Eric Marcus and Sara Burningham: “Making Gay History” | Talks at Google


[MUSIC PLAYING] ERIC MARCUS: I’m Eric Marcus,
I make “Making Gay History.” SARA BURNINGHAM: And
I’m Sara Burningham, and I help Eric Marcus
make “Making Gay History.” ERIC MARCUS: We actually–
we make it together. You were just listening to a
woman named Edythe Eyde, a.k.a. Lisa Ben. Does anyone play word games? Lisa Ben spells
a familiar word– lesbian. She actually had chosen
the pen name Ima Spinster, but her colleagues at
“The Ladder,” which was an early lesbian
publication, first published in the 1950s, they didn’t
think it was very funny. So she chose Lisa Ben instead. Lisa sang songs in the 1950s
and ’60s in the gay clubs, and we’ll explain a little bit
more about her in a moment. But she’s just one of
about 100 or so voices that I recorded when I was
working on a book, which was then called “Making History.” I traveled the
country interviewing people who were involved in
some aspect of the movement, from Burbank, California, which
is where I interviewed Edythe Eyde, to a few blocks north of
where I now live in Chelsea, with Vito Russo. That book was published in 1992. It was just released
this week in an e-book by HarperCollins,
which is something I’ve been working for for years. So happily, you can read it,
but you don’t have to read it, because you can just listen to
it with “Making Gay History.” SARA BURNINGHAM: So Eric did
these interviews, and then stacked the tapes
very carefully, cataloged them meticulously. ERIC MARCUS: What Sara is
being very kind about it is that I am so thoroughly OCD. When I had a New
York Public Library come to take all
of my tapes, I just assumed everybody did that. SARA BURNINGHAM: No,
not everybody does that. ERIC MARCUS:
Stacked in perfect– it was a six-foot high
stack of tapes in trays. SARA BURNINGHAM:
And for every tape, for every person that
Eric interviewed, there’s these
comprehensive field notes. The sun was shining that
day, the rain was pouring, the living room was musty,
the kitchen table had vodka on it, the, you know– all these really
incredible details that he stored
alongside these tapes. So the tapes went off to
the New York Public Library, as you donated them
to the archive there– ERIC MARCUS: In 2008. SARA BURNINGHAM: Yeah. ERIC MARCUS: I originally
recorded the interviews from 1988 through 1991. SARA BURNINGHAM: And
then why did you go back to those tapes, Eric? ERIC MARCUS: I got fired. [LAUGH] I got fired from my
job at an organization focused on the prevention of
suicide, and thought, well, what am I to do next? I was 57. People don’t like to
hire 57-year-olds. I called the New
York Public Library to see what the status was of
my tapes, which they had agreed to digitize as part of the
transfer of my material to them, and the tapes
had just been digitized. So I thought, hm, I
got 300 hours of audio. What am I going to do with it? So I started having
conversations with lots of people
about what I might do, which led to an
educational project. So I asked my neighbor,
Sara Burningham, who lives directly across
the street from me. And I knew Sara had
been an audio producer, I said, can you cut tape? SARA BURNINGHAM:
And I said, sure. What is it, though? Because I knew that Eric had
written this book, but listen, all tape isn’t created equal. If you’re recording
these interviews just so you can transcribe
them and sort of turn them into a book, it’s
not necessarily going to be anything
that a person would want to sit down and listen to. But I had faith in
Eric, even with my– [LAUGH] –even with
some of my concerns. And so I said, sure,
let’s take a look at it. And then I listened to
the very first tape, and– well, you’ll hopefully share
the experience in a minute. That it just blew my socks off. ERIC MARCUS: These
people just come to life. I don’t know why I asked– I was working at CBS
News at the time, and I asked one of
my colleagues who had created “Morning Edition”
and “Weekend Edition” on NPR. I said, what do your colleagues
use to record interviews? And he referred me to
one of his colleagues, and that’s the
equipment I bought. And I still thank my
30-year-old self all these years later for recording these
interviews with broadcast quality equipment. Because I couldn’t
have used them for the purposes of a
podcast, and podcasts, of course, didn’t exist
then, unless they’d been recorded with
broadcast quality equipment. SARA BURNINGHAM:
There’s a bigger sort of moral to this story, which
is future proofing your archive as much as you can, right? ERIC MARCUS: Yes. SARA BURNINGHAM: The
thing that was incredible about it is when you hear
these voices and the ability to deliver them
to new audiences, to new ears as a podcast, means
that people who would otherwise have been forgotten– it literally is– it’s
like bringing people back to life in a strange way. ERIC MARCUS: I liked the
way first time around I told everyone’s
stories in print. And it wasn’t– I’m not a religious
person or even spiritual. I’m a “National
Geographic” reader. I like to think, though,
that these people wanted to tell their stories
in their own voices, and that’s what led
us to this project. Most of the people who were
featured in making history died years ago. Edythe actually only died
just a few years ago. When she died, there
was no obit anywhere. SARA BURNINGHAM: Well,
this was the thing. When we came to make an episode
about Edythe, we started– Eric tried to reach out to her. ERIC MARCUS: Yeah,
and I looked on– her Wikipedia file said
that she was still alive. It turns out she was not. She had died just a short
time before, at age 95. You heard her
singing, and Edythe wrote and sang popular
songs with her own lyrics, and some of her
own music as well, in the gay clubs in
the 1950s and ’60s, because she didn’t like
the entertainment that she saw in the clubs. Much of it was derogatory. The entertainers often
played to the straight people who would be allowed into the
girls clubs in the evenings. So they would play– to
watch the girls dance. I mean, it sounds kind of– it sounds creepy. SARA BURNINGHAM: She
said it was creepy. ERIC MARCUS: It was creepy. But the entertainers played
to the straight people, and she didn’t like
the derogatory jokes that they told. So she decided, I will
