Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project


Blood on SOME

Oral History:

Betty Johanna

Interviewed on September 13, 2001
by Ruth Pettis and Susan Kirchofer
Transcribed by Ruth Pettis

"This initiative was messing with our lives."

Betty: I went to Roosevelt High School, and there's Ravenna Cowen Park nearby, which has a ravine in it. I can remember hearing people talking about how football players were going to go down to the park and beat up gays. I didn't know who gays were, and why somebody would want to beat them up. I just knew it was wrong.

Ruth: Do you think there's been an undercurrent in your life about identifying with the underdog?

Betty: Oh, yeah! [laughs] And I'm not sure how that got there, either. Iím lucky, I guess.

Ruth: Tell me about when somebody introduced you to Janey.

Betty: It was wonderful -- Janey is so good with words, with writing, with recalling things that other people have said. There was somebody who knew what I was talking about, had read some of the same people I had read. We came up from very different ways. She's a birthright Quaker whose father served time in prison for draft resistance in World War II. Her mother was born Mennonite. But yet we were speaking the same language by the time we ran into each other. We became so close that everybody thought we were lovers. [laughs] But -- just soul mate, is all I can think of.

Ruth: Did it include what you were thinking about lesbianism and about women's issues?

Betty: Yeah, and non-violence. That was what was more critical to me. Plus, our definition of non-violence -- the fact that we found each other -- to this day, still amazes me. Because, to this day still, there's not a lot of us running around. Although we're both considerably less active than we used to be, the analysis and commitments have not changed at all. We could speak the same language. We didn't have the same history, but we knew the history of the different movements, so we had that in common. Janey was with Out and About newsletter -- and I a friend of Catholic Worker community, Live Without Trident, and Pacific Life Community, trying to keep a local chapter of War Resisters League going, and tax resistance work. So the two of us trying to figure out how to pull it together into a whole. ...

I can't remember the year that Janey and I did the blood pouring at Save Our Moral Ethics. Janey and I were wanting to take traditional non-violent techniques and apply it to [what was] going on in Seattle, so we poured our blood on files at this place. The next day there it was -- TV, radio, and newspaper -- and I go into work at the university, and somebody had just thrown the newspaper, open to that page, on the desk of the building supervisor. I found out later, she [the supervisor] was asking other women in the building, "Has she ever made moves on you?" ...

I was working temporary. They wanted to hire me full time and I said, "No, you don't know me well enough yet." After I got out of jail from this action I said, "Well, you know me well enough now!" They said, "Fine. Let's make you permanent." So that part of the project was good.

I wasn't fired, but to have somebody going around asking if I've ever made moves on other women in the building -- she's never asked that [about men] you know? ...

Seattle had passed protective legislation adding "sexual orientation" to the protected classes for housing and employment. And [ironic tone] some good cops in Seattle didn't like that idea. David Estes -- and the other cop started Save Our Moral Ethics, or "S.O.M.E.," that was trying to get signatures on an initiative to put it on the ballot. So queers in Seattle and a lot of their good heterosexual friends started putting all of their energy into getting people to not sign.

I'm not sure how it came up, but Janey and I decided that we were going to do something. This might be what we've always been looking for, the opportunity to apply tried and true pacifist activist techniques to something important in our lives. With Vietnam, there was pouring of blood in draft boards and on nose cones of fighter jets, so we thought, "Aha!" So Janey's mother [laughing] went out to Save Our Moral Ethics' [office] with Janey in tow, being interested citizens, and they came back with the floor plan of the place.

One of my Catholic Worker friends was working in a medical lab, so he walked off with some of their syringes and anti-coag -- and we had a blood-drawing party at the Catholic Worker house. Janey and I didn't advertise a whole lot, because we knew it could be a big deal. We had talked to an attorney, who said we could get anything from theft to conspiracy to deny civil rights. So very few people knew what we were doing.

So it was me, Janey, and Catholics who lived in the [Catholic Worker] house gave blood. We added the anti-coag and it sat in the refrigerator a couple of days. And we went out to the office. We had written a statement. This will be my true confession -- with all the things that we co-authored, I'd have to say eighty/ninety percent of the work was Janey's -- a lot! [laughter] I mean, we'd feed off each other just wonderfully, but when it came time to put all that in writing, it was Janey who had those skills.

Anyway, we had written a statement saying that this initiative was messing with our lives. Our lives were at stake here, and what better way to illustrate it than putting a part of our life there. We had the statements with us, and we go in with these squeeze bottles of blood and start just pouring it around the office. Of course, the first thing they do is call the cops.

Another thing we were going to test is -- we hated this thing of civil disobedience. Janey's phrase was, "The problem with civil disobedience is, it has gotten so darned civil !" People would do something, and then wait around to be arrested, as though being arrested was the point. That is not the point! Our point was, we were going to do this. If we didn't get stopped, we were going to go out and have ice cream. Now, we knew that they would probably try to stop us, and that they'd probably try to stop us by arresting us. But, we were real clear that that was not our point, and how we did that was, we had plans to go have ice cream.

My girlfriend was our lookout, and she stood across the street, and when she saw the cop cars take us away, she called Janey's mom and said, "It happened." Then she went over to my parents' house, whom she had met twice, and said, "Um, remember me? [laughing] Your daughter's in jail and she's a lesbian!" [laughing] I knew I had to come out this whole time, in the back of my mind, to my parents. Because just knowing the direction I was moving in -- sooner or later I was going to do something where I would be publicly identified as lesbian. But I kept chickening out. Then, when it got real close to the event I'm so nervous, there's no way I could have gone over to them. So that's how I came out to my parents, was having my girlfriend tell them.

