Sally L. Phillips oral history interview

Sally L. Phillips oral history interview

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Sally L. Phillips oral history interview
University of South Florida -- Library. -- Special & Digital Collections. -- Oral History Program


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Oral history ( local )
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interviewed by Dr. Cyrana Brooks Wyker.

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University of South Florida Library
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University of South Florida
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L34-00019 ( USFLDC DOI )
l34.19 ( USFLDC Handle )

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LGBT Oral History Project

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xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
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text Cyrana Wyker: This is Cyrana Wyker. I am here with Sally Phillips at the USF Tampa Campus Library. This interview is part of the Tampa Bay GLBT Oral History Project under my direction. Today is November 12th, 2013. Do I have your permission to record this interview?
Sally Phillips: You do, yes.
CW: Okay, so, lets just start at the very, very beginning. When were you born? And where were you born?
SP: Well, I was born on October 24th 1952. And I was born in Durham, North Carolina at Duke Hospital.
CW: And you were raised in North Carolina?
SP: I was, I was. My parents at the time were living in Chapel Hill. My father was in school at the University of North Carolina. We lived there until I was five, six, five. And then we moved into Kerry, North Carolina, which is a suburb of Raleigh. We lived there until I was ten. We lived a year in Illinois, Champaign-Urbana Illinois, and this was my sixth grade year. I was ten, eleven, ten and eleven. That was in 1963, 62, 63. My dad was going getting his doctorate in library science at the University of Illinois.
CW: And then, um, so where did you attend high school?
SP: Oh, well then, okay then, we moved back to Raleigh.
CW: Okay.
SP: We moved into Raleigh. I went to high school and a little bit of college. I did not graduate, but a little bit of college in North Carolina at North Carolina State University and Peace College in Raleigh.
CW: Okay. So, what umwhat was your family life like?
SP: Well, I haveI am the oldest of three children. I have a brother and a sister. My brother is five years younger than me and my sister is six years younger than me. And we hadIve always, umwe were in probably an upper-middle class life at that point. My dad was the director of libraries at the North Carolina State University library system and was very accomplished. He was busy during his life making his way in the world.
And my mother was a stay at home mom most of the time. She worked some part time jobs, but she was pretty much home with us as kids. It wasit was happy. It was a good upbringing. We had some things that went on, but in general it was a good happy normal family life. One of the biggest things I guess that happened, now when I was twenty I got married and being that this is LGBT history I wasI met a boy at fifteen.
We got married at twenty and I moved away from home, and my life was going to be that. And, again, I was in North Carolina. My family is very progressive. As the time has gone and considering North Carolina life, being that North Carolina is the middle of the bible belt, but we being in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, thats a bit more progressive.
I was surrounded by people, who were at that timeand, again, this was the sixties, were marching against the Vietnam War, were very much into the political and the progressive political movement. And I feel very blessed that I was, because it allowed me to look at life, and to become involved in the political scene, and, again, the progressive. At that time it was liberal, but in the Democratic scene in North Carolina when I married, and, again, this is the life I thought I was going to hold. And we moved away.
We moved down to South Carolina and then we moved back up to North Carolina to the coast. And my parents during that period of time, my parents house burned, and my brother and my sister were in the house, which was a real traumatic thing. They came out of it fine, but there was a young boy who was visiting. Well, my parents had been out of town. My brother, as a young teenager sometimes does, brought friends over, had a party, and the fire was attributed to a cigarette that had been dropped in a lounge chair
CW: Oh, gosh.
SP: down in the family room and the house burned. And a young boy was killed in the fire. So, that was pretty traumatic, and that was a really traumatic time for my family, and my brother and my sister certainly, and my mom and dad. I was away, but it really, but it really hit us. It was a very difficult time. And I think it has affected the growth of particularly my brother and sister.
Well, at the same time, I was in a marriage that I knew that was just not going to be, and I didnt know why. I just knew that it wasnt exactly what I foresaw it to be, what I thought it would be, and it was all this was all kind of around the same time. I was twenty-two, twenty-three. Well, as it turned out, during this period of time, I met a woman, and kind of that changed my life, I mean, a hundred percent.
And being that my family was going through, my mom and dad, and my brother and sister were going through a lot. I was also going through this change in my life. So, it was, you know, it was a pretty stressful, difficult time. Even to this day thats probably the most difficult of times that we went through.
I left my husband. My family didnt understand why, what I was doing, and I didnt either, but I just knew that there was a woman that I needed to go to. And, again, I was twenty-three. And Iagain, it changed my life. I mean, totally changed my life. But it was as it turns out now and certainly that was thirty plus years ago, that was absolutely the biggest upheaval in my life thats ever happened, but it was good.
CW: Right.
SP: I mean, it was all as it turns out now it was good that it all happened, but it was sure difficult at the time. And Im not sure that we as a family ever really sat down and talked about any of it, and I think that was the challenge. And thats what I look at now as being something that we shouldve done, couldve done, and it probably would have made it easier for all of us to go through.
CW: Um-hm. How did you meet her?
SP: (Laughs) I, um, I went to work at a hospital. I mean, I changed jobs. I had worked several jobs. I left school because I was marrying my ex-husband. We were focused on his career. And just like women did back then, and you know, it is what it is, but thats what happened. And I went into a new job, and thisit was at a hospital, which is not something Id ever done before, and this woman was assigned to train me.
You know, to kind of beand we went all throughout the hospital and we learned a lot, or I learned a lot, and we really did learn a lot. Her husband was leaving her. Althoughand he was having an affair, but she didnt know it. So, her life was just all crazy. And I came in and we just clicked. It was just one of those things that we just clicked, and we ended up together, and together for five years.
And she had a young child who was five years old. We, the two of us, or the three of us, were a family. And it was really a wonderful thing. I mean, it wasit pulled me completely away from the life that I knew. And I remember the day that I left my husband. I piled everything that I had in my car.
Or everything, like, my clothes and my dog, and I left. And he said, and Ill just never forget this, he said as I was leaving, You wont make it. Youll be back. And at that point I realized that that was the worst thing he could say to me, because there is no way Id come back no matter what.
CW: Yeah.
SP: Because I just was not going to be told that. Because I knew no matter what I was going to, because I didnt know, but I was going tomy life was going to be mine at that point. And up to that point it had not been. I termed it back then, I was like his third arm. I was like his. And that just wasnt what II fought that. But thats kind of the life that I had known and the life that I thought I was going to have.
I think it wasyes, I met Cindy, but I think it was just me going, You know, this is not something that II need to be me. And I didnt know me. I knew me as connected to him, and I knew me as connected to my family, but I didnt know who I was. I had no concept of me in the world without being attached to something else. And thats what I had to do.
And I think that was more than anything else, but she came into the picture, and that was what pulled me away, and in to the life that I knew, I know now. I didnt know then, but I know now. And I knew pretty quickly after that, within several years after that, that this is the life that I needed to be. This where I felt like I was truly me. And it was certainly nothing that I felt like fromyou know, a lot of people within our community know from the time theyre young.
They know thatI knew there was something a little different about me. I knew that there wereyou know, but I was able to interact, and I was able to date, you know, and I was able to do the things that I knew that should be doing, you know, in the straight world or in the heterosexual world.
I could do that. I mean, it was not something that I completely fought and it was certainly not anything that I thought that it was not me at that point. But as time grew I realized where I was truly comfortable and happy and content. And just settling into who I need to be.
CW: What year was it that you met her?
SP: Um, I met her in 1975.
CW: Um-hm, okay. So did
SP: 1975, yes.
CW: Did you, at the time, did you consider your relationship to be a quote unquote lesbian relationship?
SP: No.
CW: Okay.
SP: No, in fact Im glad you led me there because we were together five years. I left her the middle of seventyno, no, no, no. I left my husband the first of seventy-six, in January of 1976.
CW: Okay.
SP: I walked out. I put everythingI put my clothes in the car and I went to her. I mean, I went to her house and it just destroyed him. I mean, ithe just was just very, very surprised and veryjust didnt understand it. And I didnt know enough to understand it. It wasyou know, I blamed myself forbut there was nothing else I could do. And that was 1976. And I went We were living in Newborn, North Carolina. And she was working at Well, we were both working at the hospital in Newborn.
She decided So, anyway we lived together in Newborn. It got to be for me it got to be very, very, very difficult, because he was there and he was doing everything he could to try to win me back. I mean, from flowers at work, from calls, from stopping by where we were living together unexpectedly, just really creating some real angst in me. Again, I was not understanding exactly where I was. I just knew that I couldnt go back to him.
I knew that I wanted to be and needed to be with her. So, she decided to go to school in Charlotte, which is meh 200 miles away from Newborn, down near the coast to Charlotte, North Carolina. And so, I decided Id go. I mean, I really had nothing to go except with her, but I just needed to get out of Newborn. I needed to get away from him, and thats pretty much why I went, is to get away.
But, again, it was certainly a draw to go with her. And she had a five year old daughter and so it was the three of us. And he still tried very hard to do all he could do to get me back and toI mean, it was very difficult. He would contact my parents, my mom, who I grew to be very, very close to after all this, but my mom told me, she said, Sally, youve had everything that you could have ever wanted with him. Why? Your life was likeit could have beenI mean, it was just like perfect.
And, but obviously it wasnt for me, but he had a good job and he could provide. And he couldyou know, I couldve stayed there and been a stay-at-home mother, which is what he wanted to happen. And it just wasnt what I needed it to be. And again, I didnt know where I was going, but I just knew that I couldnt be there.
CW: Right.
SP: So, um, you know, kind of thinking about it and reliving it, you know, it was a real, real, real stressful time. It was probably the most difficult thing Ive ever gone through, except when my mom passed away, which was 2009. And, like I said, we grew very close overafter we went through that. And then I was able to open up to her and she wasabsolutely grew to be my best friend, but during that time it was something that we really went through.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: Shewe were able then after that to talk, but not then.
CW: So, did she know about your relationship with
SP: Not at all.
CW: Okay.
SP: See, I couldnt tell anybody, because I didnt know. I didnt know myself. Mewhen you asked the question, did we consider ourselves in a lesbian relationship, absolutely not. We were the only two in the world like us that we thought. We were totally in the closet, if thats the term we wanted to use.
Because we I mean, we were in North Carolina. It was the seventies. Wetheres just no way that we could have gottencome out at all. I wasnt out. I was out in no way, no way, except to her. We would go out and do things like we were best friends, and come home, and come home into the same bed.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: You know, so, it was very, very different than any of the relationships that Ive had since. After the five year period, um, it got to be a struggle, because we were that way. And I was realizing that being a lesbian is who I was. That was a process. I was realizing that I am oriented toward women as much as I had men who were friends, but it wasnt an orientation toward men.
It wasand I think I said a little bit that, you know, I was having boyfriends and, you know, but Im not bisexual. I know that. The orientation within LGBT community, its an orientation, and its not all based around sex at all, which some people think it is, but its not. Its just the way youre oriented. Its the way youits who you get your strength from, and um its who youre pulled toward.
And I was seeing myself more and more and more being pulled toward women. It was focused on her at that point, because there was nothing else. I would not, I could not, allow myself to talk to anybody else. Well, then about five years into this, when I moved, when we moved to Charlotte, um, I was fortunate to get a position with General Motors, which wasit was great. I mean, it was great.
You know, I came into a real good position with the top corporation in the world. I waseverything was going really well. She was going to school in respiratory therapy. That went really well. So, our life was really good. Um, but I thenI went into an office. I was transferred up to a Winston-Salem office. So, I went into an office in Charlotte working for general motors, and then I was transferred within ten months of that, I was transferred up to, like, out of the city.
CW: Right, okay.
SP: And that, kind of, you know, so, we were separated. And for the first time ever I lived by myself. I had never in my life had never lived had my own place. And that changed us a little bit. And then I was tran I wanted to come back to Charlotte, so I had put in requests to come back when there was something open. Anyway, so I was able to come back. They wanted me back.
So, you know, when the next openingthey had to cut staff in the office. I was the last one hired, so I left, but then they wanted me back. So, anyway, they brought me back. So, then when I came back after being gone for ten months, after being away for ten months, things were different between us. As it ended up we then split up. I got my own place in Charlotte.