write my own songs, and I will write my own
music, and I’ll sing them in the clubs, and she did! But she’s better known for
having published the first– what we would call a zine– for lesbians in 1947. If you had a job, if you
were working at RKO Radio Pictures in 1947 as a
secretary, and your boss said, you know, you’re not
always going to be busy, but I want you to look busy. I don’t want you to knit,
I don’t want you to read. I want you to do something. What would you do? And Edythe decided she
would write a newsletter, or magazine, she called it, for
lesbians, called “Vice Versa.” The tagline was “America’s
gayest Magazine.” And in it, she shared her
own thoughts for the future. There’s one particular essay,
which she’ll tell you about– we’ll play a bit of tape– where she imagined the world
in which we live today. And in 1947, there was
no reason to believe that LGBTQ people would even
have identities like LGBTQ, let alone that we would
have equal rights. So here’s a bit of– –oops. There is Edythe Eyde, and here’s
a clip from her interview. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] – It was just some writing
that I wanted to do, to get it off my chest. And I was a very lonely
person, and I could sort of fantasize this way by writing
the magazine, you see. Then– oh, I’d write the BM– the whatchamacallem. And that was just ideas that
happened off the top of my head that I would write
about and say, wouldn’t it be wonderful if? Not fantasize, exactly, but– – Imagine? – Imagine about how things
might be in the future with us. – What were some of the
things you imagined? – Well, I imagined
that perhaps we would have a lot of magazines,
and that perhaps even movies might be made about us. I would hope that some day
we would not be looked down on with so much disdain. – I think this
may be where you– this is the column, this is
the article, “Here to Stay.” September 1947, volume
one, number four. “Whether the unsympathetic
majority approves or not, it looks as though the
third sex is here to stay. With the advancement
of psychiatry and related subjects, the world
is becoming more and more aware that there are
those in our midst who feel no attraction
for the opposite sex. Homosexuality is becoming
less and less a taboo subject. And although still considered
by the general public as contemptible or
treated with derision, I venture to predict that there
will be a time in the future when gay folk will be accepted
as part of regular society.” That’s pretty bold stuff. – Well, I guess it is. I never thought of it as
being bold at the time. I was just– as I say, I was
just sort of fantasizing. But it all has come to pass. [END PLAYBACK] ERIC MARCUS: The
amazing thing is she wrote that magazine
on her office typewriter, typed through twice, using
five sheets of carbon paper each time, and
then distributed it to her friends, who passed
it on to their friends and onto their friends. And you can actually see a
copy of the original “Vice Versa,” all of the
issues, on our website, if you go to the
Edythe Eyde episode. It’s been scanned, and
we have a link to it. So you can see all of
the episodes she wrote. SARA BURNINGHAM: And so,
yes, so there was Edythe, typing onto carbon paper. And in fact, when you then
came to interview her those 30 years later, after she wrote
that column, finding her wasn’t that straightforward, was it? ERIC MARCUS: No. It took 26 phone
calls to find her. Because I couldn’t just
do a Google search. So I called people and wrote
to people to see where she was. It took 26 phone calls,
and on the 26th call, she picked up her
phone and said, hello? In later years– I stayed
in touch with Edythe, especially right after
I interviewed her. I would call occasionally, and
whenever she picked the phone up, she said, hello, Eric. There was no phone ID then. I said one time, how
do you know it’s me? She said, well,
nobody else calls. So it’s something that I
found with many of the people I interviewed that they
were very, very isolated. They grew up in a
very isolated world and lived in an isolated
world in part because of their fear of even sharing
with anyone who they were and what their identities were. Let’s go on to Wendell Sayers. We don’t have a
photo of Wendell. I didn’t take pictures
of anybody I interviewed. It was a long time
ago, and I also felt it would be a
little intrusive to ask. And in those days, people didn’t
take pictures in the same way that we do now. SARA BURNINGHAM: Well, and
both Wendell and Edythe had used pseudonyms as well. Wasn’t that the case? ERIC MARCUS: Yes, they
didn’t use their real names in my book. They asked me to use
their pseudonyms. Wendell Sayers was Paul
Phillips in the book. He was in his mid-80s
when I interviewed him, and he was afraid that some
of his relatives in Kansas might find out that he was gay. So we’d like to say that
these stories, the story of the movement, the LGBTQ
civil rights movement, are told in small stories
and in big stories. Big stories with people like
Sylvia Rivera, small stories like Wendell Sayers. People like Wendell contributed
generally in very small ways to the movement, but in
those days, in the 1950s, to be out at all,
to go to a meeting, was a huge leap of faith. Because you could lose
your job, lose your family, lose your children,
and lose your home. So Wendell didn’t
change the world, but his story is really
an important part of the narrative. In 1920, he was sent
to the Mayo Clinic by his father, who felt that
he might be a homosexual. They lived in western
Kansas, and Wendell’s mother drove him from western
Kansas to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. And he said along the
way, they slept in a tent. They brought a tent
with them, and they bought food at the
side of the road and ate at the side of the road. And I said, why? Stupid me, because
they were black. And most places would not– actually, no one would
rent a room to them, and they couldn’t
eat in restaurants. So this is a clip from
Wendell on his way– he’s talking about coming
back from the Mayo Clinic, after he’s been diagnosed
as a homosexual, and his fears about
talking to his father. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] – So we went back home
and reported to Dad. I’d say this, that I
