Loading...
Ada Bello was born into a middle-class family in 1933 in Havana, Cuba. Aware from early on that she was attracted to girls, she also knew coming out in heavily Catholic, intensely machista Cuba would be impossible. She studied for a time at Havana University – but when dictator Fulgencio Batista shut the university in 1959 amidst student unrest, Ada saw her chance to bolt. She came to the US, got a degree in chemistry at Louisiana State University, and in 1962 made her way north to Philadelphia in search of freedom.

Over the decades the followed, Ada worked chemistry jobs at the University of Pennsylvania and the Food and Drug Administration. Far more importantly for her, she met other lesbians strategizing ways to lead open, productive lives. As a non-citizen, the stakes were much higher for Ada. 

In 1967, Ada joined forces with some friends to start the Philadelphia chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). Later, she helped launch a group called the Homophile Action League (HAL), possibly the first gay rights organization to seize on the idea of enlisting politicians to fight for them. For several years, Ada also participated in July 4th Reminder Day demonstrations in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, designed to draw a connection between lesbian and gay rights and the Constitution.

Over the decades, Ada has contributed to countless Philadelphia gay groups and initiatives. She helped the William Way LGBT Community Center to get on its feet, joined the board of the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force, served as a panelist at the LGBT Aging Summit in 2010, and serves today on the board of the LGBT Elder Initiative. In 2015, Ada was honored by GALAEI, Philadelphia’s queer Latino social justice organization, with their David Acosta Revolutionary Leader award.

It took literally two years for OUTWORDS to catch up with Ada. When we first tried in April 2016, she had knee surgery and had to postpone. Finally in April 2018, we got a team back to Philly to record her interview. We are sad Ada had to leave her homeland to find personal freedom, but glad she found it here, and profoundly grateful for the energy and spirit she brought to America’s gay rights revolution.  
Betsy Kalin: [00:00:00] Phrase what I'm saying in your answer, because we're going to cut me out, my voice is not going to be heard. Like I asked you today, what did you have for breakfast. Instead of just saying, 'cafe con leche', you would say, "For breakfast today I had caf con leche."
Ada Bello: Okay, I'll try to remember that, yes.
Peter Lien: We're rolling.
Betsy Kalin: [00:00:30] Great. Why don't you tell me your name, your birthdate and where you were born.
Ada Bello: My name is Ada Bello. I was born in Havana, Cuba in November 6, 1933.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you. Why don't you tell me about what it was like in Havana when you were growing up.
Ada Bello: [00:01:00] I wasn't living in Havana growing up. I went back to live there when I went to university. I can tell you in Cuba, in general, it was, as far as being gay, was extremely difficult.
Ada Bello: [00:01:30] It was a big small town, so there was difficult to have any kind of privacy. There was a tradition of the Machista tradition, and to a certain extent also influential the Catholic church, even if Cubans were not particularly religious, as you find Mexicans, for example, are.
Ada Bello: [00:02:00] To be gay in Cuba was to be in the closet. It was very risky, especially for the middle class that didn't have the advantage of leaving the country for long vacations or even having separate houses, to live a real full life. It was a question of always living lie
Ada Bello: [00:02:30] or remaining totally inactive. Then when I went to Havana to go to university, it was a small community of around the people who worked at the university students, so it was not any much better than a small town.
Ada Bello: [00:03:00] It was very difficult to be gay in Cuba at the time. That is why I knew that I had to leave in order to live a full life.
Betsy Kalin: Let me just stop you for one second. I think her eye line should be on the other side, just the way she's sitting.
Peter Lien: [00:03:30] Okay.
Betsy Kalin: I think I have to ...
Peter Lien: Move?
Betsy Kalin: ... move. Does it seem weird?
Peter Lien: Just why don't you sit in that other chair. Use this chair. Pull that chair in a little closer.
Betsy Kalin: I'm a little close to the camera.
Peter Lien: That's good. Your eye line's pretty good there.
Betsy Kalin: [00:04:00] Yeah, that's what I feel like. I feel like the eye line's better here. Okay.
Peter Lien: We're still rolling.
Betsy Kalin: Great. I'm sorry to have to ask you this again.
Ada Bello: We're going to start?
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. If you could just start what was it like growing up in Cuba?
Ada Bello: [00:04:30] Well growing up in Cuba as a gay person, and I was aware of being different very early, even before I knew that there was a name for it. Very early I realized that I'm going to have to plan my life in such a way that I could really have a life. For that probably,
Ada Bello: [00:05:00] I was going to have to put some distance between myself, my friends and my family. I think that that situation was pretty general among people in my same circumstances, except that we didn't know that the other people exist. When I started realizing
Ada Bello: [00:05:30] that I not only had the feelings, I wanted to act on them, I felt that I was going to have to leave the country. The choice of my career was based on that. I wanted something portable, something that didn't have limitations for language.
Ada Bello: [00:06:00] Instead of going into something like a Spanish or literary of any kind, I chose chemistry. It's not like I didn't like chemistry, but it had the added advantage of being able to travel with it and find a job most anywhere.
Ada Bello: [00:06:30] That turned out to be very useful because I left before the revolution. I left in '58 because I was at Havana University and under Batista toward the end, the political unrest was significant.
Ada Bello: [00:07:00] The unrest was very much centered in the university because the University of Havana, like most universities in Latin American was autonomous, which means that it was off limit to the police. The students had a good opportunity of having meetings inside the university and most of them were anti-Batista. In fact, most of the island was anti-Batista
Ada Bello: [00:07:30] by that point because he had become a tyrant and an assassin. Once we didn't have constitutional currencies, the police could come into the university any time. In order to avoid bloodshed, they had to close. They already had killed two presidents of the student federation.
Ada Bello: [00:08:00] I went home to Matanzas, and I waited to 1957 and nothing seemed to was going to happen, so I transferred to Louisiana State in Baton Rouge. It wasn't an easy transition because I knew
Ada Bello: [00:08:30] I could read English, I didn't understand English and I could not speak English. Because I was transferring after having had some years of studying at the University in Havana, I was given courses that were for the second and third year, so I didn't have a chance to really get familiar with English before.
Ada Bello: [00:09:00] I did survive. I eventually graduated, and it took me probably about... the first six months were the worst. One thing that I found that surprised me is that the situation in Baton Rouge
Ada Bello: [00:09:30] at the university was not particularly better than it was in Cuba. The university had some outrageous laws and regulations that you could be disposed from the university if they found you in a small town, that's outside, wearing pants.
Ada Bello: [00:10:00] You couldn't wear pants to the cafeteria. You can imagine any question having a gay life at all. You could go to New Orleans. It was only about 50 miles, and that's what we did. Of course there they used to raid the bars.
Ada Bello: [00:10:30] At the time they had big conventions, they wanted to clean up the towns. You took that chance. There was a considerable large lesbian group that I found out after I had been there for a couple of month, but they were extremely closeted and their activities had to be totally undercover.
