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Felicity, LauRose and Calla

Rose Norman interviewed LauRose Felicity and Calla Felicity on May 26, 2011. Catherin Hopkins transcribed this interview.

Biographical Information

You were originally asked to speak about a lawsuit you brought about domestic violence in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1990. But first, please give us some background on both of your upbringing and education.

CF: "I was born in DeQuincy, Louisiana, and lived in south Louisiana my whole life. I went to school in Jeanerette, Louisiana, and attended college at Austin Peay University in Clarksville, TN, and McNeese University. I started school in Shreveport, LA at Centenary College in 1969. My school years were mostly in Jennings, Louisiana, and south Louisiana."

LF: "I was born in Corydon, Indiana, a small town in the knobs of southern Indiana right across the river from Louisville, KY. I was raised in Louisville. I went to school in the suburbs of Louisville and got through high school at Suda E. Butler there. I went to college at the University of Kentucky. I got my BA and then got my law degree there in 1976, and after that I got a master’s degree in social work at the University of Louisville Kent School of Social Work, and, finally, a teaching credential at UC Berkley."

On Feminist Activism

When did you come to conceive of yourself as either a lesbian or a feminist or a lesbian feminist or maybe you saw yourself as an activist first and then…what was the sequence, lesbian, feminist, or activism? Where did you come in those doors?

LF: "I began to think of myself as a feminist in like 70 or 72."

How old were you?

LF: "I was in my early 20's."

"I actually engaged in activism much earlier though. My mother was a survivor of very severe domestic violence. I first called the police to get assistance for her when I was 9 years old – around 1959. When they arrived, my father, who was an attorney went to the door and told the police that there was no problem. He said, “We were just having a little domestic dispute and thank you it’s all taken care of.” They went away and left my mother lying there unconscious on the floor. So, I think in terms of activism, that this was one of my first acts of activism. I objected to my mother being battered and tried to protect her in all the ways I could. I always remembered, too, how the police failed completely to be of any help to me or my mother in 1959. And this supported my decision to sue the police department for still refusing to help battered women in the 1990’s I never forgot how real the sense of abandonment was when the police left my mother and I unprotected when I risked so much to call them for help."

"Back in my 20s, though, I started getting an ideological framework for feminism. I was a VISTA volunteer in Appalachia, taking sociology in college. I started looking at social problems in general more systematically and started reading Ms. Magazine which helped me see the depth and breadth of the oppression of women. That started to come together for me as a framework in which to analyze the tragedies that my mother, sister and I had experienced."

On feminism and law school

"Still later – starting in 1973 – I attended the University of Kentucky School of Law in Lexington, Kentucky. I was in the first "big”class of women. There were 60 women in a law school population of 300 students. All the rest of the students were men. This was significant because in the earlier classes that contained only one or two, or three women, they didn't have a voice. As in most contexts, it took a larger mass of women to “hear each other into speaking,” or hear and validate for each other the importance of their concerns. Isolated women just tried to get through law school by not bothering anyone most of the time."

"I was also the chair of the first women’s law caucus at the University of Kentucky School of Law, and so that definitely was a beginning point in terms of activism. We, as a class of women, would meet in the women’s restroom which had a lounge in case you needed to go there for your “time of month.” I think it is ironic that the place planned for women having their periods to lie down in their weakened state became our organizing location."

"When the professor in tax class would ask things like: “Is Chesty Morgan (a local stripper)’s enormous breast enlargement a business expense or a medical expense?” we could go to the “ladies’ lounge” to discuss the offensiveness of this kind of sexist off topic discussion. Or when we found out that the legal fraternity party’s recruitment event featured topless strippers and the men put all their name tags on their bare breasts, we had a place to meet to air our feelings and explore strategies. We would protest these things at the organization or in the class after we had met in the ladies lounge."

Do you remember what year that class that law school class with 60 women started?

LF: "1973."

CF: "I came out as a feminist at 17 in 1970 and purchased a subscription of the first year of Ms. Magazine. I wrote to various publications because Ms. Magazine had a famous back page which featured advertisements which were derogatory to women. It was called a click to feel a feminist’s recognition moment. So I had many clicks happening. My mother also became a feminist as a result of my becoming a feminist. The first activism I can recall was when she was a member of AAUW (American Association of University Women). The AAUW was part of the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women."

In Louisiana?

CF: "Yes, in Louisiana. Louisiana was undergoing a rewriting of the Constitution. The Louisiana Constitution, until 1976, contained the Napoleonic code, which meant that women had no right to inherit. Women only had right to own property through marriage. Legally it was chancy for them to hold property any other way. There were many other archaic rules like that and so there were many reasons for the Constitution to be re-written. My mother and I helped the Constitutional Committee with that effort along with various judges and attorneys and the wife of a judge in Jennings, LA, that my family had been friends with a long time. The Governor’s report on the Status of Women included a look at blue collar women."

"By that time, I had finished college although I didn't graduate. I became a feminist and an activist, becoming politically aware at the same time that I began to actually totally notice what sexist pigs the professors were, so it was not a good experience for me in college and I dropped out."

Where were you in college?

CF: "At that point, I was at McNeese. At McNeese, I was in pre-med, and I had a 3.6 average. I was told by the professor that had to be a reference for me into medical college that he would not give me a reference if I had less than a 4.0 average because women went to medical school to meet doctors and marry. So he would not give a reference to any woman in his classrooms or in the school who had less than a 4.0 average. My lab mate had a 3.2 average and went right in with huge references into med school so this was a very big click moment for me."

