Ann Wood – Activism

“I have frantic people on the phone.”

In June of ’84 or June of ’83, Katie Urbanek arrived in town with her husband[, Harry]. One of the big moving companies . . . he was an executive in that. He arrived in town and she arrived along with him. They had just found out they had a gay son and gone through the whole terrible thing for them. But come around to it. And made connections, and become part of the 25 people that gathered in Los Angeles in the latter part of 1981 . . . A total of 25 people gathered there from all over the country and formed PFLAG. It was after that [meeting in L. A.], you see, [Harry Urbanek got] transferred from being in Colorado, I think, to Spokane.

Well, [Katie and] Helen Bonser . . . Helen Bonser is a social worker. She as a social worker had just bumped into the gay world and I think has a gay daughter . . . you know. And then [Helen] met Katie. I don’t know how that twosome came together, but that twosome was dynamo. They within the pace of the next six months, they got several other people. Then they arranged to show some films at the public library and advertised in the paper. We saw the ad. We went to the library that day, saw the program, and the rest is history, because we just became part of that group totally, just locked into it. And they locked into us. So that’s how that started.

[PFLAG] had meetings every month. And presumably for parents, you see. Parents and families. Well, the gay community in Spokane that at that point—and I have it somewhere—had 30 different organizations of gays in Spokane.

Of terror of AIDS [and due to the need at that time for] protection and so on, they stopped organizing, but [PFLAG] expanded. And they came in [to PFLAG]. We had meetings of 60 people! [We met at a Lutheran church], near Shadle center. We met up there for a while and then we moved down to [St. John’s] Cathedral.

[PFLAG] was an extremely powerful thing, and they had had a phone line in the past, and something went wrong. Somebody mishandled it. But they hung on to the telephone number. So we had the telephone number. We reactivated it and we started paying. Larry Stone often gave us money.

Anyway, we reactivated the phone line and also established at that time that it would always be answered by a person. Anyway, it ended up finally it became our telephone number. And it was 24 hours a day. Somewhere around here I have a book . . . At times I tried to log them. There were thousands of calls and they were from all over. If you just think about telephone service back in the ‘80s, we had calls from hundreds of miles around Spokane.

We had phone calls from the Seattle operator, saying, “I have frantic people on the phone and we can’t find anything in the Yellow Pages. Can you help us, because there’s an entry in your phone book?” The only entry in the Seattle books that had the word “gay” in it anywhere was a gay youth emergency . . . No, that wasn’t the word. It was like [a crisis] line or something. Well, at least I had by then had numbers in Seattle for connections, so I could give the numbers back. It was awful.

The other long-distance numbers we had a lot of, which is an interesting commentary, and that was calls from literally all over the country. Saying, “What’s the weather like in . . .” You know, these were gays. “I’ve got a job possibility in Spokane. What’s it like?” There were lots of job possibilities in Spokane. People were coming to Spokane. They said everybody was leaving Spokane, and I said, “You should be on our phone lines. They’re coming.” It was interesting.

A lot of gays came to Spokane [in] the middle ‘80s. Well, of course, gays in the boondocks—they had no life at all. And once that AIDS thing happened, their life was finished. They just didn’t have any chance, so they wanted to get out. But these were calls from Arkansas . . . I don’t know where all. Amazing.

That went on for a long, long time. We were full-time at it for 10 to 12 years and then we started moving away.


Girl Scouts were pretty wide open. They would even wanted programs given. [They’d say,] “Come to our board meeting and tell us your . . . “Homosexuality 101 [PFLAG] would give at the drop of a hat. Now that’s not to say there weren’t some Girl Scouts that had to be worked on . . .

The reaction to gays all over the world, all over the country, all over each town, is spotty because each person seems to be having to go through their own little thing. For instance, PFLAG hardly exists anymore because . . . the parents aren’t in a panic state about it. We used to get parents in that were absolutely—aughhhh!—frozen. And we don’t get that anymore. They’ve been educated by the press, by the world, by the television. So there is a change. My request when the last couple of years when I was moving out of everything, I would say, “I have one request with you. I’m no good at that department, but get on it now, and get pro-gay stuff to the obstetrical departments. To the doctors. To the nursery schools. To the baby centers, so that people can know they might have a gay child! “You might have a gay child. It is not bad. You might have a left-handed child. It’s not bad.” We’ve got to get them early. I have seen young, about-to-be fathers, “God dammit, that baby of mine that she’s carrying better not be gay!” You know? You’ve got to stop that.


Source: Interview with Allegra McFarland, 2 April 2012; transcribed by J. Zander; edited by Laura S. Hodgman; audio held at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, OH 975-5.