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Laurie Wood Interview

Laurie Wood Interview

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Published by: Scratch Hunter on Nov 29, 2010
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06/28/2012

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laurie wood
could you please introduce yourself a little iti’m Laurie Wood and i’m a native Utahn, grew up in Utah County, and i’ve lived all my life in Utah County.and just recently, probably in the last 5 years moved to salt lake, but we were talking earlier aoutsomething that’s really important to me, is that how long it took me, and i look at people in my generationto be able to live honestly to accept who i was in college i ran into older wiser lesbians i now know they’relesbians but they were very closeted and i never knew that side of them and could never figure out whythey had, there was always something that kept the friendship from going further, or the mentorship,graduate school i ran into a teacher that i really admired and it wasn’t until later that i realized this shadowpart of her was because she was living a closeted life and so it was tough - almost 15 years as a closetedperson even though i was in along term relationship it’s amazing how you think youre going aroundfooling people. and it really wasn’t until i turned 40 and had a midlife crisis left my job in public highschool and decided to be out in a new job - that was just amazing. so i feel like i’m really living a secondlife. and i swore that if i can be a mentor and i look at kids that i teach, and adults, and do my turn as theadvisor for the Gay Straight club at UVU and i’ve had kids come to my office and come out - i’m the firstperson they come out to, or i’ll have students come out in my classes when we start talking about queer theory or something. so if i can be an honest person, at least in my queerness, for utah county kids,that’s why i stay there.so you talk about some of the encounters you’ve had with older closeted lesbians. do you want to talkabout some of the important interactions you had with them?well, there, you know, i always thought i - i didn’t have any of the language, but you have some gaydar,and you know if you have an affinity wiht someone. and to not have the language to talk about it, but thenhave, i don’t know, people turn away. for example i had a professor at graduate school, of course shewas at BYU, i’m sure she had to be, you know, but everything you know you take things to a friendship,but when you’re closeted, you just can’t be whole. and i always of course thought it was me. i though,oh, there’s something wrong with me, there’s some reason why - and it really wasn’t until i learned thelangauge of being queer athat i could even talk about what it was that all these thigns i thought that i was just doing all my life that you know ... i wasn’t such a weird person taht drove people way or something.so i think more than anything i just learned that even though i admired these women, they were terriblysuccessful, they were great friends, they taught me a great deal, but they also taught me that it is just toosad to live so - they were always 10, 15 years older than i am. it took me a long time but i finally got it.i’m turining into them. i have to keep huge parts of my life compartmentalized and that takes so muchenergy. i just didn’t want to do it anymore.when you talk about learning the language of being queer - what is that language, and how does onelearn it?well, i think when i first went to UVU, one of my colleagues was a very out lesbian. and i didn’t knowanything about queer theory, i didn’t know anything - i’d never meta alesbian that said they were alesbian. i knew utah county code very well, of you know, “roommates” and such, but to hear, and iremember when she first said “queer” or “dyke” i’m just like whoo! but to be able to tlk about the self-loathing and the internalized homophobia and the double consciousness that you have to... so i think justlearning theory and learning gender theory, race theory, queer theory, those sort of things i started to gowow, that’s what i’ve been doing all these years and so everyone needs a queer to teach them the way.and i think i was 40 before i said “yes, i’m lesbian.” and the world didn’t fall apart, and i started shouting itfrom the rooftops. and then it has just led me to so many, you know, ways to be active, ways to bepolitical.who were some important theorists for you.butler, you’re going to catch me off guard. and who did i do my thing on... sedgwick. and just learningabout even language, just learning some sur and derrida, and learning wow, i can be a post-structuralist,
 
and i took my dog and pony, because you can alwasy go to conferences talking about being a queer theorist in a conservative community sort of thing, so i was the post-modern, po-mo homo, ex-mo kind of thing... even marxism, and learning about alienation, so theory made me more comfortable in my skin.do you think having utah county background contributed in a meaningful sort of way, you’re sayingbecause i’m a pomo homo i’m that much more in demand at conferences like this?well, it’s interesting. i speak utah county, i speak mormon, i speak that conservative utah valley way, andso i think i understand my students, and i also understand, and it frightens me and it angers me how evenmore conservative and more nazi-like it is than when i was growing up. it really is more oppressive. andeither i’ve forgotten, or i didn’t pay attention, but i think it’s bigger. i mean, when i grew up in americanfork, it was a small town, and there were no queers of course, in utah county. but i think, yeah, growingup in utah, being in a small town, very white, very mormon, very conservative, it frustrates me that i seemys tudents are still coming from towns like that. i keep thinking we’re no longer in the... i feel like i grewup in the 50s even though i grew up in the 60s. i cna’t say i grew iup in the 60s, because they kind of skipped over utah. the 60s, as we talk about the 60s. but yeah, i mean i am who i am, i am all of myexperiences. so sure it would have been great to have lived someplace where people udnerstood and iwas accpted and could have come out, but i don’t know who i’d be then.so how do you think that it’s changed; you say that it’s gotten more conservative...?well, i believe, and it’s my experience that the changes in the 70s with the influence of the LDS church, ibelieve the church as a body turned more conservative and turned more - needed to have more control.you know i read the
same sex relationships in the 19th century
, and you know, it just was not a bigdeal, you know people like kate packer and dalin oaks came a long, and i think they just, the bigger theygot, the more control they needed. you know our scout master would say, just don’t drink on the scouttrips, and my mother wasn’t a very good mormon, and had her word of wisdom problems, but she couldbe promary president and stuff. and boy, that just doesn’t happen now. but i think they saw the successof the ERA, it just became more global. i dont’ know, maybe people i talk to... the LDS church that i grewup in is not recognizable today. it’s not the same thing. it doesn’t have - it’s way more divided, waymore divisive, way mor eblack and white it seems like, and even i went to graduate school at BYU in thelate 70s, and even then right after that they changed the organization and the president of the school wasno longer an academic leader, it was an ecclesiastic leader, and there was a sort of a cleansing, and theydid away siwht a log of graduate programs, and the BYU i went to wasn’t recognizable. i wouldn’t havesurvived if it had been. i didn’t really mean to go off on the churhc. but anybody who’s raised here, andwho’s raised mormon, it become sa huge part of your life.so how do you think that shift in the orientaion of the lds church has affected a queer kid growing up inutah county now as opposed to when you were growing up?i htink in a lot of ways it’s made it a lot more difficult, and i think on one hand people being encouraged tocome out and to be honest and then on the other hand, i’d rather see my kid dead than queer... i know somany closeted parents - you know they can’t ome out, even if their kid goes off as a queer, they can’tcome out to their ward. so i think it pushes more people away. but i think there’s also more places forthem to find - i don’t hink they have to be pushed away from the lds church and then they go to thestreets, they have more mentors and more people who they admire, and that’s what i want to be! if somebody gets kicked out of their house, i want them t know they can at least come talk to me, and thereare people they respect and that are living good lives if they’re queer.so you’re an educator. and you say that you had kind of a paradigm shift around your 40s. do you wantto talk about the education system a little bit, and how it sets up and serves or fails queer kids or queer faculty.because i was so closeted, and so working on being invisible, i think when i taught high school, i probablywilled myself not to - i wasn’t going to notice any kids, i wasn’t going to advocate for them, and so i don’tthink i went so far as to persecut ehtem or something, you know to protect myself. it wasn’treally until i
 