Ada Bello: [00:11:00] I was glad, when I graduated, to leave the university. When I came to Philadelphia, I thought, oh my god, this is El Dorado. This is the anonymity of a big city and the fact that nobody knew me, and I was working at the university at Penn, and they have more liberal standards,
Ada Bello: [00:11:30] except that then when I started looking for a gay community, the way to find the gay community was going to bars. To go to a bar, you had to go down some dark alley and then you knock on the door of an unmarked address, and then once you were in, again, the police could come in and raid the place.
Ada Bello: [00:12:00] It didn't take too long to disabuse me of the notion that this was a perfectly free environment. That is what the women who came together to start the first chapter of the Philadelphia Daughters of Bilitis.
Ada Bello: [00:12:30] I mean the Daughters of Bilitis had been founded, was a lesbian organization founded several years before in San Francisco and they had chapters throughout the country. We started the Philadelphia chapter, and the women that came together had pretty much the same experience that I had. We were all working
Ada Bello: [00:13:00] and we were all law abiding, and then we felt that we were treated like criminals. We went along for the first few month on the chapter. We weren't doing much. We put out a newsletter, we had meetings and we knew that Barbara Gittings lived in Philadelphia, but none of us knew her personally.
Ada Bello: [00:13:30] The police raided Rusty's, the main lesbian bar in Philadelphia. That wasn't unusual, but that Saturday they actually took about a dozen women to jail. They stayed in jail overnight, they were let go the next morning.
Ada Bello: [00:14:00] That was the procedure, but they left a record, so obviously they were unhappy. They came to us to the chapter of the DOB and they said do something about it. In a way they actually gave us the best excuse in the world, to go to Barbara, ask Barbara for guidance and very generously she put us in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union,
Ada Bello: [00:14:30] which she was a member. We actually contacted the police and asked for a face to face interview. I didn't go to the interview because I wasn't a citizen, so I couldn't show my face,
Ada Bello: [00:15:00] but I did drive the people there, so I used to say that I would drive the getaway car. Barbara got somebody from the ACLU to come to the interview to act as a legal advisor, and nothing big came out of that. The police denied that they were out of bounds for what they did supposedly.
Ada Bello: [00:15:30] Some of the women refused to give their IDs. The term that they used was resisting arrest. Somehow, maybe it was the times, I think they started to think twice about raids, and this is interesting because maybe the next year
Ada Bello: [00:16:00] we went from DOB to something called the Homophile Action League that was a group that didn't depend on a centralized authority like the DOB. It was totally local and we could actually decide what to do without having to call California and find the president of the DOB.
Ada Bello: [00:16:30] After a meeting for HAL, we went to Rusty's. The meetings were on Wednesday nights. Rusty was open Wednesday night besides Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Barbara was among us because she had joined by then.
Ada Bello: [00:17:00] Usually she didn't like to go to bars because she didn't smoke and it was too noisy, et cetera, but it was a hot summer night, so she went for beer. We had hardly got in there and sat down that the bouncer came in and pulled the jukebox and turned on the lights.
Ada Bello: [00:17:30] We knew that there was going to be a raid. Now I had applied for my citizenship and I was going to have my interview in a couple of weeks. It was foolish of me to have taken that chance. On the other hand, I said well they never raid bars on Wednesday nights because there's not enough people, but they did.
Ada Bello: [00:18:00] When they came to our table, they asked for IDs and everybody pulled their driver's license, and Barbara pulled her membership card in the American Civil Liberties Union. It was a miracle. They took a look at that and they didn't say a word. They left. That was a good lesson.
Ada Bello: [00:18:30] I mean it is important that we let the authorities know that we know our rights because they do go a lot by what they don't know. They don't know that we don't have the authority to do this, but they're afraid so they're going to do it. That's how the Philadelphia police actually help us to become really an active organization. We went on,
Ada Bello: [00:19:00] HAL went on until probably the 80s, and then it dissipated, but I think it did a good job of being a bridge from before Stonewall to after Stonewall.
Ada Bello: [00:19:30] Obviously something called homophile will not have lasted long after Stonewall, but we were very much in agreement with what the gay movement became after Stonewall, which is not to say that Stonewall marks the start of the gay movement because it didn't. Stonewall, if anything,
Ada Bello: [00:20:00] it was in a curve, a point in which the curve goes right up. Before we said we deserve, and after that we said we demand. Actually after that and after HAL dissolved,
Ada Bello: [00:20:30] everything became a little bit more a structure. I mean there were still demonstrations and people were still chaining themselves to bridges, but since it started to function more in a organization,
Ada Bello: [00:21:00] it started to have a structure and even have people that they could pay to do work that was done strictly by volunteers before. I became member of several boards, and that's what I have been more or less [inaudible]. After I was a citizen, I was able to show my face,
Ada Bello: [00:21:30] so that was another positive, and a great positive change not to be afraid. Today, when I think the difference, that I can actually show a documentary that was in the public television station,
Ada Bello: [00:22:00] channel 12, about the gay movement in Philadelphia, and I can show it where I live in the retirement home. I mean they weren't only receptive, but they were actually interested. That doesn't mean that the whole world is like that. For me the change had been really this had been like 180 degree,
Ada Bello: [00:22:30] and still not ... there is a long way to go because I think changes take a long time to permeate into the population. Just because the law is changed doesn't that mean people attitudes change immediately. It takes time, and it's almost like it has to go
Ada Bello: [00:23:00] into the DNA, and that hasn't happened obviously.
Betsy Kalin: I just want to say that was amazing. That was one of the best life stories through time in the history of the gay movement that I have ever witnessed.
Peter Lien: Is that your first question?
Betsy Kalin: That was my first. That was amazing.
Betsy Kalin: [00:23:30] You're amazing. Now what I'm going to do is I'm just going to back up and ask you some questions and we'll cover a little bit of the stuff you talked about, but we're just going to fill in some gaps. You said that you realized that you were gay young. Do you want to talk about how you first came to your sexual awareness?
Ada Bello: [00:24:00] I cannot say that I really realized that I was gay when I started having crushes on my nurse. It happened before that. It happened because I didn't feel comfortable what I was supposed to do as a girl. I wasn't interested in dolls. I wasn't interested in playing house.
Ada Bello: [00:24:30] I remember my father at some point brought me a police uniform, which my mother disappear in about a week. I loved it. Just to wear pants.
Ada Bello: [00:25:00] All those things just indicated me that I was not really going to be like everybody else. Then as puberty started, I started having crushes on women definitely. I mean I was absolutely not interested in boys. That really made a difference in terms of how I related to my peers
Ada Bello: [00:25:30] because they were totally different. I'm sure that some of them turned out to be lesbians, but I wasn't there by the time that happened. Then when I went to university, I met one of my fellow student who was older, and she was a lesbian. I mean, again, she didn't say she was a lesbian,
Ada Bello: [00:26:00] but I knew. I think a number of other people in the class knew. She had a successful life. She already had a degree, and she was going for a second degree in chemistry. She had a relationship that was successful to the extent that a relationship could be at that time in Cuba.