was an adopted child. – Mhm. – And I often used to wonder
as a kid, what will he do when he finds it out, see? Will he put me out, or kick
me out, or will he accept me? My dad was very understanding. I say understanding, I don’t
think he actually understood, but he was willing to
accept, I should say. So he finally told
me, he says, well, since they don’t know
what to do about it, find you a friend that you
can trust and bring them home. He says, I don’t want you
playing around on the streets, or riding on the country
roads, ’cause you never know who’s going to step up on you. Bring them home. What you do in your
room is your business, because he didn’t want
me out on the street. [END PLAYBACK] ERIC MARCUS: What
Wendell’s story tells us is the threat that
psychiatry posed to gay people in those days. That you could be diagnosed
and institutionalized, and there were all kinds of
horrible treatments used to– put this in quotes– “cure”
gay people of their sexuality. And we all know that that’s
not possible, but in those days people didn’t know that. But it’s also the intersection
of sexuality, race, and segregation. And Wendell was also adopted. So there were enormous fears
that he came home with, but he overcame a lot. He wound up becoming
the first black attorney to work for the Attorney
General of Colorado, and he worked in Denver. You won’t read that in
the book, because he asked me not to indicate
even where he had worked– or I should say which
state he worked in. Wendell’s story has
always stayed with me because of what he said to
me on the step of his house as I was leaving. He’s this very powerful
man, even in his mid-80s. Crisp white shirt, thin tie,
gray press slacks, black shoes, polished shoes. And he said, do you think
it’s too late for me to meet someone? And he said, not for sex, he
said, it’s too late for that, he said, but for companionship. And I said, knowing
that I was lying, that it was never too late. But I knew from what he’d
already told me about his life that the odds of him meeting
anybody were almost none. Because even in his church
he didn’t let people know he was gay. He had two friends in
his church who knew, but they both died of AIDS. So he was alone again. So he spent the rest
of his life alone. SARA BURNINGHAM: And that’s– with the podcast,
with the tapes, is the impact of
those stories, when you hear them, when
you hear that person’s voice, and the ability for
them to whisper in your ear their experience,
is just so unique, and it tells you so much
more than dates and times. Eric could give a rundown
of the history of the DSM and talk about the history of
conversion therapy and so on, but those– ERIC MARCUS: It’s not
nearly as interesting as the stories themselves. And it’s one of the reasons I
was a little reluctant, when I was called by an editor
at Harper and Rowe, which became HarperCollins,
commissioning this book. Because he said he wanted me
write an oral history book. And I– history was
incredibly boring, at least as I had been taught
it by Mr. Federbush at Russell Sage Junior High School in
Queens, who sat behind his desk and read from our
school textbook about American history
for 45 minutes straight, and we took notes. Every once in a while,
he’d drop a bit– he would say that he was
at the Battle of the Bulge during World War
II, and that was it. But that was most
interesting to all of us. We wanted to know what happened. He wouldn’t talk about that. So I thought history
was boring until I started interviewing people
and hearing their stories. SARA BURNINGHAM: And the
history is in the small moments, and in that story of Wendell
and his mother and sleeping in a tent by the side of
the road as he is driven to the Mayo Clinic
to be diagnosed, and then also in bigger
moments, and by sometimes bigger personalities as well. ERIC MARCUS: Yes. How many of you have ever
heard of Sylvia Rivera? How many of you have ever
heard Sylvia Rivera’s voice? I’d forgotten what
Sylvia sounded like. Sylvia is a trans icon. And in this clip, she
describes the most famous event in US LGBT history, at least
famous for us in New York, the Stonewall uprising. So have a listen to Sylvia. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] – To be there, you
know, was just like– oh, it’s so beautiful. I just like– you know, it’s– – Was it exciting? – Oh, it was so exciting! It was like, wow,
we’re doing it! We’re doing it! We’re– we’re fucking nanners! ERIC MARCUS: The thing that– – –you know, straights–
they just panicked. Inspector Pine really panicked. – Mhm. – He really did. – Mhm. – Plus he had no back up. – Mhm. – He knew– he did not expect
any of the retaliation that the gay community gave
him at that point. – You think all this was
in part because people were so angry for so long? – People were very
angry for so long. I mean, how long can
you live in a closet? [END PLAYBACK] ERIC MARCUS: It’s easy to forget
how young the street kids were at the Stonewall uprising. That picture you’re
seeing is Sylvia in 1970, taken by one of the
icons of the movement, a woman named Kay
Tobin-Lahusen, whose photos will be featured at the
New York Public Library for the 50th anniversary
of Stonewall. Sylvia was 17 at the
time of the riots. They were kids. Almost all kids, and Sylvia
was living on the street from the age of 11. There was no place in the world
for gender nonconforming people like Sylvia in the 1960s. SARA BURNINGHAM: And that
anger that she expressed is something that, as I
listened through these tapes, and hundreds and hundreds
of hours of interviews, is this theme that comes
back over and over, is that the moments
of radicalization, the moment at which
enough is enough, and the anger sparks action. ERIC MARCUS: So often I said to
people, you were so courageous, and no one ever said,
I was courageous. They all said
either, I was angry, or I was looking for a
boyfriend or a girlfriend. So it’s either
about anger or love. That’s what has propelled the
movement, and that was it. SARA BURNINGHAM: Mhm. ERIC MARCUS: But
radicalization was a key thing. So many people had terrible
things done to them. One of those people who had
terrible things done to them was Joyce Hunter. Joyce had every
reason to be angry. She had a horrific
childhood, almost Dickensian. She was born– in those
