transformational in many aspects of church life, including Sunday worship, community building, stewardship, and social justice. McAllister was also a key figure in the creation of ISAAC (Interfaith Strategy for Action and Advocacy in the Community), an interfaith group in Kalamazoo and an affiliate of the Gamaliel Network of grassroots, interfaith, interracial, multi-issue organizations working together to create a more just and more democratic society. In September 2013, McAllister was called back to Corvallis to pastor the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Fellowship. McAllister believes that in telling each other the stories of our lives, we can begin to understand our obligations to one another. The Reverend McAllister is now a minister in the UU Fellowship of Corvallis, and has received several honors for her ministerial work. She helped found and continues to work with the International Council of Unitarian Universalists (ICUU), earning their Founder’s Vision Award in 2011. With the People’s Church in Kalamazoo, McAllister received the UUA Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Social Justice in 2012. She previously served on the board of trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association, has been a member of the National Clergy Advisory Board for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has held many other leadership roles.
Summary: In this interview, Reverend Jill McAllister begins by describing her upbringing in St Louis, MO and her subsequent education at Duke and Washington Universities. McAllister briefly worked for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC, before relocating to Corvallis, OR. It was in Oregon that she discovered the Unitarian Universalist organization, and was exposed to LGBTQ rights for the first time. While studying to be a minister, McAllister discovered that “love was just love,” and soon started using her position to encourage others to be more tolerant or supportive of LGBTQ communities. In the interview, she describes the forward-thinking nature of Unitarian Universalists, who performed LGB marriages before they were legally binding, and taught physically accurate and comprehensive sexual education courses. Following seminary, McAllister spent a decade in Michigan, working with the congregation to receive a “Welcoming Congregation” certification. This certification was awarded to congregations which went through a series of acceptance classes, but her community in Michigan felt that they were accepting enough already. However, McAllister was eventually successful in finishing the process. During her time in Michigan, the sexual education curriculum was updated and transgender rights became a topic of discussion. McAllister emphasizes that she believes a healthy sexual identity is an essential component of a healthy person. After participating in adult sexual education classes, she realized that many people were never formally taught about sexuality, and this propelled her involvement. The Unitarian Universalists’ curriculum was so successful that community members from outside the congregation often enrolled their children in the class. The interview concludes with McAllister explaining that the local Unitarian Universalist building does not have gender-specific bathrooms, and that their national convention has designated some gender-inclusive bathrooms as well. She views this as a positive, explaining that it even makes sense from a building design standpoint—if there are not that many bathrooms, it would be better to make each one accessible to everyone.
Brooke Collison Oral History Interview
Date: May 23, 2017
Location: Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Interviewee: Brooke Collison
Interviewers: Zachary T Barry, Chad Lee, Khalaf Albaqawi
Bio: Brooke Collison, now a professor emeritus of counselor education, was born in 1934 in Buffalo, Kansas. He is the youngest of three children, with one brother and one sister. Collison’s mother was a school teacher and his father was a farmer. His family attended the United Methodist Church every Sunday and practiced somewhat traditional values. He attended a small K-8 elementary school in Buffalo before transferring across the county to Yates Center, Kansas. His high school class had 84 people, which was a large increase from the class sizes in Buffalo. He continued on to college, completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas. After graduating from college, Brooke had various teaching jobs before he decided he wanted to return to school and obtain his PhD. He went to the University of Missouri to follow his dream of being a counselor.
Following his doctorate degree, Professor Collison joined the American Counseling Association and became a prominent voice for the organization. Some of Professor Collison’s most influential work occurred through the American Counseling Association, where he led the group as president for a substantial amount of time. He did much work through a specific division of the association which is called Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling (ALGBTIC). Between the United Methodist Church and the American Counseling Association, Brooke has been a champion of social justice. His church was one of the first churches to take a stance on the acceptance of the LGBTQ community. This was a channel Brooke used to pioneer many organizations and events for the LGBTQ community here in Corvallis. He moved to Oregon with his wife Joan and became a professor of counselor education at Oregon State University (OSU). At Oregon State, Brooke and his colleagues were important advocates for the LGBTQ community and created various programs to aid students who were struggling with their identity. He still lives in Corvallis but is very active, frequently travelling all over the country. Brooke Collison has been a longstanding ally for the LGBTQ community, and continues to make great strides for this community.
