Carmen Vázquez was born on January 13, 1949 in Bayamon, Puerto Rico to a WWII veteran and a seamstress. Her parents migrated to New York City in 1951, and Carmen followed them in 1953. In Catholic school as a kid, she was often a troublemaker, but she went on to complete her undergraduate degree at the City College of New York (CCNY) and her Master’s in Education at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center. CCNY was a seminal seed for her later activism from 1967-1971 through her involvement in Anti-Vietnam War protests, the preservation of open admissions at CUNY, and the creation of a Black and Puerto Rican Studies Department.

In 1974, Carmen moved to San Francisco where she became involved in the joy and politics of Gay life during the era of sexual liberation. She joined the staff of the SF Women’s Centers and then the Women’s Building in 1980. She became the Director of Gay and Lesbian Health Services for the SF Department of Health in 1986; returned to New York City in 1994 where she served as Director of Policy for the LGBT Community Center until 2003; was Deputy Director for Empire State Pride Agenda from 2003-2007; and became Director of LGBT Health Services at the NYS AIDS Institute from 2008 until her retirement in 2019. Until 2021, she served as Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Woodhull Freedom Foundation.

Whether she was overseeing the response to violence against the Women’s Building, increasing AIDS funding for people of color and women’s health, founding a national coalition of LGBT liberation and reproductive justice activists, creating space for immigrant and AIDS organizing, or lobbying for marriage equality, Carmen’s career was defined by an unyielding commitment to health and justice for the most vulnerable among us. Her work has been recognized and celebrated by The SF Board of Supervisor and the New York City Council, by numerous non-profit organizations, by SAGE, and by CUNY School of Law with an honorary Law Degree in 2007. She is part of the Sophia Smith Archive’s Voices of Feminism Project and has donated her papers to the Archive.

OUTWORDS interviewed Carmen in the kitchen of her snug Brooklyn home (up a very steep flight of stairs) on a freezing morning in January 2020, with her bright red coffee mug, teapot, and tea towels looking on. Afterwards, we moved to nearby Prospect Park, stomping our feet on the icy paths while searching for spots to shoot Carmen’s portrait. Toughness and warmth, coexisting and adding up to a greater whole: this was our experience in the presence of Carmen Vázquez.

Carmen Vázquez died of Covid-19 complications in January 2021. She is survived by her siblings Ida, Nancy, Migdalia, Jorge, and José, and by her longtime friends Marcie Gallo, Carlie Steen and Erica Pelletreau.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:00:00] My everything.
Mason Funk: Yes. You have an interesting story because you have this bicoastal life
Carmen Vazquez: Exactly.
Mason Funk: You've really lived both cities.
Carmen Vazquez: Yup.
Mason Funk: Probably the two single, most important cities for the LGBT community in such depth. So we'll get to that. Okay. Um, start off by stating and spelling your first and last names please.
Carmen Vazquez: Carmen Vazquez . Carmen, C-A-R-M-E-N. And last name Vasquez. V-A-Z-Q-U-E-Z.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:00:30] I emphasize the Zs because there's another spelling, but it's Vazquez
Mason Funk: Okay. And I guess if it's actually being written, there would be an accent somewhere over the A.
Carmen Vazquez: Over the first A.
Mason Funk: Which way does the accent point?
Carmen Vazquez: Left.
Mason Funk: Okay, that's good.
Michelle McCabe: Pause for one second.
Mason Funk: Okay. Like it's pointing up towards the end of your last name?
Carmen Vazquez: Yes.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] Okay. All right, good.
Michelle McCabe: We're rolling again.
Mason Funk: Okay, good. So, um, you mentioned you were born in Puerto Rico.
Mason Funk: Tell us about that.
Carmen Vazquez: Well, I was the there to ...
Mason Funk: Sorry, incorporate Puerto Rico in your ...
Carmen Vazquez: I was born in ...
Mason Funk: Oh, Im sorry. Before we even go there, tell us when ... Just stay when and where you were born.
Carmen Vazquez: I was born in Bayamon Puerto Rico and I lived there for four years. It Well, I didn't live in Bayamon, I lived in Vega Alta and Bayamon is where the hospital was.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:01:30] And in those days being born in the hospital was like a very big deal.
Mason Funk: Can you pause for one second? Someone is coming into the door. Down at the bottom of the stairs.
Carmen Vazquez: Someone is?
Mason Funk: Yeah, I think so. I hear keys and jiggling.
Carmen Vazquez: No, they're probably going out.
Mason Funk: Oh theyre going out. Okay.
Carmen Vazquez: Did we close the doors?
Unknown Speaker: Yeah. Well, I closed, I didn't close your door.
Unknown Speaker: [00:02:00] Should I close? I can close your door, right? Yeah, I will.
Michelle McCabe: Can
Carmen Vazquez: Just leave ... okay.
Mason Funk: Okay. So whenever you're ready. Are you ready to Michelle?
Mason Funk: Okay. So when and where were you born?
Carmen Vazquez: I was born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico in January 13, 1949, although that was in dispute for half my life because my baptismal certificate gave us the 14th. But that's another story.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:02:30] And I was born in Bayamon where the hospital was. My family was in Vega Alta but being born in a hospital was in those days a very, very big deal because most people had their babies at home with a midwife. But my mother said no, she was going to have her baby in a proper hospital.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:03:00] So, that's where I was born. My family was ... They were in the mountains. Farmers, my grandfather and my grandmother. When I was two, my father left me and my mother and my sister after me in Puerto Rico came to New York. She was part, they were part of that very large migration of Puerto Ricans
Carmen Vazquez: [00:03:30] to the United States and particularly to New York after World War Two.
And really after 1950 after World War II, early fifties. And I came to join them in 1953 I think. And I became a Yankee fan immediately, cause my father was a Yankee Fan. My uncles were Dodgers fans. I actually flirted with being a Giants fan for a while,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:04:00] but then they left. So, Im a TrueBlue Yankee Fan to this day.
Mason Funk: So you, uh, what prompted you to come to New York? Was it just basically your, your father had gotten kind of set up enough or what was, what were this, why?
Carmen Vazquez: I came to New York because the plan had always been that my father would come to New York, get a job, get a place and then call for my mother,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:04:30] me and my sister, which actually took about a year and a half from the time that he came and we came, and we came to live in a very sweet but very small studio apartment on Fifth Street and Avenue B in Manhattan.
Lower Manhattan, lower east. II was a studio and we had me,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:05:00] my sister and then another sister and then another sister, all living in this tiny studio apartment. We had a great kitchen, I remember. Actually, the kitchen I'm in now reminds me of it because it was an eat in kitchen and there was a lot of red highlights, which my mother loved. And so here I am doing it again. We slept in a crib, in a cot, on two chairs, pulled together.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:05:30] I don't know, we figured it out. My mom and dad slept on a pull-out couch, but we all slept in the same room. Basically. I have memories of my mother and father making another baby.
And when that baby was born, it was time to leave. And so, we moved from the lower east side.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:06:00] I loved, loved the lower east side. I have very sweet memories of it. I dont think that the building that I lived in is still there. It was a brownstone walk up with a fire escape to the backyard, used to love it. In the summertime we'd hang out in the fire escape and go down to the backyard. And that was kind of the only way that it was really bearable, given how small the place was. Then we moved to Harlem. We moved to the General Gant Projects on 125th street.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:06:30] I was in third grade ready for fourth grade by the time that we moved there. And My mother got us into a Catholic school, St Josephs. God bless her heart. I don't know how that happened because we were poor.
We were very poor. I think at that point we had already started on a welfare. Because my dad became disabled.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:07:00] He was also an alcoholic and really just not able to do much. We moved to the General Grant Projects for low income folk and to us, it was like a palace. There were three bedrooms, there was a hallway that we played baseball in. A kitchen and a real living room. And unfortunately, only one bathroom that we all had to use. Tough.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:07:30] It was, really my youth, my formative youth in Harlem on 125th Street is where I completed grammar school in Catholic Saint Joseph's run by the Sisters of Charity. Lovely people. Actually no, that's not true. It was the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, which was interesting,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:08:00] because they were founded to serve indigenous people and later, expanded that to serve mostly black and Latino people. Several nuns were Black, which was kind of unusual in those days.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:08:30] And, but good for us, good for the kids because we had people we could relate to even if we played all kinds tricks on them.
Mason Funk: Let me ask you real quick, who else lived in this? You call them, the General grip project?
Carmen Vazquez: General Grant.
Mason Funk: General Grant. So who are the other, what was the cultural milieu? Like who else were there?
Carmen Vazquez: The General Grant Projects where low income housing
Carmen Vazquez: [00:09:00] largely for poor working class, maybe lower middle- class people. The neighborhood had originally been populated by Irish and German immigrants and so there was still a mix of that and then got mixed up with Black and Puerto Rican families. And so that was, that was the mix.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:09:30] I actually went to a public school first. PS 125, I mean there was so such a mix of races, and ethnicities, and there was always a fight between somebody and it wasn't just, you know, like Black people and White people.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:10:00] I mean it was Irish people and Latino people and Jewish people and German people. And so I it was kind of fun. The diversity of that neighborhood eventually became much more predominantly black and Latino eventually. The Irish and German folks started to move away not long after we moved there and the same was true on the lower east side. Lots of Irish and German immigrants in those neighborhoods as well.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:10:30] Which kind of makes sense given the time, it was the 50s, early sixties. So yeah, lots of fights, nuns.
Mason Funk: And what kind of girl were you? What kind of ...
Carmen Vazquez: What kind of girl was I?
Mason Funk Yeah. Like, were you a good girl, were you a bad girl? Were you ???