days we would call it an out-of-wedlock child. Her mother was orthodox
Jewish, 16-years-old, and her father was
African-American, one of many children, and
was sent off to an orphanage. SARA BURNINGHAM: One of eight. ERIC MARCUS: Yeah. SARA BURNINGHAM:
Grew up an orphanage and then was returned to
the care of her parents, which was an abusive home. ERIC MARCUS: Yeah,
when she was 14. SARA BURNINGHAM: When
she was 14, in the Bronx, taken away from the
only family she knew, in a sense, which were the
other kids in the orphanage. ERIC MARCUS: And she went on
to do extraordinary things. But I’ll tell you
about that after we play this clip of Joyce talking
about what she wished for. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] – One of the things that the
movement did for me, it gave me a vehicle to express my anger. – What were you angry about? – Everything. That I had been denied my life,
that I had no adolescence, my childhood was robbed. I always say that when I
come back in the next life, I want to come out
a two, and I want to be able to enjoy
being who I am. [END PLAYBACK] ERIC MARCUS: She had
an extraordinary– she has had an extraordinary life. She is still alive,
she’s 79-years-old– SARA BURNINGHAM:
She was with us– with Eric on stage at the
Bell House in Brooklyn on Saturday night. ERIC MARCUS: It was standing
room only audience for the Big Queer Podfest, and she was
greeted like a rock star. Joyce went on to become– she was one of the
first staff people at what has become HMI, earlier
known as the Hetrick-Martin Institute, and before that
it was known as the Institute for the Protection of
Lesbian and Gay Youth. SARA BURNINGHAM: She was
co-organizer of the 1979 march on Washington. ERIC MARCUS: She was a
co-founder of Harvey Milk High School. SARA BURNINGHAM: She also
is a PhD research scientist in AIDS and HIV prevention. ERIC MARCUS: And she was a
New York City human rights commissioner. SARA BURNINGHAM: Human
rights commissioner– ERIC MARCUS: Who has
spoken before the UN on multiple occasions. SARA BURNINGHAM: Yeah, she was
part of the working group that set up the organization that
is now Outright International. ERIC MARCUS: Yep. SARA BURNINGHAM: I
actually can’t keep track of all of Joyce’s achievements. ERIC MARCUS: And she’s
just totally understated. SARA BURNINGHAM: But the night
that changed it all for her was in Washington
Square– it was actually during the day,
Washington Square Park. when she was beaten up. ERIC MARCUS: She was
beaten up, so badly beaten she spent a month
in the hospital. And she couldn’t continue
to do the work she was doing after that, because she
couldn’t stand for long hours and she had been a sous chef. So the occupational
therapy folks sent her off for evaluation
and they said, you should go to college,
to which she said, I don’t have a
high school degree. So she got her GED. She got her bachelor’s degree. She got her master’s degree. She got her PhD. As she said to me when
I interviewed her, they felt they were going to
put me six feet underground, and what they did is they
sent an activist on her way. And they did, and she’s fierce. You don’t mess with Joyce. At the time of Stonewall,
she was married and had two children. So she also had to extricate
herself from a marriage, because after she
tried to kill herself when she was in her teens,
the psychiatrist who she met with at the psychiatric hospital
where she spent a year said, if you get married
and have children, you’ll get over your feelings. You can imagine how
successful that was. She got married. She had children. She did not get over
her feelings for women. And she’s now she’s a
mother, grandmother, and a great-grandmother. And you can hear her whole
story at Making Gay History. It’s one of my favorites
among favorites. So Perry Watkins– Perry’s problem
wasn’t coming out. Perry was out. He was out from the time he
was a high school student. I won’t tell you exactly how
everyone knew he was out, but– SARA BURNINGHAM:
Listen to the episode. ERIC MARCUS: Listen
to the episode, yes. This is for a general audience. The problem with Perry
was that the military didn’t want to know that he
was gay, even though they knew he was gay. I’ll play you the
clip, and then I’ll explain a little
more about Perry. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] – I was not trying to
go into the military. That’s why I told them I was–
that’s why I find it absolutely ludicrous that the army
is in court saying, we don’t want this man. Well, why the hell
did you take me? – Right. – And why am I the
one that is being accused of being at fault? It is amazing. But no, I checked the block yes. They sent me into
a psychiatrist, who said to me, why did
you check this box yes? And I went, because you asked me
to fill out the form honestly. Well, do you object to
going in the military? No. I didn’t want to
go in the military. Who did? – Right. – But I certainly
had no objection to serving my country. – You were raised to be honest. – Extremely so. Why I really checked the
box was because I thought if I go into the
military, I’m not going to hide the
fact that I’m gay. I know myself well
enough to know that. So when I get thrown out,
Mom will be angry if I lie. That was why I checked the box. When I get put out of there, my
mom will be more angry with me for lying than why didn’t
I just tell the damn truth to begin with? [END PLAYBACK] ERIC MARCUS: Perry served for 15
years before he was thrown out. And all along the way,
they knew that he was gay. What prompted them
to throw him out was that they kept revoking his
security clearance every time he was transferred. And the fourth time, he had it. And so he sued, and
then they threw him out because he was gay, even
though they knew he was gay. He even performed overseas
in his alter ego character, Simone, in drag. When Perry talked
to me about this, he said– because
I asked him, why did they take you, even
though you checked off the box that you were gay? And he said that
he’d like to see a study of all the black men
who had checked off homosexual and were sent to Vietnam,
and all the white men who were sent who
checked on homosexual and were not sent to Vietnam. And his theory
was that they just figured that a gay black man