Ada Bello: [00:26:30] She lived with her mother, but her partner was having an apartment, so she lived alone, so they could get together and she would get together in her partner's apartment. Still, she, socially was very constrained. They were fairly affluent, so they would go to Miami. There was a ferry that went back and forth to Miami at Havana.
Ada Bello: [00:27:00] They would go to Miami for the weekend. I figure, well, maybe what you need to do, first of all, be economically independent and just tried to get to a place where you're not afraid to go somewhere and you're going to find somebody who knows your aunt. I mean it never occurred to me that you could actually do it overtly.
Ada Bello: [00:27:30] Never know. Didn't allow marriage. Actually that occurred to me that I didn't think it was, if a boy and a girl who love each other marry, why couldn't I marry the person I loved who happened to be a girl? But I knew that that wasn't going to happen.
Ada Bello: [00:28:00] In fact, sometimes I just find it unbelievable. That's how I realized, and I didn't even have a place where I could actually go and find out about what I was feeling. Once I learned the words, I started looking in the dictionary and they were all negative.
Ada Bello: [00:28:30] All of the books, and I read a couple of the books I which were in my father's library, which I'm sure I wasn't supposed to read, there was one that had caused some sort of, not a scandal, but there was talk about something
Ada Bello: [00:29:00] that's extremely progressive in the literary community. The title was El Angel de Sodom , The Angel from Sodom. That already tells you that this isn't going to have a happy ending, and inside they didn't have a happy ending. He ended up throwing himself under the train on his way to the first actual sexual encounter in his life.
Ada Bello: [00:29:30] When you read that, you know that you really don't have a chance. Everybody that I knew that was well known and supposed to be a homosexual was criticized and they were all sort of scandalous stories about,
Ada Bello: [00:30:00] and you couldn't be yourself and be somebody who was not jeopardized from that somehow. You had to close contact with just about everybody. That is when I decided that the only way to do it was to just go into totally new environment
Ada Bello: [00:30:30] where I was totally unrecognized. Yes, I realized very early, and I wonder sometimes about there is a lot of difference from one person to another how they came about discovering their own sexual precedence.
Ada Bello: [00:31:00] I know that once I came here, I started reading novels, but even those weren't particularly positive. The Well of Loneliness, which of course everybody ... I think it's a great book. If she would not had not necessarily given it a bad ending
Ada Bello: [00:31:30] because it was the only way that it could be presented in their time. I think if they make a movie that goes through the whole plot, but just with a happy ending, it will be a great success because so many people, that was the first book that they read that actually was taught to them.
Betsy Kalin: I agree completely about The Well of Loneliness, you can just cut off the ending.
Betsy Kalin: [00:32:00] It seems like the woman that you knew at university was like a role model to you? Is that true?
Ada Bello: Well it was the first one that I saw.
Betsy Kalin: Can you say it again? I was still talking.
Ada Bello: Oh. The person that I met at the university that was a successful lesbian was totally a role model because that was one of the things that I didn't have,
Ada Bello: [00:32:30] and most people didn't have because if they were successful, you didn't know about it. The ones that you knew about were either the subject of ridicule or they were in a position of power whether it was position or money, that they didn't care.
Ada Bello: [00:33:00] If you are very rich and you can even have a fake marriage, which was very prevalent among the upper class, but you have enough money to have different houses and take different vacations too, that was hardly a very practical role model. Yes,
Ada Bello: [00:33:30] I'd say that finding my first role model gave me the first inkling of hope that maybe it was doable.
Betsy Kalin: When you went to Louisiana State, was there a lesbian community there that you got involved with?
Ada Bello: I found out, once I got to Louisiana State in about the first month, I found out that there were quite a few lesbians, but there was not a community per se.
Ada Bello: [00:34:00] I knew people that were not at the university or they had been at the university but they're not really graduated and they were working, there was that group. They had to be extremely careful, again. We would go to New Orleans, and we would go to gay bars in the French Quarter,
Ada Bello: [00:34:30] but we were always fearful that somebody from the university was going to be there. Since the idea of an organization, that was totally out of the question. You probably wouldn't even
Ada Bello: [00:35:00] be able to talk about because it wasn't recognized, a concept. I myself didn't know that there were gay organizations until I came to Philadelphia.
Betsy Kalin: You said earlier that coming to Philadelphia was like an amazing experience and you felt free for the first time. How did you find the community there?
Ada Bello: [00:35:30] Well I had some contacts. When I came to Philadelphia, I had some contacts because coincidentally people that I knew in Baton Rouge knew people in Philadelphia. When I came in, I was able to, they actually were very nice about taking me places,
Ada Bello: [00:36:00] but they themselveswere very much in the closet. However, I heard about gay bars, and then I started to go into gay bars and then there were all contacts. Again, it was all undercover. I mean it wasn't a question of just open the paper and see an advertisement.
Ada Bello: [00:36:30] Rusty's was for years, it wasn't [inaudible]. It was on the side of the Forrest Theatre, Quince Street, on the second floor of a bar that was, the bar that fronted Walnut Street was Barons Celebrity Room and then Rusty's was on top.
Ada Bello: [00:37:00] Baron owned Rusty's. Rusty managed Rusty's, and they had a male bartender because at the time in Philadelphia female could not work behind a bar unless they were the owners. I am sure he was gay, and it was no problem. Then there were a couple other bars,
Ada Bello: [00:37:30] not as well known as Rusty's, but they were all the same. They themselves were not particularly sympathetic to any kind of affection or gesture because they felt that it put them at risk.
Betsy Kalin: How did you get into relationships? How did you find people to be involved with?
Ada Bello: [00:38:00] Well either the bars or private parties, which sometimes happened because you just started having contacts and people have private parties. That was about the only way. If you were in a situation, for example, you were going to school, you probably knew more or less who had inclination.
Ada Bello: [00:38:30] You could follow those leads. I mean Girls High was a select high school for girls in Philadelphia. They did actually provide quite a bit of members of the community. Many people started by meeting each other in Girls High. It might be that they didn't come out to each other until later, but they knew from high school.
Betsy Kalin: [00:39:00] Can you talk a little bit about yourself and any relationships that you had?
Ada Bello: Yeah, I had several relationships, and perhaps I was not the most exemplary partner because a combination of the instability of a situation like that
Ada Bello: [00:39:30] and it almost even gives you the notion that you could plan for long term. It couldn't become the most important part of your life because there were so many other things that would come to interfere.
Ada Bello: [00:40:00] The whole push on society was to separate rather than to ... but yes, I had several relationships, and all I can say that in most cases they were very pleasant and I had continued in contact with my ex-partners. I don't regret any of them.
Betsy Kalin: [00:40:30] Okay, great. Thank you. When you got involved with DOB, what kind of things did you do and how did that impact your life?
Ada Bello: When I started in DOB, as I said, I wasn't a citizen, so I avoided showing my face, but I started writing for the newsletter
Ada Bello: [00:41:00] and at the beginning that was probably the most important function that we had was putting out a newsletter since we weren't taking any action. I couldn't sign the articles, and at some point I guess we felt a little bit more secure. I'd go editor myself, and I started putting our initials, AB and CF. You still see it in there.
