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Torie Osborn was born in 1950 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and moved with her family to Madrid, Spain at the age of five. In Madrid, Torie witnessed a food riot. Mothers and hungry kids clashed with armed soldiers. Gunshots rang out. Torie ran home with her mom, horrified and angry. Her mother later said this was the day her daughter became an activist.

Torie’s family made their way back to the US. She attended Barnard and Middlebury College, where she founded the Middlebury College Women's Union to reform women's health services on campus. At 22, Torie came out to her parents—only to have her father upstage her with his own coming out story. He had been openly gay before marrying Torie’s mother. Torie later found out that the family’s move back to the US from Madrid was the result of her father being outed and fired from the State Department. Her father’s unwillingness to talk openly about these events shadowed Torie’s relationship with him until the day he died.

Along with being an activist in college, Torie also discovered the power of women’s music. After college, she moved to California where she ran Holly Near’s record company, organized Holly’s 30-city tour with then-lover Meg Christian, and later co-produced the West Coast Women's Music Festival, some 5,000 women congregating in the woods near Yosemite National Park. “We created this alternative world that was safe from the real world, separate from the real world, and incredibly empowering and joyful.”

In the late 1970s, Torie landed in San Francisco. The gay and lesbian worlds were very separate; the men owned the Castro, the women the Mission. This changed with Anita Bryant’s odious attacks on homosexuals, the game-changing battle against the 1978 Briggs Initiative, the assassination of Harvey Milk, and most prominently, the advent of AIDS. “I called up all of my lesbian friends, and I said, Quit your jobs. We’re going to work for San Francisco General because our brothers are dying and we have to help them.”

In 1988, Torie became the first woman executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center (today the LA LGBT Center). She subsequently served as executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington DC, America's oldest gay and lesbian civil rights organization. From 1997 through 2005, Osborn was the executive director of the Liberty Hill Foundation, a Los Angeles-based non-profit dedicated to environmental, economic, and social justice. She served as a senior policy advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on homelessness, poverty and economic development, and as senior strategist for California Calls, a network of 27 California organizations committed to common-sense government, tax, and budget reform.

At 70, Torie describes herself as “obsessed” with the next generation. She wants young queer and straight activists to understand how they got here—how the LGBTQ community “moved the needle 15 points” in less than a generation. She calls it a story of hope in the face of death, oppression, and violence. “It's about human survival,” she says, “and learning how to do it better.”
Andrew Lush: [00:00:00] I started out recording.
Torie Osborn: You have a great mustache.
Andrew Lush: Thank you. Here we go. And I'm going to now black out your screen. So, I will be here, if anything goes wrong. I'm going to mute myself and turn my camera on.
Torie Osborn: Okay.
Mason Funk: I was thinking that because Andrew conducted your prep interview, as well as doing these [inaudible] that you guys must be fast friends by now.
Torie Osborn: Yeah, but I don't know a damn thing about him.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] He doesn't know anything about you. Well, I will just give a shoutout to him as always because he's been -- he and Rae McCarthy and Tom Bliss. Needless to say, I couldn't do any of this without them. And they've all stepped it up. You know, we hired Andrew to be an editor, pre-COVID, just in February. And he does do some editing for us, but who knew
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] that we were going to have to do this whole technological flip-flop to conducting our interviews online. And he was really the mastermind of the whole process.
Torie Osborn: Well, he claims he's not a techie, but I think he's lying.
Mason Funk: Oh yeah. I think he is lying. He's a very good systems person. And he, you know, he may not be a techie, whatever. [inaudible]
Torie Osborn: Me too.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] So we're going to start, I had the best time watching your prep interview. I took voluminous notes. I couldn't stop because one story after another was little pockets of history for our community that, of course, I didn't know about them, cause there's so many. But, you know, we're going to go to Chicago, we're going to talk about your dad. What I did was I went through my notes this morning. Oh, hold on. I gotta turn.
Mason Funk: [00:02:00] Okay. So, long story short, you may hear my computer ding and I'll just ignore it, and I hope it won't be distractive.
Torie Osborn: Okay. As long as it's your computer and not mine.
Mason Funk: It's my computer. Yeah. And the sound won't be picked up. Actually, yeah. So, what I did was, I went through my notes and I tried ... Andrew is saying, Actually, the sound will be an issue. Can you please be quiet on your side?
Mason Funk: [00:02:30] That's a very good point. So let me turn down my volume. And can you say a couple of words?
Torie Osborn: Hi, this is Tori. I had yogurt for breakfast.
Mason Funk: You've done this drill before. Yeah, so what I did was I turned down my volume, Andrew, so whatever happens on my end will be that much quieter. I can't actually, I mean, I can turn off my messages function,
Mason Funk: [00:03:00] but it actually still dings, even if I ... Long story short. So we'll just do the best we can. Andrew, if you hear another ding, and you really hear it, please let me know and we'll figure out a solution.
Andrew Lush: Mason, is the ding on your phone or your computer?
Mason Funk: It's on my computer.
Andrew Lush: Okay. There is a do not disturb mode you could put on your computer.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Andrew Lush: On the top right of your screen, there's three little lines, on the top right.
Mason Funk: [00:03:30] Yeah.
Andrew Lush: Click there and scroll up. You may not see it, but scroll up.
Mason Funk: Yeah, I see it.
Andrew Lush: You see Do Not Disturb? Turn that on.
Mason Funk: Brilliant!
Andrew Lush: Great.
Mason Funk: Okay, Andrew. See?
Torie Osborn: And so calm and such an excellent mustache.
Mason Funk: Okay. So, what I was saying was, I've tried to kind of zero in, on the areas that
Mason Funk: [00:04:00] I feel like it'd been talked about and we'll definitely, or for example, the story of your dad, which, as you share, you've never talked about before, publicly. Has your mom passed away by now?
Torie Osborn: Yep.
Mason Funk: Im sorry to hear that.
Torie Osborn: I know. It's sad, but it does mean I can talk about it.
Mason Funk: Okay. Alrighty. Well, I think where I want to jump in is first of all, just do us a favor, state and spell your first and last name.
Torie Osborn: [00:04:30] I'm Tori Osborn, T-O-R-I-E O-S-B-O-R-N.
Mason Funk: Okay. And what was your date of birth and where
Torie Osborn: July 27th, a proud Leo, 1950, in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Mason Funk: Okay. Which is a perfect launching off point because I thought one of the really interesting and different aspects of your story was the contrast between Denmark and Spain.
Mason Funk: [00:05:00] So, could you just kind of walk us into your early childhood years, first six-and-a-half years? And even at that tender age, you really saw the impact of living in these two very different societies.
Torie Osborn: Yes. I have often thought about how at such an early age where you don't have these big words like democracy or fascism, how it just seeped into my daily life and into my bones, and actually, I think, framed the rest of my life. So, I was born in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Torie Osborn: [00:05:30] My dad was with the Marshall plan, Im a state department brat. And I was born in 1950, which was only a few years after the Second World War had ended. And in Copenhagen, my earliest memory is flipping through a picture book, a child's book that showed King Christian of Spain marching down the main street of ... I'm sorry,
Torie Osborn: [00:06:00] King Christian of Denmark marching down the main street of Copenhagen wearing a yellow star. Now, of course, all of the Danes were Lutherans. Most of them were Lutherans. It's a very Protestant culture, but they were extremely proud of having resisted the Nazis. When Nazis invaded and occupied Denmark. It was the only country that rose up, literally as a whole, led by their King, and resisted them and smuggled 6,000 Danish Jews off on fishing boats.
Torie Osborn: [00:06:30] And that story was this first story that I remember reading about it, hearing about, you know, like kids play in the streets, we played resistance fighters and Nazis. You had to draw straws to be the Nazi, because nobody wanted to be one. So, I'm three-and-a-half years old, I'm playing in the streets, Im four years old, four-and-a half ... The first four years of my life, I speak Danish, we live in a row house, it's middle-class.
Torie Osborn: [00:07:00] There's a pride in sort of everybody, you know, Im in the streets with the son of the hot dog vendor. And, you know, I was born in a community clinic. That was a midwife's clinic. I mean, I only found that out later. So, this is Denmark in 1950, and there was a pride about having resisted the Nazis and having been the only country that stood up to them. Okay. So, I -- cut to 1954, I'm four and a half,
Torie Osborn: [00:07:30] we moved to Spain ... Oh, and one thing, I went to a preschool, I guess it was a preschool, when my brother was born, a bit of when they brought him back from the hospital and they sent me off to preschool at 18 months. And that school is vivid in my memory. It was kind of like a Montessori school, I guess, it was like, youre free, you run free, you do whatever you want. It was a place where I, you know, ran around,
Torie Osborn: [00:08:00] climbed up on the fire engine, did arts and crafts and just, there was a kind of a freedom. Okay, cut to, I'm four and a half years old, we moved to Madrid, Spain, instead of our little middle-class row house, I'm living in this giant townhouse behind a 30 foot wall. My parents are suddenly rich Americans. We have a cook and a maid. We have servants, instead of being middle-class. So suddenly I'm a rich American.
Torie Osborn: [00:08:30] The first Spanish words I remember are: pesetas por favor, pesetas please, from beggar kids when I go out for a walk with my nanny. And I get sent to a British school, and it didn't occur to me until years later, how much this has impacted my early life that I went to a very rigid school when I was four and a half.
Torie Osborn: [00:09:00] That was, you know, we had to sit up straight, Miss Bacon would wrap our knuckles if we didn't have good posture. And I immediately was a rebel, and hated ... I mean, I didn't have the right words for it, I didn't know. But Franco, at the time, of course, was the Generalissimo Franco, and he had these military police everywhere. Military guns on every street corner. And I remember that horrible school
Torie Osborn: [00:09:30] and those military police on every street corner. And I remember Spain as being dark and gray and oppressive. Now, of course, Spain is sunny and Denmark is cold and dark and Northern, and you know, rainy. But I remember Denmark as sunny and bright and light and free, free spirit, and Spain as cold and frightening. I felt fear in the air.
Torie Osborn: [00:10:00] So, you know, when I was five years old, on or about my fifth birthday, I witnessed a food riot. Mothers and kids rioting, who were hungry for food. And I didn't actually see anybody getting shot, but I heard the shots. We went running home. We were taking a walk. My mother would say, that was the day I became an activist. She was like, We had nothing to do with it.
Torie Osborn: [00:10:30] Nobody had anything to do with it, except your 5th birthday, you saw food riot. And I was angry. I was angry without knowing the right words for it. I just knew that it was inequality. I knew it wasn't fair. And I knew it that I hated the military. So, needless to say, I was a sitting duck for the 1960s.
Mason Funk: Yeah. You were right for the picking.
Torie Osborn: Absolutely.
Mason Funk: [00:11:00] That's an amazing ... That's a background, a childhood, unlike almost anybody. Those two countries ...