Summary: The interview with Brooke Collison ranges from topics such as discussing LBGTQ issues with those uneducated on the subject to the importance of counseling and creating stronger community outreach. Professor Collison discusses his Midwestern childhood in which the size of the small towns he lived in never gave him the chance to meet and learn about those within the LBGTQ community. Also during the first decades of his life, as for many during this time, Professor Collison observed little to no activism regarding the LBGTQ community. Professor Collison describes that for years, there were only “whispers” about men who seemed effeminate and thus must, in the eyes of peers and adults, be gay. As activism progressed and events such as Stonewall occurred, it gave many such as Professor Collison the chance to learn more and do more for those around them. During his tenure at Oregon State University he took the first steps in creating an outreach program for LGBTQ folks at OSU. The importance of creating safe space and support for LGBTQ youth was matched by its risk. Professors and other parties at the time risked their jobs and careers for creating the Opening Doors Conference which included fellow professors, public school teachers, students, and counselors. During the 1990s, LGBTQ activism had started to reach national levels, yet for a small community such as Corvallis there were still risks for professionals who encouraged LGBTQ youth to discuss their lives openly and seek support. Social stigma, community backlash and lack of support would clash with the progressive ideals of aiding those who needed guidance for a better understanding of their true identity.
Professor Collison goes on to detail the importance of activism and the effort it took from all parties involved: students, parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators. In the interview, Professor Collison also outlines his previous and ongoing work with the Methodist Church. It is well known that the Methodist Church is one of the most accepting sectors of Christianity for groups in the LGBTQ community. Professor Collison explains that his work has not been confined to the United States, for he has done an enormous amount of outreach and collaboration in Kenya, specifically at the Kenya Methodist University in Meru. Interviewers: Alexa Huewe, Luke Van Lehman.
Historical Context: During the mid-to late 1990s, LGBTQ individuals living in Corvallis and/or involved at Oregon State University did not have the means to properly seek counseling, guidance, or community assistance. Activism was ramping up during this decade within Oregon, yet there were still voids that needed to be filled. Brooke Collison and his peers within the Methodist Church and at Oregon State University devised an outreach program that was built to fill in the void their community, for both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ members. This work involved local teachers, community members, students, parents, counselors, and allies. The high student turnout proved to many that there were those with questions and those that benefited from this program not only within the Corvallis community but also at Oregon State. It was considered risky at the time due to the fact if ill received, many administrators and professors such as Brooke Collison could lose their jobs. Gay and lesbian students now had an area in which to build bonds within their community as well as the greater Oregon State and Corvallis communities. The use of counselors and other guidance workers allowed not only LGBTQ individuals, but also their families and friends, to ask questions and seek information and support. The most influential part of this process was also the fact that those who may be skeptical toward the LBGTQ community and activism now had a conduit to ask questions and be guided to a better understanding. As time progressed, Oregon State University and the Methodist church that Professor Collison still attends have continued their goal of supporting and offering resources to those in the LBGTQ community.
Leah Houtman Oral History Interview
Date: May 24, 2017
Location: Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Interviewee: Leah Houtman
Interviewers: Lily Waggoner, Clarice Gilray, Kat Dykstra
Bio: Leah Houtman was born on November 13th, 1983 outside Philadelphia, PA. Houtman is one of four sisters, and is the second-born child. Houtman’s mother was also born in Pennsylvania, but her father had grown up in Wisconsin. Houtman moved many times with her family throughout her youth due to her parents’ ever-changing employment, financial, and relationship circumstances—first from Philadelphia to Wisconsin, then to a rural town in Indiana where she and her sisters were homeschooled. When Houtman was eleven years old, her parents divorced and her mother came out as a lesbian. Following this, Houtman moved with her mother and sisters to Lafayette, Indiana where she attended public schools. Houtman relocated with her family at least twice more within Indiana after this, living in Indianapolis for a short time, and then moving to another rural town where one of her mother’s girlfriends was living. Leah herself came out as bisexual and then lesbian at the age of fourteen, and encouraged and supported her fellow students to come out regardless of the fact that they lived in a rural conservative area.