Carmen Vazquez: I was in between. I was a good ... I loved, learning.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:11:00] I loved reading. I loved school. I loved all that part. I didn't like, I hated the discipline. I had to wear a uniform, which meant skirts and I hated it. So for the most part in grammar school, I kind of towed the line and did what the nuns wanted me to do
Carmen Vazquez: [00:11:30] and I had good grades and I was going to go to college. My mother was quite clear about that someday. But I also skipped out a lot, just take the train and go to Coney Island. Nothing terribly bad. Just, I didn't like the structure and discipline of Catholic school. I imagine public school wasnt that much different,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:12:00] but it felt to me like it was. And so, I was a good and bad girl.
And that trend continued into high school. I graduated from Cathedral High School, but my first year out of Saint Joseph's, I graduated with high grades. And I got into a really great Catholic High School, Cardinal Spellman in the Bronx, which was a long, long ways away from 125th street,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:12:30] Gun Hill Road and, and there my ... I was, how old was I? I was 13 probably. Everything kind of blew up. I, I mean, I loved the prestige of Cardinal Spellman high school, a better uniform, but we still wore skirts.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:13:00] But I was, 13 going on 20 in terms of like attitude and grief and anger with my family. My mom and father split up and my mother, got involved with this other man, Oscar. My father's name was, Jorge and although I had a complicated relationship with my father,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:13:30] I loved him and I was furious and so, I really acted out in that first year.
I didn't go to school half the time. My mother was called, and I was unceremoniously dumped after my first year.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:14:00] I mean, there's so many memories of that time
Mason Funk: Like what?
Carmen Vazquez: Like my first, the person I first fell in love with sort of, I was 15 by then, in sophomore year and she was a friend of the family, Eva, whom I just couldn't keep my eyes off of her.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:14:30] And I didn't, I mean, I, I totally didn't understand it, but I sort of did because a couple of years earlier, I had been in some camp and had a kiss with a girl and I'm going, no, that was good. That felt really good. So, Eva was a friend of the family and I had this huge attraction to her.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:15:00] My mother became aware of it and basically said I needed to get myself together and that I had no shame.
There is this word in Spanish, sin verguenza. It means without shame and I said, fuck you. So, I left home but not too far. I went to live with my grandmother and my father,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:15:30] he was still alive at the time, for about six months, something like that. My father did the best he could. He got me into this school in Washington, I think George Washington High. But I wasn't doing much of going to school then either. More traveling around the city,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:16:00] which was actually an interesting time because when you live in Los Angeles you need a car, but in New York City for a very little bit of money, you can take a train and go to like worlds away. One of those trips I went, for example, was to Forest Hills in Queens. Boy, I was stunned that people could live like this in New York City.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:16:30] Houses, lawns, it was amazing to me. And so those are some of the things I did during that time that I wasn't living with my mother, I also, ran around with some friends, including that Eva person, who was straight. I mean, she wasn't interested in me. It was just me into her.
Mason Funk: [00:17:00] Try to communicate if you would, what that phrase. I mean, I know that ...
Carmen Vazquez: Sin verguenza?
Mason Funk: Yeah. It literally means without shame, but I think it must carry, like a lot of weight in Hispanic culture, in that language. It's, it's a really strong thing to say to your own daughter, is that correct?
Carmen Vazquez: Sin verguenza literally means without shame or shameless, and it's, it's a big insult to be called shameless. Now see, in Spanish,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:17:30] it's funny because you can say sin verguenza as a tease and it could mean you Ooh, shameless, shameless woman. Or if you say it with gravitas, then it means you have no sense of honor or pride. And that's a big, big thing. It's the same thing with the word maricon. Maricon said in anger is a bad word,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:18:00] faggot, or just youre bad, not necessarily in a sexual orientation way. You can also say mariconcita, which is little queer with love and affection. So, it depends on how its said. I ran around with a bad crowd, and it was the first time in my life Id done so. I mean, I'd known poverty
Carmen Vazquez: [00:18:30] and I'd known domestic violence, but I had never known drugs and stuff like that.
And so I began to meet people, who were users and who were sellers. And I really was intrigued by them, but I was never really tempted to use drugs. In part that's because one particular party that we had,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:19:00] that I went to, somebody died of an overdose. And for me it was like, Im not doing that. I did other drugs later but nothing that I would inject into my body. It was an early lesson about the potential dangers of using drugs. And so that period lasted for about three months.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:19:30] I eventually got tired of running around, asked my mother if I could come back home and, and she said yes. I had been mostly out of school for the first couple of months of the semester, but she got me into Cathedral High School.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:20:00] She went and told the nuns, shes sorry, she has this daughter, she's a little troubled, but she's really smart. And so the nun said, okay. And that was the Sisters of Charity. I was back home, but I was still cutting school and II was in basic classes and I was bored.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:20:30] like I could read a book and take a test and score 100 on it, it wasn't a problem. I didn't need to be in school. Why did I need to be in school for that? Nope. But I was lucky. I had a nun one nun in particular, I can't remember her name. But she schooled me. here's what I would do. I would skip school and then Id stop by the convent afterwards, you know.
Mason Funk: [00:21:00] Why? Why would you stop?
Carmen Vazquez: I wanted to see them. I liked them. Maybe there was a part of me that was like, Huh, I didn't go to school, but here I am. What are you going to do?
Mason Funk: Did you get the sense they liked you as well?
Carmen Vazquez: Oh, they loved me. They would shake their heads and have me come in and give me cookies and milk or coffee at that point, maybe.
Mason Funk: Was it a little bit like how do you solve a problem like Maria?
Carmen Vazquez: [00:21:30] Yes, exactly. It was a little like how do you solve a problem like Carmen? And so how they solved that is on one of those visits. The Sister sat me down and said, Look, sob stories are a dime dozen in New York City. I know about your home life. I know it's been complicated.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:22:00] I also know you're very, very smart and very, very talented intellectually. So, here's the deal. You can continue to cut up, you and we'll put you right back into basic things in junior and senior year and you can just blow your life away or you can apply yourself, get 90 plus on your finals and we'll put you into the advanced course.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:22:30] So I said, Okay, deal. I went to school for the last two months of that year, had something like a 96 average on my finals. And, and they kept their promise. They sent me on the advanced track for my junior and senior year, and then I really settled down. I mean,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:23:00] I was still rebellious, and I was angry about things at home. But being in an environment where I was really being challenged at school helped a lot. And I also met my first sweetheart, Angie Rodriguez is her name and that was junior year.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:23:30] We used to meet after school and go to a place, where was it? Some place in Grand Central Station, they sell orange juice and hotdogs. Maybe it was Orange Julius. Wed Just sit there for hours and then be late home for dinner. And it was very sweet. It was really innocent.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:24:00] Until, I guess it was in senior year when we had sleepovers and at those sleepovers, things happened. Not too much because one of her sisters was always around.
We graduated from Cathedral High School.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:24:30] And then she went to work as a secretary in Stamford, Connecticut. I mean, she commuted. She's still lived in New York City and I went to CCNY, City College of New York, in Harlem. It's a great school. I still love CCNY.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:25:00] It was part of the City University of New York, the original Campus. There was no tuition. There was a registration fee at the time, I think it was $37 a semester. A really accessible university for poor people and, and great, great teachers. I mean, I had some of the best teachers.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:25:30] Allen Ginsberg taught at City College. Adrienne Rich and Joseph Heller and Anthony Burgess taught at City College. I mean, I was very lucky to have been exposed to that level of a literary talent at a very young age. It was also, the late 60s, the Vietnam war, everything was in tumult.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:26:00] But to make a long story short, to get back to Angie, she and I continued to see each other. But at some point, somebody, one of the sisters probably told our mothers, so we were outed and that was a huge trauma.
Mason Funk: [00:26:30] Can you tell that story? Like what, like literally,
Carmen Vazquez: hm.
Mason Funk: How did you, what happened when you first saw your mother confronted her or she confronted you?
Carmen Vazquez: Well, what happened was one of Angie's sisters told her, Angie's mother called my mother. And the interesting thing is that at first my mother said, My daughter doesn't do that.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:27:00] And you know, she defended me. I don't know what the rest of the conversation was, but then my mother confronted me , and I said, Yeah, I love her. She said, No you don't. I said, Yes, I do. And it was a great conversation actually. She said, Listen, you'll outgrow this, right? This is a phase.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:27:30] All girls go through it. I went through it. And she told me about her crush on a woman named Carolina when she was about my age. I was fascinated and I wanted to know more about Carolina but no more was to be told, just that there was that, and I would get over it. I said, Fine, but I'm gonna still see Angie.
Well we had to, we, didn't have to leave high school at that point,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:28:00] but, you know, our families were friends and so, we just did, I mean, we did it, we snuck around and Angie would mostly come to my house because I didnt want to go to their house. It was a scene. Angie and I, this was our first year. I dont know what happened, but Angie decided to get a boyfriend. And I was really just beside myself,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:28:30] so I decided I'd get a boyfriend too, a man named Santiago, Soto. I called him Santo. It means Saint. His father actually was a minister. I remember the song, Son of a Preacher Man.
He was my son of a preacher man.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:29:00] And he was a wonderful guy. We did fun things together, whatever, you know, movies and then we actually even double dated with Angie's boyfriend. That kind of went on for a year or so. And then I moved from my family's home to
Carmen Vazquez: [00:29:30] an apartment in the Bronx on 174th Street and Grand Concourse, which is a mere five blocks away from Yankee stadium. The Yankees were a very bad team in those days. I used to be able to go in there for, you know, a couple of dollars to watch games. Fun.
Mason Funk: Real quick question, when you and Angie were double dating with these two guys, were you still carrying on your affair, your relationship?
Mason Funk: [00:30:00] Or did you really just decide ... Did that all stop while you were dating these guys?