left, and i came out, that i got involved in GLSEN, and saw and got involved in the ACLU with the EastHigh Clubs, and then with the Wendy Weber lesbian teacher that was fired that i really realized how -because i was invisible,a nd i was blin as well. so i think it’s still tough. i think there’s way too manyteachers who are afraid still, in utah.coult you say a little bit about what GLSEN isit’s the gay/lesbian educator’s organization, and it’s national. and they were very active during the wholeEast High brew haha with teh legistlature. and they brought together a lot of educators, and i did someworkships, we did some play acting with how to deal with.so were you involved wiht the East High struggles?i just started in the ACLU at the end of that, and i knew the teacher camille lee who was the teacher ateast high and i knew here socially. and so i was just starting to be, as part of my awakening, politicallyaware. so i got involved in the ACLU, and then one of my first acts as an ACLU person is i had a youngwoman who my gaydar told me was lesbian in one of my classes. and i don’t know, we just got to talkingand something about, are we going to have class during UEA, or whatever, this was on the UVU campus,and she told me where she lived and the ACLU was trying to get ahold of wendy weaver to help her outbecause she had been fired. and so i asked this woman, do you know wendy, and she said, oh, she’s mypartner. and i said, we’re here to help you. and so i took them and went with them to talk with theattorneys, and probably ruined their lives, but they did great. and i don’t know if that... that went on andon and on, but that was a real chance for teachers to stand up and rally around and know that you can’tbe fired for being queer. although is suspect that districts will be smarter about that.could you talk a little mor eabout the wendy weaver story?wendy was a volleyball coach and a psychology teacher. and i don’t know exactly what happened, butshe said yes, i’m a lesbian, and it doesn’t have anyting to do with what i do. and so she was fired notfrom teaching psychology, but from being the volleyball coach. and so the ACLU fought that and itbecame a real media thing, and it was very national as well adn the ACLU set some national precedentwhen they finally won, that they could not fire wendy for her sexual orientation. but of course it was aoutin salem, springville area, and parents got involved, and suddenly things like volleyball teams do thingslike candles, you know, they just do bonding sort of things, but suddenly through the lense of, oh, and thecoach is queer, all those things look like she’s haivng them over to her house, and they’re turning off thelights and doing stuff with candles and stuff. it just brought out the worst in people and they formed acitizens group and brought a civil suit against her, and moral charges, and it was just ludicrous. and itwas, well, we proselyte, and therefore, queers must proselyte. they just can’t believe, hey, these are kids,they’re not... and wendy and her partner had 5 or 6 kids from previous marriages, and they were justgoing along great, but that din’t have anything to do with it. they were able to raise these kids. so wendy- it was really really tough on their family, but it was on the hills of the gay/straight, and of course thelegistlature got into all sorts of... and the eagle forum and stuff... sort of like the prop 8 thing. it seems likeevery 5 or 6 years something comes up where its queers agains tthe community, or queers againstcommunity standards, or something. which, from a political point of view, it’s great. it keeps us visible,and keeps people talking. ammendment 3 was great opportunity to go around and talk to people aboutthat. so, little by little, step by step, you win one you lose 3 or 4 and then win one and lose 3 or 4, but i’mreally glad there are people like wendy, who will step up and become the poster child for all of us. andthey’re all over; you know, camille did it for east high... there’s lots of heros around the valley that havedone that.who have some of your heroes been?probably carol gonotti and laureen mmiller. i worked with carol at the ACLU, and they have been soinfluential. carol and i and another woman named jerri foya that we started the women’s festival down atthe redrock women’s festival. and so carol has, even though she was a straight woman when i met her,she’s done so much for the community. laura gray is another hero of mine. and then - i don’t know. all of 

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