Susan Jane Allen was born in Detroit in 1948. Her parents, Leo and Helen Allen, both worked in the space industry. In 1962, the family relocated to New Orleans, where Susan’s dad worked on the project that launched America’s first astronaut. Susan went to Louisiana State University, studied ceramics, and plunged into a life of activism. She also fell in love for the first time – with her professor.

Susan’s father and her grandfather, a Russian immigrant, were both liberal Democrats, and inspired Susan to be outspoken and take political action. At LSU, she was involved in issues from international policy and war to campus policies. She protested the invasion of Cambodia invasion and participated in anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. At the same time, she peacefully fought the production of napalm at a local factory, pushed for gender equality on campus, and helped convince LSU to create the first student art galleries. 

From 1970 to 1990, Susan worked off and on as a cartographer and graphics artist for oil and gas companies in the New Orleans area; but her primary energies went to women’s causes and issues. Susan served twice as the Chair for the New Orleans Women’s Festival, worked for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in Louisiana, and most intensely, battled incessantly and in high-profile ways for women’s reproductive freedom. She served as Louisiana state coordinator for the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), and later on NARAL’s national board. In response to her efforts, Susan’s life was threatened and her home was trashed.

In 1990, Susan hit a wall in her activism. Her not-very-relaxing solution was to take a job as a child protection investigator for the Louisiana Department of Social Services. Over nearly two decades in that role, Susan continued to fight for women and children, focusing especially on cases with child fatalities or near fatalities. 
Today, officially retired, Susan finally has time to hang out with her two rescue cats, Petee B. and Piper Jane, and to create sculpture and stained-glass artwork which she shows weekly at the New Orleans French Market. She also participated in the Women’s Marches in New Orleans in 2017 and 2018.

OUTWORDS interviewed Susan at her brother’s home in Slidell, Louisiana in July 2017. After we’d packed up the camera, Susan mentioned the heat she took from other lesbians back in the day, because of her commitment to women’s reproductive rights. We got the camera back out – because along with our victories, it’s important to remember the queer community’s internal battles of the past. We’re still working those out today, and we’re thankful to people like Susan, who never failed to stand up for what she saw as right. 
Susan Jane Allen: [00:00:00] Skyline of New Orleans so I could look. So I had a really nice breeze in the river all night, which was nice.
Mason Funk: I lived one summer in Des Moines, Iowa, when I was just out of college, and I lived in an upstairs unit, in an old house, no air conditioning. I didn't know any better. I had never lived with air conditioning before. I was from California, so, I just opened the windows and sweated. I would bake lasagna in the evening, because that's the only thing I knew how to make. So, okay. we're starting.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] Do me a favor, start off by just telling me your name, your first and last name, and spell them out for me.
Susan Jane Allen: Okay. My name is Susan Allen, but I also like to put in the Jane, because Susan Allen is such a common name. So, it's Susan Jane Allen.
Mason Funk: Spell that for me.
Susan Jane Allen: S-U-S-A-N, J-A-N-E, A-L-L-E-N.
Mason Funk: Okay. Now, one of the biggest challenges that people experience in the south, because they're so polite and friendly, is they think they want to look at Natalie, because they want to include her in the conversation, or they want to look at the camera to include the camera, but you can only look at me.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:01:00] That's fine.
Mason Funk: You have to ignore, very rudely-
Susan Jane Allen: I may have to look up now and then while I'm thinking.
Mason Funk: You can look anywhere but, don't ... We will spike the camera.
Susan Jane Allen: I got you, I'm okay, I've been interviewed before.
Mason Funk: Okay. You can't believe how we have to tell people then we start to tell them over and over again.
Susan Jane Allen: That's good, okay.
Mason Funk: The other thing is, if I ask you a question, say, about your dad, please include his name, refer to him by my father or my dad or daddy, but don't just say he.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:01:30] Okay.
Mason Funk: Because, I want to know who you're talking about.
Susan Jane Allen: Alright, that's good.
Mason Funk: Does that make sense?
Susan Jane Allen: Mm-hmm (affirmative), sure. Yeah, he was a big influence on me.
Natalie Tsui: Is there a washing machine or something [inaudible]?
Mason Funk: Good, okay, so we'll talk about him. That will be a good-
Susan Jane Allen: So was my grandfather.
Natalie Tsui: [crosstalk]
Mason Funk: I have him in my notes.
Susan Jane Allen: My maternal grandfather.
Mason Funk: Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on.
Mason Funk: Don't get started yet.
Susan Jane Allen: No, I won't.
Mason Funk: What I'm going to say is though is, that will be a good opportunity for you to practice referring to them as my maternal grandfather, my dad.
Natalie Tsui: [00:02:00] So, cutting actually, the washer ...
Mason Funk: As much as possible-
Natalie Tsui: Rolling.
Mason Funk: ... just take your time, recognize, and I say this to me as well as to you, we can't cover everything.
Susan Jane Allen: I got it.
Mason Funk: I don't mean to sound like I'm talking to you like a child, or I'm being condescending, but it's important to just recognize at the outset, that we can't cover everything you've ever done. So, it's worth just taking our time-
Susan Jane Allen: That's perfectly ... I had a therapist once,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:02:30] when I was 40, and I had to declare bankruptcy, I had lost every single thing I had worked for, up until that point. I had to virtually start over. So, we were going through my life, and my therapist said, "God Susan, you did more by the time you were 30 than most people do in two lifetimes." So, I'm perfectly okay with that.
Mason Funk: Yeah, okay great.
Susan Jane Allen: That's basically where I consider the vast majority of my work took place, up until the time I was about 30, and then I went to work for-
Mason Funk: [00:03:00] Doing investigative work.
Susan Jane Allen: Well, I didn't start that till I was 40, but I was so burned out.
Mason Funk: I see, okay. Well, that's actually good to know, so we'll spend more time on that, on those first 30 years of your life.
Susan Jane Allen: Yeah.
Mason Funk: It's interesting also to talk about the toll that it took on you. It's worth doing that.
Susan Jane Allen: It was. It was ...
Mason Funk: [00:03:30] Do me a favor, since you mentioned it in your questionnaire, I would love to hear about ... First of all, tell me, and this is just for the record, give me your birth date and your place of birth, please.
Susan Jane Allen: May 22nd, 1948, Detroit, Michigan.
Mason Funk: Okey dokey. Tell us, you mentioned both your dad and your maternal grandfather, let's start with your dad. Tell me about your dad.
Susan Jane Allen: Well, he was a really interesting-
Mason Funk: That was a good example where I need you to say my dad.
Susan Jane Allen: Oh, my dad was a really interesting person. Leo Francis Allen, he was born in a little bitty town of Ringo, Kansas.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:04:00] I don't even think it's on the ... I think you can find it on a map, and it's like maybe half a street with three houses. So, there were five brothers, and they all ended up coming to Detroit to work in the auto industry when they grew up and got out of school. Well,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:04:30] he migrated into the space program very early, and became a very in depth engineer and designer, but he was this incredible liberal. Coming from rural Kansas, it was almost a dichotomy of thought, where you would think somebody from rural Kansas would be so liberal. I think my grandfather,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:05:00] my maternal grandfather Alex Peshkowitz, who was a Russian immigrant, they got along. You would have thought they were father and son. He used to call my dad Sonny, and he would never refer to my mother as his daughter. They were that close. My grandfather, he worked for Ford Motor Company, he was a union man, he worked in the foundry, drank a lot,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:05:30] and a real Russian, Russian, Russian, person. He used to say, "You've got to vote Susan Jane, you've got to vote, because you can't complain unless you vote. Always remember to vote." It was incredibly important to him, that we vote. I don't think they had that in Russia. So now, I'm crying thinking about him. Then,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:06:00] my dad from a real early age, he would at the dinner table, engage me in political discourse, as far back as I can remember. He and I would be arguing, arguing, arguing, and he would always pick these outrageous opposite sides, where I knew we would vary in thought. He'd make think. We would drive my sister and my mother crazy. When I got to college, when we had football games,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:06:30] because he knew I was a big LSU fan, he knew not to call. He would call me and he would beg me, he'd say, "I'd pay you to come home. I'll give you an extra $20 if you come home, because I've got nobody to argue with." So, my political favour really came from my dad and my grandfather. They were just really political beings. My dad was like I said, a real liberal. He actually was a member of Knights of Columbus,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:07:00] but on the back ... One side of the card, Knights of Columbus, and on the other side Motherhood is Optional.
Mason Funk: This is your dad?
Susan Jane Allen: My dad, yeah.
Mason Funk: Wow! Wow! So, let me ask you this. I always have to ask, when someone's parent is for example a strong liberal, in spite of having come from ... Do you know why, how he came by his very liberal beliefs?
Susan Jane Allen: No. I think all of his brothers were the same way.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:07:30] They were pretty close, and my Uncle Jay, he owned a bar and he was like a bookie, I'm pretty sure that's how he made most of his money, gambling. He had bought the Studebaker Baker Lodge, up on West Twin Lake, there's a lake up in northern Michigan. One time, there were the five car manufacturers, all had lodges on this one lake. When Studebaker went under, my uncle bought it.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:08:00] So, that became where we would spend our summers. You asked me, did you want for anything as a child? When I was growing up, it was like we had our own personal camp. We went up north for the whole summer, and we had our own lake, we had our own lodge, we didn't stay in the main house, we stayed in the garage, but it was a four car garage, converted into a dormitory for all the kids in the family. So, we skied,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:08:30] in the winter time we went up there to go snow skiing, tobogganing, and ice fishing. My aunt and uncle didn't have any children, and so we were allowed to bring friends with us, for a certain amount of time during the summer. So yeah, it was a great childhood. We were not wealthy by any means, but very comfortable.
Mason Funk: That sounds very fun, very outdoorsy.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:09:00] It was, it was yeah. You got really into ... The whole thing, you were really into the environment. I remember in school, and I don't know if they taught this everywhere else, we actually, I think it was in the seventh grade, our science class was called ecology. We actually had to go out, and take a plot of land, that was underdeveloped behind the school, map it for its-
Mason Funk: [00:09:30] Topography.
Susan Jane Allen: Topography, right. We had to identify every bug on the property we had to take samples, every plant, every weed, and that took the whole semester, half a year. I don't know if they teach that. That was public school.
Mason Funk: It's not teaching someone from the city to appreciate the land, it's growing upon the land.
Mason Funk: [00:10:00] So, at what point, you mentioned going to LSU.
Mason Funk: How did it happen that you came from Michigan to go to LSU?
Susan Jane Allen: In the late '50s, like I said, my dad was involved in the ... My dad worked with the Red Stone project, in Chrysler. They put Shepherd up into the first orbit, and then he transferred to Huntsville, Alabama, to work with Von Braun on the Saturn 1B project.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:10:30] At the time, my mom was still working for Daimler Benz. They were phasing out being in Michigan, and moving Daimler Benz North American to New York. So, she was shutting that down. Then, in '62, we all met in New Orleans for the space program. So, I ended up coming here to go to school. I was in high school, and had really planned to go east to school.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:11:00] I'd really had my heart set on going to Mount Holyoke, until, and this is true, I was never a big sports fan ... I mean, I was. I liked to play sports but never ... I went to a high school that had a dismal football team, I went to a public high school in New Orleans, it just was not a place for sports.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:11:30] In New Orleans, you went to bars in high school. That was just the way New Orleans was. Anyway, one of my best friends in high school Janet, her family was from Arkansas, and her brother was in the army, and he was in I think Vietnam by then. They always went to this combo game, because they were big University of Arkansas supporters. Well, they had this extra ticket,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:12:00] and Janet's parents asked if I would go, and that was the year LSU was playing Arkansas. Arkansas had, I remember this as if it was yesterday. Arkansas was 23-0. They had the longest running-
Mason Funk: Winning streak.