Ada Bello: [00:41:30] I think that we didn't use our full names until about the last two issues of the newsletter. That is mostly what I did. Believe it or not, the newsletter, the DOB and then HAL was noticed by quite a few people. Actually we mail it
Ada Bello: [00:42:00] to a lot of people that I'm sure didn't read it, but we had letter from [inaudible] at some point. We had the Philadelphia Magazine mentioned the newsletter. Of course, we couldn't show our faces. We tried to distribute it very widely and not very many places accepted it.
Ada Bello: [00:42:30] Even the bookstore [inaudible]. We weren't going to sell it, they didn't have to sell it, all they had to do is give us a space to put the newsletter, and they said no. I was working there. It occurred to me that there were other ways to approach it,
Ada Bello: [00:43:00] approach the question of a space in the bookstore. At lunch time, and I used to go to the bookstore and would fold the newsletter and put it inside books on the shelf. Particularly there was a book that was one of those outrageous sins that they used to publish at that time against gays in general, and the sickness of homosexuality. That was perfect.
Ada Bello: [00:43:30] People who bought the book got free of charge the newsletter. I don't know how much good that did, but it gave me a great deal of satisfaction.
Peter Lien: Can we pause a second.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah, pause for a second.
Peter Lien: Can you get one of these batteries?
Betsy Kalin: I notice the light is changing too. Is it still the same?
Peter Lien: [inaudible].
Peter Lien: [00:44:00] Yeah, it's like this. It shouldn't change, but maybe the ...
Betsy Kalin: It got darker.
Peter Lien: ... light out here has changed.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah.
Ada Bello: Yeah, the sun is moving.
Peter Lien: We're still rolling. I just wanted to take a break to do that.
Betsy Kalin: Are you good? Do you need some water?
Ada Bello: No, I'm fine so far.
Betsy Kalin: Okay, great.
Peter Lien: [00:44:30] Water?
Betsy Kalin: No, we're good. You talked about earlier the Homophile Action Leagues annual reminder demonstrations. Can you say what you said before?
Ada Bello: In the mid-60s, the Mattachine Society in New York and Washington
Ada Bello: [00:45:00] together with Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen, organized demonstrations in front of Independence Hall on the 4th of July. Those were the reminder of demonstrations, reminder day demonstrations and they went on for five years from '65 to '69. Now HAL didn't have anything to do with them in terms of organizing.
Ada Bello: [00:45:30] We weren't even in existence when they started in '65, but of course we announced them in the newsletter. In 1969, because I have already become a citizen in '68, I was able to march. In fact, I marched and I went around trying to listen
Ada Bello: [00:46:00] for comments from the spectators. I was surprised how many of the comments were positive. HAL didn't really have anything to do with the organization, and very few, if any, of our members marched because they were in Philadelphia.
Ada Bello: [00:46:30] Much of the marchers came from New York and Washington. The first in '65, I understand they had about 40 people. In '69, that was right after Stonewall, there were several bosses from New York, so they had 150 people, and some of the people in Philadelphia, they marched, including myself.
Ada Bello: [00:47:00] That was the last one, because things had changed after the Stonewall. Frank Kameny, who was one of the main organizers of those marches, demanded a very strict dressing code. I'm sure it was a good thing to do
Ada Bello: [00:47:30] in '65 because we needed to break the association with sex in order to bring out the human rights issue. He was trying to separate that. You could not even touch each other in the line. Of course, men would have to be
Ada Bello: [00:48:00] in suit and ties on the 4th of July, this recital and women in skirts and blouses or dresses. By '69, when there were women who wanted to march holding hands, and Frank just hit the ceiling and just went and told them that they couldn't do it. They said, "I'm sorry,
Ada Bello: [00:48:30] but we are going to do it." That was the last one, but they had already made the point. They had connected the demands to the constitution. It wasn't question anymore of tolerating us because we were sick and having pity.
Ada Bello: [00:49:00] We were full citizens and we require, we demanded. They could not be justified just to deny us these rights. That's what the pickets were. In 2015, in Philadelphia, we had
Ada Bello: [00:49:30] an exhibit at Constitutional Center that was the anniversary of 50 years from those pickets. It was very well attended as you can imagine. It's almost like it took 50 years to go from the front of Independence Hall to cross the hall
Ada Bello: [00:50:00] to the Constitution Center. Two blocks, it took 50 years but we made it.
Betsy Kalin: That's a beautiful way to put that. Look at what we've achieved in those 50 years. Let's go back to what you wrote in your article that I read, you said that tumultuous 60s rolled into the calmer 70s and then into the "back to conformity" 80s.
Betsy Kalin: [00:50:30] Can you talk a little bit about that, your thoughts about that?
Ada Bello: Well the mood of the country in the 60s was one of rebellion. It was a propitious moment for everybody to say, "Am I being given
Ada Bello: [00:51:00] what I'm entitled to?" There was of course the question of the war in Vietnam and the protest, which also influenced the atmosphere. Then came the 70s, Nixon got there. Things changed because I think the ferment of the 60s sort of fizzled out,
Ada Bello: [00:51:30] and I think that the war continued and people just got, they used up all their energies in the 60s. That just progressed more and more until you got to the 80s. and I think that the war continued and people just got, they used up all their energies in the 60s. That just progressed more and more until you got to the 80s.
Ada Bello: [00:52:00] Xthan people that started building organizations that were national, that had professionals working for them and it started going into the legislature. That was one of the things that HAL did that was a first in Philadelphia. We had the politicians go to us before election.
Ada Bello: [00:52:30] Milton Shapp, who's a wonderful governor of Pennsylvania that was really one of the ones that was most open to our demands was one of the first to come and talk to us. Yes, I think that the mood of the country had
Ada Bello: [00:53:00] went down in a way that it became much calmer. The way in which you approach the fight was different. You started doing it through established channels, which is not a bad thing. Today, we have today, which we are very much established as part of the system.
Betsy Kalin: [00:53:30] That's true. Did you get involved at all with the feminist movement in the 70s?
Ada Bello: To the extent that I was a female, I was involved. Oh excuse me. Excuse me. As far as the feminist movement, I was not like other activists,
Ada Bello: [00:54:00] like Marge McCann , involved directly in the feminist movement. Within HAL, we made sure that we were very much aware of the attitude, that was very obvious in some groups in which men were, where they actually would call the shots.
Ada Bello: [00:54:30] They have female members, but the female members didn't make decisions. In fact, there was one group called Homosexuals in Tragedy. Yeah, in Tragedies, that accepted women as members, but they couldn't be officers.
Ada Bello: [00:55:00] In other words, they had to be members but they couldn't be president of secretary. They actually explained that as the most natural thing in the world. The newsletter was very clear about that, that we could not. We usually welcome, of course, new groups, but we couldn't welcome them, Homosexuals in Tragedy because it was inadmissible and that was post the Stonewall.