Carmen Vazquez: No, we were still carrying on. We were still carrying on our relationship. We were Angie and I, but we are seeing these guys and, and that's why it eventually just became too complicated. Right. To keep up with the charade. And I don't know who broke off.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:30:30] I think I broke up with Santi. Then, actually let me get this right. It wasn't me that moved into the Concourse apartment, we both did. Angie and I decided to move in together.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:31:00] The apartments in the Bronx they, were these pre-war apartments, beautiful apartments, big expansive living room, kitchen, a nice bedroom, foyer. We had a foyer for God sake! it was a great place, but I'll tell you, we had two single beds,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:31:30] although we slept in one, but for Angie there was still this need and actually that persisted , her need to, I guess not be completely out to her family for many years. We were together, I don't know, since high school, junior year, college. Then we both participated in a program called the
Carmen Vazquez: [00:32:00] bilingual bicultural consortium for educators. And ...
Mason Funk: Let's get to that in a second year. I just want to fill in a couple of details. One is, or one was-
You had eventually three younger sisters. Is that right?
Carmen Vazquez: Oh God, yeah. Three younger sisters and three younger brothers. I'm the oldest of seven.
Mason Funk: [00:32:30] Okay. So I'm just curious about like how the family, you are the oldest, um, were you close with these younger siblings?
How did they kind of view this controversy around you and Angie and I'm just curious for a more complete picture of your family.
Carmen Vazquez: I have six siblings, three sisters and three brothers, all younger than me.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:33:00] My mother had eight pregnancies in 10 years or 11 years. Seven of us survived and I was the oldest and the oldest in a family always get sa certain level, or at least in Puerto Rican families, gets a certain level of respect no matter what, she's the oldest. That's still true today. .
Carmen Vazquez: [00:33:30] So the reactions of my sisters and brothers during the time that I was involved with Angie, was a mix. I mean, my sister right after me, had already gone off and married Charlie Molloy. The third sister was not living with us. She had gone off to college in Harrison, New York.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:34:00] The youngest sister, Nancy, is the one who would hang out with me and Angie
And she loved it because she'd go places with us. Wed take her. We were fun. My brothers would not know much about it. They were kind of too young to really get the gist of it. Over the many years since, that's kind of remained the same
Carmen Vazquez: [00:34:30] that my sister Nancy, who lives in New York is the one that's probably been, the one that I've been closest to for the longer period of time. My sister Ida lives in Texas now and when I was with Angie and later with whoever, other girlfriends, other lovers,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:35:00] she, she was not happy. she wasn't rude, she wasn't disrespectful, but she wasn't happy. There was actually one time, this must've been around the AIDS crisis where she didn't want me to come to her house because of AIDS though I didn't have AIDS. That was painful.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:35:30] So by the time that I got into college, they were just in a whole other world. The youngest one, Eric, also lives in Texas. And now in this time of my life,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:36:00] he's probably the most, connected to me politically. And he gets me, he gets my life, as an activist. He understands it. He didn't always, but he has really grown to be a tremendous advocate in terms of my work as an LGBT activist. And my sister Nancy is not quite
Carmen Vazquez: [00:36:30] as politically clear about what my life is about, but she's very supportive and she loves me and my sister Ida is now as well and the rest of them are kind of off there. So, of the seven of us, I would say three of them are very close to me now. And the others are kind of distant.
Mason Funk: Over time, your mom initially said you're going to get over this, this is a phase, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah blah. How did she change and adapt. Oopsie.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:37:00] Turn that off. Stop.
Mason Funk: You know what, this is a good time to cut because I'm going to swap out a card.
Carmen Vazquez: Broadening their services. Some of them are incorporating pharmacies some are incorporating actual healthcare clinics. A little bit like Callen-Lorde but Callen, oh, the Callen-Lorde used to be the community health project in New York City,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:37:30] which was actually housed at the LGBT Community Center in its early days. And then eventually, totally outgrew it and they had this massive building on 16th street in New York. It's such a great place, but they were the original, LGBT specific health clinic in New York City and in AIDS organizations. It's part of look, you know, looking at the loss of federal funding
Carmen Vazquez: [00:38:00] and the fact that in New York City and in the state we're close to being under epidemic levels and in fact the goal was to be there by 2020.
Mason Funk: Is there like a specific way of measuring that?
Carmen Vazquez: Yes, 750 new infections or less a year. So we went from, I don't know, 14,000 at the height to ...
Carmen Vazquez: [00:38:30] We're close. We were at 1200, I think the last time that we looked at a report. It's very, very likely that we Im still saying we.
Mason Funk: Of course you are.
Carmen Vazquez: That they will reach the goal of ending the epidemic, in New York state by 2020.
Mason Funk: [00:39:00] How does that compare to, um, so you have this interesting category of new infections.
Carmen Vazquez: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Which is not the same thing as people dying. But is there, is there a comparable, like are there other diseases where you can say for this disease we have this many new infections a year, say Hepatitis C or is it possible to compare like that number of new infections to other diseases?
Carmen Vazquez: Yes, it is. And Hepatitis C is probably the closest example
Carmen Vazquez: [00:39:30] because it's another really life -threatening disease although not as deadly as AIDS. The AIDS institute changed its name from just the AIDS institute, or at least the Bureau that I worked for, the Bureau of HIV, STD and HIV prevention.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:40:00] So that all sexually transmitted diseases became a part of what the mandate is. And they track syphilis the same way the. The progress in the lowering of new transmissions has really been astounding and very straight forward. It's testing, testing, testing, millions of people,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:40:30] sometimes multiple times, getting those who are positive in care immediately. And those who are negative but at risk on PREP.
Mason Funk: We'll get to this later.
Carmen Vazquez: Testing linkage. Navigation.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Carmen Vazquez: Same thing in California. Yeah, I'm sure we
Mason Funk: We interviewed ...You must [inaudible] in Miami.
Mason Funk: We interviewed him and of course, Miami is where [inaudible] are going up.
Mason Funk: So that's, I was just curious and I know some reasons for that, but we'll get to that a little while.
Mason Funk: Like, I dont want to rush you into telling the story.
Mason Funk: I'm trying to think where we were. You did mention, I think we've got a good picture of your growing up years. Um, and you did start to talk about this bilingual, bicultural, and that was something you put in your questionnaire as having been very important. And particularly the woman who ...
Carmen Vazquez: Amelia Ashe
Mason Funk: [00:41:30] Yeah. Who created it or ran it. I dont know if she created it, but she ran it. So could you tell us that story and why that was important for you?
Carmen Vazquez: The Bilingual, Bicultural Counselor Education Consortium -a big name - was the creation of Amelie Ashe, who, at the time , was a Professor of Education, at Richmond College, now Staten Island College of the City,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:42:00] University of New York. I never set foot on the place in Staten Island for this course. It all took place at the CUNY Graduate Center. The old one that used to be on 42nd street. The program was really a brilliant conception on Amelia's part. She foresaw, this was a 71, 72 72
Carmen Vazquez: [00:42:30] because I graduated from college in 71. She foresaw that in the next, six, eight years, 10 years, the majority of the student population in New York City would be black or Latino. And so she decided to create a cohort of, Latino students,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:43:00] half of them from Puerto Rico and half from New York City, who would undergo a years course a very intense year course that would result in a Masters in Education, which ultimately would put people in a position of being counselors or administrators in the New York City public school system.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:43:30] So I was one of those people. Actually, it's an interesting story and Angie had something to do with it. I had graduated from CUNY, living with Angie and was working a summer job. CUNY had offered me a tuition free scholarship to do a Masters in American literature Major as American Literature was my undergraduate work major.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:44:00] And I loved it. I did mostly all the English courses that you can think of, with, as I said earlier, people like Ginsburg and, Adrienne Rich and Anthony Burgess. Many incredibly important writers that I was privileged to study with.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:44:30] I was all set to back to CUNY September to do a master's and eventually a PhD in American literature and become an academic. Professor Vazquez sounded good to me.
But I took a summer job at a New York State Unemployment office, dreadful, dreadful grey desk, grey chairs.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:45:00] The gray baskets to put the forms in. It was just all the way grey. I hated that place. But it was a summer job and they thought they were getting someone fresh out of school they could put it into their pipeline and civil service system, et cetera. During the summer that I was there waiting to go back to school, Angie heard of this program that was recruiting people. She wasn't done with her graduate undergraduate work yet,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:45:30] but she knew that I was. I called them up, I applied, I was accepted. And the deal was that I would get a degree in a year tuition free. In fact, they would pay me a stipend. I think it was like $360 a month at the time, which was an enormous amount of money in 1971 or 72.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:46:00] And so I said, how can it hurt? I'll do this. I went to CUNY I said, can I defer this for a year? They agreed then I said to myself, I'll have a Masters in Education and in I'll come back, and I'll do a Masters in American Literature, I'll just stay in school forever. Didnt happen. The program changed my life. It just literally changed my life.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:46:30] The premise was that you were to learn the kind of most basic skills that an educator, a counselor, and an administrator would have. We had two days of classroom sessions one day of lab sessions, meaning like this,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:47:00] where you'd sit and they'd film you doing group work or doing individual work and then give you feedback on it. And then two days of practice in the field. Very intense.
I was thrilled to be accepted to the program and it was also all Puerto Ricans, right? We loved it. We were just having a blast.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:47:30] The Consortium was a coalition of the Labor Department, the Ford Foundation, City University, the University of Puerto Rico, and La Universidad Catolica in Puerto Rico. I t really was a consortium. However, for the first couple of months of the program, the funding for the stipends was nowhere to be seen. So we were like, and how are we supposed to be doing this? We're working full time.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:48:00] We couldn't work because we were in school full time. The natives got restless, we got very restless and we were going to make a demand that Amelia Ashe better show up and tell us where that money was. And of course, I got elected to go in there and confront Amelia. I went in there in my beanie cap
Carmen Vazquez: [00:48:30] and you guys need to know I had longer hair, there's a picture that I'll show you from that time. It's great. I presented the students' demands: give us our money or we would stop coming to class. This was all a farce. This white Jew treating these Puerto Ricans like dirt, you know. La la la la.
