Christine R. Riddiough


1) Birthdates:

Christine: 1946
(partner) Judith Nedrow: 1945

2) Birthplaces:

Christine: Evanston, Illinois
Judith: Camp McCoy, Wisconsin

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

February 19, 1983

4) City/state where you live currently:

Washington, DC

5) Education:

Carleton College (Northfield, Minnesota), BA
Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois), MS

Loyola University (Chicago, Illinois)

6) Careers:

Instructor in computer programming and statistics for SAS (statistical analysis software)

Production editor, Journal of Virology, American Society for Microbiology

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

No (both)

8) How do you describe your sexuality and gender?

Christine: Lesbian female
Judith: Lesbian woman

9) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?

No (both)

10) If you are GLBT, please describe when you first “knew”:

I knew when I was 10 or 12 that I didn’t want to get married and have children, but I wasn’t really conscious of the whole idea of lesbianism. When I was about 18 or 19 and in college, I was walking on campus one day and it hit me that I was a lesbian – sort of like the comic strip “bolt of lightning.”

I always knew that I would never get married but I also wasn’t really conscious of the whole idea of lesbianism. In my 30s (during the early 1970s), as I got more involved in the women’s movement, it dawned on me that I was a lesbian.

11) Who did you first “come out” to and when?

While I knew in college (and looking back, there were others who I knew who were gay), I didn’t know anyone who I knew was gay, so I just ignored it until several years later when I was in Chicago – I was around 25 at the time.

I think people suspected before I ever acted on it. I guess it was in the mid ‘70s when I kissed a former roommate. Then nothing much happened until the early ‘80s when I was working at Chicago NOW [National Organization for Women] and surrounded by lesbians – heaven!

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

Occasionally I would get harassed on the street and there were the typical anti-gay comments in conversation, but by the time I came out I was involved in the women’s movement and most of my friends were either gay, lesbian, uncertain, or supportive.

Being pretty withdrawn, it wasn’t really an issue. I was out where necessary, but didn’t carry a sign or flaunt it. My friends and associates are supportive, as is my family.

13) Did you have mentors in the GLBT community?

One of the things that got me actively involved in the gay and lesbian community in Chicago was my activism in the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, so the women there, whether lesbian or not, were my mentors – Ellen Dubois, Vivian Rothstein, Judy Sayad, Margaret Schmid, and many others. As I got involved in the GLBT community, I met many friends – John Balester, Larry Rolla, Bill Kelley – who in many respects were also mentors.

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

Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (board member, donor, staff, volunteer)
New American Development (board member, volunteer, donor, staff)
Democratic Socialists of America (board member, political director, volunteer)
Americans for Democratic Action (board member, national treasurer, volunteer)
DC Democratic State Committee (board member)
Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force (board member, co-chair, volunteer)
Gay/Lesbian Coalition of Metropolitan Chicago (board member, co-chair, volunteer)
Gertrude Stein Democratic Club (board member, donor, chair, volunteer)
Whitman-Walker Clinic Lesbian Services Program (board member, donor, volunteer)
National Association of Gay and Lesbian Democratic Clubs – aka Gay and Lesbian Democrats of America (volunteer, board member, donor, staff, national director, president for three years)
National Organization for Women national, DC, and Chicago chapters (donor, and National NOW director of lesbian rights)
Blazing Star newsletter (co-founder, volunteer)
NARAL Pro-Choice America (donor, volunteer)
Emily’s List (donor)
Heifer International (donor)
Human Rights Campaign/HRC (donor)
Joan’s Legacy (donor)
National Abortion Federation (donor)
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People/NAACP (donor)
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force/NGLTF (donor)
Older Women’s League (donor)
Public Radio (donor)
Red Cross (donor)
Victory Fund (donor)

I also wrote articles/pamphlets for many of the above organizations and for GayLife newspaper in Chicago. I have also written articles for In These Times. I coordinated the West Hollywood conference – the first conference of openly gay and lesbian appointed officials (in 1985).

I’ve donated to many organizations including various anti-Vietnam and anti-Iraq war causes. See also my answer to question 21.