Betsy Kalin: [00:55:30] Then things changed with the coming of AIDS. How did this affect you and the lesbian and gay community?
Ada Bello: Well the coming of AIDS was really a blow to the movement, lesbian or gay.
Ada Bello: [00:56:00] I think that a lot of resources had to go in the direction of that fight, so it was like a hiatus in other fights, it was, because people were dying. Of course, I think lesbians did provide support in many cases.
Ada Bello: [00:56:30] I had several friends who died. I personally had not took care of any of them, but of course, they were losses. It was a tremendous setback in terms of strategy [inaudible] human life.
Betsy Kalin: [00:57:00] Yeah. It was, I think, one of the things that also brought lesbians and gay men closer together.
Ada Bello: There was a feeling before the AIDS epidemic that women, and I think they were totally justified, felt that they had to regroup by themselves in order to be able to establish their presence. When the AIDS epidemic came,
Ada Bello: [00:57:30] to a great extent that was forgotten. There were still women who wanted to remain separate, but that did not mean that ... that didn't apply when it came to the issues of AIDS.
Ada Bello: [00:58:00] The separatist movement was pretty much before AIDS. DOB was all women. HAL was mix. We were always majority women, but that is because we came from DOB, but men could come in.
Ada Bello: [00:58:30] I felt that, and it was very real, that in many organizations were the men automatically took the leading role. Women are actually part of the same society, so it was difficult to actually perceive that right away
Ada Bello: [00:59:00] because that is the way the world functions. Now HAL was different because, as I said, coming from DOB, we were always in the majority, but I can tell you that in the newsletter, since it was anonymous, our articles were about politics and they were not really trivial. Every time that we got a letter from somebody in reaction to one of their articles,
Ada Bello: [00:59:30] they assume that we were male, which it was to me surprising. The guy that was the head of the Mattachine in New York wrote a letter just addressing those guys throughout. Why? Because we were actually not talking about trivial things.
Ada Bello: [01:00:00] We're there to talk about serious things. That was the tone at the time.
Betsy Kalin: Besides the sexism that you experienced in the movement, were there tensions that you experienced within the lesbian community itself?
Ada Bello: [01:00:30] Were there tensions between feminists and lesbians who wanted to work on lesbians? I'm sure there were. I didn't notice that in HAL. As I said, the newsletter was always very alert during the instance of male dominance.
Betsy Kalin: [01:01:00] What about like this between lesbians who wanted to be separatists and lesbians who didn't?
Ada Bello: That came more in the 80s. I mean in the 70s, after where HAL was not in existence anymore.
Ada Bello: [01:01:30] I know because two friends of mine were putting together a book of interviews, of lesbians and there were a man and a woman, in some cases some women wouldn't let him interview them. That came way after Stonewall.
Ada Bello: [01:02:00] It was justified because, again, you had to not only fight the individual man but it's to fight the societal attitude. I think every group needs to regroup before they can actually integrate. I think that to a great extent that had happened.
Betsy Kalin: Did you ever consider yourself a lesbian separatist?
Ada Bello: [01:02:30] No. You couldn't be a lesbian, because you live like a woman and I was never a separatist at all, but I was very much aware that women had good cause to be cautious.
Betsy Kalin: [01:03:00] Do you remember any tensions between bisexual women and the lesbian community?
Ada Bello: Some of the members of HAL were bisexual, and they sometimes wrote for the newsletter and they declared themselves as bisexual. I don't think there was any question of tension,
Ada Bello: [01:03:30] but again, at the time the prevalent belief was well if you declare yourself to be bisexual it's because you're trying to cover your homosexuality, but it's not that bad if you're not 100%, if you are 50%. In cases like Frank Kameny,
Ada Bello: [01:04:00] for example, who was very categorical in his pronouncement, he said, "We defend the 50% that is lesbian or is straight." I mean gay. We don't have to defend them as straight because they have the upper hand,
Ada Bello: [01:04:30] which of course didn't make sense because you can't really chop somebody in half. Yeah, I mean that was pretty much the way, at that time it was bisexuality was considered as sort of a cover.
Betsy Kalin: Can you talk a little bit about your career and if people at work knew if you were gay?
Ada Bello: [01:05:00] At work, I never pretended to be heterosexual. I wasn't out totally. I wasn't out the first job that I got, when I was in the south was in Mississippi and I lasted a year and four month, and it was a very small southern town
Ada Bello: [01:05:30] in Mississippi of about 10,000 people. I wasn't about to let out there. When I came to Philadelphia, I didn't cover myself in terms of where I went or with whom I went, but then I was working at Penn. Then I went on to work for the federal government, and by then again,
Ada Bello: [01:06:00] I didn't carry a sign, but they saw me marching in many cases and nobody said anything. Again, my family wasn't here. That's one of the most important things that differentiated me from most of the people I knew, and I understand when people go run into the closet when their mother comes down the street.
Ada Bello: [01:06:30] I didn't have that. I could actually do anything, but it's difficult. Now people can actually come out in a civilized way. They sit down with their parents and they say it, but at that time, you would expect that they could throw you out, and it was a great blow to them.
Ada Bello: [01:07:00] I never told my parents. They were older. I was born when they were not very young, and I don't think that they could have face it. Their background, as you imagine was like, well the way they were in Cuba at the time. There was no way they could have understood.
Ada Bello: [01:07:30] Yes, I was out but it's not a total issue of courage because I probably wouldn't have been able to do the same thing had I been in Havana.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. Thank you for sharing that. How are we doing on the card?
Peter Lien: We're about to switch over to card B.
Betsy Kalin: Let's switch over. Great. We just need to change our tapes.
Ada Bello: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: [01:08:00] I didn't want to do it in the middle. Did you come out to other people in the family?
Ada Bello: I don't have other people in my family. I was an only child. My mother was an only child. I had two aunts and one uncle,
Ada Bello: [01:08:30] and right now the only family left, I have two cousins. One lives in Miami. Well not in Miami, but in Florida. The other one lives in Havana. Now I have met her once because she was born at just about the time that I was leaving Cuba, so I never met her until 2012 when I went to Cuba
Ada Bello: [01:09:00] and I had tracked her down because she wrote a book and I saw it on the internet. I will have no problem. I didn't have the opportunity to come out, but I wouldn't have any problem coming out because she's a different generation. In fact, she herself, when I was in Havana in 2012,
Ada Bello: [01:09:30] they had a symposium about a Cuban writer who had been ostracized on the time that they were very much anti-gay, after the revolution. He had not committed suicide,
Ada Bello: [01:10:00] but he destroyed a great deal of his work because evidently he never published anything that was overt, but he had written it, and he was afraid that they were going to discover it. Virgilio (Virgilio Piera) was his first name. Then he had a heart attack and supposedly that was brought about by all the pressure. At any rate, he became a known person,
Ada Bello: [01:10:30] and now after that things have changed in Cuba with respect to gays, he had been ... he's actually published again and read again. My cousin was part, one of the speakers in that symposium. She feels very comfortable with the issue.