Torie Osborn: Those two countries. And yet, you know, it's funny, cause later on in talking to my parents, they didn't have the same sort of antipathy for Franco. I mean, their job was to try to make nice and to entertain American dignitaries who came to visit, and I remember when Barry Goldwater came to visit.
Torie Osborn: [00:11:30] It imprinted in me, but my parents were just having, it was just a job for my father until he lost his job. And I don't know if you want me to go into that. The story that I got was that my parents got tired of life in the state department, where they move you around -- when you're a pretty junior guy person,
Torie Osborn: [00:12:00] they move you around every two or three years. And so we moved back to this country in late 1956, and I was six years old, six and a half. But, in fact -- I didn't find this out until much later, till after I had come out to my parents -- my father had been fired from the state department in 1955,
Torie Osborn: [00:12:30] which is really sort of the tail end of the McCarthy ... You know, the lavender purge. A lot of people know. I mean, I think in the gay community, people know about the lavender purge. There's a movie about it, there's a book about it. So my father was a victim of the lavender purge. He never knew who squealed on him. He only knew that his promising career in the state department, his goal was to be an ambassador that he loved working for the government. My memories of my father were, he just loved, you know,
Torie Osborn: [00:13:00] being in the state department, he loved it. And he was suddenly fired. But I didn't know that until later, I did not know. And then I'm going to jump to when I came out to my parents when I was 22, just on the ...
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt you for a second. Because what I want to do is I want to kind of go back and just sort of do this at a somewhat orderly fashion. If I were just to say, tell me about your father,
Mason Funk: [00:13:30] who was your father? Kind of tell me in brief terms, you know, a simple, short version about your father's life from literally growing up and being gay until he was 30 and then getting fired. Give me just a little thumbnail sketch of his life.
Torie Osborn: Okay. My dad grew up in Fillmore, California, in Ventura County, in the middle of the orange groves. His father, who had traveled West from New Jersey with my grandmother,
Torie Osborn: [00:14:00] who was from Charleston, South Carolina, one of seven girls. My grandfather was the town doctor in Fillmore, which meant given who my grandfather was -- and I don't know a whole lot about either of my grandparents only I remember them well -- so my dad and my uncle were the two kids and they lived in a relatively small house. I mean, I saw the house often
Torie Osborn: [00:14:30] when we would come on home leave from when I was two and four and six. And that's where we moved to when we came to this country in 1956 for a few months. My grandfather was the town doctor, which meant he took care of the town of Fillmore; from farm workers who picked the oranges to the bankers who were the town fathers -- they were fathers back then. He was kind of an egalitarian guy.
Torie Osborn: [00:15:00] I don't know think they were particularly political, but my father and his older brother, who was always gay, my Uncle Did, was known to be gay. I mean, I grew up with a gay uncle and a bunch of lesbian cousins and a bunch of homosexuality on my father's side, not ever thinking that he was involved. So, you know, this is all put together later on because when I'm growing up, I knew my Uncle Did was gay --
Torie Osborn: [00:15:30] Harold, but they called them Did -- because he was gay all his life, and he was kind of out, although he was from that guilty self-hating generation, he would go to church, Catholic Church every week, and he never had a sustained relationship. He was not a happy person. Then my father, who it turns out was gay from the time he was 14, according to him or 15, I forget,
Torie Osborn: [00:16:00] until he decided he wanted to have a kid. So through the Navy, through college at UCLA, class of 41, through the Navy and to Paris where he decided he wanted to have a family. And back then, there was just no question. You were either like my Uncle Did -- you were single, solitary, no kids -- or you went straight or got married or whatever. So to my knowledge, my father sort of stopped his gay life.
Torie Osborn: [00:16:30] I mean, my gay friends are like, Sure, he did. But whatever, I had never had any evidence that he continued. It was as if he cut off a piece of himself, went straight, met my mom, and literally, six weeks later, they were married. She was working in the Marshall plan in Paris. They met in Paris, they were married in Paris. And then, the rest you know about.
Torie Osborn: [00:17:00] But he was a very good looking man. He was a kind and gentle person who I don't think sort of would read gay. But he was very repressed. Like, when he was dying, 10 years ago, he wanted to hear Cole Porter songs. But all the time growing up -- and he knew all the words to every single one --
Torie Osborn: [00:17:30] all the time growing up, we didn't even have a phonograph. We didn't even have a record player because he had this sort of repression about anything that -- I mean, I'm just guessing -- I think he associated with gay culture that maybe he had had a taste of when he was living in San Francisco after the war or something like that. But hes brilliant, kind, very egalitarian, and very much sort of a believer in America,
Torie Osborn: [00:18:00] in democracy, in the middle class. I mean, he was very much, you know, he was a Democrat through and through, and sort of egalitarian. And I think I got a lot of him in me. I did not know that my gay activism would sort of ... Since I didn't find out until after I'd come out. I mean, I found out he was gay when I came out to him, excuse me.
Torie Osborn: [00:18:30] He upstaged me completely. The day I came out to him, he upstaged me, but it was like, keep it secret. And I didn't know that he had lost his job over it. I only knew that he'd had a youthful gay decade or so. I had no idea that it had changed his life.
Mason Funk: When did you Two questions. One is, when did you find out about the fact that he'd lost his job?
Mason Funk: [00:19:00] Because someone outed him and you might wanna ... Let's do that one first. And, even though a lot of people may know about the lavender purge, just set it up a little bit [crosstalk] McCarthy ... Just give us a little sentence there.
Torie Osborn: Okay. Well, I didn't find out about my dad's loss of his career in the state department until my late twenties, and I actually found out from my brother.
Torie Osborn: [00:19:30] I had to call my dad. He was visiting me in California, and told me the story. I called my dad and he confirmed it. But, you know, we never talked about it. Talk about shame-based family secrets. I mean, that was one of them. In fact, recently, I asked several of their remaining living friends ... My mom just passed away, and in her retirement community, there were several people who were in my parents' friendship circle. And I asked them all, the ones who were still alive,
Torie Osborn: [00:20:00] Did you know that my dad was gay for 15 years before he was married? Nobody knew it. So it was a very well-kept, compartmentalized family secret. My dad was a victim. The lavender purge was the anti-gay repression where anybody they could prove ... It was like a witch hunt, like they did for communists during the McCarthy era in the 50s.
Torie Osborn: [00:20:30] So, the early 50s until really 54 ... My dad lost his job in 55, late 55, so he was kind of at the tail end of it. But basically it was a witch hunt. Whether it was the communists or even socialists. I grew up with these friends of my parents who were leftists -- and my parents were not leftists. They were socialists, and they were proud socialists. And I could not figure out how these people were friends of my parents, because my parents were sort of the anti-communist cold war,
Torie Osborn: [00:21:00] you know, liberal Democrats. And, of course, it turned out that [inaudible] had lost his job at the same time my dad had lost his job, and they shared that. So, I think, the Godfried were among the few people who knew about my dad. But, the witch hunt in the 50s was unlike anything, I think, that has come since then. I mean, we're in a terrible era now,
Torie Osborn: [00:21:30] but I don't think there's ever been this concerted ... They literally would ask people who would out people, or they would be threatened to lose their job if they didn't name names, whether it was communist or queers. And so my dad was named by somebody and he doesn't know if it was in the Navy or if it was from college. He never really knew who told on him, who outed him, but whoever it was destroyed his career
Mason Funk: [00:22:00] What did he get into doing afterwards? I'm curious.
Torie Osborn: Well, my mom came from a sort of well connected family, and so one of her friends, like growing up friends brothers worked for a pharmaceutical company, was called SmithKline & French. It's now, I think, GlaxoSmithKline. So, for 30 years, he was a corporate,
Torie Osborn: [00:22:30] sort of, middle level executive. Now my father's skills were really diplomacy, he spoke five languages. And so, he traveled a lot when I was growing up. He worked for SmithKline, but he would travel around the world. I think he was kind of like the protocol guy. They would go with this team of a scientist and a businessman -- and they were all men --
Torie Osborn: [00:23:00] to cut the deal and to do the science and they would cut these deals. And so he spent a lot of time in the Soviet Union. He spent a lot of time in Israel. He spent some time in China. This is in the 50s and 60s. He would come back. I've often wondered, Was he a spy? I don't think so. I don't know, he was kind of a secretive guy. So, that's what he did.
Torie Osborn: [00:23:30] He was not very high level. He never made a lot of money and he was never particularly happy. This is not a guy who liked being a corporate guy. He lived for his family and for Really, his kids and his family. He loved to read, he was very cultured. Well,
Torie Osborn: [00:24:00] five languages and a lot of books. Yeah, I mean, he was an interesting guy. Played tennis all of his life, you know, from the age of six on. Anyway, I miss him. He was a really good person. I wish I could ask him a lot of questions. On his deathbed, he was diagnosed, and dead six weeks later. There was no space. I tried, believe me, to find out more about his gay past.
Torie Osborn: [00:24:30] And there was just, there was no way he had shut it off. He had shed it off. In fact, one of the things that I almost never forgave him for was when my uncle died. Okay. So, my uncle who was not a particularly nice person, but was my gay uncle and was out all my life, he had a box.
Torie Osborn: [00:25:00] He was like the keeper of the gay history in my family. And he had all of my aunts, who were lesbians, my great aunts who were lesbians, their letters from their partners. I mean, he became sort of like the gay archivist in the family. He had everything in a box. He was in Santa Barbara, he was in LA area. And one day I spent with him, he went through things, and I saw pictures of my grandmother, who evidently had an affair -- according to my uncle -- with her nurse.
Torie Osborn: [00:25:30] This is my father's mother who had a stroke when in her forties, and was bedridden. And allegedly had kind of an affair with her nurse, according to my uncle. He told me lots of stories, showed me lots of pictures, and said to me, In my will, this box goes to you. Because, of course, he was thrilled to have a lesbian niece. So, when my uncle died, my father went to Santa Barbara to clean out his stuff and threw that box away.
Torie Osborn: [00:26:00] And I will never forgive my father for that. So, it was this, at least, one box full of memorabilia that has gone forever, that tells the gay history. So, I come from a lot of gay genes, some of which I only can speculate about, and some I have imprinted in my mind. I have pictures of my aunt and her -- well, it's really a cousin --
Torie Osborn: [00:26:30] partner, they were together for 40 years. So there was a lot of kind of lesbian and gay history in my own family that I know that I have no proof of.
Mason Funk: Its almost like, we can't help but wonder whether your father, part of him just shoved his own gayness, you know, out of sight, for him to throw that box away.
Torie Osborn: Yeah. I can't even tell you ... But, you know, it's my own damn fault because I didn't go with him. He was staying with me
Torie Osborn: [00:27:00] when he drove to Santa Barbara, and I said, Maybe I should come with you. No, no, don't come with I mean, I think he knew exactly what he was going to do. And that's the side of my father that, you know, that like the dark side, the shadow side that we all have, but the closet, the power of the closet. I mean, the fact that none of their friends knew, even though it had been years in the past,
Torie Osborn: [00:27:30] I think. Again, my gay friends say, No way. He was going to Prague and, Germany and Russia, you know he had a gay life. But I have no proof of that, and I tend to think that he just kind of buried it.