Amelia listened patiently, and she said,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:49:00] You're right. I'd like to talk about this more. Can I take you to dinner? It was the beginning of a really intense and wonderful mentorship relationship with Amelia Ashe, who was a socialist. She, her family actually were socialists that were run out of Russia
Carmen Vazquez: [00:49:30] and came from a European culture that she was imbued with and loved. So, she took me to dinner, and it was really the first time in my life that I'd ever had a choice of red or white wine. What are you talking about? You'd have a beer; you have a rum and coke. But wine?
Carmen Vazquez: [00:50:00] Well, it's fine. She also took me to a hat shop where I got a proper hat, to replace the beanie cap.
And many other things. It was just sort of learning about how to present yourself in public in a way that was maybe a little more professional and acceptable. But she also told me tons of stories about her parents life in Russia.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:50:30] She was born there. And about being an immigrant, a Russian immigrant and a Jew in this country, right after the war and all that that entailed. She was an English teacher as a young mother and went back to get her degree later and eventually got a PhD.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:51:00] Her vision for the program is that we would become professionals with a degree and the skills to be able counsel and educate and eventually, to become administrators.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:51:30] And they were many more dinners after that. There were visits to Amelia's apartment on the Upper West Side because she had a bad back. And so sometimes, when we couldn't meet at the office because of her back we would meet at her place. I got to know her apartment and I l oved her. I mean, she was an incredibly visionary woman
Carmen Vazquez: [00:52:00] who put this program together and put so many of us in a position to succeed. She recruited people from different universities across the country to come do the workshops or the lessons part of the, of the program. I loved her and graduated
Carmen Vazquez: [00:52:30] and then she invited me to come back as an instructor. So, I was 23 years old with Masters degree and a Instructor for the City University of New York, teaching people twice my age easily.And Amelia did things with us that stayed with me forever. Like I remember we went to a conference in New Orleans,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:53:00] a Counselor Educator Convention. We were presenting on our program and were given a slot and we got there, it turned out that our session was in the basement level of the hotel. Amelia said, come with me. This is the year that I was an instructor and she went to the manager of the hotel and said,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:53:30] This is completely inappropriate. You are not putting my staff and my students in the basement. Fix this, now. And he did. And she turned around to me and she said, "So what's the lesson, Carmen?" I said, "Don't do presentations in basements." She said, "No, never expect less than the very best for yourself and the people that you work with."
Carmen Vazquez: [00:54:00] "It's not acceptable. You know why they put us down here? Because youre a bunch of Puerto Rican students and that's just not acceptable." So that's what I mean about her fierceness as an ally and her uncompromising commitment to ensuring that we understood that we deserved the best and that in order to get the best we had to demand it, it was not going to be given to us.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:54:30] It was a life lesson. I never forgot that. Amelia's leadership and mentorship stayed with me for many years. Needless to say, I never went back to City College for that master's in American literature because I really got hooked on this program. it opened my eyes to so much,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:55:00] the field work that we did, the work that people were doing, trying to educate and mentor young people, to get them out of poverty and into, you know, educational programs. I fell in love with that work, not just here, but in Puerto Rico. And it sort of was the final seeds of what would become my activist life. Some of those seeds had been laid before during the Vietnam War,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:55:30] and protests at City College. We shut down City College over a Black and Puerto Rican Studies Department and a number of other things, which really was my first activism.
Mason Funk: Well that's what I want to take it and like just take a little breath and then start that story because I was about to say what else was going on politically and culturally for you. This is obviously a hotbed of the hot time.
Mason Funk: So tell us about this, what you were just starting to say before I interrupted Before, okay.
Carmen Vazquez: Before Amelia, there was CCNY
Mason Funk: [Inaudible]
Carmen Vazquez: Oh, City College of New York, which is the founding college of what is now the City University of New York system. So CCNY CUNY is what that all stands for.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:56:30] City College was huge urban campus and lots of Jewish kids, lots of Latino kids, black kids, working class, mostly working -class kids who could otherwise not afford to go to college. The campus was rife, rife with activism of all kinds.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:57:00] I mean against the war, for the end of nuclear proliferation, which was a very big thing at that time, and I wish it still were. And the budding movement for the creation of Black and Puerto Rican Studies. There might've been others,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:57:30] maybe Columbia was looking at this too, but there certainly had not been many.
And so a group of students, decided that we would present a series of demands to the chancellor and the college president. Those demands were the creation of a Black and Puerto Rican Studies Department,
Carmen Vazquez: [00:58:00] the continuation of open enrollment and no tuition, and making sure that majors in education studied Spanish. So those were the demands. Reasonable, it seems to me. And, and they said, Forget it. We said, Okay, really?
Carmen Vazquez: [00:58:30] This was, I don't know, sometime in late winter, I remember because it was cold. So, the group, I don't think we had a name, we were just the organizing committee as many things were called in those days, continued to meet, and we devised a plan to shut down City College during the spring break. And we did.
Carmen Vazquez: [00:59:00] We barricaded both the north gate and the south gate. We locked ourselves in. We called it the University of Harlem.
We invited the community to support us and they did with food and blankets and coffee. It was spontaneous organizing that was very idealistic and, in the end, very productive
Carmen Vazquez: [00:59:30] because when students came back, they couldn't get in and we weren't going anywhere. We kept negotiating with the president of the school, but not much was happening. They tried to bring in the police, and it became a scene, right. The possibility of a mob and violence was more than the president could endure.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:00:00] And so, eventually, our demands were met and the school reopened. There was one incident that happened during that was also very formative. I lived on 125th street at the time and the General Grant Projects. So I left one night, I think we were there for three days, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, running mimeograph machines.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:00:30] I was filthy, and I said guys, you know, I gotta go home, you know, take a shower, have some rice and beans and mom's cooking and Ill be back in the morning. They said, fine. I left and I came back in the morning and these three young black men were standing at the south gate. Black Berets because this was also the time of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:01:00] And they said, What do you want? I said, I want to get in. Im part of the organizing. They didn't believe me. They didn't believe me because why? Because they thought I was white because I am obviously very light skinned. And until that moment, because I'd grown up with black people all my life in Harlem,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:01:30] I knew I wasn't Black but I never thought of myself as white. And then I realized, oh actually I can pass, I can be perceived that way. I was also furious with them and demanded to see so and so and so, who was involved in the organizing. They eventually let me in. But it was a moment of kind of really understanding skin privilege,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:02:00] passing privilege that I had never really had to think about too much before that. And so that was my real first introduction to activism.
It stayed with me. I mean, throughout my tenure at City College, there was always something to protest. You throw yourself in a ditch in front of the machines that dig out the dirt
Carmen Vazquez: [01:02:30] to protest the fact that they were cutting up the south lawn to put in these stupid temporary structures because the college was growing. They had too many students, they needed temporary classroom things. And we were mortified. So into the ditch we went.
Mason Funk: What happened?
Carmen Vazquez: Well, the machines had to stop and then they had to come get us out of the ditch and eventually they succeeded in putting up those horrible structures and ruining a beautiful campus.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:03:00] You know, the south campus of City College of New York was originally a convent on convent avenue. They had wonderful old wood furniture, brick buildings and an expansive lawn that was our playground.
I mean that's where we had picnics in the Spring;
Carmen Vazquez: [01:03:30] where we had snowball fights in the Winter and threw frisbees in the Summer and all that kind of stuff because the north campus was all concrete. The south campus was beloved to all CCNY students. Anyway, we lost that fight, but we won the Black and Puerto Rican studies fight, which I think ultimately was more important.
Mason Funk: [01:04:00] Alright, let me just check, double check my list of questions. Um, and then I think we're going to jump forward because ...
Carmen Vazquez: To San Francisco.
Mason Funk: Yeah, exactly. How did you get to San Francisco?
Carmen Vazquez: I went to San Francisco.
Mason FunK: Give me a year. Start over and just give me a year.
Carmen Vazquez: All right. I went to San Francisco in 1974, August of 1974. The CUNY program had ended.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:04:30] I needed to find a new job, but, Angie and I had broken-up, complicated. She had an affair, I had an affair, one of us had an affair. I knew I needed to find work and my sister had moved to San Francisco about six months before and she kept writing to me,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:05:00] calling me, telling me how beautiful it was, how the weather was wonderful, which I found out was not true.
So I said, Eh, I have to find a job. I might as well check out. So, I was just tired of New York. I wanted to leave. New York City wasn't big enough for me and Angie, so off to San Francisco,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:05:30] I went. I had been out to my family for a couple of years, but I wasn't part of a community, a gay community. I didn't know that in New York City. I mean, Stonewall was the name of a General of the Civil War. I had nothing to do with that bar. I lived in the Bronx and that's where I hung out.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:06:00] Anyway, make a long story short, I did not have an LGBT community in New York.
At the airport, I stopped to pick up a book. And the book was Patricia Nell Warren's The Front Runner. I knew nothing about Patricia Nell Warren, knew nothing about the gay scene, the gay Mecca in San Francisco.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:06:30] But I sat on the plane and I read this book and I went really, oh my God, the Castro gay thing, gay Mecca, that's where I'm going. I was thrilled and blessed, really. My life is blessed like that. Things like that happen. Right. I'll pick up a book by Patricia Nell Warren on the way to San Francisco. And I got to where my sister was staying.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:07:00] She was on 17th and Noe a block away from 18th and Castro. But she didn't know anything about the gay community. I said, it's gotta be here somewhere.
The next day or a couple of days, they took me to Muir Woods. I saw the Golden Gate Bridge, I saw touristy things, but not gay things. Later that week, I took a bus downtown figuring the gay community
Carmen Vazquez: [01:07:30] the gays must be there, right? These are reasonable thoughts. I couldn't find the gays. I kept looking and looking, there were no gays to be found anywhere. I finally got on the phone and I called the Gay Switchboard. I think it was just the gay switchboard., no lesbian. Anyway, we didn't have lesbians in our name yet,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:08:00] that was later. I called the switchboard and I, I just said I want to find the gay people. The operator was a man. He said, which ones, honey? Girls or Boys?
