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Amy Ross was born in La Crescenta, California on April 28, 1953, and grew up in nearby Glendale. Semi-rural and idyllic in its own way, Amy’s hometown was very limited for someone with a keen mind and a strong penchant for improving the world.

Amy also grew up in with a Jewish father – a fact she didn’t discover until she was 60 years old. Her father had changed his last name to hide his Jewish heritage. In spite of her parent’s conservative politics, Amy was radicalized as a teenager, joining protests against the Vietnam War. She was also a voracious reader – and Glendale was simply too small. Her first attempt at escape came via marriage to a man at 21. That didn’t work. Within four years, Amy was out on her own, ready to define her sexuality, her work, and her life.

Amy’s activism went from a spark to a blaze with the 1978 Briggs Initiative, which aimed to ban gay men and lesbians from working in California public schools. Thanks to the fervent efforts of  queer men and women and their allies up and down the state, the Briggs Initiative was rejected by California voters. The Golden State would never be the same, and neither would Amy. After earning her BA from Cal State Fresno in 1980, she earned her Ph.D. in experimental pathology from USC in 1986. For more than 30 years, she worked primarily in the field of cancer diagnostics. She also used her scientific training to help develop early treatments against HIV/AIDS. Amy holds three patents in the United States, and she has contributed as author and co-author to over 75 scientific publications.

Amy has also worked tirelessly to advance the visibility and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the STEM professions. To this end, she and a group of colleagues formed the LA Gay Scientists, which evolved to become the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP). Amy also helped found the USC Lambda LGBT Alumni Association in 1992, the first of its kind in the university. In 2000, she endowed the Amy Ross Scholarship in LGBT Health Studies. In 2008, she was elected to the USC Alumni Association’s Board of Governors, and in 2015, she became the first out LGBTQ+ person elected to the USC Board of Trustees. 

Amy’s partner of more than 30 years is UCLA distinguished psychology professor Connie Hammen. Although Connie is an internationally recognized researcher in the psychopathology of mood disorders, Amy jokes that her greatest ability is putting up with Amy herself.
 
Amy Ross has humor, warmth, and a steely determination to get things done for the good of humanity. When Covid-19 struck in March 2020, OUTWORDS had to figure out how to conduct virtual interviews. Ever the rational, objective scientist, Amy agreed to be our guinea pig. We are forever grateful for this, and for her decades of vigorous activism on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community.
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] Nodding and smiling, but not actually verbalizing, that's why. I heard Tom remind you that it's helpful if you can incorporate my question into your answer. Thats helpful as well. And then as Andrew would say, we'll take a couple breaks. Its always nice just to stand up and move around a little bit. So its 2:15 now, by three oclock at the latest, well just take a little stretch break and resume. Then well aim to be done by, I would say 4:15.
Amy Ross Sounds good.
Andrew Funk: [00:00:30] Ok, and we are recording, so I'm going to mute myself.
Amy Ross: Thank you.
Mason Funk: Thank you, Andrew. So, Amy, this is such an exciting moment for our kids OUTWORDS for a couple of reasons, including that it's our first ever online interview representing something of a kind of a quantum leap forward for the organization.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] I so appreciate you being willing to be our guinea pig. You made that very clear from the first time I asked, and that has been very reassuring to me and the whole team. As Amy says, OK, she's going to be a guinea pig. Thank you for that. And then beyond that, I feel like I struck gold when Dallas referred me to you, because your story is so inspiring, and you're also just a great speaker. By the way, another thing that Tom [inaudible] talked about,
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] you may feel like your answers ramble, but compared to some people we've interviewed, your answers are really beautifully concise and to the point. Please don't worry if you go down a little tangent because you always come back, whereas some people I have to go out with like a fishing line, chasing them through fields to try to bring them back to the original question, so youre a pro at that.. So first of all, we always start by just asking you to state and spell your first and last names.
Amy Ross: [00:02:00] My name is Amy Ross. A-M-Y. R-O-S-S.
Mason Funk: And could you please state the location and date of your birth?
Amy Ross: I was born in Glendale, California on April 28th, 1953.
Mason Funk: Ok. Thank you for the questionnaire. Thank you for sitting through the pre-interview with Tom. Lots of amazing stories.
Mason Funk: [00:02:30] I always like to start at the beginning. I love the stories of growing up in the Tujunga, La Crescenta area. I know what that area is like now. I can only imagine it sixty years ago, very wild with the [inaudible] hills there and the rattlesnakes. But the first thing that made me wonder about is, tell us about growing up taking great delight in chasing rattlesnakes, catching rattlesnakes. Why werent you scared?
Amy Ross: [00:03:00] Ok. Pretty much when I look back on it, I would say my childhood and growing up was wonderful. It was idyllic. Trying to put it into context of where we are right now. In June of 2020, I was too isolated. I grew up in a very white community in suburban Los Angeles, up in the foothills. It was very rural. But in the late 50s, early 60s, it was idyllic to us. All of the kids, we got along, we went to the same school. Our parents never worried about us for one second.
Amy Ross: [00:03:30] There was no helicoptering in those days. It was like you come home from school, get your homework done, and then be home by dinnertime. So I had so many wonderful adventures, and I was really a tomboy. So being able to grow up in that environment was wonderful. My favorite thing to do was after I come home, get everything, get the homework done was to go out and explore. And because of where we lived, our house looked right up against the mountains. So going up and exploring was so much fun to me.
Amy Ross: [00:04:00] Being a tomboy, I hung out mostly with the boys. They were much more fun. I had no interest in playing house as all of my contemporary girlfriends would do. I wanted to go be with the boys. So, a perfect day for me would be to come home, put on my hiking gear, go up in the mountains with the boys. Now, the boys had a little bit of a ritual. This is where I knew right off that even though I was a tomboy, I didn't quite fit in with them. The boys liked to catch rattlesnakes,
Amy Ross: [00:04:30] which were abundant up there in the hills. And then, as you know, with rattlesnakes, the older they get, the number of rattles. So the bigger the rattlesnake you caught, the older, the more rattles. So the boys would kill the rattlesnakes, and then they would make necklaces out of the rattles. It was a big macho thing. But being a girl, I couldn't participate in that. I could tag along, but I was excluded. But it was OK because I was also kind of a science nerd growing up. So what I would do is once they'd kill the rattlesnakes,
Amy Ross: [00:05:00] which you do by chopping its head off, I would take the snake home. So one day I hit a bounty. It was a rattlesnake that had just eaten a gopher. So I took it home, and it was the summer. I went out into the backyard where my dad - we were like an Ozzie and Harriet family in the fifties and sixties. My dad would come home and barbecue a steak at night. So I went in, and I got my dad's steak knives and everything, put on my mom's yellow latex gloves because I needed surgical gloves,
Amy Ross: [00:05:30] and I dissected both the snake and the gopher. I was so proud of myself because I really wanted to be a surgeon growing up. That was another thing. My dad said I couldn't be a doctor because I was a girl, but I could be a nurse. So this is as close as I get. I was so proud that I knew the organs of the snake. I knew the organs of the gopher. Well, when my dad came home, I was grounded for I can't even remember how long, because I ruined the steak knives, I ruined the table.
Amy Ross: [00:06:00] So, anyway. Just to encapsulate that, that was kind of an era of growing up back then when kids have very few boundaries. But as I say, looking through it now. 60s, well, I was about seven years old at the time. Looking back on it sixty years later, being so isolated and having so few experiences with people other than myself. Our neighborhood was all white, our everything. The school was almost all white. That I missed out on a lot.
Amy Ross: [00:06:30] So I feel at this stage of my life, particularly with what we have going on now in the world, in the United States in particular, I have a lot to learn.
Mason Funk: Great. Thank you for that. Andrew texted me, give me a sec Andrew. Ok, hold on. He sent me a text on my phone. Its about theres a new book cover in the lower right of webcam image, might want to change.
Mason Funk: [00:07:00] There's a new book cover. Oh, you might have been messing around with your book. There's a book to your left, it shows. It's a picture with a kind of a. We don't need the cover.
Amy Ross: I don't have any. So this is getting in.
Andrew Lush: So I did notice that before, we added it at the last moment, Mason.
Andrew Lush: [00:07:30] If you don't like it, we can either move it now [inaudible]
Amy Ross: Oh, I have an idea. I have an idea of what I could do to get these all out of the way. The camera, it would take a second. I would have to move. I've got my printer that's up here on a stand. If I move the printer away, I could put just maybe one book and the phone up here. Do you want me to try?
Amy Ross: [00:08:00] Is that worth a try?
Mason Funk: Andrew, is that what you're referring to, or are you referring to the book that is... Is there a book just in front of your to your left?
Amy Ross: To my left. These are all of the books that I have the phone on.
Andrew Lush: Yeah, I can confirm. So we're all talking about the same book. Its whats propping the phone up.
Mason Funk: [00:08:30] I see, OK. Is there any way maybe to move that book further away from you?
Amy Ross: Well, the problem is with my desk, there is a stationary stand that the printer's on. But what I can do is try to move the printer away and get rid of the books and put it up there. Want me to try that? OK, hold on. Printers kind of heavy.
Andrew Lush: [00:09:00] [inaudible]
Mason Funk: Thats okay, Andrew.
Amy Ross: As long as we don't have an earthquake, this could work. All right. So now I'm going to go to probably that I could remove all of these, but you might. I don't have any cords.
Andrew Lush: No cords.
Amy Ross: [00:09:30] Hows that?
Andrew Lush: Looking good on your webcam.
Amy Ross: Ok, because there's no notebooks or anything now.
Andrew Lush: Great. We actually just need a little inch more headroom above you. I know you took a scoot forward, but will it be OK to take a scoot back?
Andrew Lush: That looks good to me. That looks great. Maybe just on
Andrew Lush: [00:10:00] Maybe just one more screenshot Ill send to Mason, is that okay? Just look at your phone like you're talking to him
Andrew Lush: [inaudible]
Mason Funk: No, Andrew, thank you for that.
Andrew Lush: Ok, great. It's looking pretty good right now. One moment.
Mason Funk: [00:10:30] Andrew, just to be sure, in the screenshot you sent me via text, there's a reflection of a window. Thats in your place.