Mason Funk: Yeah. I mean, I had an affair with a guy in our twenties and he was at the time dating a woman who became his wife and he's still married to her.
Mason Funk: [00:28:00] And I know that door's locked. Like, if I try to bring that up with him, he would just not go there, even though we're still, you know, somewhat friends. But it's a huge commentary on just this topic of where we've all come from, the choices that your dad and your uncle made, and what they were up against. It's just so powerful as a portrait of our community, almost like pre-Stonewall effect.
Torie Osborn: [00:28:30] Yes, I think so. I mean, in my family, my uncle was seen as, I mean, we accepted him. There was no overt homophobia in my direct family, but he was seen as sort of pathetic and marginal and unfulfilled. And my father was seen as, you know, the guy who had the fulfilling ... He had a good job, he provided for his family. The values were so much around having kids in my family.
Torie Osborn: [00:29:00] I mean, I never wanted to have kids, but it was so clear a kind of a heteronormative, heterosexism that didn't have a name that really defined my dad. My uncle was the sad sack. My dad was the good guy. Right. So my dad, of course, had to marginalize, had to just destroy his own history.
Mason Funk: [00:29:30] Just curious, like how, I don't know when your dad threw that box away or just knowing your dad had this hidden past, that he never owned, even as you own yourself, your identity so fully, how did that feel? Did you ever just think, like, I don't know, on the course of emotions?
Torie Osborn: [00:30:00] Well, that particular loss has been huge. By the way, there was nothing in that box about my dad. It was about other people. So it wasn't as if he was sort of saving us or saving the world from a piece of his own past. It was his own aunts and uncle. Anyway, well, I think that ...
Torie Osborn: [00:30:30] I mean, I've been through a lot of self flagellation and grief about losing that box because it was a connection to a past. And although the idea that my own gay, LGBT activism was, sort of, revenge for my father's oppression of being a victim of the lavender purge is a trope that I, sort of, like and own,
Torie Osborn: [00:31:00] but the loss of the history of the roots in my family, you know, it makes me really sad. And it would have been a link to a pre-Stonewall to pre-present time. You know, much more than my father because his life I think was a little bit unusual.
Mason Funk: [00:31:30] So now just tell us in more detail, the story of you coming out to your dad. You said several times that he upstaged you, but what do you remember about the conversation? Like, walk us through, tell us where you were, just paint a picture of that moment and who said what.
Torie Osborn: Okay. So you have to understand it's like 1973, I've spent the weekend with my mother in Stone Harbor. I lived in Vermont at the time, I was part of a very vibrant lesbian feminist community.
Torie Osborn: [00:32:00] There were no gay men. I knew one gay man. It was mostly a lesbian world that I was in for several years. But I decided that it was time to come out to my family. First, my mother and I spent the weekend, I came out to her and it was raining the whole time. So we're at the beach in New Jersey and we're watching John Dean on television and drinking gin and ties cause it's 1993 and it's the Watergate hearings. Right. So, but, you have ...
Mason Funk: [00:32:30] You said 93, it was 73.
Torie Osborn: I mean, 73, 1973. 1973, the Watergate hearings. But here's the thing, during that era, in the counterculture, it was not unusual to stage a kind of a family. I don't know what you want to call it, circle or something like that. I came out to my mom first walking on the beach,
Torie Osborn: [00:33:00] and she had a weird reaction. But anyway, so then the plan was to do this circle with my mom, my dad, my brother, and me, and come out to everybody at once. Even though I had told my mom ahead of time. So I knew she told my dad. The only one who was really surprised was my brother, I guess. But anyway, so we're sitting in the living room of my parents' home, which is a regular middle-class house outside of Philadelphia, in the suburbs.
Torie Osborn: [00:33:30] All I remember is, and my mom already knows, but she hasn't spilled the beans publicly, so, it's my turn. We're all supposed to tell our stories. This is like a family thing that we were doing across the counterculture. I was not the only family to do this. I don't know what we called it. I can't remember. I start with my story,
Torie Osborn: [00:34:00] the main thing I want to say is that I'm gay. And my father says, and he was sitting here and I'm sitting here and my mother's here and my brothers there, and he says, Well, I have something to share too. He interrupts, I don't even get to tell anything more than that. And he's interrupting me, and says, Well, I have a homosexual story too. And those are the words that he used, I have a homosexual story too.
Torie Osborn: [00:34:30] And I'm like, doing a double take. And then he proceeds. He says, From the time I was in high school till I met your mom, my life was gay. I lived in San Francisco after the war for two years. And he didn't say in the gay community, that's what I assume. And he said, But I wanted to have a family, and so, I changed. Or something like that.
Torie Osborn: [00:35:00] I don't remember the word he used. But he basically told the story about the past without mentioning anything about his career. So, anyway, that was it. I don't remember anything else I said because it was completely upstaged. My poor brother was just kind of like what the heck is going on. And my mother's sitting there, picking her nails, saying not a word. But, in any rate, that was 1973 in June.
Torie Osborn: [00:35:30] The weird thing, I can't remember exactly how it happened, but my mother decided that I could not, ever, come home, to that house with a partner or lover. She didn't want it in her face now. I mean, later, I kind of realized; it was sort of like reminding her of her own husband's gayness,
Torie Osborn: [00:36:00] which probably was a bitter pill. She did not find out he was gay until he lost his job. Isn't like he said to her, Honey, I've been gay and now I'm going straight. She did not know until he lost his job, about his past. That's how she found out about it. And remember, this is a woman who was working for the Marshall plan, quit her job to become a housewife because that's what middle-class women did, even college educated women in the 50s.
Torie Osborn: [00:36:30] She had no other means of survival, but my father, and he loses his job because he's gay anyway. Somehow, she then came down hard on me. She and I never got along that well until later. She forbade me to come home. So I didn't go home, to that house in Philly, outside of Philly, from 1993, 73,
Torie Osborn: [00:37:00] sorry, 1973 to 1979 for six and a half years. But my father, and this is the part where you talk about the box and stuff. My father and I became very close after this. He traveled a lot, I didn't see him a lot, but we always got along well, but we became very close because he used to always bring presents back when he would go to Europe and he started to bring like men's shirts home to me.
Torie Osborn: [00:37:30] He just was so accepting. So during the six years that I didn't go home, to my mother's house, to my parents' house, he would come to visit me. He came in Vermont, he brought my 13 year old sister to visit me and my partner who had a 13 year old son. He came to Chicago to visit me. He made a point of seeing me on my own territory,
Torie Osborn: [00:38:00] in my own life meeting my friends, he was incredibly accepting. And it was as if he was relieved to have a daughter who was queer. It was familiar to him. He grew up with cousins who were lesbians, his brother, his own self. I mean, he never said that, but he just seemed much more comfortable with me once I came out to him than before,
Torie Osborn: [00:38:30] when I was trying to be heterosexual. And he was staying up late when I was breaking curfew.
Mason Funk: Okay. All right. Those are all amazing stories.
Torie Osborn: Yeah, youre the only one whos ever heard it.
Mason Funk: I'll tell you this story about my gay husband coming out to his lesbian mum, but not for now. So the other, you know, it's not an uncommon story, but the story of falling in love with Bonnie
Mason Funk: [00:39:00] is very moving and beautiful as well. And then her family moving away and she lived over the back fence [inaudible]. Anyway, so I wonder if you would just share that because that's so [crosstalk]
Torie Osborn: I always think of my childhood as this kind of two things. One was my political activism. We've talked about the origin story of it, but, later, sort of fast forward to when I was 15 and started to get involved in the anti-war movement.
Torie Osborn: [00:39:30] But the other piece of it, the personal piece of it was when I was, you know, I just don't remember if it was 11, maybe 12 or 10. I fell really hard in love with Bonnie Hagan who lived behind our house. It was like, there was some woods and then there were a series of houses, and she lived in one of them.
Torie Osborn: [00:40:00] I played outside a lot, and I met her. I was riding my bicycle when I literally saw her for the first time and fell totally in love with her. It's like, I fell into her eyes. Her mother was very strict German family, and I would go over there. I mean, I think I was like a little puppy dog following her around. I was just like,
Torie Osborn: [00:40:30] out of my mind with love for her. I would pick her roses from the next door neighbors garden, I'd go in and bring her roses. I was like, we do Pyramus and Thisbe through the fence. One time, I was visiting her and her mother walked into the living room. And, I mean, honestly, it was quite innocent. Her mother must have caught us hugging or being close.
Torie Osborn: [00:41:00] I mean, honestly, we weren't doing anything sexual. Her mother just kicked me out and said I could never come visit there again. And it was the first time I experienced the shame of homophobia, first time that I experienced that veil of shame that hardens and becomes the closet. But, I will tell you that what I did then was
Torie Osborn: [00:41:30] I took all that energy -- I don't even know where the idea came to me -- but I built her this treehouse and took all the energy of not being able to go there and frustration and everything, and I built a treehouse -- well, it was really a tree platform. She would sneak out, I would throw a rock at her window, and she would sneak out. I had to help her up, and we'd go up onto my tree platform on the maple tree,
Torie Osborn: [00:42:00] behind my house. And. it was bliss. We spent a summer like that. And then my family, we went away on vacation and I was writing her letters every day. I mean, I was in love with this kid, you know, and then when I came home, she was gone. She was just gone. Her whole family had moved out while we were in Maine on vacation with some friends, and I never heard from her again.
Torie Osborn: [00:42:30] I'm still looking for her. I mean, I don't think I haven't looked at Facebook. Every time I've told the story, like, anybody knows Bonnie Hagan? Id never ... She's just disappeared. So I felt loss and heartbreak, you know, for the first time in my life, and also the pain of the closet and trying to tell my mom, my dad was away, trying to explain the heartbreak and my mother was completely unsympathetic. You could imagine.
Torie Osborn: [00:43:00] I mean, I'm sure she thought it was just a girlish crush, but she was completely unsympathetic. So, it hardened into a kind of fear of being queer. And I remember praying, I was raised Catholic, and I remember praying, please don't let me be queer -- was the word that I use. Please don't let me be queer. I didn't know any other words.
Torie Osborn: [00:43:30] It was a source of pain, ultimately, but it was also the source of joy. The lesson of that when you love, whatever it is, you can love a community, you can love an individual, you can love, you know, whatever your passion is, you find in yourself abilities you never knew you had. For me to build a tree house by myself -- my father wasn't around and he wasn't a carpenter anyway -- I did this myself.
Torie Osborn: [00:44:00] I don't know where it came from, but that is a lesson. That was a life lesson that you can do things you never imagined that you were capable of, when you have love.
Mason Funk: Did it ever occur to you? And I'm guessing it did that. This is an extreme, maybe it's too dramatic, but that the mom with the family moved away because the mom knew that you were hanging out with Bonnie?