She had actually started seeing a man, which was probably the next step for her because she had a child. She was real concerned with how her little girl was being brought up. You know, again the life that we knew, both of us knew, was the straight world. Thats what we knew. We didnt know life as gay people, as lesbians. We never even. I dont ever even think we spoke those words. I dont think welike we do now.
Back then we didnt talk about being gay. It was not something that that ever even came out of our mouths. We just knew that the twoin fact, Ive said, and shes said even today, because I keep in touch, if one of us had been a man back, then we would still be together. Probably, you know, particularly then. I mean, if one of us had been a man, it would have justbut it wasnt.
CW: So, um, you said that you didnt use those terms. Were those terms even sort of out there in the world, in the media?
SP: I dont ever remember them being.
CW: Okay.
SP: At all. Um, I know that when I was growing up, I know that my dad being in the education field and heI know that he knew people. I know that he knew people. I know that there were people in my familys life who were gay. I know there were two men who both were librarians up in Washington D.C., one for the Smithsonian, the other for the Library of Congress.
They were together, but it was never talked about. I just knew that they were a couple, but at that point it wasnt likelike, what I know it to be now, and when I think back on it, thats not something that we ever said. You know, they were just thought as Wally and Harry. You know what I mean.
CW: Right.
SP: It was justbut it was notand I have an aunt, my moms older sister, who never married, who I never knew had boyfriends, but had all these women in her life. Knowing now, or after a while in this life that I developed for myself, I realized that Aunt Sara, being that shes in her nineties now, but Aunt Sara was probably a lesbian back then.
But again, its not something my momeven as close as my mom and I grew to be, and as much as she was accepting and understood, and we talked about my life, she never would talk about her sister as being gay, as being a lesbian. Although I did bring it up to her and she was like appalled. No, no! Saras not. You know, so that was just kind of the way it was back then.
You just didnt, you just didntit was just not something that we talked about or we in my circle of family and friends. We just didnt. It was just not something we talked about.
CW: So, how did you come to take, you know, that on as an identity? What was that process?
SP: Okay. That umwhen I moved to Charwhen I moved into my own place, and, again, I was twenty, at that point I was twenty-eight. Cindy and I met when I was twenty-three. I was twenty-eight. We were together that period of time and then I moved into my own place. And other than the apartment that I had when I lived in Winston-Salem by myself, other than that short period of time, this was the first time that I really got my own place without a connection.
Because we really Once she started seeing a man, I just couldnt. I mean, it was difficult. It was difficult, but I needed to let go of that. And as hard as that is to let go, because I dont know that I really did, but I had to. I had to start the process of letting go of that relationship, and there were connections, like, I said theres connections even today.
Were friends, but at that point it was, you know, theres nothing like your first, ever, ever. Youll never have that again. So, um, I lived by myself. Again, I was working a real responsible job. My career was taking off. Things were really good. I was Honestly, honestly, I was dating men, because I didnt know how to findremember we were not gay. We just had a relationship. It was just us.
CW: Right.
SP: And so, I started, you know, in my social life, I was looking at men, because thats all I knew. I didnt know how to find women. I didnt know how to do that, although it did cross my mind. How do I do it? But I didnt know how to do it and I was nervous about taking that step out. And, of course, I couldnt talk to anybody, because I never did. I never, you know, it was all this in my own head is: What do I do now? And all I knew to do was to, you know, and socially I would seek out men and so thats what I did.
Well, I was dating this guy and we really cliqued, but it was more of a friendship clique. But we were, you knowand he had a friend that came in town. And he knew this friend of his needed a place to stay, Robert, and I had a two-bedroom duplex and it was a townhouse. I mean, you know, I had really good space. It was a really good, good space for me. But I had some open area in my place. So, and Robert needed a place to stay, so sure.
You know, I met him, and he was aseemed like a really good guy, and I knew Pete, this guy that I was going out with. So, Robert came over. We The first night he moved in we went to dinner. And he said, you know, I want to take you to dinner because I have something to tell you. And over dinner he told me he was gay. And, oh my god, it was like flood gates opened, because here somebody was verbalizing this, and a life that I knew, but I had never ever said those words to anybody.
I could never The fact that he told me about himself. He said, Im going to move in, so I need to tell you this. And so that wasanyway, that was like the kind of coming out for me. I really was then able. Ill never forget that dinner, really and truly. You know, over several bottles of wine, we just talked and talked. And I was able to open up and that was truly a really wonderful time in my life. It really was.
He then took me to my first gay bar. Because thats, you know, thats what we did back then. Thats what we do now, but Im kind of grown past that a little bit, because Im notbut thats what we did back then. I mean, it was So, I was able to then go out, and feel comfortable, and I had a support system, Robert and the guy he was seeing. Robert has since passed away.
He was the first person that I ever knew with in the HIV/AIDS struggle. We lost him. Weve lost a lot of people. And thats another aspect to this whole story that I know that a lot of us tell. You know, my address book is full people that Ive lost, and Robert, that first person that I was ever able to open up to, and that wasthat was something. But anyway, during this time we justI developed a real close group of friends and we are friends today. They are the family that I chose.
You know, as opposed to the family that were born with. You know, theres two different things. Were all still very close. And most men, because at that point thats what I felt comfortable being around and being open to, I had to transfer my orientation. I had to transfer who I was looking at romantically from men, which was all kind of engrained in me, to looking at women and I hadthat was a process.
So, I had my guys, you know, my family that we reallythey had my back so to speak. you know, and they still do. I mean, we still have this real close knit group, that we always talked about back then, we were all going to grow old together, and its crazy and amazing. Amazing, that its kind of happening, you know. Were all kind of growing old together. You know, but it was a real positive experience at that point.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: And then I started meeting women, and meeting people, and realizing that were all just people, and who were oriented toward it really, its okay. Everything is okay. And thats where I had to get to that it was okay. But its a process that we go through.
CW: Um, you said, youRobert, right, took you to your first gay bar.
SP: Um-hm.
CW: Can you recall what that experience was like?
SP: Oh, yeah.
CW: (laughs)
SP: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It was a bar called Scorpios in Charlotte. And I happen to be a Scorpio in my sign, you know, Im a Scorpio. So, it was kind of cool. I met a lot of people today that Im still very close to at that bar. And it was kind of the way that we all connected. That was a place that, at that time, we were at that bar probably six nights out of seven and the only reason it wasnt seven is because they were closed Monday nights.
CW: (laughs)
SP: I mean, that was really where our social life was. It was There were drag shows. And Id neverthis is something that I had never experienced in my life.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: And thinking about it now, you know, I just kind ofit was really a good time. It allowed me to be crazy. It allowed me to really come out in such a good way. You know, my very best friend in the world, who lives in Charlotte, Tommy, I met during a drag show at Scorpios.
CW: (laughs)
SP: And the funny story is my friend Robert, who was, in thinking back on it, was a little slut.
CW: (laughs)
SP: I mean, he was like, walking the streets and being picked up by people, and you know, like gay men did, and some still do, but certainly did. I met Tommy at a show, you know, a drag show. We were standing, you know, and um and then we justhe kind of stood behind me, and we talked a little bit, and it wasyou know.
And then later on that week, and it was just within a short period of time, there wasRobert had been out walking the streets, came home with this guy, and I had been out. I remember laying on my couch, looking back, and there was this kid that I knew, that I met, Tommy.
And Tommy came in, spent most of his time with me, you know, sitting, talking. Anyway, we just became really close. So, we met. I met a lot of really good people through that, you know, that whole experience. You know, it was like a community where we could truly go in and be ourselves.
CW: Were there other women at Scorpios?
SP: There were.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: There were, there were. I met several. I mean, I did not get connected with any one individual. That was pretty much my time of being with a lot of different women.
CW: Um-hm
SP: Learning about a lot of different women. My next relationshipI was then transferred. My job kind of kept me grounded, because I was going through a lot of stuff emotionally and socially, but I had my career that I was developing. And I was transferred from Charlotte down to Atlanta and that was in 1982. I had just turned thirty and it was like thanksgiving of 82.
So, I moved into Atlanta from Charlotte and I met a woman within a week, honestly, of moving there. And we, togetherseems like five years was, at that time, kind of my period of time, because Wendy and I were together about five years from that point, and that was a really good experience. Although in the end, you know, we didnt make it. Whenever things break up, they get crazy. But I hadI mean, Ive hadIve actually had in my life, Ive had three true, true relationships.
And the one Im in right now, we met in 1988. So, its been twenty-five plus years. And Ive grown into, into being kind of an old married couple, (laughs) I guess. You know, thats what we used to kid people about, you know, back then in the day when we were all going out, and being crazy, and having like real crazy times, and, you know, but Ive kind of grown into being pretty much a oldI dont want to say old, because Im not oldbut, you know, kind of more settled.
Certainly more settled. But I certainly didand I think having those times is kind of what made me solidify who I am, and what I want in life, and that is to be happy. I mean, I was successful in my job, in my career, and Im now retired, um, after thirty-five years. I was very successful, but then I believe that in my personal life, I believe that, that solidified into being that too.
CW: To go back to your wild days
SP: Yes.
CW: (laughs) For a second.
SP: Yes.
CW: What was the lesbian community, if we can call it a community, correct me if thats not an accurate descriptorwhat was it like back in the late seventies, early eighties?
SP: Um, well, now I wasnt in Tampa.
CW: Right.
SP: You know, I was in North Carolina and then I was in Atlanta. It waswhat I found is that there were groups of women who really connected and we were much more than the bar crowd. You know, we were women who as I grew away from that into having just house parties and things like that, you know, getting together.
It was a difference in a lot ofwell, a difference in the men that I knew, because again thats kind of where I came out and got my, kind of, put myself together, and then it took me a little while to become comfortable enough with the women and the womens community. But I think that we were a whole lot less out there. It was kind of not asvery social, but not social in an out there way.
CW: Okay.
SP: Thats the women that I knew.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: Now, I know that when you went out to bars, you know, there were women who, you know, frequented the bar scene. And certainly, certainly I did, but I tended to be closer to, just because of the way I came out, it was more of a mix crowd than than I wanted it to be, because I wanted my guy friends to be able to come in, and sometimes the women, the little cliques of women, didnt accept that.
And I understand why, because I think that women sometimes are overshadowed by men. And I think that within the gay community the men have been the ones who have been out there, and the women have not gotten the attention that maybe we should have, and its because women are brought up sometimes with men overshadowing them.
And I think the lesbian community is probably the community that, back then particularly, I think less so now, and the reason is because we have a lot of strong women who saw that, and we dont want it to be that way, but we kind of a little bit more in the shadows within the gay community.
There were fag hagsI dont know if youve heard that termbut, you know, to me a fag hag is a straight woman who wants to pal around with gay men, and there were a lot of that. And I know lesbians, or at least the lesbians that I knew, were not comfortable with them.
CW: Um-hm
SP: So, I think because I had a strong group of men, I needed to have also the women that I was around to accept them, too. So, I found it to be a little bit of a challenge sometimes to have a strong group of women. The women that I knew needed, again, to accept my guy friends, because they were very, very close and very important to me.
CW: Do youand certainly, you dont need to name namesbut did you find that this group of women that you were around, did you get a sense that theyvesort of their experience was similar to yours, that they had been married or in relationships with men and then
SP: Well, yeah, in some cases, but then again, I know a lot of women and I met a lot of women over the years that knew from the time they were young, that never had relationships with men and were not at all oriented at all in way shape or form toward men. And I think thats one of the problems that we have in our community, is we have women who really are oriented toward women, and want nothing to do with men, and we have men who are oriented only toward men, and want nothing to do with women.
And this is what I have found in, you know, in leadership within the LGBT community. Its sometimes very difficult for men and women to work together within the LGBT community, because of the way women are and the way men are. I think theres a lot of resentment on both sides. And if youran orientation is, it isI know with myself, I am orientated toward women.
