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Martha Altman (later Shelley) was born on December 27th, 1943, in Brooklyn, New York, to Jewish parents of Russian and Polish descent.  At 17, she joined the first all-female judo class in New York City, and struck up a romantic relationship with one of her classmates. At 18, she started going to demonstrations against the Vietnam War.

In November 1967, Martha attended her first meeting of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), later becoming one of the officers. Because of FBI surveillance, DOB members were advised to take aliases. Altman took Shelley as a temporary alias, and ended up keeping it. 

On the night of the Stonewall riots, Martha was giving a tour of Greenwich Village to two women who planned to start a DOB chapter in Boston. Recognizing the importance of the riots, Martha contacted DOB and the Mattachine Society, and proposed a protest march. Her proposal was accepted; the march took place within the month. Out of this energy, she helped found the Gay Liberation Front – then quickly segued to issues within the women’s movement, as an organizer of the infamous Lavender Menace ‘zap’ of the Second Congress to Unite Women in May 1970 – an event that by many accounts altered the course of the women’s movement forever.

In subsequent years, Martha poured her energy into countless media, literary and journalistic projects. She produced the radio show Lesbian Nation on New York's WBAI radio station, contributed to the 1970 anthology Sisterhood is Powerful, helped run the Women’s Press Collective, and wrote countless works including Crossing the DMZ, a collection of her poetry, and Haggadah: A Celebration of Freedom. Her poetry has appeared in Ms. Magazine and other publications. Currently she is at work on the last novel of her trilogy about Jezebel, queen of ancient Israel. In 2010, Martha also appeared in Stonewall Uprising, part of the PBS documentary series American Experience. Along the way, she found the time and love to co-parent two sets of children.

OUTWORDS interviewed Martha at the red-shingled cottage she shares with her wife in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. The area around their house is designated a Portland Certified Backyard Habitat. Among the flowers and bushes is a Black Lives Matter sign. And in the side yard are two large water catchment tanks which Martha says could sustain her and her neighbors for several weeks in the event of a natural or manmade catastrophe. In her spare time she is teaching self-defense to a neighbor’s children.

Well into her 70s, Martha has found ways to sustain and adapt her activism; to keep it fluid, passionate, and humane. 
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] When you're ready.
Lulu Gargiulo: You're ready.
Mason Funk: Start off by just telling me and spelling out your first and last names please.
Martha Shelley: My name is Martha Shelley; M-A-R-T-H-A S-H-E-L-L-E-Y.
Mason Funk: Okay, and please tell me your date of birth and your place of birth.
Martha Shelley: I was born in Brooklyn, New York, in December 27th, 1943.
Mason Funk: Okie dokie. One of the things I noted from your interview, your Smith interview, is that you were kind of a misfit from day one. Can you talk about that?
Martha Shelley: [00:00:30] I did never fit in from as early as I can remember. One of the episodes that sticks in my mind was in elementary school when we would have drawing. There would just be times when we'd have our little crayons and do pictures, the boys would invariably draw pictures of airplanes shooting aircraft guns
Martha Shelley: [00:01:00] and tanks and things like that, cars. The girls would draw this kind of stereotyped picture of a girl in a wedding dress, and you wouldn't see fingers or toes or anything, just these little pointy things and a couple of flops for the hair, and then a heart-shaped part of the top and then the bottom, which was sort of a bell-shaped part of the dress.
Martha Shelley: [00:01:30] What would I draw? Undersea scenes with octopuses and fish, desert scenes with cactuses and desert animals, probably into biology, nature, and not either the stereotypical boy or girl thing. I was always the different one.
Mason Funk: How did you feel about being the different one?
Martha Shelley: [00:02:00] I liked it. I liked being different. I don't know why I liked it, in a way I kind of cherished it. On the one hand that was sort of painful, on the other hand I didn't want to be like those other kids. I was repelled by the violence expressed in the boys' pictures, and I was repelled by what I considered the stupid and stereotyped wedding dress pictures. Then later on when I got a little older,
Martha Shelley: [00:02:30] the other girls that I knew would have crushes on male actors, and who did I have a crush on? The actress Eve Arden. I had no idea that I was actually having a crush, I didn't know the word for it, but that was who I was really attracted to. What I was particularly attracted to was in the television series that she was in, it was called Our Miss Brooks.
Martha Shelley: [00:03:00] She was unmarried. She was a single schoolteacher, and had a very wry sense of humor. She was a comedian. That was the one I liked. I never had a crush on somebody like Marilyn Monroe.
Mason Funk: Oops, your thing just fall down again?
Lulu Gargiulo: Really?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Lulu Gargiulo: Because it still looks really good.
Martha Shelley: Well maybe we should just ignore it.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Lulu Gargiulo: That's what I was going to say.
Mason Funk: Yeah. I think it fell, because it's on the ground as opposed to up.
Lulu Gargiulo: Yeah, it's still looking good.
Mason Funk: [00:03:30] Okay. Cool.
Martha Shelley: Okay.
Mason Funk: Say that last part again; you never had a crush on ...
Martha Shelley: I never had a crush on somebody like Marilyn Monroe. It was always somebody who was a different kind of a woman, or at least that was the character that she portrayed in the TV series.
Mason Funk: Excellent. That gives us a good picture, you're a good anecdote teller, which is helpful. Tell us what a loyalty oath was in this era,
Mason Funk: [00:04:00] for folks who don't know what a loyal oath was, and how that related to your first political act if you remember that story.
Martha Shelley: Back in those days, this was like sort of post McCarthy but the effects of McCarthyism were still very much with American culture. There was this thing called a loyalty oath, and in New York State, schoolteachers were required to take this loyalty oath.
Martha Shelley: [00:04:30] A lot of people were against it and I didn't understand all of it because what was I? I was in middle school at the time, but what I understood was people were supposed to be swearing that they weren't communists and anything related to that kind of "anti-government" stuff, and I thought, "This is really stupid. If you are a communist and you want to be a schoolteacher, you're certainly not going to come out and say it. You would swear the oath
Martha Shelley: [00:05:00] anyway and do whatever you were doing." There were very few people who would stand up and say, "I'm a communist," and therefore not have a job as a schoolteacher. Well, there was a time in our junior high school where kids were bringing water guns to school and having water gun fights in the cafeteria or during lunch hour outside in the schoolyard. The principal sent around this thing
Martha Shelley: [00:05:30] where you had to sign saying you weren't going to bring a water gun to class and you understood the penalties and so on, and to me it looked like a loyalty oath, so I refused to sign it, and they pulled me down to the principal's office. I had never, I didn't even own a water gun. I wasn't planning to bring a water gun to school or anything, I just thought it was a stupid thing to do. Then they beat me down, they kept me in the principal's office until they got me to sign it,
Martha Shelley: [00:06:00] and I never forgave them for that. It stuck with me. Similar things happened all along the way, that was just one of them. There was the time when the music teacher had us sing this song about how great our school was. Well our school was making the news on the New York Post and so on, about we were
Martha Shelley: [00:06:30] one of the more violence ridden schools in the city. So I didn't think we were all that great, and I get bigmouth, I said, "Do you really believe that baloney?" right in the middle of music class, and the teacher was furious with me. But I felt proud of myself.
Mason Funk: Did you get affirmation for these kinds of things like at home?
Martha Shelley: [00:07:00] No. My parents were I suppose socialists during the '30s. My mother taught me, never cross a picket line, which is very much a socialist and communist thing. She said she wasn't a communist, but when she was a kid, she was an illegal immigrant, and I'm fine with illegal immigrants. Anybody who's got the guts, which she did, to at age 16 come on an open boat from Cuba to the United States,
Martha Shelley: [00:07:30] work her way to New York, get a factory job and work hard until she met my father who was born here, and got married, and just did all of those things. She was courageous, but she was trying to keep me out of trouble. At the same time, she would say things like that.
Mason Funk: So sort of mixed messages in a way, right?
Martha Shelley: Mixed messages. On the one hand she would say things like, "Never cross a picket line," saying she supported Castro,
Martha Shelley: [00:08:00] because she had lived in poverty in Cuba. She said she wasn't a communist but she thought that every child should have enough to eat and that every mother knows this, maybe except [inaudible] divorce these days. She said she supported Castro because now all the kids in Cuba would have enough to eat and they would have an education, which she wasn't able to get.
Mason Funk: She didn't want the label of communist necessarily.
Lulu Gargiulo: [00:08:30] I'm sorry. I'm going to try just making ... it's still so live. I'm just going to try making a little adjustment in case it's bouncing off the floor. Then I'm going to do ... Are you all right if I put a couple of these pillows on your floor?
Martha Shelley: Go right ahead.
Lulu Gargiulo: Okay. I just [inaudible]
Martha Shelley: I was just thinking that was a good idea.
Lulu Gargiulo: Yeah, because then maybe it will just absorb some of the live sound rate around you.
Mason Funk: That's a unique solution. I never thought of doing that before.
Lulu Gargiulo: [00:09:00] Okay. I am back and ready.
Mason Funk: Let's jump forward to you attending Bronx Science High School, and you said 98% of the kids were the kids of these kind of driven, overachieving Jewish parents. I think parents today sometimes feel like their kids are experiencing this kind of pressure for the first time,
Mason Funk: [00:09:30] but the reality is it sounds like that was a factor even in your era. You said that it was but for a therapist, it could have been very destructive for you. Can you describe that environment and your reaction to it?