Ada Bello: [01:11:00] That had been my relationship with my family. My cousin in Florida, I have very little contact with him, and he's a wonderful guy but I dont think he isinterested. If he sees me in something on television or in the internet, so be it, but he can ask me.
Betsy Kalin: [01:11:30] You were talking a little bit about your family, and I didn't really get you to talk about what it was like growing up. Did you grow up in a rural area? Were you middle class? What's your family background?
Ada Bello: Well my father was a lawyer, and he had joined thejudiciary system, which in Cuba at the time was like the civil service. It didn't have anything to do with politics.
Ada Bello: [01:12:00] You joined at the lowest rung and then you go up by seniority. We lived in several places in Cuba because sometimes a promotion took him from one town to another. I was born in Havana, but my family then was living in a small town in one of the provinces because he was a judge there.
Ada Bello: [01:12:30] Then after that, he went to another providence and we lived in Pinar del Rio, which is yet another province, and eventually Matanzas. They were capital of provinces, but they were of course provincial towns. It wasn't like Havana, but my father's family was in Havana, so we visited Havana often.
Betsy Kalin: [01:13:00] I think you had spoken about in one of your interviews where you talked about, it was like the gay and lesbian in Cuba in the 1950s. I think you talked about it today too, was based kind of on class.
Ada Bello: [01:13:30] Yeah, in Cuba, at the time I was there, if you had means and you happened to be gay, first of all, I think that that class was more tolerant. The upper classes were more tolerant than the middle classes because middle class tend to be more, well, of necessity. They don't have the room to actually break the rules and not pay for it.
Ada Bello: [01:14:00] However, the upper classes, they could actually either go into marriage of convenience. They could have separate housing and they could travel. That was definitely an advantage. I was middle class. My family was middle class,
Ada Bello: [01:14:30] so we were stuck in the bourgeois limitations of behavior. It was definitely much more difficult.
Betsy Kalin: Then once you came to the U.S. and you were involved in DOB and other organizations, did you find any sort of racism against you as a Latina?
Ada Bello: [01:15:00] I don't think I was treated in any way different because I was Cuban. First of all, there were many of us, as always. What made the difference between people is economic position more than ethnicity.
Ada Bello: [01:15:30] Ethnicity comes of course when there are prejudices and then it can be applied to somebody who had a economically comfortable position. However, I think in your everyday relation, people at the same economic level tend to have the same interest. Therefore, they can talk to each other.
Ada Bello: [01:16:00] I know that when I was in Baton Rouge, some of my roommates were very friendly with me, but they were a little bit leery of inviting me home. Not because they themselves agreed, but they were afraid that their parents were not ready for somebody like me.
Ada Bello: [01:16:30] To me that didn't make any sense because I was never discriminated in Cuba. There were people in Cuba that were discriminated. The poor, the black, like your regular suspects, but not my class. The fact that this person was having difficulty taking me home
Ada Bello: [01:17:00] reflected on her and her parents, not on me. You perceive these things differently when you have not had to live with that from the day you were born.
Betsy Kalin: That's very interesting. Do you think having that experience in college, some people wouldn't bring you home,
Betsy Kalin: [01:17:30] when you went and joined the gay movement, was that something that maybe was an underlying factor, you were realizing that you need to speak up and talk about human rights, civil rights?
Ada Bello: When I went into the gay movement, I wasn't even aware that I was Latina. I was a lesbian,
Ada Bello: [01:18:00] and I had a problem with the fact that I wasn't a citizen, but I didn't see that as a handicap, which again had to do with the fact that I was never growing up in a position of being discriminated against. There were very few Latinas in the movement.
Ada Bello: [01:18:30] Particularly in a city like Philadelphia, there is the Puerto Rican community, but again, the Puerto Rican community was not that much part of the professional life. Again, they were very much on the, whoever it was there, they were very much under the threat of the family and church.
Ada Bello: [01:19:00] That had changed also, which is very good. There are Puerto Rican activists today, but yes, there were two Cubans actually, myself and somebody in HAL, the DOB from the beginning and then they went on to HAL. Neither one of us was a citizen,
Ada Bello: [01:19:30] and we joined under false names until I became a citizen. Then it was not a problem.
Betsy Kalin: I just want to talk about in 2015, you actually won an award in Philadelphia, and it was the David Acosta Revolutionary Leader Award.
Ada Bello: [01:20:00] Yeah, his organization, GALAEI, gave me their award for which I am very grateful. I guess because at the beginning there weren't many Latinos, and of course he has a very significant career
Ada Bello: [01:20:30] as a Latino activist. All I can say, it was a great honor.
Betsy Kalin: We sent you a questionnaire that you filled out, and I just want to go over and make sure that we've covered the things that you've talked about in the questionnaire. One of the things, one of the questions that we asked
Betsy Kalin: [01:21:00] was please list three key events, experiences or people from your early years that helped shape who you are today. Your answer I thought was really interesting because you talked about hearing about the gay movement, that there were people like me who were fighting for our rights to have complete lives like everybody else. Can you talk about that? State your feelings?
Ada Bello: [01:21:30] Hearing about the gay movement, hearing about the people who were like me and were fighting for rights, for citizen rights, had a great impact because it gave me ... well first of all, I felt that I wasn't the only one that wasnt so happy about the situation.
Ada Bello: [01:22:00] Also there was now a conduit, a way in which I could contribute. It did give me the opportunity of first of all thinking about myself as capable of contributing to something that was so fundamental to me,
Ada Bello: [01:22:30] that there were people doing that already that I didn't have to actually be the first one, even if I have failed like that all my life. When I was in Havana University, I used to go to a place that is still there, it's called La Rampa. It's sort of a boulevard that goes all the way to the sea.
Ada Bello: [01:23:00] They had a lot of stores all the way down. One of them was a bookstore, and in there I just was going through the books and found the translation of the Wendell Corey, the homosexual in American translated into Spanish. Of course, I didn't there buy it
Ada Bello: [01:23:30] and take it home to read, but I used to go walking after dinner and just went and read a little piece every night. Even that was so unbelievably narrow, particularly at the end when this guy said that he advised gay men to marry because they had to have somebody to take care of them in their old age.
Ada Bello: [01:24:00] That was how I configured the universe. To know about somebody like Barbara who was not only female but very aggressive in a very non-aggressive way, opened a whole new world. Yes,
Ada Bello: [01:24:30] being aware and then joining the movement and then I could actually do things and even if there were a little bit behind the curtain at the beginning, I eventually graduated to show my face, and that's true. It's like it's almost a dream come true.
Betsy Kalin: [01:25:00] Beautiful. Thank you. I think this is just clarifying a little bit of what you just said. You had talked about dropping the mask and participating in marches and other actions and how that was empowering.
Ada Bello: [01:25:30] Going to the march for the first Christopher Street March in New York, and going with friends from Philadelphia. By the way, HAL, not myself, but the president and the secretary then were very much involved in the organizing of the first march, first Christopher Street March.
Ada Bello: [01:26:00] Going there and just marching with my people, with people on both sides of the street, not being receptive, being positive, we did have some people who tried to come in and disrupt the march. They were definitely in the minority.