Susan Jane Allen: Yeah, in the nation, and LSU was like 6-4. We went and I was just overwhelmed by the LSU support. The LSU students, the people, it was just ... And we won 21-0.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:12:30] That was in January. I completely changed my mind, I said I'm not going to Mount Holyoke, I'm going to LSU, and I never regretted it. That's how I got to LSU because of the football game.
Mason Funk: So naturally, then you became a huge LSU football fan.
Susan Jane Allen: Absolutely. I still am, still am. I can't listen to the games or watch them anymore because I have to film them, and watch them the next day.
Mason Funk: You can't watch them live.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:13:00] Uh-huh (negative). I can't, I just can't. It's just too hard. The last one I actually watched, I threw up. I did watch the national championship games, we had parties for those. It's hard.
Mason Funk: I love me a good passionate football fan.
Susan Jane Allen: Oh god!
Mason Funk: Having been born in '48, you moved out here just after high school-
Susan Jane Allen: [00:13:30] Yeah, '62 we moved here.
Mason Funk: What do you remember about, of course this is a time when there's a lot of change happening societally. I know you argued with your dad or discussed like crazy-
Susan Jane Allen: When I was in high school? Wow!
Susan Jane Allen: This is really interesting. Being from Michigan, I never went to school with a black person before. There were no black people living in our neighborhoods, either one of them, or in my grandmother's neighborhood in Detroit.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:14:00] We lived in the suburbs in Utica. When we moved to New Orleans, it was culture shock. The first year, I went to private school here, St. Joseph's Academy, and it was the year they were integrating the schools. That was a real culture shock. I got messages put into my locker, "Yankee go home." I was like, "Why me? What did I do?"
Mason Funk: [00:14:30] But had you done something to [crosstalk].
Susan Jane Allen: No, it's just because I was from Michigan, I talked different. I didn't have a New Orleans accent, and there is a very distinctive New Orleans accent. It sounds very Brooklyn like, if you're from like the Irish channel or certain sections of uptown. Natives have a real ...
Susan Jane Allen: [00:15:00] It sounds a lot like Brooklyn. I didn't have that New Orleans accent, I didn't have a southern accent.
Mason Funk: Okay. So, Yankee go home, tell me more about that. Tell me more about the culture shock.
Susan Jane Allen: Well, I was very much an outsider, because I wasn't part of these little clicks that had all gone to school together their entire lives, in this little private school. So, I really rebelled, me and this other person in school, Lauren Ball, who to this day,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:15:30] is a friend of mine. She lives in New York, and we talk at least once every couple of weeks, because we were the outsiders. Snap the shades during prayers, just to ... I did terrible things when I was there. I'd bake cakes for them, that were seriously full of laxative, and did that kind of stuff. At the end of that year, the mother superior called me into the office and said,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:16:00] "We are not inviting you back next year," and I said, "Good, because I didn't plan to come back." So, that's when I transferred to public school, and that was wonderful. I just love public school.
Mason Funk: What did you notice, what was going on around you with regard to the integration of schools?
Susan Jane Allen: Well, the public schools-
Mason Funk: Hold on one second.
Natalie Tsui: I realized there's a piece of ... There's some dust on your shirt, and I want to just get it off. Just don't move, I'm just going to grab a little [crosstalk].
Susan Jane Allen: Sure.
Natalie Tsui: [00:16:30] There's like tiny, tiny white hairs. You have a pet?
Susan Jane Allen: Yeah, cats. It's just-
Mason Funk: Detective Natalie has figured out that you have pets.
Susan Jane Allen: If it's white, it's probably Piper.
Mason Funk: Piper.
Natalie Tsui: It is white hair.
Susan Jane Allen: Piper, Pudgola Piper, Pudgy Piper. I have Piper and Petee.
Natalie Tsui: Petee?
Susan Jane Allen: Petee makes sweetie.
Natalie Tsui: What does PD stand for?
Susan Jane Allen: Pete.
Natalie Tsui: Pete? Oh Petee?
Susan Jane Allen: Petee, like sweetie.
Natalie Tsui: My friend has a-
Mason Funk: I'm gonna tell you a ... go ahead Natalie.
Natalie Tsui: [00:17:00] My friend has a puppy that's name is PD, like-
Susan Jane Allen: No, he's P-E-T-E-E.
Natalie Tsui: This should be okay. I think I got most of the clumps of hairs.
Mason Funk: My parents had a black lab that they named Phantom, logically enough, and it's a perfectly fine name, but for some reason, my partner Jay and I just said, "That dog's name is Phantom, his name is Petee."
Natalie Tsui: Actually, there's a lot on here.
Mason Funk: So, we named him Petee.
Natalie Tsui: I guess Petee is a pretty common name.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:17:30] I don't know. He was Petee and Piper, Peter Piper. That's where I got the two names from. They're rescues. They're babies, they're handicaps. They're both very handicapped, my two cats.
Mason Funk: That's nice. It's good for you.
Susan Jane Allen: One has a little gimpy leg, the other one has just genetically, Petee's got genetic issues.
Natalie Tsui: Oh yeah.
Mason Funk: Full speed?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, we're still [inaudible].
Mason Funk: We're fine, okay. So, what did you notice, again, because this project is not only LGBTQ history, it's just American social history. So, things like the integration of schools here in the south. what do you remember noticing? Like in terms of-
Susan Jane Allen: [00:18:00] It was actually-
Mason Funk: Tell me what you're talking about.
Susan Jane Allen: Integration. When they integrated the Catholic schools, caused more issues than the public schools. The public schools didn't integrate till long after I was out of school. My high school was still white when I graduated in '66, and I don't when they actually integrated the schools in New Orleans. It was a long time.
Mason Funk: [00:18:30] So, was there any sense, you said there was culture shock, and I guess that-
Susan Jane Allen: It was just the whole idea of the south, as opposed to metropolitan New Orleans. Haven't you noticed it? It's a little different down here.
Mason Funk: Oh sure, yeah. I just wonder if there were specific racial things you noticed because there were more African-Americans.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:19:00] No. Well, that's another thing. In New Orleans, it's a very, very homogeneous city. You don't have whole neighborhoods that are black, and whole neighborhoods that are white. You may have one street that's white, but the next one down is black. You didn't have racial riots here, you didn't have big racial demonstrations here like you did say in LA, like in Watts, or in Detroit, because you didn't have these massive populations that were
Susan Jane Allen: [00:19:30] set in one particular area of a city. You can't walk a block in New Orleans in any direction, without running into an Asian or a black person, or a white person. Like for instance, St. Charles Avenue, when you look at St. Charles Avenue, you go down St. Charles Avenue, one block behind St. Charles Avenue, that's a black neighborhood,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:20:00] or 90% black. So, people in their everyday lives were very much accustomed to interacting with people of other races. It wasn't like it was in Detroit. The culture shock in Detroit was, I didn't have any black people around me at all. We moved here
Susan Jane Allen: [00:20:30] and they're right next door. That was a huge culture difference for me. A shift. I noticed very young, at that very time, that the attitude towards people was very different here. You said one thing publicly, but hey come on, he lives next door.
Mason Funk: What do you mean by that? What would you say publicly-
Susan Jane Allen: [00:21:00] Like your politicians didn't want integration, but that was like lip service to it.
Mason Funk: So, it'd be like publicly they're saying, "No, integration, no integration," but their best friend is African-American, and neighbor's African American and they-
Susan Jane Allen: Exactly, exactly.
Mason Funk: So why would they be saying publicly then no integration, no integration?
Susan Jane Allen: To keep up the front.
Mason Funk: For whose benefit?
Susan Jane Allen: Who knows? You're talking to somebody who's 14 years old at that time.
Mason Funk: Okay, I get you, okay.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:21:30] Who knows? Even when I went to LSU, I remember the first black kid that came to LSU wasn't until I was like maybe a senior. Because, you had LSU, and then you had Southern in Baton Rouge, in New Orleans, you had Southern, U&L. The public colleges were even ... I graduated in '70, so it was a long time.
Mason Funk: [00:22:00] So, was the first big issue for you, politically speaking as an adolescent and into your college years, was it the Vietnam war? What was the issue that ignited you?
Susan Jane Allen: Yeah, yeah.
Mason Funk: Tell me that in a sentence.
Susan Jane Allen: Well actually, what got me started was the discrimination against women students at LSU. We were held to a totally different standard than men. We had to be in at 10 o'clock, they could stay out all night.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:22:30] We couldn't walk out of the door with rollers in our hair, we couldn't wear pants out of the dormitory, but there were no rules for the men. So, that made my freshman year. I was like, "Something's got to change here." Then, the Vietnam war. That was just ... That really got me going, and I started helping people dodge the draft, and that was a very big thing for me the whole time. I did, because by the time,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:23:00] I think maybe my sophomore year in college, they were stopping the student deferments. So, how do you get people out of the draft? You want to hear how we did it?
Mason Funk: 150%. Set it up. Tell me what you're talking about, to get people out of the draft.
Susan Jane Allen: Medical deferments. How do you do it? Have you ever heard of achromatosis?
Susan Jane Allen: [00:23:30] Achromatic color blindness? Well, as an art major, I learned a lot about how the eyes react to color, especially when you take color and you study things like Joseph Alba's and the delineation of color and its interaction with its environment. If you look at complementary colors placed next to each other,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:24:00] they enhance it. But, what that also does, is it really taxes the eyes, because you have cones and you have rods. Cones perceive one color, rods perceive the other, or a percentage of each. But, if you place them next to each other and then you wave the line, it just makes those cones and rods just [inaudible]. Eventually, if you do it long enough, they get so tired they just lay flat,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:24:30] and the only thing you can perceive is a little bit of red and a little bit of green, and that gives you a symptomatic look of having achromatic color blindness, and you cannot pass the physical if you can't see color. So, made up all these flash cards for guys. You had to know me, to get my little recipes or get involved in this. Then, I would do it with fluorescent paint, fluorescent colors, which taxes the eyes even more,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:25:00] because fluorescent paint is actually made by two particles of plastic, of complimentary colors. Then, you double that with a complimentary of the fluorescent, and then you wave those lines, and it'll make you sick to your stomach to look at it for any length of time. But, if you would look at it for all of your waking hours for a period of like two to three days, you will create a fatigue in your eyes,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:25:30] that will simulate that you have achromatic color blindness. A couple of days later, they'll pop right back up, and you'll be fine, but it was enough to get them ... That was one way.
Mason Funk: Finish that thought. You didn't finish it. It was enough to ... I need that exact whole story.