And so, it sometimes its difficult to understand how men come across, although I think I do it better than, sometimes than some women, who have no real connection with and dont want one with men. I think that in my life, because I worked in a job thatthe job that I held was 95 percent men that I dealt with and in some cases I was the only woman. So, I had to, I had to scope out. I had to understand how to get along with men. I think women, I think sometimes women within the lesbian community, they set themselves completely apart from men, so its difficult to get along.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: But I understand that.
CW: Right.
SP: I really get it. I really do. Because menas Ive gotten older and Ive not been, Ive not found it necessary to be so Well, within my career I had to get along with them, because that was part of what I did, and I had to understand how they did things. And now that Im retired, or now as I got older, it just got to be too much trouble.
CW: (laughs)
SP: To deal with. So, I have found that as Ive gotten older that my orientation has come out a whole lot more and I have a group of women now that I am very close to. So, its almost Ive gone to more of a matriarchal world rather than aand I resent sometimesalthough in my life, thinking back on it all, I was very capable and successful in getting along with men, even though I am a lesbian, and I am oriented toward women.
But some are not, on both sides some are not. And that has been a challenge within our community, and, again, as a leader within the LGBT community, it is sometimes difficult for us to pull together, men and women, because we just see things differently. And its hard to overcome that.
CW: When you were going through your wild days (laughs), or you know, coming into your own, were you able to come out quote unquote to your parents? Or did youyou have that discussion?
SP: (sigh) Okay, when The years that I lived in Charlotte, which is, Charlotte is where I came out, and my parents were in Raleigh, which was two hours away. I had gone through the trauma of leaving my marriage. They had gone through the trauma of losing their home, which was moreI think Ive realized what trauma that was in their lives since getting very close to my mother over the probablymy mothers been gone four yearsprobably within the last ten years of my life.
I realized the trauma that happened to my family, not necessarily me, because I was not living at home, but my family when that happened. That was extremely, I meanthey never got counseling about that. My brother and sister, my mom and dad, theyit just was something they dealt with on their own and they didnt do it very well. So, I realizedand, again, I was going through the same trauma, but in a different way, because I was leaving my marriage.
So, when I left my husband, I couldnt talk about why. I couldnt. I justbecause he was a good guy. If I was straight, you know, and I was still married, and I was straight, wed, he and I, would probably be together. Because he never, I mean, he was a good guy except for when I was leaving him, and he was lashing out at me, which I understand so totally.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: People do that. You know, I get it. I really get why he said the things he said, butand I dont at all hold thatcause I took full responsibility. I mean, I left. I left him our house. I left him everything. I didnt go back and try to get anything from him. Nothing at all, because I felt like that was notyou know, I was leaving, and it was my choice to do that, and I was not going to fight.
In fact, in the years since then, he wanted to get married, and hes Catholic. And we got married in the Catholic Church, although I switched to be Catholic to do that, but I dont consider myself Catholic, but he certainly does, and was very strong. And I actually helped him get our marriage annulled through the Catholic Church, so he could get married in the Catholic Church. Thats what he wanted to do.
And so, I filled out the paperwork. Although at the time, I resented the hell outta that, but as Ive matured a bit, and thought about it in a non-emotional way, I totally get it. So I, again, with my mom and dad, they were going through the trauma. I was going throughwe as a family, I was brought up we really didnt talk about bad things. I mean, we, you know, everything was always good.
And I knwe didnt talk a lot as I was growing up. Life was fine. You know, but we werent, like, communicating a lot. I just didnt grow up that way. And so, I did not know. I didnt share. And during the period of time that I didnt know, I certainly didnt share. But then, um, I moved to Atlanta and I met Wendy. And thats when I told my mom, and she reacted in a real negative way, and we didnt tell my dad.
And we dealt withI dealt with the feedback from her, that she was just not happy with that at all. And as time grew we, my mom and I, learned how to talk to each other and how to talk with each other, because we never had known that before. I neverlike I said, I didnt grow up in a family where we shared a lot of deep stuff. We justeverything was always fine. And so I told my mom. We didnt tell my dad.
And I think as I grew, and as I realized who I was, and as I came to terms with it I mean, I know I didnt say anything to her until I could deal with her reaction to it, but Im not sure that I was all there when I did. Im not sure that that was really the case. But over the years, we got to the point where it was, it was handled very well. Even my mom, you know, would ask memy mom and I got to the point where we could talk about anything. And thats why I think I said I considered her my best friend. We grew to that.
It wasnt always that way, but we grew to that. And she thenwe then were able to talk about anything. I mean, she asked me questions thatyou know, what do you do in bed? And things like that. You know, so we grew to that point, but it took a number ofI mean, it took years to do it, to get to that point, but within the last ten years, we were very close. We were Again, that was a process that we went through.
We told my dad. Um, we told my dad and he didnt want to hear it. Course, my dad was really of the old school where he supported the family, and we all lived well, and I never wanted materially for anything. So, he did a good job in what he was supposed to do, but as far as being emotionally available to us as kids and to his wife, he was not at all. And so, he wouldI mean once we told him, he just didnt want to hear it.
He just, my dad was the kind was that if he didnt want to hear anything, you could be talking to him, and hed get up and walk out of the room. I mean, he was just not, again, not emotionally there, at all. And he wasnt for my mom and this is one of the things that I realized between the dynamic of their relationship. Once my mom and I got very, very close, she shared with me things that had been happening between them that affected the whole dynamic of our family.
So, we grew to that point, with my mom and I, she was extremely supportive. She unconditionally loved me. There was no doubt in my mind. And then as that grew and we worked through all those things, and as my mom and I were so close, my dad retired from hishes been now retiredmy dads ninety-two, and hes been retired for twenty-five, thirty years now.
So, once he retired and his job wasnt there, because his job was all his focus, he then came more into the family and got more involved. Well, and my dad now at this time back in North Carolina, back in 2012, they foughtthey had a marriage amendment fight. Just like what we had here in Florida in 2008, you know, where we fought our amendment 2, and we lost that fight, but they had the same fight in 2012.
And my dad actually went to phone banks and made phone calls telling people to vote against their marriage amendment. So, hes really come around to being extremely supportive. Hes now in Raleigh. Hes now joined PFLAG, which is Parents and gay, you know, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
CW: Yeah.
SP: You know, so its all grown, but it did take growth. It really did. It was not always, most certainly not always as supportive as what they are now. And I can only look whatas how theyve grown.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: Or how they grew over the period of timeyou know.
CW: Awesome.
SP: Yeah, yeah.
CW: Well, weve been talking for almost an hour.
SP: Yes.
CW: Do you feel like this is a good stopping point? Do you want to continue?
SP: I think so.
CW: Okay.
SP: I think lets stop and then letslet me give it some thought.
CW: Okay.
SP: You know, and then we canI mean, Ive kind of gone through a span of time, a long period of time, you know. And, you know, when you talk about your lifeyou live your life in the present; and I do, and I think about how things are today, but thinking about how weve gotten to this point, I find it very interesting and in some cases emotional.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: You know, I dont think anybody can sit and talk about where life has come and where theyve gone without getting a bit emotional about it, you know.
CW: Right.
SP: Right?
CW: Um-hm.
SP: Right.
CW: Okay.
SP: And so, I think right now would be a good time to
CW: Okay.
SP: You know, lets stop and lets continue.
CW: All right. Well, thank you so much for your time today.
SP: Well, youre welcome.
CW: This is Cyrana Wyker. I am here with Sally Phillips at the USF Tampa Campus Library. This interview is part of the Tampa GLBT Oral History Project under my direction. Today is November 25th, 2013. Do I have your permission to record this interview?
SP: Yes, you do.
CW: Okay, Sally, so last time we ended a little bit on your time in Atlanta. We didnt get too in depth. So, if you want to start there, we can talk a little bit about your experiences in Orlsorry, I dont know why I just said Orlandoum, Atlanta.
SP: Okay.
CW: Um, so
SP: Okay, okay. I moved to Atlanta in 1982 over thanksgiving. I was transferred there with my job, which is the reason I moved from Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a huI moved there by myself and so that was just exciting, but scary. Atlantas a big city and as far as the LGBT population it wasthere is a big LGBT population. And in 1982 this was kind of the time of kind of anything goes.
It wasit was the time for me that I had just come out in Charlotte. I didnt haveI had had a female partner for five years, but she and I split up, and I actually came out and started going to gay bars. I came out and just kind of gone back to Im sure what Ive said before, but I came out in Scorpios bar in Charlotte, and with a group of really good friends, and they were mostly guys.
I saw women as being that that I were to look at as potential relationships and I had tomy mind, my head had to recalculate how my life would be within the gay scene. And I was really nave, and young, and in my head I was young. So, I moved to Atlanta withinsee, I moved over thanksgiving weekend, and I remember it only because that is what it was, and I was seeing a woman who lived in Charlotte.
She, Denise, and my guy friends helped me move. And I only knew Well, besides work, and at that point I was totally separated my job from my personal life. I was not at all out with work. In fact, I was very protective of myself and who I was in my job. And did it pretty successfully. But it was, you know, two separate worlds completely. I moved in downtown Atlanta.
I moved into an apartment complex that was pretty full ofand I didnt know thisbut I knew that when I was looking for a place to live, I had a friend in Charlotte who had a sister who lived in Atlanta, who was a lesbian, who was a gay woman. And again I didnt know a lot of gay women, although I knew people that I dated and I dated a lot of people. With that I got some direction on where to live, and to live more in the city rather than in the outskirts of Atlanta.
I lived right off of Peach Tree Road, which theres a lot of Peach Trees in Atlanta, but I moved into a complex thatand let me make sure that I can remember what it was calledFlakes, Nuts, and something. It was just full of gay people, really and truly. It was like a real commuwe became a real community.
I just happened to move there and maybe it was because thats where I was directed to move. I think, I think. But it opened my life up to sort of the party scene of Atlanta. Because we really had a great time. I mean, it was, you know, there were people around all the time. Again with my job beingand I always felt like my job was held me down, because otherwise I probably would have gone absolutely crazy.
CW: (laughs)
SP: With doing some of the things that I, you know, was experiencing. It was reallyI mean, it was a good time. And again, it was 1982, 83, 84. I lived in Atlanta until 1988, so it was, you know, a good period of time. And withWednesday night was the party night, was the time that you went to the bar. And there was a bar called The Sports Page, which was a womans bar. And this woman that whose brother I knew, she and her partner took me out that Wednesday night, and that Wednesday night at the bar, at Sports Page, I met a woman.
CW: Sorry. Here, let meOkay, sorry. So, you met a woman Wednesday night.
SP: I met a woman. It was like Wednesday night. I moved in that weekend. And her name was Wendy. And (laughs) she came home with me that night and we were together, we actually ended upthis was in November. In January we actually got married. I mean, we went through a ceremony, but that was very up and down relationship, veryI mean, it was very intense. Sexually, it was very intense.
She was a native of Atlanta, so she was able to show me really the city, and I learned a lot from Wendy, but it was not a relationship that was ever going to last, because it was just way too much, too intense. But again, we got married. We went through a ceremony. We brought friends in and, you know, this was 83, so this was like ayou know, way before we even thought about what we know now as gay marriage or anything like that.
We went through a commitment ceremony. And we experienced a lot of things. I experienced a lot of things, together with Wendy and without her. She was the one that kind of put me into the scene in Atlanta, because again I had only been there four days, three days from the time I moved.
And so, meeting her, and, you know, we really jumped into knowing the city, and meeting the people. And I had a great group of female friends, so that was a good thing. I believe that thingsyou know, people are thrown into your life for times that you need them and thats what happened, now looking back on it, looking back on it.
CW: Right.
SP: Again, it was a very intense relationship. Much more so than any relationship that I had, had in the past. Of course, at that point I had only hadI was married to a man and then I met Cindy, my first lover. So, there were, you know, there were really not that many relationships. Now, I had like one night stands and I had women that I slept with. So, I certainly did that. And I had amazingly women who just really fell for me, but there was not a lot of return in that until at that point there was Cindy and then there was Wendy. (laughs)
CW: So, was this sort of your first kind of out lesbian quote unquote relationship?
SP: It absolutely was. And because I was away from Charlotte, because Charlotte was home, I mean, but more so North Carolina was home, and so when I moved to Atlanta and because I was in the city and like I said my job, I separated my professional life and my social life totally. I mean, they did not mix, not at all.