Ada Bello: [01:26:30] It was almost like, my god, maybe I was wrong to be afraid, which I wasn't.
Betsy Kalin: Great. We asked also what would you name as the most important underlying reason for the progress that the LGBTQ community has made. Do you want me to read you your answer?
Ada Bello: [01:27:00] Yeah, I think I have an idea.
Betsy Kalin: You said, "I don't think one can cite a most important reason. Progress occurs through changes, large and small, that in turn affect the circumstances which bring about other changes. If I were to pick one development that brought about progress in the LGTB community, it would be the demystification of sex that occurred in the late 60s. Once we were no longer defined by our sexual practices, we could be seen as another group fighting for our constitutional rights." That's beautiful.
Ada Bello: [01:27:30] Well that is exactly, I will say that. It is. First we had to separate our movement from strictly the sex issue. Then we had to also make sure that we no longer were considered sick,
Ada Bello: [01:28:00] and that was very much the work of Barbara and Kay and Frank Kameny and the fight with the APA. Once we got into the terrain of constitutional rights, that was the thing that actually pushed through until we are where we are today
Ada Bello: [01:28:30] because the decisions have been made on the basis of the constitutional rights. For that, we had to separate. We had to make sure that everybody realized that we were more than sexual beings and that we were not diseased, that we were not sick.
Ada Bello: [01:29:00] It was I think 1973 when they took us out of the manual, and by the way, it was not until 2013 that transsexual were taken out. It was in for a long time.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah, that's a big difference. For the historical record,
Betsy Kalin: [01:29:30] can you talk about three known and unsung heroes in the gay rights revolution who are most important to you?
Ada Bello: Well Barbara Gittings. I mean certainly she's not unsung, but it is definitely somebody who showed me how to fight. I will never be as good as she was in terms of convincing an audience,
Ada Bello: [01:30:00] because she was unique in that. She could actually face any group, but she gave me the idea of how it could be done. Plus the fact that we became friends and she liked movies and I liked movies,
Ada Bello: [01:30:30] and so we had that also in common and we could actually go see some movie that lasted six hours that Kay wouldn't actually consider going. We were neighbors actually in West Philadelphia for several years. As for the rest, the women that joined DOB and continued in HAL,
Ada Bello: [01:31:00] they were in a way, I didn't know what to expect when they started the organization. Each one of them was taking a risk and was willing to take the risk to live with dignity. There were a diverse group, I mean we were all professional mostly
Ada Bello: [01:31:30] and middle class, and we did have one African American member who of course being a schoolteacher had to join under an assumed name. We had a male African American later on when we were in HAL and that was the extent of it.
Ada Bello: [01:32:00] We had a member that was very savvy politically because she came from an activist family. We had a member that was working for IBM and had a security clearance, yet she was taking the chance of joining with her real name. We had one Marilyn Sower. She was a working class woman,
Ada Bello: [01:32:30] and she was very valuable in letting us know the difference of surviving as a lesbian in one sphere and the other. That was actually very, I hate to say educational, but it was. I discovered that there were
Ada Bello: [01:33:00] all these people that were really able to take the risk just to satisfy their desire to become full human beings. I guess I had come
Ada Bello: [01:33:30] in contact with a number of other people in all these years of activism. William Way, Bill Way who, I think he was a city planner from Philadelphia, he didn't have much to do with a gay movement at the time. He was a native Philadelphian, and
Ada Bello: [01:34:00] he went to Harrisburg for a job, and then came back to Philadelphia. Bill, I think he was assistant executive director of the Redevelopment Alternative . He worked for the city. The community center have had different iterations that were all in some hole in the wall,
Ada Bello: [01:34:30] and so basements and abandoned hotel. We ended up without the walls. Bill, maybe through Mark Segal just decided that he was going to help us, and he actually gave us the first idea
Ada Bello: [01:35:00] that we don't have to make do with something that is like the last resort. We could actually plan for a big enterprise. Now we might have to scale it down, but let's not start here. Let's just start there. We went through month of planning with him,
Ada Bello: [01:35:30] and he was very knowledgeable about how things can develop. I'm sure, he used to go ... well we didn't have a building, any kind of locale. The center was our walls. The LGBT Center was our walls.
Ada Bello: [01:36:00] I guess if it hadn't been for him, he wouldn't have the center of today. When I go there and I know the building probably could stand for improvements, it's an old building, but my god, what a difference it was. I mean the last one, which I remember,
Ada Bello: [01:36:30] was in the basement of a hotel that eventually burned down, and we had to move out because the building was condemned. I remember going there with my co-chair one night to pick up some of the paper that we had left behind. We walk in and there were rats sitting on the seats.
Ada Bello: [01:37:00] William Way looks.... I think the vision came from Bill, who was the first person I knew who died of AIDS.
Betsy Kalin: I didn't know that. Thank you for sharing.
Ada Bello: There's one other person I would like to say something about, and maybe you have heard the name. The name is Rita Addessa. She is somebody who had done a lot. She's a difficult person,
Ada Bello: [01:37:30] and she's one of those people who is never satisfied. Unfortunately you need that sort of person to make you not feel too comfortable and move things forward, but it is very hard on them because they become odd man out. In this case, odd woman out. She was responsible.
Ada Bello: [01:38:00] She was the founder and executive director of the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force, and they were the people who actually pushed through the ordinance that brought gay and lesbian as a protected minority in terms of civil rights, which is still in existence. That happened in '83.
Ada Bello: [01:38:30] It was very much a task force, and also some of the council people, I think two of the council were Blackwell, who is dead now and David Cohen were the ones who actually pushed it through. Rita worked on that very much.
Ada Bello: [01:39:00] Throughout the end, the task force didn't have enough money to really even pay her a salary, but she kept working without a salary until the thing came to an end. Her papers and information about the task force are at Temple in the archives.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you. Thank you for telling me about her. These questions are supposed to be short and just a few sentence answers.
Ada Bello: [01:39:30] Do I repeat the question?
Betsy Kalin: The questions that I'm going to ask you now, they're supposed to be short answers to these questions.
Ada Bello: But do I have to repeat the question?
Betsy Kalin: Yeah, you still have to kind of weave ...
Ada Bello: Yeah, weave it in, okay.
Betsy Kalin: You don't have to say exactly what I say. If a person comes to you tomorrow and says he or she is thinking of coming out. What advice or guidance would you give them?
Ada Bello: [01:40:00] If somebody will ask me today if they should come out, I would tell them first of all to look around in their environment, where are they located in time, at this time? If you are in a position that is vulnerable, the work is in let's say a small locale where there is just everybody knows everybody,
Ada Bello: [01:40:30] I would say don't come out with a bang. You can always come out to people that you trust. I don't really feel that you should be pushed out of the closet. All the people who are total hypocrites about,
Ada Bello: [01:41:00] who actually are anti-gay because they themselves are gay and they can't understand, those I will push out of the closet. Even today it's a hell of a lot easier to come out, and in some cases I'm sure that even it's an advantage because you're going to make the news. You should look around and see the circumstances
Ada Bello: [01:41:30] because it's misleading to go by what you perceive, what gets to the newspaper. Everybody is not supportive of everybody. Well different places have different moors.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you. Then what is your hope for the future?
