Hussain, Pat

Lorraine Fontana interviewed Pat Hussain on May 6, 2013, at Pat's home in Atlanta.

Biographical Information

Pat Hussain (b. 1950) was born and raised in Atlanta, where she attended segregated schools until high school. She came from a middle class family and was a debutante, but then joined the Marines when her brother came back from Vietnam psychologically damaged and feeling a failure. She married men twice before coming out as a lesbian in the early 1980s. She helped organize the first GLAAD chapter in Atlanta (when GLAAD was just forming), and had just been working for the Gay and Lesbian Task Force organizing the first March on Washington when she attended the Creating Change 1993 conference that led to the founding of SONG, of which she was the first co-director (with Pam McMichael).

Pat, why don’t you start with what you think is the basic, important background information about you.

"Well, I was born in Atlanta, in Fulton County, the second of four children. One of the important things, I guess, is that I’m born in 1950 and so as I was coming of age, so was the civil rights movement. My upbringing was middle class. One of the things that I don’t talk about often – have only begun to talk about in the past few years – was that I was a debutante. It is one of those things that in my mind I never wanted to do, and when my mother said it, I know a look of horror crossed my face. She said “it will not kill you to do this!” And it almost did. And it felt like there was never a place to talk about it in the queer liberation movement, especially since I had to do something like that, that I never would have picked--to wear elbow-length gloves. I was a lifeguard starting at age 15 and became a water safety instructor before the sun drove me inside. Couldn’t do it. I found out I had a sun sensitivity. The doctor actually said I was allergic to it, and it just seemed so unfair. It doesn’t bother me as much now, now that I know that there are people who only come out at night and that keep their windows draped. I had a brush, didn’t have a direct hit. The schools I attended were segregated, and integration started while I was in high school [in the 60's], which is interesting to me in retrospect because Brown v. Board of Education was in the 50’s, and so integration was real gradual here, for Georgians."

"Let’s see, after college, I guess I’ll say it now, my brother was in Vietnam – he was drafted. He was hurt in Thailand and he had psychological issues – something broke in his head. He was home, and it was almost a year before I could see him. They had him on powerful drugs, like Thorazine, and he was really deep. When I went to see him, he told me that he had let the family down, that he had dishonored the family and asked if I would go into the military to take his place. And I said “yes” that I would. I signed up for the Marine Corps."

“I looked around and I said “they sound like they’re tough. Well, let’s find out,” and I went into the Marines. No one believed me when I said I was going to Paris Island until I wrote from there. The thing that happened, though, while I was in Paris Island and serving in the Marine Corps, I became a Marine. I don’t talk about being a Marine much because in the social justice community, it seems there’s no place to put that. In social justice, as when I served in the Marine Corps, I’m “semper fidelis,” I've always been faithful. The reason I don’t speak about it is because of the circumstances, which will now be on the record, because I don’t want people to throw up their hands and say “Oh, well, see, that’s why she did it!” It’s not a mitigation. The fact is, I am a Marine, and I met some of the best people and some of the worst I've ever known there. It was an important part of my life."

"I don’t have the answer yet for violence. Let’s say, I’m against the death penalty, [but] break in my house, come to do me harm, I already have a plan. If you break in my house, you can take anything you want. I will be in my room with my shotgun. Open that door, I’m presuming you came to do me harm, and I will harm you. I’m clear on that, and I don’t know what kind of person that makes me. I know, though, that I have unresolved issues around violence – what’s violence and what’s defense, what’s justified and what’s not. The same thing that people who claim to be right-to-life run up against – that they are anti-abortion, and pro death-penalty."

"So, those were some of the things that really got me going back then."

On developing interest in social justice issues

Once you were out of the military, did something point you toward social justice specifically, or was that a gradual awakening or interest. What happened?

"It’s funny to move back to that. I was pointed towards social justice when I was about 10, and began activism at age 12 or 13. The Democratic National Convention [of 1960] was on television and I was riveted. There was plenty to see on the other stations, but I didn't want to. It was my real introduction to the democratic process."