After successfully completing high school, Houtman attended Earlham college, a private school in Indiana, for two years before taking a break and ultimately leaving Earlham indefinitely. However, Houtman met her future wife at Earlham, and the two moved to Oregon shortly after, wanting to get out of Indiana and inspired by Houtman’s girlfriend’s parents who were moving from Maine to Oregon at the same time. After relocating to the west coast, Houtman began attending Oregon State University (OSU), and additionally trained as a caregiver, herbalist, and doula. She graduated summa cum laude from OSU, and went on to earn a master’s degree in women, gender, and sexuality studies. At the time of the interview, Houtman was working towards her PhD in anthropology at OSU. She and her partner had three separate wedding ceremonies with varying degrees of legality, as she puts it. Their first baby was carried by Leah’s wife and was born in 2014; the second was carried by Leah and was born in 2016. Leah hopes to become a tenure track professor after receiving a PhD in applied anthropology, with a specialized interest medical anthropology and maternity issues. She also plans to train as a midwife.
Summary: In the interview, Leah Houtman begins by providing a detailed description of her childhood as somewhat of a transient. Houtman describes what life was like in rural Indiana in the late 1980s and 90s, the tumultuous experience of her parents’ divorce and her mother coming out as a lesbian, and her varying experiences with both public and homeschool education. Houtman describes her childhood self as a bookish nerd who sometimes struggled in social situations, which was often exasperated by their many relocations. She speaks about the close relationship she had with her sisters, who were her only social life while they were being homeschooled. During this portion of the interview, Houtman also tells the story of her coming out, which she explains was in part prompted by a short stay at an inpatient facility when she was experiencing severe depression and suicidal thoughts. She also reflects on how her mother’s identity as a lesbian also made the identity more accessible to her at a young age. Houtman goes on to explain the complicated relationship she had with her parents during her youth, as well as the impact some of her mother’s partners had on her following the divorce. The interview then explores Houtman’s undergraduate studies and how she met her wife and explored a variety of different occupations at this time, before moving to Oregon and completing her degree at Oregon State. After talking about her college experiences, the interview shifts into more specific questions regarding LGBTQ+ issues and how they have affected her throughout various stages in her life. This includes a transition into questions regarding her wife and how they met, their marriages, and the journey to have children together. The interview ends with a discussion on the legal issues regarding Houtman and her wife’s children, as well as the support they’ve felt while living in Oregon, especially as compared to other places.
Historical Context: In the 1990’s, Leah Houtman’s parents divorced due to her mother coming out as a lesbian. In 1992, one survey suggested that only forty-four percent of people claimed to know someone gay, so LGBTQ issues were not really a well understood and accepted topic. Living also in Indiana meant that her surroundings were very conservative. The LGBTQ+ community isn’t generally welcomed or liked by conservatives, at least judging by their response and refusal to accept gay marriage. Leah also mentioned that in her small town in Indiana most everyone was religious. Conservative religious thought was supported by the anti-gay political laws. Only three states over from Indiana in 1998, 21-year-old gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was beaten into a coma and tied to a fence outside Laramie, where he would not be discovered for 18 hours. Gay lynching was not seen as uncommon during this decade, as people that were part of the LGBTQ+ community in the 1990’s didn’t receive the level of protections that they do today. Not until 2009 was federal hate crime legislation finally extended to protect gay individuals. However, during the 1990’s, being gay wasn’t seen as taboo as it had been before. For instance in 1995, British actor Nigel Hawthorne became the first openly gay Best Actor nominee in the history of the Academy Awards. The LGBTQ+ community was gaining visibility. Leah married Rachel in 2008 in California. California, in 2008, actually had half a year of granting licenses for gay marriage only to take them away after the November elections. Leah and Rachel then moved to Washington where they got married with an actual license that they could keep. Oregon respected licenses from other states at the time, so they were accepted as partners legally. To solidify their union against any federal laws that might change in the future, they filed for domestic partnership in Oregon. Regarding both of their children, Oregon law allows the birth mother’s registered domestic partner or spouse to be added to the birth certificate without an adoption.
Marlene Massey Oral History Interview
Date: May 24, 2017
Location: Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Interviewee: Marlene Massey
Interviewers: Angela Dunham, Jessica Osborn, and Pedro Arenas
Bio: Massey is a historical figure in Oregon who has been involved in both LGBTQ activism and disability justice activism. She was a member of the political advocacy group After 8 and has worked on behalf of both LGBTQ and disabled peoples for many years.