Torie Osborn: [00:44:30] It never occured to me because they had only lived there for like a year and they seemed like they moved around a lot, but you know, it's possible. I have no idea. I'm still looking for her.
Mason Funk: I'm going to be looking also. Was she your age or was she a little bit older or younger?
Torie Osborn: No, I think she was about my age. We were all sort of, you know, pre pubescent girls.
Torie Osborn: [00:45:00] I was definitely a tomboy and hung outside and played sports and had a little gang where I was the only girl. And it was all boys. She was more of a girly girl, but she was, I don't know what she'd be like now. She had long dark hair and beautiful blue eyes. That's what I remember.
Mason Funk: I'm sure she still does. Bonnie wherever you are. Okay. Well, we're going to jump
Mason Funk: [00:45:30] because there's a big chapter about women's music, and you know a lot about it, and we havent recorded, I'm a little embarrassed to say we have not recorded stories about this yet. So you're really going to be one of our first big sources about the women's movement. And I want to start with The Deadly Nightshade, because you said that music sparked the truth,
Mason Funk: [00:46:00] and it's like a moment. You said that it's a moment writ large. It was all this is in 1972, I think. If you can paint us a picture of that moment, and weave in just the power of women's music that was liberating for a lot of people.
Torie Osborn: Yeah. It was a movement and many movements. So, it's January, in the middle of the winter in Vermont, in 1973,
Torie Osborn: [00:46:30] I think, actually. I think it was January 73. Cause I graduated from college in 72 and it would have been the following year. I became a feminist in 1970, so I had already marched for women's equality, I'd already been author of a column in the newspaper, the campus newspaper called Noes From Women's Liberation. I'd already argued with the future governor of Vermont about feminism.
Torie Osborn: [00:47:00] I was already a feminist, and I'd already founded the Middlebury College Women's Union and so forth. In my personal life, I was sort of being bisexual. I had a boyfriend, but I had this kind of hidden, secretive affairs with women that were much more interesting to me. But anyway, so fast forward, I'm living in this women's anti-war commune.
Torie Osborn: [00:47:30] This whole time, my kind of passion is ending the war in Vietnam. So I'm living in these anti-war communes during the summer when I'm not in actual college. And then I'm living in this women's house that was like a subset of the last antiwar commune. The women got together, the four of us lived together and I get invited to the first feminist conference in Vermont,
Torie Osborn: [00:48:00] at the time Mt Philo Inn, which was a big old inn that had been taken over by an anti-war commune. And they occasionally gave it over to conferences and you know, sort of communal gatherings. I wish I had, like, the flyers for it. I don't have any paper on it, but it was like a conference, an early women's conference, January, 1973.
Torie Osborn: [00:48:30] It was the middle of the winter, there are about 300 people there, it's women from all over Vermont, New England, but mainly Vermont. And there were workshops and the workshops were kind of like, you know, how to heal your life or how to start a rock group. I mean, they were kind of How-tos, it's an early women's movement, relatively. But that night, there was a band that I had never heard of, called The Deadly Nightshade, that was a feminist rock band,
Torie Osborn: [00:49:00] an all-women's feminist rock band. And I mean, it was unbelievable. The energy, I will never forget. It was like the energy that came from that stage just bounced off of the walls and just, it was electric. And when I drove home to my little commune in Vermont, in Middlebury that night, you know, like 30 minutes away, I remember it was a snowy night.
Torie Osborn: [00:49:30] And I remember saying out loud for the first time I'm a lesbian. And it was kind of my coming out to myself, anyway. And you've heard the story about coming out to my parents later on, in June. The Deadly Nightshade was a rock band, so it was a little bit different. And I don't think that they ... I mean, I don't even know if they recorded,
Torie Osborn: [00:50:00] I think they had one recording, but they were not a band to stay together for a long time. I mean, I'm actually Facebook friends with a couple of women who were in that group. And there were several other rock groups, The New Haven Women's Liberation rock band, The Chicago Womens Liberation rock band, but mostly women's music was not rock music. It was kind of folk rock or jazz. It had a different sound to it.
Torie Osborn: [00:50:30] But that night was my introduction to women's music, which I later devoted many years to. And it's what brought me to California. I ran Holly Nears record company. I produced concerts in Chicago, Holly Near concerts, and went to the Boston women's music festival in 1973. I mean, there was a stirring, a cultural stirring among lesbian feminists,
Torie Osborn: [00:51:00] that was really the part of this kind of separatists era. This pre-AIDS separatists era where lesbian feminists were doing our thing and gay men were doing their thing. I look at it now, gay men had more money and more access, and were sort of creating these urban gay ghettos, and lesbian were doing this cultural thing. And some of them were living in communes in Oregon.
Torie Osborn: [00:51:30] I didn't quite do that, but it was like there was these two worlds really, and we rarely came together except for when we came together politically, like when Anita Bryant attacked us, attacked queers, and later on with the Briggs initiative in 78. So, there were moments that we came together. But this was the beginning of, for me,
Torie Osborn: [00:52:00] 73 to really into the 80s, when I really threw myself into the lesbian world. People were surprised when I ended up moving to California to run Holly Nears record company and lived in Ukiah for a couple of years, for a couple of years, and then moved down to San Francisco. I lived in an entirely lesbian world in the mission.
Torie Osborn: [00:52:30] So men were in the Castro, gay men were in the Castro -- this is all pre AIDS, right? Gay men were in the Castro, lesbians were in the mission. And I lived in a apartment, by myself, right next to the Artemis coffee shop, lesbian owned and operated, right next to, literally up the street was the Acento. They called it a bath, but it was really like hot tub. It couldn't have been more different than gay male bath.
Torie Osborn: [00:53:00] Down the street from the bar, which I can't remember the name, and around the corner from Redwood Records, it's like we had a lesbian ghetto in the mission, lesbian feminists ghetto. And during that time, in the 70s, when Harvey Milk was shot, we would come together to grieve, or the white night riots.
Torie Osborn: [00:53:30] I was in the Artemis cafe when somebody came in, listening to a concert by Alive!, a women's jazz band, when somebody came in and said, They're rioting. Meaning we are rioting because of the Dan White verdict. And so we all left and went downtown and rioted. I mean, it was only political things that would bring us together, even though the right would talk about the gay community as if gays,
Torie Osborn: [00:54:00] men and women, were working together. But we were very different. It was kind of before I was a concert producer. But I was immersed in women's music. I mean, it was my life for years and years. And later, I produced Robin Tyler and I co-produced the West Coast Women's Music Festival and, you know, 6,000 or 4,000, 4,000 women in the woods in Yosemite,
Torie Osborn: [00:54:30] all kinds of acts that were ... Now when I look back on it, it was an empowering, sort of, world. Like, we created this alternative world that was safe, safe from the real world, separate from the real world and incredibly empowering and joyful.
Mason Funk: [00:55:00] You talked about how you rebuild these cities. It's funny because I've been listening to the Godspell soundtrack for some reason, and there's a song called beautiful city. We can build a beautiful city. Yes we can. Yes, we can, we can build a beautiful city ... So, you talked about building these cities, and it sounds like, you know, a cadre of women would arrive from another location, and you would just start with a blank slate.
Torie Osborn: [00:55:30] Just the land. I mean, we built the West Coast festival on, I think it was called Camp Mather. It was a camp that we rented from the Fed. So it had cabins on it. Very often, these women's music festivals were on raw land, but there were cabins, but we still had to feed and shelter and build stages to entertain 4,000 women who were coming.
Torie Osborn: [00:56:00] There were a hundred workers, a hundred volunteers that I managed and we would go up and literally build the kitchens, build the ramps for the wheelchair people. We were extremely conscious of the diversity within the community. Especially, in terms of disabilities,
Torie Osborn: [00:56:30] there was very high consciousness in the lesbian community, lesbian feminist community. And we built stages; the main stage that thousands of people would go to the night concerts, and then there would be day stages, and then there were workshop areas. So we literally had to create, out of bricks and wood. Bring in and then tear it down at the end of it. A city,
Torie Osborn: [00:57:00] we had to create bathrooms and all of it, an RV area for the older lesbians who came in their RVs and most people were camping out, but some of them had RVs. I mean, it was just fun. It was fun and it was intense. It was unlike anything that I think anybody who's ever been to a women's music festival, I don't think it's like anything that anybody has ever been to before or since.
Torie Osborn: [00:57:30] There's nothing like it, 4,000 women working together to create a concert, a festival really. There were arts and crafts that were sold and there were the vendors who would sell them. It was just wonderful.
Mason Funk: Who are, I know that the woman who runs Olivia Cruises was one of the early progenitors. I forget her name right now.
Torie Osborn: [00:58:00] Judy Duglacz.
Mason Funk: Correct. And maybe, it may be a separate conversation, when we're not doing your interview, I'd love to just pick your brain and write down names because this is a thread or a strain of our history that we really need to capture.
Torie Osborn: Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, there were a little bit of gay men's music going on, but never the intensity or the organizing prowess. I mean,
Torie Osborn: [00:58:30] when the No On 6, the Briggs Initiative, that would have fired gay teachers or anybody who seemed gay, was going on in 1978, I organized a 30-city tour by Holly Near and Meg Christian, who were lovers at the time, who were kind of two of the big names in women's music across California. I mean, we sold out the civic center in Santa Monica, 3000 seats. Every venue was 2,500 to 4,500 people.
Torie Osborn: [00:59:00] I mean, it wasn't like they were filling up little coffee houses. We're talking about big venues across California. And we would have not just the sign interpreter who would in, you know, interpret, do ASL for the concert or the wheelchair ramps to make sure that the venue was accessible. But we would also have a workshop the next day, teaching people how to organize on the ballot measure.
Torie Osborn: [00:59:30] And it was like, we, we saw ourselves as organizers, even though it was a concert to entertain. And I think that that really speaks to the sense of purpose and connection to the women's movement and to other progressive things. I mean, that West Coast Women's Music Festival, we had speakers about Chile and Central America. And this was at a time when the United States was on the wrong side of every war in Central America.
Torie Osborn: [01:00:00] And we were on the other side. It was like we tried to do ally work, if you will, on other issues. Anti-nuclear stuff or whatever, the progressive issue, anti-apartheid, you know, so speakers range from Kate Millet, Adrienne Rich, the poet was supposed to come but she ended up getting sick. The big names from women's music were Holly Near and Meg Christian
Torie Osborn: [01:00:30] and Margie Adam, and Linda Tillery, and Mary Watkins. There were names that people knew. And then there were people who kind of came and were part of it like Laura Nyro, who has a bigger name, but was actually on the fringes of women's music. I saw her at the Michigan Womyn's Festival. I think she came to one of the West Coast Festivals. So, there was a whole circuit, by the way,
Torie Osborn: [01:01:00] there were a whole circuit of women's music festivals across the country. There were probably six or seven of them. And then there were hundreds, probably about a hundred production companies who would produce concerts. So you could go to Carnegie Hall and see Cris Williamson and Meg Christian, or you could go to, you know, a smaller venue in a tiny college town in Iowa. This was a national cultural phenomenon
Torie Osborn: [01:01:30] that had its own distribution network, did not use radio airplay, so it was kind of underground. It was like an underground music movement.