would come back in a body bag. As subsequent
studies have shown, black men were more
likely to be sent into combat than white men. We don’t have
statistics on that, and we’re hoping
a graduate student who listens to this
episode will research it. So Perry survived the military. And after a nine-year
court battle, he was the first gay person to
be reinstated in the military. But he died of AIDS in
1996, just three years after he served as
the Grand Marshal in the New York
City pride march. I’m guessing that
no one in this room has ever heard of Perry Watkins. Well, let’s see a show of hands. How many people ever
heard of Perry Watkins? Yeah. One of the joys for us
is bringing these stories to life for people who
should be remembered, whose stories were
important, and would have been forgotten otherwise. When I talked to Perry, I asked
him about being a trailblazer. And he said he did not
choose to be a trailblazer, but he felt compelled
to be one because of what was done to him. SARA BURNINGHAM:
Yeah, he said he had no choice but to
stand up and fight. Just because it
was– he said simply, it was the right thing to do. But sometimes, standing
up and fighting sort of comes in quite a lot
of different forms. Sometimes it’s sitting
down and writing. ERIC MARCUS: Yes, and
this is Dear Abby. Some of you may know who she
is, a lot of you may not. She was– is there an
equivalent today of Dear Abby? There isn’t. This was a time when
people read newspapers, and Dear Abby was the most
famous columnist in the world, except for her twin
sister, Ann Landers, who was also the most famous
advice giver in the world. When I was a kid, we would
get the papers on Sunday when my grandparents
came to visit, and my grandmother always read
Dear Abby and Ann Landers. And people wrote to them
about all kinds of things. When Dear Abby started writing
about gay people in the 1960s, it was before gay
people were really able to stand up and
speak for themselves, and she was a
voice of authority. She was the first
national figure– respected figure to come out
in support of gay people. She took a stand, and she
changed hearts and minds. I’m going to play a little
bit of a clip from her about the reaction she got when
she wrote things in the paper about gay people. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] – There was a column
that you wrote. This was the woman
who complained about the new
neighbors next door, a strange man and the couple. – Well, the letter was,
this is a nice neighborhood, and we’re very disgusted
with these types. What can we do to
improve the neighborhood? And my answer was
you could move. The gays thought
it was hilarious. But other than
just being amusing, entertaining, there was
a good message there. – Which was? – Which was it was they
have a right to be there. If you don’t like
it, you could move, because they have as
much right to be them as you have to be yourself. – Mhm. How much of an
impact do you think you’ve had as one
person on this issue? – I think I would– well, I won’t say first– I was one of the first person
at the national level that wasn’t gay. I wasn’t defending myself. I was defending everyone’s
right to be themselves– gay, straight, no matter. – And that was in the 19–
beginning of the 1950s. – It took– people told
me it took a lot of guts. But I was happy to have
a platform such as I had. [END PLAYBACK] ERIC MARCUS: I just want you
to picture for a moment what it was like to interview Abby. I grew up in a time
when Abby was as famous as Ellen DeGeneres. And I pulled up to
her small mansion– her mansion in
Beverly Hills, and– double height doors,
French provincial– or French Second Empire crossed
with God-knows-what Hollywood. And she answered the door. And she was dressed–
she’s five feet tall, dressed in lavender
hostess pajamas and pink fluffy slippers. Does anyone wear
hostess pajamas anymore? SARA BURNINGHAM: No, when
I listened to the tape and you told– [LAUGH] –when you just
started writing the scripts talked about the hostess
pajamas, I was like, [GASP] that’s a thing? [LAUGH] ERIC MARCUS: [LAUGH] SARA BURNINGHAM: Why didn’t
I know about that thing? That’s the best thing! Lavender hostess pajamas. And I’m picturing fluffy
mules, am I right? Or not? ERIC MARCUS: Yes, they were. But she insisted–
with Abby, I had to send her the edited
interview and the introduction for approval. And the only thing she cut
was the pink fluffy slippers. Abby got tons of hate
mail for the things she said when she took
a stand for gay people and also other issues
that she wrote about. But some of the
letters in response to her comments about
gay people would remind her to be a good
Christian woman, to which she would respond, thanks, but I
hope I’m a good Jewish person. AUDIENCE: [CHUCKLES] ERIC MARCUS: Now,
a sense of humor was an essential tool that
activists called on, especially in the years after the
Stonewall uprising. So from one national treasure,
Dear Abby, two people who ought to be national
treasures, that is, on the left,
Kay Tobin-Lahusen, on the right Barbara Gittings. They are known to
some of us, anyway, as the mothers of the movement. These happy warriors were so
inventive in their activism. They had enormous fun
fighting for their rights and our rights. They were involved in
the movement from– Barbara from the 1950s,
they met in the early ’60s, and carried on through the ’60s. There’s a famous
photo of Barbara in a protest march in 1965
in front of the White House. Kay is not in the photo because
she was behind the camera. You can see those photos
also on the website. So they had a lot of fun. SARA BURNINGHAM:
Yeah, their tapes– so Eric interviewed
Barbara and Kay in 1980– ERIC MARCUS: 1989. SARA BURNINGHAM: –1989, over
the course of two sessions. And so there’s about eight
hours worth of interviews, but the thing that’s just
really wonderful about it, for me, listening to
it 30 years later, is just the laughter that just
comes up over and over again. And also, the really, really
adorable thing with these two is just the way in which they
finish each other sentences, over. Which is a challenge
when editing audio, [LAUGH] but really, really
just heartwarming to hear. ERIC MARCUS: So I’m
going to play a clip. Before I play the
clip, I just want to explain why they’re