Susan Jane Allen: It was enough when they went down to their physical-
Mason Funk: Put it up for one second. I need you to tell me this whole thing, but in a slightly more condensed way. Tell me what you're talking about, the cards, and what would be the results.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:26:00] Okay. So, the guys who had their physical coming up, for the selective service, meaning, when you went down and you took a physical, you were on your way to Vietnam. We would give them the cards and tell them, "You have to stare at this all day long. I don't care if you're in class, you stare at these, sometimes stare at these two colors, change it in an hour to this, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth." You do this as long as you're awake, all day long. In fact, stay up as late as you can.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:26:30] The longer you stare at them, the better it's going to be. In about three days, the cones and the rods in their eyes laid flat. They could only see a little bit of red, a little bit of green. On the morning of their selective service exam, they went in, they had an eye check, the doctor looks in their eyes, cones in their eyes are flat, gives them a look, "I can't see any color," he got 4-F'd.
Mason Funk: What does 4-F'd mean?
Susan Jane Allen: 4-F'd, you were physically unfit for military service.
Mason Funk: [00:27:00] If I ask questions sometimes that seem obvious, it's just because I want to make sure that it's clear to the listener.
Mason Funk: So, when you say 4-F'd, I want to make sure of that.
Susan Jane Allen: That was only one of them.
Mason Funk: You said you had to know me, I love this, you had to know me. You were like the, "Hey you're-"
Susan Jane Allen: In the art department, it got around. Susan can help you get out.
Mason Funk: Set it up for me a little more. How would people find you?
Susan Jane Allen: [00:27:30] Well, a guy in the art department maybe had a friend who got his notice to go have his ... You had I think 30 days to show up. They'd say, "Susan, can you help my friend?" "Yeah, sure." But that was only one of them. The other one was making them eat carrots all day long every day for a week, and it'll turn your skin yellow, and you'll look like you have jaundice. So, you either have cirrhosis but it doesn't really show up, you're either an alcoholic and so, you have liver issues, but it wouldn't show up in any blood test, but they look at your skin, you're yellow, you're jaundice, you are for 4-F'd.
Mason Funk: [00:28:00] Now, did the authorities ever catch on this stuff?
Susan Jane Allen: No. Well, the thing was, LSU, not everybody was going to the same one. They were going back home. So, they could be going to New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Alexandria. You made sure that somebody didn't show up with achromatic color blindness twice in a row. So, maybe this guy walked around with urine in his swim boots for a week,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:28:30] to make his feet feel like they were fungused, so, when he went in that day and he took off his shoes, the smell was so bad, it was like, "No!"
Mason Funk: That was another technique?
Susan Jane Allen: Yeah, that's another technique.
Mason Funk: Tell me about that. Tell me, another technique for getting people out of the draft.
Susan Jane Allen: We have shrimp boots down here. They're these white boots, and we tell guys, pee in the boots and walk around with the pee in the boots. Everybody, pee in your boots, just walk around with the pee in your boots until you go down there.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:29:00] Wear them all the way down there, and then put your socks on before you go in there. When they take their socks off, their feet smelled so bad, and they looked so shriveled up, it looked like they had some kind of fungus. Well, there were so many people going through the draft, they didn't have time to run cultures. They would just look, "Oh God!" If you have foot problems, you didn't get in.
Mason Funk: Because they knew you were going to have a lot of foot issues over there.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:29:30] Exactly.
Mason Funk: Let me ask you two questions. First of all, this is a very devil's advocate question. Did you ever feel bad for getting some guys off-
Susan Jane Allen: No.
Mason Funk: ... When somebody else was going to have to go in their place?
Mason Funk: Tell me about that. Why didn't you feel bad?
Susan Jane Allen: Because I couldn't get them all out. If you came and you asked me, I would have tried to help you. But, if you were stupid enough to sign up and go, no, I didn't feel bad about you at all.
Mason Funk: Okay. That was one of my questions. The second one was, and this may seem very, very obvious, but why were you so opposed to the war in Vietnam? Make sure in your answer that you include my question.
Natalie Tsui: The refrigerator kicked in.
Mason Funk: Okay, pause. Hold that thought.
Natalie Tsui: I'm gonna cut.
Mason Funk: Is Gary back here? Gary? Would you mind exiting?
Mason Funk: Sorry, it's just much better if there's nobody else in the room.
Gary: Got you.
Mason Funk: But thank you very much Gary and thanks for doing the fridge.
Natalie Tsui: [00:30:00] I am lowering the [inaudible].
Susan Jane Allen: He may have turned the AC off.
Mason Funk: [00:30:30] Gary, can you turn the AC off?
Gary: Alright.
Mason Funk: Thank you. This is where I have my questions obviously, that's why I look at it.
Susan Jane Allen: I know.
Mason Funk: It's reading?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah but the end.
Mason Funk: [00:31:00] Okay. Back to where we were, why were you so opposed to the Vietnam War. What was going on?
Susan Jane Allen: Well, everything.
Mason Funk: No, but you have to answer. Hold on, you need to incorporate that question in your answer.
Susan Jane Allen: Okay. Why was I opposed to the war?
Mason Funk: Now start again, sorry, I was talking.
Susan Jane Allen: Why was I opposed to the war? I have to think about that, it's been so long ago. It may have had to have been ... I remember-
Mason Funk: Sorry.
Natalie Tsui: I have something turned off because of [inaudible] turn it back on.
Mason Funk: Okay, let's make this ... We're going to reset.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:31:30] All right. You may Natalie the camera.
Natalie Tsui: Actually, one thing that's helpful, I'm not the editor, but one thing that's helpful is after he finishes his question, count to three-
Susan Jane Allen: Sort of repeat it?
Natalie Tsui: No, no, count to three, and then answer. Then, the other thing is, we're editing him out. So, for the sake of context, you have to-
Mason Funk: I've told her that already, I told her that.
Mason Funk: [00:32:00] The thing about pausing is good.
Mason Funk: Just take a breath. I know you're a very energetic person, but try to take a breath and then answer.
Mason Funk: Then incorporate my question in your answer. If I say, why were you so opposed to the Vietnam War?
Susan Jane Allen: What was wrong with the Vietnam War? Well, what was right with it? When you asked me that question originally, the very first thing that popped into my mind was, this kid I went to high school with. It must have been my junior, maybe senior year, he was brilliant, he was a brilliant mathematician.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:32:30] He quit school to join the army to go to Vietnam, and he was dead within a couple of months. It was like, "What a waste!"
Mason Funk: Let me ask you this, some wars you might, like this-
Susan Jane Allen: No, I'm a pacifist.
Mason Funk: Hold on a little. Okay, I'm going to have to ask my question, if you'll let me ask my question. World War II, a lot of people refer to it as the good war. Obviously, people believe that we were saving the world from Hitler so to speak.
Mason Funk: [00:33:00] Would you have said the same thing about ... Yes it's tragic that people walk into the war and get killed, but I want to be more specific about the Vietnam War. Even though I love that story-
Susan Jane Allen: Because it was affecting people around me, people my age were disappearing. And the people who were making the war, were just making it. They were not being held accountable for it. I didn't see any of the politicians kids going.
Mason Funk: [00:33:30] That's a big reason, yeah.
Susan Jane Allen: Same thing. We want to go to war with Syria, let Trump send his sons.
Mason Funk: Okay, we're going to get to the present day in a little while. Now tell me about the moratorium.
Susan Jane Allen: The moratorium, LSU was never known as a real liberal bastion,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:34:00] but it was. When I was at LSU, of course when I was there, Carville was there, David Duke was there. They would get into it at Free Speech Alley, and people would throw crap at David Duke, because he was such an asshole, seriously. Bulldog, he would always ... He was great. Carville, James Carville.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:34:30] So, you had this real political atmosphere on campus, and the student deferments were gone, people were getting drafted, we didn't want to go, and then they invaded Cambodia. It was just like the whole campus was in this state. So, we held this moratorium. So, we're still supposed to be in the dorms by now, midnight. We all held this candlelight moratorium on the parade grounds at LSU,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:35:00] and no one went back to the dorm. We were there all night, and the governor called out the national guard, it was ... By about nine o'clock in the morning, Berkeley had sent us a telegram, "Welcome to the fold." We were, like, big time now. It just got you moving against injustice.
Mason Funk: [00:35:30] Awesome. That's great. You've painted such a great picture of that time at LSU. I imagine, like you said, it's a southern school, it takes a while for this energy to seep down here.
Susan Jane Allen: That was 1969, 1968.
Mason Funk: Now, what was going on for you as a person, vis a vis your own sexuality? Who were you-?
Susan Jane Allen: I was having an affair with my English professor. And, who-
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Again, start by saying-
Susan Jane Allen: [00:36:00] Okay. I will never forget. I walked into my first, I think it was English 1C, the first day of the semester, sat down in the front of this class, and in walked in this absolutely dynamic woman. She walked to the front of the class, sat down on the top of the desk, and pulled out a cigarette and a fireplace match and lit a cigarette,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:36:30] and turned around looked at the class and said, "You better take notes this semester, because what I say impresses me, and it better well damn impress you." I fell in love. I really did. I'd been in love with my math teacher in high school, but this was pitter-patter. I moved to the front of the class, and I sat there, and by Christmas, we were a thing.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:37:00] That lasted a long time, it was a couple of years, and then ... But you were not out.
Mason Funk: Keep going. You were not-
Susan Jane Allen: You were not out. I used to date a gay guy, who was the member of a fraternity, who was my brother fraternity, Mike, I was a sorority girl. We went to football games together, and he had a boyfriend,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:37:30] and so, we would end up after the game, we would all run over to Lynette's and we'd party over at her house, because she lived off campus. She was a professor, and that went on for years. There were people in the staff that knew what was going on, and the next semester, I was waiting in line for a class, and somebody calls me out, "Hey, you want Lynette this year again?" "Oh yeah." "Well here, give me your class card," that kind of stuff.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:38:00] So, it wasn't hidden, but you just were not out. Nobody walked around, "I'm gay." No, no, no. You didn't. You led two very, very separate lives, and I did all through college. When I got out, and I went to work in the oil industry, which was extremely conservative, you basically had to lie. What you did at work was one thing, and what you did privately after work was something different. Those two worlds never met.
Mason Funk: [00:38:30] What would happen if at work someone asked a seemingly innocent question like, "Sue, when are you going to get married?"
Susan Jane Allen: Well, for instance after I left Texaco, I went to work for a small private company that really didn't care. Then, I went to work for Delta Women's Clinic, and that was six years, and I was very out, very open.
Mason Funk: [00:39:00] I need you to go back to the question of, what would happen if somebody ... You're working in the oil industry, and someone would ask you out for a date or someone-
Susan Jane Allen: You'd go, you'd go. You just didn't sleep with them. Or you had somebody that you were seeing on the outside that they didn't know.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:39:30] I started hanging out in gay bars when I was in high school, Dixies, at Bourbon Street, Bourbon and St. Peter, yeah, Bourbon and St. Peter. Very well known bar. Back in those days, you didn't really need identification. If you had money, you'd get served in a bar in New Orleans. It was just not a big deal to be hanging around bars.
Mason Funk: [00:40:00] Where would you tell your parents you were going?
Susan Jane Allen: Church.
Mason Funk: No way, tell me that story.
Susan Jane Allen: Oh yeah. The big deal was Saturday night mass in New Orleans, 7:30. So, everybody wanted to go to church at 7:30 on Saturday night, because that way, you didn't have to go on Sunday. My sister, she used to hang out at a place called Harry's, I liked Dixie's. So, I used her ID, she was a couple of years older than me, so I had a copy of her ID. We really look a whole lot alike.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:40:30] So, she'd go to Harry's, I'd run down to Dixie's, we'd have from say 7:15 to 10 o'clock, half hour to get home.