Mason Funk: This may be, sort of, a lame question because -- sorry, Im not trying to stop using the word lame, I dont use that word anymore. This may not be a very good question. But we have interviewed a couple of women who were completely immersed in the lesbian separatist movement.
Mason Funk: [01:02:00] One woman who still lives in the Ozarks, in the community that she created, another woman in Seattle. And I've been privileged that they will allow me to come interview them at this time, when, you know, 34 years ago, they would not have allowed me to come on their land, anywhere near that. But was there ever an impulse in you? And, like I said, it seems like I'm not picking up an impulse in you to go and be a separatist?
Torie Osborn: Well, the period of time that I worked in women's music,
Torie Osborn: [01:02:30] I mean, where I was professionally working and when I was working at Redwood Records, and doing these festivals was roughly 76 through 81 to 82, Id say, that was a separatist period. And I was as close to separatism as I got was working on women's music when Holly Near was being a separatist.
Torie Osborn: [01:03:00] So, all of her records would only have women sound engineers, would only have, you know, it was like we were trying to have an all women's crew. But part of the reason that I worked with Holly and wasn't -- I mean, not that I would have been anyway -- but wasn't really into Olivia that much, Olivia Records, was because I was sort of never a separatist. I just wasnt.
Torie Osborn: [01:03:30] Holly really wasn't either. I mean, she had her relationship with Meg Christian, which brought her in close contact, and I had an affair with another Olivia person, and it was close to Olivia, but Redwood was known for its international solidarity work with Chile, later producing [inaudible], Sweet Honey in the Rock. So ally on other progressive issues,
Torie Osborn: [01:04:00] and that was really my home. We skipped all my college organizing, and my, sort of, radical phase. We were kind of separatists in the sense that we lived in a lesbian commune, but it was the house that Holly had grown up in, in Ukiah. Her father was cleaning the pool for us every week. I mean, it was kind of a luxury.
Torie Osborn: [01:04:30] And I went to the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, which was as separatist as you could get, but I never ... It wasn't my jam. I think that's why I worked at Redwood, and that's why we've been friends and we're still friends 45 years later is because we were drawn to separatism, we got separatist, we produced separatists concerts and albums, but it wasn't our ultimate self.
Mason Funk: [01:05:00] That makes total sense. Yeah. That's actually super helpful. Thank you. It's been about an hour. You all just stand up and stretch or get a drink of water, anything like that?
Torie Osborn: Im good.
Mason Funk: You're good. You're on a roll. Okay. so we're doing pretty well cause literally I covered the front side of my sheet, and now Im turning it over.
Mason Funk: [01:05:30] Kind of ran out of schedule. I skipped a lot of stuff, but honestly, we're getting to what I thought were sort of the biggest, most important -- not that they're not all important. But, anyway, you told us about how, right before you left San Francisco, a nurse friend told you about this disease killing gay men. And that was the beginning. Could you just tell us again
Mason Funk: [01:06:00] what it was like in those first, you know, I'm talking 81/82 and just this first glimmer of what would become this massive, massive, massive event that changed our communities forever.
Torie Osborn: Well, remember, I mean, that is my most separatists period, cause I'm living in the lesbian community in the mission. I have one gay friend. I don't even know how he became my friend, but Greg Day was the one gay man who I knew. I knew Cleve Jones from across the room,
Torie Osborn: [01:06:30] he certainly didn't know who I was. I'm living in a women's world, a lesbian feminist world -- the one I described to you before, in the mission. And one day, one of my good friends who is a nurse -- a lot of my friends were -- is visiting my apartment, and I'll never forget it. It must have been in the fall of 82 or maybe the summer of 82.
Torie Osborn: [01:07:00] I'm pretty sure it was into 82 because that was the year that I left and came down here to go to business school. And I think it was summertime, maybe spring or summer of 82. She's pacing in my living room, and she's talking about -- maybe it was the end of 81, but it was during that year. And she's talking about how she's part of a support group of nurses. And they all are working for different companies or they're on the registry,
Torie Osborn: [01:07:30] which means they work for whoever calls them up. And she said, I've been working in San Francisco General and there's this disease that's killing gay men and they're isolating them. We have no idea how it's spread and they can't get workers to work there because they're too afraid for their own safety. So I called up all of my lesbian friends, and I said,
Torie Osborn: [01:08:00] Quit your jobs, quit your registry. We're all going to work for San Francisco General because our brothers are dying and we have to help them. And I don't know if all 11 did, but a bunch of them did. And I will never forget that because it was before I moved down to LA. So, its in 81 or 82. I moved here in, like, September of 82. And it was a brave thing to do because,
Torie Osborn: [01:08:30] but it was also this sense of duty. Remember we didn't have gay friends. I mean, in small towns, gay people were finding each other and were helping each other out, but in the big cities, it was very segregated. And so for lesbians, it was a pull of duty, I think. And it was a sense of, you know, Who else is gonna do this? Nobody's going to step up,
Torie Osborn: [01:09:00] people haven't helped us. We have to do it for our brothers. And I remember just being so impressed with that. When I think back to my days in Chicago, in the early days of the movement, the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Coalition, there were four lesbians and about a hundred guys. You just kind of felt invisible. It engendered my most separatists impulses.
Torie Osborn: [01:09:30] I was on a panel once in Chicago, with a gay man and me, right? So we're going out to the high schools to talk about gay life and he's talking about his life and I'm talking about my life. And I'm living with my partner and her son. I'm involved in kind of a leftist newspaper, and working on a Holly Near concert and working with Blazing Star, organizing to try to get other lesbians to
Torie Osborn: [01:10:00] join the softball leagues. It's like we were doing lesbian organizing, and he was talking about sex. And it was this kind of sex as self freedom. Urban freedom of the gay community meant lots of bars. I mean, it was just so different. My partner was getting custody of her son. I mean, it was just we had totally different lives.
Torie Osborn: [01:10:30] Our values seemed different. And so when my friend, the nurse was talking about putting her life on the line for gay men, it was astonishing to me because I thought, Wow, we're on different planets and she's still willing to do this. And then it struck me. Now, my own involvement in AIDS really didn't ... So, that would have been, let's say 81, 82. I moved down ...
Mason Funk: [01:11:00] [inaudible] In one interview I conducted, actually, prior to OUTWORDS, for a totally different project. One woman said, and I only heard it from one source, but you might be sort of alluding to it, and maybe not. She said that right at the time when women were coming into their own and being empowered to get out of the role of traditional caregivers, suddenly there's this epidemic sweeping the gay male community, and women get sucked back in.
Torie Osborn: [01:11:30] Yeah. There was a whole kind of conversation about that in the lesbian community.
Mason Funk: Tell me what youre talking about.
Torie Osborn: Well, there was a conversation in the lesbian community about, Well, isn't this the same old, same old, feminine role of caretaking for others? But I didn't see it that way. And the reason I didn't see it that way is
Torie Osborn: [01:12:00] because it was an epidemic that was affecting people's health and, for good or for bad, there are a lot of lesbians -- and gay men too, but lesbians -- who are nurses, who are doctors, who are health educators, who are gym teachers in high school, who are on the front lines of health. Unless you're going to stand back and talk about the structural inequities of
Torie Osborn: [01:12:30] why are there more women nurses, and therefore, lesbian nurses. It was much more about who was there, who was on the front lines of the epidemic. I mean, I remember my friends who were gym teachers, who were teaching health education and teaching early HIV education or researchers like Amy Ross. I mean,
Torie Osborn: [01:13:00] people who were on the research end who were PhDs. Sometimes, when traditional things happen and you're so close to it, you've just ripped yourself away and empowered yourself and done something different than you were meant to be when you were raised. Sometimes, it's like you're afraid of being sucked into it again.
Torie Osborn: [01:13:30] And in fact, that is not what I saw. I did not see selfless women, Florence Nightingales going off and giving off themselves in a way that lost their empowerment, that is not what I saw. What I saw was brave people who happened to be nurses and doctors and researchers who were exactly at the front lines of the epidemic.
Torie Osborn: [01:14:00] If it had been something else, you know, I don't know. Then the other thing is what I saw in that lesbian nurse pacing my ... I'll never forget it as long as I live, that was courage. That's what that was. And if you want to call that giving up yourself, I don't think that's giving up yourself. I think that's the opposite of that. So while I understood, and I actually engaged, I think I even wrote an article in the lesbian news,
Torie Osborn: [01:14:30] when there was a famous, and I don't remember who wrote it, but a famous essay that kind of zinged through the women's community in the 80s, about how lesbians were going backwards by putting themself into the front lines of AIDS. Oh, and the other one, and this is the male version. The male version is, Well, we died off. And so lesbians took our roles as leaders in the gay community.
Torie Osborn: [01:15:00] Yeah, this is a gay male meme which goes like, Well, we were losing our guys. And so the lesbian stepped in. That is not what happened either. Neither of those They're both simplistic, facile ways of understanding a much more rich and empowering version of history.
Torie Osborn: [01:15:30] So I think I've done honor to the lesbian part in terms of the lesbian role of it. But the other piece of it, about the way that women came into power in the movement as these community-based organizations, like I was the first woman, executive director of the center, right. There'd been a series of men, and there had been a couple of women who'd applied, but they'd never gotten even a shot at it.
Torie Osborn: [01:16:00] And I was the first woman. And so it's like, I was used as an example of like, well, gay men were dying, so there was just Tori left or something like that. And that is also not true. I see it differently. I see it as two communities who had different experiences, gay men had more privilege, had more power, had more money. So, like my friend, Steve Kolzak
Torie Osborn: [01:16:30] who was head of paramount casting, and had cast What's that famous TV show in a bar? I can't believe I can't remember the name of ...
Mason Funk: Cheers.
Torie Osborn: Cheers. Right. He was a casting director who cast cheers. And so he was fired from paramount because he had AIDS. Now, he was, as he would tell me, I'm the Harvard golden boy. I had all the privilege in the world. And he ended up in the front lines of Act Up.
Torie Osborn: [01:17:00] And Act Up was filled -- the most militant, most important frontlines AIDS activist organization -- was filled with gay men who had privilege and power who suddenly had it yanked from them. Well, lesbians had been experiencing oppression. Whether it was their kids getting taken from them, discrimination against themselves as women or whatever it was. It was not a foreign concept to us.