"As a child, I was a voracious reader, and when I was about 10, maybe, my father set me down with a newspaper and said “read this”, and I said “I don’t know those words,” and he said “you know a lot of them, and the rest are in here” (the dictionary). So, I had been nurturing that thirst--I just wanted to know things. Again there was the Democratic National Convention. Ha! I was looking up the words I didn’t understand, and writing, and I was reading about John F. Kennedy. But all the people and their excitement about what kind of world they wanted to live in – that’s what they wanted. And then the Republican Convention came on and my cousin said “Nixon’s gonna be President.” I said, “No he’s not, it’s gonna be Kennedy.” When the returns came in, we were on the phone back and forth. At that time I was involved, listening, understanding that the world we live in is a part of our own creation.
"There was a sit-in at the corner of what was then Gordon Road and Lee Street (West End in Atlanta) at Krispy Creme, and I asked my parents if I could go, and they said absolutely not. So I went down there anyway, and we were sitting at the counter and there were other children there from the Temple, that was on Peachtree, and a man came in and poured coffee. He bought a coffee and poured it down a girl’s back. And I--everything went red. I wanted to kick his ass. I was so angry I was shaking . The police were there. I got up. I couldn't hear anything, everything went quiet, and I walked out, and I walked down the street, and I went home. I was so ashamed of myself for not being strong enough to be nonviolent. I was not going to put myself in a situation like that again because I was not sure I would make it out without putting my hands around somebody’s throat. All I wanted to do was fight back, to fight back – they had no right to do that! That would give me the right to bite a hole in his throat. That was where I was."

"It was later--not a whole lot of time later--that I talked to a gentleman and I told him that I was really sorry that I wasn't strong enough to be nonviolent. He said, “That’s all right, you’ll do what you can.” So, I turned around and took about three giant steps backwards, to find the back of the room in the civil rights movement. Envelope stuffer, anything that didn't put me out there. I could see the Freedom Riders, those people putting themselves – their bodies--on the line, and here was me just, too weak. The shame has lingered for that, and I understand what he was saying – you’ll do what you can, and I couldn't do it. I did volunteer work with various organizations. And tried to do most of the work I did by myself or in an office."

On coming out as a lesbian, and work with GLAAD

"When I came out, I remember before I came out, I talked with people about not supporting gay folk. I was raised Catholic, and I was deep in the closet. I didn't even know I was in the closet, that while we were fighting to have equal treatment as Black folk, and to have the right to work – not to lose our job based on the color of our skin--that in our self-interest it made sense to support gay people. I never thought it made any sense that you cared about with whom someone slept. It just didn't resonate with me—“none of your business”. But, in the Black civil rights movement to me it made even less sense because they want to get rid of all the Black workers – can’t do that, it’s against the law. Ah, but now we believe they’re gay, now let’s get rid of them all. I said it just doesn't make sense to leave the door open. We have to protect each other, and you really, really don’t want to go down that road. There were a lot of people who greatly disagreed with me. When I came out, I was pretty sure I wasn't heterosexual, but I did what I always do when I have a question – what I used to do – I go to the library and looked for something to help me find my way."

Can you place this in a time-frame again?

"Yes, this was early 80’s--maybe 83. The book I read was The Bisexual Option, and it was kind of dry, not terribly informative. So I decided to take on a social experiment – that I’d go to a gay bar, that I’d meet myself a woman, and see what happens. Because I had never had that…my girlfriends didn’t talk to me about their boyfriends or husbands, anything, because I had only one bit of advice “get rid of him, if he…! There’s a lot of them out there really…it’s like the bus - you miss one of them, another one will come along. I’m sure they thought I was quite nuts, which I was, because I had never felt what they were feeling. So, I started going to a bar called Numbers on Cheshire Bridge Road…quite sleezy little bar. I would go….I had picked it out from something – I don’t remember how I found it, and I was gonna go and get in, dance and have a good time and see what happens…"

What kind of a bar was it? Back then there were usually men’s bars or women’s bars…not many were mixed…so did you know the clientele?