Martha Shelley: The first year when I went to Bronx High School of Science, I was commuting from Brooklyn. Then my parents got into a middle-income housing project in the Bronx and we moved.
Martha Shelley: [00:10:00] The commuting from Brooklyn meant an hour and a half on the train going, an hour and a half coming, and I didn't have friends. I didn't know anybody and all my friends from junior high school were going to high schools in Brooklyn. So I lost contact with them and was very lonely. Then in the first year in the Bronx, I still didn't know anybody. It took a while to make some new friends
Martha Shelley: [00:10:30] and I felt really distraught and even suicidal, and of course I was dealing with puberty and being gay. Fortunately, the math teacher noticed that something was wrong and referred me for therapy, and that helped. There were a lot of kids at Bronx High School of Science who because they were from driven parents and they were being pressured to be straight-A students all the way, and get into the best colleges,
Martha Shelley: [00:11:00] there were suicide attempts, there were mental breakdowns. I was spared that because of that math teacher who really helped me. I also did another political action in Bronx Science. The first friend I made was a Japanese girl. Her parents were working in the United States, I guess they were pro trading, and we used to ride on the bus together. She didn't speak very much English, and sometimes we just sat together and didn't talk.
Martha Shelley: [00:11:30] During our social studies class, the teachers spoke about the end of World War II and said that the Allied Forces, well, basically the United States, arrested all of the Japanese generals and hung them and burnt their bodies and sent the ashes home to their families. I was kind of horrified, and I said, "Well I suppose if the Japanese had won the war," I raised my hand and said that, "They would have done the same to Franklin Roosevelt and all our people."
Martha Shelley: [00:12:00] The teacher just turned red and shouted that she didn't want anybody talking like that in her classroom. The other kids who were half asleep were saying, "Huh? What did she say? What was all that about?" and I felt really good because I had stuck up for my Japanese friend.
Mason Funk: Wow. I was so much the kid who was half asleep and not paying attention, so I'm amazed by these people who were just thinking. You were thinking, you were processing.
Martha Shelley: [00:12:30] Well, I was actually half asleep in chemistry class, because chemistry class was right after lunch and I'd have a big lunch and then fall asleep.
Mason Funk: That was already on your sleeve, yeah. By the time you, like I said, I don't want to try to cover every single event, but you eventually ended up working in Harlem,-
Martha Shelley: Right.
Mason Funk: ... and you began to gain some consciousness about sort of systemic disparity and discrimination. You saw things.
Martha Shelley: [00:13:00] No, that's not right.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Martha Shelley: I began to get conscious about discrimination when I was in middle school because my best friend was black, and these freedom rights were going on. Of course I was too young to go down south, but I saw what was happening. I read about it in the papers, I saw it on TV. I was horrified, and I thought, "That could happen to my best friend."
Martha Shelley: [00:13:30] Her mother was the math teacher by the way in our school, and she was another straight-A student. I thought, "My friend could be treated that way in a lot of the country," so I was very aware of that, and also being Jewish. I was very aware of the prejudice and the bigotry against Jews, even though I was living in a city where Jews felt very comfortable.
Martha Shelley: [00:14:00] I had relatives who were Holocaust survivors, and a lot of them hadn't survived. This consciousness was with me from a very early age. And ... Never mind./*
Mason Funk: Okay. So that consciousness, so I misstated when saying it took root or whatever,
Mason Funk: [00:14:30] it was planted at a very early age. Is that part of what ended up getting you to this job where you were working in Harlem and ...?
Martha Shelley: How I got to work in Harlem was when I finished college, I had been working my way through college. I left home, about halfway through because-
Mason Funk: Just one second.
Lulu Gargiulo: There's a big truck that's-
Mason Funk: Too noisy, okay. Why don't you-
Lulu Gargiulo: Yeah, again.
Martha Shelley: I'll start again.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Martha Shelley: [00:15:00] When I was 19, I really left home permanently. I was working my way through ... I went to work, worked my way through college, the rest of it. I should say I entered college at age 16.
Mason Funk: Sorry.
Martha Shelley: Damn these people.
Mason Funk: That was a bus. Yeah.
Lulu Gargiulo: Is it gone now?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Lulu Gargiulo: Okay.
Martha Shelley: Okay. I entered college at 16 and a half. I'd skipped a grade and I'd also, because of the time of my birth, I gained a half year that way. Then things got unbearable at home. I was having a sex life
Martha Shelley: [00:15:30] and my parents certainly weren't going to approve of that. What they didn't know was that I had stopped sleeping with the guy that I had been having an affair with and was now sleeping with my best girlfriend. Anyway, things became unbearable and so I moved out and started working, and moved into Manhattan really, got a full-time job and was going to school at night. When I finished college, I didn't know what to do with myself.
Martha Shelley: [00:16:00] I had a degree in social sciences and English literature, or English and American literature, and the best paying job that I could find at that point was caseworker for the Welfare Department. I did go to Harlem, and saw what was going on there. That continued to radicalize me. It was just part of a long process.
Mason Funk: When you say you saw what was going on there, what did you see?
Martha Shelley: [00:16:30] What I saw in Harlem was the addiction, there was a devastating addiction problem. I saw the poverty, and one thing that I will not forget was a number of women on welfare that what they needed was contraception. These were young women, they wanted ... they were basically being told, "Don't have sex because you don't have a man who's supporting you,"
Martha Shelley: [00:17:00] but you can't tell people not to have sex, that's not human. So they'd have babies out of wedlock and they'd be on welfare, and what was really driving the policy of the Welfare Department was the Catholic Church in New York, Cardinal Spellman, we weren't allowed to tell people about contraception.As soon as I figured that out, I immediately started telling them, and particularly the ones
Martha Shelley: [00:17:30] who were Spanish-speaking, who were Catholic, about [Spanish]. I had learned some Spanish and I learned the words for the contraception devices, and explained that and gave them the addresses of places where they could go to get free service.
Mason Funk: [00:18:00] You also I know witnessed an incident or probably more than one incident of people losing their tempers, this one man who kind of ripped a water fountain off of a wall. Can you tell us that story and how it affected you?
Martha Shelley: Well, at one point, what happened in the Welfare Department was that people were being denied help because the money was just pouring out. There was a kind of a depression in New York, or a recession,
Martha Shelley: [00:18:30] and there was an awful lot of unemployment, and people would be pouring in trying to get help. There was one guy who showed up, he had some children, I don't remember how many, three or four. He was a carpenter, he was out of work. They sent him from one Welfare office to another to try to ... they were saying, "Sorry. We can't help you here, go there, go there," and at the end of the day, it was almost 5:00 and here he was in Harlem
Martha Shelley: [00:19:00] and they told him, "No. Go home," and they're going to give him exactly enough money for carfare to go home, and to come back the next day and nothing to feed the kids. He just lost it. He tore the water fountain out of the wall and stormed out. I'm really grateful that they didn't arrest him and beat the bejesus out of him, but I saw that, and I saw the oppression of people in different places.
Martha Shelley: [00:19:30] I remember sitting on a subway taking a ride to one job or another and this enormous cop comes in and he sees a young black guy, who was obviously addicted, sort of slumping, was sitting like this on the subway. He grabs the kid and throws him on the floor and drags him out at the next stop and I'm thinking, "That kid wasn't hurting anybody,"
Martha Shelley: [00:20:00] and the cop was just ... the cop turned to us and said, "Excuse me ladies," and walks off dragging this kid. I was horrified. The big darn bully, big darn racist bully, and I didn't have the knowledge or the sense to get his badge number and report him, and in truth, in those days what good would that have done? It wouldn't even do good now if I had a video of the guy.
Mason Funk: [00:20:30] Yeah. Okay. Thank you for telling us those incidents. Now, what were the Sullivanians?
Martha Shelley: When I was wanting to leave home, my lover, my woman lover at the time got me involved with this group called the Sullivanians. They were a kind of cult group. They were psychotherapists
Martha Shelley: [00:21:00] and they would encourage people to leave home, they would encourage people actually to get divorces, and be part of their group, and it was a hierarchy. The guy at the head of it was this guy called Saul Newton, and then there was his wife, and then the other therapists who were part of the institute I guess, the Sullivanian Institute. Then there were all of those of us who were patients.
Martha Shelley: [00:21:30] The good thing about them was that they did help encourage me to leave home. The bad thing about them was that they were as sexist as anybody else, and were "anti-monogamy", so they would encourage everybody to sleep around. If you want to be nonmonogamous, fine, but to make that a rule. Then of course the head Saul Newton would be getting blowjobs from his female patients.
Martha Shelley: [00:22:00] It was a pretty sick and isolated system like any cult group. You could say the same thing about the Moonies or any of these cults, they all work the same way. They were encouraging me to be "bisexual" because my therapist at the time said that, "You're cutting off half the world if you don't have relationships with men."
Martha Shelley: [00:22:30] I thought, "Well, she was cutting," I didn't say it at the time, but I thought later, "She's cutting off half the world. She doesn't have relationships with women." What happened was I kind of stayed with them until I got involved with the Daughters of Bilitis. The more I got involved with them, the more I saw that this was the world I wanted to be in.
Martha Shelley: [00:23:00] I did not want to be with these people. They did set me up to be in a relationship with a young man who of course turned out to be gay.
