Bonnie Aspen – Discrimination

“What would the neighbors think?”

When we brought to the [commune] family that, after these years of knowing each other, we were deeply in love, and wanted our turn to have a family wedding in the garden like everyone else was doing, and Willow announced that at breakfast around the commune table, there was stark silence. And then finally someone said, “But what would the neighbors think?” This is 1979, in a commune, in the coastal range of Oregon! I mean, the log trucks slowed down on the road to watch the people swimming naked in the creek. They were concerned about “what the neighbors would think” about having a gay wedding in the garden. The person that voiced that—which was one of the louder voices in that commune—even if that was just her opinion, no one else said anything. That was actually the first time I encountered homophobia.

We were blown out. I mean, they were very supportive about Willow being gay. Willow’s mom ended up leaving the commune over that. That was one of her big heartbreaks; if they weren’t family enough to let that happen there, she didn’t want to continue to be there.


Once we moved to California, I was so done with being a closeted teacher. I mean, I was done with teaching forever, because I couldn’t imagine being in a school where it was okay to be gay. I was just done with teaching. It turns out that in California, at least in the independent schools, they’re thrilled if you’re gay, because they get to count that as part of their diversity. We’re talking near Berkeley. Although, even while were in California, certainly [that was only] at independent schools. They were still firing public school teachers in the vicinity, for supposed gay activities of any kind. That happened several times while we lived in the Bay Area. We’d all shake our heads and go, “but it’s the Bay Area.”

[We haven’t encountered homophobia here in Spokane.] Not in an icky way. I mean, certainly the reporters have no trouble finding the phone number to call when there’s a [“gay”] news item. I don’t think I’m in their Rolodex but, you know, they Google, “Spokane,” “gay,” and my name pops up really, really very high. So that means any other organization’s folks could find [us], and there’s never been anything ucky.

The only thing that’s happened at all is one Halloween night our “John Kerry for President” sign, in our front yard, that had a rainbow flag on it and a smiley face balloon, disappeared. And it might have been a Halloween prank. It might have been a John Kerry hater. It might have been somebody that really detested gay people. It might have been just the smiley face balloon. But really: that’s the only thing.


I think that you experience what you believe. I think people who have grown up [in Spokane], all their lives, experience [homophobic] hate and prejudice, and have created a lot of that in their lives. I think it’s harder to come out in the place that you’re from.


[In the early aughts] there was no cohesion to the gay community at all. The groups were very disparate. INBA was INBA. The lesbians were pretty much not to be found. The drag queens did the drag queen thing. All of the little groups spent a lot of time sniping at each other. You know, “Oh, those,” fill-in-the-blank, “they’re only interested in . . . Oh, those lesbians. They’re only interested in softball. Oh, the drag queens . . . All they’re going to do is . . .”


Source: Interview with Maureen Nickerson, 15 August 2007; transcribed by J. Zander; edited by Laura S. Hodgman. Audio file held in the Museum of Arts and Culture.