I said, well, both actually. He directed me to get on the number eight streetcar
Carmen Vazquez: [01:08:30] back to Castro and 18th to the Blue Moon Cafe, lesbian place. And as I got there, I realized I was a block away. My sister was a block away, so, I found the gays and I was just thrilled. I remember I couldn't believe it.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:09:00] I couldn't believe walking down the street and seeing men and men and women and women holding hands, you know, stopping at bars and things and the whole place was gay. It was gay, gay, gay, gay everywhere. And I loved it. I went to the cafe where there were lesbians. Most of the gays I saw on the street were men, although there were some women in the Castro.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:09:30] And so began my life in San Francisco. It took a while. I was, I about to enter my Saturn Return. So I was a kind of back and forth and not quite clear what I was doing. I had a girlfriend at the time, Kathy. We lived in a studio on 18th street near Castro.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:10:00] I had a job with Latino's United League of America (LULAC.) While with them, I had my first kind of big coming out in an employment setting. They had this building on Fulsom and 25th,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:10:30] I think that was an old school building. And they had taken it over and their intent was to make it a huge Latino Cultural Center.
I think eventually they did. But at the time that they had an office there and they rented space to make an income and it began my long association with buildings. There was that, there was the Women's Building in SF, the LGBT Center in New York. Anyway,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:11:00] so I was working there, I don't know, about six months or something like that and doing work as a counselor educator. I was actually a supervisor because I had a master's degree and I was overseeing other people. They used to have Tenant Council meetings where decisions about who they would rent to were made.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:11:30] A request came in from the Gay Latino Alliance (GALA.) And the head of LULAC sat at his desk and just bust out laughing, you know, because we're going to have maricones here now!
He went on and on and on about Maricones and how they weren't going to meet there.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:12:00] And there was another woman there who I knew was a lesbian. And I looked at her and she said, Nada, nothing, nothing. And, and I couldn't stand it anymore. So, I got up and I said, I am a Latina and I am a lesbian and you can't talk about my people, any of my people like that.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:12:30] There was a big debate and discussion. And actually, it was great because some of the people in the room who were young, Latino people were actually very supportive. In the end , they voted to have GALA meet in the building. The director was furious with me for, I don't know how long, many months,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:13:00] but it happened. That was a sort of public coming out in a way that I hadn't quite done before.
I went back to New York for reasons that are too complicated for the story, but mainly have to do with family, family following me out there. One of my younger brothers, my girlfriends brother, my sister, Mindy who was already there and it turned out that the boyfriend that she came to live with was gay
Carmen Vazquez: [01:13:30] , and had a daddy who took care of him, was paying his way through medical school and Mindy was heartbroken. And so, of course, I had to come out to her.
And so they all wound up living with me in Noe Valley and within a month, two of them had lost their jobs. And I said, That's it! Everybody out. I'm leaving.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:14:00] I left San Francisco, I think it would be 75 or 76. I came back to New York. By then I was fully out and I could enjoy the joys of the Duchess and Bonnie and Clyde and many other great, lesbian bars in New York but I got bored with family and wanted to go back to the SF gays.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:14:30] I Greyhounded it back. The first time I flew out there, but subsequent trips were on Greyhound and on my second trip back to San Francisco, I had given up that apartment. I didn't have job, so I was living on unemployment. I rented a studio on Bush Street had a part time job and I started exploring more of San Francisco.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:15:00] I had, I didn't know what I had. I had these panic attacks that were a combination of, I don't know, leaving family, a new environment, being, 27 or 28, wherever I was at the time.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:15:30] And I would have hallucinations of seeing this native person outside my window inviting me out from the third floor. Not a good idea, I said to myself, I think you need to talk to somebody. I went to Operation Concern. I don't know if it's still in San Francisco, but it was a Gay mental health agency. And I said, I needed to see somebody,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:16:00] I needed to see a lesbian and she needed to be a lesbian of color or third world. They said, oh, there wasn't very many of them. In fact, there was one, and her name was Pat Norman is Pat Norman.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:16:30] Pat Norman became my second mentor. She was a counselor she worked at a clinic for sexual health in in the Polk area.
And so I started seeing her, on a weekly basis. Got Better, although went through a lot of trauma and grief to get there
Carmen Vazquez: [01:17:00] and was still living in my apartment on Bush Street. And then after six months or so, she started scheduling my sessions towards the end of the day. And then she'd take me places like gay bars or events, community events that were happening. And slowly but surely introduced me into a community, a community of activists,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:17:30] both political activists and people of color who were activists. And I got well, I got completely well and, and stopped seeing Pat in part because I got well, but also because she also then got hired as the Director of Lesbian and Gay Health Services.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:18:00] Pat and I then became friends and I, became involved in some of the things that she was involved with Like the Alice B. Toklas Club.
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt for one second because we're going to Before we go on just how much
Could you share a little bit if you're willing about, as you said, you went through, um, grief and trauma to on the path to getting well.
Mason Funk: [01:18:30] What were you, what do you mean by that? What were you, what were you just kind of coming to terms with stuff you'd experienced as a kid? And ...
Carmen Vazquez: In my time with, and my work with Pat, I said I went through a lot of grief and trauma to get well. And what that entailed was, lots of things. The violence that I experienced in my life with my father, but directly his violence against me.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:19:00] He was an old school disciplinarian and take off the belt, left welts on me and also his abuse of my mother. I also dealt with the trauma of sexual abuse with my stepfather, which I had never, talked about. I mean, I had told my mother, but that was a trauma in and of itself because she didn't believe me. I had to stage a scene between my stepfather and me
Carmen Vazquez: [01:19:30] that she could hear in order for her to believe me. And, and that was a grief that got locked up for many, many years and I wouldn't talk about it.
It was something that I had to get through. And there was an even deeper and older, trauma.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:20:00] When I moved from Puerto Rico, the culture shock was just phenomenal. I mean, I was four years old, but I went from living in a mountain house ere I was using a latrine outside, to coming to a city where everything was concrete cars, everywhere. I mean, I saw a car every once in a blue moon in Puerto Rico.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:20:30] Ice creams for God's sakes! What was ice cream? I blew on it! But the, the bathroom thing, I couldn't handle. I had been toilet trained to go whenever I wanted to. You know, there was no such thing as a closet that you go into and you sit on a toilet and then you flush it.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:21:00] I became really constipated and that was really painful. Sometimes I couldn't hold my urine and then I'd get beaten for it because I was a good big girl. Right. So why are you urinating in your pants anyway? And for years in my early adulthood after that, and in through my early adulthood,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:21:30] I suffered from severe constipation, which I mean, I went to doctors and stuff, but nothing. So, I had a session with Pat, I don't even remember what it was. It was some deep breathing, maybe, a hypnotic kind of session that sheput me through. And I relived that earlier episode,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:22:00] and the constipation and the beatings because I had peed in my pants and it was extraordinary. I mean, I just wept and wept and wept and wept for that child and for the beatings and the sexual abuse. I was exhausted. I don't know. I don't remember how long the session lasted. I do remember that on my way only home, I had this big old poop in my pants.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:22:30] It happened because I used to walk. It was close enough that I could walk. I went home, I got myself cleaned up, but that was not half as traumatic as whatever I had just experienced with Pat and it was the end of my constipation. So yes, I went through a lot of grief and trauma with Pat and I will be forever grateful for the extraordinarily
Carmen Vazquez: [01:23:00] wonderful healing ability that that woman had and probably still has.
Michelle Mccabe: I need to ...
Mason Funk: Swap cards.
Carmen Vazquez: I'll go through these with you and you can see which ones you want to take.
Carmen Vazquez: They're mostly family and friends and a couple of pictures of myself that I like. And then I have a couple in the phone, maybe three of them in the phone that I want to send to you.
Mason Funk: [01:23:30] Roman Guy. Do you know Roma?
Mason Funk: She's the one right here and you easily, I think she was strategizing. She thought Roma might be hard. She might cause there was all that publicity around her when they made that series for television.
Carmen Vazquez: I watched it.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Good. Yeah, I kind of, I didn't, I watched it a little bit.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:24:00] No, I watched the whole thing and you know, it was a fictional account. Not ...
Mason Funk: Yeah. Not a documentary.
Carmen Vazquez: Not documentary.
Mason Funk: So you forgave the
Carmen Vazquez: Yeah. But I loved the portrayals of Roma and Diane, these were my very close friends actually in San Francisco, so I knew them intimately.
Mason Funk: [01:24:30] So you knew if these stories were being taught properly or not.
Carmen Vazquez: Oh, yeah. And the Women's Building, it didn't get anywhere near the amount of coverage that it should have gotten. But the woman, the actress who played the young Roma also starred in Fun Home.
Mason Funk: [01:25:00] Um, the play, Room?
Carmen Vazquez: Yes, the play. Fun Home. It was a gorgeous production, actually got a Tony. Diane came to visit New York for some meeting that she had. She invited me to come see the play with her.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:25:30] It was at the Theater in the Round. We had seats in the second row. I mean, we were that close to the actors. And I got to meet Emily Skeggs who played young Roma in the movie. The play was wonderful and I loved Emily. I didn't like the older Roma, the one played by Mary Louise Parker but I loved the young Roma.
Mason Funk: Let's talk about Roma.
Mason Funk: [01:26:00] Lets talk about Roma. Um, maybe in the context of the women's building.
Carmen Vazquez: The Womens Building.
