Gene Otto – Mental Health

“I think you’re sick and you need to go get help.”

Back in, it was probably ‘78, ’79 . . . That would have been when a guy by the name of Ben Bray started a gay crisis hotline. We all volunteered for it. It was through the mental health department. He funded it himself. Most of the time he was the only one on it. We would get lots of people calling. Most of [the callers] were basically, “Can I get a date?” “Where’s the bar?” But there were other people that were really in bad situations, like “My boyfriend beat me up and threw me on the street,” “I’m going to commit suicide,” those kind of things—and we had a referral litany. We had one guy we called “Beater.” He’d always call up and try to get somebody who didn’t hang up, before he’d tell you what he was doing. [There were] those people that would call up and say “You’re a dirty rotten whatever.” You’d just say “Well, thank you very much for caring. I think you’re sick and you need to go get help. Here’s somebody to talk to,” if they were still on the line. You tried to change the world around you, rather than become ugly like it was.

***

Most bar people never knew [about homosexuality being removed from the DSM in 1973]. I think that’s the biggest thing you could say. If they did, they didn’t know exactly what it meant for them. It was like, “Those people over there in their little ivory towers, they can think all their thoughts. We’re down here making a living.” We were lucky in that we [knew], from Great Falls, Montana, a lesbian who was a clinical psychologist and other professional people. So at least you were aware of what it meant. I would say the average bar person hadn’t read a newspaper, let alone an article on it. You’re in Spokane, Washington. You’re not in San Francisco, New York, [or] Washington, D. C.

***

Sources: Interview with Susan Williams on 3 December 2006, held at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture; interview with Laura S. Hodgman on 27 November 2012.