Mason Funk: Oh man! I missed the boat. Did you have girlfriends?
Susan Jane Allen: Not in high school. I had friends.
Mason Funk: Start by saying, in high school ...
Susan Jane Allen: In high school, no.
Mason Funk: Now take a breath and stop.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:41:00] Not in high school, although I did have friends ... Oh sorry.
Mason Funk: You're hilarious. If I stop you, you need to say, in high school, I didn't have girlfriends, and then expand.
Susan Jane Allen: I didn't have love interests in high school, but I had some good friends who are adventurous. Like I had this friend Janet, that's who I went to the Arkansas game with, her family. I'll never forget this one time, we'd been out,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:41:30] it's a Saturday night, church. Janet and her parents were very liberal I think. She just got to go out a lot, more than what we did. I met her. We were venturing down to this bar, we had discovered Vicky's. It was a lesbian bar. We went in, and I swear to God, you get this idea that everybody stops, and they turn around and look at you. Well, they turned to us, because we just did not fit in this bar at all.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:42:00] Here was Janet with her blonde hair and her blue eyes, and I don't know what she was wearing, but we just did not ... Everyone in that bar was your typical, stereotypical, every worst nightmare you could think of, dyke, with the sleek back hair, and comb in the back of the pocket, the blue jeans rolled up, and the penny loafer shoes, and it was just like,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:42:30] "We do not belong here." We turned around, walked across the street to La Casa's, went to the back bar at La Casa's, and had two shots of scotch. I never went back to that bar again, because I felt so out of place in that bar. It was like, "Well, that's not where I belong."
Mason Funk: Now, let's stay with this for a minute, because I want to ask you about the fact that during that period of time, and probably for a while after, there was this thriving lesbian bar culture in New Orleans.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:43:00] Called what?
Mason Funk: Lesbian bar culture. There were lesbian bars-
Susan Jane Allen: No, that was the only one in New Orleans at the time. We're talking 1965.
Mason Funk: Okay, okay. I was jumping forward then, sorry.
Susan Jane Allen: Yeah, you're jumping to the '70s yeah.
Mason Funk: So it was thick in the 1960s, okay. Now, I have another question. With these great escapades, Dixie's and Vicky's which didn't work out, how did this feel to you internally,
Mason Funk: [00:43:30] to be aware like, I'm into women? How did you feel about that?
Susan Jane Allen: I actually at that time thought, I'll just grow out of it. It's a phase, I'll grow out of it. At some point, I will probably fall in love with a man, and get married and have kids, although I never really thought about that. I never yearned to do that. I never yearned to ever even get married. I never wanted children, ever.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:44:00] So, I knew I was different. I knew I was different from a very, very, very young age. I remember falling in love with my sister's best friend, Anna May, when I was probably in the fourth grade, third grade, fourth grade. I hung around with all the boys, I was a real tomboy. I built forts and hot rods, and had a cool bike.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:44:30] What did I get for Christmas? I never got dolls, I got BB guns. So, my family never tried to impose anything on me. They didn't force me to have dolls. I remember one time, my mother was just thrilled that I wanted a tiny tears doll for Christmas. But she [inaudible] all the wrong reasons.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:45:00] That doll cried, and I wanted to do surgery on it, to find out why. That's the only reason I wanted that doll. But I had chemistry sets, I had microscopes, I had telescopes, guns, tools. I love tools. I really do like hanging out in hardware stores in Home Depot. I feel real comfortable at places like that.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:45:30] I really do. Gary, he does nothing. Who does all the handiwork for this family, me.
Mason Funk: Great, that's awesome. That gives me such a clear picture. You're a great storyteller.
Susan Jane Allen: Thank you.
Mason Funk: Really, really good. So, Roe v Wade.
Susan Jane Allen: Okay yeah, big, big, big time in my life.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:46:00] I was working in New Orleans for a little bitty company doing "market research" or research. It really wasn't. We were detectives. It was where I got my skills as an investigator, was from a guy by the name Bill Price. He was a wonderful teacher, taught me how to skip trace, taught me how to do subrogation, how to follow people, how to interview,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:46:30] how to get to people, how to know when people were telling you the truth or not. He was really good. He was ex-army intelligence, really good at what he did. It was really a fun job. I had a friend of mine, Peggy Cottle, who had been working with Family Health Foundation, which was the precursor to Louisiana Family Planning. I'm not sure you know all about that,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:47:00] but the Louisiana Family Program was started here by a man by the name Dr. Joseph Beasley. It was a pilot program that became the basis for all the international birth control programs in the world, because at the time, Louisiana so resembled the third world developing country. So, they came in here to start this program. Well, then it got really involved with corruption
Susan Jane Allen: [00:47:30] because of the local politicians and the people who were stealing from it. Joe Beasley ended up going to jail, Peggy was out of work, and these guys in Philadelphia, this is right after Roe v Wade, '73, end of '73, approached Peggy to open, "opened" abortion clinic in New Orleans. So, Peggy said, "Hey, do you want to do it?" "Yeah." You have to look at where Louisiana was at this time.
Mason Funk: [00:48:00] Tell me. Start again, that was awesome, but just tell me what time you're talking about.
Susan Jane Allen: 1974, beginning of 1974, right after spring break.
Mason Funk: Start by saying, you have to-
Susan Jane Allen: 1974, okay?
Mason Funk: Wait, wait, wait, go.
Susan Jane Allen: 1974. At that time, Louisiana, we still had chattel mortgage here,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:48:30] where women could not own property. Women were the property of their husbands. The Fair Credit Reporting Act was not applicable in Louisiana, because women could not have credit on their own. So, when Roe v Wade happened, and it became law of the land, it was like it was something that I realized right off the bat, and it has been my absolutely firm belief, and it doesn't matter if you're gay,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:49:00] if you're straight, if you're white, black, it doesn't matter. If a woman cannot control the destiny of her body, she cannot equally participate in society, at all, period. So, that becomes the most fundamental right for women, not equal rights, not any other right, not equal pay, nothing. If you are still subjugated to the will of men, you are not an equal participant.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:49:30] That's what made that issue so important to me. It is above every issue even to this day. When you look at once Roe v Wade took place, the leaps and bounds that women made in just the political arena, how many seats in the house, in the senate they took, how many places they took in state governments, it is absolutely amazing. But then,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:50:00] look at what has happened since Republican governance has began curtailing those laws, that access throughout the land? It is proportionately, women are losing ground for the first time in 40 years. That's why that issue. That's what was the most important issue to me, even though I had become ...
Susan Jane Allen: [00:50:30] I was vice president of NOW in New Orleans, I was a member of the Guttmacher Institute, ACLU, all of that, no other issue. And, it still singly remains the most important issue to me.
Mason Funk: We're going to come back to that.
Mason Funk: Because, we'll do that a little more at the end. We'll talk more about this particular issue. Staying with your story, Roe v Wade passes or is handed down in 1973.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:51:00] Yeah, and we started Delta Women's Clinic at St. Charles Avenue.
Mason Funk: Let me help you with that. Start with that, but just say, after Roe v Wade was handed down in 1973, we started the Delta Women's Clinic. Start with that sentence.
Susan Jane Allen: Okay. After 1973 and Roe v Wade, I was approached to help develop, open, manage,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:51:30] the first open abortion clinic in New Orleans, which was called Delta Women's Clinic. It was something. The administrator of that clinic was a friend of mine, Peggy Cottle, who is now deceased, and I handled community education, outreach, public relations. Unlike what most people think, we didn't open this clinic in a poor section of town. No, we opened it on St. Charles Avenue,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:52:00] on the trolley line, next to Halpern's and down the street from Del Monaco's restaurant. It lent a real credibility to that clinic. For years, nobody ever picketed. In fact, after a while, people thought we were a state agency,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:52:30] because we offered so many free services. We were always supporting some cause. We helped fund like the two women's festivals, which I basically single-handedly staged myself, because nobody had done one. So, "Oh, okay, I'll do it." So, it became a real meeting place for women in the city. NOW held their meetings there, we gave lamaze classes in the clinic,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:53:00] it became really, I think a real functioning, almost womens center. But then, that also reflected ... It then became this real burgeoning area of all the feminists in this city for the most part, the vast majority of them were gay. So, on Friday night, we all met at Brady's on Rampart street. You did your networking at the bar, and you ordered your bar four deep ...
Susan Jane Allen: [00:53:30] The bar was so packed, you never got to the bar to order a drink. You passed your money up, they ordered your drink, it came back with your change, and that's how crowded that bar was. That was I think, I believe, the beginning, and that was probably 1974. The real beginning of a real movement of women in this city ... I don't remember there ever being a real,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:54:00] actual gay political movement in this city, because there were so many gay people here. You realize that prior to Katrina, New Orleans was the largest per capita gay community in the United States. So, we were always here. It wasn't until I think the upstairs fire, that changed the attitude of a lot of people towards gay people. I remember, they used to raid the bars,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:54:30] I always made sure I wasn't going to be a bar I knew they would raid. You just knew the kind of bars that would be raided by the actions people did in those bars.
Mason Funk: Let's stop there because I want to go into more detail about that. Raids on gay bars and lesbian bars is kind of a big theme, you hear these stories. So, I just want to hear from your perspective, just what you just said, but just expand on the idea. You wouldn't go to a bar. You knew there were raids. There were raids, you just would choose-
Susan Jane Allen: [00:55:00] Here's a great idea. Alice Brady used to own this bar, Brady's. It's where everybody went. Alice Brady would not let people dance in the front room, because she knew, if you danced in the front room, cops are going to burst you. So, you had to go to the back room to dance. It's fine. So, if you were in a bar where people were dancing, and you could look in, that bar was going to get raided. If people were having sex at the bar,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:55:30] that bar was going to get raided. So, you didn't go to places like that. You didn't go to places where people carried guns.
Mason Funk: Did you have a little bit of, I don't mean to say you were mean and snarky, but did you have a little bit of an attitude towards people who would go to bars that got raided? Like, "Well duh!"
Mason Funk: No, okay. I just wonder.
Susan Jane Allen: No, no.
Mason Funk: What attitude did you have towards the people who would get raided, and the bars that would get raided? What would you think?
Susan Jane Allen: [00:56:00] Better you than me. Glad I wasn't there. Charlene used to work with my dad.
Mason Funk: Tell me who Charlene is.
Susan Jane Allen: Charlene owned the bar, the big bar. After Brady's, Charlene ... Brady's was in the corner, the corner of Rampart
Susan Jane Allen: [00:56:30] and St. Peter. Charlene went out of the corner to the Marigny and rented this place that used to be a drug store. I used to help Charlene renovate her bar all the time. I was keeper of the hammer, she was duller of the nails. Seriously, she used to call me that, here comes the keeper of the hammer, because I redid her bar physically, so many times for her.
