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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Pat Cusick, June 19, 1989. Interview L-0043. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The civil rights movement and Dukakis's homophobic policies liberated Cusick's sexuality

Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis's homophobic policy on gay adoptions alienated homosexual Democrats and led to Cusick's public political coming-out experience.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Pat Cusick, June 19, 1989. Interview L-0043. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PAT CUSICK:
Well, yes. But I was. I didn't act on any of my impulses in that area until after I got out of prison and came north, and then I remained very much also in the closet here. Took me a long time to get out of that closet. I was skulking around and stuff. And then finally, all my friends knew that, and I was no longer ashamed of it and the whole, my Roman Catholic upbringing, etc., etc. I got rid of all the guilt trips on that. Finally Governor Dukakis helped me to come totally out of the closet.
PAMELA DEAN:
Really? Can you explain that?
PAT CUSICK:
Well, every other year here there's a state issues convention, the Democratic Party. We've just completed one, so-called. [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]
PAMELA DEAN:
This is Tape 3 of an interview with Pat Cusick on January 19, 1989.
PAT CUSICK:
Out of the closet, and I guess finally, most people that I was closely associated with knew that I was gay, but certainly not wide circles of folks in town or all over Roxbury. In '84 there was a state issues convention, and prior to that the governor had come out with what I regard of a very homophobic policy on foster care in terms of gays and lesbians not being able to be foster parents, and there was quite a controversy here. He got very uptight about it and there was a big battle raging. Well, at the state convention, out of around 3500 delegates, there were 13 gay and lesbian delegates, not exactly a large delegation. Not to say that there weren't more in the hall. And we were pressing for an amendment to the state charter of the Democratic party. I've never been in such a big fight over nothing. There's a section of the charter that reads, "The Democratic Party will outreach to," and then they have the laundry list—blacks, Latinos, women, the handicapped. Outreach to, not grant any kind of whatevers to. So we wanted the words, "lesbians and gay men" inserted, and he pulled out—it was the only roll call vote at the convention—he pulled out his entire machinery against this charter amendment. We got over a thousand votes. We lost 2 to 1, but we did get over a thousand votes. In the process though, his operatives had put out the misleading information, which is the kindest way I can say it, that this was a threat to the black community because we would be for taking minority status away from blacks in terms of all other kinds of things, which was absolutely not true. Now, the delegation that I was with, I'm vice chairman of my ward committee which is pretty much the black delegation at the place, which all sits together because it's by area and since segregation is here. So most people did not know, a lot of people in Roxbury, who I was not that closely associated with for a number of years, didn't know that I was gay. But before the convention, this was to be the only real debate in a way. There were to be four speakers, four for and four against, this big roll call vote, the only one. So one of the black city council was going to be one of the speakers, and it looked like he was not going to show up. He actually did. So the gay and lesbian political leadership came to me and said, "Pat, you have a lot of standing with the black community, and if we can't get so and so, will you be one of the speakers on the rostrum." So I thought, "Well, what the hell, if I'm going to come out, I might as well do it before 3500 people." So I was on the stairs going up to the rostrum when the city councilor got there, so I did not have to do it. But that time, in my own delegation, the Roxbury delegation, it was pretty well open. So I have the governor to thank for that, one of the few things I have to thank him for. Then for a while, for about six months, I got involved, for the first and only time, in just specifically gay politics here. I was on the steering committee of the Boston Lesbian-Gay Political Alliance. But I soon got out of that. I don't like single issue politics, and my efforts are almost totally devoted to building the Rainbow Coalition, which we had before Jesse started it nationally. So I'm an officer in the local Rainbow. I was Jesse's field director for eastern Mass, and I was the one Jackson rep of the four Massachusetts reps on the platform committee at Denver and Atlanta. So I was very briefly in the… But at the time of Chapel Hill, I was not, I knew that I was gay. I didn't quite know what all it meant, but I was not active in that. Though I often think that, as I mentioned earlier—now, I wonder, if I had not taken some steps I did in the… And one of the important things as a white southerner or a white, in terms of the black civil rights movement—and the Rainbow Coalition is a multi-cultural, multiethnic, but the movement was certainly a black movement—is that it wasn't just for justice for black people. It also freed me. I mean, I was sick and tired of what the segregation system and that whole thing did to me. So my being involved it was a process of freeing me, and I think you don't free part of yourself. I didn't realize that then. I often wonder if I'd not been in the civil rights movement if I would have ever come out of the closet in terms of sexuality. It certainly took me a long, damn time after that to come out. And the closet's an awful place to die. I saw that sign at a Gay Rights March once, and it's very true. But I was not…
PAMELA DEAN:
Were you aware?
PAT CUSICK:
I was aware of other gays in the movement, and this is something to, I mean, you never mention names. But there were quite a few lesbians and gays. I mean, the most prominent now, and this is known as Bayard Rustin, but there were also people who were not publicly out of closet, quite a few.