Torie Osborn: [01:17:30] We didn't have that kind of power, but we were at the frontlines of the epidemic. And we also had been the foot soldiers in the women's movement, and that taught us a lot. Not just the women's movement, for people like me, I came out of the left, the anti-war movement and so forth. It's sort of the tail end of the civil rights movement, but I knew organizing. So, I look at it as like the women brought organizing skills,
Torie Osborn: [01:18:00] understanding of allyship with other movements and a kind of a social reform, a broader social reform network. Like, you know, we need to fix healthcare in this country. It's not just a gay issue, right. And men brought the rage that comes from having power taken away from them, and they were dying, their lovers were dying. But you needed both
Torie Osborn: [01:18:30] to build a powerful movement and force against what was a raid against us. You needed both. You needed the grassroots organizing that the women had, the allyship skills, the broader social reform analysis, all of the stuff that women had, the understanding of family, the understanding of the right wing. I mean, I could have told you that the right wing was coming after, cause they were coming after my friends kids,
Torie Osborn: [01:19:00] and we were organizing, Anita Bryant and so forth. I mean, you needed all of that to create a powerful movement. And so it wasn't that I was somehow not qualified except there was just a blank space. And I happened to fill it at the center. I think that the natural working together of gay men and women, it was mostly white gay men and women, not exclusively, but sort of in the key organizations
Torie Osborn: [01:19:30] that we came to respect and care for each other. Like, I had no gay male friends in San Francisco. And when I started to work on the On 64, the LaRouche Initiative in 1986, that would have quarantined. I mean my friends started to die. It's like I hadn't known gay men, I fell in love with them, they started to die.
Torie Osborn: [01:20:00] And so of course I was going to do what I could. Now, I'm not a nurse. I'm not in the health field. So were not at the front lines. But my friend who was, and who was the role model for me for five or six or seven years later? I mean, it was many years later that I got active at HIV, as active as she had been in 81 or 82. I just think that there's a lot of simple thinking and fear that drives these stereotypes.
Torie Osborn: [01:20:30] Oh no, we're taking care of men again. Well, the lesbians I know who took care of men again, were pretty free and strong. I mean, and the gay men had a whole new respect for women after they worked with us for awhile. I watched men unlearn their sexism, and I watched lesbians unlearn their, you know, kind of like gay men were frivolous
Torie Osborn: [01:21:00] and obsessed with sex. You know, maybe they were campy and they were sort of fun, but they really were like us. We were the serious organizers and the serious people who knew how to build social movements. I watched it all change, and it all changed during AIDS. I mean, AIDS was what changed it because we were forced together.
Torie Osborn: [01:21:30] It was like a forced marriage, originally, but we grew to love each other.
Mason Funk: That's great. That's really powerful. Thank you for that. So you described your time at the center -- and when you start talking about it, give us the full name so that we know what we're talking about.
Mason Funk: [01:22:00] You described that as a whole chapter in and of itself, which, of course, it was. I think there's two things I'd like to pull out. One was, I'm really interested in this idea that you learned about the balance, the dance between street activism and insider access. That's one thing that I think is really, you know, here we are today, we've got a lot of crap on our plates, good stuff on our plates, but we've got a lot of work to do. And I love hearing that, sort of, thought process around how you kind of need to find a way to do both simultaneously.
Mason Funk: [01:22:30] Maybe it's different people, maybe it's different days of the week, but you've got to go. And then I also, there's a specific thing that you mentioned that I've never heard about, which is the 1991 street protests, I've never heard any mention of that, and that's a really important chapter. But lets start out with a more sort of high level political conversation about that key lesson you learned. Starting off by saying, so I was executive director at blah, blah, blah.
Torie Osborn: [01:23:00] I was the first woman executive director at the At the time, it was called The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center. It is now the LGBT Center, I believe. Maybe LGBTQ, I don't know. The Center, which has always been a key institution In Los Angeles, I mean, I knew it for years before I was there. I was hired by Eric Rufus, may he rest in peace,
Torie Osborn: [01:23:30] who was a feminist gay man who was executive director before me and hired a bunch of strong feminists, and brought women back to the Center because women had walked out of the Center in the mid-80s because of the sexism. I mean, there were a few left, but it was mostly ... Like, when I got there in 1987, it was 70% white men on the board, the staff and the clients. And that was pretty much
Torie Osborn: [01:24:00] what it was until I left in. Now, it's much different. When I left in 93, it was 50-50 with a few trans and a few straight people working there. 50-50 on the board. And the clients was probably 60% men, but it was much more diverse. It was about 45% people of color on all three of those; board, staff and clients.
Torie Osborn: [01:24:30] It had just changed. That cultural change was one of the legacies that I am most proud of about the Center. It was the height of the AIDS epidemic. I mean, I was there from 87 to 93. I was executive director from 88 to 93. I can hardly believe it was only six and a half years, it seemed like forever. But it was really the height, I mean, if you look at the bell curve, it was the top of the bell curve in terms of the gay community being affected by AIDS.
Torie Osborn: [01:25:00] It was the first time I was an executive director, and Eric was a good mentor. When he hired me -- I was finance director, by the way -- we skipped the fact that I have an MBA from UCLA. That MBA got me the job as finance director under Eric. For $40,000 a year, I was the director of finance.
Torie Osborn: [01:25:30] I oversaw the accounting department and did the 990. The IRS and 990, myself, the first two years. I have this kind of stealth skill of financial management and background. When Eric left, I became executive director, and it was the height of the AIDS epidemic. And when I say this, people need to realize, because were talking about an era where ...
Torie Osborn: [01:26:00] I remember calling my father and telling him this, and he was like blown away. For three years during the height of the AIDS epidemic, we had a couple of hundred staff people. I lost a staff person a month to AIDS. So, we would have our monthly staff meeting and we would always memorialize. Every single month, we were memorializing somebody else. We were grieving as a community,
Torie Osborn: [01:26:30] grieving the loss of yet another staff person. I went to a hospital or a bedside every single day, and I went to a funeral or Memorial service every week, for three years. That was my life. It was like being in a battlefield, you know, it was a war. I had to learn, I mean, I learned a lot. You learn a lot when you're an executive director, when you're thrust into leadership during a crisis,
Torie Osborn: [01:27:00] unlike the orange fascist that we have now in Washington, who doesn't know from leadership, but you learn a lot. Remember, I come out of community organizing, I come out of grassroots organizing in the 60s and 70s. So, I'm not a stranger to protest. So, when Act Up and Queer Nation, and there were a bunch of other groups, by the way, that happened during that period of time,
Torie Osborn: [01:27:30] the best known is Act Up and Queer Nation. There was The Lesbian Avengers. I mean, there were a whole bunch of groups. Anyway, it was not, you know, when I would go to an Act Up meeting, it wasn't strange to me or when I would hear about a protest. I got a call from an active member telling me about an October, 1988. Remember, I became executive director in July, so this was only a couple of months later, but I'd been at the center for a year and I'd been to a couple Act Up meetings.
Torie Osborn: [01:28:00] And he said, We're going to focus on getting executive directors arrested. It wasn't my first arrest, I've been arrested before, but my first civil disobedience for gay issues. There were 88 of us who were arrested. And it might've been October of 89, I keep getting those mixed up. You'd have to check on that. But I do remember that there were 88 of us.
Torie Osborn: [01:28:30] Many of us were executive directors who were arrested. Troy Perry was arrested, and the, sort of, leaders in the gay community. Danny Warner was supposed to be arrested, he was head of Shanti, and then he ended up not showing up, but it was basically the most visible people. But it wasn't my first arrest. I remember the civil disobedience training, Connie Norman, may she rest in peace, was the trans woman who was doing the training.
Torie Osborn: [01:29:00] I remember her asking, How many people have been arrested before? Troy Perry and I raised our hands, we were the only ones who had been involved in other sorts of civil disobedience for other issues and the rest of the gay folks hadn't. So, I understood street protests, it wasn't foreign to me. What was actually less natural or experiential for me was understanding when,
Torie Osborn: [01:29:30] by positional authority, I became a member of the AIDS commission, which was the LA County commission on AIDS. Was sort of the insider body, if you will. And at that point, supervisor Edelman, it was a majority of conservatives, but this is in 87, so it's been going along for a while. I got it that my job was to be the insider,
Torie Osborn: [01:30:00] but also to understand, and whenever possible, whenever it made sense, to be an outsider. And we kind of coined the phrase inside-outside strategy, which is now part of the progressive lexicon, and pretty much people think about it. You know, you got the people protesting on the outside and you've got the people on the inside and you sort of coordinate. And I would talk to Marcus Stoploss, who was the leader of the group that wasn't supposed to have leaders,
Torie Osborn: [01:30:30] Act Up, quite regularly, and I would find out when they were doing protests. But it was more my AIDS commission [inaudible] and having access to supervisor Edelman and the city hall folks, because Mayor Bradley ... At the time, we got a city AIDS coordinator. There was just a lot of sort of inside-outside stuff, and coined the term
Torie Osborn: [01:31:00] and honed it down in a way that I think has been transferred to other movements. I don't think this is a new idea anymore, but it was to us, and I credit the gay AIDS world with kind of inventing and honing inside-outside strategy.
Mason Funk: Do you see people -- jumping to the present for a minute. Do you see examples of that work being done effectively in other social change movements right now?
Torie Osborn: [01:31:30] All the time. I worked for Sheila Kuehl, so I'm sort of on the inside and I can tell you who the better outside strategists are. For example, now, the criminal justice reform movement, Black Lives Matter, has been extremely successful. Now, there are a lot of reasons why I think the George Floyd murder sparked all of that protesting, but even before that, there was already a sea change.
Torie Osborn: [01:32:00] Well, this is a whole other topic, but government is very operational, it gets things done. It gets those social workers out the door, you know, it just does things. It's not very thoughtful or innovative. The ideas really come from the outside. And I think that people don't really realize that. When you're elected to office, you don't have time to think,
Torie Osborn: [01:32:30] you're just getting stuff done, or you're getting the policy written and through the hoops that you have to go through. So what I saw even before the Black Lives Matter protest, okay, so let's just talk pre COVID pre BLM criminal justice reform protest. I saw a criminal justice reform movement over time that got more and more attention on juvenile justice issues,
Torie Osborn: [01:33:00] on the unfairness, on the racism, on the, you know, whether it was in solitary confinement, being against juveniles, being in solitary, whatever the issue was. I saw the outside getting more and more sophisticated about enlightening and working with the inside. Now, the difference, I think, now, in California, is you have a lot of people in elected office, in policymaking positions who are pretty progressive
Torie Osborn: [01:33:30] and want to change. So it's a little different than we were up against. I mean, it's not different in terms of the federal government, but there's no outside movement. I think that we got to get rid of them. I think the Black Lives Matter protest has radicalized, has educated a lot of white people, as well as others, as well as created just a sea change of consciousness around race
Torie Osborn: [01:34:00] and racism and criminal justice and equity issues. But we don't have the political kind of ... We don't even have the basics that we could change the policy if we wanted to. We could locally, but we can't nationally. So we have some work to do to catch up, but I think the inside-outside, I have watched it since those days in AIDS, and criminal justice reform has done it really well. Some of the economic justice movements,
Torie Osborn: [01:34:30] the living wage campaign, for example, did it really well inside-outside, you know, you elect a few good people and then you push them. And then you present them with the ideas, and you kind of work together. It's really about working together. And that's really what it's about. It's not about pushing them as much as it's about collaborating.