Susan Jane Allen: [00:57:00] So, there were walls that had to be knocked down, of course the sledge hammer took the walls out. Charlene opened this bar, and it was maybe 1976, 1977. Instantly, everybody went there, and it was big, it was big. On Friday night, everybody in the city was there. Everybody you knew. There were other women's bars,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:57:30] but different types of people went to those bars. For instance, there was, and I'm not trying to be mean or whatever. There was a bar that used to be right down the street from Alice Brady's, the next corner. It was called The Grog. I knew somebody who hung out there, and I didn't like that bar. I considered the women that went there, extremely rough, and I didn't want to get my teeth knocked out,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:58:00] seriously. I said, "What is it about this bar that you like?" She said, "Oh, it's all sorority sisters." I knew Linda had never gone to college. She wasn't in any. I said, "What do you mean sorority sisters?" "Oh, we're all ex-cons." I said, "Oh, really? What were you in jail for?" "I went in jail. I was in prison for bank robbery." It was like, "Oh, okay." But that was her circle of friends, where all these women who were you know,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:58:30] had criminal records and you know, kind of maybe dealt drugs and that was their little place. There was another bar owned by the same people, that opened up down the street from Charlene's, and it was all real young kids. All very much into the drug scene. And that was not something you did at Charlene's. Charlene's was more very political. Around the corner from Charlene's, was at that time Tony's Garage. A lot of transgender people went there,
Susan Jane Allen: [00:59:00] before transgender was really an in thing. Tony ended up going through the transition, and went to Florida and actually transed to a man. It then became the Cuckoo's Nest, which was overflow from Charlene's that went there. Then you had your country people, country and western people, all went down to the Soiled Dove. Say you had different groups of people went to different bars for a very different reason.
Mason Funk: [00:59:30] Note to you and me, is the person who transitioned and went to Florida still alive?
Susan Jane Allen: I don't know. Tony di Benedetto, she was a police officer. There was an A&E special on her.
Mason Funk: Really?
Susan Jane Allen: Yes, about her transitioning.
Mason Funk: Okay, let's not forget that, okay? Hold on, I'm just gonna make a note about her, cause this is one of the ways I get good leads. Tony di ...
Susan Jane Allen: Benedetto.
Mason Funk: That name rings a bell to me.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:00:00] She was a cop, and was still a cop when she transitioned. Yes, I remember the A&E special they did on her. I remember seeing, and I said "Jesus Christ, I know that person!" That's Tony!
Mason Funk: Take a sip, and then we're gonna talk about the Upstairs Fire. Take a breath, set up what this place was, and I think it's really important to mention also the connection to the MCC, the Metropolitan Community Church. In other words, set the stage for what happened at the Upstairs Lounge.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:00:30] I wasn't there, never been to that bar.
Mason Funk: I know you've never been there, but you're as close as we're gonna find to an eye witness. I mean, along with Stewart. But [crosstalk] Stewart. Just tell me the history from what you know.
Susan Jane Allen: Okay. Well, how I found out about it was-
Mason Funk: But I need to know what you're talking about.
Susan Jane Allen: Oh, the Upstairs Fire. How I found out about it, I was asleep and Susan, my partner at the time, was a writer for the State's Item. And she came home, woke me up to tell me what happened.
Mason Funk: [01:01:00] So people who are listening to this don't know what happened. You need to cut it [crosstalk]
Susan Jane Allen: The Upstairs Lounge was a bar that was upstairs. There was this very narrow little staircase. You went in the front door, you went up to the second floor. And like a lot of buildings in the french quarter, they either have shutters or bars on the window to prevent people from breaking in, even on the second floor. This was a place where a lot of drag queens went,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:01:30] and they used to have a social on a Sunday afternoon, or something, I really didn't know much about the bar. Because it was really at the far end of the quarter, down near Canal street, not a place-
Mason Funk: Sorry, just go back to "I really didn't know much about ... "
Susan Jane Allen: I didn't really know much about that bar because it's not a bar I would've ever gone to. It was totally at the other end of the French Quarter, not a place I would frequent.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:02:00] So didn't know much about the bar until Susan brought the paper on the bed, and I was like, "You gotta be kidding me." And I don't think you can find a copy of this paper anymore. I used to have, and I'm gonna lead up to it, because it's important. You cannot find it in the archives of the Times Picayune, either, or in the public library. At that time,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:02:30] the Times Picayune used to let out their first edition at midnight. That was like the street edition. And then they had another edition at 2:00, another at 4:00, and one at 6:00. I think that's pretty common. I think the 2:00 edition was the home edition, and they would update. That very first edition that came out at midnight was very small, it's the one that went out to the streets for the first edition out. And Susan brought it home, and she was furious.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:03:00] She says, "Wake up, you gotta see this!" Cause she worked the afternoon paper, so she got off when that paper was coming out. She said, "You gotta see this!" And the front page of that newspaper was a picture of somebody on fire, jumping out of the window and the headline was "Flaming Queen". I was outraged, and Susan,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:03:30] she worked for the afternoon [inaudible]. I can't believe that paper did it. She was on the phone with Walt Philbin who was her editor at the time, and that was changed by the next edition. They conveniently have gotten rid of that, you can't find that. I used to have it framed on my wall, and when someone broke into my apartment when I was renovating the house in New Orleans, stole all the art, that went with it. I think that would've been the only copy of it.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:04:00] But the people that got that, it really enraged regular people when they saw that, it was disgusting. And I think that was maybe the singular thing that began to change the attitude about how people dealt with gay people in the city of New Orleans. Because after that, the bar raids kinda stopped. It changed, it changed. That fire changed people.
Mason Funk: [01:04:30] Now tell us what happened.
Susan Jane Allen: Oh, everybody ... people died.
Mason Funk: Hold on, what happened in terms of what happened in the actual fire, what do we know-
Susan Jane Allen: What we know happened was-
Mason Funk: Okay, so start from ... Take a breath.
Susan Jane Allen: What we know happened in the fire was-
Mason Funk: Say the name of the location.
Susan Jane Allen: Upstairs Lounge.
Mason Funk: Start again. What we-
Susan Jane Allen: [01:05:00] What we know happened in the upstairs lounge was there was this very, very narrow pathway, little staircase that you went up to go to the bar. The bar was packed. A hate crime, jealous lover, I don't know if they ever even caught who did it. Threw a Molotov cocktail up the stairs. And you're talking a building that is 200 years old and wood. It went up like a fire and there were no exits.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:05:30] And the windows were barred. I don't know how many people died. A lot.
Mason Funk: Okay, great. Do you know anything about the fact, what was happening up there was it was an early meeting of the Metropolitan Community Church actually on the Sunday. You don't know that?
Mason Funk: It's too early to be able to talk about that, so we're good. But that flaming queen story you told me over the phone, I wanted to make sure we got that. Cause that's what's interesting is, when you go online you can't find-
Susan Jane Allen: [01:06:00] You can't find anything, no. And unless you had that one issue of the newspaper that really never went to the homes, that was the street edition that was handed out by the little guys who stand on the corner and hand out. It was probably the smallest edition they make, the very first one, and then it was changed. The picture is still there, but they changed the two inch headline.
Mason Funk: [01:06:30] Wow. Okay, you mentioned earlier when we were just chatting that most of your visible public activity was by the time you were 30, and kinda burned out. Can you take me through those years and tell me what you were most involved in, I know you were a lobbyist in the state, and in the nation. Paint me a picture of your activity up until you sort of said "I have to back off."
Susan Jane Allen: [01:07:00] 1974 I left IES, Information Exchange Service, and went to work for Delta Women's Clinic. I am very, very proud of that time because the state of Louisiana passed some of the most horrifically bullshit legislation,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:07:30] and we let them. And it was a game we played that we knew more than they did. We let the right-to-lifers own the Louisiana legislature, let them pass the most ridiculous garbage because the minute it was passed, we were able to get a TRO, send it right into the fifth circuit, and get it thrown out. But it created this bulwark of litigation,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:08:00] that even today I don't understand why people don't cite these cases, because they went to the fifth circuit, and the state did not take it beyond that, because they knew they would lose.We did consent, we did regulations, we did waiting periods. Everything single type of possibility and we were in court all the time.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:08:30] I did a lot of the research that would set up for the ACLU, because at that time Janet Benshoof and Judy Bischoff Steiner were the two people that were heading the reproductive rights project for the ACLU. And so I would put together a lot of the background stuff for them, ship it up to New York, they would write the briefs, and then we'd go from there.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:09:00] There's this wonderful story. Billy Gust just stopped defending the state, he was the attorney general. So the right-to-lifers got together and decided they would go ahead and hire their own attorneys to defend the state's stuff. And one of these goes was Bob Wynne. They had this big case coming, and actually it was a pretty novel lawsuit.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:09:30] They were basing it on the fact that, I think I mentioned this to you before, Louisiana still had chattel mortgage, and even with the new constitution there was some old Louisiana tort law that was still applicable. And the Fair Credit Reporting Act, even though it was around,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:10:00] being applied everywhere, it wasn't in Louisiana. Based on that novel idea, they found this obscure piece of legislation where women could be punished, banished to an unchartered island off the coast of Louisiana if they struck themselves in the stomach and caused themselves to abort,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:10:30] and this was in 1855, or something like that. So they claimed, since the Supreme Court decision did not address punishment of women for abortions, and Louisiana had this in their law, that the Supreme Court should not be applicable in Louisiana. They thought they had a real number. Well they just didn't do a whole lot of research. They just were not as good as I was.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:11:00] I love this story, Bob Wynne and I were invited to speak at Loyola University School of Law. Catholic University here, right? In the ethics department, on this pending lawsuit, right? And this was a couple of days before we were going to court, all the briefs were already in, there's no way you can change what you're going to say, right?
Susan Jane Allen: [01:11:30] I just used to really dislike these people, because they would say things to me like "What do you know? You're not even an attorney, you're just a woman. You're not even 30." So I let him say his whole little piece and I said, "But you know, Mr. Wynne, that's a really nice argument, but you're just wrong. You're wrong." "What do you mean I'm wrong?" "You're wrong,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:12:00] this Supreme Court decision did address women being punished." "Where?" I said, "Well, in the footnote, Able vs. Marco, Connecticut, 1845, women could be put in the stockade if they caused themself to abort. That predates the Louisiana law by 10 years." And he realized just right then and there, his whole lawsuit that they were going to court on in the next day, it was nothing. And I loved that kind of stuff.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:12:30] It got to the point they wouldn't even debate me anymore. But this was constant, this was seven days a week, everyday, for six, seven years. And on top of that I was being asked to give programs for the state governments in Atlanta about legislation, and about whether they should be legislating or not,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:13:00] I was running up to Washington to lobby. I didn't do any lobbying in Baton Rouge, that was pointless, I wouldn't. Outreaching to doctors, social service agencies, to let them know about the services available, because at the time Louisiana had the highest rate of infant mortality, highest rate of illiteracy, highest rate of teen pregnancy in the country.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:13:30] When I got elected to the board of directors of the National Abortion Rights Action League, this was in 78.
Mason Funk: Start that over again.
Susan Jane Allen: I got elected to the board of directors of the NARAL.
Mason Funk: Spell it out.
Susan Jane Allen: N-A-R-A-L, NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League.
Mason Funk: So now start over again.