Andrew Lush: Thats my computer, yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. I wanted to be sure of that.
Andrew Lush: Ok, I am sending you a new screenshot, Mason.
Mason Funk: Are you doing that via Zoom or to my phone?
Andrew Lush: Via Zoom. It'll be a little more clear. Loading, loading, and sent.
Amy Ross: [00:11:00] Did you want to repeat that, Mason?
Mason Funk: No, no, itll be totally fine. That looks great. Perfect.
Andrew Lush: And we are still recording, so I am just going to turn my video off.
Mason Funk: [00:11:30] So Amy, that's a great story about those rattlesnakes. I have my own rattlesnake story that Ill save for another time. Also, your dad is a fascinating character, really great character, you guys were super close. He was that dad that a lot of people really want, and he was very conservative and an anti-Semitic Jew.
Mason Funk: [00:12:00] So theres a lot there. I think I want to set aside the story of him changing his name to disguise his Jewish identity for a separate question. But I wonder if you could just talk about your dad, your mom as parents, and in particular the great conservative ethos that was in your home.
Amy Ross: Sure. My parents were wonderful. They were kind of the epitome of what you would expect parents to be in the late 50s and 60s.
Amy Ross: [00:12:30] My dad was involved with women's garment manufacturing in downtown Los Angeles, which at that time was one of the largest garment manufacturing places in the country. My mom was a stay at home housewife. So she did everything for us. I had two sisters. I'm the eldest, explains a lot. It was interesting because I grew up in a very, very politically conservative household.
Amy Ross: [00:13:00] One of my earliest memories was in the early 60s, we were very concerned that we were going to be bombed, probably by Russia, or maybe there was the Cuban Missile Crisis that I went through in elementary school. We were so terrified of nuclear war. We had duck and cover drills. You would dive underneath your desk and cover your neck like this, and that's somehow going to protect you from a nuclear attack. My father, in his conservative political beliefs, really bought into that.
Amy Ross: [00:13:30] He was a big Barry Goldwater supporter. But when we were so terrified in the early 60s of nuclear annihilation, even with my father with his beliefs, I kept harping on him that we needed a bomb shelter. If he really was going to be a true conservative, then we needed a bomb shelter. He refused, probably because he was not handy around the house. He didn't even have a hammer. So the idea of him building a bomb shelter, I suppose, was kind of ridiculous. But my best friend in the neighborhood, we lived in
Amy Ross: [00:14:00] a cul de sac. Her father, again, too, very, very conservative Republican, he built a bomb shelter. So one of the things that I became friends with her because she was kind of a lonely kid, didn't have a lot of friends. And she told me if I would be her best friend, that I could come to the bomb shelter when we were attacked. So that's what I did. I grew up with a very, very strong... Well, I take it back. My parents had a very, very strong conservative ideology.
Amy Ross: [00:14:30] I drifted from that very early on. I was a voracious reader. I really liked my government and political science classes in school. So I became a radical, and in high school, I went to protests during the Vietnam War. During the bombing of Cambodia, I made a black armband out of one of my father's dress socks, and I was called into the principal's office for that. In addition to bringing a copy of Eldridge Cleavers book Soul on Ice to school.
Amy Ross: [00:15:00] So that was to the great consternation, particularly of my father.
Mason Funk: To people who know you now, right now, you are the very image of elegance and refinement. If they saw pictures of you from that era, would they be surprised? And by the way, I hope thats one of the pictures you share with us.
Amy Ross: It's interesting because people always ask me, I kind of look the same.
Amy Ross: [00:15:30] And now with the abundance of social media, with all my old high school friends and even friends from before that. Were old people, so we're on Facebook, but we look and people say, Amy, I would pick you out anywhere. I would know you. So I think that's really kind of cool. This year, had things not turned out the way they did for cancellations of events in 2020 because of the coronavirus epidemic, we were supposed to have our fiftieth high school reunion. I graduated in 1970.
Amy Ross: [00:16:00] And so to keep track of all of these people throughout the years, it's great. Particularly, reconnecting now with the reunion coming up, and people saying to me, particularly some of those who kept track of me throughout the years, I always knew you'd turn out like that.
Mason Funk: What do you think they mean when they say that?
Amy Ross: When people say, I always knew youd turn out like that, Im not sure sometimes how to take it. I think it depends on the person whos saying it.
Amy Ross: [00:16:30] People who always knew that I had an activist bent to me, that any type of injustice did not sit well, and I would do anything I could to change it, I think that doesn't surprise them. Maybe some of my more conservative leaning friends just say, Yeah, you were really a pain in the ass back then. And some things just don't change. I am still that, but Im happy I am.
Mason Funk: Im curious. I think you said, not surprisingly,
Mason Funk: [00:17:00] youre the first born, but then you said something like, not surprisingly, I went my own way. But I tend to think of first-born kids, stereotypically speaking, as the ones who are likely to be very much rule followers. I was a rule follower, third-born, massive rule follower. So I always love hearing stories of people who just popped out of the womb and started questioning things and breaking rules and reading. A couple of great teachers, but did they create that, or did they tap into something that already existed?
Amy Ross: [00:17:30] You know, it's interesting, I did make the comment kind of cryptically about being a first born. But I think if you look at everything from astrology to psychology about traits of firstborns, we tend to be very stubborn, very independent. I can - really anybody who knows me - really emphasize stubborn, but independent. Even as a small child,
Amy Ross: [00:18:00] I didn't take if somebody said something to me, Well, this is the way it is or we do it. I always questioned why. Why was it that way? So going through school, even from elementary school all the way through graduate school, I was really blessed with wonderful, wonderful teachers. I think teachers like an independent mind. I have taught myself not in school, but in medical school.
Amy Ross: [00:18:30] I really think that an instructor values when a student has an independent train of thought and doesn't just accept something, whether it's written in a book or whether somebody says it. So I was very lucky in that every teacher I had, like I say, from probably kindergarten all the way through my advisor in my PhD program, they always tapped into that sense of me that wanted to know more, that was independent. I think from early on, that has shaped who I am.
Amy Ross: [00:19:00] I am so grateful because the teachers and the professors I had were so instrumental in forming who I am today.
Mason Funk: Especially thinking to high school, because that is so, so important to who we are, are there any other teachers you want to give a shout out to, even if they're not still around or if you don't know [inaudible]? Any particular names?
Amy Ross: Yeah. My high school teachers were interesting. I was in the track,
Amy Ross: [00:19:30] even though it was not really explicit, but for kids who were higher achievers and had higher grades. So I had several transformative teachers in high school, and again, as my burgeoning, very liberal self came bubbling up. My government teacher, Mr. Graham, he was very liberal, and he took a lot of flack because he taught in the Glendale Unified School District, which was traditionally very conservative. I remember it was when the television show 60 Minutes first premiered.
Amy Ross: [00:20:00] So this was like 1967 or 1968. He told us our assignment was that we had to watch 60 Minutes and be prepared to discuss the stories Monday at school. Well, when I told my father that - and again, you had one television in the house, and everybody watches just what's on that one television. So when I said, my homework assignment for Mr. Graham is that I have to watch this new TV show called 60 Minutes,
Amy Ross: [00:20:30] my dad was kind of grousing, because he was a big sports guy and wanted to watch something sports. And I said, Dad, it's my homework. OK. And we all watched it together. Well, my father takes the newspaper and slams it down. What kind of liberal [inaudible] that school! Then I just knew I loved Mr. Graham even more than before. In my honors English class, Mr. Thomas, who was also the drama teacher, and I was very involved.
Amy Ross: [00:21:00] You mightve got a little bit of a hint of this. I was very involved with drama, and I was in all of the drama classes, but he was also my English teacher. Our assignments - I'll never forget this - I actually have to go back to that. I skipped two grades actually, so I was younger a year than everybody else. So by skipping a grade, I was very self-conscious about my age and being younger than everybody and not fitting in. So Mr. Thomas's class,
Amy Ross: [00:21:30] the first day he gave us an essay assignment, and he said, You're going to get one grade on this first paper. It's going to be an A, or it's going to be an F. If there are no grammatical errors, you'll get an A, but if there is a grammatical error, you're going to get an F, and I'm not going to tell you what it is. You have to figure it out on your own, and then you're going to have to write it again. Terrified. First paper was on Moby Dick. I got an F,
Amy Ross: [00:22:00] went home crying, trying to figure out what was going on. Neither of my parents went to college, rather. So for them trying to help me out, it was a little difficult. So I think I finally found out what it was, sweated, wrote it all out again, submitted it back and got an A. That is how demanding Mr. Thomas was. People, parents, parents complained years later. I would see him occasionally and parents would complain, youre being too hard on our kids.
Amy Ross: [00:22:30] In my generation, the teacher was always right. The parent would never, ever even think of going to the school and say, you're being too hard on my kid or whatever. So Mr. Thomas's real insistence on excellence made me so focused on my writing. When I was in high school, I had really no idea that I would go on to have the career that I did, but being a scientist, which is involved, it's communication.
Amy Ross: [00:23:00] You may have the best ideas or the best experiments in the world, but if you can't communicate it, it doesn't make any difference at all. So between writing research papers, writing grants, I remember I would get a scientific paper sometimes rejected because of the comment, but the reviewer would say, Dr. Ross's paper is quite well written, we just don't like the data. So every time I would get a comment like that from a paper or a grant, I would look back on a couple of my very special high school teachers. I thank you, Mr. Thomas.
Mason Funk: [00:23:30] That's great. Those are great stories, and I also have high school teacher stories, again, but I'll share when we have more leisure time. Let's talk about this thread of anti-Semitism in your family dating back all the way to your great-great-grandfather who was a rabbi in Boyle Heights, and his daughter, your fathers mother, if I have that straight.
Mason Funk: [00:24:00] I dont quite know where to jump in with that. We could go for hours on this one topic, but just tell us a little about discovering that your father was Jewish, 45% Ashkenazi Jew, and you are 45% Ashkenazi Jew. Take us into that world of knowledge and [inaudible].