Mason Funk: Now, who were the Daughters of Bilitis, or Bilitis, as I've heard it pronounced different ways? Yeah, take a sip. Give us a sense of the time period we're in now.
Martha Shelley: [00:23:30] Okay. I'm talking about 19- ... when I left home it was 1963. I graduated college 1965, and 1967 I joined the Daughters of Bilitis. They were the first lesbian organization in the United States. It was a small group in New York, they had started in San Francisco with a handful of people
Martha Shelley: [00:24:00] including Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. I joined the New York chapter, I found reference to them in a book about homosexuals and found their office which was a dinky little place in a warehouse. I had absolutely no luck meeting women in bars. I didn't dress right, I didn't look right. My basic skill if you like was the ability to talk,
Martha Shelley: [00:24:30] not to look pretty, and hoped somebody would pick me up. I didn't dress like a real butch type person and wear suits and stuff. I was just me and I'm kind of like the same person I was in elementary school drawing those pictures. I didn't fit into any of the stereotypes, not the femme or the butch one. When I got to the Daughters of Bilitis, then we would sit around and talk,
Martha Shelley: [00:25:00] and we weren't drinking and it wasn't noisy, so that people could get to know me and I could get to know them, and I felt more comfortable. The purpose of the group was kind of a civil rights organization for lesbians, very similar to the male organizations that existed at the time. The idea was that we were supposed to fit in to America or get America to accept us as we were,
Martha Shelley: [00:25:30] just nice middle-class people like everybody else, only I wasn't. However, I was more comfortable there than at the bars. I stayed with them-
Mason Funk: Can I interrupt for a second. What kinds of things would the Daughters of Bilitis, what kinds of activities, and the sort of Mattachine Society on the male side, what kinds of things would they do to try to advance tolerance and acceptance for queer people?
Martha Shelley: [00:26:00] Well, I don't know what the Mattachine Society did because I didn't attend their meetings, except one time. What we did was we would have-
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, say the Daughters of Bilitis.
Martha Shelley: What the Daughters of Bilitis did was we had social events for us. We had group discussions. We would sometimes have a speaker come in, a legal person or a psychologist or something,
Martha Shelley: [00:26:30] who was there essentially to help us boost ... the psychologist would boost our self-esteem by saying how we were okay. What we would do in terms of political stuff, if you, like was we had a speaker thing. I, having being young and crazy and not having anything to lose except a secretarial job at the time, would go to schools
Martha Shelley: [00:27:00] like college psychology classes and give a speech about being gay. I was the gay speaker, somebody else would probably go and speak about schizophrenia or whatever, I don't know what they all did, but I was the gay speaker that got invited by psychology professors, but was always the abnormal psych class. What I did was I would show up, talk a little about us, and talk about how being on a bell curve, the norm is in the middle
Martha Shelley: [00:27:30] but that doesn't mean that everybody else is crazy if you're not on the norm. Then I would pass out little pieces of paper and I would say, "Mark the piece of paper X if you are attracted to people of the opposite sex. Mark it with a Y if you're attracted to people of the same sex," or an O, I don't remember which letters I used. "Mark it with both if you're attracted to both," and then I said, "And don't show it to anyone else. Fold them up and pass them back to me." When I got them I would open them up and I said,
Martha Shelley: [00:28:00] "Well here we have 20 students and as is typical, two of them are gay. Two of them are more attracted to people of their own sex," and that is pretty much standard. There's about 10% of people in this country who are gay. Of course that would give some support to the gay people who would feel like they are not alone, and at the same time not out them to everybody else.
Mason Funk: [00:28:30] Would everyone's head start swiveling?
Martha Shelley: I don't know I wasn't paying attention to whether their heads started swiveling or not, but I always felt like that was good. Then there was this whole thing called the Sexual Revolution in those days which was ... we're talking 1968, and I got invited, or the Daughters of Bilitis was invited to have a speaker on the radio.
Martha Shelley: [00:29:00] This was a program called The Sexual Revolution, or part of a series that WOR radio New York was doing. They came and interviewed me one evening and I went back to work the next day having been thoroughly annoyed by this radio interviewer who I thought was kind of obtuse. The boss walks in, the boss being Jean Palmer, the general secretary of Barnard College.
Martha Shelley: [00:29:30] This was after I left working for Harlem Welfare Center and went to work for Barnard College in another secretarial job. She sallies in in the morning, she was 65 at the time and was about to retire that following spring, and she said, "Guess what? WOR radio was here and they were interviewing some of the women in the new coed dorm and I must stay up tonight and listen to the radio program." I thought, "Oh shit!
Martha Shelley: [00:30:00] She's going to hear my dulcet tones coming over that radio and know what I'm about." So at the end of the day, I was being totally freaked out, the end of the day I walked to go up to her before she leaves the office and I said, "Miss Palmer, I'm going to be on that radio program tonight." She says, "Oh." I said, "Yeah. I am representing the Daughters of Bilitis." She says, "What's that?" I said, "It's a civil rights organization for lesbians."
Martha Shelley: [00:30:30] She gives me a big wink and said, "How wonderful all you young people are fighting for all these causes. Now help me on with my coat dear, I'm in a hurry." Of course, she was living with the woman who was the head of Katharine Gibbs secretarial school. She had also, when in her youth, been the head of the Women's Navy, and the head of Barnard at that point was a lesbian too,
Martha Shelley: [00:31:00] Martha Peterson, who was the president of the college. There was an awful lot of lesbians involved in women's higher education because a lot of us were really clear; if you're not going to be dependent economically on a man, you'd better get a decent career and learn how to support yourself.
Mason Funk: There's a part of that story that you didn't mention which was that you seriously considered I guess calling the radio station and asking them not to air. Can you fill that in for us?
Martha Shelley: [00:31:30] Yeah. Now during the day while I was freaking out, I called the woman who was doing basic organizational work for Daughters of Bilitis, and told her what was going on. I said, "What should I do?" She says, "Well you can call WOR radio and tell them to take off your segment and they will understand."I had a poster of Martin Luther King over my desk
Martha Shelley: [00:32:00] and I looked at it and I said, "No. Whatever happens I am not calling WOR radio."
Mason Funk: Wow. I love that. I love that. Let me just ask you this for even more detail, what did Martin Luther King represent to you? What did that poster mean to you?
Martha Shelley: For me, Martin Luther King was one of the great American heroes.
Martha Shelley: [00:32:30] I had been following his career in the news, I mean, how could anyone miss it at that time, and I was working in Harlem when he was shot and when the Harlem went up in flames. I knew what he meant to all of the black residents there. For me he was much more of a hero than Franklin Roosevelt or any of the other presidents or generals or anybody like that.
Martha Shelley: [00:33:00] One of the things that I always asked myself in situations is, "What would I have done if I had been living in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust?" Not as a Jewish person, because as a Jewish person it's fight, escape, or be killed. What if I had been a German person? Would I have had the courage to stand up against the regime? Of course you can't answer that question because I wasn't there,
Martha Shelley: [00:33:30] but that always haunted me in those days; what would I have done, and trying to live up to those people who did have the courage to seeing them as an example, to see Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela, all of those people, Rosa Parks, as examples of what a person does. Also a Schwerner
Martha Shelley: [00:34:00] and Goodman and Chaney who were killed, not because I wanted to be killed, but because I wanted to have the courage to face that if I had to.
Mason Funk: Who were the three individuals you just mentioned?
Martha Shelley: Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman were three young men who went down to the Freedom Rides and they were killed by Ku Klux Klansmen. I don't remember whether any of the Klansmen were ever prosecuted for it. One of them I believe was black, one was Jewish, I don't remember what the third one was.
Mason Funk: [00:34:30] Somebody recently, we're going to jump forward to the present world for a minute here. I was talking to a friend about this idea that the queer community at this time might be able to play a role of solidarity with for example racial minorities. This friend of mine said, " Well, yeah, that's kind of like
Mason Funk: [00:35:00] how Jews in the civil rights movement step to the side of their African American brethren and sisters." Do you see a parallel there?
Martha Shelley: I see a parallel between the Jews who were part of the civil rights movement and the gays because that's what gay liberation fronted. We made alliances with the Black Panthers, we made alliances with the Young Lords which were a Puerto Rican liberation group. We made alliances with the women's movement. It was the most natural thing in the world,
Martha Shelley: [00:35:30] and of course a lot of our members were Jewish or black or Puerto Rican in New York. I'm sure other Gay Liberation Front chapters around the country had other members who were ethnic minorities, and of course those of us who were women we had the feminist struggle to deal with. So, nowadays it's not just that the
Martha Shelley: [00:36:00] Trump administration is after minorities. They were after gays too, and we have to make alliances. Anybody who has any brains or any heart knows that we have to make alliances with everybody who was being attacked. I'm very, very happy that in this town the synagogues and churches and the mosques are allied together against the Trump administration's racist policies.
Mason Funk: [00:36:30] Great. Okay, and we'll get back to the present as we move on. You mentioned this gentleman named Bob Martin/Stephen Donaldson, and I wonder if it's worth talking about him a little bit? You said you were with him and you guys were arms linked sticking to the bourgeoisie, which I love. Tell me about him and where you were in your life when you were friends with him.
Martha Shelley: [00:37:00] In that year 1968 to 1969 that school year, when I was working at Barnard College, Stephen Donaldson aka Bob Martin was a student at Columbia University right across the street. He was head of the Student Homophile League.