"It was a lot of men, but there were also women…across the street was the Sports Page. There was a lot of dancing, and there were a fair amount of women, but mostly men. . So, when I got there the first time I was excited. Hopped out of the van, and started sweating…got almost to the door and…God… I almost threw up. I went back to sit in the van, to compose myself and said “Well isn’t this silly…you’re here…you wanted to come…let’s go.” I did that for probably a couple of hours before I went home that night. And I did that every Fri day and Saturday night for about two months…never made it inside. Sometimes standing up outside, sometimes sitting on the curb because I was too weak to get back to the van right away. My brother and sister-in-law were living with me here at that time, and I told my sister-in-law what I was going to do. The first time I went she said “How did it go?” and I said “Great!”. Every time I went I said “Oh, great”…”You meet anybody yet? “ ”No, not yet.” One night I went, tried it once and I was just frustrated and got in the van and came home. She said “You’re back already?”…I said “Yeah, I just didn’t stay long.” She asked “Did you even go in?” and I said “Yeah…” and she said “What’s going on?...something’s not right,” and so I told her. She got her purse and her car keys and said let’s go, we’re going to that club. And we did. We got out, and she held my hand ,and we walked in, we sat at the bar, we had a drink and she said “You alright now?” and I said “yeah,” so she said ”Goodnight!” and she came home. I did meet someone there, and it was a one night stand, and it was fabulous, and I knew clearly I was not bisexual. I was quite clear. I never entered the closet, I was out. I was so glad to feel alive and to know that I really was all human - I was just different - that I didn't care."

"I was married twice to men and that’s how I found out that there’s gotta be something that is not right about me, because I don’t feel anything. I tried it. I was raised to be heterosexual. It just didn’t take because it wasn’t a part of my DNA. I called each member of my family and arranged to meet them on neutral ground. We never talked about homosexuality. I don’t remember my parents ever saying anything at all about it, but it was a Catholic upbringing. There was just nothing about it in the house. But I didn’t know. I had no idea how they were going to react. I didn’t want anyone to tell me to get out of their house, so I wanted someplace neutral. I wouldn’t say anything on the phone. And each one of them said “So you’re not sick, right?’re ok?’re just gay, that’s all?” OK…all right then (laughing), which was fantastic."

"The gay movement had never been fraught with violence in groups. There were individuals that were attacked, but not demonstrations where people were, so I was where it was comfortable. I felt – the country has treated me like a second-class citizen because I have breasts and ovaries, because I have brown skin, and they are not going to do it because of who I love. .I’m going to fight back, and I began to do that."

"I was working for Toys-R-Us at the time, and I was in different cities, different states, and when I went for the interview with them (this was about 1985 I think),, at some point during the interview it came out to them. Because I didn’t want them to find out I was gay and then discriminate against me. If they’d rather not hire me, fine. I was completely open about who I was. It kinda took them aback, but they were all right. When they transferred me to Huntsville, Alabama, I asked them , ‘Why are you sending the lesbian to Huntsville? Is it trust or are you’re sending me to a small town. It just doesn’t seem like the best idea.’ I had become a director by then, so they were sending me there to take over that store. Before that I was busy working and I would send money to organizations. If you’re in the closet there’s always that little slot under the door where you can send a check out. But that was something I could do when I couldn’t show up, couldn’t be there."

Were those gay and lesbian organizations that you were contributing money to?

"One was the Task Force (at that time the Gay & Lesbian Task Force) and AALGA (African-American Lesbian & Gay Alliance)."

So you were giving to both national and local groups?

“Yes. If I was in Atlanta, I would go to a meeting or something and see what was going on, but just really, you know, gingerly. Then there was a guy, someone on a loading dock, who called someone a faggot, and I stepped right into his face and said, “I’m a faggot. What about it?” It was clear that I was there, and that’s where I met Cherry. When we came back to Atlanta, I said “You know Cherry, now’s the time I can give back for a while. Let me do that. She’s going to work and use savings to do something. Patrick _____ [unknown] was talking about starting GLAAD, and I joined him in that effort. I got a call from a woman--the ACLU had given her my number. She was outraged. Her son had died from AIDS, and the Atlanta Journal/Constitution solicited an obituary from her. They had some space to fill – they do that--and they called her, and she said that her son had died from complications of AIDS. She told them he’d been with his partner …let’s say 13 years…and she wanted him listed as his partner. They went over the whole thing and she said, “That’s what I want and if you can’t do it that way, don’t use it.” Well they left his partner out entirely; they said he died after a long illness. She called the ACLU, who told her there is nothing we can do; that’s not against the law, I’m sorry. Hence, the phone call. And I told her the same thing – we can’t make them do anything. Now, I said, we can do our best to make their life miserable. We don’t have to take it lying down, but we can’t make them do that. When I brought it to GLAAD, I said “I’m ready to run with it, if you want. We can’t win it, but we can certainly…”

Now when you talk about helping to form GLAAD, was it national GLAAD you are talking about or a local chapter?