Amy Ross: With respect to religion, I know sometimes that's always on people's minds, particularly in our community,
Amy Ross: [00:24:30] in the LGBTQ+ community, since religion has not been historically kind to us. So I had a very interesting, my mother was a very churchgoing Episcopalian. She was the church lady who would be there early in the morning getting the flowers out through coffee hour, which I didn't like, again, with my questioning nature. I remember saying to my mom once in the Nicene Creed in the Episcopalian Church, when the priest comes down, everybody stands up and says, I believe in God, the father.
Amy Ross: [00:25:00] I said to Mom, Why does everybody do that? She said, Because we do. And I said, Well, what if you don't? No. Theres no such thing as you dont. You do. My father was very interesting. He was completely areligious. His father, my paternal grandfather, was Jewish, and mostly just Jewish culturally. He never went to synagogue, was never a practicing Jew.
Amy Ross: [00:25:30] My dad's mother, who actually abandoned my dad and his sister when my dad was five and my aunt was three, right about the time that the Depression started, she left the family, ran off with another man, and I did not know at the time. Then when she came when she came back, she didn't come back to the family, but my dad had a relationship with her as an adult. So I did have a relationship with my paternal grandmother as a child, even though she had married someone else.
Amy Ross: [00:26:00] She was very anti-Semitic. Her husband, my step grandfather, if you will, was very anti-Semitic as well. They wanted to belong to a golf country club in Glendale that did not admit Jews. I remember her saying very anti-Semitic things. At the time, my father would echo it. Again, the conservative movement at that time in the United States, it was anti-Semitic, it was racist,
Amy Ross: [00:26:30] and it was just kind of the way things always were. So I really ended up not trying to question it so much. But my father had changed. My grandfather's name was Rosenberg. That was the family name. My grandfather came from a family of seven boys and one girl, and five of the boys changed their name to Ross. That is why my last name is Ross. So but again, not really thinking about it.
Amy Ross: [00:27:00] Then several years later to find out through a health incident of my little sister, who, in fact it was six years ago this week that she was diagnosed with primary fallopian tube cancer, which is very rare. Because of my pathology background, I went, Wait a minute, this is always associated with the BRCA2 gene, which comes in families of Jewish Ashkenazi origin. So all of a sudden, from my sister's health point of view,
Amy Ross: [00:27:30] again, this was six years ago, looking at, Wait a minute, there's a whole other story here. I thought back, my grandmother died of breast cancer. Her sister, my aunt, died of breast cancer. My father had prostate cancer and died of it and Parkinson's disease. And all of a sudden my head was just swirling one day, and I went, Oh, my God, we are Ashkenazi Jew.
Amy Ross: [00:28:00] I asked my mom about it, because my mom had a little more family history that my father would not divulge. And it turns out that my paternal grandmother's father, my great grandfather, was a rabbi in Boyle Heights at the turn of the century in 1800s going into the 1900s, when Boyle Heights was the center of the Jewish community in Los Angeles. I never knew that about him. He was an amazing man
Amy Ross: [00:28:30] and the temple that he started. I grew up never knowing any of that, and it was very sad. So all of these years later, to see that what that internalized shame. And I want to add a little footnote to this. In talking to a professor in sociology at the Dornsife College at USC, he said he really researched on a Nazi and anti-Semitic element that occurred in Los Angeles in the 30s and early 40s.
Amy Ross: [00:29:00] There are buildings in downtown Los Angeles that would have swastikas hanging from them. I was not aware of this until I heard him talk and read his book, but anti-Semitism was rampant in Los Angeles at that time. So for whatever reason, my father and some of his uncles chose to hide their true identity. And it's been very painful.
Amy Ross: [00:29:30] Again, not having any sense of being Jewish culturally, growing up or religiously, it's been odd. But to also see, besides the shame that that tried to instill, the very real-time ramifications of a life and death situation. Had we known and my sister and I, we would have all been tested. I was the only one who was negative. My youngest sister, she's about to turn sixty. She was positive. She's had to have prophylactic mastectomy and hysterectomy.
Amy Ross: [00:30:00] So there are real, real health ramifications about this besides just the awfulness of anti-Semitism in a Jewish family.
Mason Funk: Yeah, the rare threat. We don't hear those stories. I mean, we hear the stories of the Jews changing their name, but rarely from the inside, rarely from this point of view of a daughter who bore that name. It was not, in a sense, your true family name.
Mason Funk: [00:30:30] Can you say a bit more? You mentioned in passing it was painful and sad. Where would you say you are now? Have you made efforts to reclaim, is that something that you would do or where does it sit with you now?
Amy Ross: It's interesting. When I look at this stage of my life of: is it something that I would want to reclaim? Interestingly, and this is -
Mason Funk: [00:31:00] Instead of saying, Is it, start by saying Is my Jewish heritage.
Amy Ross: Thank you. It's an interesting point. Is my Jewish heritage something at this stage of my life that or previously had I thought about reclaiming, and interestingly, not as much as I would have probably liked. From a religious point of view, I have been, even though I was raised in the Episcopalian Church, I have been a nonbeliever most of my life.
Amy Ross: [00:31:30] Religion is not something that has ever played a role in my life. As I get older, would I like to be wrong and think that there is this wonderful place like heaven that I would go to, where I would see my dad and all of my friends who died from AIDS again? I would love that. I usually hate being wrong. I'd like to be wrong about this, but I don't know. When I take part in a Passover or a Seder with friends who are observant, I enjoy that, but I always feel like I'm doing it as an outsider.
Amy Ross: [00:32:00] Ive been to many Seders and events, Sukkots with friends, and I enjoy it. But for some reason it's never been something that I've internalized.
Mason Funk: It's interesting, it also brings a certain element of passing into your life. You pass as not Jewish, and we all know that for people who pass and don't pass, it's a very mixed thing. Passing can be helpful.
Mason Funk: [00:32:30] Passing could also signify loss of connection. Not passing can be dangerous. It can be very dangerous. Its a real complex thing, I would imagine.
Amy Ross: It is.
Mason Funk: Okay, let me check my notes here. I think to cap off this little section, you told a lot of great stories about coming out.
Mason Funk: [00:33:00] The one that I [inaudible] is when you came out to your grandmother after your dad said, Never tell your grandmother...
Amy Ross: ...It would kill her.
Mason Funk: Tell us about this. Weave this into a coming out narrative that includes your father and his admonition to you and then eventually coming out to your grandma.
Amy Ross: Sure. Coming out was kind of a torturous path for me. I always knew from the get go that I was a lesbian, although I did not know
Amy Ross: [00:33:30] what that word meant. The first time I heard it, in fact, is kind of a little funny story. Back when I was probably about ten or eleven years old, my middle sister and I were in a kids' bowling league at the bowling alley. So we bowl every Saturday. Every Saturday, at the first two lanes, there were these two women who would bowl, and they wore men's shirts. They had their hair back and brilliantine, and their business was they raised Dobermans.
Amy Ross: [00:34:00] They had a van that had all these Dobermans. So we made fun of them and we called them the boys. One day after bowling, my mom picks up, and my other grandmother, my maternal grandmother, whom I adore, she was in the car and my sister and I were making fun of the boys. My grandmother said to my mom, What are they talking about? My mom says, Oh, they're making fun of those lesbians. Now, knock it off. And that's the first I'd ever heard that word,
Amy Ross; [00:34:30] and it's a very harsh sounding word when you're like, ten. So I went home and I looked it up, and I went, Oh, no, if it's a lesbian, a woman who is attracted to other women. And I knew. I'd always have crushes on girls. And I thought, No, that can't be me because I don't like mens shirts, and I certainly don't like Dobermans. This just cannot be me. So I just tried to stifle it.
Amy Ross: [00:35:00] Throughout school, in high school, I dated boys. Two out of the three boys I dated ended up being gay. But I tried to stifle it. Also at that time in the 60s, the prevailing wisdom was, I remember hearing this and health education classes. Everybody has same sex crushes. It's nothing. It's nothing to be upset about. It's just a phase. You'll get over it. You'll outgrow it. Well, I just thought I was slow,
Amy Ross: [00:35:30] because I was not outgrowing it. So, I never enjoyed going out with boys, but that was [inaudible]. And then I met a really wonderful man, and I got married when I was young. I was just twenty-one when I got married. Interestingly enough, you've heard about my being a nonbeliever religiously. He had been ordained as a Methodist minister in Canada,
Amy Ross: [00:36:00] but was non-practicing and was enrolled in a PhD program in philosophy when I met him. So intellectually, we were very compatible about stuff, but again, I just kept thinking, Okay, I just have to suppress that. There were a number of other situations with the marriage that weren't good. Also, I was coming to realize that I could not escape this anymore, my true identity. So we were married just about three and a half years and separated amicably.
Amy Ross: [00:36:30] So then as I started to go through coming out, so this was around 1975, I got involved. One of the entres to me into the community - again, when I was first coming out, it wasn't so much about sexuality, it was a lot of activism and everything for me and where I felt that I fit in. So yes, I had a lot of girlfriends who would go to the bars that we had back then in L.A.,
Amy Ross: [00:37:00] but I really got involved politically in coming out. In 1976, there was an initiative on the ballot in California, Proposition six, the Briggs Initiative, that wanted to say that any LGBTQ person, of course, in the wording was homosexual, could not teach in public schools. That just lit my sense of injustice on fire. So I became very, very involved and met a lot of wonderful people throughout that,
Amy Ross: [00:37:30] and that activism became a very big part of my identity. And then I finally - for a long time, I was not out to anybody in my family. My dad and I were really, really close. I remember when I came out to him. Again, remember, I was such a tomboy, and his nickname for me was, he called me, You're my boygirl. Even up until the day he died.
Amy Ross: [00:38:00] So when I came out to him, I told him, and he got this look on his face, and he just kind of, his body language went down, and I said, What? He said, Well, its my fault. I kidded him. I said, I always wanted to know who to thank. What the hell do you mean it's your fault? He goes, No, I always called you my boygirl. We played sports together. You were my buddy.
Amy Ross: [00:38:30] I said, Dad, that's not it. You cannot make somebody gay. If all the women on Earth were to drop off the face of the earth, would you say, Oh, I guess Im gonna have sex with men now. No, no. I said, Well, see? So I tried to make him understand that. We had a very, very good heart to heart conversation. He told me he loved me no matter what, and then he just said about his mother, he said, But one thing you have to promise me, you can never tell your grandmother this.