Martha Shelley: [00:37:30] They went on part of a peace march, I made friends with him because of that, and I joined him as part of a peace march that was ... The bus. I joined Bob as part of a peace march that was happening on the grounds of Columbia University, and a number of the other Columbia University students were uncomfortable, this was before the Stonewall riot,
Martha Shelley: [00:38:00] with having all these out gay people being part of the peace march. It was like we were smearing the peace movement, just like if you are a communist or a queer you had to keep it a secret in order to support a cause like civil rights or peace, because your very existence was a dirty name. So we got to be friends. He actually turned me on to LSD,
Martha Shelley: [00:38:30] and we would go to gay conferences where other organizations went. There was a thing called the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile organizations, and all of the different organizations some of which were two people and a mimeograph machine, and some of them were big ones like Mattachine Society, we'd have meetings. So Stephen Donaldson and I used to actually date
Martha Shelley: [00:39:00] and that upset people because here we were being representatives of open public representatives of the gay movement, which was called the Homophile Movement in those days, and yet we were screwing around with each other. Well we were young, and we enjoyed upsetting people's expectations [inaudible] bourgeoisie.
Mason Funk: [00:39:30] I think there's something obviously important there because the queer community, LGBT community has grappled with the tendency to want to be, what's the word? Monolithic, like, "Who do we let in and who do we let out?" So you were sleeping with the guy, and he was gay and you were lesbian, but you were sleeping together, upsetting the ... like, "No, no, no, no. That doesn't fit. That's too messy."
Martha Shelley: [00:40:00] Well, people were uncomfortable with this. Of course we were both sleeping with people of our own sexes. We were just young people screwing around in the "Sexual Revolution times", and the older people were uncomfortable because they wanted ... a lot of them still wanted at that point because again, before Stonewall, to be recognized by straight America as, " All we want is to have a nice house in the suburbs
Martha Shelley: [00:40:30] with a white picket fence and straight job, and just be accepted like everybody else," and some of us didn't. Some of us were doing psychedelic drugs and some of us were dropping out and just an awful lot of young people were saying, "We don't want that kind of white middle-class America. We have other ideas of what we want. We don't want to work for the corporation
Martha Shelley: [00:41:00] and keep our nose to the grindstone all our lives." Stephen and I, Bob and I were part of that young movement. Then of course all hell broke loose came the Stonewall riot.
Mason Funk: Perfect. Perfect segue. Before we talk about Stonewall, what I want to talk about ... well I do want to hear about Stonewall, but it's rarely talked about in the context of what was happening in America,
Mason Funk: [00:41:30] like the assassinations of RFK and Martin Luther King, the riots in Chicago. Can you just give us a little picture of that ... approximate that year, mid '68 and mid '69, leading up to Stonewall.
Martha Shelley: I had been marching against the war really since I'd gotten involved with the Sullivanians. Now, for all of the things that were wrong with them, they were at least that much on the left
Martha Shelley: [00:42:00] that we would organize a group to go to Washington DC and march, and we would have a sign that said, in big letters, "CIA," and then little letters underneath, "Citizens in action to end the war in Vietnam." So I'd been on a number of peace marches. What happened in '68 during the "Democratic convention", was this police riot in Chicago, and I saw it.
Martha Shelley: [00:42:30] I wasn't in Chicago, but I would see it on the news, I would see the newspaper reports, and I was completely outraged as were an awful lot of people. Of course there were the massacres at Kent State and Orangeburg, and people always remember Kent State because it was white kids that got massacred, and they don't remember that there were more kids who were shot at Orangeburg, because those were black kids at a black college.
Martha Shelley: [00:43:00] What we saw was the country was going up in flames. People were very, very polarized on one side or the other. My lover at the time was a woman I'd met at Daughters of Bilitis, and she had been a Republican. She was quite a bit older than me. She had worked for the Defense Department, her name was Allison, and she'd quit one day. She was a technical writer.
Martha Shelley: [00:43:30] When her boss was talking about Megadeths, and she said, "Does that mean what I think it means?" and he said, "Yes," and as soon as she could do it, she quit that job and got another job and a civilian life. She didn't want to be part of that. She was moving more towards the left. She ended up being somewhat in left center, from being a very right-wing person. Of course I just continued moving left,
Martha Shelley: [00:44:00] but we were both horrified. The marches and the riots kept going on month after month. Let me think if I can remember all of the stuff that was relevant in that particular period. Shut that for a sec.
Mason Funk: [00:44:30] Okay.
Lulu Gargiulo: You want me to cut off the camera?
Martha Shelley: Well, I guess you can record this stuff, I don't care. You just edit it out.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Martha Shelley: I'm trying to think what else happened during that time that was relatively ... Yeah. The assassination.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Martha Shelley: All right. The assassination of the Kennedys didn't move me as much as that of Martin Luther King, just because they were men of power and he was not. His power was a moral power,
Martha Shelley: [00:45:00] and he was much more vulnerable and of course the FBI was targeting him, so who knows who told the guy to kill him. In fact, who knows who told the guys to kill JFK and RFK. Probably the same people arranged those assassinations.
Martha Shelley: [00:45:30] I didn't read more about that until much later. But I was getting more and more radicalized of course. Then came the Stonewall riot at the end of that year. What I decided, in fact even before the Stonewall riot, I was offered an opportunity to come back to have another contract for another year at Barnard College, continue my job, and I said no.
Martha Shelley: [00:46:00] What I did was I moved down to the East Village, found a very cheap apartment. It was less than $100 a month, and went to work part-time as a typesetter for a woman who was quite radical in those days, and thought, "I'm going to do that and I'm going to be a radical and do my writing and be an organizer." While I-
Mason Funk: [00:46:30] Let me interrupt for a second. How big of a decision was that for you? This kind of shift in how you were going to live and how you were going to organize your life?
Martha Shelley: I don't understand the question.
Mason Funk: When you say you quit your Barnard job, and decided to become a part-time typesetter and that you were going to kind of organize your life around being a radical, it sounds like a kind of a big shift but maybe it was just a logical progression, I don't know.
Martha Shelley: [00:47:00] Okay. You asked whether it was a big, almost to say traumatic decision for me, it wasn't. It just felt like it was what I wanted to do. I was sick of being a secretary. I hated ... I walked out of Harlem Welfare Center one day when they denied some guy welfare. I think it was around the same day or very shortly thereafter after that guy tossed toward the water fountain out of the window.
Martha Shelley: [00:47:30] I hated seeing what was there, and I wasn't going to deny people money anymore. I wasn't going to be part of that system, and that's when I got the job at Barnard. So, it was just the next progression. I saw other people being radicals and doing whatever they were doing and I just joined it.
Mason Funk: [00:48:00] I've read this story a number of times about the night the riots happened in Stonewall and you were playing tour guide, and you said, "That's just another riot," which I think again people don't realize, these riots were in and of themselves not that unusual riots. Not necessarily gay riots but riots. Can you just paint a picture of that evening and that reality?
Martha Shelley: [00:48:30] During that time, 1969, well from the whole period, '68, '69, there were constant riots, peace marches or demonstrations that turned into riots. In February for that matter, I had taken ... I'd gotten a week's vacation. I had earned a week off and I thought, "I'm going to California." I was part of the, again, part of the Daughters of Bilitis
Martha Shelley: [00:49:00] and there was a California chapter, a San Francisco chapter, and I had enough money saved to buy an airplane ticket. There was the head of the San Francisco chapter, would let me stay in her apartment. So I had a place to stay, and while I was there I went around and I went to Berkeley and was on the campus and there was a riot while I was there. I took some pictures. Police and the students were fighting with each other.
Martha Shelley: [00:49:30] So it was a very, very common thing. When the Stonewall riot happened, I was giving a tour to a couple of women from Boston who wanted to form the Daughters of Bilitis chapter up in Boston, and we passed by the Stonewall. I had never been in the Stonewall. It was a gay men's bar. There were these young people throwing things at cops, and the Boston girl said,
Martha Shelley: [00:50:00] "What's that?" I said, "It's just a riot. They happen all the time." I had no idea what it was. I saw this young white guy tossing something at a cop, as far as I knew he was a peace demonstrator. It was only, that was Saturday night. Then I read about it in the paper, I think it was Monday morning, what had actually happened, and that was when I was on fire.
Martha Shelley: [00:50:30] I said, "We have to have our own demonstration. We have to have a protest march." I called the same woman, Jean Palmer, who was running the Daughters of Bilitis and said, "Let's have a protest march." She said, "Call the head of Mattachine Society and we could jointly sponsor it if they agree."
Martha Shelley: [00:51:00] I called head of Mattachine who was Dick Leitsch, and he said, "Well, we're going to have a town hall meeting." The town hall was a place that was big enough to hold 400 people, and if ... "Why don't you come and propose this thing and if people are interested, we could jointly sponsor it." I came to the town hall meeting and there was 400 gay guys. There was Madeleine Cervantes who was the resident, what they used to call a fag hag, the one heterosexual woman who was supportive of gay men's rights,
Martha Shelley: [00:51:30] and there was me. When I proposed the march, Dick said, "How many people are in favor?" All the hands went up, and then he said, "Go to that corner of the room after the end of the meeting and those of you who are interested in organizing it, and go do it." So we did. Then we met at the headquarters of Mattachine Society, which was this little office,
Martha Shelley: [00:52:00] and started organizing the march. My job was to call the police and ask if we needed sound equipment. Now the last thing I wanted to do ever at that point in my life was call the police and ask them anything, but I did it. I didn't say what organization we were doing. They said, "Well you don't need sound equipment. If you have sound equipment you don't need a permit."
