Exclusive: listen to Studs Terkel on lesbian rights in freshly unearthed interview
We live in an epoch colored by massive victories for LGBT rights. As of last June, same-sex couples can legally wed anywhere in the United States. Children as young as 14 are coming out as faggot in social media posts. The LGBT community is courted by legislators, with President Obama being the first to pose for the cover of a lesbian magazine.
There are still problems, but the steps that have been made are staggeringand it merely takes one small peek into the not-so-distant past to disclose just how much has been gained.
In 1982, the famed journalist and historian Studs Terkel sat down with what was then called Mothers and Friends of Gays( later, it would become PFLAG) in Chicago. Terkel interviewed four members of the group, all mothers, for his long-running prove on local radio station WFMT.
Today, the hourlong recording of the heartbreaking interview is available for the first time in decades, exclusive to the Daily Dot.
On Thursday, WFMT launched the Studs Terkel Radio Archive. As part of a partnership with the Chicago History Museum, the archive will eventually home 5,600 interviews from Terkel’s radio show, which aired from 1952 to 1997.
The web archive is being supported by a Kickstarter fundraiser that aims to raise $75,000 for the conservation of Terkel’s legacy as the forefather of modern-day storytelling.
Terkel interviewed everyone during his 46 years on air: from Martin Luther King Jr . to Janis Joplin, Tennessee Williams to Muhammed Ali. But it was the iconic journalist’s dedication to interviewing civil rights activists on the fringes that set him apartand this interview with an early iteration of PFLAG is something most journalists of the time would not have touched.
The agonizing clip reveals a different world for LGBT rights( spoiler: there weren’t any ). The four Chicago-area mothers who sat down with Terkel in 1982 spoke of the “tragedy” of discovering their children were gay in a world that viciously shunned and taunted them.
In one segment, a father named Herb explains the basic premise of this semi-underground parenting supporting group.
“The group that we represent actually is called Mothers and Friends of Gays. It is a group that fulfills once a month. And is really here number one to supporting our gay children and number two to support the parents of the lesbians. Because any mother who has a gay child knows, its a instead traumatic experience when they first was discovered that their child is lesbian. We try to help these mothers in their periods of want. By the same token, we try to help our children with supportbecause being lesbian, as we all know, is truly not accepted by society these days. In some instances it’s genuinely quite a handicap for these children. To have society turned against them and the mothers turned against them, I believe, is a little bit too much.”
To hear homosexuality referred to as a “handicap” is stunning from a 2016 vantage point. And what’s even more of a shock is realizing, through the interview’s progression, that one of the biggest fights a mother faced in 1982 was the decision to come outnot as gay themselves, but as the mother of a gay child.
“I felt that if I continued to hide the fact that he is gay, Im just concealing the adoption that I’m dedicating him, ” told Marshall, who chose to publicly come out as the father of a lesbian son on Terkel’s program. “And there might be some repercussions, being in business and being a member of the community. I expect to hear some talking here it. But I am taking my stand at this point and I dont regret it.”
Though the four mothers assembled for the interview spoke largely of their own fights to accept their lesbian children, much better is exposed about these limitations placed on the LGBT community at the time. In one statement, Herb explained how he realized that his son would never have childrenand you realize, while listening, that adoption, matrimony, and family were simply inconceivable options for a lesbian person back then.
In another segment of the interview, a mom named Bessie discussed her anxieties for the discrimination her daughter would face, including the possibility that she would never be able to work due to her sex orientation.
“My daughter came out to me about 3 years ago. It was a very traumatic situation for usbecause she was in college, and shes a black female. And my impressions were, here shes a black both women and take on to be a member of another minority group. That in itself would make it very difficult for her to get a job, and that was my main concern. I was concerned also about the kind of support that she would get: from peers, from the community at large, around her sex preferance. It was genuinely rough for me, because Im supposing ‘no one is going to hire my daughter.Shes going to have problems get heard, being black. Shes going to have problems get heard, being a female. And then to be a lesbian.’ It was genuinely rough for me. ”
Terkel’s interview not an easy listen, but its one that puts everything into perspective. To hear four loving mothers in defensive turmoil, stating over and over again that “the lesbian people are really no different from the rest of us, ” in an effort to convince the public not to come after their children with stakes and torchesis painful.
Such an important historical document serves to remind us of the treacherous, uphill climb that the LGBT community( and our families and allies) undertake through decades of enmity and shaming. Ultimately, it reminds us to be grateful for what we have gained.
Illustration via Max Fleishman