Amy Ross: [00:39:00] It would kill her. I was like, Oh, all right. I came out to my mom, Mom, you know, moms are wonderful, by and large, and she just said, Oh, honey, I could have told you that. And I said, Well, why didn't you? She said, Well, first of all, you never listen to me. But that's not something you can tell someone. And I said, Okay. Fast forward years later up into the 80s, it's the AIDS crisis, and I was contacted by the health editor of the L.A. Times.
Amy Ross: [00:39:30] She wanted to do a story on me. She wanted to do a story about lesbians and AIDS, because at that time it was early in the epidemic, and there was this over this ridiculous overriding thought that if you were gay, that predisposed you to AIDS, even if you were a lesbian. So we had to do a lot of myth busting. In addition to I was in graduate school, I was in the PhD program in experimental pathology at the USC School of Medicine,
Amy Ross: [00:40:00] and a lot of my research was having to do then with the effects of HIV on the brain. So not only was I researching in that area, I was also doing speaking engagements for AIDS Project L.A., trying to help other communities cope. So she came and did this article. Very nice, took pictures of me in my lab, and about a week or so later it made it onto the front page of the calendar section of the L.A. Times.
Amy Ross: [00:40:30] I'm at home. I haven't gotten out to get the newspaper yet. Phone rings, and it's my grandmother. Well, honey, I'm sitting here reading the Los Angeles Times. Okay. Well, there's a story about you on the front page of the, I think they called it the View section back then. I went, Oh! and she said, How come you never told me anything about this? I said, Are you still alive? And what kind of question is that? Am I still alive?
Amy Ross: [00:41:00] Because Dad told me not to tell you, because if I told you, it would kill you. She said No. And she said, You know, I wish you had told me, but I'm so proud of you for what you are doing. I can't say that I understand anything about this homosexuality. But... oh, there was one incident and I'm just recalling it now. So my grandmother, she was really kind of a real oomph woman, and her next door neighbors, two women who lived together.
Mason Funk: [00:41:30] Just one second. She was really kind of a what woman?
Amy Ross: I made a gesture. She was a very difficult woman. She was very difficult, very domineering. We would always have Thanksgiving dinner at her house. Her next door neighbors, two women who lived together. One was a physician. She was one of the first women to actually graduate from USC Medical School,
Amy Ross: [00:42:00] and she was an obstetrician who delivered me and my sisters. She was the head of obstetrics and gynecology, Glendale Memorial Hospital. And the woman who lived with her, Miss Peterson, was her nurse. So at dinner on Thanksgiving dinner one night, my dad had a few, and he said something about the ladies next door, and he said something about, well, you know, lesbians. My grandmother stood up,
Amy Ross: [00:42:30] smashed her hand on the table, and said, Don't you ever say such a disgusting word about two such very fine women! And they were a couple. They had been together their entire lives. I think I was probably about twelve or thirteen when that happened, and that was just another woah setback moment. But at any rate, so fast forward all of these years. I come out to my grandmother via the Los Angeles Times, and it didn't kill her, and our relationship wonderfully became even closer.
Mason Funk: [00:43:00] So how do you reconcile that story of her slamming her hand down and saying, Don't you ever say something that disgusting about these two very fine women, with her reaction when you came out to her, because you can understand from that reaction why your dad said dont ever tell your grandmother.
Amy Ross: Yeah. The reaction of my grandmother, particularly that one time that, I had really not thought about that incident in years.
Amy Ross: [00:43:30] So just to have that memory come back. But again, it was she was very opinionated. And again, I knew how she felt about people who were Jews. Well, now the lesbians are right up there. So I just had to. And again, even though, like my dad said to me, don't say anything to her because it would kill her, because of that reaction, I don't think I ever wanted to. When I was doing the interview
Amy Ross: [00:44:00] and yes, I knew it was going to be in the L.A. Times, maybe subconsciously I thought, Now people will know. There will be people that I don't have to come out to directly. And the chairman of the department, that day, when I went in to get coffee, the coffee was always in a little outside area where the administrative assistants were by the chairman's office. And I went to get coffee and one of the women said to me, Wow, Amy, that was really quite an article in today's Times.
Amy Ross: [00:44:30] I was not out as a graduate student to that point. There was a lot of homophobia in medicine, particularly in the 80s. And so she said that was really something. And the chair hears her say that. He said, Is that Amy Ross? Amy, come into my office for a minute. I went in, and he said, Yeah, that that was a good article. You made a lot of good points, but I wish you would have cleared it with me first, because it mentioned my being a student in the pathology department.
Amy Ross: [00:45:00] I said, In hindsight, you're right. And I said I asked my adviser because it was his lab where they came to photograph me, and I said, Dr. Rhodes was OK with it. And I'm sorry, in hindsight, I should have asked you. And so he said, well, you know, in the future, things like that, yes, in addition to Dr. Rhodes, because it's his laboratory in terms of protocol for the department, you really should. I said, Message noted.
Mason Funk: [00:45:30] Do you think that was... when you told that story to Tom, I just wondered if that would have been his reaction if it was one of his male researchers who was written about. It felt to me like [inaudible.] Did you experience it that way at all?
Amy Ross: It's interesting, because the experiences that I did have, looking back at some of the professors that I had. Now, I started graduate school in 1981.
Amy Ross: [00:46:00] I started my autopsy work in the summer - we had to do autopsy at what was then County General Hospital, and in my autopsy work, starting in the summer of 82, we started to see cases of young men, predominantly white men, emaciated, with opportunistic type infections that did not make any sense to us.
Amy Ross: [00:46:30] I remember doing a case with a young man who had a Kaposi's sarcoma lesion, and the head pathologist asked me, I had to do the pathology of the histology on it, and then to write a paper about it. And again, there's no Google, or so if you go to the library, and you pull out journal articles in dermatopathology. So here is this type of skin cancer, predominantly occurs in elderly men in the Mediterranean region of Ashkenazi Jewish origin,
Amy Ross: [00:47:00] and this was a twenty-four year old white man from what is now West Hollywood. I thought, How am I going to write this paper? This doesn't make any sense. So then as we started to find out, as soon as the first cases that were matching what we were seeing in Los Angeles to the cases that they were seeing in New York and San Francisco, that we realized gay and bisexual men were dying. And of what? And then when it was discovered to be a virus, the level of homophobia
Amy Ross: [00:47:30] in the medical community hit a fever pitch. There was a professor, one of... I will tell you this story, because I think about this a lot when I try to impart to people and communities in medicine how important it is that doctors realize their own prejudices. In the second year of medical school and graduate school, you have a whole course on hematology. And again, this is right when we're starting to learn.
Amy Ross: [00:48:00] It was just found out HIV was then called HTLV-3, and a student asked the question of this professor. So now that we know that this virus is killing people, its transmissible by blood, what are you doing with - because this professor also ran the blood bank at the hospital - What are you doing to make sure that these people don't donate blood, and this doesn't get into the blood supply? And he kind of smirked and he said, Well, what we do at the intake room, which before you actually give blood,
Amy Ross: [00:48:30] you go and you sit in the chair, they take your blood pressure and so forth. And he said, We're putting these big dildos in the chairs, in the intake room. And any guy who sits down on it and smiles, we tell them to go home. I went up to the professor after class, and I said, Sir, I have to tell you something. Your joke about dildoes. Did it occur to you that there are gay students in this class?
Amy Ross: [00:49:00] I'm one of them. There are gay male students in this class. You wouldn't make a joke if you were giving us a lecture about sickle cell anemia. You can see that there are black students in this class. You're not going to make a joke about sickle cell. You can probably assume that there are Jewish students in this class. You're not going to make a joke about Tay-Sachs, but you don't see us. So you think it's OK to do that?
Amy Ross: [00:49:30] And he really just said, Oh, my God, I'm so sorry, I didnt think about that. A couple of days, I thought about lodging an actual complaint, but I thought about ramifications of mine. You know, as a graduate student, youre on a full scholarship and you get a living stipend. I didn't want to jeopardize that, so I didn't say anything. I'm ashamed of it, but I didn't say anything.
Amy Ross: [00:50:00] A couple of days later, I'm walking across the quad, medical school, and the professor comes up to me, and he didn't know my name, but he just came out and said, Excuse me, excuse me, and he said, I thought long and hard about what you said, and I am totally ashamed. I am going to issue an apology to the students at my next lecture. And he did.
Mason Funk: [00:50:30] Those kind of moments, like you can clearly [inaudible] with you all these years. Did it feel like that was just a huge kind of coming of age or rite of initiation moment for you internally when you came and pushed back on someone who clearly had authority over you and could affect your future.You just took a huge gamble there. Did it feel like you were stepping off a cliff? Did you know what you were doing, that you could be jeopardizing your entire career?
Amy Ross: [00:51:00] In terms of when I made the decision, and it was kind of on the fly right after this professor's lecture. I didn't. I was so incensed at the moment, I wasn't forward thinking about what the ramifications of this could be. I just was so incensed. Some of my classmates, particularly the men who were going into clinical medicine, I was PhD program. I was going into research.
Amy Ross: [00:51:30] I was not dependent on having to go through residency and having these people control my future. So I thought about it in the moment and went up and did it. I really wasn't thinking downstream about ramifications of what could happen. I just knew I was incensed. And I wanted to speak up for some of my friends and colleagues who probably didn't have a voice at that time. But then in terms of after I did it.
Amy Ross: [00:52:00] Thinking about reporting it, I was going to report it to the chair of my department, but then I thought if he gets upset, if he withdraws my scholarship and my stipend, that would ruin me for good. So I didnt.
Mason Funk: I have a question, [inaudible] but its backtracking a tiny bit. One thing that you didnt talk about with Tom or in your questionnaire is:
Mason Funk: [00:52:30] what made you actually decide to go into this particular field of medicine? Where did that come from?