Susan Jane Allen: When I got elected to the board of the National Abortion Rights Action League, NARAL,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:14:00] that was February of 78, there's a little blurp about me in the state's item. Susan Allen, local MORAL, which was Maintaining Our Right to Abortion in Louisiana, is on the board of directors of NARAL. That was one day, I got up to go to work the next morning out of my car and I could smell gasoline,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:14:30] and the windows of my car were busted out. I had a little Fiat. I could smell gasoline, so I opened up the hood, and they had gone in, the right-to-lifers, had gone in and sawed the gas line over the manifold, and had I started the car and driven off, my car would've blown up.There were not fun people. They talk about right to life, they're not for life, they're just pro-birth.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:15:00] They have no respect for the quality of life, they only want quantity. And they're only pro-birth because they don't give a shit about the people once they're born. It was just that constant-
Mason Funk: So take us from there to the point when you just kinda had to take a step back.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:15:30] It was building up, building up, building up, and up until then the guys who owned the clinic pretty much let Peggy and I do whatever we wanted. We virtually tried to run it like a nonprofit. Let them have enough money to, you know, but we gave so much back into the community. But then he had a girlfriend or a friend who really needed a job, and so he put her in down here, and she just clamped down everything, and said "No, you can't spend money on that anymore,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:16:00] you can't do this, you can't do that." And I'm just over this, I'm really over this. I'm over the politics, I was just over it. Was that before I had a [inaudible]. I'm trying to remember if that was while I was renovating that house on Governor Nicholls. No that was with Ingraham.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:16:30] I didn't wanna vote. I didn't wanna vote, I was just burned out. So I just kinda retired and just didn't wanna do anything, and I left the clinic and went back into the oil industry. I'd broken up with my girlfriend, we weren't living together anymore, and her new partner was threatening my new job,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:17:00] which was an absolute big no-no in the women's community, you did not threaten someone's job, and she threatened mine, and I told Charlene. Charlene permanently 86'd out of Charlene's forever. I didn't wanna do anything, it was time to just go back and draw, go back to art. And I did. And eventually I left the country.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:17:30] When I came back, I'd gotten into this more ecocentric kind of thought pattern. At one time I thought I could change the world. But then I realized you can do it one family at a time. And that's when I went to work for the state.
Mason Funk: Gotcha. And briefly tell us what you did for the state.
Susan Jane Allen: At the state of Louisiana, I worked for the Department of Social Services, and I started as an investigator investigating abuse
Susan Jane Allen: [01:18:00] and neglect of children. Over the years I promoted up to the regional fatality investigator. So I did all the near-deaths, the deaths, for the entire region, and did that for about 15 years.
Mason Funk: Let me ask you a quick question. Talk about a recipe for burn out, having worked as hard as you worked in the reproductive rights arena, and burning out, how did you do 15 years and-
Susan Jane Allen: [01:18:30] I think that taught me how to-
Mason Funk: So tell me that, but tell me what you're talking about. Working in the bababa.
Susan Jane Allen: That was 24 hours a day. Working in ... Okay, one, two three.
Mason Funk: I don't know what you're talking about. Where you say that-
Susan Jane Allen: Working in reproductive rights-
Mason Funk: Start one more time.
Susan Jane Allen: Working in reproductive rights became a 24/7 job, because not only was I involved in that,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:19:00] I was also involved in the Women's Movement at large, delegate to the International Women's Conference, Guttmacher Institute stuff, lobbying in Washington, going to the women's marches. It was nonstop, it was hell on my relationship, it ended my relationship of seven years. That was gone. Because we lived in the same building,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:19:30] in the same apartment. We had such separate lives, it was like, maybe we saw each other on Friday night. It was all-consuming. When I went to work for the state, and what that taught me, was separation. What I did from 8:00 to 5:00 during the day ended at 5:00, I never took the work home.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:20:00] And I never got involved personally with it. I was able to really maintain a separateness, and I think the time in the women's movement taught me time management, or how to be that. Because that job with the state was not easy, and after almost 20 years ... and I never realized the toll that took until I retired,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:20:30] and when I retired I would get up, go lay on the couch, turn the TV on, stay there all day, go back to bed. I did that for 3 months. I didn't talk to anybody. It was just unwinding, processing. And I never thought it bothered me, but it did. I had some pretty horrific cases
Natalie Tsui: [01:21:00] We're almost running out, so I want to swap.
Mason Funk: Okay, we're gonna take-
Susan Jane Allen: You want some women's festivals I did?
Susan Jane Allen: I gotta look at those dates, I did write those down. Those were fun.
Mason Funk: I'll bet they were.
Susan Jane Allen: They were the very first ones here. 75 and 76.
Mason Funk: So along with or while you were working for Delta House-
Susan Jane Allen: Delta Women's Clinic.
Mason Funk: Delta Women's Clinic. Tell us about creating the first ever-
Susan Jane Allen: [01:21:30] New Orleans Women's Festival, okay. First New Orleans festival. Myself and another artist, Miriam Hirsch , who was a wonderful print maker I knew from LSU. I had this idea, we should have a women's festival. So, "Where are we gonna hold it? What's our budget gonna be? Zero, zero, zero," we had no money.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:22:00] We got St. Mark's Community Center, which is on Rampart Street, right in the french quarter, and they have a big, big, big meeting room. They were able to provide us with tables and chairs, which was great. We had another room, and I was able to borrow, I don't remember where we got it, a projector. Miriam and I went to lumberyards and got them to donate lumber,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:22:30] and a fabric place to give us fabric. So we made flats. Do you know what flats are? Okay. And we invited all the women artists in the city to give a piece of art for a show. Invited every single organization that had anything to do with women to come and, free of charge, put on a table, and give out their information. We had,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:23:00] I think her name was Jolie or Jolene, she was a local singer, she was providing some of our entertainment, and I got Mary Capps to premiere her movie, her film. And then we got a few other films about women and bi-women. We had a little film festival and a little art festival. And it lasted for an entire day, and that was the very first, that was 1975,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:23:30] New Orleans Women's Festival commemorating the right to vote. Then the following year we upped the ante a little bit. We got Ottoman Park. I got Sarah Weddington to come down and speak, which was really neat, because by that time she had been appointed by Carter as secretary of agriculture, or something, so that was really neat to have one of the attorneys for the Supreme Court decision come
Susan Jane Allen: [01:24:00] and speak to the group. Again, this is out in the park. Ways you get around things, without a liquor license we couldn't sell beer. However, you could give beer away at your thing, and we took donations for the organization. So the donation was 50 cents for the cup, and you got free beer. We had a big volleyball tournament.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:24:30] Those were the first two. I think it went on after that, someone else picked up the mantle. After doing it for two years I'm over it, I've done it.
Mason Funk: You're ready to head out. This one of those questions where it might seem obvious, but what was the value of having these women's festivals? And make sure you include my question in your answer.
Susan Jane Allen: I think the value of the women's festivals is that you were able to get people who were not necessarily communicating with each other in the city together in one day.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:25:00] You were getting people who wouldn't normally interact with each other in the same room talking. So you might have somebody who was, say, from the Jewish Women's Community Center talking to a woman who was working in a rape crisis center working down in the Lower 9th Ward.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:25:30] Those two people would probably never normally meet, but here they were, talking about what they could do for each other. And I think that was the value of the way we tried to promote the women's festivals, as a tool to network, to meet other women who are involved in the city. I remember there was a woman here by the name of Sharon Dozak. She was kind of a local promoter.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:26:00] And she used to stage these parties. So she rented the Cotton Blossom one time, this is a river boat, and hired all these great bands Irma Thomas and stuff, and it was rolling down the river, it was called.
Mason Funk: Just a second.
Natalie Tsui: There's some ...
Mason Funk: That's a bird.
Natalie Tsui: Wait, no there's some ...
Natalie Tsui: [01:26:30] oh, it's the camera. The camera's making sounds, sorry. I was like, "What's that [crosstalk] sound?"
Mason Funk: This camera?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah. You can hear it.
Susan Jane Allen: I can hear it, yeah.
Mason Funk: Just that motor?
Natalie Tsui: Yeah, yeah, I was like, "What's that sound?"
Mason Funk: It's been going the whole time.
Natalie Tsui: There was something like running water a second ago. Maybe it was just me, I dunno, maybe I'm just imagining sounds, go ahead.
Mason Funk: Okay, back up and start with this woman, tell me again.
Susan Jane Allen: Sharon Dozak-
Mason Funk: Start off again, but "There was this woman ... "
Susan Jane Allen: [01:27:00] There was this woman, Sharon Dozak, who was a local promoter. A gay woman. And she would always do these wonderful dance parties on like New Year's Eve. The big one I remember going to was Rolling on the River. She'd rented the Cotton Blossom, which was a paddle boat, that's a big river boat, and every woman in the city was there. Seriously, I remember to saying to ... There was an assistant DA who was on the boat.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:27:30] Bridget Bane. I remember looking at Bridget and saying, "You know, Bridget, if this boat sunk, the city of New Orleans would cease to exist!" Because every single woman who was involved in the District Attorney's office, every therapist, probably, people from social services, just everyone was there. Had that happened,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:28:00] the city would not have been able to function for a while, because that was the blood of the city, it was so obvious, it was to me, at least, how integrated we were now in the city, and how much power we had as a group. I think after that Charlene realized that at that time, and up until probably the end of the 70s there wasn't really a gay rights movement.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:28:30] But I remember when the police strike happened in 1979 and Charlene formed Crew of Cancellation. It was the only crew that paraded on Mardi Gras. And it was us gay people! We were out there. Here we'll show you how the attitude had changed by 79.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:29:00] There was a big police strike, but there were a lot of tourists in town who had come for Mardi Gras. There had been this really, really wonderful men's Mardi Gras crew called the Crew of Celestial Knights, who were all the designers, all the artists in the gay community. And their balls were to die for to go to. Anyway, that year it was Carnival in Rio. The mayor of city of New Orleans asked
Susan Jane Allen: [01:29:30] the crew of Celestial Knights if they would perform their ball at the theater for the performing arts for tourists. And they did. We went, and we were all doing costume. That is how the difference, that the only real staged event for Mardi Gras, the year of the police strike, was the mayor asking the gay ball to redo their show in the theater for the performing arts.
Mason Funk: [01:30:00] That's awesome, that's awesome. So now let's talk about Charlene, who was Charlene?
Susan Jane Allen: Charlene-
Mason Funk: Give me her first and last name, please.
Susan Jane Allen: Charlene Schneider. She was part Indian, American Indian, I don't know what else, I think German, obviously. She actually worked with my dad and lost her security clearance and her job.
Mason Funk: [01:30:30] Let's leave that aside, let's just go cut to who she became. Start over.
Susan Jane Allen: Charlene kinda hung out in the bars-
Mason Funk: Start off again with her first and last name.