holding dinosaurs. They continued to be
involved with the movement after Stonewall and went
to the first meetings here in New York with
the Gay Liberation Front, with a man named Frank
Kameny, also featured in one of our
episodes, who’s one of the most important people
in the early movement. And they were called
out for being dinosaurs because they were in their 30s. And Kay went out and
bought these two dinosaurs, which they carried with them
to every meeting thereafter. So this clip is from 1971, the
American Library Association convention in Dallas. Barbara loved books,
and beginning in 1970, created a reading list of
all the LGBTQ books that were out there for the
American Library Association for their annual convention. The first year, everything fit
on one side of an 8 and 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper. The second year, in
1971, all the books fit on two sides of a
legal sized sheet of paper. But no one was paying attention
to their reading list. So they decided that– and also no one was going to
their booth or the conference floor. So they decided they had
to do a little something to get a bit more attention. So they decided to
transform their booth. And this is Barbara
and Kay talking about how they improvised. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] – Well, we decided to bypass
books and show gay love live. So we called it
Hug a Homosexual. And we stripped it down
to the bare gray curtains, and we had a sign up,
“men only” at one end, and “women only” at the other. And we stationed ourselves– – Same sex kisses. – –all four of us under
the signs, to give– free, mind you, free–
same sex kisses and hugs. Well, let me tell you,
the aisles were jammed, but nobody came into the booth. – And “Life” magazine was there. – “Life” magazine
photographer was there, two Dallas television stations
had sent camera crews– – Right, the lights
were going all around. – –and I say, people
were rather intimidated. Yes, the lights were
on, and all these people jammed in the aisles, craning
their necks to see the action, but nobody wanted to take part. So we did the action. We kissed and embraced
each other for two hours. We handed out copies
of the bibliography. We called out encouragement. We kissed and hugged
each other some more. Alma Routsong was
an absolute peach. She and I were on
the female end, and a couple of the
men on the other, and we did all this ourselves. That really put us on the map. – So there we were on
the 6 o’clock news, and the library
people were livid. They said we have all
these famous authors here, and all they cover
is this kissing! [LAUGHTER] – They put us on
the 6 o’clock news, they put us again on
the 11 o’clock news, and again the next morning. This was news! [LAUGHTER] – This made the local news. – Yes! – In Denver? – Dallas! – Dallas! – Dallas! It was wonderful. And really, our spirits
soared, because we– really, the booth
also had a message that was useful in
any arena, and that is that gay people are
not willing anymore to be subject to a
special double standard. We should have the same right to
express our affection publicly as heterosexuals have. No more, but no less. [END PLAYBACK] ERIC MARCUS: Barbara
knew how to smile, and she knew how to wield
that smile like a sword. We just spent some time with
Kay Lahusen in the retirement community where she lives. Kay is now 88. Barbara died in 2000– SARA BURNINGHAM: 2007. ERIC MARCUS: 2007. Yes, a long time ago. SARA BURNINGHAM: Yeah, yeah. ERIC MARCUS: When we went
to interview Kay last year, she let drop that she hosts
a gay table at her retirement community once a month. So what did we have to do? SARA BURNINGHAM: Yeah. We invited ourselves. ERIC MARCUS: So– SARA BURNINGHAM:
If you subscribed to Making Gay History, you
will be hearing that dinner that Eric went to– ERIC MARCUS: Yes. SARA BURNINGHAM: –on Thursday. It’s a little special extra
bonus episode for Pride. ERIC MARCUS: There were
eight of us at the table, and it was an astonishing
evening of hearing stories about people’s lives. And Kay, even though she’s had
a stroke, is in a wheelchair, you still don’t cross her. SARA BURNINGHAM: [LAUGH] ERIC MARCUS: She rules the
roost and sets an example for other elders
about how we should be treated throughout our lives. SARA BURNINGHAM: Yeah. ERIC MARCUS: So so far we’ve
heard some of the big stories, some of the small stories,
some of the public history, and some of the personal
struggles that were the steps of the path toward
LGBTQ+ civil rights. One of the most significant
players in the post Stonewall period is Vito Russo. How many of you have
ever heard of Vito Russo? Vito famously wrote a book
called “The Celluloid Closet.” It was published in ’81. It’s about how gay people
were portrayed in the movies. He was a movie
archivist and expert, and his theory was that the
public’s image of gay people is shaped by what they
see in the movies. And reading his book, I
was stunned by how true that seemed. I found his book on a
shelf at Harper and Row when I was a temp there in 1981. I was out, but
not so comfortable that I decided to
wait until lunch hour when everybody was
out of the office to go into the
editor’s office, where I had noticed Vito’s book, to
pull the book off the shelf. And then seven years
later, I was commissioned to write “Making History,” what
became “Making Gay History,” which I always find striking. Vito is one of those
people who inspired me, but we’ll get to that after
we listen to his clip. Now, he was one of the first
interviews I did for the book in 1988, because it was
a race against time. Many of the activists I
interviewed were very old, and many of the men had AIDS. And I knew Vito’s
time was short. Vito was famous not
just for his book, but also he was one of
the co-founders of GLAAD. He was a co-founder of ACT UP. He was also very involved in
the Gay Activist Alliance, which was one of the
first groups that formed in New York right
after the Stonewall uprising. He was already sick at the time
I interviewed him and did not look well when I spoke with him. He had cared for his
partner, who had died, and he didn’t know
how long he had. What he knew was that
he wanted to survive. He wanted to survive AIDS,
in part, as he told me, so he could be around to kick