Amy Ross: You know, kind of interesting, how did I get into pathology and medicine? As a kid growing up, like I said, dissecting snakes and everything. I was a nerd. I wanted to be a doctor, an M.D. when I was growing up, but my dad told me I couldn't be
Amy Ross: [00:53:00] because there were no women doctors except for the one that lived next door to my grandmother, but that I could be a nurse, and I didn't want to be a nurse. So when going through my undergraduate degree, I was very interested in political science and history. And I started off that way.Then I segued into psychobiology about the biology and how the biology of the brain affects behavior. I really like that. So but again, as a kid,
Amy Ross: [00:53:30] I'll tell you a funny story. Back growing up in this, I described that idyllic childhood I had growing up in the foothill communities. Well, being from a family of three girls, what fathers would do to be really good fathers back then, is they built what was called a playhouse out in your backyard. That was a little playhouse and little fake oven and table. You were supposed to learn how to be a good wife by play acting like what you saw at home.
Amy Ross: [00:54:00] Well, I know there's no way I was going to be a wife, so I turned it into a laboratory, and I took out all the little stoves and stuff. I saved up my allowance for my chores. I went down to the toy store and I bought my first junior chemistry kit. I would just, you know, play around, stuff like that. So after college, I worked as a laboratory technician in the anatomy department at the eye foundation at USC and really liked that.
Amy Ross: [00:54:30] But then I decided I wanted to do more. So by this point, I was almost thirty, and even though by then I thought I could go to medical school, but all the medical students were so much younger. There was somebody I would really like to give a shout out in this context. At that point, the new chair of the Department of Pathology, or originally, was Dr. Nancy Warner, and she's still alive now. She's ninety-five.
Amy Ross: [00:55:00] I still am in contact with her. Everybody knew Nancy was a lesbian, and we all knew her partner, soon to be wife. Nancy gave me the best advice. We knew each other before I started school through a group called Women in Science in Los Angeles. I was the chapter president one year. And I so admired Dr. Warner and what she had to say. She said to me, I think I have a place for you.
Amy Ross: [00:55:30] You've got a very inquisitive mind. You're very good technically in microscopy. Our PhD program in experimental pathology, you take the first two years of medical school without the clinical aspect, and then you do all of your dissertation research, and I just think that this is something that you would really like. So I looked at - I had been out of undergraduate school for seven or eight years. I thought, Nobody's going to take me. I always think
Amy Ross: [00:56:00] that Dr. Warner, my dear friend Nancy, took a chance on me. And so that's how I got into experimental pathology, which I loved. I spent my career developing cancer diagnostic tests and ways to remove tumor cells and bone marrow transplantation medicine. It fit me perfectly because looking back, I don't know that I'd have the personality to be a physician. I would probably get... I wouldn't be an effective physician. I might get just too personally involved.
Amy Ross: [00:56:30] You have to have that distance to be a good clinician. You have to be empathic, but you also have to be stand back and be objective, and objectivity is something that most of my life I haven't been so good with. So I found my niche. And I thank Dr. Warner for that.
Mason Funk: Thats a great story. Ive heard Dr. Warners name before. She sounds like an amazing woman.
Amy Ross: She's wonderful. Yeah. I still visit her.
Amy Ross: [00:57:00] Her wife died about two years ago, but she still lives in the house. She has live-in help now, but she's ninety-five. But I still see her on occasion.
Mason Funk: Well, let's take a little break. We can leave Zoom open and, you know, I'm going to go to the restroom real quick and - hi, Andrew. Andrew, you can actually [inaudible].
Andrew Lush: Yeah, I'll stop the recording, save it, and start a new one when you're ready.
Mason Funk: [00:57:30] OK. Lets meet in about three or four minutes.
Amy Ross: Sounds good.
Andrew Lush: One quick thing.
Andrew Lush: I noticed, Amy, that your laptop power is not plugged in.
Amy Ross: Oh, my gosh. Thank you.
Andrew Lush: Without touching anything.
Amy Ross: Yeah. You know why? Because I had moved it around, so. OK, it's plugged in now.
Amy Ross: Thank you. OK. Be right back..
Andrew Lush: [00:58:00] Here we go. Number two is recording, Im going to turn myself off.
Mason Funk: Thanks, Andrew. Ok, so I just checked my list of questions.
Mason Funk: [00:58:30] One of the compelling questions for me is the homophobia you've witnessed in the medical field, on one hand, it seems like medical professionals are well suited to take an objective, research-based approach to almost anything. On the other hand, you witnessed and experienced homophobia within the medical field. I don't really have a specific question as much as I wonder if you can kind of talk to us about the homophobia.
Mason Funk: [00:59:00] Give us incidents, things you witnessed. Why you think there's sort of disconnect sometimes? Why does that feel so conservative, or why what is was it so conservative before women started flooding the ranks? Thank goodness. Doctors are supposed to be people who just see everything coming from a rational standpoint.
Amy Ross: [00:59:30] Ok. Want me to start? One of the things that always troubled me and surprised me, but in retrospect, maybe I should not have been terribly surprised. Again, as I mentioned, I started graduate school in 1981. But prior to that, having worked as a laboratory technician, electron microscopist through the late 70s and early 80s, was the amount of homophobia that I saw in medicine. And it was really kind of surprising,
Amy Ross: [01:00:00] but then what I think about it, is people always think of doctors, you know, it's all high up there. Doctors are just people who are coming into a profession, and they carry some of their own thoughts, prejudices, feelings, where they go, and homophobia back in that time. Again, it hadn't been that many years, three years before, that California had a ballot initiative to get LGBT teachers out of the schools.
Amy Ross: [01:00:30] So homosexuality was only really talked about in medical curriculum from a pathology point of view. Sexually transmitted disease. Now, again, speaking in the pre AIDS days, anything that had to do with homosexuality really focused on males, gay men, and sexually transmitted diseases. That was it. They were seen as promiscuous.
Amy Ross: [01:01:00] I could just see the revulsion, particularly when some physicians would hear about the bathhouses back then. You know, some men come in and it's just like, well, you were just here a couple of weeks ago and you have gonorrhea now, syphilis. Well, you know, the bathhouses. So many, in particular the conservative physicians, they just did not understand that at all. And so there was a tremendous stigmatization of gay men at that time.
Amy Ross: [01:01:30] Now, lesbians in terms of homophobia. Interestingly, not so much. It's like we didn't really exist, and I remember when because I was a researcher, I always wanted to be involved. Any time there was a clinical study that came up, because of who I was or my background, I would participate. So while I was in graduate school, I became aware of a study that was looking on the effect
Amy Ross: [01:02:00] of cervical cancer in women whose mothers had been given DES during pregnancy. DES had been given to women in the 50s who had really a lot of nausea and problems with pregnancies. It did help with that. But subsequently, it was found that the daughters of women who have been given DES had a high incidence of cervical cancer. My mother did not take DES, so I was in the age control group. They needed people of my age [inaudible].
Amy Ross: [01:02:30] So I would never forget this. This was at UCLA. I go in and I'm for the first intake for the interview and of course, you know, cervical cancer and health has a lot to do with your sexuality and sexual behaviors. So the intake nurse said to me, are you taking birth control? And I said, No, and she said, oh, are you trying to get pregnant? and I said, No.
Amy Ross: [01:03:00] She said, So you're not taking birth control pills. You're not taking any birth control, and you're not trying to get pregnant. I said, that's correct. And she said, are you sexually active? I was at the time and I said, yes. And she said, and I could see where this was going, and I was probably a little bit of a bitch and putting her on the edge there. So then she said, Well, when was the last time you had sex? And I said, With a man or a woman? The color just drained from her face.
Amy Ross: [01:03:30] I said, You didn't have any question on there. You're assuming that everybody whos coming in for the study is a heterosexual woman. Well, that's not going to be the case. That has direct ramifications, because if I were a heterosexual woman having sex and my partner, I get cervical cancer, but I'm not. I have sex with women. And then she said to me, Well, when was the last time you have sex with a man?
Amy Ross: [01:04:00] And I have to say, Oh, let me see. Who was president? It was the Carter administration. And these were the types of... and they don't even see it as being homophobic, nothing was written on that. So the the way gay men were viewed in terms of the medical community was bad enough, and then came AIDS, and that made it even worse. Then,
Amy Ross: [01:04:30] the homophobia was palpable, because then it became not only do I think your lifestyle, lifestyle, is disgusting, but now you have you have a disease that I could catch if I perform a procedure on you and I get contaminated blood or whatever. So it was a really, really difficult time. And besides the fact that I'm a researcher working on some aspects of this and also as an out lesbian,
Amy Ross: [01:05:00] and I was very active in the Los Angeles Front Runners, which is an LGBTQ running group, most of my friends were men, and Im starting to watch all my friends get sick and die.
Mason Funk: Wow. Going back to those doctors. Its garden variety homophobia where not only do they have to contemplate the idea of men having sex with men,
Mason Funk: [01:05:30] but then they are oftentimes in very intimate situations with men. Theyre seeing men naked, theyre having to touch mens testicles and penises. Is this just that classic reaction [inaudible], but the whole thing can be seen as pathology and you dont know how to cure it.
Mason Funk: [01:06:00] So Im just speculating as to what underlay this intense system-wide homophobia on the part of medicine.
Amy Ross: I think in terms of the systemic and the very deep rooted homophobia, again, by and large, physicians, particularly male physicians, tend to be pretty conservative. I've noticed throughout the years it's changed, but back in the 70s and 80s, they were pretty conservative guys,
Amy Ross: [01:06:30] belonged to country clubs, stayed in their own cliques. So they had that societal view of things. And then, again, there were physicians who just would not take gay male patients. They would find ways to go around it. That's why I think even in the pre-AIDS era, a lot of gay men had trouble accessing good health care. Thank goodness we had clinics like the one at the center, because... and particularly if you were not an out gay man,
Amy Ross: [01:07:00] particularly some men who are married, you're not going to go to your family doctor if you have a medical condition that is associated with your sexuality. So, again, I just think that AIDS really exacerbated this homophobia that was always there. People have asked me, what changed over the years? One of the things I think that changed the medical profession's
Amy Ross: [01:07:30] way of dealing with HIV/AIDS was that was right about the time that more women were going into medicine, and we started to see a shift in the medical school classes from being predominantly male to shifting with more women to now, most medical schools, the majority of the incoming freshman class are women. This is going to sound sexist,
Amy Ross: [01:08:00] but I think the women coming in were a little more compassionate. They didn't have that preconceived notion. And interestingly, a lot of straight women I know, they all have a best gay boyfriend. They've all got their gay boyfriends. So women of that era growing up, they had they had a gay friend in high school and college, and they didnt feel threatened by that. They felt a special amount of compassion,
Amy Ross: [01:08:30] and when I look at through that time who were the leading researchers in terms of clinical work of HIV/AIDS in haematology, by and large, it was women
Mason Funk: We interviewed in the early days, four years ago, a woman in Denver named Carol Lease, who was very instrumental in shifting the treatment of people with HIV/AIDS from sort of a top down approach. More community-based.