On working for Allied Petro Chemical

"Anyway, I did the research and wrote the blue collar section on the Governors report that the American Association of University Women compiled. My mother also wrote part of that report. I wrote it specifically because I was doing blue collar work and was hired in 1979 into an Allied Petro Chemical plant as one of the first group of women that the plants were being forced to hire. The hire date might have been 1978. The Equal Opportunity folks had gotten a hold of the hiring of women, and there were no women in decent paying jobs in Louisiana. By that time, I was living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The best paying jobs were all in petrochemical plants. I knew exactly three women working in petrochemical plants, period. So I was one in a group of 10 women hired with 50 new hires into Allied Petro Chemical."

Doing what?

CF: "I started out as a laborer. Laborers picked up things with shovels, cleaned things up, and various things like that. My experience there was pretty militant because they kept trying to get women to quit. Their method of getting us to quit was to put only women on a very bad job. The time that they tried to get one of the women I worked with and me to quit, they put us on a job for three days using 15 pound pick axes on solid sulfur which had spilled from a train car. We had to pick it apart with a sulfur pick that sets the sulfur on fire every time you hit it. One of you stands over with a hose and a shovel, the other one picks it. It was very hot at that time of the year, and we had to wear full chemical protective gear, no oxygen mask at that point, so that meant total rubber suits, rubber masks, hard hat, rubber boots, and swing a 15-pound pick all day in the sun, over and over. One of the foreman of the sulfur plant said that this was the intent of the people that had set us doing this job, and that if we could just last this through, they wouldn't try it again. And sure enough, we picked up all that sulfur in three days and did a damn fine job. We would go into the place where the operators hang out in the chemical plant, and we would just be crying from the heat and the smell. Our clothing and boots smelled of sulfur for weeks after that. The foremen said "don’t let them see you crying," but we couldn't help but cry because of the sulfur that was hitting our eyes. It was a physical reaction, plus we were mad as hell! They had to repair three of the picks because we were using them so hard, Ha! So anyway, I was pretty militant. I also came out as a lesbian in 1976."

Is this before or after?

CF: "Before, but I wasn't out anywhere except at the bars in Baton Rouge."

And those women, the 10 women on that sulfur crew?

CF: "None of them were lesbians. No, the two of us, they put two of us picking sulfur. They would separate us out and put two of us on a job and try to get us to quit."

Oh, so there were just two of you on a job but none of them were lesbians.

CF: "No, none of them were lesbians except me. When I tried to sell my motorcycle at the plant, somebody wrote “dyke bike” across my motorcycle ad, where you punch in at the clock. I complained about it to my foreman, and he took the sign down. After that, I had the singular experience of having one of the biggest womanizers at the plant, a very anti-feminist man, come out to me as a gay man. He had been a gay man in society there for a very long time, and he had no one he could talk to. So, I had this very overweight, smelly old French guy come out to me as a gay man, and he was in tears because he had never been able to tell anybody, and he had been a gay man for years. So, I was the lesbian at the plant who was militant all the time and stayed alive. If you didn't stay mad, you didn't stay alive. The kinds of things that people could do to sabotage your life and your plant when you are in the chemical plant are amazing and diverse. Steam release was one but the worst. One was the hydrochloric acid release where I would walk into it and breathe it in. At one point, one operator sabotaged my whole chemical plant and caused it to shut down immediately as I came on shift and couldn't stop it. That means they let the chemical process get to a point that is very wrong. If you let it continue going wrong, you have an explosion in your plant. It is a 7 stories tall cracking tower that you are operating and by that time I was a first class operator of that plant so anyways, we had various things happen."

Things continued to happen?

CF: "Yeah, that continued to happen until we all got laid off."

"To discourage me. There were two of us hired in the group of ten new hires, and they tried ferociously to get the two of us to quit. They were so effective with my co-worker that she bid into the painting crew, which never worked over time and never really had any hard physical jobs to do."

It paid a lot less?

CF: "It paid a lot less, yes. I stayed on the operator track and first I became a 2nd class operator and drove a big earth moving machine in the hydrofluoric acid plant. Then I bid into and qualified as a 1st class power plant operator, operating the steam and cooling and waste release mechanisms in the various plants inside the factory. This work was outside and on the move no matter the weather. Then I bid into and qualified for the 1st class operator position in the plant that produced the final product, a fluoridated hydrocarbon commercial-grade refrigerant (the top job in the operator pecking order) and that’s where the real pressure to quit came. One man said to me the TG&Y (the five & dime store at the time) needs cashiers - why don’t you go work there. He said some man needs this job to support his family! I said there is nobody to support me but me. That was the particular operator that physically put me in danger several times and I am certain that he is the operator who sabotaged my plant but you can’t prove things like that. So that was my experience there."

And you say there were lay-offs?

CF:"Yes, there were layoffs when the petrochemical industry had a big recession. A huge amount of layoffs were happening all over the country, but the Gold Coast South economy was all related to petrochemical production, and the oil fields in the gulf were capping their rigs, as the price of oil had dropped and their profits were down. We were all laid off because we were among “last hired - first fired” per employment regs."

So all 10 of you were laid off?

CF: "Yeah, all 10 of us were laid off plus I think the plant lost 80+ workers out of about 300."

And this was 1970?

CF: "1983."