Summary: In the interview, Marlene Massey begins by describing her early life growing up in a middle-class New Jersey suburb with two siblings—a younger brother and sister. During this first portion of the interview, Massey touches on the highly visible pushback against sex education in New Jersey schools, and the complete lack of discussion surrounding “alternative sexualities” which occurred during her youth. Massey explains how she came to realize her sexuality through a crush on a female gym teacher, and by getting in trouble for being too close or “too much of a sister” to her fellow Girl Scouts in high school. Massey describes how neither she nor her lover Barb in high school identified as lesbians or used the term, they would sneak out of their houses at night to see one another. Massey moved to Oregon in the 1980s with a woman she had, funny enough, met at her Girl Scout camp.
Following a discussion of her youth, Massey describes an incident which occurred while she was teaching preschool in Oregon. She describes how the assistant director of the school attributed a student’s problems to their lesbian mother, and Massey disagreed. A year later, that same assistant director cut Massey’s hours, but no one else’s. When no one at the school came to her defense, Massey left to find another job, and says she decided not to pursue a legal case based on advice from a friend. Massey discusses why she joined the Benton County LGBT organization After 8, describing herself as not political but motivated by a desire to live a normal life with her partner. Her involvement with After 8 included doing the decorations for the Harvey Milk dinner, picking up trash for a sponsored highway section, and helping organize for the “Gay Games” event. Then Massey explains how her involvement with After 8 ended, when she was hospitalized for a rare brain injury, and discusses her experience with being hospitalized. Massey then explains how her involvement with After 8 planted the seeds for her current activism. Massey shares her views of the similarities and differences between advocating for disability justice and LGBTQ+ rights. Massey then discusses her work with the local public library and the Unitarian Church. Finally, she reflects upon changes she has seen in attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community both locally and nationally.
Historical Context: In 1986, a group called the Oregon Citizens Alliance, or the OCA, was founded. This group was a conservative political activist group that sponsored certain measures at both the local and statewide levels, from the late 1980s through the early 2000s. The OCA was best known for supporting anti-LGBTQ+ measures that would revoke protections against discrimination for the LGBTQ+ community. At the state level, these measures included Measure 8 in 1988, Measure 10 in 1990, Measure 9 in 1992, and another Measure 9 in 2000. However, Measure 8 was their only statewide success. Measure 8 was the OCA’s one and only statewide triumph. The objective of this measure was to overturn the executive order by Governor Neil Goldschmidt that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in the executive branch of the Oregon state government. This measure included a statute that not only made it legal for all state government officials to discriminate against state employees based on sexual orientation, but also banned them from requiring non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 1988, Measure 8 passed with a majority vote of 52.7 percent. In response to the passing of Ballot Measure 8, an LGBT rights activist group called After 8 was established in Benton County, OR in 1989. Marlene Massey was an active member of the After 8 organization in the early 1990s. The mission of the group was “To create conditions which ensure that all person are protected from any discrimination based on sexual orientation.” After 8’s activism mainly involved community outreach and education events, as well as community service, involvement in political activity, and involvement with the local school boards. One of the primary goals of the After 8 organization was to increase visibility for the LGBT community, as well as to educate the public about LGBT rights. In 1992, Harriet P. Merrick and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon took the law to court. Measure 8 was ruled unconstitutional, and was therefore overturned. The After 8 organization continued to do LGBT activist work through 2002.
Merry Demarest Oral History Interview
Date: May 25, 2017
Location: Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Interviewee: Merry Demarest
Interviewers: Justyn Jacobs, Lucy Hillenbrand, and Meredith Bowers
Bio: Merry Demarest was born on March 17, 1949 in Casper, Wyoming, where she lived until she was five years old. Following this, Demarest’s mother moved them out of state without consent from her father. The family grew to include five more children when her mother remarried, and they moved often, throughout the United States. While living in Las Vegas, the family joined the Mormon Church. When the Mormon Church began funding politicians and organizations against ratifying the ERA, Demarest began to actively organize and protest in support of the ERA, leading to her later arrest (in Seattle) and excommunication from the Mormon church. After graduating high school, Demarest attended Reed College in Portland, where she met her husband, Harry Demarest. The two continued to be politically active and involved in organizations like Emily’s List, which supports pro-choice, female, Democratic candidates for office. Demarest also served as co-President of the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and on the national board for 5 years. Since moving to Corvallis in 1979, the Demarest’s have been active within the Benton County Democratic Party, particularly in support of the ‘No on 9’ and pro-equality movements after the 1988 Measure 8 supported by the ultra-conservative Oregon Citizens Alliance. Demarest currently lives in Corvallis with her husband Harry, with plans to remain active in the local Democratic community. The two have one daughter, Joan, and two grandsons. Merry Demarest has inspired countless individuals through her encounters as an activist, and her role in Basic Rights Oregon and many other organizations. She and her husband were recognized with an award from Human Rights Campaign Fund for their efforts.