Susan Jane Allen: Charlene Schneider. When I first met Charlene she was just hanging out in the bars with us at Brady's. She was working at the Times Picayune as a typesetter and decided to open her own bar. It was 1977.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:31:00] So she goes out of the french quarter, up on to Elysian Fields, and takes over this corner building and we did a lot of breaking down of walls inside of it to make it into a really big place. What was interesting was, the tile floors, I think it was Cusumano's drugstore at one time, so it was a big C, and it was perfect because it was Charlene's. And the logo was great, it was done by Mike Rapozo, it was these two reclining women dancing,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:31:30] I have a copy of it for you, it's wonderful. And when it opened it became the place to go. It was the place. Charlene was really cutting edge. She was the first bar owner to really get police to come in and sit and have coffee, she got politicians to come in and start wanting your vote.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:32:00] There wouldn't have been, I think, a political movement in this city had it not been for Charlene. Charlene was the spearheader behind the anti-discrimination legislation for the city in 1991. That predated maybe even New York and San Francisco. Nondiscrimination in housing and employment in the city, she was behind that.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:32:30] She staged the first gay parade, which was Crew of Cancellation, we did that for gay pride. We did another parade that year. Of course it got shut down by the police because we didn't have a parade permit or we couldn't parade certain places, but that wasn't the point. It was the point that she was organized. Charlene was a mover and a shaker politically in this city.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:33:00] Up until then, I don't think men were involved in politics at all. Charlene was like her own movement. She would get all of us at the bar to do, we would go sit at city hall, we would yell and scream. But she created the gay rights movement, I think, in the city,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:33:30] and it got to the point where I think politicians realized, especially white politicians in the city of New Orleans, you could not get elected unless you had the gay community behind you. Because there weren't enough white votes, so to speak, left in the city of New Orleans unless you had the gay community. So you could have all the other white votes, but if you didn't have the gay community you weren't gonna get elected. They courted her vote, her endorsement.
Mason Funk: [01:34:00] Excellent, that's great, great portrait of her. She sounds like an amazing person.
Susan Jane Allen: Yeah, she was spitfire. She was.
Mason Funk: Now let me ask you this, a couple questions. One is, what we were talking in the kitchen a little bit, what were some of the tools that you used, say in the 70s, when you were in the forefront of reproductive rights,
Mason Funk: [01:34:30] what are some of these practical tools you wish you could take and implant in the brain of younger activists, whether they're queer activists or any other type of activists? What are your tricks of the trade that you want to make sure are not forgotten?
Susan Jane Allen: Well, you have to look at your legislatures, for one thing. For instance, in Louisiana, We knew that they were incompetent, as far as passing legislation that was going to be ...
Susan Jane Allen: [01:35:00] reasonable, even constitutional. So we basically let the right-to-life movement ... I don't like to call them that, I like to call them the pro-birth people, they're not right-to-life, nothing about that is right-to-life. They kill more people than I do.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:35:30] It was important that the legislature passed the most restrictive, ridiculous law, because that made it easier to get thrown out. So when people go in and try to make legislatures do something reasonable, then it really clouds the idea of clearcut ... It makes it too ambiguous. So let them be as outrageous as they want.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:36:00] Some of the crap that the republicans are out there passing right now, I don't see how it can stand. Because it is fundamentally unconstitutional. Fundamentally. I don't care if you're a lawyer or not, it's unconstitutional. So I think they have to pick their battles. You can't spread yourself so thin. You have to pick a night, you have to pick one thing,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:36:30] like how the HRC moved with gay marriage. I think that was well done, those two fronts, with the way it was done with those two different fronts coming from two different directions. That was good. And look how-
Mason Funk: What were those two different directions?
Susan Jane Allen: That was the New York case, Edie, and then the California Case.
Mason Funk: Ah, Prop 8.
Susan Jane Allen: Prop 8. Well, no, it was the couple that had-
Mason Funk: [01:37:00] Obergefell?
Susan Jane Allen: Yeah, when-
Mason Funk: Let's not get lost in the weeds, it's maybe not of so important. We don't need to know the names, but what are the two fronts you were talking about?
Susan Jane Allen: First you had-
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, say, so the [crosstalk]
Susan Jane Allen: Edie, the suit coming out of New York-
Mason Funk: Start over again, if you don't mind. Say the way HRC built their case for marriage equality.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:37:30] Right. I felt-
Mason Funk: Repeat what I said. Sorry, [crosstalk]
Susan Jane Allen: How I felt that the HRC built the case for marriage equality was really good, because it wasn't spread all over the map. They worked with Edie, whatever her name was in New York, which had to do with inheritance. That was one aspect of the law.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:38:00] And then the California case, there were two couples in California, was it their marriage got thrown out because it was changed over because of Prop 8? Let me interject here, I really resent the fact that republicans say, "Oh, it was because of us that they got gay marriage." Cause that is just not the case. Yeah, there was a republican attorney on that. And I thought that was great,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:38:30] that you got those two ends, you had the liberal and you had the conservative together, which kind of stopped all the other arguments dead in their tracks. It was, I thought, brilliant strategy. Sometimes I think we try to spread ourselves too thin. I also think that we have marginalized ourselves by spinning ourselves up. Here in ...
Susan Jane Allen: [01:39:00] When I came out, I was just gay. When you came out, you were gay. There wasn't LGBT, now it's Q, and something else. With every time you splinter us into a different group, you decrease our power as a group. I truly believe that.
Mason Funk: [01:39:30] Great. Those are good words of wisdom. Excellent. Now I have another question, and then it'll be Natalie's turn. The catchphrase for politicians to say, like the Clintons, Hillary Clinton, for example, in order to prove that she's pro-choice, but not too pro-choice, is safe, legal and rare. Have you ever heard that term? Hillary will say on TV, "I want ... " I think Bill Clinton coined the phrase, "I want abortion, we want abortion to be safe, legal, and rare." As a way of saying, "We're not, we don't-"
Susan Jane Allen: [01:40:00] Oh, but I totally agree with that statement!
Mason Funk: But I wanted to hear your take on that. I didn't mean-
Susan Jane Allen: And it is because you want it rare-
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Tell me what you're talking about.
Susan Jane Allen: Safe, legal, and rare. Absolutely, that would be the ultimate place you would wanna be. First of all, because rare, well, if women had access to birth control and access to adequate education,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:40:30] you would be reducing unwanted pregnancies and the need for abortion. What I like to say is, nobody goes out and gets pregnant, just so they can have an abortion. They just don't. When you look at the statistics, even today, and it just amazes me that this isn't, seriously, an issue that conservatives haven't jumped on the bandwagon with.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:41:00] If they're so concerned about government spending and government money, you would expect, now here comes a real sarcastic argument, you would expect them to want to pay for abortion services. Why? Because it's a hell of a lot cheaper to put out 150 dollars to terminate a pregnancy than pay for the food stamps, the housing, the medical care, the education
Susan Jane Allen: [01:41:30] for the child coming into the world for the next 18 years. If you're such a fiscal conservative, what makes more sense? Now that is a true, conservative argument for funding for abortion.
Mason Funk: Makes sense to me. I know it doesn't make sense to everyone.
Mason Funk: Okay, Natalie. Now, she's gonna ask you a question, but you still can't look at her when you answer.
Natalie Tsui: I dunno, I feel like you pretty much covered a lot.
Mason Funk: [01:42:00] Yeah, or she may not have a question, I just like to always give an opportunity.
Natalie Tsui: I guess something I would say is, you kind of are gonna ask something similar but slightly different, but what would you say that, you've seen the queer community over all this time and what do you think about where it is now? Having lived a full life and come out in the 60s and going [crosstalk]
Susan Jane Allen: [01:42:30] I think our visibility about where I think the queer community is, and I love to take back those words. I love to take back the word dyke. I love to take back the word faggot. I love to take back the word queer. Because you can't hurt me with those words. Heterosexual. But it's true, I own those words, you can't take those away from me.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:43:00] Well, first of all, like I said earlier, it's the visibility. We're out there. For the most part, people really can't be fired anymore just for the fact that they're being gay. I mean I thought that was a big step in Louisiana when civil service, when they redid the constitution in 74. Civil service, you cannot be fired in Louisiana if you're a state employee if you're gay.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:43:30] That was long before that was anywhere else. And that was another thing in Louisiana, they got by without ratifying the equal rights amendment by saying, "We don't need a nondiscrimination clause, because in our new constitution everybody has equal rights, so we don't have to do anything of these national laws. And that's how they skirted the issue of trying to ratify the equal rights amendment.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:44:00] But what they didn't realize by putting that in, they actually did grant people in Louisiana a lot more rights, even though sexual orientation isn't in there, in state civil service they read that law and applied it across the board. Which in Louisiana, although I don't think the far right even knew it, gay people have been able to adopt from the state forever.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:44:30] Now you would not imagine that in backwards Louisiana. But it's that subtle, quiet moving of changing the thing and not necessarily bringing a whole lot of attention to it, and then when it's there for so long, you can't now go back and take those things away from people.
Mason Funk: So back to the queer community. Visibility-
Susan Jane Allen: [01:45:00] Visibility, I think, has been the biggest thing. And I think that visibility is up to the individual person. Although I would love to out every republican there is, but I think people have to do that on their own about how visible they want to be. Because I do believe that people are at risk in certain areas. If they came out, they would be at risk. They could lose their home, their families. So I think it's a personal decision on visibility.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:45:30] I'm too old to really care anymore, but there were times, even after I had been so public with my work in Delta Women's Clinic, and I can remember Angela Hill, who was a newscaster on Channel 4, I can't remember if this was on camera or before she interviewed, she says "Well Susan, you're a gay woman, what are you doing working in abortion?" And I was like, "I can't believe you asked me that question!" Not that I was gay, but why I'm working in that issue.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:46:00] It always amazed me that people could not understand why that was so important, and it still is, to me, the defining issue for women. And always will be.
Mason Funk: Great, okay. Another question, Natalie?
Natalie Tsui: I guess another question is ... Wow, that caffeine's surging through me.
Natalie Tsui: [01:46:30] You have a lot of energy, and you've been working for not a very popular course, you've had to go through a lot of battles, and so I was wondering if you had any words of encouragement for young folks who are about to embark on a similar battle, since we kinda have like a [inaudible].
Susan Jane Allen: I think a couple of things about debate.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:47:00] It was something my dad taught me. You'll see where I go in the whole issue of this. When you debate an issue, you should never attack the person you are debating personally, because that just shows that you have no argument. But remember, when you are arguing with someone or debating somebody on an issue, and they begin to attack you personally,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:47:30] they do not have confidence in their own issue. And you have to remember, and if you can insolate yourself against the personal attacks, and know that the only reason why they did that is because they do not have a good argument, so they are reduced to attacking you personally. You can walk away from that hole, and you don't have to take it home, and it doesn't have to bother you. But if you allow that stuff to eat at you,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:48:00] it will burn you out eventually. You need to be able to separate, and you need to be able to separate from your issue, and maintain your personal space.
Mason Funk: Did you have to learn that the hard way?
Mason Funk: Tell me about that.
Susan Jane Allen: That was the whole thing with Delta Women's Clinic. When I left, I was just drained, I didn't want to do anything politically. Seriously, I told you, I didn't even wanna vote,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:48:30] and voting is a very big thing in our family. I don't care what election, Gary will come in, "Have you voted yet?" We do that to each other, even to this day, and we're old. "Have you voted yet? What's up on the ... " We vote in every election. I was so burned out on politics, so ... it was-
Mason Funk: Was that because you had taken it personally?
Susan Jane Allen: I took it personally, it had just drained, it stripped so much away from me as a person.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:49:00] I had no life of my own after six years, seriously. I had no life of my own. So I kinda retreated back into corporate America, and just kinda vegetated there for a few years.
Mason Funk: So the advice you give to the younger person is, that what you were just saying, you've gotta-
Susan Jane Allen: You gotta be able to parcel your time, you got to be able to leave the issue
Susan Jane Allen: [01:49:30] when you leave the issue, and go home, and just leave it. Keep some time for yourself. It will allow you to have the energy to fight another day.