Mason Funk: [01:09:00] That strikes me as - it may sound sexist; just like you did, Ill qualify it - but that sounds like something that women would understand intuitively. Seeing this experience from the point of view of the patient rather than just the point of view of the physician.
Amy Ross: I agree.
Mason Funk: I had a follow up there. Oh, I know one of the things you stated in your questionnaire was that in some experience you feel like your contribution -
Andrew Lush: [01:09:30] And we are recording. I am just going to turn my video off. Youre all set.
Mason Funk: Thank you, Andrew.
Amy Ross: Thank you.
Mason Funk: So if you could pick up that question, Amy, and just jump right in.
Amy Ross: Interestingly enough, while the AIDS epidemic was ramping up in the mid 80s,
Amy Ross: [01:10:00] I was very, very involved in my graduate studies. I had finished the first two years of class work. Now it was time to hit the lab and really work on my dissertation research in earnest. So I felt like I wasn't quite doing enough. It was so demanding to be in the lab, eight, ten, sometimes twelve hours a day with experiments. And as I mentioned, I was watching so many of my friends
Amy Ross: [01:10:30] get sick and die. I was looking at some of the quite honestly, the B.S. that was in the media about this disease and the misunderstanding. I felt really conflicted because I felt I needed to be doing more. I should have been. Could I how could I do more with social activism? How could I do more to help my friends? But I also had an obligation to my research and what I needed to do and the types of experiments that I would do,
Amy Ross: [01:11:00] theyre timed experiments. You have to do them. This reagent needs to go on. That slide needs to be processed. It just wasn't a timeline that was conducive. So I had a tremendous amount of guilt during those days, feeling that I should be doing more. But then at the end, I think that at least I was able to through my dissertation research, I was able to develop a method whereby some of these opportunistic infections
Amy Ross: [01:11:30] that we were seeing in the brains of the cases. I specialized a lot neuropathology in those days, and I was able to develop a test that could tell us - again, unfortunately, it was post-mortem, because these young men were dying of such very - Dying of such really horrible diseases, but I was able to develop a test that could show what type of infection they had
Amy Ross: [01:12:00] in localizing the virus within the brain. So it helped. Then eventually, clinicians find out more about what was going on.
Mason Funk: Well, it sounds like among all the things you couldve done, that was an incredibly tangible contribution.
Amy Ross: It was. Now, Mason, I'm going to have to interrupt you with something. I just got a notification that said my phone was low, 20 percent battery, but it's been plugged in.
Amy Ross: [01:12:30] So I'm not sure what that was all about. I don't know if there is a way. Well, hopefully before we can maybe get through it, but if something happens.
Andrew Lush: I think we should double check that your phone is getting power before we continue or else you may die.
Amy Ross: [01:13:00] Yeah. All right. Hold on a second. Let me see. I just go up to battery.
Andrew Lush: And you're plugged in now, correct? On the top right of your screen, does that show the power icon?
Amy Ross: Ok, it now says. Yeah, I'm fine, I just went into battery on settings. [inaudible].
Amy Ross: [01:13:30] Okay. Oh, no, its showing the little red icon.
Andrew Lush: Ok, now briefly show me your phone screen in the web camera.
Amy Ross: The webcam is not on.
Andrew Lush: Oh, no, I can see, its just black.
Amy Ross: Yeah, OK. No, so I'm showing the low battery. But now this is really odd because I have it plugged into the white extension power cord that you gave me.
Amy Ross: [01:14:00] Oh, hold on a second. Hold on a second. I see the issue. OK, I saw what the issue was. You're not going to believe this because everything has been running, all of the rest of the power has been running off with my computer. So the main power cord.
Amy Ross: [01:14:30] OK, I'm back to talk to you now. Let me go back to Zoom.
Andrew Lush: Wonderful.
Amy Ross: Oh, the power cord was loose on the [inaudible]?
Andrew Lush: That might explain the USB drive, but we're still recording, it looks great. Still. And just so I could actually just squeeze a smidge to your right to match
Andrew Lush: [01:15:00] what that looks like, the matches there, actually, if you don't mind just a smidge more to you, right on the chair. That's the same. OK, great. So we're still recording, Mason, and I'm going to turn me off.
Mason Funk: Alright, we're getting through these challenges. Its probably better that there are more challenges than usual, otherwise we get a false sense of security. A couple of things that I didn't want to pass over.
Mason Funk: [01:15:30] One is: in addition to homophobia in the medical field, you mentioned in your questionnaire a sort of a generalized homophobia in STEM fields. Can you talk about that a little bit and what you might attribute that to, or some of the experiences, some of the ways you noticed that?
Amy Ross: [01:16:00] In regards to homophobia in science, technology, engineering and medicine fields, in retrospect, I think the homophobia that I saw in clinical medicine didn't exist in a vacuum. There was tremendous homophobia in science and technology, and it was pervasive, particularly in the 70s and 80s. In fact, back then being LGBTQ meant that was grounds for not granting a security clearance if you were working. I had a friend who was working at JPL,
Amy Ross: [01:16:30] and she was a lesbian, and she was going for a higher level security clearance. The interviewer called me and was asking me about her and said, well, you know, questions. He said, Would you consider her an honest person? And I said, Oh, absolutely. She's the type if she found a dollar laying on the street, shed spend the rest of the day trying to find out who it belonged to. Well, what about her ethics? I said, She has the highest ethics of anyone I've ever known. And he sounded puzzled,
Amy Ross: [01:17:00] and he said, But we have information that shes a homosexual. I said, yes, shes a lesbian. And? Oh! So by the fact that shes a lesbian, that means shes not honest, doesnt have ethics or isnt trustworthy. Thats the line it went, and they held up her security clearance because of that. We wrote a number. I was involved back in the 70s with a wonderful woman, dear friend of mine, Rochelle Diamond, at Caltech.
Amy Ross: [01:17:30] We were involved in a very early group. It was called L.A. Gay Scientists back in the 70s. And then we built on that from the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Scientists to eventually a national organization, the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals. One of the very early issues that we targeted was homophobia in STEM research, in STEM fields, and how it could be a career blocker for people, particularly in aerospace
Amy Ross: [01:18:00] or anything that requires security clearance issues. Back in 1985, we had a symposium in Los Angeles. The largest interdisciplinary scientific organization in the world is the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Interestingly enough, when you see the journal Science, or if you hear papers that are published in Science, very prestigious publication, but that is the journal that AAAS publishes.
Amy Ross: [01:18:30] So back in the early 80s, back then, again, if you were looking for a job there, there was nothing online. Computers really didn't exist much. You would look at the employment opportunities section of the journal. So in the employment opportunities section, they said what they would not discriminate against. It was gender, race, national origin, and physical disability. Nothing about them.
Amy Ross: [01:19:00] They called it not sexual orientation. I guess it was sexual orientation. So one of the things that we did, our first acts through the national organization, was we petitioned AAAS to include sexual orientation. I think they use the term sexual preference then, we tried to get orientation.To add it to the employment discrimination disclaimer, and they did. Dr. Shirley Malcom, who is still involved to this day
Amy Ross: [01:19:30] as the chief diversity officer at AAAS, she said, It's time. First thing that she needed to do was to send to every entity that advertised employment opportunities that you now must sign that you are in compliance with this new policy of nondiscrimination for sexual preference. Well, as soon as that came out, there were a number of groups that just didn't get employment opportunities listed anymore.
Amy Ross: [01:20:00] The United States government, the University of Saudi Arabia, they all had to drop out because they would not comply with this new policy. To Shirley's credit, she put an editorial when the policy came out. She wrote the editorial herself, Who are the gay scientists? And it caused an uproar. Shirley, who is an African-American woman, she said, I've seen this in my culture,
Amy Ross: [01:20:30] and we're not going to let this happen again. It was a brilliant, brilliant editorial about our invisibility, almost the same things that I had said to the professor of hematology. You see your African-American students, you see your women, you see your patients, but we are both genders, all races. You can't just necessarily see who we are. That was game changing. It really was. Then when it came time to want to do this symposium at the 1985 meeting in L.A.,
Amy Ross: [01:21:00] we could see that homophobia was affecting AIDS research, that some researchers who were gay identified would get their grants rejected. So we put together, Shelly and I put together a symposium at the AAAS meeting in 1985 about homophobia in AIDS research. We were able to get at that time, Dr. Shirley Fanon was the chief of L.A. County Public Health. She was wonderful.
Amy Ross: [01:21:30] Dr. Alexandra Levine was the chief of hematology, which then was taking all of the HIV AIDS cases at County USC Medical Center. And we had ethicists, sociologists, the room was overflowing. But in putting that together, because I was the symposium organizer, I got threats on my phone because in those days, there's no email. Everything we had to do was typed,
Amy Ross: [01:22:00] Xeroxed, sent out, all the press releases. I had my home phone because I couldn't use my office phone at the lab. My home phone was used for if people needed to contact me about the symposium, and I would come home to the old tape recording messages and there would be threats from people.
Amy Ross: This is sick. You're promoting this disgusting behavior, these men who are having sex with monkeys, and that's where this disease is coming from. And by the way, I know where you live. It was scary.
Mason Funk: [01:22:30] You mentioned that you carried a scalpel.
Amy Ross: Im sorry, what?
Mason Funk: You mentioned that you carried a scalpel.