CW: Right.
SP: So, yes, this was my very first truly out relationship, truly out. This was the very first time I ever went to a gay Pride, I ever participated in a gay pride parade in downtown Atlanta. I lived near Piedmont Park, which was very much aI mean, this was kind of the mecca of Southern gay living, and I threw myself into, or was pulled into, the center of it, and it was wonderful.
At the time it wasI mean, it kind of strengthened me over the period. ItI mean, I smile when I think of it, because it really waswe had a wonderful time. I participated in a lot of things that I never wouldve thought that I wouldve, but I did. Um, a lot ofthere were drugs. There was alcohol. There was pretty free sex at that point. Wendy and I (laughs) were pretty monogamous, but we werent. I mean, we were, but we werent really and truly.
Um, then that relationship, kind of, got crazy. Sheat the end of it she, you know, there was some real crazy times. She met someone that she worked with. I had, had some outside of that. It got a little bitshe was the only person in my life ever that probably did anything violent. She got to be a pretty aggressive, violent person and I had to really back up from that. So, it was kind of a, again, it was a crazy several years.
We were together five years. Let me see, we got married in 83. Yeah, we were off and on until 88. And in 88 is when I met my current partner and weve been together over twenty-five years. So, Wendy was, kind of, always a part of my life, but we werent always either living together or committed to it.
CW: That was going to be my next question. Did you live together upI mean, obviously, you got married and had a ceremony, so you probably did at some point.
SP: We did. We lived together, yeah. I moved in to a one-bedroom apartment. When Wendy came into my life, she almost moved in with me whenyou know, this is one of the things they say about lesbians, and it probably is true, that, you know, within a few times of seeing each other, youre living together.
And honestly, that night that shethat Wednesday night thatI never expected this to happen the first night I ever went out in Atlanta, but she came home with me. She came with a date that night into the bar and she left with me. And that shouldve told me a little bit about what I was looking at, but at the time I thought that was kind of cool. Because she was just as cute as she could be. I mean, she was likeI saw her walk in the door. Its like, Oh, my gosh, Im going to have her.
CW: So, what do you think was so different about her, or you know, different about you, that sort of led you to that type of committed out relationship? I dont know if Im phrasing that question
SP: Meaning
CW: Because before you had beenyou said one night stands orwas there a shift or was it just you just met someone.
SP: You know, looking back at my life, I think that I wanted to have a committed relationship. Thats what I wanted. And I alwaysand so when I came out after being with my first for five years, I mean we werent out at all, and then I came out and I needed to experiment. I didntI washonestly, I was probably afraid of women in that way, because it had changed in my head.
When I realized that I was a lesbian, or when I realized I was gay, it kind of made me afraid of women a little bit. I was not able to commit, although I never really came across someone I wanted to commit to. So, thats probably what it was, because I have seen over my life that I like commitment. I dont like As I am now stepping back from it and looking at it, I think I needed to experiment with a lot of different people, which I certainly did.
I mean, a lot of different people, but thats not what I wanted, and truly to spend my lifeand I think that in looking, I wanted to have that one person that I could depend on that I could spend my life. And thats why when I met Wendy and we justbut the connection there in the beginning, obviously it was sex. It wasit was very emotional. It was very intense. It was very passionate.
It wasI mean, we were (laughs)I mean, it was like, seriously, it was real, realand thats the way she was. And she, you knowwe just really connected. I mean, we were having sex everywhere we could whenever we were together. We couldnt keep our hands off of each other. Thats kind of the way that was. And I had not met someone from the point, from the time, when I truly came out and looked at women as being, you know, the person that Im going to bring into my bed and into my life that way.
And I dont think I had even at that point turned it into being a lifetime thing. I think Imthe words that Im using now are thinking, are looking back at it. I think when I was going through it there was a lot of sex. I mean, it was a lot of physical, real physical connection. And I think thats what I saw it to be at that time. And I think I grew. The reason that she and I went through the commitment ceremony is because it was physically intense.
Honestly. That we just didnt even want to be apart ever. Oh my god, it was difficult to go to work. It was, you know, just I mean really thats kind of the way that was. And then I think I grew, because that was what I looked at it at that time to be. But I really wanted to have, and I know that the way Ive lived my life since then and looking back, I really want to have that commit, that one person whos in my life that I commit to and that commits to me. And thats what I have now. So, it worked.
You know, but I think I had to grow to that point and I think that Atlanta allowed me. What I went through in Charlotte first allowed me to do that, because I had the security of the guys, my family that I had kind of come out around, and I could always comeyou know, they gave me that security. And they are still in my life, and then moving into Atlanta, I met a woman who, you know, gave me the comfort when I moved into a big city, and here I was a little girl from North Carolina, you know, and I moved into Atlanta.
And I had to come to my own. I had to navigate the city and I had to figure all that out. And I was ablehere, Wendy came into my life, who was a native of Atlanta, and so she showed me the city, and introduced me around to the people I needed to know, and that became friends.
So, it was almost as it needed to be at that time, you know, at that time. I never struggled in Atlanta by being there all by myself, and Oh my gosh, I miss Charlotte. I miss my friends. I never went through that, because three days after I moved, I met her and that just kind of took it to what it needed to be.
CW: And you said that was, um, you went to your first pride.
SP: Um-hm.
CW: What was like for you?
SP: Overwhelming at that time because I had never done that before, but then within a time I remember riding on a float. I remember, you know, doing the things that you do with pride. Again, I was very comfortable with men and with gay men and gay women sometimes tend to be separate. And because I came out around men, I was very comfortable with gay men. And I had once Wendy and Iwe moved in together.
We moved into a one bedroom apartment. Once she moved in, then we upgraded that to a three bedroom so wed have more space. Andthat relationship was a bit tumultuous because she moved out and then shed move back in. I mean, it was kind of like that. Weyou know, it was intense when it was really good, but it was intense when it was really bad, not so good. And in the meantime I had in this three bedroom apartment that I lived in. I met some guys.
I had a friend within the apartment complex. Actually, he lived right upstairs and he needed to move. He was losing a roommate. So, he moved in with me. So, anyway I had my guys still even though it was a different set of friends. But I was real in tune to the male, to the gay man, and went to a lot of the bars with them, and, you know, so my life has kind of been not separatist like some, like what you see sometimes where the women go to womens bars and men go to mens bars.
What I like are bars or places where its a good mix, because I see that as the way the world is. We cant be separate. Or, I never felt comfortable being separate. I think Wendy was more of a separatist. She was more than I ever was, and that sometimes created some issues with us, because I enjoyed my guys, you know. They were my friends. So
CW: When you say separatist, um, what it brings to my mind is feminism (laughs) or some branches of feminism. This was the eighties, mid to late eighties. Was there any sort of relationship that you could see between a lesbian community and sort of the emerging, or well, yeah, emerging second wave, sort of
SP: And thats a good question, because I can even take us back into my marriage to my ex, my man. I always hadthe biggest problem that my ex and I ever had in my mind was the fact that he said he was going to be the head of the family and there was no way that anybody was going to be the head of me. You know, I was very much a feminist from the time I was really young.
I just kind of felt like that womenI knew women werent treated as equal. I knew that. I grew upmy dad was very much a chauvinist Chauvinist is showing or relating to excessive or prejudiced loyalty or support for a particular group or cause.. HeI grew up with him absolutely, positively, and still today favors my brother over my sister and I. I mean, its just one of those things that I know in my family. He is very much feels that men, you know, really are the ones that I think he pays attention to.
So, it always bothered me that women were looked at as second class, and then coming out as a lesbian and knowing that thats where I was, cause I feel like that lesbians are probably the second, certainly second-class. And I would never allow anybody to feel that about me. And I was very clear from the time I was young. I was always a feminist.
I always believed inand this was back in the days when Gloria Steinem came out and I was one of the original members of NOW The National Organization for Women or NOW is the largest organization in the United States of feminist activists. The goal of this organization has been to bring about equality for all women. the National Organization for Women, which I am still a member of. I mean, I was very strong in that feeling. And thats whbecause I am very political. And I want to talk about that aspect of my life, but my politicism (sic) first began in the equal rights amendment, in the abortion struggle, Roe v. Wade.
Those kind of issues really brought me into my political life way before I even realized that my life as a lesbian would then bring me into the GLBT or the LGBT issues, too, but it was always what really brought me out was mythe fact that Im a woman. And I was not ever going to bethat I never felt equal. And along with that in the corporate world you know, a woman back in 1976 when I started with General Motors, women were secretaries.
Women did not progress like men did. If you were a woman, you didnt, you were not even thought of in promotions and things like that. There were certain things that you did as a woman as opposed to being if you were a man, you wouldnt have to fight so hard. Women I knew in my professional life, I knew that women had to work twice as hard to get half what men got just because they came in as a man. And I was really fighting against that.
So, I think the answer your question, to go back to your question, absolutely, I see the womens rights struggle as a parallel certainly to the LGBT struggle. And I, too, believe that the lesbian in that LGBT is the one whobesides the T, because I think the transgender thats an area that really is discriminated againstbut I think women within our community have to fight for recognition.
And so I feel like that as I have come forward, because of my connection with men, and because I do have good friends who are men, and they are also feminists, you know, they dontIve made sure of that, because thats just the way we need to treat people.
CW: Do you thinkso, back then, seventies, eighties, were any of the lesbians that you knew active feminists or was it sort of differentI dont want to say different worldsbut sort of different groups ofpeople or communities?
SP: Well, and I think it was different. I think that when I was coming out as a gay woman, as a lesbian, my activism was put a little bit on the back burner because it was such a change for me, and I was really making a change in my life, and the way I thought of myself, and the way I saw the world.
I sawwhen I saw women who didntwho were separate, I didnt care for that, because I think that we all need to get along, and I think that in order for us to make changes we dont need to be separate we need to be together, and we need to educate our male counterparts and our male friends. And thats what Ijust in the way I lived and I dont think it was conscious at that time.
Although, when I was younger, again going politically, the first presidential candidate that I worked for was George McGovern and that was 1972. I was twenty, and I was very much a feminist at that time. That was the year I got married to my ex-husband. You know, being a lesbian was not in my conscious mind in that time. Although looking back on it, I know it was there.
And I know that, you know, the controversy of whether you are born this way or whether you create it yourself, become it, it my mind I was always there looking back on it. But at that time, consciously I wasnt. I didnt think that way. But I did know that I didnt want to be thought of as anything less than anybody else that I knew, or any man that I knew, or anybody else for that matter.
And again, I know the biggest fight thatin my mind, again, in my mindthat Steve Phillips and I ever had was the fact that he said there had to be a head of the family and that was going to be him. And nobody was going to be the head of me and I very much vocally expressed that andno, no, no, thats not the way its going to work. Were going to be a partnership. If were going to be anything, were going to be a partnership.
Youre not going to be the one who thinks they can make the final decision over me just because youre the man, and the man needs to be the head, and thats what the bible says. No, no, no, thats not the way it works. So, that was a big issue for me at that time. And at one point I wondered if the reason that I became, that I became a lesbian wasnt politically, and sometimes I think that in some cases politically is a bit of why I went to women, because I didnt like the way men were.
I didnt like the way men treated women. And I would rather be around a woman than I would a man. Even though I had friends who were men, but I knew they were gay men. So, you know the term fag hag? Ive had some discussion recently with some people about what a fag hag is. And, you know, youve heard the term fag hag?
CW: Yes.
SP: And a fag hag is a woman who is straight who is around gay men. But they think that they are going to change them. But a woman who is gay, who is a lesbian, who has gay men, is not a fag hag.
CW: Right.
SP: Thats the big difference. You know, but I just have wondered sometimes and felt maybe sometimes that the reason that I identify as a lesbian may be a little bit political, because I dont like the way men are and I much prefer women. But I know that I am oriented toward women. I mean, there is no doubt in my mind. Im not bisexual. I am oriented towardI mean, I know that my orientation is toward women. I mean, thats just the way it is.
CW: So, um, wellthis is sort of a broad question. And you were in Atlanta until 1988, right?