Mason Funk: Great.
Natalie Tsui: I guess one final thing is, and I'm a total sap, but I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about your romantic life. Just a brief overview, any significant things, any ladies that have stuck in there.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:50:00] Oh, I'm still friends with my, well, I used to be friends with my first, but I'm better friends with her children. We don't speak anymore. She's a little ... we just don't speak anymore. It's some mental issues there. But my second partner, Susan, this was Susan, and Susan, and Susan. Susan was going with somebody named Susan, they broke up and then we got together. There were the three of us, Susan Allen, Finch, and Richard, so we went by our last names.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:50:30] "Well which Susan are you talking about?" Susan and I are still friends. We get together for lunch. She's retired, I'm retired, we get together for lunch three or four times a year, she lives in New Orleans. Susan was with me during that whole time of Delta Women's Clinic and the politics, and that really destroyed our relationship because we just had no quality time together.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:51:00] It got to the point where we had no time together at all.
Mason Funk: So then after that, were there others?
Susan Jane Allen: Oh yeah. And then there was Adriana, and she died.
Mason Funk: Was that a big loss?
Susan Jane Allen: That was a big loss.
Mason Funk: Can you tell us about her?
Susan Jane Allen: No. It's still ... no, that's been a long time now, that's since 1991, and I just can't talk about it, even now. She had a real tragic end.
Mason Funk: [01:51:30] I'm sorry.
Susan Jane Allen: But I'll tell you a little bit about me, too. I think it's just personal with me, I've always had a pretty difficult time maintaining personal relationships with people and that's because I'm pretty guarded. And I think that has to do with something that happened to me when I was very young. My very best friend,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:52:00] Nancy, lived next door to me. We were inseparable from the time, I think, we could walk. I was maybe about six, seven, she got leukemia, and we went out Halloween, I was a pirate, she was an angel. She went home and died that night.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:52:30] And then my uncle who used to live with us, he was my Uncle Pug, he was my everything, he walked me to school. Something happened in our family and he was extricated out of my life around the same time Nancy died. So very young I suffered real loss of people I loved. So it's like, "Don't get too involved, because they're gonna leave."
Susan Jane Allen: [01:53:00] And I didn't realize that until about a week or so ago, and I was thinking about what we were gonna talk about. And I was like, "Why haven't I done anymore of that?" And I said, "It has to be that that really molded me into being able to just be ... I'm much happier by myself, I think."
Mason Funk: [01:53:30] Makes total sense. I mean, these losses, they change you forever.
Susan Jane Allen: I remember waking one night, and my mother was in the back of the yard, burning all of my clothes. It was something traumatic that happened. My cousin Gary and I and my Sister have often talked, that maybe my Uncle Pug really was my father, cause my mother fooled around a lot. She did.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:54:00] And that maybe he wanted to take me and leave, and was threatening to tell my dad. So he was gone.
Mason Funk: Wow, did you ever reconnect with him?
Susan Jane Allen: Well, he ended up having a nervous breakdown, and are you familiar with the mental hospital Eloise?
Mason Funk: Uh-uh (negative).
Susan Jane Allen: He ended up in Eloise for years. After they took me away from him.
Mason Funk: Oh my goodness, wow.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:54:30] It was not fun. And when came out it was just not the same person. It'd been many years later when I finally did see him again.
Mason Funk: Okay-
Susan Jane Allen: A tragic thing that happened to me as a child.
Mason Funk: Well, we'll wrap up with four simpler questions than that. These are four questions I ask everybody at the end. Number one, you already touched on this-
Natalie Tsui: Oh wait, the can's kinda showing, maybe push it a little bit up? No, actually that's even more. Just push it towards Mason. Yep, that's perfect.
Mason Funk: [01:55:00] You touched on this already, but-
Natalie Tsui: And actually the pillow behind you's showing now. Yep, that's perfect, let me just adjust the ... right there. She's in a little bit higher now. Alright, that's good.
Mason Funk: If somebody comes to you and says, "Susan, I'm thinking about coming out." Whatever that might mean to that person, and this is intended to be just short,
Mason Funk: [01:55:30] simple answers, what would be the little piece of wisdom or guidance or insight you would offer that person?
Susan Jane Allen: "If you do, will you be safe?" Would be first.
Susan Jane Allen: Do you have a friend that can be with you during that time that knows you. And just love yourself. Be comfortable with who you are.
Mason Funk: [01:56:00] Great. Number two, what is your hope for the future.
Susan Jane Allen: That Trump is out of the White House and the democrats take back over the house and the senate. Sooner the better. That is quick future to me, that's all I see on the horizon,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:56:30] I am just terribly disturbed about what's going on in this country right now politically. And I cannot fathom why anyone who makes under a hundred thousand dollars a year would vote for a republican. I just don't. They cannot give me an argument for that, especially when I say, "Well, name me one piece of legislation that the republican party has authored,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:57:00] put out there, and passed, that has benefited you as a middle class family in the past 75 years." Not one.
Mason Funk: Alrighty.
Susan Jane Allen: I guess you can tell where I vote.
Mason Funk: It's like touching a hot oven. Third question, why is it important to you to tell your story?
Susan Jane Allen: [01:57:30] Because in a way, my little story helped change history, helped the lives of women be better. And it's important people know that. It just didn't happen. These guys sitting in the legislature just didn't happen to give you this, they didn't happen to change the way women could control their bodies,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:58:00] they just didn't do that because they were benevolent people. Why not? If it can help another person be active, or pass on the torch, we need to do that. We need our history.
Mason Funk: Great. And last question, kind of a follow up on that question,
Mason Funk: [01:58:30] this project is called OUTWARDS, and I was explaining to you and Gary kinda the overarching mission. So we're running around the country interviewing people like you-
Natalie Tsui: Wait just a second, there's this white dot on your shirt, do you mind just ...
Mason Funk: Oh, I see it.
Susan Jane Allen: Where is it?
Mason Funk: I think you [crosstalk] .
Natalie Tsui: I think you got it, yeah. Thank you.
Mason Funk: What is the value of a project like OUTWARDS that is kind of capturing these stories from many, many different people from all around the country of all different stripes, and shapes, and colors and spots? And say OUTWARDS in your answer.
Susan Jane Allen: [01:59:00] OUTWARDS. Because I think it does the same thing, in a much larger sense, than the other program, It Gets Better did at that time when there were so many kids committing suicide. I think that caused a real sea change. That whole It Gets Better, when people were doing that online, and people could see those. I think that it was okay to be,
Susan Jane Allen: [01:59:30] even if you lived in Ringo, Kansas, you could go online and see there really are people out there just like me. And it made kids okay. But I also think people in their 20s and 30s, who are so politically apathetic right now need to know that we fought for your rights, you need to go out there and do something to keep them.
Mason Funk: [02:00:00] That's it in a nutshell. Have you seen our short video?
Mason Funk: I think I probably sent it to you, but I just wanted to make sure you watch, cause it's one of our other interviewees makes that exact same point.
Mason Funk: Yeah, you'll see. She's a fantastic woman in New York named Karla Jay, but we'll do that in a later on, in a minute. We're done, except we have to-
Natalie Tsui: Room tone.
Mason Funk: We have to do 30 seconds of just this room with nobody talking, it's a technical thing.
Natalie Tsui: [02:00:30] And then I was wondering, is there anything you would like to add? I think you usually ask that.
Mason Funk: Have a quick look at your, why don't you cut for a second. You can blink.
Mason Funk: So, the question I would ask you is-
Natalie Tsui: [02:01:30] Oh wait, one second, gotta turn the thing back on. Is the mic back in place, too? Okay.
Susan Jane Allen: One, two. One, two.
Natalie Tsui: Yep, that's perfect, thank you.
Mason Funk: You mentioned the word pariah, did you take heat?
Susan Jane Allen: Did I take heat?
Mason Funk: But you have to tell me what you took heat for.
Susan Jane Allen: When I was involved with the women's movement, and particularly reproductive rights, I was getting hit from both sides.
Susan Jane Allen: [02:02:00] From the general women's movement, who were these sort of myopic women, who thought the only thing they needed was the equal rights amendment, they did not want to be associated with reproductive rights because they felt that abortion was going to color the equal rights amendment issue. That was really difficult, especially because I was the vice president of NOW.
Susan Jane Allen: [02:02:30] And then, from the gay women you'd be out like, "What are you doing supporting that issue? That doesn't affect you, you're gay, you don't need abortion." And it was like, "Are you nuts? Do you not understand how basic this issue is to your being? To your ability to function in society?" And it was almost like they couldn't understand
Susan Jane Allen: [02:03:00] why it was important. I don't know if it was because of lack of knowledge, or just unwilling to be involved, to put themselves out there to accept something. No, I took hits just like, seriously considered a pariah in the women's movement for a while, because I was so
Susan Jane Allen: [02:03:30] out there verbally on reproductive rights, and only reproductive rights. And I was getting a lot more press than they were. Because we were constantly in the media, because we were constantly challenging the state, so every time a law came up, there I was on television, there I was being interviewed. I dunno whether it was a little bit of jealousy, or whatever, but it was uncomfortable, personally.
Mason Funk: [02:04:00] So from the point of view of the gay women, the lesbians, who criticized you, does what you're saying kinda go to an issue that we have had to work on and are still working on, which is kind of a broader sense of justice?
Susan Jane Allen: Oh, absolutely.
Mason Funk: I'm going to say this in the most delicate way I can possible, without ranting, talk to me about the importance of intersectionality.
Mason Funk: [02:04:30] In other words, people being concerned about rights that don't necessarily directly affect them, but affect them in the grander scheme of things.
Susan Jane Allen: For instance, and you may just think this is terrible of me, but I was never a big deal when it came to gay marriage. I mean, personally I would never get married because I worked for all stuff I have,
Susan Jane Allen: [02:05:00] and I don't wanna give half away to someone who's gonna divorce me. I mean, it's that simple. But it does go back to an old partner who fleeced me. God, imagine if I had been married to this person, what they would've done. It wouldn't have just been the credit cards. But I think, too often, like I said earlier with the LGBT,
Susan Jane Allen: [02:05:30] each and every section of our community has a particular area that they focus on, and a lot of time we lose sight that their issue is as important to them as my issues were important. Just like I'm not necessarily into trans issues, but I'm sure with people like Crystal Little that's incredibly important for her, incredibly important that she had equal rights to housing and to job availability.
Susan Jane Allen: [02:06:00] It's just not high on my priority, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be respecting each other and helping them anyway we can. But too often, and I find that especially within groups when men and women get together, it is really unfortunate because, and I don't know if it comes back to that sexist, misogynistic sort of attitude that a lot of men have, whether they're gay or straight, that they are superior, and therefore we need to do everything their way.
Susan Jane Allen: [02:06:30] That was something I know that Charlene noticed back even in then, that anytime you wanted to get into any kind of political discussion men always wanted to control that, because they thought they knew better, and that's not necessarily the case. So very often we lose sight of each other's humanity, I think. Basically that's all I have on the subject.
Mason Funk: [02:07:00] Okay. That's fantastic. Cut again, I promise you this time we're gonna cut.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Natalie Tsui
Date: July 12, 2017
Location: Home of Susan Allen's cousin, Slidell, LA