"It was here in Atlanta, and we were just getting started. The charters were just going out – I think there were 7 cities involved at the time, and on the brink of forming the national organization – that happened just a short time later. As a matter of fact, when it did happen there was a second call for a March on Washington in ’93. So I said “OK, I’ll go do the March thing.”

"So I called the editor about the obituary, made an appointment to see him and went down. It did not go well. He told me that he had to respect family’s wishes when someone died, and that he couldn’t put that in because some family members might be upset by."

Not the family that was asking to put it in?

“Right, another part of the family might be upset by it. I told him he was a liar. I said, ‘You are a liar, because you have women call and give you obituaries for Mr. Jones and you put it in the paper, and then you have Mrs. Jones call you up and say, ‘That is not his wife, I am!’ I said, ‘I know it happens to you all the time. You’re responding to gender. You’re not responding t--you don’t ask for marriage certificates--you’re lying!” It wasn’t my best meeting. We had a shouting match. I was so angry with him, because it’s not right. He was saying something about the guy that was doing the obituaries said he would quit before he would put something like that in there. I said, “then you should fire him, if he’s not willing to give what the families want. He’s not the gatekeeper. He’s not in charge of who people love and who they want to be remembered by and who wants to remember them.”

You had the right side, but he wasn’t hearing it. Clearly we are on the right side. What happened with GLAAD and AJC [the newspaper]- did they ever change their policies?

"I went to every spiritual organization that I could find in Atlanta and asked them to call and to write him [the editor who refused to list domestic partners in obituaries], and to tell him what a hurtful and hateful thing he had done, and that he should change the policy. Then I got a call from someone in MCC [Metropolitan Community Church] who thanked me for my work with GLAAD and said that his partner had died and the paper had done a beautiful obituary. I didn't believe it. I went out and got the paper, and there it was. I believe the organizations turned the tide."

“What happened as a result of that is that I got a call from Southern Voice. They wanted to do an interview with me and talk about GLAAD and other stuff, and I did. Cherry and I went to dinner shortly after that and someone walked up to me and said ‘I like what you had to say,’ and I was so shaken, we left the restaurant. It was ok to do it, but there was something about people knowing who I was and what I thought that completely unnerved me. I told myself , ‘You’re going to have to learn to deal with that, or you’re gonna need to stop…it’s not gonna work both ways.’ What I did find is that not reading, not looking, not reading interviews…. John was always asking me, about the Olympics Out of Cobb news, ‘Did you see the news coverage?’ ‘No, I missed it--tell me what they said”…because it just does something to me. So that was the start of it…"

On experiences as an organizer

So you got involved with the organizing for the 93 March on Washington.

"Well, the big turn was that I was invited to Knoxville for their first Gay Pride parade in 1989 or 1990, and they wanted me to be the Grand Marshall. The white people--the Southern Baptists and the White People’s Party--were going to protest the march. Then the Klan got involved – they were threatening violence, and I was back in 1963. They wanted me to go talk with people and tell them it was going to be safe. I said I couldn't do that. I don’t mind going to talk with people, but there’s never a guarantee that it’s going to be safe. You don’t know when predators are gonna strike. I told people there was strength in numbers, but what happened is that the parents got involved. “You’re gonna hurt my child?...he’s gay, but he’s mine,” and they turned out. But, I didn't know if I could do it. I felt like I was running right back into the face of the threat of violence, that I didn't know if I was ready. I paced the room all night. I wanted to just leave and go home, and I couldn't do that. So we headed for the little town where it was meeting and they had it cordoned off. We were in a convertible and we were riding down the street, and there was there these Klan members in full regalia and they were yelling at us – “There are those N faggots from Atlanta!” And I looked at them and I said “You people must not have CNN! We are dykes, dykes, we’re lesbian.” And I knew I was ready. They didn't touch me. They just went around me, and that brought me forward into feeling that ”well, maybe I can step up, maybe it’s my turn at bat?”

On feminist activism

Well, there’s a lot more of your story that we’re not going to talk about in detail in this interview. What I want to do is switch to how it came about that you helped form Southerners on New Ground. So, could you talk about feminism. So far you haven’t had a connection in your heart with feminism, with the feminist, the women’s movement. So tell me a little about how it came together for you around gender, sexual orientation, race.