Mason Funk: If you don't have sound equipment, you don't need a permit.
Martha Shelley: [00:52:30] Right. If you have sound-
Mason Funk: Can you say that?
Martha Shelley: Okay. I will repeat it.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Martha Shelley: Okay. I was told to call the police and find out if we needed a permit to march. I did call them, I was scared to do it, but I did, and I didn't say who I was representing. I asked if we needed a permit and they said, "You don't need a permit unless you have sound equipment." I thought, "I don't need sound equipment." I had been on a picket line for the social service workers union
Martha Shelley: [00:53:00] and yelled my head off organizing the picket line. I thought, "My voice can carry." I didn't expect thousands of people in any case. We'd set the date for the march. There was a newspaper ad that we put in the Village Voice, and Marty Robinson and I showed up. We agreed that he would speak for the guys, I'd speak for the women,
Martha Shelley: [00:53:30] and we marched around however many there were of us. Some people say it was a couple of thousands, some people say it was a couple of hundred, I don't know. I was never very good at estimating crowd sizes. We marched around Greenwich Village and then ended up at Sheridan Square Park right across the street from the Stonewall. Marty jumped up on the water fountain and made a speech and then it was my turn and I made a speech, talking about what was happening.
Martha Shelley: [00:54:00] At the end of it, I'm looking at this crowd of people and I'm thinking, "I've got to do something with them. We can't just say, 'Now let's go attack the police station,' or anything." So I said, "Okay. We've had a peaceful march. Let's go home, but this is not the end of it. This is just the beginning. We shall return," and we did.
Mason Funk: [00:54:30] We interviewed Mark Segal last summer and he said that one of the differences that made Stonewall Stonewall was that it actually continued. The protests or the riots continued on the first series of nights. Is that what you remember as well?
Martha Shelley: What made Stonewall different from other riots, and there was a riot I think in San Francisco at some other bar and another one in Los Angeles, was A, that the disturbances continued, and it was because of the peace movement
Martha Shelley: [00:55:00] and all of the other things that were going on. People weren't going to take it anymore. It was something in the air you might say, the temper of the times, people demonstrating and rioting against the oppression by the police and by the government, and they weren't going to just go home and be quiet afterwards. The other thing that made a difference, and I think this was even more important than just
Martha Shelley: [00:55:30] that the disturbances continued for several nights, was that we formed an organization afterwards. We didn't just let it go. What we did sitting in the offices of the Mattachine Society, we were sitting around drinking beer, planning the march, and we gave ourselves a name which was the Gay Liberation Front. Some people say that I made that name up and I swear to God I do not remember using those words,
Martha Shelley: [00:56:00] but everybody says I did. I was drinking beer, it was a hot afternoon. What I do remember was slamming my hand on the table, we were sitting around a table, yelling, "That's it. That's it. We're the Gay Liberation Front," and then realizing that I had cut myself on the pop-top that was sitting there and my hand was bleeding. Then Dick Leitsch was in the next room and he got all freaked out and he came in there and he said,
Martha Shelley: [00:56:30] "Are you forming another organization, i.e. taking away my membership?" He was really upset and we lied like rugs. We said, "No, no, no, no. This is the name of our march committee." Of course we became another organization. After that we moved to Alternate U which had a warehouse space and we started meeting there, and we joined up ... we were the radicals within the gay movement.
Martha Shelley: [00:57:00] There were gay people within the radical movements who were being kept down because you're not supposed to smear your socialist organization with your gayness. We all joined forces.
Mason Funk: That's great. That's a great place to pause, because I need to go to the restroom and maybe you want to stretch, or whatever. Let's take about a three to five minute break.
Martha Shelley: Sure.
Lulu Gargiulo: Do you want to do the-
Martha Shelley: [00:57:30] Mm-hmm (affirmative). One of the problems that we had, and that's a continuous problem with activists and left organizations in general, and probably right organizations too, is people would fight over identity questions, fight over terminology, fight over tactics. What we started out with in the Gay Liberation Front, and I wish we had continued with it, was a policy of
Martha Shelley: [00:58:00] if you want to do something, go do it. You don't need everybody in GLF to approve of it. What we would do, for instance, those of us who wanted to put out the newspaper which became Come Out, we formed a group to be the newspaper people. People who wanted to put on dances formed a group to do that. If you wanted to organize a demonstration, you would start organizing it
Martha Shelley: [00:58:30] and everybody who wanted to come would show up. It was a very loose organization. Its problem was that because we were so loose, we didn't have an ongoing structure to continue, and we did eventually break up. It didn't take very long and people quarreled like, okay, there was a group ... there was radical lesbians that grew out because
Martha Shelley: [00:59:00] the men were sexist. Men are sexist, they're raised that way. Not all men were all that sexist and stuff but there were some, and it started off with having separate women's dances because with the mixed dances, some straight guys would come in and hassle the lesbians, grope them during a crowded dance. But it moved from being separate dancers to a whole separate organization. I joined that organization but I think it was a mistake
Martha Shelley: [00:59:30] that it happened that way. Same thing with a group of people who were not white, the Third-World Action Revolutionaries they called themselves, all four of them, however many there were. Because of racism, they decided they needed their other organization. Same with the Transvestites, Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries they called themselves, or STAR, a gay activist alliance that wanted to work doing more political things
Martha Shelley: [01:00:00] that is bugging the mayor's office and the City Council and so on, and we would just ignore those people, ignore the City Council and stuff. So, rather than being a one big umbrella organization where people got to do different things, we split off into these little factions and that was not in my opinion a really good thing. I didn't approve of it at the time and I still don't,
Martha Shelley: [01:00:30] and it's the same thing happened with the women's movement, and with any other left movement that I know of. It's a whole lot better to say, "Let people figure out what they want to do, what actions they want to take, and do them, and not fight with each other over how we're going to spend the money in the treasury if there is one, or what action should we take, or what the policy is, or god forbid what terminology we should use."
Mason Funk: [01:01:00] But a lot of those battles in the end come down to, I would imagine to personality and power, right? Can those forces be overcome? We're all human beings, we may have the loftiest ambitions in the world, but we are human beings and power and personality are in our make-up I would argue.
Martha Shelley: [01:01:30] I think that because we are all human, people are going to squabble over power and people are going to have their personality problems, and this is really, really hard when you're young because everything seems so very important at that time. The other problem that happens when you're young and when you're part of an oppressed group is you've got a lot of stored up anger, and that comes out and instead of you channeling that anger to fight the oppressors,
Martha Shelley: [01:02:00] people are very easily seduced or seduce themselves into fighting with each other because who's closest? It's like you've been bugged by your boss and your boss yelled at you, you come home and you yell at your wife or your children. That's a very normal thing to do, but it's something that has to be resisted as much as possible
Martha Shelley: [01:02:30] because it's so destructive. I don't know how to get the next generation to do that. I wish I had that magic wand.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Well, thank you for that. That was, at least it's a word of like, "Hey, maybe pay attention." Okay. Let's see. Another question I want to ask you, I think I mentioned we interviewed Mark Segal last summer,
Mason Funk: [01:03:00] he may have a bite that we've used from him when he says, "Thank God for the New York City police. They brought us all together." I'm trying to reconcile that with the fact that in reality they didn't bring us all together. Do you agree with that statement and if so in what sense?
Martha Shelley: Mark Segal says, "Thank God for the New York City police. They brought us all together."
Martha Shelley: [01:03:30] That's kind of like saying, "Thank God for the Trump administration these days. They're bringing us together to fight the fascists in this country." Well no, I don't think that's a good idea. Yes we have to fight them. I don't know what it would have taken back in those days to get the Gay Liberation Front going if it hadn't been for the Stonewall riot, but there were other gay organizations.
Martha Shelley: [01:04:00] It might have gone more slowly, but I don't think it's a good idea to thank God for your oppressors because they give you something to fight against. If we didn't have that kind of oppression, we could do an awful lot more with our lives.
Mason Funk: Great. That's a good thought. When I think about it I wonder if he really meant thank God literally, but it's a good thing to at least talk about it.
Mason Funk: [01:04:30] Talk about how, one of the things you said in the other interview was that there was, in the GLF, there was a sense of gay liberationists coming together with the women's movement or the feminists with other groups. There was a sense, you've already talked about this, but talk about it a bit more as it's relevant to today, of these groups finally realizing, "Look, this isn't just about us."
Martha Shelley: [01:05:00] I think that everybody who was in the GLF, at least in the beginning ... well, no, probably everybody, had been involved-
Mason Funk: I'm sorry to interrupt, but say Gay Liberation Front.
Martha Shelley: Okay. I think everyone who was in the Gay Liberation Front had been involved in some other organization for liberation, had been involved in civil rights,
Martha Shelley: [01:05:30] had been involved in the peace movement, had been involved in the women's movement, anything, but they had all been activists. Almost all had been activists in one way or another, or some socialist organization, and everyone had an understanding of that. But they didn't realize that the gayness was something to be fought about, most of them didn't realize that the ...