Mason Funk: Why don't you start by introducing us to the women's building and give us a date as you get going.i
Carmen Vazquez: In 1978, I believe it was. I was back in San Francisco. I had left in 77 but came back after the assassination of Milk and Moscone.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:26:30] And the Jonestown thing. It was a pretty horrific time in the life of San Francisco. And I was living in the Haight with a group of friends, a very hippie, hippie, hippie life;
Carmen Vazquez: [01:27:00] a young woman named Blue who used to cook and say that, food is love and things like that. And I was, looking for work and some friends of mine, known as The Family, mostly Black and Latina lesbians who identified as feminists,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:27:30] but had a very strong intersectional class and race analysis that didn't quite fit the sort of larger lesbian feminist movement were working at the Womens Building. Judith Castleberry, Jacque Dupree and Barbara Neighbors Glass (BG)) had gotten jobs or rented space at the Womens Building, which I didn't really know much about.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:28:00] I had gone to the Women's Centers once in my travels around San Francisco and it was this little tiny hole in the wall office. I was sort of surprised by how small it was because it was the Women's Centers, like really, but I didn't pay much attention to it. My friends were at the Building and there was a job opening,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:28:30] with Women's Centers, the Collective who were the legal owners of the Women's Building, which was established in 1978, so it had not been around very long. When I came to apply for a job the Women's Centers, the Womens Building and Womens Centers were both run by Collectives. God bless collectives!
Carmen Vazquez: [01:29:00] Roma was on staff. Roma was really the Director, but it was a collective, we didn't have those kind of titles.
I interviewed with Roma and some of rest of the Collective. Roma, Diane, Jean. And they hired me. That was my introduction to Roma Guy.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:29:30] And Roma was fierce. Spitfire.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor start by saying Roma Guy.
Carmen Vazquez: Roma Guy was, the titular director of Womens Centers. She's certainly a founder of the Women's Building and she was spitfire. She was no nonsense. Let's get this done.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:30:00] She had tremendous capacity for conceptualizing ideas, things, thoughts, not so great at writing them down, but really good at conceptualizing. And I was intrigued by that. Anyway, I was hired to work as the Fundraising Coordinator, Membership Coordinator for Womens Centers in late 79.
Carmen Vazquez [01:30:30] It looked nothing like it looks today. It was a dingy place. There was an Irish bar down on the corner where I often congregated with my friends on the Building staff.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:31:00] Because The women's Centers staff was mostly white ( there was a black woman on staff, and another Latino woman, but the rest of the staff were white and certainly the people supported them) and the Women's Building staff were women of color,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:31:30] we had kinds of conflicts between the two staffs, mostly centered on issues of race and class. Many extraordinary things happened. The Police Women's Association, which was fairly new, wanted to meet at the Building.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:32:00] The collectives were torn about this because we were the Womens Building. We were a safe haven for women. No Police! But it was a Womens Association!
We had immigrants meeting on the second floor, sadomasochists meeting on another floor, and so SFPD on the board downstairs wasn't going to go very well with some of those people.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:32:30] So those were kinds of conflicts that existed. Then the Building got hit hard. There was a fire in early 1980, I think it was January or February of 1980. It was arson. Somebody, I don't know that we ever found out who set it, but there was a fire, which meant an extraordinary amount of,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:33:00] fundraising, new fundraising had to go into raising the money to repair the Building. We called A Room of Our own Campaign In November. There was a month- long bomb threat, by, we thought, Neo Nazi supporters who hated Jews and now queers and we had a meeting to determine what should happen,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:33:30] how we were going to respond to this.
And we said, well, we should have a community meeting, invite the community to tell them about the Womens Building, to tell whoever it that is attacking us that we're not going anywhere and to invite the community to support us. It was an extraordinary event. The hall downstairs, the main auditorium was full. I spoke, it was one of the first speeches that I gave actually
Carmen Vazquez: [01:34:00] as part of the Womens Building staff. Roma and I formed a bond around these things and many others, but the conflicts between the Womens Building staff and the Womens Centers staff continued. We had many meetings where we hashed out the purpose and vision and principles of the Womens Building.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:34:30] And in that process, we came to the conclusion that the only way that this was going to be resolved is if we became one. We knew that the community doesn't see the difference anyway.
They didnt see Womens Centers, they saw the Womens Building. Why? Because it's a building and it has the name Womens Building on it.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:35:00] Its concrete. Roma and I really led that effort for a merger that had much resistance from both sides because neither side wanted to give up their autonomy. But we really felt that the only way to financially and politically secure the future of the place was if we merged. I remember to this day,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:35:30] Roma saying to me, You think Nancy Schlossberg is going to move her desk downstairs? Youre crazy, its not happening! I said, How much? Dinner Well, Nancy Schlossberg fought and fought and fought, but she did move her desk. The Centers and the Womens Building became one organization.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:36:00] We took staff from both organizations and became a new collective that ran the building for a long time.
I was on the staff of the Womens Building for five years, I think, five or six years. And it was tough times. I don't even remember how much we made, maybe $300 a month. There were times when we couldn't even meet that payroll,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:36:30] so we had to lay ourselves off so that we can keep the doors open. But we made it and we put together a Board that eventually began to raise a little bit more money. We became smarter about rentals and how much they really cost. We had phenomenal Women's Day celebrations at the center every year that really focused
Carmen Vazquez: [01:37:00] on the ever-evolving understanding of what feminism meant in that era. And we also became a center for activism around AIDS. I mean, we became a Community center, not just a Womens Building. It was a time of a lot of activism around Central America solidarity, particularly with Nicaragua., We (along with the Third World Womens Alliance)
Carmen Vazquez: [01:37:30] eventually formed a contingent of North American women from the Bay Area and New York City, that we called Somos Hermanas, which means We are Sisters. We went to Nicaragua in 1984, to bring solidarity and material support and met with
Carmen Vazquez: [01:38:00] Nicaraguan women and Sandinista leadership including Commandante Dora Maria Teller [inaudible 01:38:03]. Everybody wanted to have her baby. [Spanish]
It was an extraordinary, beautiful place. There was so much excitement about the new government literacy campaigns, health campaigns,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:38:30] womens leadership. We spent two weeks there and I was one of the primary translators and at some point, I could not speak. There was no Spanish and there was no English. There was nothing in my head. Like I just got totally burnt out of trying to go back and forth. Roma was part of that delegation. She led the effort not only to merge the organizations,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:39:00] but she also, led the effort to begin to really redefine feminism, in a more intersectional way that, in part came about because of her association with the Third World Women's Alliance, which was a tenant of the woman's building. And their friendship and arguments
Carmen Vazquez: [01:39:30] and political differences eventually led to ...
The Alliance Against Women's Oppression. Right? It became clear to them that if there was going to be an end to women's oppression that it needed to be grounded in a class and race analysis, but also had to include more than black and Latino woman, and Third World Women.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:40:00] So, the Alliance Against Women's Oppression was born.
Mason Funk: Uh, okay.
Carmen Vazquez: It was something that Roma introduced me to, got me involved with, and they were part of the Line of March. So see, I am really a communist! But not really. They taught a course, there was a short course and then the longer course,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:40:30] where they taught Marxist theory, I liked Dialectical Materialism, all the rest of it. Just not the joining part. And Roma and I were a part of that, both the short and the long course and a lover of mine, Marcie Gallo, whom I met during that time in Nicaragua. And it became really pivotal, it being the line of March courses and our work with the Alliance Against Women's Oppression in my own political development,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:41:00] because I think prior to that I had really good instincts. I was a good activist and organizer and an excellent public speaker, but I was also very angry.
There was a lot of anger in my politics for good reasons.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:41:30] I mean, I saw it and felt the impact of poverty and of racism and sexism. This was the early days of the AIDS epidemic and I was utterly and completely devastated by what I was seeing happening around me but the Alliance and that course helped me think about the material conditions that were producing these things that I was feeling
Carmen Vazquez: [01:42:00] and helped me think through more clearly about the steps that I needed to take in order to create alliances, that would help me get to wherever I needed to get to. I think in my questionnaire I said something about being an activist because I have a lifelong commitment to the realization of justice and that's not possible without activism.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:42:30] And so, Roma was very much a part of my entire eighties and the political development that happened with the Alliance and with the Line of March and AIDS activism.
Mason Funk: What was ... Going to pause for a second, because I realize we've burned through a fair amount of time.
Mason Funk: [01:43:00] We have a lot of ground to cover. So I might need to, we might need to shorten a few stories if we're going to kind of cover the waterfront. I just realized, cause I looked at the clock over your head. I was like, oh, cause we need to leave you, I need you to be kind of out of here by about 12:30, 12:45. So
Carmen Vazquez: Get on with it.
Mason Funk: Get on ... But I do want to just kind of make the epidemic AIDS crisis kind of a separate thought or story in have you introduce, essentially how you first ... The classic, like when you first heard,
Mason Funk: [01:43:30] and I know it's a massive, massive topic, but um, maybe kind of focusing on, on women and your own personal and women's involvement in responding.
Carmen Vazquez: To what, that now?
Carmen Vazquez: Alright. So Roma was ...
Mason Funk: Roma Guy
Carmen Vazquez: Roma was huge mentor of mine, um, for many, many, many years and uh, still a good friend.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:44:00] And then the ... Do you want me to talk about Richard Burns in this or AIDS?
Mason Funk: AIDS. Another disconnect.
Carmen Vazquez: So in 1980, I was just starting with the Women's building and Roma Guy. Pat Norman was the then Director of LGBT Health Services
Carmen Vazquez: [01:44:30] in the San Francisco Department of Public Health. And sometime that year, Pat was making the rounds, coming to the Building and coming to others San Francisco Organizations and talking about this GRID thing, gay related, immune- deficiency. And we're like, what? Being gay is like a reason you get cancer? That's crazy. That's crazy.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:45:00] And Pat wad steadfast, she kept sounding the alarm, sounding the alarm. Then, you know, slowly but surely , we began to see the impact. Visually that was horrific. I mean, I remember in the eighties, early eighties, walking on the same Castro street that I had come to in 1974
Carmen Vazquez: [01:45:30] that was so full of life and silly gay men and cute gay men, now filled with, men in walkers, men in wheelchairs, emaciated. Dying.