people’s asses for failing to deal with the crisis. But he was also thinking
about his place in history, and that’s the clip
we’ll play for you. How Vito thought about
what he had done and how he might be remembered. [AUDIO PLAYBACK] – I find it
interesting, from what I know about the history
of the gay movement, that there always have
been and there will always be people who are willing
to put their lives on the line for these ideas. Starting from Germany, in
the turn of the century, in 1895, and then into
the early teens and ’20s. There were a group of
people in Germany, headed by Magnus Hirschfeld,
who were willing to put their lives on
the line, and they were willing to
make a movie called “Different From
the Others,” which the Nazis seized and burned. Then in the 1940s
and 1950s, there were the Harry Hays, and
the Barbara Gittings, and the Mattachine Society. And then in the
’60s, gay liberation. It’s the more
radical issues that I think are still going
to be fought over, whether gay people have a
right to adopt children– – Get married. – –get married, teach
in the public schools, which they do now, you
know, but be open about it. – Right. – And those battles
are battles that are going to be fought long
after you and I are gone. But you have to
make a contribution while you’re here– I mean, that’s
been my whole life, is to leave my book behind. That I know after
I’m dead, that book is going to be on
a shelf someplace, and what I have to
say will reach people. And the things I’ve written– you know, because it’s like– who was the person
who said that? Pedro Almodovar. He said the thing is, you can’t
regret your life, otherwise why did you live? What was the point of
having a life if you didn’t say something or do
something that was going to survive after you’re gone? And that’s the way I
actually feel about it. I really feel the
reason why I’m here is so that I could leave
this book and these articles so that some
16-year-old kid who’s going to be a gay activist
in the next 10 or 15 years is going to read them and
carry the ball from there. And that’ll happen. Happened with me. – Mhm. – Harry Hay passed the
ball to the Mattachine, and they passed the ball to us. – And you’ll pass it on. – Mhm. [END PLAYBACK] ERIC MARCUS: I like to
think that Vito passed the ball to me, in
sharing his story with me, and through “Making
Gay History.” It’s not a book, but
it is an anthology. You don’t take it off a
shelf, but you put ear buds in and you listen to the stories. And I like to think that Vito
will inspire future generations to resist, to fight back,
to fight for their rights. And I like to think that
by sharing these stories, Sara and I have the opportunity
to pass the ball to all of you, to carry it forward. SARA BURNINGHAM: There’s
nothing like hearing folks speak for themselves. And now, having–
we’re at what, 2.7– sorry, 1.7 million downloads. ERIC MARCUS: 1.75
million downloads. SARA BURNINGHAM:
[LAUGH] Downloads in 206 nations and
territories around the world. We had to add the nations
and territory thing, so we were really excited
to see the number 206. And we went to do a
presentation somewhere, some international
nonprofit, and we said just as we were
about to start it, I was going through my notes. And as we said, 206
countries, and I was like, oops, wait, are
there 206 countries? [LAUGH] And so, yes– as many places– as countries
that compete in the Olympics. That’s where we are. ERIC MARCUS: So Vito
was the final clip, and we’d love to take questions. If you have questions,
you just need to step up to the
microphone that’s on either side of the room
and ask your questions. I also have a couple
of incredible letters we’ve had from
people, which I would be happy to read if
there are no questions, but also very happy to
take your questions. Sure. AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you for this. This is lovely. I have a question about
5, 10, 15 years from now. The way that this type of
material is saved today is oftentimes via
YouTube, or it’s some other sort of social media
or technology enabled platform. And so how is that going to make
the job of the next person who has to do this and make “Making
Gay History,” like, 5.0? How are they going to work
with all that material? It’s almost like it’s
too much, but it’s good there’s so much of
it to sort of dissect or to look through. See what I’m saying? ERIC MARCUS: It’s a challenge. I generally encourage,
when I travel and people ask about recording stories of
people in their communities, I recommend that
they, again, use the best equipment possible,
and then store their files carefully. But you’re right, the
platforms keep changing. So when I first donated my
archive to the New York Public Library, they were
going to transfer all of the cassette tapes to– I think it was 24-karat
gold-plated CD-rom. They took so long in raising
the money for the transfer that by the time they did the
transfer, it was MP3 files. And MP3 files are no
longer used, are they? SARA BURNINGHAM: There’s some
changing in the protocols, I think. I mean, you guys will
know better than we do. ERIC MARCUS: So the challenge
for even the New York Public Library, which is where
my archive resides, is to keep updating the platform
on which these things are stored. I have absolutely no answers. I do know that we backup
everything three, four times, so that we have
multiple places for it. And the podcast itself will be
transferred to New York Public Library for them to store, and
they’ll have to worry about it. But it is a concern. SARA BURNINGHAM: But also
in terms of the breadth, just the sort of the breadth,
the sheer number of stories, I think that’s also
so much of this I think is a sort of map analogy. That when Eric said about
writing “Making History” and tried to map
out who you were going to speak to, this was
a time where, as he said, he couldn’t, like, go to
Google or any of those things. So you went through each
issue at “The Advocate”? ERIC MARCUS: From 1968, every
single issue of “The Advocate,” to build a timeline. There were no timelines. SARA BURNINGHAM: And
trying to find what was the real name behind
the pseudonyms of people. And in fact, someone who
we recently interviewed, one of the guests
at Kay’s gay table said, that back in
