Carole Goodwin


1) Birthdate:


2) Birthplace:

Vallejo, California

3) Date you first mark as getting together with your partner Renée DeMar:

June 2000

4) City/state where you live currently:

Berwyn, Illinois

5) Education:

University of Illinois (Urbana) - undergrad; University of Chicago graduate school

6) Career:

Quality Control Technician

7) Did you serve in the U.S. military?


8) How do you describe your sexuality and your gender:


9) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?

My partner Renée has two daughters, one son, six granddaughters, and four grandsons

10) Please describe when you first “knew,” who did you first “come out” to, and when?

I can’t really remember, but it must have been about 1960, when I was still in high school. My best friend came out to me when we were both fifteen. She gave me books like Beebo Brinker to read before she actually told me. I was still dating boys, but all my crushes were on girls. After she came out, I knew I was gay too, but I continued to date men as well as women for the next few years. I went away to University of Illinois at Urbana, where I found that gays were very closeted and there was no community to speak of, or at least not one that I ever discovered.

Another high school friend had moved to St. Louis and was part of the gay community there. As soon as I learned that, I couldn’t wait to go to St. Louis myself. In 1964, I dropped out of college and moved to St. Louis. That was my first experience being in an actual gay community. Social life centered around the bars. Political consciousness was at a very low level or nonexistent. I had been involved in leftist politics since beginning college, but the notion of gay political action had barely occurred to me. But at least from the time I lived in St. Louis, I defined myself as gay and, wherever I was after that, sought out a gay milieu for my social life.

11) What troubles did you face as a GLBT person?

I never experienced any overt discrimination or trouble, because it took me a long time to come out publicly, and then I did so only gradually. I guess by the time I was really out publicly, the public was ready to accept or at least tolerate. I do remember that a girl I was interested in in college (who was also a lesbian) would make sure she left her dorm room door open when I visited her, so there would be no “talk.”

In my former professional academic life, I was told by colleagues at two different schools where I worked that it would not be a good thing for my career if I let people know I was gay, but I never tested the truth of that, and I gave up my academic career after just a few years. I think a big part of the reason I left academia was that I never felt comfortable as a closeted gay person in that environment.

12) Did you have mentors in the Chicago GLBT community?

Joanne Trapani got me involved in political action and she is the closest thing to a mentor I have had. Ethel Cotovsky, who died this year, was my conscience.

13) Involvement in organizations (GLBT and/or mainstream):

Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force/IGLTF (board member)
Oak Park Gay and Lesbian Association/OPALGA (volunteer)
Chicago Catholic Women (volunteer)
Human Rights Campaign/HRC (donor)
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (donor)
Lesbian Community Cancer Project/LCCP (donor)

14) When you were coming out, what were your favorite GLBT bars in Chicago?

Golden Shutters 1966-67 and Petunias

15) What were the key issues faced in the GLBT community when you first came out?

I think the biggest issue on most people’s minds in the 1960s was job security. People were afraid of being fired if they were found out to be gay, particularly if they were teachers or worked in any way in the public sphere. My late partner, Carol Zientek, was a juvenile probation officer, and I thought she was remarkably open for having that kind of a job – but it was still a potentially problematic issue, and she always said she did not care what people thought because as long as she did not admit it, they couldn’t prove it. Of course that all changed with the passage of gay rights legislation in the city and county.

16) What issues do you see as key in the GLBT community today?

Job security is still a big issue for people who live in places that do not have legal protection. The biggest issues for me are partnership and family rights, as well as access to the same benefits and services afforded straight people.

The most basic civil rights are still, I think, among the most important to secure, and maybe the easiest to achieve by appealing to plain reason. I mean the rights that are usually included in state and local nondiscrimination laws: employment, housing, and public accommodation. It is not really that I think things like rights to inheritance, adoption, family leave, etc. etc. are really less important, but I do feel that no jurisdiction should be without this basic set of assurances of civil rights.

Berwyn passed such an ordinance [June 2008], and even though Berwyn gay and lesbian residents were already protected under state and county law, local affirmations are important, and I think they can shape public opinion and keep the issue before the public. As straightforward as these rights may seem, it is appalling how may jurisdictions still lack these basic guarantees. And where the laws exist, it is important to expand them to cover transgender individuals.

GLBT individuals, couples, and families face several other instances of discrimination. Many of these would be resolved by marriage equality. The list is huge, things like pension benefits, inheritance, the right to make decisions concerning children's welfare, medical decisions, the right to adopt, the right even to raise one's own children, and so on. Only marriage equality will remove this legal discrimination. This may be a long fight, though a few years ago I would not have predicted that we would even be having this public debate right now or that marriage equality would exist in even some few places.

I do not believe, as I have heard some argue, that fighting discrimination piecemeal by passing civil union laws, using the courts to secure rights that may be specific and limited, and so on, will delay progress toward full equality. I think that we should work constantly to secure each individual right and to rectify each individual case of discrimination, even while not losing site of the larger goal. Many in the LGBT community are seriously disadvantaged right now in ways that are causing immediate harm to them and their families. We should do whatever we can to relieve these burdens of discrimination now. I also believe that each "piecemeal" gain helps chip away at public resistance to broader rights.

17) How have AIDS and/or other health issues impacted your life personally?

The Oak Park GLBT community, like so many, came together over the issue of AIDS. It became the issue that rightfully superseded many of the petty (and not so petty) divisions and differences. The Oak Park AIDS care organization, Community Response, predated the Oak Park Lesbian and Gay Association (OPALGA), and thus became, at that time, the most important vehicle linking gay social and political activists in Oak Park. I was involved in some of the initial discussions out of which Community Response was founded, but was never really active with that organization. I have been truly inspired by people like Rob Ward from OPALGA who has died [July 23, 2006], but who lived with AIDS for so long, showing such an incredible spirit and service to the community, especially GLBT youth. Rob was the face of courage for me.

