We live in an era colored by massive victories for LGBT rights. As of last June, same-sex couples can legally wed anywhere in the United States. Children as young as 14 are coming out as queer in social media posts. The LGBT community is courted by legislators, with President Obama being the first to pose for the covering of a gay magazine.
There are still problems, but the steps that have been made are staggeringand it merely takes one small peek into the not-so-distant past to reveal just how much has been gained.
In 1982, the famed journalist and historian Studs Terkel sat down with what was then called Mothers and Friends of Gays( afterward, it would become PFLAG) in Chicago. Terkel interviewed four members of the group, all mothers, for his long-running prove on local radio station WFMT.
Today, the hourlong recording of the heartbreaking interview is available for the first time in decades, exclusive to the Daily Dot.
On Thursday, WFMT launched the Studs Terkel Radio Archive. As part of a partnership with the Chicago History Museum, the archive will eventually home 5,600 interviews from Terkel’s radio show, which aired from 1952 to 1997.
The web archive is being supported by a Kickstarter fundraiser that aims to raise $75,000 for the preservation of Terkel’s legacy as the forefather of modern-day storytelling.
Terkel interviewed everyone during his 46 years on air: from Martin Luther King Jr . to Janis Joplin, Tennessee Williams to Muhammed Ali. But it was the iconic journalist’s dedication to interviewing civil rights activists on the fringes that defined him apartand this interview with an early iteration of PFLAG is something most journalists of the time would not have touched.
The agonizing clip exposes a different world for LGBT rights( spoiler: there weren’t any ). The four Chicago-area parents who sat down with Terkel in 1982 spoke of the “tragedy” of detecting their children were gay in a world that viciously shunned and taunted them.
In one segment, a father named Herb explains the basic premise of this semi-underground parenting subsistence group.
“The group that we represent actually is called Parents and Friends of Gays. It is a group that meets once a month. And is really here number 1 to supporting our gay children and number two to support the parents of the lesbians. Because any mother who has a lesbian child knows, its a rather traumatic experience when they first find out that their child is gay. We try to help these mothers in their times of require. By the same token, we try to help our children with supportbecause being lesbian, as we all know, is really not accepted by society these days. In some instances it’s really quite a handicap for these kids. To have society turned against them and the parents turned against them, I think, is a little bit too much.”
To hear homosexuality referred to as a “handicap” is stunning from a 2016 vantage point. And what’s even more of a shock is realizing, through the interview’s progression, that one of the biggest fights a parent faced in 1982 was the decision to come outnot as gay themselves, but as the parent of a gay child.
“I felt that if I continued to hide the fact that he is gay, Im only concealing the acceptance that I’m giving him, ” said Marshall, who chose to publicly come out as the parent of a lesbian son on Terkel’s program. “And there might be some repercussions, is available on business and being a member of the community. I expect to hear some talk about it. But I am taking my stand at this phase and I dont regret it.”
Though the four mothers assembled for the interview spoke largely of their own struggles to accept their lesbian children, so much more is revealed about the restrictions placed on the LGBT community at the time. In one statement, Herb explained how he realized that his son would never have childrenand you realize, while listening, that adoption, marriage, and family were simply inconceivable options for a lesbian person back then.
In another segment of the interview, a mom named Bessie discussed her dreads for the discrimination her daughter would face, including the possibility that she would never be able to work due to her sex orientation.
“My daughter came out to me about 3 years ago. It was a very traumatic situation for usbecause she was in college, and shes a black female. And my feelings were, here shes a black both women and take on to be a member of another minority group. That in itself would make it very difficult for her to get a job, and that was my main concern. I was concerned also about the kind of support that she would get: from peers, from the community at large, around her sex preferance. It was actually rough for me, because Im guessing ‘no one is going to hire my daughter.Shes going to have problems get heard, being black. Shes going to have problems get heard, being a female. And then to be a lesbian.’ It was truly rough for me. ”
Terkel’s interview not an easy listen, but its one that puts everything into perspective. To hear four loving mothers in defensive commotion, stating over and over again that “the homosexual people are actually no different from the rest of us, ” in an effort to convince the public not to come after their children with stakes and torchesis painful.
Such an important historical document serves to remind us of the treacherous, uphill climb that the LGBT community( and our families and allies) undertake through decades of hatred and shaming. Ultimately, it reminds us to be grateful for what we have gained.
Illustration via Max Fleishman