Martha Shelley: [01:06:00] except for those of us who'd been in gay organizations. Most people didn't see that as a primary form of oppression, and that was what we brought to the fore, and it didn't take very much thought to connect that especially in those times with all of the different organizations that were doing different kind of left type work.
Martha Shelley: [01:06:30] So it was just sort of a natural thing. Some other organizations were still spooked by gay people, and it took a lot of pressure from us to get them to come along. The Young Lords, the Puerto Rican Group in Spanish Harlem, no problem whatsoever with them. I took a lot of confronting with the Panthers because they were so involved in kind of a macho trip, reacting against the degradation of black men.
Martha Shelley: [01:07:00] Women's movement, there were an awful lot of women who were frightened to be called lesbians. That was the worst thing you could call them. You could call them sluts, they wouldn't mind. They would call them communists, they wouldn't mind, they weren't scared of that, but to be called lesbians somehow hit them really hard, Betty Friedan being a good example.
Martha Shelley: [01:07:30] I'm trying to think of any other organizations. Some people in the peace marches obviously were spooked too, but it wasn't that hard. It didn't take that long. It took a few months before it all became clear to most people on the left that being gay was an issue, an important one.
Martha Shelley: [01:08:00] I think that also had to do with the whole Sexual Revolution concept at the time. It was an extension of that. I think that these days we don't have quite as much of a problem with understand, at least the young people, the different connections, but what keeps people down so to speak is that personal fighting over power, personality,
Martha Shelley: [01:08:30] rage, and stuff, you still get those and we'll probably have those till the end of the species. But I don't think we have the same problem with understanding the connection between all of us, at least those of us on the left. I can refer again to the unity between the churches and the mosques and the synagogues here in this town.
Mason Funk: [01:09:00] Great. Tell us for the record, because it is [inaudible] Lavender Menace, how did the Lavender Menace start, how did it get its name, and what were the very memorable moments? Karla Jay told us the story, but it's worth hearing more, your take on the t-shirts.
Martha Shelley: [01:09:30] Okay. The National Organization for Women organized a conference, it was called the Second Congress to Unite Women, and they had a meeting at a local public school in New York City. I don't know who first heard about it, but of course they had a speaker who was speaking about black woman, and a speaker speaking about this issue, and a speaker speaking about this issue, but nobody who was speaking about the lesbian issue.
Martha Shelley: [01:10:00] A group of us lesbians, I was not part of the organizing, so I don't want to claim credit for something I did not do, went and printed up these t-shirts that said Lavender Menace. What that was from was Betty Friedan's comment that the lesbians within the women's movement were "the Lavender Menace". So we cheerfully assumed the label, showed up at the public school wearing clothes over our t-shirts,
Martha Shelley: [01:10:30] and then when the speakers were in the auditorium on top of the stage, somebody turned off the lights. The room was pitch black, and while that was happening, some of us who was in the back of the room put up posters or little flyers on the walls, "Take a lesbian to lunch," things like that, people held up signs,
Martha Shelley: [01:11:00] everybody took off their outer shirt and displayed their Lavender Menace t-shirt, which was all purple and stuff. Yours truly, what I did at that point was jump up on the stage and say what we were here for, and then said, "Do you all want to continue with the program the way it is or do you want to hear what we have to say too?" and putting it up to the audience, and they all wanted to hear what we had to say. So we spoke about the lesbian issue
Martha Shelley: [01:11:30] and how we are oppressed as lesbians within the woman's movement and elsewhere, and that was a huge turnaround for the National Organization for Women. They made the oppression of lesbians part of their platform of what they were going to fight. That, reproductive rights, all of it.
Mason Funk: [01:12:00] Speaking of reproductive rights, you've pointed to another link that some people don't naturally see between the queer movement and women's movement which is essentially control of our own bodies, [inaudible]. Can you talk about that?
Martha Shelley: One time, and I don't remember exactly when it was, I think it was in November of 1969, there was a conference in Philadelphia, the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations, and
Martha Shelley: [01:12:30] I went representing Gay Liberation Front. My friends Allison and Marion went representing Daughters of Bilitis, and there were these various gay groups. One of the things that I did as part of Gay Liberation Front was ask that the group include as part of its platform the control over our own bodies, which was part of Gay Liberation Front platform.
Martha Shelley: [01:13:00] That to me is the most crucial part of the struggle. Control over your own body means control over your reproductive capacity. It means deciding who you want to sleep with, assuming they are consenting adults. It means not having the state interfere with that, and what it meant to us then and what it still means to me now is no, the state does not have the right to draft your ass and send you over to kill or be killed.
Martha Shelley: [01:13:30] That you have the right to autonomy over what you do with your body. We made that part of the Gay Liberation Front platform and we asked the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations to make that part of their platform. This one guy from an organization, and I cannot remember the name of his little organization, I think it was again a couple of guys with a mimeo machine.
Martha Shelley: [01:14:00] He was Catholic and he was against this, especially with regard to abortion. He was very much against abortion. Allison and Marion practically pitched a shit fit when he spoke. Allison had been raped once, and had had to have an abortion, and they were just furious.
Martha Shelley: [01:14:30] I was of course furious, although I had never been in that predicament, but I have lots and lots of friends who have, and because we ... the women were basically threatening that if the men didn't vote for abortion rights as part of the platform for all, that we would just walk out. Period. So, it became part of the platform; control over our bodies, including rights to abortion, contraception, and the whole works.
Mason Funk: [01:15:00] I think it's really interesting, that confrontation between this Catholic guy. Eventually, what did he do, what did he say? Did he change his opinion? Do you remember?
Martha Shelley: I don't think he ever changed his opinion, but I think he may have left the organization, and in any case the organization pretty much dissolved. The old gay organizations were supplanted by the newer ones.
Mason Funk: [01:15:30] Now let's talk about something that I know has been controversial but it's a very present day example of how we deal and are going to deal internally with differences of opinion, because that's obviously a linchpin, which I know you've held some controversial opinions on transgenderism, transgender surgery.
Martha Shelley: I can say what I want to say about that right now.
Mason Funk: Great.
Martha Shelley: One of the current controversies is about the transgender issue. I think I've gotten a little flak for that, but my opinion still stands,
Martha Shelley: [01:16:00] which is I do not approve of the ... I mean, if people want to do with their own bodies they can do with their own bodies. What I personally disapprove of the surgeries and the hormones, because I do a lot of research into medical stuff, we don't know what the long-term effects are. We know that the long-term effects of the hormone treatments, it would very easily lead to different kinds of cancer. The surgeries, I don't know.
Martha Shelley: [01:16:30] I am also against cosmetic surgery. I know that people have to do that if they're in Hollywood for their jobs, but in general, I do not approve of cosmetic surgery except in those cases and if somebody's in a bad accident and you got your face smashed. I've seen too many surgeries that go wrong. One guy that I know who decided to have a tummy tuck and he ended up with brain damage from anoxic brain injury during the whole thing.
Martha Shelley: [01:17:00] So I would be very, very cautious about getting any kind of surgery, whether it's for sex change or cosmetic reasons. That's my personal opinion about the medical stuff. As far as transgender people say, "Well, I was a man I'm now a woman," or whatever, I can't go along with that. If people want to call themselves that, fine. This is me personally, I think fine if you're transgender.
Martha Shelley: [01:17:30] I am perfectly happy with people wanting to say that they are what they are, but in my heart of hearts, I think, "Okay. You're a man, you had these treatments, you now consider yourself a woman, fine. I don't." I don't consider you a man. I consider yourself a transgender person, which is different, and I don't mind that there's people who have that kind of difference. They have as much right as I do to exist,
Martha Shelley: [01:18:00] to be protected on their jobs, to not get beaten or killed for who they are. Again, they can go ahead and say what they want to say about who they are. Sometimes with the more radical transgender people, I find it ... like for instance people that insist on terminology like, "You can't talk about a vagina. You have to refer to it as a front hole." Excuse me, what I got is a vagina.
Martha Shelley: [01:18:30] I was born with it, and it wasn't a surgically created front hole, and I don't want you to tell me what I can call it anymore than I want to tell you what you can call yourself. I can think of what I want, but go ahead, call yourself that. You want to use a feminine pronoun-
Mason Funk: [inaudible]. Okay. Go on.
Martha Shelley: You want to use a feminine pronoun or a masculine pronoun to describe who you are, fine. I'll go along with that, but I don't have to think the way you do.
Mason Funk: [01:19:00] Great, and I think that's all, like one of the purposes of this project is to make space for all different opinions. So the question is, this is obviously a lightning rod for some people, this could be the kind of thing where you could never sit down at a table with a given person because you disagree severely. So this is like a great test case for how do, in your opinion, given your difference of opinion, given the fact that some people will disagree very vehemently with you,
Mason Funk: [01:19:30] how do we as a community model the ability to have differences of opinion and not let them tear us apart?
Martha Shelley: I think the important thing if we have differences of opinion about really crucial items, is to figure out what we have in common that matters. For example, we have our next door neighbors in the house over there, are fundamentalist Christians.
Martha Shelley: [01:20:00] They do not approve of gay marriage. They believe that the world was created in six days and God rested on the seventh. They are also our best friends. They probably pray for us to become converted so that we don't have to go to hell because we're Jewish. That doesn't matter. What matters is we are kind to each other, we share food from our gardens, we ...