"What had happened was a lot of work from various organizations and in ways that chose a piece of me. The NAACP or NOW, they were compartmentalized. They didn't embrace me as a whole human being. The same thing happened with lesbian-feminism. It was about white lesbians and their experience. There was a time when I called it the “lesbian with the guitar” experience. My feeling was that a few women of color were present, and that would be a few Black women, not even the rainbow of colors, and it was as an invitee, never as a host. It was disjointed. If I wanted to be around my folk, I’d go to AALGA. If I wanted to be around white lesbians, then I went to…(trying to remember) can’t say it now…the name…"

Was it ALFA, or…

"It was ALFA. I had great respect for both organizations in the work they were doing. It just didn't feed me. There were always, let’s say, invisible hurdles. One of the things so helpful in SONG is having both black and white women, and all of the white women who were founders--Mab and Suzanne and Pam--were involved in anti-racist organizing for a long time before they came to SONG. I personally believe if you’re born white in America, you are racist. That’s our culture. That you are either in recovery from the racism or you haven’t found out that it’s there yet. It’s kinda like walking around with a 2-by-4 on your shoulder, and you keep knocking me down with it, and you say “Pat, stand up! What’s the matter, girl? What’s wrong?” That is, it is dangerous to me. The white women of SONG, and the other anti-racist organizers I have encountered, have made me much more aware that, well, I knew it didn't have to be like that, but now I have the flesh and blood examples of why it doesn't have to be like that."

But how did you meet the women that eventually decided the need to form another organization?

"I don’t remember how. I think maybe Pam and I met at a Womenfest. The others I had known of, or had been involved around the March on Washington. Suzanne’s books. Mandy’s work. We were there together in the first Creating Change held in the South. I remember the seven organizers’ workshop that had opened their doors and wanted to be more multicultural. After sending out their fliers and no one came, they had no idea what the next step was. That was a frustration for them in wanting to be broader, and not understanding that the answer lay in their Rolodex, in their phone books, in their contacts, people they knew, and the expansion of that. Or even starting work that was between two organizations, to get to know each other, because we are trying to do some very difficult work, with people we don’t know. There’s a presumption about how each of us will react, but it’s a whole lot more than sending out a notice."

"At that Creating Change, they were saying that it was another movement to the civil rights movement, saying being gay and black were the same thing. That had followed an earlier attempt among some organizations, GLAAD being one of them, to say that gays were the new N-word. It just speaks volumes to cluelessness. There were people who were upset because a NAFTA discussion was a part of the plenary, not understanding, saying “what does this have to do with us? It’s nothing to do with us! Why are we talking about this?”and that frustration. We had talked in the rooms, in the halls, and had previous conversations around the march connected with this frustration, and that’s how we ended up talking about it at Joan Garner’s kitchen table, when we came back from Creating Change. And I had, what many of us call a “Pharr moment,” because I was about to go to work for the Task Force, and she said “You don’t need to go to work for them.” I said “alright”…I said “no, thank you,” and I ended up being one of the co-directors for SONG."

At that time, at the beginning, you were doing this as a volunteer?


You didn't have a grant paying people’s salaries or anything?

"No. That was once we had actually formed. The six of us were clear that we were tired of actually choosing, you know, I go to this meeting for this issue, and that meeting for another issue. That there needed to be a place that was home, and a clarity that organizing on the East and West coast impacts what happens in this country, but that when the South is in motion for justice, this whole country shakes. There’s something different about this region that lost the war. There’s something here about the heart of people and the way change happens. No one would have ever imagined that the civil rights movement would have national effects, because it was in the South. Or that it would end up in WNBA teams, because women had access, as rapidly as they now close those doors in academia."

So, let me see if I understand. Being in the South was going to be an important part of SONG. It wasn't going to be a national thing. You wanted a Southern base for organizing? Were the women involved at first all in North Carolina and Georgia, or were they from other places also?

"Suzanne was in Arkansas, and she’s from Hog Mountain, GA, so she was close to home. But, we were all Southern. Joan was with a grant making organization, the Fund for Southern Communities. That was the synthesis, as we kept talking throughout Creating Change – to see that there was something that we wanted, and maybe we were in a position to be able to articulate it. To figure out how we would make all of our lives – race, class, gender, economic equality – the most important issue for us."