Summary: In the interview, Merry Demarest begins by discussing her youth, including her many relocations during childhood and young adulthood, and a tumultuous family dynamic after her mother remarried. Following this portion of the interview, Demarest focuses on her social justice activism through the years, which began fairly early in her life. Demarest discusses her involvement with the National Organization for Women (NOW), her positions within the organization, and her campaigning for the federal Equal Rights Amendment. After this, Demarest proceeds to a discussion of her work campaigning for Hillary Clinton by encouraging constituents in Texas to attend party caucuses for the Democratic nomination. After 8 is the next organization she discusses, including her involvement with that organization in fighting Corvallis Measure 02-06, a homophobic measure written by the Oregon Citizens Alliance. She then talks about campaigning for Bill Clinton in the 1984 gubernatorial election in Arkansas. Demarest’s involvement with the Democratic Party of Oregon and her chairing of the Democratic Oregon State Fair booth for 12 years are the next topics she discusses. Demarest then describes the importance of Emily’s List to her extended family because of their early involvement. Demarest then outlines how she became the founding chair of the LGBTQ+ organization Basic Rights Oregon after being a co-chair of the anti-Oregon Measure 9 campaign, and what the organization’s goals were both when it was founded and at the time of the interview, in 2017.
In the latter portion of the interview, Demarest details her involvement with the Human Rights Campaign and the award she and her husband Harry received from the organization. She then returns to a discussion about campaigning in Utah for the Equal Rights Amendment, and her interactions with the women opening their doors to her. One of the last topics Demarest spends time on is her work campaigning for Hillary Clinton, and then for Barack Obama in the 2008 election. Demarest gives her thoughts on the 2016 presidential election and advice for today’s young activists, and explains what her more recent involvement with the Benton County Democrats has been. Finally, Demarest discusses her current project: trying to encourage local music venues to refuse to book the Eugene, Oregon band Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.
Historical Context: Merry Demarest has spent most of her life fighting for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and all the rights that went along with the amendment. The ERA was first introduced in 1923. The ERA was designed to create equal rights for women in conjunction with the 19th amendment and further its scope and power. While this amendment was passed by Congress in 1972 to this day the amendment has yet to be ratified by many states. Merry spent most of her efforts on this fight but her activism took many different shapes. Merry has participated in the National Organization for Women which was founded in 1966 and was back then, and still is, a cornerstone organization which fought for women’s rights. This organization was considered one of the first feminist organizations of its kind. She has continued her work to this day with Emily’s List. Emily’s List stands for “Early Money Is Like Yeast,” and is a pro-choice organization that raises money and support for pro-choice women in political officer, and has been doing so for 25 years. Her activism did not just stay in the sphere of women’s rights but expanded to all human rights, including LGBTQ+ and Civil Rights. Merry worked on both the After 8 campaign and the no on Measure 02-06 campaign in Corvallis, OR which were both pro-LGBTQ+ groups which fought for equality for all. Her activism would evolve into Basic Rights Oregon, which is still around today and is an organization that fights for all those oppressed.
Harry Demarest Oral History Interview
Date: May 25, 2017
Location: Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Interviewee: Harry Demarest
Interviewers: Hunter Murga, Nikki Bott, and Jordan Morrison
Bio: Demarest is a long-time Oregon Democrat who has been heavily involved in electoral politics throughout the state and at a national level. He worked closely with the National Organization for Women, and he helped to develop software that allows people to easily read and make sense of voter lists.