My mother reacted, "Why can't you do something Christian for a change?" Of course, I went trotting off to my Catholic friends who said, "Betty, you're one of the finest Christians I know." But, you know? On visiting days at jail, they came both times. So, go figure.

Anyway, that's what we did. I heard that there was a lot of debate about that, and it was nervous-making because if the queers had lost the struggle, there was a chance that everybody would blame it on us. Because most of the political work being done was, "We're nice queers. We're just like you. We live next door to you. We sit on the bus." And here's these two over here saying, "Hey --" you know? God, we were so relieved when the initiative failed. They couldn't blame it on us. My partner, Ronni, says that couples broke up over arguing about the virtues of our action.

Ruth: Do you want to say more about doing an independent action?

Betty: I think, when this whole thing came up we were already moving in the direction of wanting to experiment, to pull together these different things that were important to us. Also, with my temperament -- I am not one to go to a lot of meetings. And there were a lot of meetings! I can't do it -- just physically, I get antsy. When I get antsy I start mouthing off; I say things I shouldn't. So it's in everybody's best interest that I don't go to too many meetings. And I could never picture myself going up to somebody in the grocery store line and saying, "Hey, I'm queer and I'm standing next to you, and isn't that okay?" I mean, I'm being a little sarcastic now, already, as you see, so -- [laughs]

Ruth: It's a metaphor for the canvassing effort, going door to door.

Betty: Yeah, and it was valuable work, and it was all important. It just wasn't something that was for me to do. I'm so glad that Janey was there so that there was something for me to do. Because I don't think I could have really lived with myself with not doing anything, but there was nobody else providing something that spoke to me.

Ruth: From what quarters afterwards did you get support, and from what quarters did you not get support?

Betty: [laughing] Oh, we got a lot of support from street prostitutes in jail! They thought we were the hottest things. [laughing] And, giggling aside, they had a wonderful analysis: [imitating street voice] "What you do in your personal life is your own business, whether I'm tricking on the corner for twenty dollars, or you're being out with your girlfriend." So, they had a real clear, simple analysis.

There was a lot of support. I really wasn't aware of the debate going on, that I heard about twenty years later. ... Ronni is the one who tells me that couples split up, or almost split up, over debating the wisdom of our action. She said that there were clear divisions within [Seattle Committee Against Thirteen, Women Against Thirteen]. But I wasn't party to that, so --

Ruth: Maybe this might have been Janey's influence -- you had a statement in Out and About newsletter in the month after, explaining where you were coming from. So, that was not in response to some negative things that you had heard? It was something you were going to do anyway?

Betty: She did ninety percent of the work anyway. If there was something in Out and About defending it, then something must have filtered down to us, because I don't think we would have done that writing on that on our own.

Ruth: Do you recall any negative reactions you got, or anger from other gay activists?

Betty: I'm wanting to say no, but I was not intimately involved in the groups doing that work. To this day I'm still friends with [them], but I was not in any of those meeting.

Ruth: Anything else you remember about the involvement of Jane's mother, Esther Meyerding?

Betty: Tall, gangly woman and plain looking -- a stereotypic Quaker woman. I can remember at [Estherís] memorial service I said, "A few years ago, Janey and I did this little activity, and I to this day still wonder if the people at Save Our Moral Ethics' office realize that that gangly woman who came to chat with them, was actually our front person." [laughs] And what was nice is, Jan Denali came up to me and said, "Thank you, Betty. It pulled it all together, of who Esther was."

Janey said that she never had to come out to her mother, just -- it was there. But their family was just so totally different than mine.

Ruth: And most of us.

Betty: It amazes, how we both ended up at the same place. But yeah, quite a woman. ...

Ruth: Was that the first time you had been arrested in civil disobedience?

Betty: I think I've been in more holding cells, [laughs] and more charges dropped, than anybody else in our group. ... The only one I did get sentenced for, ever, was the Initiative 13 thing. That was "destruction of property" and we could have avoided that by paying to replace the property ... at the Save Our Moral Ethics office. Of course, we looked at each other and said, "This is ridiculous." So they said, "Take them away." And Janey yelled, "Off with their heads." [laughs] It was a zoo.

We were not going to mount this big defense. We'll let the statement speak for itself. Janey does all the writing and Betty gets stuck with the talking, right? [laughs] So here I am handing out little leaflets to the judge, and everybody in the courtroom.

Ruth: I did go to the arraignment because a bunch of us from Out and About newsletter and friends went. When you were [brought up] the judge asked, "How do you plead?" -- Shall I tell it or you?

Betty: Please do, because I don't remember! [laughs]

Ruth: Okay. The judge says, "How do you plead?" And Janey says, "I prefer not to plead." Tell me what that was all about.

Betty: Oh, the pacifist thing is, to go along with that is to give credibility to the court system. It's in the same category of not standing when the judge comes in. You also know damn well if you don't plead, they're going to enter "not guilty." So you can make your statement -- they're still not going to say, "Oh, you plead guilty." So, you're clear that way. And it's just a long-standing tradition, to not plead. ...

Ruth: What do you think it is about Seattle that has provided this environment to do all of this political work? I have interviewed a lot of activists who came here because they heard Seattle was a happening place for political activism.

Betty: Well, you see, my parents "drug me" here. My father was transferred. Actually, I think, the Pacific Northwest has this incredible labor/anarchist history. I would like to think that some of it still filters down, even though most of us are pretty ignorant about the history. It's an absolutely fascinating history, of the Wobblies, the Everett massacre, the utopian communities. I don't know if there's something in the water or the air. But that had to set some sort of stage, for even this many years later -- I don't know how. ... I've been incredibly blessed with the people I've met, and still know. Just blessed. And I can't assign any logic to that, whatsoever. They were just there.

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