On working in law as a lesbian feminist

Now, we need to decide what stories you want to tell about your lesbian feminist activism. I know you have told some already about what made you a lesbian feminist activist.

CF: "LauRose actually did more important field work than I did by a long shot in her early career. She did some important work in Kentucky. It is a more compelling story than mine."

So you want to try to tell that first and then we can come back?

LF: "I will just try to give you a synopsis or summary of the activism that led into our work regarding domestic violence and the federal court and state court litigation we did."

You graduated from law school with that class of 1976. Did you go onto a firm or what did you do?

LF: "I graduated from law school at University of Kentucky in Lexington in 1976. I had done a lot of activist work. In Appalachia I worked on children’s rights to attorneys and to due process of law in delinquency hearings. I had been the first Chair of the Women’s Law Caucus at the University of Kentucky School of Law. I had also set up a mental health law clinic and supervised the juvenile law clinic. For the mental health law clinic, I went into the back wards of state mental hospital in Lexington, interviewed people, and represented them in their commitment hearings."

"While in school, I continued to do a lot of work with the public defender’s office on juvenile delinquency issues and I interned at the National Juvenile Law Center. Because of that experience, I wanted to go into legal aid. But it was always hard to get into the lefty law firms. When I was getting out of law school, I was hired, instead, to go work for the county attorney in Louisville. The county attorney prosecuted all dependency and neglect action (harm done to children) and all delinquency actions (harm done by children). I was the first female Assistant County Attorney in Kentucky."

"When I was in law school, I had a relationship with a woman that was certainly a lesbian event. When I went to Louisville, I left the law school, that activism, and the other lesbians I knew in Lexington and went into a place where feminism was virtually invisible and unknown. As the first woman assistant county attorney I “stood out”, to say the least. I would often be the only person with visible legs in a whole courtroom of hundreds of people. I prosecuted of all types of offenses but my interest was in doing feminist work. So I also ended up doing most of the work involving female victims, including rape and sodomy."

How do you think you got that job?

LF: "Because they had to hire a woman sooner or later and I had the most experience doing juvenile law. I worked for the National Juvenile Law Center so I had high quality references. So they did hire me for that. It was a very fascinating experience. When I first started practicing, I knew very few other women that were practicing. I was told by the attorneys, the men that I worked with, that I’d be just fine if I didn’t turn out like that bitch, Emma Hickson. Now the bitch, Emma Hickson, was a lesbian and a feminist attorney so I was kind of warned off from going down that sort of path."

"There were advantages to this job. At the same time in the law office, they got me a free office, so I had a place to work out of. The rest of the amenities weren't great. The county attorney at the time, Bruce Miller, his mistress worked at the office with us and she was a very interestingly ornamental young woman. She usually had skirts about three inches below crotch level and blouses showing a great deal of cleavage. My colleagues, the other county attorneys, would do things like come up to me in the office and, if I was wearing a dress with straps it got very hot there like it gets here) and they would pull my straps out and look down my bra."

Who were they?

LF: "The attorneys that I worked with. I had experiences like I was going down the hall where the judges worked and one came out of the judges chambers, opened his robe and put me in it. There was a lot of physical sexual harassment that happened and it was pretty much continuous ideological sexual harassment. It was very difficult for me. I had this long 2 year period there being bi-sexual and lesbian. To this day, I think what happened was when I started practicing law, I felt so defenseless that I took up with the some of the biggest baddest men that I could find so that I had some kind of cover. In 1977, I became more attached to the women’s community there and sort of proceeding into my very long, slow, boring coming out. I started doing things like I helped found the group that was looking at police action towards battered women and I was the prosecutor that dealt with all the rape cases in juvenile court in 2 years. My first big trial was the anal rape of a 9 year old girl by a 15 year old boy."

"You have to remember that this was happening when you don’t have any guidance or mentoring. Practicing law is not like practicing medicine, you don’t really have a practice under supervision before you do it, so I am learning rules of law, rules of evidence, court room procedure just on the fly as I am being the prosecuting attorney with no one to take me under their wing because I was a girl. Anyway, I got pretty good at it. I pretty much beat everybody that I was trying cases against and started doing things like this project about police and battered women. I was also part of the women in this state that got together one day at the Y, and discussed the whole question of doing something to help battered women. Everybody always says they are going to go back anyways and why did they go back, so it kind of dawned on us at this discussion that one of the big reasons they go back is they had no place to go. So we came up with the idea that if we could just rent a couple rooms at the Y, at least a few women in Louisville, as a city of almost a million, would have some place to go when they wanted to leave their husband. Now I knew why because having lived with this with my family of origin, I never had any question about this. You leave your husband who’s beating the hell out of you, chasing you down the road, trying to run you off the road, where do you go? Your friends don’t want you to be there with him kicking in the door, you don’t have enough money to go to a hotel, you have 2 children…what do you do? So we set about setting up a shelter at the YWCA."

And who organized that meeting?

LF: "It might have been part of the police procedures group that I was with. We had some folks who were social workers and there were no other lawyers, just me, and who were beginning activists about battered women’s issues. I came to the point that I did things with Take Back the Night marches, and there became a larger group of activists. It came to pass that in the Y, we had the rape relief program…it would be like Alka-Seltzer, like pop pop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is. They would cite relief because it was non-controversial, meaning that was kind of like a gentle way of talking about being raped. Then we had the spouse abuse center and a nontraditional women’s career project all in the Y."