Martha Shelley: [01:20:30] their little girl is dog crazy, we share taking care of the dog. I am teaching their little children martial arts, self-defense. I'm no great shakes as a martial artist, but I know enough to get them started. What matters is that we are all human and that we have to look after each other and follow the basics.
Martha Shelley: [01:21:00] You know, love thy neighbor as thyself, do not oppress the stranger, in this case the illegal immigrant or whatever, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Real basic stuff. They don't have to agree with me, I don't have to agree with them, we have to look after each other.
Mason Funk: We were talking about this the other day, I think what that elicits in some people, hearing that, is A, well that's just ridiculous, or B, "No. If I give an inch,
Mason Funk: [01:21:30] they'll take a mile. If I give an inch, I'm going to be betraying my core beliefs." All these things come up for people. What do you say to someone who says, "But they, they, they ... but they voted for Trump. They are the white supremacists." Whatever the they, they, they might be doing, how do you maintain this line of thought when it feels impossible to do what you just described?
Martha Shelley: [01:22:00] I maintain this line of thought up to a point. In other words, as long as you are not coming after me to throw me into Auschwitz, I am willing to work with you. If your core beliefs are so fragile that you can't work with me, I am truly sorry.
Martha Shelley: [01:22:30] There's nothing I can do about that. If you come after me like they did in, what is it? Charlottesville? Just recently, with semi-automatic weapons and stuff like that, I will do what I can to protect myself and to protect the people I love. In that case we're not talking about a difference of belief, we're talking about violence, and as long as we cannot be violent with each other,
Martha Shelley: [01:23:00] there may be some hope for working together. But again, if your core beliefs are so fragile that unless I agree with you 100% you can't recognize me as human, I don't know what to do about that.
Mason Funk: Does that family next door, for example, do they worry that by letting their daughter, some families I think would think, "If we let our daughter be friends with the lesbians because she likes their dog, she is going to start to think that lesbianism is okay."
Martha Shelley: [01:23:30] I don't know if they worry about whether their kids, it's not just one kid, might be influenced to be gay because of us.
Lulu Gargiulo: Hold please.
Mason Funk: Just go ahead and start over.
Martha Shelley: I don't know if our neighbors worry about whether their kids might be influenced to be gay because of us. I actually doubt it because we've been friends for them for quite some time and that was before the dog,
Martha Shelley: [01:24:00] before this girl got interested in the dog. I don't know what's the difference between them and some other people, but they are who they are. They're really, really good people. The woman's father voted for Trump. The woman, her name is Sarah, was very upset with him about that. She has an adopted Ethiopian little girl, and the racism was just appalling to her.
Martha Shelley: [01:24:30] She's anti-abortion, we've talked about that very briefly. We've also talked about evolution, we agree to disagree. I guess she's pretty comfortable with her own beliefs and doesn't feel threatened by us.
Mason Funk: It sounds like in some ways it's kind of a mix. It's a hodgepodge of different ways you agree to disagree, or you don't talk about it, or you agree on some things, and not on others.
Martha Shelley: [01:25:00] I think we agree on the basics, love thy neighbor, and we are neighbors.
Mason Funk: Let's move on to your readings. Briefly introduce, why don't you ... let's see. The best way to do this ... is the book on top also [inaudible] read from?
Martha Shelley: This is Sisterhood Is Powerful, so I'm going to read a portion of that.
Mason Funk: Let's just say, let's have you introduce [crosstalk] . This is Sisterhood ...
Martha Shelley: [01:25:30] I'm going to read from the article that I wrote for Sisterhood Is Powerful. I'll just read some extracts because it's a bit long, but I will share some of the major points. I should say I'm pretty proud of this article because it had ... years later after it was published, I ran into a woman who was here illegally from South Africa who had escaped one step ahead of the South African police,
Martha Shelley: [01:26:00] this was during apartheid. She was Jewish, she was a communist and a lesbian, and until she read that article, she didn't think that the lesbian part of her was something political. But it affected her and I thought, "Wow, she read that in South Africa." I'm really proud that stuff that I have written has helped people in their lives. So let's see if I can find that piece. Here we go. The article was called Notes of a Radical Lesbian.
Martha Shelley: [01:26:30] "Lesbianism is one road to freedom, freedom from oppression by men." By the way, I wrote this in 1970. "To see lesbianism in this context, as a mode of living neither better nor worse than others, as one which offers its own opportunities, one must abandon the notion that deviants from the norm arises from personal illness. The lesbian through her ability to obtain love and sexual satisfaction from other women,
Martha Shelley: [01:27:00] is freed from dependence on men for love, sex, and money. She doesn't have to do menial chores from them, at least at home, nor cater to their egos, nor submit to hasty and inept sexual counters. She is freed from fear of unwanted pregnancy and the pains of childbirth and from the drudgery of child raising." "On the other hand, she pays three penalties, the rewards of child raising are denied her.
Martha Shelley: [01:27:30] This is a great loss for some women but not for others. The lesbian still must compete with men in the job market, facing the same job and salary discrimination as her straight sister. Finally, she faces the most severe contempt and ridicule that society can heap on a woman." "When members of the women's liberation movement picketed the 1968 Miss America pageant, the most terrible epithet heaped on our straight sisters was lesbian.
Martha Shelley: [01:28:00] The sisters faced hostile audiences who'd call them commies and tramps, but some of them broke into tears when they were called lesbians. A woman who is totally independent of men, who obtains love, sex, and self-esteem from other women, is a terrible threat to male supremacy. She doesn't need them and therefore they have less power over her." "Lesbians because they are not afraid of being abandoned by men, are less reluctant to express hostility toward the male class,
Martha Shelley: [01:28:30] the oppressors of women. Hostility toward your oppressor is healthy, but the guardians of modern morality, the psychiatrists, have interpreted this hostility as an illness, and they say this illness causes and is lesbianism. If hostility to men causes lesbianism, then it seems to me that in a male-dominated society, lesbianism is a sign of mental health."
Martha Shelley: [01:29:00] "Women are afraid to be without a man's protection because other men will assault them on the streets, and this is no accident, no aberration performed by a few lunatics. Assaults on women are no more an accident than are lynchings of blacks in Mississippi. Because lesbian has become such a vile epithet, we have been afraid to fight openly. We can lose our jobs, we have fewer civil rights than any other minority group.
Martha Shelley: [01:29:30] Because we have few family ties and no children for the most part, we have been active in many causes, but always in secret, because our name contaminates any cause we work for." "To the radical lesbian, I say that we can no longer afford to fight for everyone else's cause except our own. The revolution must be fought for us too. Maybe afterward, people will be able to love each other regardless of skin color, ethnic origin, occupation or type of genitals.
Martha Shelley: [01:30:00] But if that's going to happen, it will only happen because we make it happen starting right now." So that was me in 1970.
Mason Funk: That's awesome. Do you have something from the 1990s?
Martha Shelley: Right. I wrote this in I think 1996.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, start again, if you don't mind. Take a sip, and then set the book down and then just pick it up again and introduce what the book is called and then tell us you wrote it, when you wrote it, and then go ahead.
Martha Shelley: [01:30:30] This is a poem that I wrote-
Mason Funk: By the way, I think as you're reading, you might be tending to glance at the lens as well as at me, but just keep talking to me.
Martha Shelley: Okay. In 1996 I wrote this, it's called Haggadah: A Celebration of Freedom, and for those who don't know, Haggadah means the legend and it is what you recite on Passover. For me Passover is so important because it is a holiday that celebrates escape from slavery into freedom.
Martha Shelley: [01:31:00] It's to me the most essential holiday of Judaism. During that celebration, during the Passover Seder, which means that you gather around, you have dinner, and you recite these things, you drink four little cups of wine, and for each cup I wrote a poem. This is the fourth cup, the last cup.
Martha Shelley: [01:31:30] "Our fourth and final cup is for those women and men whose commitment to justice transcends kinship, or national borders, or the custom of the time. For the humble whose lives escape notice, who've resisted slavery since the dawn of history. The Egyptian who knew the Hebrews were leaving, who gave her neighbor gold earrings and a quick kiss, and veiled her face to hide the tears.
Martha Shelley: [01:32:00] The woman in ancient Assyria who opened her door to a slave running away, who shared what she had: left over fish and barley bread, and wrapped the rest in a palm leaf, and walked her guests past the gates of the city, knowing her own children could be taken to recompense the master deprived of his property." "The woman in Alabama who opened her door to slaves running away, dressed their wounds, fried up chicken and cornbread, tucked them under blankets and hay in the wagon, whose husband rode them north to the next station of the Underground railroad,
Martha Shelley: [01:32:30] knowing they both could be imprisoned, their farm taken to recompense the masters. The Germans and Poles who hid Jews in the Attic, who forged passports and found them passage on ships, who shared cabbage and potatoes and a ration bit of sausage, knowing that if they were discovered they'd share the same grave. The deacon who runs a sanctuary for Guatemalans escaping the death squads. The Dyke who runs a battered women's shelter,
Martha Shelley: [01:33:00] and for those whose neighbors noticed well enough and hated them." "The white woman who walked black children to school past mobs of screaming Klansmen, whose neighbors called her nigger lover, got her husband fired, phoned them with death threats, shot through their windows. The Muslim feminist who defended Hindus against Muslims who raped and murdered them, burned their homes and took their land, and the mullahs put a price on her head and the neighbors called her a slut
Martha Shelley: [01:33:30] and demanded her blood, and she escaped into exile. The Israelis who defended Arabs against Jews who tortured them, shot them, bulldozed their homes and took their land, and the neighbors call them self-hating Jews and woke them with obscene calls. The woman who spoke for the forests against humans and inhuman corporations who bulldozed and chainsawed and clear-cut them, and the neighbors called her a tree hugger, taking their jobs, and her car was bombed and her body half blown away."