To have the intersections be the issue?

"Yes, the issue."

So, was the Task Force helpful in keeping the organizing going in some way, or was it dissociated from that after it started at Creating Change?

"The Task Force has been there, at Creating Change, doing collaborative work. One of the things that the Task Force does--and at the time I was on the Board of the Task Force--is that they are a convener. They make space for people. They use their resources to create a space for smaller voices. It’s not a room that they are controlling. It’s a space they are providing so you can do your thing, and tell them what’s going on. I saw it happen with the transgender community around that time, around 1990, to create a safe space for transgender people to meet, to see that they had everything they needed and leave them alone. From that came things. We thought we knew what transgender was, but we didn't know about intersex, about the mutilations that were going on. Once they were in a room where they could talk to each other, they came out and told us things that were jaw-dropping, and now they’re really pushing the American Medical Association to outlaw these genital mutilations that happen when children are born [with ambiguous genitalia]. But who knew? Only they did. That has stayed with me – the way in which we think we know about something, and we know the 1% piece, but they taught us the rest."

Let me go back to a question that we were talking about before we started (the taping). I had looked at the ALFA newsletters from 1993, when SONG first started, to try and find information about it, to see what we were putting in the newsletter about SONG. I was pretty disconnected from ALFA by that time, had left Atlanta. I went back and looked and there was nothing about SONG in there. So I’d like to ask you more about it. Why do you think there was no or little connection with ALFA, the lesbian-feminist organization that existed? Did it have to do with the stuff you already talked about? Why did ALFA not know about what was happening? Why was ALFA so disconnected from a key, important organization that was forming by black and white lesbians in the South? It’s amazing to me and I’d like to get your viewpoint on why that was so.

"I think part of it was the way in which SONG proliferated. We were not using list-serves We didn't want--…"

We didn't have list serves or computers at that time. We had a newsletter.

"Absolutely. What organizations would do if they were starting or wanted to do something then, we might come to ALFA and say, “we’d like to send this to your mailing list.” When we were spreading SONG, person-to-person or organization-to-organization--you know the old cliché, “organizations don’t do what people do” – to talk about SONG and what it was we were trying to do, and to spread it in that way. It’s possible that none of us, as a way of expanding were connected to ALFA in that way. I think ALFA had done, was finished."

Yes, ALFA was fading away in the 90’s. Early ‘94 was when we folded, but there was a newsletter up until then.

"I think ALFA was already gone by that time. It may be the proximity, since we came into existence in 1993."

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. But it’s clear that the women who were starting that new organization who felt the lack were not ALFA women and were not connected with ALFA in that way. But the women who started ALFA were much more like the women who started SONG, I think. My/our analysis was always an intersectional analysis among the women who started ALFA – race, class and gender as well as sexual orientation. That was the political background people came from, and that ALFA had changed a lot.

"There are women in SONG now that were a part of ALFA. I think that feminist idea--I think that women in ALFA were more connected to the idea of that but it had hit the same thing that so many of us hit – organizers who wanted to be multicultural, and couldn’t get other people to knock down their door, because we are not there. We wanted SONG to make it so from the outset, and how to continue and broaden that. I would not have been the one who would have approached your organization."

Did you ever in your thoughts about your political intersectional analysis, call yourself a feminist or womanist, or feel that that was a key part of your analysis?

"I felt like a feminist. I felt and thought that women were deserving of everything that men believed to be their purview. I had been raised in a country that felt like we were second-class, with a father who didn't think I was. That presence of self was always there, and not wanting to be denied, and pushing back against that. Being a “lesbian-feminist” always got in my way. I didn't want to belong to an organization that was predominantly white, because there’s always that push. It’s kind of like swimming through molasses. That there’s so much unintentional harm done, that I didn't feel like doing that any more. I just didn't want to do it. I didn't want to be a “lesbian.” Again it becomes about race. The Isle of Lesbos, a Greek island – I don’t think my folks came from there. “Dyke” fit me better than anything else. “Queer” is perfect for me. Dyke went to the Harlem Renaissance, Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith."

Was ”dyke” used or “bulldagger”?