"Our organizing and litigation and legislative advocacy changed the human service programs for battered women enormously from 1978 to 1996. When we gathered as the shelter/legal committee on battered women in 1977, there was not one shelter bed in Louisville, Kentucky, a city of over 750,000 people. Before I left there in 1996, there was a shelter in every one of the 120 counties. There were some of the best statutes in the United State. And after our litigation, the police were forced to arrest a batterer if they observed a restraining order being violated OR if they were told and had probable cause to believe that a restraining order had been violated We basically set about building a whole system of places and laws that were there to help protect battered women. And when the laws we got passed weren't followed, we filed litigation federal court for the denial of equal protection and due process of law under the U.S. Constitution."

On organizing shelters

Let me go back a minute. You got started on the shelter business because you were working in the courts with domestic violence and rape and working with social workers and others trying to do something about it. In 1977, there was no literature about this? The idea of a shelter was not well-known?


You just had to make it up as you went along.

LF: "Well actually the first thing that happened to me relating to the legal definition of battering, domestic violence or whatever, was my first day I went to law school. The instructor in the criminal law case had me brief, which means tell about a case, where a woman killed herself, and this was before the married women properties act in the early 1900s, and her husband was held criminally liable for her suicide because he was the only legal person in relationship to the situation. I am sure, to this day, he had me review that case because he didn't think I would state the legal rule properly, which is the husband was in fact criminally responsible. I would have found it so offensive that the woman didn't have any legal standing, was not a legal entity, so that kind of started in my thinking about domestic violence. At the time, the rule regarding battered women self-defense was also the reasonable man test, which means that only if a reasonable man would respond with deadly force could a woman use a weapon even if she was being beaten to death. Now most women are actually killed in domestic violence situations by battery. Recently, it’s more with weapons, but when I was around in the beginning, it was just beat the woman to death. So if the man did not pull a weapon on her--if he is a 6 foot 2 inch tall man, and she is a 120 pound 5 foot 2 and he is just beating her to death--she could never defend herself with a knife or gun because a reasonable MAN would not pull a weapon unless a another man had pulled a weapon. So that is the kind of thing that I thought about and dealt with when I was in law school. Then when I went into practice, I began to work on trying to change those things."

So from 1976-1996, you were living in Louisville, Assistant County Attorney, the 1st woman Assistant County Attorney?

CF: "…and then you changed careers, from being hired then to not being hirable."

Is this after 1996?

CF: "No, she just gave you an overview to get it on tape. The road leading up to the case, the litigation we did when you couldn't be hired at all…tell her why not."

So you weren't Assistant County Attorney from 1976-1996?

LF: "I was Assistant County Attorney until 1981. While I worked as a prosecutor part time, I also went to social work school. I got a masters in social work at Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville in 1981."

Why was that?

LF: "Because I did family law and family law involves both the personal and legal elements, both the social and governmental parts of situations. I also wanted to become a lesbian feminist therapist because practicing law is extremely difficult. It was extremely exclusionary; you are completely in the cold on your own. So I was doing that."

In social work, there are more women?

LF: "In fact, my thesis for social work school was on women in nontraditional professions not nontraditional blue collar but nontraditional white collar jobs. I viewed social work school as giving me more context, more community in which to work. Except then, I wasn't hirable as a social worker either."

CF: "Ha! Tell her why not."

LF: "I explained that there was a place called the “Rape Relief”center at the YWCA in Louisville and they were planning a conference. The conference was going to include some things for women that were survivors of rap, but there was a whole hour allotted during the conference to a group of men who were involved in what I called the ”I’m sorry, please help me, please support me, in getting better” program. Now these are men in prison who actually requested that rape survivors visit them in the prison. They would tell the women the hideous things they had done, and the women would say, 'I forgive you for all of your crimes'."

For all the people you raped?

LF: "Yes, this is part of his “healing process.” So these guys are trying to get more money to do their counseling and their healing process. Now, I was a little offended by this because we didn’t have enough money to be healing any women let alone any men. They could go do their own funding thing on their own. I thought that would be more fair. So myself and my then lover, Marsha Wilson, and some other folks, which, by the way, I came out finally and totally in 1978 at the Womyns Music Festival in Michigan, and never went back from there. So my lover, Marsha, and I were involved in an activist event to deal with this because we felt like that they did not have a right to take up women’s energy. They did not have a right to basically occupy the air time that was direly needed for women. My partner’s sister was raped and nearly beaten to death, left for dead by one of the men in this project, so we were fairly offended. We just couldn't believe that this was what the rape relief center was going to do. So we planned this event where when they talked, women would stand up and say things like “I was molested when I was 18 months old, this was his name.” This is what happened because we felt like women who were survivors should have the air time rather than the rapist."

Whose idea was it to have the men at the rape relief conference?

LF: "It was the director of the rape relief center. Her name was Grace something or other. She was a straight women. And you know all of the women’s and feminist projects at the time tried not to look too radical. They were trying to be very accepting and loving of the guys who raped women because you don’t want to be a “man hater”. The women would stand up when these guys started talking and they would say what happened to them. My partner also played Holly Near’s mountain song because she couldn’t speak. She was so offended and outraged she just couldn't even speak. So playing Holly Near’s song was her expression. She and several other women were arrested. I was there, and people knew me because I had just been a county attorney. There were reporters there, so they asked me what happened, why were these women doing this, what’s the theory here, why are they interrupting this conference? So I explained that they felt like it was more important for them to have air time than the men who had raped women. So they had a half page, of the career journal devoted to an opinion piece called Eight Who Spat Hate, and that was about us. Now the rapists were not described as hateful people, but we were described as hateful people. I got to write an opinion piece then rebutting that but it did not increase my hirability."