Martha Shelley: [01:34:00] "For the woman whose neighbors say she's shrill or crazy or too sexy, she looks like a whore or too ugly, she can't get a man, she makes trouble because she's a dyke, because her boyfriend put her up to it. For the man who will not kill and is called a fag, who will not rob the poor and is called a traitor, who hurls his own body against the tanks instead of writing letters to the editor, and is called a terrorist.
Martha Shelley: [01:34:30] For those we never saw and those we could not fail to see. For all the women and men who risk imprisonment, exile, or death, for righteousness' sake, we drink, here o Israel. It is not the Messiah, but these imperfect few, and every generation whose courage has redeemed you."
Martha Shelley: [01:35:00] This thing, this is a poem I wrote last year during the election cycle. It was Passover 2016. "We were promised a trickle of silver while billionaires swallowed the mint. Instead, a mighty river of advice runs down on us,
Martha Shelley: [01:35:30] advice like an ocean of corrosion from the faucets of Flint. Don't ask for paradise. We'll dribble out an extra dollar or two over the next few years, while we hike prices and zero-out your gains. You can see a doctor for your pains, as long as we extract our profit and empty your pockets to pay for the prescription. If you squawk enough, we might tinker with the system just a bit, and then claim credit for passing such amazing landmark legislation.
Martha Shelley: [01:36:00] We know how to run the show, we have the experience, your leader is a dreamer who will leave you to die in the wilderness. We've heard the same hokum for ages. Pharaoh probably promised to raise wages. His press corps said, 'Be patient. One of these days he'll notice your plight and issue an edict,' and if our ancestors had heeded their advice, we'd still be slaves in Egypt." This last one, [inaudible] .
Mason Funk: [01:36:30] Just start clean. Just set it down and just say this poem I'd like to read.
Martha Shelley: This poem I'd like to read I wrote for the woman who was my secret mentor during the Gay Liberation Front days. She had been a communist,
Martha Shelley: [01:37:00] and was actually getting disillusioned at that point, but she taught me a whole lot. We used to have ... she was from Europe and was stationed here because of her job. Anyway, she'd been very courageous and I call this A Woman of Courage. " You left a hole in the morning of our daily tea and talks about the French elections
Martha Shelley: [01:37:30] or the hoard of iguanas overrunning the commons around your condo and swimming in the pool, or the shut-ins you visited with mail and conversation. There are holes now in my memories of your stories, tattered recollections of a childhood that wasn't mine, fishing for tiddlers in the creek in the English countryside."
Mason Funk: I'm going to interrupt you. Try not to look at the lens. I hated to do that.
Martha Shelley: Start over again?
Mason Funk: [01:38:00] Yes please.
Martha Shelley: The whole thing?
Mason Funk: Just read the poem.
Martha Shelley: Okay. "You left a hole in the morning of our daily tea and talks about the French elections, or the hoard of iguanas overrunning the commons around your condo and swimming in the pool, or the shut-ins you visited with mail and conversation. There are holes now in my memories of your stories, tattered recollections of a childhood that wasn't mine, fishing for tiddlers in the creek in the English countryside,
Martha Shelley: [01:38:30] paddling after an imperious great-aunt. Your military father teaching you to ride horse, deploying armies of toy soldiers across the counterpane, teaching you ancestral pride, teaching you never to cry." "Then came the Blitz, the doodlebugs, winged bombs raining from the sky, you gave your bedroom to evacuees, to children from the East End, and slept all winter in the Attic,
Martha Shelley: [01:39:00] waking to a thin skin of ice on your drinking glass. You were afraid of aggressive animals like geese and goats, but not of leaving your island home for strange lands, wrapping your lips around strange tongues. You left me boxes of books and records and fragmentary tales you could not forget, but refused to let me record. The Greek War, you volunteered, bandaged the wounded,
Martha Shelley: [01:39:30] picked up body parts for burial, put a bullet through the brain of a man who had tortured your comrades." "The Algerian war, you hid the despised, the wives of Algerian laborers tortured and murdered by the police nationale. When the massacre was over, someone you trusted snitched and sent you to jail. Then at the end when the tumor began to devour your memories, you swallowed your fear
Martha Shelley: [01:40:00] and asked me one last gift, and I brought the Seconal and mixed it. A last tear escaped your father's watchful eye as you gulped down the brew and left me, left a hole in the morning. My elder, my mentor, you who advised me on actions and elections and the minor troubles of marriage, now I ask another gift from you wherever you are. You left a hole in my heart, fill it with your courage."
Mason Funk: [01:40:30] That's wonderful.
Martha Shelley: Thank you.
Mason Funk: Thank you for that. I always finish with four questions. Relatively simple ones, and these tend to be short and sweet. If somebody comes to you this afternoon, whoever it might be, and says, "I'm thinking about coming out."
Mason Funk: [01:41:00] What nugget of encouragement or insight or advise would you offer that person?
Martha Shelley: If somebody comes to me and says, "I'm thinking of coming out," I guess my question would be, "Do you mean you're thinking of first having a relationship with a gay person, or are you thinking about becoming public about your orientation?" I guess what I would say is, "Go ahead. Go do it, whatever you need to do, and I will be there to talk to if you need any kind of emotional support."
Mason Funk: [01:41:30] Great. Secondly, what is your hope for the future?
Martha Shelley: My hope for the future is that we get through these times. What I'm seeing is a possibility of some real destructive violence and civil war in this country,
Martha Shelley: [01:42:00] but what I'm also seeing is an awful lot of hope, because there are a lot of people who are saying no, a lot of people who remember what happened in Germany and won't put up with it. If we have conflict, it won't be a whole nation that stands by silently and supports this evil. I'm also afraid. I'm afraid of the environmental devastation that will make all of our struggles pretty much moot.
Mason Funk: [01:42:30] Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Martha Shelley: It's important to me to tell my story because it might encourage other people, young people, to have the courage to do what's necessary in order to make this a better world.
Martha Shelley: [01:43:00] Everybody needs to do just a little bit of something, nobody has to be ... you get a few great heroes like Martin Luther King, but you also get all of the people who were part of that movement. It wasn't just one man, and nobody has to be the one great hero who ... you see in Hollywood the man who saves the world. We all have just little bits to do, and we all need to do whatever little bit we can.
Mason Funk: [01:43:30] Finally, this project OUTWORDS, which is an attempt to kind of ... well I think it was kind of knit together a portrait of our national LGBTQ community. What do you see is the potential value of OUTWORDS?
Lulu Gargiulo: Wait. Hold, one second. There's this plane going over. Sorry.
Mason Funk: Yeah, no worries. That's the first time that's happened. We've been really-
Lulu Gargiulo: Yeah, we have been lucky.
Mason Funk: Either that or we haven't been paying attention but I think we've-
Martha Shelley: No.
Mason Funk: [01:44:00] You've been paying attention.
Lulu Gargiulo: Sometimes, I try to. Let's say that.
Mason Funk: Let's just hold a minute longer, it's still ...
Lulu Gargiulo: Yeah, it's still angry.
Mason Funk: And if you could mention OUTWORDS in your answer.
Martha Shelley: OUTWORDS.
Mason Funk: OUTWORDS.
Martha Shelley: [01:44:30] What I see as the importance of the OUTWORDS project is very similar to what I saw as the importance of my article in Sisterhood Is Powerful, which is somewhere somebody who sees this video, who reads a transcript, who gets hold of the book that's going to be published, will be inspired to have courage about their lives, and to do whatever they need to do
Martha Shelley: [01:45:00] to feel comfortable with themselves as gay people, to connect with other gay people and to connect with other people who are oppressed one way or another. God knows there's an awful lot of us. I'm thinking particularly not just of people who are going to get that book here in the United States, but people in other countries where gay people are still getting killed for being gay, like Chechnya.
Mason Funk: [01:45:30] From your mouth to God's ears. Yeah. It's funny, I never even thought of the book making its way, although I have thought of OUTWORDS making its way outside of our borders, but I never thought of the book itself actually physically making its way. You think of the internet for example, or maybe the book-
Martha Shelley: Maybe, who knows.
Mason Funk: ... translated, who knows. Fantastic. Thank you very, very much.
Martha Shelley: You are welcome.
Mason Funk: We're going to do something to finish technically which is what we call room tone,
Mason Funk: [01:46:00] which is the sound of this room with nobody talking, and ask you to just look into the lens. Now please do look in the lens, and just go ahead and call it out.
Lulu Gargiulo: This is room tone. (silence)
Lulu Gargiulo: [01:46:30] Can you just look right into the lens and give me just a little smile. Great. That's a cut.
Mason Funk: Okay. I always, I don't know, I guess it encourages me to hear that you even wonder what you would do if for example you're a German citizen, because to me that seems very clear-

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Lulu Gargiulo
Date: August 17, 2017
Location: Home of Martha Shelley, Portland, OR