“They used bulldagger. Dyke was a shortening of it. Yes, I was always fine with that. Words matter. The three black women, two African American, all are Black. I’m not African-American. I don’t identify that way. From a progression of being Colored, Negro, Afro-American, then Black, I stopped at James Brown, “say it loud…” It’s one syllable, and it’s comfortable to me, but we seem to still be a people in search of our identity, and Black works for me. And being a Black dyke or a Black gay women, I’m fine with gay. There are a lot of issues and stuff around that for women who don’t want to identify as gay. I may have told you this at one point – I would never have changed the name of NGLTF. I would have left it as the National Gay Task Force, yeah, just as the NAACP--no one’s trying to change that to “African-American” anything. It’s an historical marker for me. Let the work change, not the name.”

Is there anything else in relation to this narrow part of the discussion, about how SONG started and how your lesbian activism fit in with the other things, anything else that would be vital to know about what that picture was?

"It was in the work with SONG that privilege came to me. Pam and I had a fair amount of work, over a fair amount of time when we became co-directors. There’s one thing to being involved in social justice struggle, and it’s another thing to talk to someone of a different race every day and try to figure out what you are going to do, and have to agree on the direction we’re going to take. We would stumble over stuff, and SONG became a lesson in learning to live with discomfort, that if we can’t figure out our way through this, how do we leave that breadcrumb trail? If we just back away from it because it’s uncomfortable, we’re missing an opportunity."

Was it only uncomfortable, or was there a lot of frustration and anger involved?

"There was more frustration, a process of trying to figure out how to articulate it, how to make sense of it. Not anger, not anger. Let’s say, we don’t have to talk about it. We can just pretend that it didn't happen, or just back away from it. We don’t have to deal with this. We can just let it be. The decision not to let it be, to figure out what just happened--it might be, let’s just take a minute and think about this. Also we were very deliberate in deciding who should speak with whom, and should it be someone white? Pam would probably tell you, I’d say “You need to talk with your people over there. They’re acting out.” And not to feel like I had to be responsible for that, or that she had to report to me about it. That was one of the things I really appreciated about the white women in SONG – they never told me about what they were dealing with, with their white counterparts. That was awesome, absolutely awesome."

On the importance of connections between SONG organizers

You had to have a basis of trust, it sounds like, before any of that would work. You had a good relationship with people and you had trust.

"Relationship is the heartbeat of SONG. We’re trying to do this work that is so difficult, and choose people up without knowing each other. We did a retreat where we chose the name SONG, Southern Organizing Committee or something. We were out walking in the woods and someone said “southerners on new ground” because we were out walking, and Mab said “SONG!”And that’s how it was named. One of the pieces that has not been lost in SONG that was really important in our work, is that we eat where we work. It’s a classic--you got to go to a meeting and you grab something quick and you’re eating something in your car on the way to get there, or you’re sitting in this meeting starving saying “Oh, I’ll be glad when it’s done, I’m so hungry”. We don’t plan to do something very human, and that’s share food together – and so we made it a part of how we work."

"At the first retreat, Cherry was there cooking for us. We were there together in Carolyn’s house (she loaned us the house), out there in the woods 24 hours a day. It made a difference in our relationship. There are only 24 hrs a day per customer, can’t get any more, can’t give any away, so where you spend that becomes important. It’s hard because we’re planning to have a retreat again, to get back together, but is it just gonna be the six of us or do we want to expand that group?"

"But, yes, to have the trust. I trust Pam with my life. We have all stayed connected in the work. The biggest thing I learned from the work as a co-director with Pam and from SONG, is that you can’t give away privilege. Suzanne’s been doing white privilege workshops for a long time, and she taught us that, you can’t give it away. It just exists. But you can waste it. You have to use it. Where can you put it to work? Long as you got it, work it. I encourage people to do that all the time. Use your privilege. Look for the opportunities. Do this, do that, talk to Dad – get him to write a check. If you have the money, support your organizations with money. There are places where people walking into board rooms can make a difference. I’m a big advocate of privilege use it."


"Empowerment comes from ideas."

Gloria Anzaldúa

“And the metaphorical lenses we choose are crucial, having the power to magnify, create better focus, and correct our vision.”
― Charlene Carruthers

"Your silence will not protect you."

Audre Lorde

“It’s revolutionary to connect with love”
— Tourmaline

"Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught."

― Leslie Feinberg

“The problem with the use of language of Revolution without praxis is that it promises to change everything while keeping everything the same. “
— Leila Raven