Was it published?

LF: "They published the eight who spat hate, and then what I had to say about it."

In the same paper?

LF: "Yes."

So now you are not hirable as a social worker or an attorney?

LF: "Pretty much. I didn't have much of a “draw” then, because I was identified as a “woman who hates men.” It was not persuasive to future employers to point out that my documented anger or “hatred” was not for men in general, but for men who were criminally convicted of raping women, and then also taking resources from these women who desperately needed hep themselves."

LF: "But I did turn out to be one of those “bitches like Emmy Hickson”: a lesbian feminist attorney. That didn’t work well for the men who hired or their female minions. For a year and a half, I was only able to get one internship at a children’s rights project, just a summer hourly paid internship. Eventually I started writing appellate briefs for the public defender’s office. So I didn’t have to see anybody. I just went home, did briefs, and mailed them off to somebody and could kind of be in the woodwork. A couple years after that, I must have rehabilitated myself in some way because I got hired to work as part of the domestic violence project at the legal aid society in Louisville. I worked from 1983-1991 when we went into practice together."

(To CF) Because you were a paralegal?

CF: "I didn't start as a paralegal but I became one. In 1988, when I moved to Louisville for love of LauRose, we began to talk about that 300 plus divorces that were done by the Legal Aid Society. They were not intended to be exclusionary as to men, but there were no men who were battered who met the monetary criteria. I do not know that there were no battered men, but there were no poor men that were battered that they knew of because to be a client of the Legal Aid Society in a divorce action, you had to be battered. You had to be a victim of domestic violence and be poor because you had to be able to meet the monetary criteria, which was not have any or not that much."

On race and law

What about race? Were there black women?

CF: "Oh yes! In the 5 years LauRose had worked in the domestic violence task force at Legal Aid, she had done more than 300 divorces involving domestic violence (all women). We began to look at nobody enforcing the domestic violence statutes (against men who violated them) that were on the books. So LauRose got me hired at the Legal Aid Society of Louisville to conduct research to prove this. The means of gathering proof that we selected was reviewing the “run sheets” at the police officer dispatch. These would show whether police ever arrested batterers whom they knew were violating restraining orders by threatening, battering and even cutting or shooting women who had restraining orders against them. Of course, they were not, and their own records showed this. But in order to have a lawsuit, you have to have plaintiffs, you have to have somebody complaining about what’s been done, or in this case, not done for them. [The following sentence is a paraphrase by Rose Norman] So since all of those 300 divorce clients were women, all of whom had been battered (that’s how they got legal aid) we went to interview them about their experience with the police and ask those who were failed by the police if they would agree to be plaintiffs."

So there were 300 divorce clients. That was the pool you went to?

On law, domestic violence, and the police

CF: "Yes. So the Legal Aid Society hired me as a researcher and paralegal. (At that time there was no paralegal school that you could go and graduate from and be a paralegal. You just worked in the area and you became one. Non-attorneys who worked with attorneys usually were either legal secretaries or paralegals. The job they did was really similar. Basically you supported what the attorney was doing.) So I began to interview Legal Aid clients who had been battered and asked the police for help in enforcing restraining orders or otherwise protecting them. With the help of the Director of the Legal Aid Society, Dennis Bricking, and the state Domestic Violence Task Force, we came up with a list of interview questions that would help us identify if in fact

(1) a woman had suffered a felony offense against her in the course of the domestic violence and
(2) it met the criteria to be a class A or B felony and
(3) it came within the time period that such felonies could be prosecuted, and
(4) the police had or should have had knowledge, either first hand or through observation, of the felony’s occurrence."

"I interviewed 300 plus domestic violence victims. I went searching for them, and in the course of the project met women who were escaping their husbands, who were at the domestic violence center that LauRose had helped established, and that now would house 20 women and their families who were victims of domestic violence with no place else to go. So it was a women’s shelter. I interviewed some women at the shelter. The worst case I interviewed at the shelter was a black woman whose husband was a policeman who was threatening her and her children with his weapon. She went to the police chief and told him. He told her that she better not tell anybody else because somebody would take care of her. That meant somebody would kill her, or they would allow her husband to kill her. That is what she believed, and what I believed when she told me that story. So she was not completing her divorce with Legal Aid, even though she had gone there first and she had gotten shelter through referral from Legal Aid Society. She was about to escape and go underground in Chicago where she had family and friends because she was so terrified of her husband, who was a policeman, and that was one of the bad stories."

"We found in all of these interviews, 27 main plaintiffs, which means there were 27 women who agreed to come forward with their stories and have them written. There had to be a restraining order in effect and either class A or class B felonies involved that met the criteria for the time line, and the police had to either have seen direct evidence or had probable cause these felonies were committed, and had not arrested the batterer, as they should have done. One woman was standing there with a broken arm, and when I interviewed her you would have supposed she was a small person, but she was not. She was a great big woman probably weighing 300 pounds, and her batterer was even bigger. She was standing with a broken arm, and told the police that he had hurt her arm. She had a multiple compound fracture in that arm, so it had to be visible, and the police told him to take a walk and to cool off and to come back when he was more sober. The police left her with a broken arm, didn’t take her to the doctor or anything. That same woman after the divorce had to continue to hold him off by doing such things as putting furniture in front of the door. She had a great big color television set that she showed me that had been knocked over the last time he had found her. To get subsidized housing, she had to disclose her social security number, and he would find her by her social security number over and over again, even though she kept trying to move to different places to hide. So the stories were immensely compelling, and I did a statistical study that brought all that stuff into one study to show the Director of the Legal Aid Society that we had enough evidence and enough plaintiffs to go forward, and he gave the OK to do that."