Mason Funk: Great. I love that. Thank you. Now, these street protests.
Torie Osborn: Oh, yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:35:00] You said 50,000 people on the streets over 11 days.
Torie Osborn: It was huge. And if you were to ...
Mason Funk: Do me a favor, just start in by saying as if you're telling me a story.
Torie Osborn: Okay. All right. So, on September 30th, 1991 ... I'm going to back up even a little bit further. So, the centerpiece of the LGBT legislative agenda in California, as long as I had been in California,
Torie Osborn: [01:35:30] like since the 70s had been a simple job equity bill, it was called AB-1 when it was first introduced, it ended up being AB-101. It was a simple job equity bill that just basically said there would not be That added sexual orientation. Didn't even deal with gender identity, just sexual orientation onto the list of classes of people who couldn't be discriminated against in the workplace. Simple job equity bill, simple, simple, simple, nothing fancy.
Torie Osborn: [01:36:00] It is the governor's race in 1990. Yeah, 1990. And Dianne Feinstein is running against Pete Wilson. She loses by a hundred thousand votes, which in California is nothing. And it was arguably because Pete Wilson ran saying he would sign AB-101.
Torie Osborn: [01:36:30] He ran on a pro gay rights platform. And he got, at least, a hundred thousand log cabin club members to vote for him who were conservative, but voted for him. Had he not said that, he would have lost and Dianne Feinstein would have been governor. She lost, he was governor. And then he vetoed it. When it came up on his desk, he vetoed it. Now, he basically capitulated to the right wing.
Torie Osborn: [01:37:00] Loius Sheldon, who just recently died, was our very own Pat Buchanan, our very own right-wing minister who was homophobic, and to his bones, and just did a better lobbying job. Either that, or Pete Wilson lied, I don't know what his deal was, but he ended up vetoing the bill. Now, the gay community was the most mobilized it had ever been. You know, like we mentioned, Queer Nation, Act Up.
Torie Osborn: [01:37:30] 1991 is when the bill finally came through and he vetoed it. Okay. September 30th is the deadline for the governor to sign or veto or just let pass all legislation. So, on September 25th, a Queer Nation and Act Up activist named Rob Roberts, a handsome red-headed gay man in West Hollywood,
Torie Osborn: [01:38:00] set up a tent and a one man monitoring, Karen Oakham covered all this really well, so it does exist in journalistic archives. Rob Roberts was like a one man. He said, I'm going to have a hunger strike until we see ... I think it was a hunger strike. Anyway, he set up his tent and he was a watchdog. And we started to go visit and more tents popped up.
Torie Osborn: [01:38:30] And it was like West Hollywood became the center of the gay movement watching to make sure that our AB-101 was signed because it had passed the legislature. And he vetoed it. So on September 30th, the last day of the season, he vetoes the bill and people went nuts. We hit the streets. Some of us were already the day that it vetoed. We had a press conference at the center. I was executive director of the center.
Torie Osborn: [01:39:00] We had a press conference at the center. We all went down to Rob Robert's tent. He was like center central in West Hollywood. And that Crescent circle, that Creston, square, whatever it's called. And we hit the streets that night, and people went crazy. In fact, there's an interesting story that I don't think has ever been told. Bill Clinton was in town for a fundraiser. Remember, this is 1991 and he Oh, yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:39:30] Im gonna sneeze, just give me one sec. I didn't want to sneeze on your story. Actually went away. Okay.
Torie Osborn: So, he's in town and probably 500 -- it wasn't a big crowd, but it was a very militant crowd -- were going nuts, stopping traffic up on Sunset Boulevard, just going crazy that this guy had dared to campaign
Torie Osborn: [01:40:00] and win saying he was going to sign it. And then vetoing AB-101. So, Bill Clinton is actually driving through West Hollywood to some fundraiser, and he sees all this commotion and he asks, "What the heck's going on here." And he finds out about it. And it was a year later, in 1992, when Clinton came to town,
Torie Osborn: [01:40:30] and talked about that. Talked about the AB-101 protest that really enamored him, or the community of him, that started the sort of love affair between the gay community and Bill Clinton, that started in Los Angeles. But anyway, I digress. So we kind of just hit the streets, like in a crazy chaotic way that night, but it, the Center became, like
Torie Osborn: [01:41:00] I'm joking because Lily Tomlin did the Center's fundraiser, like, or the big gala, like a month later. And she did Ernestine and she pretended to be you know, like the, the the center switchboard, "Hello, this is the gay and lesbian center chant hotline. No tonight we're going to Beverly Hills and the chat is we're here, we're queer, and we're not going shopping.
Torie Osborn: [01:41:30] So, the Center became the center of finding out where the next demonstration was. And for two weeks, the demonstrations, thousands of people hit the streets. I had a state trooper telling me it was the largest demonstration ... It was the largest civil unrest. Now, this is before the uprising of '92, right. But the largest civil unrest in California history,
Torie Osborn: [01:42:00] there were thousands of people in the streets. That first night we hired a flatbed truck. And I mean, there were tens of thousands of people and some people marched to Century Plaza because that's where Wilson was in town for a fundraiser. There was a police riot that night, and there were a bunch of people who sued the LAPD for getting their heads cracked open, and then a bunch of other people marched to LACMA, for some reason, to the LA County Museum of Art. I can't even remember the reason why.
Torie Osborn: [01:42:30] So we had enough people, we had thousands of people in the streets that there were two separate marches and protests, but every night the venue would change and they would shut down the traffic. It was the airport, or it was in Silver Lake, or it was Beverly Hills, like I said, it was wild. The thing that I remember in one of the photographs that I'm going to send you guys is,
Torie Osborn: [01:43:00] we did a demonstration in Sacramento, for Coming Out day, for October 11th, which was only a couple of weeks later. It was September 30th, October 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th. So, we did a Coming Out day, maybe the 12th or 13th or something, in Sacramento. We did a big demonstration and people from across the state. I just ran into a photograph,
Torie Osborn: [01:43:30] and I was looking for photographs, with Connie Norman -- the trans activist, AIDS activist Act Up person -- and [inaudible] and me. [inaudible] flew in to speak. It was a big deal. So, there has been coverage of it. Very often, I mean, LA is not always seen as the center of the movement, but we were the center of the movement for those years. And I think
Torie Osborn: [01:44:00] San Francisco didn't like that, and New York didn't like that. But, those demonstrations in 1991, I mean, at least 50,000 people on the streets.
Mason Funk: Wow. That's amazing. That's an incredible story. And I'm taking notes about these photos because I want to make sure we get some of those. Okay. So, we're on the home stretch. Sean Strub is on our list of people,
Mason Funk: [01:44:30] so you don't need to talk about him. We're going to interview him. But, Ken Dawson, I love how you talked about him as kind of one of the pioneers in creating functioning non-profit organizations that would change the world. So can you talk a little bit about Ken Dawson?
Torie Osborn: You know, I just recently had my 70th birthday party. Oh my God. And Sean Strub, and I were reminiscing cause it was a zoom party,
Torie Osborn: [01:45:00] and he was on it. And I was trying to remember when I first met Ken, and I don't remember when I first met Ken. I knew Sean from 1986, Sean did the direct mail for our No On 64, stop the LaRouche initiative to quarantine people with AIDS. So I had met Sean in 86. We've been friends ever since. But Ken and Sean were very close, they were business partners for that direct mail company. Although it was really, Sean was the entrepreneur. Ken had been the first executive.
Mason Funk: [01:45:30] Ken Dawnson
Torie Osborn: Yes. Ken Dawson had been the first executive director of SAGE, the Senior Action in a Gay Environment, or whatever it stands for, which was an important institution in the gay community. And he became sort of like the guru, the mentor to the movement as we were getting more organized,
Torie Osborn: [01:46:00] and as we were getting more government money for the AIDS piece of what we were doing in the community, we were building bigger and bigger organizations. The center, when I first went there, I think it had 60 staff people, and when I left, it had 300. Lord knows how many thousands it has now. So, this has continued. So there was a growth in numbers
Torie Osborn: [01:46:30] and diversity of executive directors and Ken Dawson became our sort of mentor. He had a belief that executive directors of LGBT ... First of all, he taught me a lot about just how to be an executive director, but he also believed that we needed to learn from each other.
Torie Osborn: [01:47:00] He created these peer based convenings of executive directors that are still going on. I mean, I've been mentoring the E.D at the LGBT center in Long Beach, and these executive director gatherings are still going on today. So, it's gone on a long time. Ken was just a lovely person. I have a picture of him right back there. I don't think you can see it on the screen.
Torie Osborn: [01:47:30] In fact, Sean was in the hospital room when I saw Ken the last time. I think he died in 92, if I'm not mistaken. Sean was there when I went to visit him at the hospital, and he said to me, I mean, he was, like in a coma, but he said, Tori, the executive director of Los Angeles. And, of course, I thought he had made a mistake.
Torie Osborn: [01:48:00] I thought, cause he was dying and he made a mistake. But Sean had told me, Oh, no. That's what he calls you, the executive director of Los Angeles. I wear that probably, I remember that fondly.
Mason Funk: Wonderful. Wonderful. And then let's talk briefly about Jean OLeary.
Torie Osborn: Oh, yeah. Jean OLeary. Speaking of executive directors, one Institute did a tribute to her --
Torie Osborn: [01:48:30] I don't know, five years ago or something, Ive lost track of time -- in preparing some remarks for it, I realized that Jean OLeary, who I first heard of when she ran Lesbian Feminist Liberation, she founded Lesbian Feminist Liberation, which was one of the first lesbian feminist groups. I mean, in like 19 I don't know what 71. I mean, honestly, it was not that long after Stonewall
Torie Osborn: [01:49:00] that she created a lesbian feminist, named it and a presence, and then went on to be, she was the executive director. One thing is she's been executive director of more organizations, certainly, than I have. She was executive director of the NGTF, as it was at the time, National Gay Task Force, before the L went in. She was executive director.
Torie Osborn: [01:49:30] She started a group, a legal group called NGRA, National Gay Rights Advocates, which later collapsed, but was it a legal, gay, legal group. She was Lesbian Feminist Liberation. I don't know what else she ran, but she was a pioneering person, more as an insider. She was partners with Midge Costanza, when Midge was in the White House,
Torie Osborn: [01:50:00] kind of closeted, I don't know how many people knew about -- the gay community all knew about it cause we all talk, we all love gossip, we love queer gossip. But she had access to the Jimmy Carter administration. She was a member of the DNC. I mean, I've never been kind of an inside democratic party Politico, but that's been, that was Jean's thing. She was at the 1977 women's conference in Houston.