Amy Ross: I did it. I thought about at one point people tried I did. I thought about at one point people tried to say to me, you need to report this to the police. And I didn't because I think, are they going to listen? Some crazy scientist who's got the symposium going on. So one of the things that I did,
Amy Ross: [01:23:00] scalpels are a nice tool of the trade for pathologists, so often when I was leaving my lab, which was Keck Medicine of USC, which is then that time at the time of decade is a pretty dangerous place to be after at night if you were a woman alone. So when I would walk from my lab to the parking lot, and often it was late at night, I was the last one leaving. I carry a scalpel. I get home to my house. I lived in Eagle Rock. I had to come in a gate, go up a whole series of dark steps,
Amy Ross: [01:23:30] carry my scalpel. Thank goodness I never had to use it.
Mason Funk: Thank goodness [inaudible]. I wouldnt want to be on the receiving end of that scalpel.
Amy Ross: Actually, Im pretty good with it.
Mason Funk: Let's jump a little sideways, I believe you. Lets jump a little forward/sideways, because in the mid 80s, slightly around there, you formed, after graduation, the first LGBTQ alumni group at USC.
Mason Funk: [01:24:00] What prompted that decision, and what was forming that experience like?
Amy Ross: My entree into becoming involved with USC, which is where I got my Ph.D. People always think that in your heart of hearts, your alma mater is your undergraduate institution. For me, it was USC. They gave me a life and a career through an education
Amy Ross: [01:24:30] that I couldn't have dreamed of. So back in... it's about almost twenty-five years ago now, I was contacted by a dear friend, Dr. Donald Gabbard who was a professor. And he said, I'm looking at these alumni groups that USC has. They have it was then called the Mexican-American Alumni Association, the Asian Pacific Alumni Association, and the Black Alumni Association. And he said, I think it's time for a gay alumni association.
Amy Ross: [01:25:00] What do you think? And I said, I think that's a great idea. So we got a group of us together who were alums and we got in contact with university, was through the division of Student Affairs. The vice president of student affairs, Dr. Jim Dennis and Dr. Cynthia Cherry were wonderful. They said, Yes, it's time. So we formed then, it was called Lambda Alumni, and it was one of the first LGBTQ alumni organizations of a major university.
Amy Ross: [01:25:30] And interestingly enough, when we started this group off, now USC, traditionally, not the USC of 2020, but the USC back then traditionally been a very conservative university. So when the announcement was made about the fact that there was this new alumni group called Lambda Alumni, it was published in the Trojan Family magazine, which is the alumni publication.
Amy Ross: [01:26:00] And the editor called me and said, We have a letter here, and basically it says one of the founders of modern USC was Professor von Kleinschmidt, what this letter writer said, I now see in Trojan Family magazine that you have a homosexual alumni club. This is an outrage. Von Kleinschmidt is probably turning in his grave. I can't believe that my alma mater has stooped to requiring.
Amy Ross: [01:26:30] What do you do? It says they're going to give out scholarships. Do you have to prove, do you have to have gay sex to be eligible for one of these scholarships? So I just said, just hold on for that for a minute, and then we had one of our founding members, wonderful man, Doug Elliott, whose grandfather was in one of the very first graduating classes from USC, great-grandfather. And Doug wrote a letter and said,
Amy Ross: [01:27:00] I am so proud of my alma mater. I go back, I'm third, fourth generation Trojan, and I've been a gay man, and most of my life, he was in his seventies when he wrote this letter. Most of my life I've had to be closeted, but I'm so proud of my university now for acknowledging who I am, and this once again shows USC leading. So when the editor contacted me, she said, Well, we're definitely going to publish Mr. Elliott's letter,
Amy Ross: [01:27:30] and I said, please publish the other one as well. Publish it and just run them side by side, which she did. All of these years later, Lambda Alumni is thriving. We have a film festival, we give out scholarships, we have been able to help so many wonderful LGBTQ and ally students, and the university has been so supportive. They put us front and center.
Mason Funk: [01:28:00] [inaudible] that question a little bit. I want to talk about your activism a little bit. One of the questions you said that you wish people would ask is: after all these years, what keeps you alive? But before we get there, USC has a reputation
Mason Funk: [01:28:30] as obviously a major world class university. But back in the day [inaudible]. As an activist, have you ever felt like you needed to establish your [inaudible] twice over because you worked for USC, and the true, blue grassroots activists sort of regarded you a little bit like,
Mason Funk: [01:29:00] I dont know about this USC thing. I dont know if she has street credibility. Did you ever encounter that?
Amy Ross: No, I didn't. One time I really thought, would people question the commitment and the level of activism I have? Because quite frankly, this was not something that USC in its past had been known for, but that rapidly changed over succession coming in with President Sample, continuing with President Nikias,
Amy Ross: [01:29:30] President Austin, and now President Folt. So we pride ourselves now in activism. So I never really had to say, wait a second, my chops are from Berkeley. I wasnt a part of the street movement in Berkeley or not Harvard. So when people would really see what USC is doing, particularly in terms of alumni affairs, we would lead on that. And true, the perception. But I was a kid growing up.
Amy Ross: [01:30:00] My dad was a dad. Neither my parents went to college. My dad was a big USC football fan. But it was seen as a football and a frat boy school. You know what? It was. But then as things slowly changed, I realized there was this whole other aspect of USC that was so tremendously different. AWhen I look - and I served a year from 2014 to 2015 as president of the USC Alumni Association Board of Governors,
Amy Ross: [01:30:30] the first out LGBTQ person in that capacity. That was important for me, and there was a little bit of pushback, but I was so supported in that. When I look at the other groups, the now the Latino Alumni Association, the millions of dollars of scholarships that they give. Right now, our Black Alumni Association. Dr. Michelle Turner, who's the executive director, just on Saturday, organized a march for Black Lives Matter
Amy Ross: [01:31:00] with USC students and people in the community. All of the groups, the Asian Pacific Alumni Association, Lambda, LAA, everybody was there marching with the Black Alumni Association. So it's gone beyond for all of our alumni groups. The Asian Pacific Alumni Association trying to combat right now the prejudice that we see against Asian-Americans with coronavirus.
Amy Ross: [01:31:30] So they themselves are taking an activist route. And it's not just football games and fun. This is get down to what matters, and I couldn't be more proud to be part of that.
Mason Funk: You alluded to earlier years due to the very conservative, remote, removed, isolated suburbs where you grew up, and how, in a lot of ways, you find it now...
Mason Funk: [01:32:00] you say you have a lot to learn. You find yourself now with a lot to learn or a lot of catching up to do. Talk about this moment. Were living in a really unique, hopefully historic moment where after many, many, many, many incidents that created public uproar and created a lot of outrage, that change didn't seem to happen before. Were looking at a moment [inaudible] more substantial change But what does it feel like to you now seeing this new activism?
Mason Funk: [01:32:30] And where do you see yourself? How do you see yourself playing a role in that effort?
Amy Ross: Right now? When I look back, and I had commented earlier about living a rather sheltered, not rather, a very sheltered life, growing up in the predominately, if not exclusively white areas of the foothill suburbs of Los Angeles. I was very lucky through my education to break out of that,
Amy Ross: [01:33:00] not only in graduate school, but the career I had after that, working starting my own lab, but then also working in large biotechnology companies that gave me exposure. I was very happy and lucky enough to be invited speakers all over the world. I taught in China for a while as part of the US teaching delegation in the early 90s, but working with people in different cultures, in different countries, that's one thing.
Amy Ross: [01:33:30] Disease, unfortunately, as we're seeing right now with what we're going through with the coronavirus pandemic, diseases do not discriminate. Theyre universal. Ourselves, our bodies do not know our cellular composition, what color we are or what country we live in. The virus doesn't care. So now where I look at this confluence of where we are coming, of activism that is so needed,
[01:34:00] and I think it's going to be important for a lot of us, for all of humanity to break out of our comfort zone. You don't need to have a Ph.D. in pathology to know enough when somebody makes a ridiculous remark about this virus or how you catch it or how you prevent it, to just try to get people to step, to look back, to be realistic But now I feel that through the wonderful experiences
.
Amy Ross: [01:34:30] that I've had over these many years from when I was graduated at high school at age seventeen, a pretty naive white girl. To now I'm a sixty-seven year old woman who's had a wonderful life, wonderful experiences with so many different types of people in so many countries. To take what I've learned and to also recognize it's good, it's a stepping stone, but it's not the end point.
Amy Ross: [01:35:00] What I have been through and what I've learned, it never ends, your education never ends. If they put your name on a degree, that's great, but it doesn't end there. You have to keep learning. And I think the political situation that we are in now, most acutely in the United States, but as we are seeing it worldwide with demonstrations in every country, that we have hit a critical moment that we have to take where we've come from,
Amy Ross: [01:35:30] realize how it molded us, but then step out of your comfort zone and realize you need to learn more, that everybody needs to learn to be an activist. You cant give up, and I think now it's going to be we're really at that threshold of making a moment and making a difference and realizing that the people who may be able to teach you the most right now are not the ones that you might readily identify.
Mason Funk: [01:36:00] Has that, in terms of your own activist message, almost reenergized it? [inaudible] Oh my gosh, there's so much more to do.
Amy Ross: There's so much more to do, and everybody can do a part. Because of my personal situation, I have wanted nothing. I marched when I was in high school. I joined in march against the Vietnam War and got in trouble for it.
Amy Ross: [01:36:30] I want nothing more than to be in these protests right now. But I also have to look. My mother will turn ninety-two next month. Prior to just two weeks before the shutdown started in Los Angeles. She's very independent, very lively. So hopefully I'm a little bit like her, but we got her into an independent living facility. So there are every strict rules there. I do social distance, but my mom is reliant upon me.
Amy Ross: [01:37:00] My partner as a child had asthma and respiratory problems. I can't put others at risk because of what I want to do right now. Its really so hard for me. I keep thinking, OK, well, if I wear a mask, and I thought, I just can't risk it. But there are other ways. Yes. Protesting and being at the support. But there are so many other ways to do it.
Amy Ross: [01:37:30] Conversations that I need to have with people and friends who don't get it. So we all have to step up and step out of our comfort zone right now.
Mason Funk: Speaking of your partner, I want to do one little [inaudible]. Sometimes we talk a lot about peoples relationships, but [inaudible]. Can you tell us about how you met, and how you fell in love, and what your relationship is like today?