LF: "Yeah the stories are truly horrendous. And we had statutes then that allowed the police, had clear authority to arrest if they had only “probable cause (“Probable cause” means that the police didn't have to see anything themselves. If someone just told them, that a felony had taken place or a restraining order had been violated,) they had grounds to arrest. They also had a duty to take a woman to a shelter or to the hospital if she was injured."

So those laws were on the books?

LF: "Yes, on the books. They had the duty to arrest if they came and had probable cause to believe that a restraining order had been violated or a felony had been committed and they did not. On the other hand, at the time there existed a statute regarding shoplifting. Generally, for small thefts you can’t arrest unless a police officer sees it happening. But in Kentucky there is a specific statute that if there is probable cause to believe somebody is shoplifting, you can arrest them. No problem enforcing those shoplifting statutes, but when we went to look at what was happening with arrests for probable cause of felonies, arrests for observing a violation of restraining order, arrests for probable cause to believe that a restraining order had been violated, we saw a pile of paper stacked 2 feet tall where they had never arrested. Hundreds of “runs” where they had never arrested ANYBODY. And they would show you these records. It wasn't even like they were trying to hide it! They just felt like they weren't supposed to do this so they wouldn't do it. These men decided who could be severely harmed with impunity and who could not."

Now the rules that were on the books, had those been since the shelters in the 1970s?

LF: "The Governor’s Commission on Women had gotten things like the Commission on the Status of Women, which I wrote the domestic violence part for, and also they studied inequality regarding women under the law. There were recommendations to change that. The Governor’s Commission specifically looked at domestic violence and looked at how many women were murdered after they had reported the domestic violence or sought protection for domestic violence. They were keeping a murder log, and they were looking at cases where batterers were given custody of their children, unsupervised visitation with their children, because domestic violence could not even be raised as an issue in custody cases! When you ask for custody, anything that is “reasonably related to the welfare of the child” is supposed to be able to be admitted in court. When I first took a divorce case to court, I filed an affidavit outlining minute by minute what happened with the severe battering of my client, and the judge refused to allow that to remain a part of the pleadings of the case. He tore it up and threw it away because that is defamatory stuff that you are talking about here, and has no relationship to custody. So one of the things I worked on in all the years I worked on domestic violence was also helping to develop the law about why battering was relevant to custody. You look at kids who have experienced domestic violence even if they are not directly abused; they have severe post-traumatic stress disorder. There are all kinds of serious psychological harm that they experience."

"The Governor’s Commission on Women and a woman named Travis Fritsch, the Chair of the Governor’s Commission on Women, and other women throughout the state, helped us to get the shelters and one of the best domestic violence statutory frameworks in the country. We kept seeing that no matter how good the laws were, the police basically ignored them. And by the way, every year we educated the police on these things and we are about 8 years into educating them. When I started this litigation, I said, “I believe these police are uneducable."

CF: "One of the things we did was disprove a pervasive police myth, that “more police are harmed on domestic violence calls than any other variety.” It was such hogwash that you couldn't believe it! I looked at Louisville and Jefferson County because they were practically the same size, and I looked at their records of harm to police officers. The worst harm to a police officer when helping on a domestic violence call was when he was helping carry her baggage out of the house, and he hurt his back lifting a suitcase. Otherwise, there was NOT ONE injury to police officers responding to any domestic violence calls. Surprisingly enough, the most harm to police officers was always a “man with a weapon.” So, on a “man with a weapon” call, a police officer gets injured. But the police myth that every officer quoted was that more officers get harmed at answering domestic violence calls than any other. That was totally believed by police all over the United States at the time, came from a statement by someone in New York (where it had also been proven untrue) and was not, in fact, true in any jurisdiction that could be analyzed."

So the officers weren't hurt in “man with a weapon” domestic violence calls?

CF: "None of the calls in the city-county were coded as “man with a weapon” and also “domestic disturbance”, so the calls didn't involve men shooting at “their” women. It was somebody on the street carrying a weapon. There were several other police myths that were proved wrong (like, the victim will never testify against the abuser) but that is the one in my memory that was the craziest one. It will make you crazy to look at the real and true statistics that totally debunked that myth, but there were several others nearly as crazy at the time."

LF: "Well, we did the study and we still have a copy, by the way, of all the data as well as the study itself. She did a gorgeous job. It was about 50 or 60 pages long. So then we sued in federal court alleging violation of equal protection and due process for women, meaning some citizens were not getting equal protection of the laws and those citizens happen to be women. People are not supposed to be denied important legal rights because of their gender. That was the equal protection argument under the U.S. Constitution."

"There was also another important constitutional issue. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution also strongly teaches that, as a citizen in our country, we give up the right to shoot somebody who is bothering us because it’s the police’s job to do that. So we give over to the government our right to self-defense. Police are supposed to provide that particular social service, and the problem is that women both did not get equal access to that form of social good or social service, and also they were denied the right to that social service without due process of law. There are two elements to the due process claim: substantive and procedural due process. This is how the procedural argument went. The State can deny somebody the right to their welfare payments, but before the state can do that, it has to provide a little hearing showing why it should deprive the person of that check. That is called constitutional “procedural due process.” The police did not conduct any hearings before they refused to arrest guys that were beating women."