Summary: Harry Demarest is a long-standing Democrat in Oregon who has a history of advocating for women’s rights and organizing against anti-LGBT ballot measures. The oral history interview begins with Harry Demarest describing his background, including several of the things that caused him to become involved in politics, such as the Vietnam war. Interestingly enough, in his earlier years, Harry identified as a Republican, though eventually joined the democratic party and become a party leader in Oregon. He also describes how he met his wife and co-conspirator Merry. Later on, he and Merry were publically ex-communicated from the Mormon church as part of an effort to support the Equal Rights Amendment. At length, Harry describes his participation in electoral politics, which included compiling voter lists, canvassing, and designing computer software for the party. Harry was also involved with the Oregon Chapter of the National Organization for Women.
Historical Context: As the 80s came to a close, the specter of President Ronald Reagan’s policies and ideals still loomed large over the discourse of US politics. Leaving office, Ronald Reagan was one of the most popular departing presidents in history, and his policies still have a significant effect on policy in the early 21st century. While the Moral Majority was not as significant a force as it was in the prime of Reagan’s administration, it had been woven into the fabric of the Republican Party. Much of the social activism of the Reagan administration continued after Reagan, and is the foundation of the Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA) in the 1990s in Oregon. The dominant discourse of perceiving LGBT individuals as immoral and sinful still carried weight during the 90s, and rather than couch this rhetoric in the language of morality and sin, as was the case during the prime of the Moral Majority, the OCA and other organizations such as the one in Colorado that passed Amendment 2 argued that their proposal wasn’t about morality, but rather “special rights”, a concept that, as time showed, would not pass judicial muster.
In any case, the OCA really came to the spotlight in 1988, when they successfully lobbied for the passage of Measure 8, which repealed Governor Neil Goldschmidt’s anti-discrimination ordinances. This statewide victory was short-lived, being overturned in 1992 in Merrick v. Oregon. This did not stop the OCA, which used this opportunity to attempt to pass Measure 9, which was defeated by voters. However, the OCA had arguably the most success on the local or municipal level. In the case of Corvallis and Benton County, however, they failed. This was due to the efforts of the Benton County Democratic Party, assisted by the likes of Harry Demarest, who both led the Democratic Party in Benton County and developed walking lists in order to better reach to voters to oppose OCA measures. The result: the proposals of the OCA were handily defeated by wide margins in Corvallis and Benton County.
It may be that the OCA became more active at the local level in the 1990s because of their state wide failures. The organization’s leaders reasoned that they could capitalize on the varying cultures of different regions of the state, focusing on the conservative areas of Southern and Eastern Oregon. Indeed, there was more success in these areas than in the Willamette Valley. However, the OCA faded into obscurity much like the Moral Majority did, and today they are no longer even a shadow of a political force in Oregon. In fact, it could be argued that their efforts led to the establishment of a vast acceptance of LGBT rights in Oregon, in an ironic twist to their goals.
Bradley Boovy Oral History Interview
Date: June 6, 2017
Location: Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR
Interviewee: Bradley Boovy
Interviewers: Dalton Holt, Ian Lipanovich, and Elizabeth Jung
Interview Video Only Available In-Person via OSQA
Bio: Boovy is an assistant professor of German and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University. Boovy grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana and attended religious schools throughout his childhood and adolescence and went to a Jesuit college where he studied languages. His research focuses on historical constructions of gay male sexuality in postwar periods, and his most recent research project focuses on gender and sexuality as they relate to food.
Summary: Bradley Boovy is a professor in World Languages and Cultures and also teaches courses in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Oregon State University. In this oral history interview, Bradley first talks about his childhood growing up in the vibrant city of New Orleans, Louisiana and attending religious schools, including a Jesuit High School. He describes his early experiences with LGBTQ people and identities, paying special attention to the role religion played in mediating these experiences. Bullying was common during his primary school years and affected his sense of belonging to the community. He also discusses his relationship with his family, both during his childhood and later on in life, especially his mother and father.
Moving on from his childhood and adolescence, Bradley talks about going to college and discovering a love for language. His college years were important in shaping his understandings of religion and social justice as well as his own personal identities. He struggled to come out to his girlfriend of many years and spent some time in Texas and Germany afterward before coming back to Oregon to teach in the position he currently holds. Coming out to his family was also difficult and has affected his relationship with many of his family members. He has yet to tell some of them, and probably never will, for fear of their reactions. Finally, the interview concludes with Bradley talking about his hopes for the future.
All of the interviews mentioned in this blog post, plus those from last year’s HST 368 class and many more, can be found in the Oregon State Queer Archives Oral History Collection by clicking here.