Having been a board member of the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force (IGLTF), I would also have to mention Al Wardell. I did not know him well, as he was already quite ill when I became involved with the organization, but there was no mistaking the fact that he left his stamp on IGLTF, and that a lot of the members and volunteers were there mainly because of their love, admiration, and respect for him. Al revitalized the organization, and it is not exaggerating to say that it probably existed at the time when I got involved because of Al.

18) How would you describe the “diversity” within the GLBT community of Chicago?

I think that GLBT people may be more accepting of others than society in general, but I also think that GLBT society pretty much reflects the larger society when it comes to the race, gender, class, etc. differences.

19) If you consider yourself a “political” activist, how do you define this?

I would describe my political “activism” as showing up when called upon, i.e., for demonstrations, meetings, work parties, rallies in Springfield or Washington — definitely a foot soldier for the most part.

20) Describe what you feel your personal legacy is to the Chicago GLBT community.

The Left Bank Bookstall – the bookstore that I ran with my late partner, Carol Zientek – was without a doubt our legacy. Beginning strictly as a tiny used bookstore on Westgate St. in Oak Park in 1978, we moved to larger quarters on Oak Park Avenue in 1980. With the move, we expanded the scope of our business as well, to include a small selection of new books and new magazines. Among those were books from the gay/lesbian presses like Naiad, Firebrand, Alyson, etc., and as many gay themed magazines as our distributor could supply. We also carried as many of the more “hip” gay-friendly publications as we could and liberal political magazines.

At the time, Barbara’s Bookstore was the only place in Oak Park to buy gay-themed literature, but their selection was really small. We aspired to be more than just a commercial enterprise, but rather to be a cultural institution and community-gathering place as well. We defined “community” in the broadest sense, to include straight as well as gay and lesbian. We hosted poetry readings and discussion groups. Spurred on and energized largely by the late Ethel Cotovsky of OPALGA, we also co-sponsored several “Culture Club” events, which were sort of eclectic presentations of music, literature, art, and what-have-you within a GLBT context.

We partnered with the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association to co-sponsor OPALGA’s first cultural arts festival, consisting of an art fair and a Cris Williamson/Tret Fure concert. The theme was “Building Bridges to Understanding.” That summed up Left Bank’s goal as well as OPALGA’s at that point in time. We posted event notices on our bulletin board and served as a distribution center for the GLBT press. People have said that the Left Bank served as the first GLBT community center in Oak Park, in that it was a place where people could always drop in and find out what was going on in the community. I think that Left Bank helped gays connect with each other, but also helped the gay community connect with the larger community by making the gay community more visible to straight society.

Looking back, I am more aware now of the impact the Left Bank had than I was at the time. Sometimes I think that, as often happens, the legend becomes larger than the reality, but still I think we played an important role the development of the GLBT community in the Oak Park area. Faced with costs that were ever increasing at a greater rate than income, the store closed in June 1997. In July 1998, Carol Zientek was killed when she lost control of our van on a Wisconsin interstate on the way to a book fair in St. Paul, Minnesota. Carol was posthumously honored, along with myself, with OPALGA’s OPAL award, as well as an award from Oak Park’s Metropolitan Community Church. OPALGA also gives an annual award for service to the community that is named for Carol Zientek.

21) This project is also about “defining moments.” Please discuss some of those in your life.

Four such moments involve my relationships: Meeting Carol Zientek and embarking on a thirty-one-year relationship; then losing her in 1998; and then meeting my partner Renée in 2000, and our commitment celebration in 2002. The years with Carol were an adventure and a true partnership in every sense, and of course her death altered my life dramatically. I am ever grateful to have had the good fortune to meet Renée, who has brought new and different dimensions to my life, including closer connections with family, both hers and mine. Our commitment ceremony in particular turned out to be an event that brought me much closer to my own family. Before that, I hadn’t hidden my personal life from them, but I hadn’t ever shared much of it either. And I suddenly have ten grandchildren, an experience I am greatly enjoying.

The other defining moment I would mention was being included in a Sun-Times article about gays in the suburbs, in about l976. Though I was not going out of my way to hide my sexuality, I had not explicitly “come out” to many of my straight associates or family members. Now my picture was in the Sun-Times, and that pretty well shut the closet door behind me. It freed me to take on a more active and visible role in the community.

22) Additional comments and memories.

I can’t even begin – the community has gone through so many changes and transformations since 1966 when I came to Chicago, and so many people have had an impact. I’m glad you are doing this project to describe and document all of it. I just heard Vernita Gray speak at the Historical Society [now called the Chicago History Museum], and I thought of how long it has been since I first met her and how much I admire her power, her great talent, and her dedication. And what memories her talk brought back! I also recall some of the past internal divisions in the community — the era of feminist separatism, the split between the role-playing lesbians and the others who disdained them, and so forth. I think that overall the community has matured. While we still struggle with our divisions, we have also outgrown so many of the rifts of the past. Women and men working together more is, in my opinion, a good thing. Much of this maturing unfortunately had to come about because HIV focused our energies on a common cause.

Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, the book is edited by Tracy Baim and features the contributions of more than 20 prominent historians and journalists. It is published by Surrey Books, an Agate imprint, and is hard cover, 224 pages, 4-color, with nearly 400 photos.
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