Mason Funk: uh,
Carmen Vazquez: Looking like walking death, really. And I was devastated.
I mean, this is more like 83, 84,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:46:00] by the time that we really began to understand and then began the effort to do something about it. I said in my questionnaire that I think, AIDS was one of the biggest, causes for change in the last 50 years. And the reason I say that is because,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:46:30] AIDS struck at the very height of a sexual revolution. And it wasn't just men, men and women who felt really liberated after years of being told that we were sick because of our sexuality reveling in the celebration of our sexuality. And we also evolved from liberation movements, right?
Carmen Vazquez: [01:47:00] I mean in the 60s and early seventies, there were liberation movements around the world and the sort of political impetus for moving forward was founded in that. I mean, there was the Task Force in New York City, which was more centrist, but in terms of on the ground activism and the feel of the era was much more definitely liberationist
Carmen Vazquez: [01:47:30] and AIDS cut right through that.
AIDS just shut it down because by the time we finally realized that yes, indeed, gay men's sexual behavior was spreading this, then it was a death sentence, because it wasn't until many years later and AZT that there began to be a treatment for AIDS, if not a cure.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:48:00] And it was devastating. I don't remember how many services and funerals I went to during my time in San Francisco, particularly from 84, 85 to 94. It was hundreds. And it was fast. I had a very sweet boyfriend named Steve who, used to work at General Hospital.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:48:30] I forgot what he worked on. Anyway, he and I became fast friends because he was funny and we both smoked and drank and there was a lot of fun to be had. We went to some conference in Los Angeles and we went to Disney World and the Space Mountain, which is a roller coaster in the dark you must do, if youre from Los Angeles, Okay. So roller coaster in the dark. It was the most fun I had and the most terrifying time I had.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:49:00] The whole ride, I'm screaming and hanging on to Steve, for dear life. He was is a big burly guy. We got off the roller coaster laughing to death. And then I noticed that there were this deep, deep, bruises on Steve's arm from where I had been squeezing him. I asked, Whats that? And he said, laughing, Oh, I dont know. Steve was dead three weeks later,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:49:30] He got sick, he went to the hospital, he was diagnosed and he died - three weeks later. It was really, like that. And not everybody, but many of the people who got diagnosed, died within weeks or at best months after their diagnosis.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:50:00] The Building, which I was still involved with (I left the staff in 86 but stayed on the board until 1991) became a central meeting place for Act Up in San Francisco. Lesbians became caretakers of our brothers.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:50:30] Dianne Jones was a registered nurse at San Francisco General Hospital. She was the first to volunteer the newly created AIDS Ward in 1983. She was literally risking her life or putting her life at risk because we knew so little about transmission in those days, to help gay men die with dignity.
Mason Funk: [01:51:00] Was there ever a moment, I only ask this because one woman I interviewed a few years ago for a totally different project,
She said, and I had never heard this before or since, that some women, as bad as the crisis was that there was some resistance. Some women who felt like we are trying to come out, we're trying to, you know, establish ourselves as individuals
Mason Funk: [01:51:30] in our own power. And now we are, um, sliding or backsliding into this caretaker role.
Carmen Vazquez: Yeah, I was going to get to that.
Mason Funk: Okay. There you go.
Carmen Vazquez: So women, lesbians in particular, became caretakers for gay men who were dying of AIDS. And that was important. I think it was necessary that it happened.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:52:00] It was the humane thing to do. It also caused an enormous amount of resentment. Because we were being caretakers and our issues and our own health concerns had to be put on a back burner in order to care for the men.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:52:30] AIDS came on the heels of the sexual liberation movement, which included sexual liberation for women.
It was a call for women's equality and intersectional politics and here we were caught up in this thing that wasn't about us, but it was about us. The AIDS epidemic was devastating in that way, in the resources that it took from the community.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:53:00] Both of the many men who died very young and God knows what they could have given the world, but also of the women who then had to be forced into caretaker roles. It also stopped the development of a grassroots LGBT movement andbecame an institutionalized LGBT movement.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:53:30] Right? So it was the response to AIDS, the necessary response to aids, both in terms of caretaking and Act Up and the radical, really radical kind of organizing that had to happen in order for the government to pay attention to AIDS, radicalized the movement in a way that we had not known before.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:54:00] It certainly radicalized white men, I should say - not lesbians necessarily, many of whom were pretty radicalized by then. It Brought into the movement a cadre of activists who were white and of relative wealth, both the ones who died and the ones who survived into fightingand the institutionalization of the movement then took on a very white male character.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:54:30] AIDS radicalized us, but it also normalized and mainstreamed us. And you know, I don't think it's all a bad thing. I think it's just the fact that that's what it did. That's what happened. I think that there is little understanding of the intersection of sexism
Carmen Vazquez: [01:55:00] and the necessary reaction organizing response to AIDS that took place. Larry Kramer is an idol. Larry Kramer is a huge sexist too and the two things are both just true in the universe.
We could not have had the kind of government response to AIDS that we eventually did have
Carmen Vazquez: [01:55:30] without the kind of activism that somebody like Kramer brought in, but it also put lesbians way back in the foreground. And it persists to this day. Although we have a number of lesbians in leadership, when you think of what happened say with Marriage Equality and the mainstream marriage movement, which I think was also a tremendous,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:56:00] move forward for us as a people and a movement. But it furthered the Francisco, there were a good number of Black and Latino men who joined in the fight against AIDS, joined process of normalizing us and it certainly put people of color way in the background,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:56:30] as did AIDS by the way. In San organizations fighting for AIDS, treatment and prevention and had very little attention paid to them by both the mainstream media and by the larger, LGBT and AIDSmovements.
AIDS intensified existing fizzures of race and sex and class and what ithas bought us to is a much more mainstream movement
Carmen Vazquez: [01:57:00] that has done great things like secure marriage equality in the state of New York. We also finally got the Sexual Orientation Non- Discrimination Act passed in 2004? and this year the Gender No Discrimination Act passed. But it set back the agenda for justice. And what I mean by that is this, the struggle for equality is a necessaryone in a society
Carmen Vazquez: [01:57:30] that embraces civil rights. We are not, however, a Human Rights society, were a civil rights society. Attaining equality under the law is a necessary thing, but it's a step in the process. Justice is a much long term vision that includes making sure that
Carmen Vazquez: [01:58:00] the queer kids getting thrown out of their homes and going to the streets are given what they need to survive and thrive. It includes making sure that lesbian health is as important as the struggle to end the AIDS epidemic.
Right? It's the struggle to ensure that transgender people are not being murdered every day in every city in this country. That is the struggle for justice.
Carmen Vazquez: [01:58:30] AIDS cemented the route to equality in the form of marriage and maybe someday a federal someday equality a nondiscrimination law, certainly not under this President. But it leaves us far behind justice. The struggles for equality have established a cadre of
Carmen Vazquez: [01:59:00] wealthy donors that continue to support AIDS organizations that are now called many different things,Alliance for this, Alliance for that.That means there are dollars locked up in those organizations and in the fight for marriage equality that did not go to homeless shelters for youth,
Carmen Vazquez: [01:59:30] that did not go to health services for lesbians that did not go to ensuring that transgender people also have equity and equality. So, I think it was both things. I think it radicalized us and normalized us in a way that I don't think is good.
Mason Funk: Do you think like take those donor dollars
Mason Funk: [02:00:00] I they were not going to these AIDSService Organizations in the things that the alliances and what are they now become will those dollars be going elsewhere or to homeless shelter, you know, shelters for homeless youth and to transgender justice or would they be staying in their pockets and getting spent on houses in vacations? Well,
Carmen Vazquez: Maybe a little bit of both. I think the Community Center reality in the movement is a good example of donor dollars that go to a lot of things. They go to youth programs
Carmen Vazquez: [02:00:30] and transgender programs and services for elder people. Services and Advocacy for Gay Elders Action (SAGE) is another example of what I think of as justice work. Some of those donor dollars can be directed there. Whether the donor dollars that are going to,
Carmen Vazquez: [02:01:00] AIDS Service Organizations that are now transforming into health centers might go to other work is unknown. I think the LGBT Community Center in New York is a great example of what could be. The Center was established in 86, at the height of the AIDS epidemic and it certainly formed a function in terms of AIDS activism and was where Act Up was born
Carmen Vazquez: [02:01:30] but it also provided mental health services and provided meeting space.
Carmen Vazquez: Ultimately it created a families program, arts programming, and many, many things that the community needs. And often whatever the community needs is determined by people who go there and start meeting and creating things now for 32, 33 years.
Mason Funk: [02:02:00] 33
Carmen Vazquez: 33 years as an organization that is not AIDS focused is a good example of what I'm talking about. And you know, it depends on who's doing the work, who leads, what kind of message people are sending out. Richard Burns is just an absolute genius
Carmen Vazquez: [02:02:30] at pitching a building as a political asset, which Roma Guy was too, by the way. That's what I mean about my association with buildings. Being able to convey the stories of the youth that meet at the center in the YES program, of the families program, of the organizations that have been created at the center, and convincing people
Carmen Vazquez: [02:03:00] that all of this was worth investing in is genius. Richard developed a donor program that was well fed.