Amy Ross: [01:38:00] Sure. My partner's name is Connie Hammen. She spent her career. She is a professor of clinical psychology. She is one of the world's recognized experts on depression. She spent her career at, of course, you can guess, at UCLA. So me being a Trojan, her being a Bruin, we get along about 364 days a year. There's always that day a football game occurs.
Amy Ross: [01:38:30] But the way we met, it was funny, there is a tie-in because I mentioned this would have been the year for my fiftieth high school reunion. Well, it was my twentieth high school reunion and a dear friend of mine said - I was single at the time. There's somebody I want you to meet, and I'm having a barbecue after the Christopher Street West parade and she'll be there. So come on over. And I said, well, actually, this is like the first year I'm not going to the parade, because that night before
Amy Ross: [01:39:00] we will have had my 20th high school reunion dinner. And on Sunday we're having a barbecue. And I want to see what the kids of my friends turned out like. Right. So I'll be over, but I'll be a little bit late. So tell me a little bit about her. So Terry said, Well, the way I met her, because Terry was getting her Ph.D. in psychology, she said, she's on my dissertation committee as the outside committee member. She's a professor of psychology. And I went, Oh, God.
Amy Ross: [01:39:30] Psychology? No. And she was, no, no, no. Just hear me out. Shes research psychology. She's not like one of those, How do you feel about that? No, she's a researcher. She does research on depression. And I said, OK, fine. So I went to the barbecue, I met Connie, she was there with somebody who had been a recent ex of hers, and we hit it off. Interestingly enough,
Amy Ross: [01:40:00] people always think we're a bit of an anomaly. It's like I said, we will celebrate our 30th anniversary next month, July 2020, and we've never lived together. She lives in the Hollywood Hills. I live in Silverlake. The routine is she comes over here Friday. I go over there on the weekends. And even when I was working up in the Seattle area, we just do the same thing. People kept saying, Are you ever going to, like, live together? And I said,
Amy Ross: [01:40:30] Why ruin this? It works out. We both had our own lives and our own homes when we met. So I love her so much. She is a wonderful partner. Anybody who can put up with me for thirty years really has something special going for her. And she's even come to appreciate USC.
Mason Funk: What do you mean, by the way, when you say someone who can put up with me for thirty years?
Mason Funk: [01:41:00] What does that mean to you? I mean, you're a fantastic person, obviously. So what do you mean?
Amy Ross: So what do I mean when I say, that's somebody who put up with me for 30 years? Well, if you've been watching this, and you put up with me for more than a couple minutes, you can see Im probably a little high intensity. I'm very passionate about things. I'm very opinionated. So, yeah, I'm a little bit of a ham. I mean, I'm a very loving person and I'm very outgoing.
Amy Ross: [01:41:30] I'm a great cook, but I have a very, very high energy level, and I go all the time. Connie is a much more mellow person than I am. So it's been for her to understand that my intensity level is always ratcheted up. But she's been really good about it. And I will say our families have just melded together so perfectly with her family.
Amy Ross: [01:42:00] I have a brother that I always wanted but never had. Our nieces and nephews were just a wonderful family unit. My family adores, or in fact... My dad, when he was alive, whenever he called me, he'd say, Hi, honey, it's your dad. How's my sweet Connie? And I said, Well, she's fine. She's doing great. Dad, you want to know how I am? Well really, what happened to that. Did she get that grant that she was writing? Yeah, Dad, she got the grant. Did you want to hear? Oh, that's great. And then finally, we get to me.
Mason Funk: [01:42:30] That's great. Give me a second here, and I want to check because I have a final few questions that we ask all of our subjects. I guess I just want to go a little bit more with this moment.
Mason Funk: [01:43:00] We're doing, in fact, the panel that you're going to participate in with this Microsoft event. We shaped in one way, but with these constantly changing events around us, including racial turmoil and questioning about race. Weve been talking a lot about the meaning of Pride right now, and we branded these panels as return to resistance.
Mason Funk: [01:43:30] The LGBTQ community going back to its core activism right now, because that's what's needed. Does that resonate with you?
Amy Ross: Oh, yes.
Mason Funk: So then go ahead and talk about that, please.
Amy Ross: Yeah. In terms of the comments that I was making about return to activism of how important it is, we really... these are things that we we need to look at. The Black community in this country is having a moment
Amy Ross: [01:44:00] where they need the solidarity of all of us, of everyone to do it. So I hope that one of the perspectives that I can bring, even though the types of discrimination that I have felt as a lesbian, as a woman, are nowhere near what the African-American community has felt. I have never, thank goodness, had to experience the violence and just the horrors that we see.
Amy Ross: [01:44:30] Nonetheless, I think that one of the ways in which I can contribute to a recommitment to activism is a shared experience. Even though it's not as intense, but a shared experience of discrimination and knowing what that's like, and knowing what it's like to be the other. And unfortunately, having lived through the HIV/AIDS epidemic with all of my gay brothers,
Amy Ross: [01:45:00] knowing what a sense of solidarity can be, even though you yourself, I never experienced HIV/AIDS, but I saw it firsthand, and I saw it take almost all of my friends. I'm not going to have to dig very deep to be able to recommit my level of activism going forward.
Mason Funk: That's great. That's awesome. Thank you for that. We always ask our subjects at the end: if you could say anything to your thirteen year old self, what would you say?
Amy Ross: [01:45:30] Oh, my goodness. What would I say to my thirteen year old self? I would say, OK, you're getting dressed because we had a dress code in school. Girls had to wear dresses or skirts. They could only be a certain level above the knee. And I would have said to my thirteen year old self,
Amy Ross: [01:46:00] who was in we called it then junior high, get back in and put your jeans and your flannel shirt on, for God's sake.
Mason Funk: You mean to go to school and raise hell?
Amy Ross: I would have been kicked out again.
Mason Funk: Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Amy Ross: Why is it important for me to tell my story? Well, first, you asked.
Amy Ross: [01:46:30] I'm always happy to talk about myself. But I think it's important, particularly for people of the younger generation. And I'll give you something anecdotally that means that. Several years ago, Shelly Diamond and I put together through the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists at a symposium, one or two day symposium called Out to Innovate. And in that we highlighted different LGBTQ issues within the STEM community.
Amy Ross: [01:47:00] After we did the first one about ten years ago at SC and then the second one at Ohio State University, and we noticed a lot of the young students, particularly the undergraduates, said to us - now, again, this was eight years ago. Theyd say, This is really cool. We're learning a lot of stuff. But, you know, it's like, we're queer. I mean, so what? We're scientists, so we're queer. Big deal. They have no idea what we, their foremothers and forefathers had gone through. And then we got the Trump administration.
Amy Ross: [01:47:30] And now all of a sudden, some of these issues of being LGBTQ, it's an issue again. Discrimination against our community is an issue again. So now all of a sudden, we have seen Out to Innovate take on new relevance. And I had said at one point, one of these young students said to me, I said, You know what?
Amy Ross: [01:48:00] I would love nothing more than never to have to do another one of these meetings again. I don't know what my straight friends do with all their time when they don't have to put on symposia and meetings and go to work. They raise kids. What do they do with all this free time? I would love nothing more than to have this meeting be obsolete. And for a while, we hoped it would be, but we're planning for it this year, but when we had it last year, the issues are now more relevant than they've been for decades.
Mason Funk: [01:48:30] And final question, what do you see as the value in a project like OUTWORDS, that effectively collects stories like yours all over the country? Whats the value in doing that?
Amy Ross: First, I want to say thank you so much. Yeah, I want to say thank you so much to OUTWORDS for this opportunity. It has just meant such an honor to be included.
Amy Ross: [01:49:00] And because of where we stand now in this day and age of what is happening in our country and globally, I think it's so important that our stories be heard. I reckon this back to the Shoah Foundation, and a wonderful exhibit. If anybody is in the Southern California area, if you live here or if you're visiting, don't miss the Shoah exhibit at the University of Southern California. Steven Spielberg put it together,
Amy Ross: [01:49:30] and he gathered every living Holocaust survivor, and did an interactive talk with them so they could tell their stories so people could ask what was going on. We can't forget that. Anti-Semitism is rising again. Hatred, racial hatred, homophobia, anti-Semitism, it's coming back. We can't forget it, and that's why I'm so honored to be included in this,
Amy Ross: [01:50:00] because our stories are important, and people need to hear them. So I thank you so much for the honor of being included in this.
Mason Funk: Great, well, thank you so much for being such a willing participant.
Amy Ross: Oh, thank you.
Mason Funk: Amazing person to work with at this particular phase of our evolution. For me just to forge
Mason Funk: [01:50:30] a better legacy for like an amazing for and just thank you again. It's really, really an honor for us to have your story covered with all your books, especially the world of science, technology, engineering, and medicine. For me, just [inaudible], I stand in awe [inaudible]. I'm going to jump off. Andrew, youre still there, I trust.
Amy Ross: OK, so when Andrew comes on, we can maybe I don't know -
Mason Funk: [01:51:00] Drew, thank you so much.
Amy Ross: Yes, thank you.
Mason Funk: To make this work.I hired Andrew, as an assistant editor, and I'm pretty much going to have to give you the title of technical director because he's stepped up so amazingly. Andrew, any questions for me before I go?
Andrew Lush: No, I'm going to stop the recording. I have a feeling that thumb drive we can now access with with the power fix that we found.
Amy Ross: [01:51:30] I'm so sorry. I didn't even realize that when I was moving things around. I didn't realize it came loose because everything looked on. Yeah.
Mason Funk: I hope thats an easy solution.
Andrew Lush: And then they said we should disconnect soon. I have some more ideas about moving forward and everything happening today.
Mason Funk: So Amy, Im going to sign off. Thank you again, and I look forward to more conversations.
Mason Funk: [01:52:00] I still have it in my mind. The suggestion you made of writing you an email that you can forward on. [inaudible] That has not left my mind.
Amy Ross: Yeah, we will we will definitely do that. We will follow up with that. Mason, thank you so very, very much. This has been a lot of fun. Ok, take care, bye bye.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Andrew Lush
Date: June 08, 2020
Location: Home of Amy Ross, Los Angeles, CA (Remote)