SP: Um-hm.
CW: So, this would have been sort of duringyou were out during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Can you talk a little bit about how you experienced it?  Because everybody experienced it.
SP: Absolutely, everybody did. Well, and I think in 1982 probably early 82, and I moved to Atlanta in November in 82, but early in 82 I had a good friend, one of my guys, one of family in Charlotte to start talking about a friend of his who was in San Francisco and there was this thing that was happening to gay men that was making the news. And I get chills thinking about this, because this was just so much the beginning as what we know as the HIV/AIDS.
I didnt know anybody specifically then when my friend David started talking about this thing, this illness that seemed to be affecting gay men and that men were dying. It wouldthey would get sick and then they would die. And he heard about it from friendsactually, I think it was his brother who moved to San Francisco and started talking about this. It was so scary, because, again, I had guy friends.
It affected us all very deeply. I have a phone book, an address book, back when we had address books that I can go through with friends that Ive lost. I have been the caretakers of friends. I think at that time that was when gay women, lesbians, really stepped up and that was maybe a time when our communityin particularly the women, because I think men were afraid.
Women were the caretakers of our brothers who were dying, who got sick, and were dying. And theres a whole kind of my age of my friends who got sick and either now are living withthank goodness, but having to fight every day to live with this virus that happened. And I will even go politically on that. You know, we had a government then that didnt want to talk about the fact that these people in this country were contracting this disease.
Something was going on that nobody really knew where it was and where it came from and everybody was afraid of it, because it was a scary time then. You didnt know how you woulddidnt even know if you could get it by breathing the same air as that person. But all I knew and the people that were around me, we just knew that our friends were contracting something.
And again, I was the caretaker of probably five different people that died eventually, that ended up going through this and dying. So, it was a tough time. It was a real tough time. In one sense, I think that thats where gay women and gay men, kind of, came together, because I think even if you talk to even men today, theyll say that it was the lesbians who kind of stepped up and started taking care of their friends when the men were afraid to do that.
So, it was a difficult. I think I mentioned my friend, the guy that I originally came out tomaybe Ive talked about thisbut he ending up dying of HIV/AIDS. He had moved to Washington D.C. And Robert was a real promiscuous guy. I mean, he even when I knew him, he would just you know, every night with somebody different. I knew that because he was living with me.
And he moved to Washington D.C. He was a prostitute. Um, and he got sick. And actually he got shot on the street and he was HIV positive. This was in D.C. This was the story that I heard. And he was shot, and they brought him into the hospital, and because he was HIV positive nobody would touch him, and thats why he died, because he was shot but nobody wouldyou know, the hospitals were so afraid of this disease.
And he ended up dying because gunshot wound. But, you know, he was living a life that was just, you knowyou know, when youre gay it really sometimes promotesI mean, if your head is not all together, it sometimes happens. And it happened a lot back then and it happens today. But back then, most certainly, webefore the time of AIDS nobody knew that having sex would kill you.
You know, before the time of AIDS you could get something, but you could have a shot and get rid of it. But sex was pretty free. And now things have changed. That changed, that changed our world as we know it. Its almost before AIDS and after AIDS. It was that big of a change in my community, in the community
CW: Right.
SP: that I grew into and thats at the time I was coming out. So, in that beginning time when I was from Charlotte into Atlanta it was like all free and everybody wasyou know, we were doing a lot of things, you know, that had to do with drugs and sex. All those things that I will tell you I pretty freely participated. (laughs)
CW: So, you said that it changed our world. Are you sort of referring toI mean, I know obviously sexual practicesbut did it impact gay culture at all? Were there thingsdo you feel that there was a decline in a way or a shift?
SP: I do think there was a shift.
CW: Okay.
SP: I think that we could probably put it in those words. I think that over the years there was a shift in becoming much more serious, much more understanding that we are a community. I think before, you know, thinking about 1969, which is way before when I ever came out, Stonewall and, you know, where I didnt experience the community feeling that I do now and that I think that it turned into being. And I think if you want to look at anything positive at all that could be whats come positive in it.
Because we, you know, when bad things happen, when you have an epidemic like that, that are affecting a large percentage of your community or the community that you spent your time with, you know, it brings you together. And I really do think that that had much effect. I think it was a huge shift in the GLBT community or the LGBT. Those are interchangeable terms, you know.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: But I think that we pulled together, because, again, we had our friends dying around us. And it was certainly, it was certainly a real, real, real stressful time within the community that we, or the friends that we had, I know, for me, I, you know, it was just so common to have a friend have trouble health wise. You know, to go over to a friends house One particular friend that I knew, Michael, he was my florist. He was just a great guy. We went when we found him. He was dead. We found him.
His apartment was likeyou could tell that he didnt want anybody around. I mean, it wasblood allit was really horrible how he was living. So, things like that, when you go in, and you see people that you know, and he didnt want anybody around him. He didnt want anybodyobviously, he didnt. He died and he died by himself. And he died, you know, in this place that he lived that was just awful.
It really does affect you when you understand that those are people that you really care about that dealt with something that wasjust that they could not share. And they could notand it affectsits just horrible. It really is horrible. And you tend to look at people differently. I know with me what I tended to do was get closer to people.
One of the very last people that was truly in my life, that I was truly the caretaker for, his name was Steve, and my partner now, Ercilia and I were very, very close with he and his partner and weum, I was friends with his partner, actually, before him, and he for years wouldnt tell anyone that he was HIV positive, but he ended up getting colon cancer. So, he fought both issues for some time.
And we wouldthis was after we actually moved to Tampa, but we would be in Atlanta every other weekend to take care of him. He would come down, he and his partner Rob. We were just such a close knit group. And he finally passed away. It was just very difficult. That was a real focus in our lives is to take care of our friends.
CW: Whenyou met Ercilia in eighty
SP: 1988.
CW: And did you guys live together in Atlanta for
SP: We met through work.
CW: Okay.
SP: And I We actually met before I was transferred into Florida, but in 1988 I moved from, or I started traveling. During all this period of time my career was kind of going strong, really and truly. It was good. Not to go into that a lot, but I was promoted into a position that was traveling the state of Florida, and it was a new position, one that had been created by aI was the operator of a computer system in the office.
And back when computers werediscs were like huge and, you know, this was back in the middle eighties. There was a position created that involved traveling and I worked for General Motors, so I waswhat happened was I became a dealer rep. And I was the first person to come out of the office into that position, which stemmed from the fact that I operated the computer that interacted with our dealer body.
Anyway, so I was promoted and it was a good thing. And again, my career was really going, so what I said was when my personal life and my professional life were so
CW: Right.
SP: just not even. I mean, they did not meet, because at that time if I had come out, it would have been the end of
CW: Right.
SP: end of that period. I mean, it would have ended it. And I think that thats one of the things youll find with gay, with LGBT people, is that because we live the life, um, because of how we have to like, and particularly back then, I devoted a lot of time to my career, I mean, to my job. My life was just so full. I was like crazy, but then my job was what kind of held me.
That was my rock, my anchor, and thats what kind of kept me that I didnt kind of go way off the deep end with this, all this other stuff that was going on in my life, and why I didnt get really in trouble with drugs or anything, because I couldnt, because I had to go to work. And so, what I didanyway, I did it all. I did both and I did both really well.
CW: I was going reiterate. So, youre at work and then youre alsoyou were with Wendy at this time, which was a
SP: Yep, yep. It was crazy.
CW: Thats a lot.
SP: It really was. It wasand you know, when youre gay, and when youre gay back then, and my life was just so changing tremendously, and the reason that I went from Charlotte to Atlanta is because that was another promotion. You know, I went from the office in Charlotte to the office in Atlanta and, you know, that was another
So, I was going through a lot this changing in my head, but I would leave that completely behind me when I would go to work. So, thats why I say work was my anchor. It was what really kept me, so Iwith all this other stuff going on around me, it kept me sane, maybe. Um, but I couldnt like go to work and talk about any of the things that were going on.
You know, I would change pronouns from her to him. You know, if I ever talked about myself and, you know, what happened was, I became very closed to being able to speak about my life, because at work I could not, I could not come in and say, Oh, I met this woman. You know, it just wouldntit just didnt work like that. You couldnt do that.
CW: Right. So, when you met your partner now through work, how did you negotiate that?
SP: Well, thats also kind of goes into this story. At work there wereI did have a few friends, a handful of friends, and actually it was in the very beginning in 1982 when I moved from Charlotte to Atlanta. I met a woman through work, who I became very good friends with. We are very close today. I was able to talk about myself. And shes not gay. We had parallel lives, but certainly, certainly different lives.
And we became very close and I was able to talk to my friend Edna, who was a black woman from Birmingham, Alabama. But she, you know, we just really connected. And so with time, we had a group of friends and I had a situation at work. And again, I was really trying to keep it separate, although, I had kind of little islands, like my friend Edna. Wed go on break or go to lunch, and we were able to talk about our lives, and what she was going through with the men in her life and what I was going through with the women in my life.
And, you know, it was reallyit was kind of a good thing. And then with that we had other friends. I became friends with other people. And there was this woman, who came into our office. Again, I was one of the old timers. I was one of the managers. And I was the operator of the computer, which kind of set me a little bit apart. And I had a situation that happened with this woman who came in, young woman, who really took a liking to me.
And (urgh) would leave me notes on my desk when I would be gone. It was like things that scared me to death, because I had always been so careful of that. And, um, I had to kind of cut thatthat couldnt happen. That just couldnt happen by then. You know, it scared me. So, I made aI just didnt even look at anybody at work as being anything that I could ever even think about having any kind of relationship with.
Well, then Ercilia came into the office, new. She was one of the new people. And we got together in 1988, but it was 1987. It was the middle to end of 1987, I believe, when she started. I noticeyou know, Im human. I notice people, you know, around, but I neverthis one particular situation that happened really, really taught me that I got to be careful with letting myself out with anybody at all, except to be very careful.
So, I got the promotion that was going to take me out of the office out of Atlanta and coming into the state of Florida. And I was really given the state of Florida to travel. And she stopped methis was when the promotion had been announced and, you know, it was cool, and we were celebrating. You know, it was during that period of time and she stopped me like on the way to the bathroom or something in the building.
We were in the GM building in Atlanta. And we started talking. She stopped me to congratulate me. You know, just to talkwe really never talked. But I had noticed this woman, because shesanyway I noticed her. And we start talking like we never had before. I mean, I knew Atlanta. I knew the places in the city, you know, where women live and I knew where men lived. I really knew the city really well.
And she told me where she lived. And Im like, Little Five Points, which was where women, thats kind of where women live. Id spent a lot of time in little five points. And Im like, really, really, you do. And this little bar called the Little Five Points Pub, which is where the Indigo GirlsI dont know if youre familiar. You know, theyve been around a long time.
I used to go see the Indigo Girls back in, back when they were loading their own equipment in and, you know, before they recorded. We used to go down there, and see the Indigo Girls, and, you know, a bunch of my friends. So, wethat just kind ofoh really, thats where you live.
CW: So, you knew that she
SP: Well, I didnt know, but theres some indicators that we get when were out and that justyou know. So, we made plans toWell, maybe well have to go to the Little Five Points Pub sometime. So, anyway, thats kind of how that happened. And the only reason that I allowed it to happen, just because of the experience I had had, if I had been in the office, stayed in the office, it wouldnt have. I wouldve have really shyed away from that. Now, I say wouldnt have. It may have, but it probably would have, probably wouldve.
Because shes notshes more mature than this other little girl who came in who didnt think about how it could effect, how what she did could affect anybody else. She just saw Honestly, she saw something she wanted, and she decided she wanted me, and it was weird. It was weird. It was just really strange. And Ercilia wouldnt have done it that way. We would have been able to deal with it.
But still the way the situation happened, I was getting ready to go out of the office. I was going to be traveling. You know, so we, from the time we had that first time at Little Five Points Pub We call it our first date. And um, I was traveling and I had a house. I had a roommate, a guy. And so, I was away, you know, and we had a long distance relationship for two years.