Torie Osborn: [01:50:30] That was really important because they approved, they had like a platform or something that approved lesbian rights. It was a big deal for the organized women's movement that when Betty Friedan had been known for kicking the lesbians like Ivy Batini out, the lavender purge, I think they called it. Well, that's what we call the state department there. Lavender menace of NOW in the 60s.
Torie Osborn: [01:51:00] It was late 60s, early 70s. So in 77 for the women's movement, the organized women's movement presence, to actually adopt a platform of pro lesbian rights was a big deal on Jean OLeary had a big part in that. Then she tried to start a group called the National Lesbian Feminist Organization with Jeanne Cordova, and some other folks. And it never really happened,
Torie Osborn: [01:51:30] but Jean was a pioneer of, sort of, lesbian feminism, and lesbians and gay men working together. She was really big in the 70s, sort of before my time, and she was a close personal friend. She was also a close personal friend of Sean Strubs, by the way. He was given her papers to go through and stuff. So she had ...
Mason Funk: And, am I not mistaken that she and Rob Eichberg created National Coming Out?
Torie Osborn: [01:52:00] I completely forgot about that. Yes, Rob Eichberg, who had already done the advocate experience, which was sort of like the gay [inaudible]. So, he already had a name and a following. He was a very charismatic person, I don't know if you knew Rob. Rob Eichberg ended up moving down to Santa Fe and then dying of AIDS.
Torie Osborn: [01:52:30] He and Jean were friends and colleagues, and they created National Coming Out Day. They got Keith Haring to actually ... I think Sean Strub, I will bet you anything Sean Strub was the one who got, Sean got Keith Haring to do the logo for the No On 64 campaign. Sean was friends with all these artists in New York, these gay artists. He was friends with Keith Haring.
Torie Osborn: [01:53:00] So I'm betting that it was her friendship with Sean that got Keith Haring to do the logo for National Coming Out Day. But whatever she and Rob Eichberg created National Coming Out Day. I mean, sort of as a thing, it was already a grassroots holiday. Like, even before there existed a logo and a name. Then, it was a project of HRC. I did the first national coming out day in LA in 19 -- Ooh. When would that have been? 88,
Torie Osborn: [01:53:30] I think. And I'm thinking about it because I recently reconnected with somebody who Id met that day. We had an open mic, just an open mic to tell your coming out story, we had 800 people show up. It was phenomenal. Just regular queers telling their stories, you know, a Latino guy who, in order to get in with the gang, had beaten up other gay men and then regretted it
Torie Osborn: [01:54:00] and had gone back and apologized to people who had been victims, and was sort of like bearing his soul. Peoples stories were incredible. The first people who started a gay rights group up in Santa Clarita, and all kinds of people. It had a grassroots sort of energy to it, even before Rob and Jean created the branding.
Mason Funk: [01:54:30] Yeah. One of the very, very first interviews for OUTWORDS was Rob's mom, who's still like in her nineties. And so we interviewed her to get a little piece of Rob's story. And it was wonderful. I never met him myself.
Torie Osborn: He was very charismatic, very good looking and very charismatic.
Mason Funk: Yeah. We're down to the five or four questions, which we ask the same four final questions to all of our subjects.
Mason Funk: [01:55:00] And these are intended to be short and sweet, although if you want to go off on a long tangent, that's fine too. The first one is, what would you tell, if you could talk to your 15 year old self today, what would you tell 15 year old Torie Osborn?
Torie Osborn: I mean, the first thing that came to mind was, come out, come out, come out, come out, come out, don't be afraid.
Torie Osborn: [01:55:30] I mean, it's so different now, but back then in 1965, when I turned 15, it was just inconceivable, what we've been able to do. So, if I was talking to her back then, I would say, Let go of the self hatred, come out of the closet, grab life as soon as you can. That would really be it. I mean, I feel like we're in a different era
Torie Osborn: [01:56:00] where the issues that are oppressive to people are, maybe, a little different. I mean, I see a lot of depression and suicidal ideation. So, it's not the same thing. Unless you're in a small town, then it's homophobic, religious family, you know, you're just not going to have the same struggles today, but you have different struggles.
Torie Osborn: [01:56:30] And I guess to everybody, I would just say, let go of the fear. Life is short and it is beautiful. All of my friends who have died of AIDS or cancer, Jean OLeary, all my friends who've died of AIDS. None of them on their bedside, I'm their deathbeds, they had no regrets about their activism. They had no regrets about their sort of fulfilling themselves.
Torie Osborn: [01:57:00] Paul Monette was thrilled that he had become a writer. He was already a writer, but he was writing like grade B screenplays. And he just took life when he got AIDS, he compressed into the eight years -- or whatever he had -- decades of achievement. And so that's what I want from every 15 year old, queer or non-queer, is be yourself,
Torie Osborn: [01:57:30] come out, be your greatest self. Don't be afraid. Don't hold yourself back, shine your light.
Mason Funk: Great. Great. Do you think there is such a thing as a queer super power? And if so, how would you define it?
Torie Osborn: Well, I used to say when I would give speeches, if there is a if there is a gay gene, it's the gene for fun. A gay superpower, you know,
Torie Osborn: [01:58:00] I have thought about this, and what I used to say -- aside from the gay gene joke -- is I used to say that the thing about being queer is understanding ... It's like we understand both sides. We have a different approach to things, where there's a kind of an inventiveness, an outsider ... But we're not outsiders anymore, so I'm not sure that this is the same.
Torie Osborn: [01:58:30] Where we bring a slightly outsider sort of sexually free perspective. I don't know what the queer superpower is now. When I wrote my book, which was back in 96, it was really about thinking out of the box, being a third gender, if you will, being different.
Torie Osborn: [01:59:00] But I'm not sure that's the same. I think it's a new normal with us, we've queerified marriage, you know, the world is different, especially with trans. So I don't know what the new superpower is. I will tell you that, at 70, I think that queer or straight that the superpower is fearlessness.
Torie Osborn: [01:59:30] I really believe that we have to overcome doubt, self-doubt, doubt and fear and just go for it.
Mason Funk: Great. Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Torie Osborn: I am obsessed with the next generation. You know, I don't have kids, I have no regrets, not having kids,
Torie Osborn: [02:00:00] but I really feel an intense, especially at 70, I feel an intense responsibility to those who come after me. Like my kids writ large, my children and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, to tell the story of how we did it. How did we move the needle 15 points, in less than a generation? How did we do that?
Torie Osborn: [02:00:30] And so the story, not my individual story, but as my story merges with the community's story; whether it's with lesbian feminists, building women's music cities, or whether it's with gay men fighting AIDS and being arrested at Act Up. For me, it's not so much the individual story, it's the community story. And the community story is really a story of hope in the face of death,
Torie Osborn: [02:01:00] oppression, violence, ostracism from the tribe. I mean, those seven years that I didn't go home to my family. I mean, I was in my twenties. I wasn't 13 years old, that would have been devastating. I was in my twenties. I had a life, I had another reality, and my dad came to visit me, so it was fine. But still,
Torie Osborn: [02:01:30] I know what ostracism from the tribe feels like because I've been through it, and fortunately it's less and less common. But whatever the oppression or discrimination is, it has made me know when we collectively can power change and that is the best thing ever.
Torie Osborn: [02:02:00] So, I don't tell my story for me, or for immortality, I tell my story because in my story, there are lessons for you.
Mason Funk: Well, that kind of goes to the heart of my next question, which is, what do you see as the importance, and this is my final question, of a project like OUTWORDS, which is capturing and preserving and sharing stories like yours, and hundreds of other pioneers and elders of our movement.
Torie Osborn: [02:02:30] First of all, I think there's inherent merit in just capturing people on video, people as they are, not just audio, you know, kind of people's facial expressions and so forth. But I guess I do really think we have a collective story to tell about social change in America. It's worldwide,
Torie Osborn: [02:03:00] but it's different here. And we have a responsibility to, especially those of us who've straddled eras, the pre Stonewall and post Stonewall, or pre Stonewall post Stonewall and post whatever. I mean, we're in a totally different era now. It's so funny, I have a resistance group that has been working since Trump was elected.
Torie Osborn: [02:03:30] It's straight and gay, it's mostly women. It's mostly white women cause it was mostly West side people who had worked on Hillary's campaign -- it just happened to be -- but who came door knocking with me for Hillary in 2016. But what I'm really struck by is how much I have learned from AIDS, or from bringing men and women together in the LGBT movement, or from Ken Dawson, in being an executive director or Eric Rufus from my mentors.
Torie Osborn: [02:04:00] What I have learned that I bring to my resistance group. You know, just hope, because I've seen it. I've seen death taking people, and instead five more people come alive and make it their life's work to change things, to get drugs to people who need it.
Torie Osborn: [02:04:30] I don't know, I guess it's not just about capturing our stories. It's about human survival and learning how to do it better. And I think that's an ongoing human struggle. I mean, we'll get through this current fascist period, I believe, and well rise again. And queers will be at the forefront of whatever the next movement is. We always have been, whether closeted or not,
Torie Osborn: [02:05:00] we have always been in the social reform movements. I don't care what they are, we've always been there. And that makes your job tricky because what is it about queers that makes it different from other social history of other community organizers or social reformers. I think this is a challenging time,
Torie Osborn: [02:05:30] and the stories that we tell will be pivotal to how we overcome it and how we move the world forward. How do we battle frigging climate change? It all learns from the other one, social movements learn from each other. They pass the torch to each other. It's not just queer to queer generation, but it's queer to Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter to climate change activists. I mean, we're all connected.
Mason Funk: [02:06:00] That has been one of the guiding principles/objectives of this, this project, this organization, which is the belief that these stories that we're collecting from within the queer community absolutely have relevance to other activist movements. I can't say, for sure, that I've seen it tested out, but when you say that that's a true proposition,
Mason Funk: [02:06:30] I'm going to believe you because it's been my hope and it's our goal. It's in our mission statement.
Torie Osborn: I do believe.
Mason Funk: Yeah. All right. Well, is there anything that you want to say that you feel like we haven't covered?
Torie Osborn: I mean, we've covered a lot. You've gotten a lot of stories out of me that I've never told before, or have not told in the same way. There's lots, there's always lots more, but I think what you've got is, you know, is important.
Mason Funk: [02:07:00] Yeah. Great. Well, thank you. I really appreciate it. I've taken lots of notes about things to follow up with you about. That's so funny, your cat just walked into the frame. The cat must've figured it out. It's over. It's time to quit. So, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Andrew, is there anything, anything at all? Andrew will work with you,
Mason Funk: [02:07:30] Tori, to get the footage and the kits back to us. So, he'll coordinate that. Thank you, Andrew, so much for staying in, and thank you, Tori. Thank you so, so much.
Torie Osborn: Thank you so much. So, Andrew, are you still thinking of coming today or have you had it?
Mason Funk: It might be a good idea. Yeah. I'm just going to stop the recording real quick. I'm going to sign off.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Andrew Lush
Date: September 10, 2020
Location: Home of Torie Osborn, Santa Monica, CA (Remote)