Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project

Lesbian and Gay Black Lives     

Tasceaie Jennings

“We were told about 'particular friendships'.”

Tasceaie Jennings -- born in Los Angeles, 1946 -- came to terms with her identity during her 13 years as a Catholic nun. As an adult, Tasceaie (pronounced “Tah-SHAY-uh”) also began exploring her Native American heritage and Two-spirit nature. After a teaching career she became an assistant director of Upward Bound, working with disadvantaged youth in the Everett/Seattle areas, and later worked for the state’s Employment Security department.


I went through Catholic School in Oklahoma and California and I was the only Black among all those grammar school, high school kids. When I entered the convent -- the sisters that taught me in grammar school, Ursuline Sisters -- I was the only black there, too.

Until I met my first lover I had no idea that I was a lesbian. Love to me is a pure expression of self and labels didn’t really make that much sense. It took several years, it wasn’t just a snap decision, but I decided that my comfort level was mostly with women.

Homosexuality, gay, lesbian -- those words were not used. Instead we were told about “particular friendships.” You were supposed to spread your friendships out and not have even a good friend. You were supposed to be equal friends with everyone. They never talked about physical anything, or dangers of putting your vows in conflict, or anything like that.

     protest sign: Black women's lives

photo: max bender/

[After forming a relationship with another black nun]: You take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and I was definitely not chaste after I met her. It seemed a natural thing for me. Being with her and being part of her life and her part of mine -- that was definitely against that particular vow.

I would much rather spend time with her than other people, and I saw the treatment that she got. The black nuns - -they’re not treated well. She had a heart attack, a full-blown myocardial infarction, and nobody came to her hospital room, except for one nun. There’s three black orders because the other orders would not admit black women.

When I made up my mind that I was leaving it was very difficult because I tried those thirteen years to be the best nun I could be. So, I was released from my vows at that time. That was a difficult moment. All my life I had wanted to be religious and I felt that I was doing some good, so to sign those papers was giving up a large part of myself.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Smiley Hillaire 1980

Smiley Hillaire (Yakima Nation) in 1980

I was in the third grade when we heard that we were Cherokee, from both our parents' side. But there was no cultural introduction until I started at Antioch University. I was studying for my master’s in whole systems design, and there’s a large percent of people within that field that are very interested in the earth, in ecology. There were a lot of alternative lifestyles and people who’ve been shut down by the rest of the learning community.

My first couple of days, sitting there in class, I have a white witch on this side and a Buddhist person on this side. And I’m going: But I’m Catholic. Give me a break here! I remember having to settle in and open myself, and say: Why are you afraid of this? I began to meet people and get a little freer with some concepts, so I’ve done mostly studies on my own. For me, it worked that way.

I had a Native teacher who really challenged me on a lot of things and I owe her a lot. Her name is Smiley. She calls herself an old dyke – she’s a Two-Spirit woman. She’s suffered a lot, physically, and she’s a very strong woman. I got her to speak at my graduation. It was also nice that I graduated in the year of the indigenous people, 1993.

Native teachers are very powerful because they’re tapped into the spirit world. They have to be extremely mindful of that, at all times. They have the ability to tap into things that have been, things that are going to come, and in that you get your challenges.

Community for me has taken on different shapes. I stayed in religious life as a long as I did because I believed that it was a good spiritual path. It got so that I was able to know what I was supposed to do, and I felt pleased that I had the ability to tap in deep enough to walk the way I should.

I’m of the opinion that an identity is a long-life process. At least I hope to God it is [laughs] because it’s taking me my life.

Lesbian and Gay Black Lives

Source: Oral history interview with Tasceaie Jennings, July 7, 1997
Interviewed by: Ruth Pettis
Transcribed by: Suzanne Kelly
Seattle, WA: Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project.


Books on GLBT History    |||    Links

© 2021 NWLGHMP