She lived in Atlanta, worked in the same company that I worked in, but I was away. I was out. I was traveling Florida, and then in 90, 1990, is when shewell, I guess we decided, or she decided, that it was time that she left and we decided that she needed to move to Florida. And shes from Miami, so it was kind of like coming back home for her, a little bit. But thats when we moved to Tampa together.
So, that was 1990, but I had been traveling from 1988. She was taking care of my cats. You know, I would come to Atlanta and stay with her. You know, I gave up my place completely because there was no need. I moved. I actually moved to Orlando when the company finally decided they were going to move me. I moved to Orlando and lived there for a year.
And again, we had a long distance for two years, which was nice, because it really cemented our relationship, because we spent more time on the phone than we did together. And that was good, you know. So, we really got to know each other. And that was good, that was good.
CW: What was your first date like?
SP: (laughs) Um, well, because we reallyneither of us really knew, you know. And I mean, it was a date. I mean, it was two women getting together. We didnt spend the night. I mean, you know. We got together, and went out, grabbed something to eat, had a couple beers, and (laughs) Caroline Aiken who used to perform with the Indigo Girls, thats who we went to see, so you know. (Laughs)
And then I was out of town, so we would talk on the phone a lot, and then wethe first time we actuallywell, I remember. You know, we shortly after that, very shortly after that, she was at my house. She was getting ready to leave to go home and I was going out of town, but we were planning the next time we get together.
And I leaned over, and said, I think next time why dont you bring clothes, so you can go to work. So, in other words, its time that you spent the night. You know, I mean, it was, you know. So, thats kind of the way that happened. And really from that point theres been no one else. I mean, no one else.
CW: Awesome.
SP: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Thinking back, Im like, Oh my goodness, that was 1988. Twenty-five years ago.
CW: Yeah.
SP: Yeah, yeah.
CW: Okay, so weve been talking for an hour. And weve come to a point where youre going to be in Florida. So do you want to stop? Do you want to continue?
SP: Why dont we stop right now, because we could then kind of get going, but theres now were in Florida.
CW: Yeah.
SP: Why dont we stop.
CW: Okay.
SP: And continue if thats okay?
CW: Thats fine with me. All right, thank you.
SP: Okay, good.
End of interview
CW: This is Cyrana Wyker. I am here with Sally Phillips at the University of South Florida Tampa Campus Library this interview is part of the Tampa Bay GLBT Oral History project under my direction. This is December 16th, 2013. Do I have your permission to record this interview?
SP: You do, yes.
CW: Okay, so, um, as we were discussing off the record. Weve gotten you Tampa. So, if you want to start by maybe talking about your move, what your expectations were of Tampa. You moved here with your partner.
SP: My partner, um-hm. We did, we did. I actually was transferred into the state of Florida to cover and to travel. And we, Ercilia and I, met in Atlanta and when I was transferred in I spent, well, we spent two years before she actually moved into Florida. And Ive spent one year on the road going back and forth from calling Atlanta home. And she took care of my animals. We had really just met, and that was kind of the beginning of our relationship, and its now been twenty-five plus years. So, that was back in 1988.
Our first part of our relationship, actually the very first year was seeing each other most weekends, but some weekends I would stay in Florida depending on what my work schedule was. So, you know, every weekend was kind of a neat thing to do. And we spent a huge amount of time on the telephone and really got to know each other. And it was a nice period, just kind of thinking back on it now.
At the time it was, you know, I wanted to be there with her. She wanted to be with me. But we were kind of figuring each other out. And then the next year I actuallymy company decided they were going to move me. So, I moved into an apartment, a duplex in Orlando. So, I lived about ten months in Orlando by myself. We would get together frequently, as frequently as we could.
Again, depending on my work schedule, and the fact that we were traveling back and forth, but again, we spent a good bit of time on the phone and just kind of getting to know each other, which we became friends. And I would certainly recommend if youre going to have a long-term relationship, I would recommend you becoming friends. And considering that other half of yourconsidering that person your best friend.
So, its worked for us, you know, for twenty-five plus years. I spent a good bit of time in the Tampa Bay area. After living in Orlando, I decided thats not where I wanted to stay and decided that it was time that she moved down here into Florida. And she resigned her job, and moved, and we bought a house. Or, actually, we found a house in Tampa, which is the place we still live.
We really love it here. And moving from Atlanta, we had both said it was kind of a culture shock for us coming into little Tampa. And thats how we felt about it, except that we realized very quickly that the LGBT community in Tampaand again, that was back in 1990, so that was a good twenty-three years ago. Amazingly enough we found that there was a community of gay and lesbian people.
We realized we connected very quickly with the gay and lesbian film festival, which has now grown to being the fifth largest in the country, but at that time it was very small, but we realized that Atlanta didnt even have a film festival, a gay and lesbian film festival. So, we connected with that and we connected with the Tampa AIDS Network.
This is one of the volunteer opportunities that we got involved in. Just because I think Ive spoken previously about you know the AIDS, HIV/AIDS epidemic and friends. And we were at that time the caretakers along with another friend of a good friend, who was in Atlanta, who ended up passing away. And so anyway, we connected. Thats kind of how we connected with the community as first moving in. We got involved first with the film festival and then with the Tampa AIDS Network.
We found really and truly we found the community here to be really welcoming. We have seen some discrimination within the city ofwithin the county of Hillsborough, which we are still running into, but we kind of dont let that consume us at all. In Atlanta we lived in the city and we really felt very little discrimination.
CW: Okay.
SP: Where we lived, where we lived. Now, I think Ive said, too, that in my life, I up until that point and even after that, I separated my professional life and my personal life, and I still did. I mean, I still was at that point where I was completely separate in my professional and personal life. So, Im really talking about my personal life and professionally being a lesbian, um, I still had to live completely like separate, completely separate at that point. Then there was a point later on that I was able to be a little more free and a little more open but not at this point.
CW: You said that um, you had lived in Orlando and decided thats not where you wanted to stay.
SP: Um-hm.
CW: What made you pick Tampa?
SP: Um, I think I really picked Tampa in a large part because through my job I had friends that I had met here, and friends that were within women who I got to know, honestly through work, but we got to be friends. And Iwhich meant then that I spent a lot of time in Tampa and I spent time in Tampa through my job.
And I just enjoyed, well, I enjoyed the water, just the Tampa Bay, the whole atmosphere of this area. Not to say that Orlando is not somewhere where I could have settled. It could have been, except that at that time I didnt know as many people up there. I felt like that Orlando was more of a touristI lived in the city. I like to be in the city and thats where I lived, but then as I traveled I had to go in and out and dealing with all the traffic
CW: Right, yeah.
SP: You know, you go out to dinner and you have to stand in line, because youve got people from all over the country and all over the world.
CW: Thats true.
SP: You know, thatswell, and plus the fact that we found a house and it actually belonged to a women who I knew through my work, who I had known in Atlanta, who had been transferred down. Anyway, it just kind of hit. It justTampa was just where we felt more comfortable. I guess with the water and just knowing some of the people that we knew and that we met.
CW: So how did you end up getting involved with the film festival?
SP: Well, um, I love film. Im justI just grew up loving, you know, movies. And I came from a family ofmy dad just loves film, and thats what I was exposed to, and I just love it. We found just in looking for things to do. We, you know at that point of course that was before the internet or anything like that, we just we met people in the very first year that we moved. We moved in the first part of the year in 1990.
CW: Um-hm. Okay.
SP:  And in October, I guess, of that year is when we realized, um, and I think it was really actually through a bookstore that we connected with. And the bookstore was owned by Mark and Carrie, whoit was called MC Film and I believe thats where we found the film festival. I think there was also another bookstore down south Tampa that we connected a little bit with, but Im thinking that was a little bit later, but I think that we connected through MC Film.
CW: Okay.
SP: And that was when Mark and Carrie opened that their location, which was down on Kennedy Ave at that time, I believe it was mainly film. It was mainly videos. Remember this was twenty-three years ago, so it was mainly like VHS tapes. And we kind of connected with that. We came across it. And realized that there was a film festival and at that time the film festival was like a weekend. So weWow, this is cool. And again, this was something that we did not experience in Atlanta, because Atlanta at that time didnt even have one.
CW: Right.
SP: So, we thought that was kind of a neat thing and through that is when we met friends and, you know, contacts, people that we knew. And then like I said, we got involved with the Tampa AIDS Network. And we met a lot of friends who we still have today through our work with the buddy program with Tampa AIDS Network.
I went through some training just because in a lot of waysbecause we were supporting our friend in Atlanta and we realized that there was some caretaker training. And I thought that waswould be a good thing for me to go through, so I did that. And then again, we met people through there.
CW: So, the buddy program trained you as a caretaker and then would they like match you with somebody in the area?
SP: Yes, yes. In fact, we still, our buddy, who we were matched withI went through the training. Ercilia then went through the training. And it was how to support someone who is living with and who is dealing with the virus. We were matching with a woman, um, who is still alive, and well, and amazing. Amazingly. And thats been probably twenty years ago.
CW: Whoa.
SP: Shes amazing, you know. But we got to be very close with her, she and her family. And through the buddy program, we were all assigned to a buddy group, like a support group for caretakers.
CW: Okay.
SP: And we had a once a month meeting. So, again, through that process we were able to meet other people, both women and men, within our buddy group. And, again, a lot of those people we still connect with today. We got more involved with TAN The Tampa AIDS Network works to provide prevention education, emotional support and physical support services and advocacy to people affected by HIV disease.. Ercilia and I were co-chairs with one of the fundraisers that TAN offers called Sticks of Fire and it was an old fundraiser.
We got involved when we got involved with TAN, but we met folks, you know, friends through that that we are still good friends with today. You know, its just a matter of getting out, and meeting the people that we connect with, and have becomeI think friends are family that you choose and thats kind of where we are. We have a nice group of people that we have met in all kinds of different ways, but thats how we did it in the beginning, in the beginning.
CW: So, lets talk about your political work.
SP: Yes.
CW: Are we skipping ahead if we go to you political work?
SP: Well
CW: Are we jumping too far
SP: A little bit, but its okay. We now are extremely involved in the political scene, the LGBT political scene, and actually, you know, all together in the state of Florida. We started off getting involved. I from the time I was young and realized this world is something we need to be involved in. And I realized that from the time I was twenty years old, which is the year that the vote was changed from eighteen to twenty. And I was twenty, and I was able to register to vote, and I was able to have a voice.
From that point with me, I had been very interested in the political world when we moved into Tampa, and got involved with TAN, realized that there were issues out there, and realized that, you know, Florida is not as welcoming a place for LGBT people as some other places. Coming from Atlanta, Atlantas a little different. I mean, its in Georgia, but Atlantas different than even Tampa as far as being welcoming. But we got involved in some of that national campaigns for president, you know, that type of thing.
In the beginning of the 2000s year, we got very involved. We were not very happy with what was going on nationally. We certainly werent happy with what was going on in our state, but our focus was more on a national basis with the president and, you know, all that. We got very involved in the campaigns in 2004. And gotthrough that we met folks within the Democratic Party and were democrats.
And as LGBT people I cant imagine why someone would not be a democrat, but thats neither here nor there. I am and I have always been. But we got involved withinwe met people in Hillsborough County within our party, and we were kind of brought in to the party, and made feel very welcome. And realized that within our party, the Democratic Party in Hillsborough County, there was really no organized LGBT voice. And you know, sometimes when you realize things like that, you know, its almost like, if not us, than who.
Who is going to do it? So, we did, and we established a democratic, a GLBTA and the put the A on the end of it. And that was for allies, because at that time and even still today, our allies are very, very strong and very involved in what we do, because sometimes our allies can speak when we cant or when we dont. So, we established the Hillsborough county GLBTA Democratic Caucus in 2005. After the 2004 election we came into the Hillsborough party. Thats when we realized that there was really no GLBT voice.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: And I use the term GLBT and LGBT kind of interchangeably and I think people understand that itstimes have changed just a little bit. But so, Ercilia and I established with somewith honestly a small group of our friends that we brought in. And I became the first, the founding president of the Hillsborough County GLBTA Democratic Caucus and we have established ourselves over the pastwell, its 2013, so we did it in 2005.