"Furthermore there is a “Substantive due process” concern in the U.S. Constitution. We must ask whether what the state (through its police officer) is doing is unfair. Is it wrong? The guarantee of substantive due process under the United States Constitution means “What is the right thing to do?” And this was not right. At the time, I was told by everyone that there was no due process argument. This was after the Tracy Thurman case up in the northeast where there was litigation taken against the police, but that was a state case and this was in federal court. Once I got involved in the case, I found a law journal article written by a professor at the University of Louisville, Professor James T. R. Jones, outlining in tremendous detail (as Arlo Guthrie would say “with circles and arrows and pictures on the back” and a hundred footnotes) why in fact denial of police protection is a violation of due process and equal protection with all kinds of cases to support that. So that is why we brought our case in federal court. We could clearly show that the police denied women equal protection of the law in a way that was both unfair and procedurally incorrect."

CF: "So, after we settled our federal court case, another terrible domestic violence case arose. It was so compelling that you’d think the universe was in cahoots with somebody! A woman was murdered, and the social worker that we had as an intern in the office at the time was the social worker for the family of the woman that was murdered. The woman was murdered during the World Series, and she had had a restraining order on her batterer. The batterer was well known to the police, and she had called the night before and they had told her at one point to use boiling water and to pour it out the window on him if he showed up."

LF: "He got out of the mental hospital."

CF: "The woman knew he was getting out, and he was coming for her because he had tried to get into her house the night before, and she poured boiling water out the window, and he had left. The day he murdered her, a bus driver saw him walking down the street with a tire iron in his hand. The bus driver was the first call into the police station and said “so and so is walking down the street and is he is heading to…”

LF: "You can give the names since it is historical. Betty Ashby."

CF: "He is heading for Betty Ashby’s house, and you need to pick him up."

LF: "And her mother was on the phone calling the police."

CF: "Her mother called the police, and the blind people next door did too as he began to beat her to death. He came through the window into her house, she escaped out the back window and ran across the street with her small child and ran up the stairs of the person’s house across the street and into their bedroom and shut the door. He broke through her house and came out the back with a tire iron, and meanwhile the neighborhood is getting very disturbed because it is happening in a housing project."

LF: "You say she ran across the street, but there was actually a courtyard in the middle of this public housing project. She is like half naked running across the court yard screaming. She goes into the other apartment, and there is no exit. He comes through the courtyard with a tire iron, beats down the door, and beats her to death with a tire iron in the apartment she fled to, but could not escape."

CF: "In the 2nd story floor with her small child on the bed beside her. He did not kill the neighbor. There were 8 calls to the police force within a 5 minute period telling them this crime was occurring. It took them 35 minutes to get there, and they were 12 blocks away. It was the World Series, and they were listening to the World Series. This was an extremely compelling crime that happened, and when the social work student started telling us about it, we knew that was the cornerstone to cause them to move. Not the cornerstone but the lever that caused them to move. Immediately, LauRose contacted a private attorney and said you must represent this family, and the private attorney began to turn up the heat in a way that the Legal Aid Society could not turn up the heat."

LF: "It was kind of hard because at that point, I was going to leave Legal Aid, and Calla and I were going to have a private practice. Technically, I wasn't supposed to do anything under the Legal Aid rules regarding a damage claim. We couldn't sue people for money to come back to Legal Aid because of federal restrictions on Legal Aid, so I had to go out and find other attorneys to file the case. My friend, Billy Hogue, agreed to do that. He agreed to do it if I agreed to give him all of the information, all my research, help draft the pleadings, everything that we were going to do. So we did that, and I did this in part because in Louisville at least, even a mention of women being murdered by their batterers was extremely uncommon. Women being killed by husbands were like below the lost dogs in the newspaper. It was the back page behind the classifieds. I said this is not right! You cannot go to somebody’s home, and she had 4 children, and beat her to death and the police don’t come for 35 minutes. This is not right and she was a black woman by the way. It was even worse for black women. Black women were total non-entities. The police did not go to any housing project to deal with anything that has to deal with a black woman and a black man."

CF: "And they were not “legally” married. He was the father of her children but he had no right to be on her property at all under the law."

LF: "She had called and they came the night before and said, ”Well you know, he is not here, so how do you know it was him that broke into your house?” “She said, “Well, I know who it was.” The police said, “Well, I don’t see him, he’s not here.” So they had refused over and over. She had gone to see them for restraining order violations at least 5 or 6 times before he finally killed her. So that case was the foundation for the state court damage action against the police department. So at one time, we have a federal court action going on regarding the violation of civil rights of this group called Houser vs. Crouch with 6 or 7 women as the main plaintiffs in this case and at the same time, we began a state court damage action for wrongful death, for police malpractice. That was a case asking money from the police department."

CF: "And then the wife of the police chief called LauRose on the phone and said I have been battered for 27 years or 21 years, who can I go to? Who can help me with this?"

And this is the same police chief that…?

CF: "Oh yes!"

LF: "Crouch."

CF: "Chief of Police. So suddenly, the mayor (who was a very popular young mayor) tried several times to get his police chief out of office because he was such terrible political person, but a powerful political person. He indeed did the things he had been been accused . There was a week-long termination hearing on Crouch on television. But the policeman’s union was so strong that he could not be fired."