those days, there were only 12 people
in the movement, and the rest was done
with mirrors, anyway. So I think that one of the
great things is the scale and the number of stories
to be told now is great. If there are that many people
from whom you can hear, that is really fantastic. And then it’s about
finding the piece of the puzzle that speaks to
you and telling those stories. ERIC MARCUS: Well, the challenge
is there is so much material. No one wants to listen
to the eight hours we have of Barbara
Gittings and Kay Lahusen. There are scholars
who will want to. But what the podcast offers is
something that’s digestible. You get a taste. I was talking to a young
man on Saturday night, who’s just graduated from
Wash U. in St. Louis, and he said a friend gave him
the book “Making Gay History.” And he said I just
don’t have the patience to read a whole book, but then I
discovered there was a podcast. And so it was like
the magic words. Most people didn’t
have the patience to read a 550-page book. I barely had the
patience to write one, but I was being paid to do it. But just as an aside about
the title of the book, the original title
was “Making History.” And the reason it was called
“Making History” and not “Making Gay History”
the first time around was because the
publisher was worried that the salesforce would
have trouble selling a book with “gay” in the title,
and that bookstores would not shelve the book face out if the
word “gay” were in the title. For the second edition,
10 years later, I suggested we put the
word “gay” in the title, and no one objected. So it’s called
“Making Gay History.” And that’s how we came up
with the title of the podcast. Other questions? SPEAKER: We have
time for one more. ERIC MARCUS: One more question. Yes, Becca? And then I want
to read one letter from one of our listeners. AUDIENCE: All right. I’m just curious
if there’s anyone that you wanted to interview
that you didn’t have a chance to talk with. ERIC MARCUS: Yes, two people. Let’s just see– there are
so many people I wish I’d had the chance to talk to
but two in particular– Bayard Rustin and
Leonard Bernstein. Bayard Rustin played
an important role– we don’t have time to
talk about that here– but was not recognized
as a gay person at the time he was involved in
planning the 1963 civil rights march on Washington. And Leonard Bernstein I
almost got to interview. Leonard Bernstein was
famously closeted. One of my friends
worked for him. Initially he said,
no, and then she called me very late
in my work and said, he’s thinking he’ll do it. And then two weeks
later, he died. And he was going to
come out in the book, which would have been nice
for me, but he didn’t. So I just wanted to read
one story of someone who was inspired by the podcast. And I hope that many people
are inspired to take action. We’ve heard from quite
a few people who’ve talked about changing
their majors, getting involved in things,
because the people whose stories they’ve
heard in the podcast provide a roadmap for how
they can change the world. Most of the people who are
featured in the podcast changed the world at
a time when no one believed it was possible. SARA BURNINGHAM:
And actually, this opened up a really lovely
intergenerational two-way street. Because a lot of
the emails that we get, people address
to Kay Lahusen, because one of her things
is whenever Eric calls her, she says to him, what
have you got for me, Eric? ERIC MARCUS: [LAUGH] Yes, the
latest news, what have you got? SARA BURNINGHAM:
[LAUGH] And so now people write into “Making Gay
History” with what they’ve got for Kay. ERIC MARCUS: Yeah. This is not one of them. “Hi there, I grew
up in what would now be described as an alt-right
military family in Texas. Coming out for the
first time at 16 was one of the hardest
experiences of my life. My father wanted to kick
me out, but my mother wanted me to stay and go
through conversion therapy. Through a lot of strife and hard
work, I was able to get out, and now I am a 25-year-old
engineer working in Manhattan. Growing up, I clung to
whatever stories of gay history I could learn, just for
the sake of remembering that there was more to
this community experience than my own. I really related to Morris
Kight’s sentiment that he never doubted that he was
inferior, no matter– he never doubted that
he was not inferior,” I think is what he meant– SARA BURNINGHAM: Yeah. ERIC MARCUS: “–no matter how
much he was told and treated so. One thing that’s really
struck me listening to these interviews is how
grassroots-based so many of these societies and
organizations originally were. It has inspired me to create
an organization of my own. I’m now working with a small
group of other gay engineers from various firms to create
a society for gay engineers to meet and for
professional education on the experiences of queer
people within my industry. It’s very early now and
just getting started, but hearing about these
societies in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s with no
resources and based out of someone’s living room
is really motivating me to keep it moving. It makes me feel like we’re part
of a tradition of queer people, recognizing a deficit in how
we’re treated in society, and just starting where we
can and doing whatever we can. Thank you so much for
producing this podcast. It warms my soul and reminds
me of the continuity of us. Queer people as a community have
continually survived the worst and looked out for our own. And as a man without a real
family to fall back on, it gives me pride in the
strength of my chosen family. With peace and
blessings and thanks.” That came to us on
December 13, 2017. So thank you so much, Becca
Gulata, for arranging today. Thank you, Google, thank
you all for attending, thank you, Sara, for
sharing the stage with me. SARA BURNINGHAM: Thanks,
Eric, for everything you did. ERIC MARCUS: Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

5 thoughts on “Eric Marcus and Sara Burningham: “Making Gay History” | Talks at Google”

  1. I'm afraid it doesn't get any better going forward for LGBT. New evolutionary information making the rounds opens a utopian future for humanity sans homosexuality. https://youtu.be/d_pf3OhluZM

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