So, were looking at eight years. Weve established ourselves as being one of the most active and one of the most vocal. And when youre active and youre vocal, you do have some, you have someIm going to use the word powerbut you have some voice. You do have a voice when youre active and when youre vocal. And what happens is, the people who are elected to office, they see you.
We have worked with people who are now in elected office. People like Kathy Castor, who is now our congresswoman, but we worked with Kathy when she first ran for county commission in Hillsborough County. Weve worksome of the, um, some of the state legislators, some of our local commissioners, some of our Tampa city council people.
They started coming to our meetings before they were elected. We worked with them. They kind of cut their teeth onwe all were kind of new together and we, you know, weve kind of establishedagain, weve established ourselves. Weve worked with these people, and we consider them friends, and they consider us friends. Its kind of neat.
CW: So, when you say work with them do you mean like raise awareness about LGBT issues?
SP: Absolutely. Well, and what weve donewe work to get them elected. We did grassroots. Weve made the phone calls. Weve knocked on the doors. Weve raised money for them. Weve done what it took to put them where they are.
CW: Okay.
SP: And they dont forget that. They understand that we are one of the groups, in fact, we are very strongly one of the groups, that put them in the positions that theyre in. So, when you do that, they do tend to listen. They tend to take your phone calls when you call. They tend to make sure that theythat your issues are on their platform and on their agenda.
One of the reasons that the Tampa City Council passed the domestic partnership registry in Tampa is because we know all seven or six of thesevenall seven of the city council people and we worked with them. And we know them. And weve know them since they were not elected, before they were elected.
So, its very rewarding, because we know were making a difference, and we know that there are changes that are happening that if we did not, had not been there, and had not done what we did, grassroots wise, just establishing these relationships, and making sure that they know us
You know, because sometimes and this is certainly something thats out there, if people out there know you as a person, and they know that Ercilia and I have been together twenty-five years, and they know our life and they know that we have animals, and they love our animals, and they love us, it really, you know In order to win the mind, you have to win the hearts.
And thats kind of where weve established ourselves. And that, again, feels good to be able to say and to look at the changes that have happened in this county, and that are happening in our state, and certainly are happening national wide, it just feels really good to have been a part of all that.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: And to have been such a part of it that, um, that I get Christmas cards from the White House now. I mean, we really are, wereyou know, were in there. And that feels good. When we established the Hillsborough County GLBTA Democratic Caucus, we then through our connections with the Florida Democratic Party, we realized that there is a Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus, which is the GLBT arm of the Florida Democratic Party. We in Hillsborough County connected then with our statewide organization.
And you become certified in order to use the name democrat, so theres a process that you go through. We got very involved, of course, in Hillsborough, but then also on the state level. I became one of the regional directors of our region here in the Tampa Bay area, and then I became I was elected as vice president of our statewide caucus. And then, in 2011, I was elected as president of our statewide caucus, the first woman, the first lesbian to hold that office.
CW: Oh.
SP: So, um, and Ercilia and I were delegates to the 2008 Democratic Convention. Were GLBT delegates to the convention. Were members of National Stonewall Democrats. I sit on the board of the National Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which is a national organization that supports openly LGBT people who run for office.
CW: Okay.
SP: The very first candidate that we ever supported was Tammy Baldwin when she ran for her commission up in Wisconsin, her county city commission. And then she ran for a statewide office, and then she ran for Congress, and then she is now sits on in the Senate as the very first openly gay member of our United States Senate. So ityou just kind of establish yourself in that way.
CW: Right, um-hm. Cool.
SP: You know, so as the statewide, the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus president, Ive been able to influence on a statewide basis, and also nationally we are the GLBT arm of the Florida Democratic Party, and pretty much anybody who understands in this world today or in our country today understands that Florida has quite a voice, is quite important. The I-4 corridor, which is where we all sit, is very important in statewide election. In fact, that they say that as Hillsborough County goes, so goes the country.
CW: Right.
SP: When youre talking about presidential and national elections, and weve been pretty influential within that. And it just, again, Im going to say it feels good. It feels good to be able to look back on the things that we have done and the changes weve been able to make.
Our president today, we back in 2008 when we were delegates, we were actually Hillary Clinton delegates, Ercilia and I both were really supporting Hillary, and as it turned out Hillary wasnt the person, it was Barack Obama. And we, of coursebut it was very cool and something that I had never really thought would ever happen. I was able to vote for Hillary Clinton the first very viable woman as president of our country and first ballot on the floor of the convention, which was kind of a cool thing.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: Um, and then we got involved with the Barack Obama campaign, and we were then delegates then also to the 2012 Democratic Convention, which, of course, was our second time going.
CW: Right, right.
SP: Which was kind of cool, you know, and as the president of the statewide organization, we were a lot more involved in the selection process and in the convention itself. Theres been some real changes within our community, real changes on a national basis.
Now we just have to work on Florida. And you know, weve got some big elections coming up. And thats really we spend a lot of our time is understanding, you know, whos running and trying to put the right people in the right slots to run for office.
We educate them before they become elected, and make sure they understand what our issues are, and how important it is for us to have a seat at the table. Because they say if you dont have a seat at the table, then youre going to be
CW: Right.
SP: You dont have a voice obviously.
CW: So, how have you seen the state change over the pastsince 1990politically speaking?
SP: Well, when we first moved to this area, we werent as involved politically, but I do know that at that time the state was democratically run. There was no, as far as I know, there was no organized GLBT voice at all. Um, and you know, going back to 1990 it was still a time when even us we had to separate our lives out.
We were not able to be open. Therebut because as time goes, because people who were strong speak out, its gotten easier and easier. I dont even include myself in those times. There are people who certainly have spoken out and who I kind of sit on their shoulders. I think theresit was democratic, but it was conservative democratic.
CW: Okay.
SP: You know, just because youre a democrat doesnt necessarily mean that you are not conservative.
CW: Right.
SP: Thats where our caucus, our statewide caucus, comes in to educate our democrats to make sure that our democrats understand what our issues are and that were notits not a lifestyle we choose. Its an orientation that we are made, that we just are. And thats where I think the basis of a lot of discrimination is.
Is that people still think that its something that we choose to be, and we dont choose to be. I mean, why would you choose to be something, someone that people have such a dislike of. Or haveyou know, why would you choose that life? You dont choose that lifestyle. Lifestyle is the house on the golf course.
CW: (laughs)
SP: Who we are is who we are, and its how were made. And its how I believe it truly is. And I think thats the basis of it all.
CW: Sorry, go ahead.
SP: Well, you just dont, you know, you are who you are. And I know Ive talked a lot about it, but I can go back and remember when I was not open to who I was, and as time has grown, and I have grown, and Ive gotten stronger, I just have no concern at all about who I am. God made me this way. And whoever you believe is whatever you believe, but this is the way I was meant to live my life.
CW: So, um, what do you think the major battles have been in the political communityof the state, state or county, but however you
SP: Well, um, you know, in the state of Florida as an LGBT or GLBT person we can still be fired just for being who we are and thats wrong. Back in 2008, we fought against the marriage amendment. We fought hard against the marriage amendment and it passed. So, right now we have sitting on the books on the constitution, we have an amendment to our constitution that marriage is only between a man and a woman. So it disallows us to have any rights as far as relationship rights.
In the eyes of the law, our relationships arent recognized at all. That wont change until we have some legal battle there or until we overturn that amendment and thats going to take 60 percent vote. And its going to be difficult. Right now, honestly the poles say about 54 percent of Floridians believe thatin marriage equality, that marriage should be between two people who choose to be together, because they love each other, and it shouldnt matter in any other way.
Weve got a bit of work to do in the state to educate. We have parts of the state that still are very, very, very conservative and its going to beits a battle. Now, individually though, weve got some real good things happening. I think I mentioned in the city of Tampa, theyve passed a domestic partnership registry. Now, the domestic partnership registry means that you as aif you have a relationship like Ercilia and I, we want to make sure that we are able to make decisions for each other if something were to happen on an emergency basis.
And what that means is you can go into a hospital, and that other person that you spend your life with, your partner has the ability, they cant tell her she cant be there, if I were to be taken in or couldnt make a decision for myself, but we dont have that in Hillsborough County. It wasit came up in front of our county commission.
We actually have two democrats sitting on our county commission with four pretty conservative republicans. And when it came up in front of our county commission just asking for it to move into the legal department to write the language, then to come back, and then to be presented, it was voted down. So, locally here in the county what I see that we need to do is change the people
CW: Right.
SP: who make those decisions. Because it doesnt seem to me that were going to make changes in their minds, because they are two beholden to the right wing. You talk about the tea party and we hear about the tea party in the news. We have maybe not four, but we have at least three, and one who just kind of falls over to vote with the majority, who just wont come around no matter what we do.
So, we have a challenge. Electorally we need to make a change. We need to put people there who willwe dont need absolute progressives. We just need people who are fair-minded, equality minded. And now, of course, Im a democrat, and thats what Id love to see, but thats not saying that there arent republicans out there who are fair-minded and who could vote our way. Its happened before. Its happening in all parts of our state.
Weve just got to focus on Hillsborough and its been a challenge. In Hillsborough County we dont have a Human Rights Ordinance. That means that in Hillsborough County we could also be fired for being who we are. We have a bill right now up in Tallahassee statewide that would include sexual orientation gender identity and expression in the state Human Rights Ordinance. Its got so push back last year.
This year at least its now being heard by a committee. Were hoping that it progresses. I dont have a lot of confidence that it will, because, again, just like Hillsborough County we have a legislator in, legislative branches in Tallahassee that are very, very much right wing. And I think its going to take some cycles to get people more equality minded elected officials. And, you know, there is a lot of ways to make changes and one of the ways that we decided to do it is electorally.
We see that if youre talking to people about your rights, and about equality, and about marriage equality, about actually human rights and rights for LGBT people, and understanding that we are who we are and we should not be discriminated against. If youre talking to people who think that you are choosing your lifestyle, youre not going to make a difference. Its not going to hayoure beating your head against the wall. You might as well be talking to the wall.
If you make changes inif you change them and you put people who are more equality minded then you have more of a way. And the more and more we change over our elected, whether it be in Hillsborough County or in the state of Florida, I think its the more and more were going to see our rights being handed to us legally. And thats what we need to get to. One of the good things in Tampa, in the city of Tampa, is that we have of all the city council people theyre all democrats.
We had the domestic partnership registry pass on a 6 to 1. So, it was almost a majority. Thats kind of where. We just need a majority. We dont need everybody. We just need more of us than them. And thats what wereits kind of electing people who will see that were not the boogey people. You know, were notwere just everyday people. And we are who we are and we deserve the same rights as everybody else. We dont want more. We just want the same. We just want to be equal.
CW: Do you think, um, culturally Tampas pretty progressive?
SP: I do, I do. I think Tampaactually, in the human rights, the HRC, Human Right Coalition just put out a survey, the results of a survey that was done, or actuallyI dont know, I cant think of the name of itbut Tampa actually rated higher as the highest equality index, maybe. Maybe thats what it was called. It was an equality index. And Tampa rated higher than any other city, town, in this area.
And we actually rated one of the very highest in the state of Florida. And that I think has to do with the fact that we have a city council, we have a mayor, and theyre all equally minded. And Im going to through this in: Theyre all democrats, but theyre allthey think that people deserve rights. I think it has to do with the fact that we have a Human Rights Ordinance that protects us.
It includes sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. I remember when Tampa passed itincluded sexual orientation into the Human Rights Ordinance back about ten plus years ago, but they did not include gender identity and expression. It took about ten, eleven, twelve years to go back, but they did go back and theyit was presented and they approved it. Thats big, because generally the reason people are discriminated against is not necessarily for who they are really.
Its for an expression of who they are. So, someone can look at another person and think that they are gay. They can look at a man who seems to have more feminine attributes and, you know, a little bit more feminine than what they think it should be, and they might think that person is gay, but it doesnt necessarily mean they are. They might look at a woman who is more butch, and think that woman is a lesbian, but she doesnt necessarilyits not necessary that she is.
CW: Right.