Ada Bello: [01:42:00] For the future, I would like to get to a point in which your sexual orientation is irrelevant and is not taken more seriously than the color of your eyes.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you. Why is it important for you to tell your story?
Ada Bello: [01:42:30] For anybody who had an activist life, has had a certain obligation of passing on the experience because in some cases it might be useful for people going, the new generation. The way I felt about finding out about the gay movement, I would imagine
Ada Bello: [01:43:00] that even with all of the openness that young people have today, it's nice to know that first of all, it wasn't like that all the time. Get a little bit of an idea that there are still pockets of society where things are not totally open, and you never know exactly
Ada Bello: [01:43:30] how things are going to go. History's very important. It's not that things happen exactly the same way, but human beings are all the same and we all react the same way no matter what. We kill each other because we say we are different, but really we kill each other because we are the same.
Ada Bello: [01:44:00] History teaches of that. To that extent, I think it's important for us to relate our experience.
Betsy Kalin: Perfect. Thank you. OUTWORDS is the first national project to capture and share our history through in depth interviews. Why is this important and please mention OUTWORDS in your answer.
Ada Bello: I'm very glad that OUTWORDS is doing this because it preserve
Ada Bello: [01:44:30] all the stories that might not be exactly what you can find in books, but it does talk about the individual and what happened to them in their experiences. This is the sort of thing that will be lost unless somebody writes it down or records it. Janet Flanner,
Ada Bello: [01:45:00] the who used to write for The New Yorker from Paris, that's one of the things that I never met her, but people who did told me. She always told write everything. Don't let anything just disappear. I'm very glad that OUTWORDS is doing that.
Betsy Kalin: Thank you. Peter, do you have any questions?
Peter Lien: No, I think you covered it really well.
Betsy Kalin: [01:45:30] Okay. Well do you have anything that I forgot to ask you that you think is important that you want to talk about that we didn't talk about?
Ada Bello: Something that I haven't mentioned, and I think it's not that important, it's just important to me, because coming from Cuba is the fact that
Ada Bello: [01:46:00] there is the concept in this country that homosexuals were not oppressed in Cuba until after the revolution, because Americans visiting Havana had a great time. Of course, Havana was a place, during Batista particularly where anybody could do anything. No matter how weird your desires were,
Ada Bello: [01:46:30] they could be satisfied. I'm sure that a lot of gay people from here went the same way that the Cubans went, to Miami because they knew nobody knew them. It wasn't really a paradise and it wasn't open, certainly not for the middle class. What the revolution did was
Ada Bello: [01:47:00] they actually introduced laws that didn't exist before. The Napoleonic Code is the basis of model the civil codes in Latin America, and they not really are not very specific about homosexuals. They do say something about not doing it in the streets, it will scare the horses, but that sort of thing. After Castro took over,
Ada Bello: [01:47:30] particularly we see influence of the Russians and Eastern Europe and China. First they determined people who had not been socialized, so that included a lot of people that had different lives, whether they were some artists
Ada Bello: [01:48:00] like Pablo Milanes that is a very well known singer, ended up in a camp. Conscientious objectors who didn't want to join the army, and homosexuals because that was, I mean for the people that were anti-gay just out of tradition, now they have something where they can put their hands on them. It was horrible.
Ada Bello: [01:48:30] That movie by Nstor Almendros is a very good movie but it's only one sided. It never mentioned the people in Cuba who actually fought them, and that was difficult and it was courageous. There was a woman that was like the grand dame of the Cuban theater, Raquel Revuelta. She fought them.
Ada Bello: [01:49:00] Obviously there were a lot of actors that ended up in the camps, and she definitely defied authority, and of course her position allowed her to do that because anything happened to her, it would have been a scandal. In fact, because Cubans make jokes out of everything, they call her
Ada Bello: [01:49:30] Santa Raquel de las Locas, which means St. Raquel of the Queers because she was protecting everybody. Alicia Alonso went to Fidel personally and said, "If this continues, I am going to defect." That had never been presented, and I think it's a loss. Thank God that didn't last, not
Ada Bello: [01:50:00] because so much the pressure of this country. Around the world, all the Latin American countries, particularly Western Europe, pressure the Cuban government to stop that. It did last three years and it was very bad and it was very disruptive to many families. Today, it had actually
Ada Bello: [01:50:30] changed to the totally other extreme. You know Mariela Castro and her work. It's to me amazing that Cuba had progressed to that extent because machismo is ingrained. I have found the last time I was in Havana and I was part of the symposium, I was amazed
Ada Bello: [01:51:00] how naturally they had just gone into that. I never expected them to do that.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you. Nobody that I know so far has even talked about that, so that's really important to share.
Ada Bello: Yeah, that was one of the reasons I was so glad that I was given the opportunity to participate in the panel with Mariela because I wanted to say this.
Ada Bello: [01:51:30] It's not to justify it. It's just that that's the whole history. It doesn't mean that all Cubans were involved in this persecution.
Betsy Kalin: Right. Thank you. We need to do ...
Peter Lien: Room tone.
Betsy Kalin: ... room tone.
Ada Bello: Oh, sorry.
Peter Lien: Could everybody just be quiet.
Betsy Kalin: No, moving, no talking.
Peter Lien: Try not to move around for the next 60 seconds, starting at room tone. Okay.
Betsy Kalin: [01:53:00] We need to roll it once with just noise in the background.
Peter Lien: The clock?
Betsy Kalin: No. Right now there's like a humming. I think the fridge.
Ada Bello: Yeah, the fridge. Yeah.
Betsy Kalin: We'll just need to roll again when the ...
Peter Lien: All right, room tone.
Betsy Kalin: It's still on. Still on. We got to wait.
Peter Lien: [inaudible].
Betsy Kalin: [01:54:00] I hear it. Wow, it's going for a long time this time. That was the fridge. It as going on and off for a whole ...
Peter Lien: [inaudible].
Betsy Kalin: Okay. It's just it really gets nice and quiet and you can hear the clock much better.
Ada Bello: [01:54:30] Yeah, you can ...
Peter Lien: It stopped?
Betsy Kalin: I'm going to go turn it off so that we can just ...
Peter Lien: I don't think I can hear that.
Ada Bello: Yeah, change the temperature I guess.
Peter Lien: [inaudible] refrigerator.
Betsy Kalin: [01:55:00] Okay.
Peter Lien: You sure it's not me breathing?
Peter Lien: Well there's that too. Okay, we're still rolling on ...
Peter Lien: [inaudible].
Betsy Kalin: [01:56:00] Great thank you. I'm going to go turn the fridge back on.
Peter Lien: All right.

Interviewed by: Betsy Kalin
Camera: Peter Lien
Date: April 15, 2018
Location: Home of Ada Bello, Philadelphia, PA