Trust me, I was there for nine years and he knew how to do this. He and he was a feminist. So, depending on the vision of the leader and what the organization is willing to capture in its mission, it can be done.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:03:30] I think it can be done. I don't think we're trying hard enough. I think some people are not trying at all. I was just awarded a Courage Award by the LGBTQ center in Kingston, New York. It's called the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center. Tiny, and rainbows everywhere. They're celebrating their 10th anniversary, I think this year. They are another example of an organization, this one founded by Ginnie Appuzo and her partner Barbara Fried,
Carmen Vazquez: [02:04:00] predicated on the notion that we need more than just AIDS funding. Developing a center that is dedicated to providing services for youth, for elders, for meeting space, doing training of other providers, which most of the centers actually do. Thats expanding care and building a future.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:04:30] I spent 10 years at the AIDS Institute in New York State doing work that wasn't related to Aids. I was actually directing something called the LGBT Health and Human Services Network, which was predicated on the notion that we have many, many health needs from cradle to grave that are not about AIDS. So we sought funding from government, to have a broadly based health wellness,
Carmen Vazquez: [02:05:00] an initiative all around the state of New York. Now it' a $6 million a year funding source that started as a $1 million initiative. And, although some the organizations that are part of this network and are funded through it are AIDS organizations, the work that they're doing with those dollars are not related to AIDS. They're related to everything else,mental health, services for youths, services for seniors.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:05:30] So just to say it can be done, it depends on the vision and capacity of the leadership to expand their vision.
Mason Funk: Its just reorientation, we really would. I love how, I love the word normal is normalized in, in this context that you're using it because of course the normalizing in some ways what we've been, what we needed to do in society. Like we're, that's what that word is just so interesting. It's so loaded. It's just so many different layers of meaning.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:06:00] Yes, it does. Good. Normalizing is not necessarily a bad thing. Meaning we want people to understand that we too have red blood. We too have likes and dislikes, that we too have loves and needs. However, in the context of a capitalist society based on civil rights,
Carmen Vazquez: [02:06:30] normal means ... Normal means, middle class white, two parents, a dog maybe a cat. Okay. The very fabric of who we are as queer people gets turned upside down.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:07:00] We need to create empathy for ourselves by having people see us as we are and see our hearts. We don't, however, need to be like any of them, right? We're not. We have literally centuries of culture that we developed as an adaptation to oppression.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:07:30] Now that doesn't mean that we should be oppressed forever, but it does mean that some of the things that we learned as we developed that culture, like creating families of choice, caring for our elders, whether we're married to them or not, caring for each other's children. Doing what people, many communities of color still do.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:08:00] You know how many cousins I have? Many, many, many, many. And these are people that get taken care of by the extended family because they need to be taken care of. That is part of our legacy, not to mention our art, our humor, our camp, our silliness.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:08:30] And the legacy of contributions we've made to literature and to the movies and to music and to all that is in some way shaped by the gay experience, by the lesbian experience, by the bisexual or transgender experience that cannot be normalized because we're not just like everybody else. Every time we have sex with somebody who's the same gender, same sex, same gender,
Carmen Vazquez: [02:09:00] that's not normal. No matter how much we want to be seen and accepted, who we are is not normal. And thats good.
I dont want to walk down the street and have beer cans hurled at me because of my masculine presentation. Who wants that? I don't want that. However, I also don't want to give up a butch identity, my love for femmes,
Carmen Vazquez: [02:09:30] and the history that has gotten to this place. The love that dared not speak its name can now be claimed has been claimed. And I think that's heroic and historic. I think that what we were able to do to address AIDS as a movement was extraordinary and deserves a Nobel prize, really.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:10:00] But I think that if the price we pay for equality is this mom/pop, we're just like everybody else, then we've really lost something that should be precious to us as a movement. And, you know, queer is okay. Young people certainly have embraced it again. And I embraced them. I think transgender people have completely transformed the landscape of
Carmen Vazquez: [02:10:30] how we even think of gender and you know, and then there are non- binary people who look just like whatever normal you say, I'm non- binary and you know what? Okay, so we have to accept that. Can we enter into a conversation about what that means? They excite me because of what they bring - a fresh perspective on gender and sex and what all that means
Carmen Vazquez: [02:11:00] and an insistence that we not forget where we're from.
Mason Funk: That's great. I couldn't agree with more about that. As a mainstream white guy, cisgender. And even that interestingly, Ive recently read that there's even a critique now the term cisgender, it's like bring it, you know, it's great.
Carmen Vazquez: It is great.
Mason Funk: [02:11:30] Let's not let, the one thing I enjoy is, was I sitting in this room when I, when I asked if the term, no, yesterday we were using the term guide dog talking about Carla Jay. I said, wait a minute, I think there's a new term for guide dog. And he made me it's service dog and came here last year.
Carmen Vazquez: Yes, it is.
Mason Funk: And I, because it's like the were co I think the deeper and the deeper we strip away the layers and say, wait, but this word, not so much cisgender? Yeah, it worked for awhile. But now just as soon as most people are learning to use the word cisgender, we're going to say, nope, doesn't work.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:12:00] Doesn't work. I know.
Mason Funk: It's too binary, its too this or that. We need other words.
Carmen Vazquez: Yes. I spent the last probably five years of my time at the AIDS institute working very closely with a group of transgender men and women that was just fucking wonderful. Just extraordinary what I've learned from them. And, and it happened in part because I respected that we brought them together to be an advisory group
Carmen Vazquez: [02:12:30] at the AIDS institute and instead of whatever formal meetings where the chair and flip chart and all that kind of stuff, we said this is yourspace. Kraig, my Associate Director, and I are here to serve you in whatever way you need. Make copies for you, rent the rooms, etc. But we are going to leave the room and you all figure it out.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:13:00] And for them it was the first time that they had ever been invited into a space and been told it's yours, you know, work, figure it out.
Without guidance from professionals, the results were wonderful. They produced a great set of recommendations and they kind of stayed together. It formed the nucleus of an organizing group in New York State. I mean New York City mostly, but with several other people from other parts of the State.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:13:30] I think it's a great organizing model. They're some of the people that I showed you in pictures, Cecilia in particular is just fabulous. So yes, I think the transgender movement is bringing a tremendous amount of good dialogue into our community, into our thinking that I think needs to continue. Who knows, maybe we'll evolve to be without gender.
Mason Funk: [02:14:00] Let's see. No, I haven't really thought about it in these terms, but it does give me hope that, that some of that liberationist core can be reignited, its been really nice.
Carmen Vazquez: I think so. I think it is among some people and I think transgenderpeople are at the head of that. I have also been to a lot of college campuses over my time and I see a lot of that on college campuses. sometimes it's funny,
Carmen Vazquez: [02:14:30] I mean at Smith College they have a term called LUGS, lesbians Until Graduation and now they have TUGS, transgender Until Graduation.UGS and TUGS. Uh Huh.
Mason Funk: LUGS and TUGS
Carmen Vazquez: Uh, I know.
Mason Funk: Well, you know, we're going to ... I have four final questions.
Mason Funk: This is how we always wrap up. Um, first question and these are intended ... Try to get keep this answers as short as possible, um, just because they're more usable that way.
Mason Funk: [02:15:00] Okay. Now what is, if somebody comes to you this afternoon, and says, I'm thinking about coming out, whatever that person is coming out as, what would be like the, the nugget of wisdom or just support you give them,
Carmen Vazquez: Be yourself. Take care to not put yourself in positions of danger, whether that's emotional abuse from family or danger on the street, but continue to be yourself.
Mason Funk: [02:15:30] Great. What is your hope for the future?
Carmen Vazquez: I hope that we do return to a liberationist movement and that would include many of the things I've talked about in terms of justice and poverty and racism and sexism.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:16:00] But now I'm adding one more thing and that is the preservation of the planet because all those other things kind of don't mean much if we don't have a world to live in. And I am increasingly seeing environmental justice as really critical to what happens to ensure our future.
Mason Funk: Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Carmen Vazquez: [02:16:30] Because there are others like me who need to hear it.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, start by saying it's important to me.
Carmen Vazquez: It's important for me to tell my story because I know that there are others like me, younger, perhaps still not out who need to hear it. And it's important for me to tell my story because I want it preserved. I want people like me, Latino women, Puerto Rican women, lesbians, Butch women to have a history
Carmen Vazquez: [02:17:00] that is told and preserved for future generations.
Mason Funk: And then lastly, if you think about OUTWORDS, which is kind of the composite of stories like yours, stories of many other people all kind of brought together in one kind of like archive. Where do you see as the value of doing that? And if you could mention OUTWORDS in your answer.
Carmen Vazquez: I think something like outward ...
Mason Funk: [02:17:30] Sorry, OUTWORDS.
Carmen Vazquez: OUTWORDS.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Startover, please.
Carmen Vazquez: OUTWORDS and other organizations that exist in different parts of the country that exist to preserve our history are critical to not just the generation coming behind us, but to generation still to come that aren't, haven't even been born yet, that need to understand who we were,
Carmen Vazquez: [02:18:00] who we are and what we're evolving into. And that can only come from the preservation of stories, words, and histories and, the determination of a very few determined people to record that history and to preserve it.
Mason Funk: Great. You were created those answers, all your answers. You were ready to go as you sort of nail on it, like you knew the questions were coming.
Mason Funk: Maybe you've answered them before. Is there anything else you have on your mind?
Michelle Mccabe: No.
Mason Funk: Okay. That's been fabulous.
Carmen Vazquez: Thank you.
Mason Funk; It's been really interesting.
Carmen Vazquez: Good. Thank you.
Mason Funk: Very interesting.
Carmen Vazquez: You were smiling a lot back there. Yeah. Thank you. It is good questions.
Mason Funk: Oh, thank you.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:19:00] The interview ... The oral history with Sophia Smith Archives was five plus hours. Kelly Anderson did them. She did four hours in my apartment when I used to live on Henry Street in Cobble Hill. Two, two one and a half hour sessions in Cobble Hill and then another hour plus session in Provincetown because we were all there and she needed to finish the project.
Carmen Vazquez: [02:19:30] The transcript is long and I have all the tapes and you should look at them. Let me show you these pictures before you go.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Michelle McCabe
Date: March 29, 2019
Location: Home of Carmen Vázquez, Brooklyn, NY