SP: To be gay is who youre oriented to. Its not how you express yourself. So, its real important that when we have a human rights ordinance that we include gender identity and expression, because thats where the discrimination generally comes into. Its just like going into theyou asked about locally in Tampa, but nationally we just ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was just passed through the senate in Washington.
And the big struggle there, and something that we really had to work toward, and we were successful in it was to get that gender identity and expression into it, because some of our national groups had put an ENDA package out, or written a bill that only included sexual orientation, because they felt like that it was harder to get gender identity and expression through. Its harder to explain someone who has a gender identity issue, like a transgender person.
Um, we within the state level, we were very involved in that process, and in fact our senator Bill Nelson, again, our democratic senator, at the very last minute signed on to as a sponsor of ENDA. And that happened becausethis was back in October. The end of October the Florida Democratic Party had our annual, well, one of our conventions. And our caucus organized a meeting with Senator Nelson, and we included his wife, because we wanted tosometimes its good to include their partners.
And there were about six or seven us, and we went behind closed doors, and it was not publicized at all. But this was on a Saturday afternoon of the conference, we meet with Senator Nelson and his wife, Grace, and we included a trans-woman, who had run for office up in Orlando. Her name is Gina Duncan. In fact, Id love for you to talk with her. Gina is a transshe was born a man. She lived about forty years of her life as a man and then was always feeling insideI mean, she can tell her story.
But anyway, she is a very successful transgendered male to female. So, we included Gina in the discussion, and Gina just carried it totally for us, and made such an impression on Senator Nelson and his wife, Grace, that on Monday afternoon when he went back to Washington and ENDA The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is a legislation that would prohibit discrimination when hiring  employees on the basis of orientation or gender identity. was on, getting ready to be heard At that point we had all but three of our democratic senators in the senate to sign as co-sponsors, so we knew we had the votes.
Or, we knew that we had their votes. Senator Nelson was one of the last of the three. He signed on that Monday and it was seriously because of our meeting with him. He signed on that Monday and then immediately when he signed on we got the other two democrats. We got about four or five republicans to signnot to sign on as sponsors, but to vote.
CW: Right.
SP: Which means it passed through the senate. So, this was just a real big thing. Now its sitting on the desk of the speaker of the house. He says that hes not going to even bring it up for a vote. Thats where the problem lies. Thats where things can get just stonewalled. They just stop. Because the speaker of the House right now, we think we have support for it in the house, but if the speaker of the House wont even bring it for a vote, it doesnt go anywhere. So, it just sits.
Now, of course, we have a president that has come out so in favor of it. You know, a lot of timeswe have seen very clearly that when we have control of the White House things like this happen. We getwe have DOMA The Defense of Marriage Act was a federal law that allows states to not recognize same sex marriages granted in other states. overturned. We have ENDA, which has passed through the senate, and all it needs if for our speaker of the house to bring it to a vote, and we do believe that we have the votes.
We really do. We think we have all the democratic votes in the House of Representatives, and we think we have enough republicans that it would pass, but if he wont even bring it up, than thats where it stops. And thats why its so important. And once we get that on a national wide basis then things change statewide. Even if we dont have the same thing in our state, if we have the rights on a federal basis, the reason why we now have federal marriage, marriage equality
CW: Right.
SP: the reason we have that, and the reason why its now changed so that if youre married in a same-sex relationship, and youre married in one of the states that has allowed that, that you can now file joint federal income tax is because the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned.
Because our president and his attorney general said that they were not going to defend it. And so, therefore, we knew that the two cases that were brought in front of the Supreme Court, when we knew that we have a president who dictates to his attorney general that he is not going to defend it anymore, which weve not had before.
CW: Right.
SP: Because the past president that we had would defend Defense of Marriage Act. In fact, he wanted a nationwide amendment to our US Constitution that marriage was between a man and a woman. I mean, thats what he wanted. But nowthats why its so very important that we are involved, we the LGBT community, because our rights are on the tip of whats happening today.
And its so very important that we pay attention to these things and that we understand how critical it is that we elect the right people. And thatfirst of all, we vote, but not only do we vote, but we get involved.
CW: Um-hm.
SP: And we let them know who we are. And, you know, its important that were all out and we let our elected officials know who we are; let them know how important it is. Um, so anyway, its justyou know, weve got some exciting things going on. So, you asked about the city of Tampa. You knowI mean, lets kind of get back in.
But whats happening federally could so effect what happens to us here in Florida, because it effectsit can all snowball. Its allwhen the defense of When Dont Ask, Dont Tell was overturned, that one thing started such a snowball effect in making sure that the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned, and making sure that ENDAbecause our military isthey have to, if an LGBT, a gay and lesbian person can serve openly in the military, they have to change the rules.
CW: Right.
SP: Well, once they change the rules in the military, it then flows out from there and thats whats happened. Now, still transgendered are not open, cannot be open, and cannot serve in our military. Thats something that we need to work on and we need to work on for our transgendered friends out there. But, um, you know, things justit just flows from one thing happening, a lot of good policies can come into effect that effect our lives, our daily lives. So, its exciting.
Theres some good things going on. Just to kind of answer your question, going back to what your question was, um, you know. There is little steps along the way, but there really are some good things going on. Like in Hillsborough County, we have an openly gay county commissioner. Thats exciting. In fact, you might want to sit and interview him, if he will. I can see if I can work on that but weKevin Becknerwe worked very closely with Kevin when he was going through his process of deciding to run for office.
And we worked very closely in putting him there and that was a big, a huge, huge thing. Hes made a difference on our county commission, but not enough of a difference that weve overturned and weve been able to make the changes that we need. One thing that I dont think Ive mentioned is back in 2005 our county commission overturned the right to celebrate gay pride in Hillsborough, and thatsthis is an issue I really wanted to talk about.
In 2005 was alsoits not coincidence at all that that was also the time when Ercilia and I developed the caucus, our GLBT Democratic Caucus. Because I think that when rights are taken away from people, you know, you can go and live your life, but then when something huge happens like that, when the county commission, the commissioner that I dont even want to mention her name, because we call her some words that we probably dont want to say.
But she single-handedly was able to convince six out of seven county commissioners to take away our right to celebrate gay pride. And it was all based on a library display that was put together focusing on gay and lesbian writers, not promoting anything at all. I mean, I saw the display.
CW: Public library, right?
SP: It was in a public library. Honestly, the nearest to our house. She happened to get a phone call from someone about this. It was celebrating gay pride month, and she got a phone call about it, and she went on a rampage. This was Ronda Storms, commissioner Ronda Storms.
She was able to convince again six out of seven commissioners that that neededthat the celebration of gay pride, of anything that had to do withand when she said it, you can listen to this transcript, she said, little g, little p, any celebration of any gay pride little g, little p will be banned in Hillsborough County. When she was able to get that passed, it just galvanized people. People came out of the woodwork.
And thats whenagain, its not coincidencethats when we started establishing our caucus, and got very involved, and our voice got very loud. Because you take it away, people dont likeyou know, people get really excited about that. Now, on June 5th of this year 2012 No, 2013. What year are we in? 2013. Our county commission voted to overturn the ban on the celebration of gay pride. So, when you say, theres been progress. There has been some progress.
You kind of, in the business that were in, you know, in getting rights, you kind of have to look at the steps that you take and that was a baby step. That was the first thing that needed to happen. So, they overturn that ban now. So, what that means is that Hillsborough County can have their own gay pride. We have a big gay pride in this area and thats in St. Petersburg, Pinellas County. There are organizations now that are working toward the celebration of Hillsborough Pride.
CW: Oh, really?
SP: Yes, yes. Now that we can.
CW: Right.
SP: Now that we can.
CW: Which organizations are
SP: Um, well, I know that there are some people that have been spearheading, you know, and meeting. We had an organization that was like a Tampa Pride. Um, financially they kind of hit some rough times. I know that GaYbor District, GaYbor is an organization in the city of Tampa thatits a group of businesses that are in the Ybor City area and outside too.
But GaYbor was established by Mark and Carrie of MC Film, who I mentioned and maybeI think theyre on tape somewherebut they established GaYbor and have done a phenomenal job in organizing the businesses. And I think they have over 250 maybe close to 300 now, businesses that are involved in the GaYbor District Coalition. Our GLBTA Caucus iswe were one of the founding members of GaYbor and I know that that organization is probably on the forefront of developing a gay pride and organizing. They are just organizers extraordinaire.
CW: (Laughs)
SP: They truly are. So, I know that thats happening.
CW: Thats exciting.
SP: Yeah, yeah. So, you know there are some great things that are going on in our community and a lot of it is because a lot ofyou know, youve got to be out. You know, people out there have got to know us. And theyve got to understand that were there and we are productive members of society.
We are just like them. We want just what they want. And all that is to live our lives, and to be equal, and to have the same rights that are afforded by our state constitution and our federal, our national constitution. Its just very simple, very simple is what we want.
CW: So, have you, umwell, you said earlier that you love, that you love Tampa. Do you ever see yourself going anywhere else or you plan to
SP: Oh, wow. I dont know. I mean, I dont know. I dont see myself going anywhere else currently. I mean, weve looked atwhen we travel, Ercilia and I, we look at areas where maybe we wouldnt have to fight so hard. You know, maybe, you know, I dont know.
There are states now that give marriage equality. There are states now that are really open, and welcoming, and weve certainly thought about maybe moving. I dont know. But weve not done anything only because we kind of feel like were here. Were fighting for our state. Were fighting for Florida. We want Florida to be just like them.
CW: Right.
SP: I think that give us ten more years. I mean, Im saying the state of Florida as long as people keep fighting, as long as people keepyou know, dont give up. I think Florida could be a state like Massachusetts and New York, you know, Vermont and even Iowa. Can you believe Iowa has marriage equality?
You know, there are placeswe could be that. We really could. You know, as long as we dont give up on our state, and there are people that will continue to fight for our state, cause this is a beauI mean, when you look at the weather, I mean, today is December 16th and although I walked in here with a sweater on and its cool. Its in the fifties and its going to be in the high sixties today. How better could we have it really and truly?
CW: Right.
SP: You know, really and truly. When you look at those states that I just mentioned who do givebut my goodness gracious, with inches of snow on the ground and things like that. So, we really do have it pretty good. Weve got to move our state forward, and put our state into a history of being welcoming and being open, and having full equality for all its citizens. Thats just were weve got to continue moving forward.
But I think that we can. I mean, itsI see some very positive things out there. I really do. Weve elected some people just honestly recently that I think are going to go to Tallahassee and represent us well. Weve taken over some seats. Weve moved them from conservative to more progressive. Weve done some things and weve just got to keep it up. Thats why what we do I believe is very, very important.
CW: Is there anythingany closing remarks, anything you want to
SP: Wow.
CW: Thats a veryI feel like that question puts the pressure on people.
SP: Well, you know, I think its been quite interesting to go through this process, and I mean, youve been very easy.
CW: Oh good.
SP: To move it forward and to make it happen. I think to have the history of our community and a history ofyou know, Harvey Milk said, weve all got to come out. Weve all got to speak out. Weve got to, you know, tell everybody that, you know, who you are and who you love. Tell them about your family. Tell them how proud you are of who you are and how proud you are of your family.
And in order for us to change minds, you have to change hearts. And I think thats the way we make it happen. There are people out there who, you know, are going to give some problems, but I think over all by being out, and by being who we are, and by living our lives, and I really have a lot of confidence in the younger generation as, you know I think I made a comment that I stand on the shoulders of those whove come before us, who really had it difficult and here we come along.
My generation comes along and then those that are younger, you know, the young people today dont look at sexual orientation as being even an issue. I, honestly, our fight, my fight is so we get to the point where its not an issue. Its not something that we have to evenits just another part of who we are.
Thats all. And thats where I want to get to. I think were, you know, were getting there though. I was going to say were years to come, but gosh were getting there. We really are. Its been such a change in just in what Ive seen, and what Ive lived, and what Ive experienced, and I just think I have a lot of confidence in where were going.
CW: Okay, well, thank you so much for letting me interview you.
SP: Thank you, thank you.


COPYRIGHT NOTICE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 201 5 University of South Florida. All rights, reserved. This oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrighted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 42 02 E. Fowler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.


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