LF: "No, it was a civil service rule that he could not be fired because of battering his wife. So we have the federal court action, the state court action, and now we have the police chief’s wife suing him for divorce and battery. Also at this time, there is a Pulitzer prize winning series of articles about domestic violence titled, “To Have And To Hold” or “To Have And To Harm” being published. So the Courier Journal, the big newspaper there, is running this series of articles about women and Travis Fritsch, who was with the Governor’s Commission on Women, was spearheading that because she had just gotten to the point how many women had to be killed that nobody knew about. The long and short of it is, it had a huge effect. The Chief of Police didn't get fired but he got demoted to head of traffic."

What was the outcome? Was the litigation against the police settled?

LF: "Yes, it was settled by agreement and they agreed to do what the law said they had to do. The law said they had to arrest, you've got to arrest. It is plain and simple. The Betty Ashby case was settled for around $100,000, which was not a lot of money but when you are talking about Kentucky in 1993, it was substantial. It was probably the biggest settlement or one of the settlements against a police department ever at that point. Then the police chief’s wife got divorced, and received some remedies in her case."

CF: It was very satisfactory for her to take all his property, according to her, so she did that. But her press story was terrible. She said privately, it was even worse."

LF: "He pushed her down the stairs and practically broke her back."

CF: "So anyways, that was what we did in our law practice in Kentucky. Before we went into practicing law, that is what we did in Legal Aid in Kentucky."

On law and the protection of gay and lesbian rights

LF: "I do want to mention, and this is an aside, because you want to know about the domestic violence, that there were things that I did and that we did together that most directly relates to gay and lesbian rights. In about 1982 maybe, myself and Paul Sorreff, got together with a group that was interested in having some type of legal protection for gay and lesbian people because the law at that time as it stood was that you were per se an unfit parent and your children could be taken away if it was found that you were gay or lesbian. So you had no rights as a parent and the basis of that was that other people would tease your children because you were lesbian. And there was no employment protection. In fact, a vice president of a bank was fired because he joined Dignity, a gay catholic organization, and the federal court upheld that. You could be kicked out of your apartment without any reason whatsoever, you could be refused medical care; you had no right to help with your partner’s medical care. We were personally kicked out of restaurants because somebody was holding hands or a woman kissed a woman. We had no legal rights at all! So in 1982, we came to write something and it became known as the Fairness Ordinance, I and Paul Sorreff, and it was a beautiful initiation of that activism. We wrote the ordinance and then we wrote the legal brief basically supporting the concept of legal protection and why you can’t discriminate against people based on sexual orientation and gender. We presented that to the human relations commission because they were the ones who in effect helped get it over to the board of supervisors to get a law proposed. They were kind of the civil rights review organization. One of the really beautiful things about that hearing was there was a man that I came to know in other wonderful contexts, Dr. Lymon Johnson. He was the plaintiff in all the civil rights litigation in Kentucky where there was legal segregation until 1963. He sued on behalf of school teachers, he sued as a plaintiff to be admitted to college, he sued the school board on behalf of black students, and he was just a lion of reputation. He was a very thin man with this great big shock of white hair, very light skinned and was on the human rights commission. We were all worried because then, as now, there is this whole issue with black folks that the church is a very important institution for us so that the church says you can’t be lesbian and gay, you can’t be lesbian and gay. So we were worried about him. The most amazing thing was at 85 years old, he walked in there leaning on his cane, sat down, and when they gave him a chance to speak he said he was there because he thought it was important. We had been worried about the whole issue of would our black sisters and brothers support us because it is not discrimination based on how you were born like racial discrimination is related to how you were born, you are born black. But Dr. Lymon Johnson got up and addressed us in this stentorian voice,” you know, I was born Black but I am also a Baptist. I wasn't born a Baptist, I choose to be a Baptist. That is my choice. It is what I wanted to do. Now I do not think that the constitution of the United States allows anybody to discriminate against somebody because of how they are born or what they choose to do. If you are born lesbian or gay, you should not be discriminated against and if you choose to be lesbian or gay, you also should not be discriminated against.”

It seems like you have lots more stories.

CF: "Well, that takes us out of the South."

LF: "That’s about the time."

How do you spell Paul Sorreff’s name?

LF: "Sorreff."

CF: "And we got a wonderful call from the activist in Louisville when we were living in San Francisco when the sodomy statute was overturned in Kentucky. Then we got a call when the city council/ county board of supervisors voted the fairness ordinance into law for the city and county."

LF: "It was in 1998."

CF: "And it was just wonderful to hear! The guy continued to take it before the board every year and it would be turned down every year. But every year, there was political action around that ordinance and so when it was finally passed, he was just crying on the phone and he held up the phone there was just cheering. It was passed by a friend of ours that had been an activist for a long time around those issues."

LF: "It was one of those “free at last” moments."

To Rose and Catherine: “Thank you so much for your fabulous hard work on this interview; and for recording these occurrences at all. We are, of course, somewhat more at peace to know that lesbian feminist political and legal action in the south will not go unnoticed forever. Hopefully access to this herstory will incite and support womyn of the next wave who carry on.

LauRose and Calla Felicity


"Empowerment comes from ideas."

Gloria Anzaldúa

"Your silence will not protect you."

Audre Lorde

"Live your lives, honorably and with dignity."

Andrea Dworkin