Chicago/national National Organization for Women/NOW (staff, donor)
DC NOW (officer)
ACLU (donor)
Democratic Socialists of America (volunteer, donor)
Americans for Democratic Action (volunteer, donor)
DC Domestic Partner Commission (chair)
Gertrude Stein Democratic Club (volunteer, donor)
Whitman-Walker Clinic Lesbian Services Program (volunteer, donor)
NARAL Pro-Choice America (donor, volunteer)
National Association of Gay and Lesbian Democratic Clubs aka Gay and Lesbian Democrats of America (volunteer, donor)
Alzheimer’s Association (donor)
America’s Second Harvest (donor)
American Friends Service Committee (donor)
Amnesty International (donor)
Arena State (donor)
Bread for the City (donor)
Capital Area Food Bank (donor)
CARE (donor)
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador/CISPES (donor )
DC Rape Crisis Center (donor)
Doctors Without Borders (donor)
Food First (donor)
Friends of the National Zoo (donor)
Heifer International (donor)
House of Ruth (donor)
Indian College Fund (donor)
International Campaign for Tibet (donor)
Joan’s Legacy (donor)
Mothers Against Drunk Driving/MADD (donor)
National Abortion Federation (donor)
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People/NAACP (donor)
National Breast Cancer Coalition (donor)
National Breast Cancer Coalition (donor)
National Multiple Sclerosis Society (donor)
Native American Heritage Association (donor)
Older Women’s League (donor)
OXFAM (donor)
Planned Parenthood (donor)
Public Radio (donor)
Red Cross (donor)
Rosenberg Fund (donor)
Shakespeare Theatre (donor)
Smithsonian Institution (donor)
Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (donor)

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

I mainly went to bars in the 1970s. Spent some time at Augie’s, His 'n Hers, Sue and Nan’s, Lost and Found.

Judith: Lost and Found

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

Both: Basic gay and lesbian rights – no state had gay rights when we came out. Also electing openly gay/lesbian candidates.

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

Both: Marriage/domestic partner, gays in the military, AIDS, basic gay/lesbian rights, electing gay/lesbian and pro-gay officials.

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

Personally I’ve lost many friends. Bill Bogan, who got me involved in Gertrude Stein Democratic Club when I moved to DC, died of AIDS, as did Jim Zais, another Stein member I worked with. As president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, I testified before the city council to encourage funding for AIDS.

I also knew the people Chris mentions. Many friends and acquaintances have died or are afflicted with AIDS… I know women who died of breast cancer and who have multiple sclerosis.

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

In the ‘70s when I was active there was a lot of diversity, but not much interaction. Many lesbian feminists wouldn’t work with lesbians who worked with straight women, let alone men.

There was limited interaction between different racial groups – one group that was active was Black and White Men Together.

In terms of age there was some conflict in the lesbian community. Some older lesbians who had been out for a while viewed younger lesbian feminists as “nouveau gay,” while some lesbian feminists viewed the older lesbians as to mired in role playing.

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

I have volunteered for many political campaigns, including Chicago campaigns such as Clem Balanoff’s and DC campaigns such as Harry Thomas as well as for national campaigns. In particular I worked with the gays and lesbians for Mondale fairly extensively. I coordinated activists campaigning for Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and for Paul Wellstone in the 1990s.

I also have worked on a range of legislative initiatives from gay/lesbian rights bills to AIDS funding to women’s rights. My political activism also includes community organizing for many issues and educational work on political policy issues. I also worked on building coalitions including the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Metropolitan Chicago.

I worked extensively on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) campaign in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. As staff at Chicago NOW I worked on the abortion rights issue – fundraising, phone banks, clinic protection, infiltrating a “lifer” group, etc.

I also worked the polls for various state and national Democratic candidates in Chicago; bused to Indiana to work door-to-door for Birch Bayh; worked on the Mondale/Ferraro campaign as national NOW staffer; and have been involved in Democratic election politics here in DC since the early ‘80s.

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

I think the key things that I contributed to the community were the willingness to work with others of whatever gender, political perspective, age, activist orientation; a commitment to activism and organizing combined with a sense of strategy and the need for political change; and a dedication to building community that stretched beyond, but included, the more traditional bar scene.

More concretely, I worked with people in the socialist-feminist organization Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (CWLU) for many years; as a representative of CWLU I helped forge working relationships with mainstream gay and lesbian activists, with gay Republicans, with women of the then “older” generation in the bar scene, and with gay men from leather and trans clubs. I was one of the organizers of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Metropolitan Chicago and chaired the Coalition with Guy Warner.

As a co-chair of the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force (IGLTF) I was a leader in efforts to pass gay right legislation. With CWLU, IGLTF, and others, I helped involve people in work on gay rights, electoral campaigns, and community activism. I wrote articles in many forums on the need for a progressive perspective in the gay and lesbian community.

As one of the founders of Blazing Star, I wrote and edited the newsletter, which was distributed to lesbian bars around Chicago in an effort to form links and build community that included many generations of lesbians.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to our forebears in the struggle for justice and equal rights. Chris has been my inspiration in this regard.

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

Some of these are more stories than defining moments and in general this is stream of consciousness. When I was about nine I decided I wanted to be a scientist – this was around 1955. Most of the people I knew – friends, teachers, etc. – sort of chuckled and figured I’d grow out of it.

At about 12 I remember thinking that one thing I didn’t want to be was a wife and mother; I’d be an old-maid school teacher rather than that.

At 17, a friend of mine gave me the book The Feminine Mystique [by Betty Friedan], and it was the first time I remember consciously realizing that there were or should be more choices for girls/women. That made me a feminist and ultimately made it possible for me to come out.

I also remember as a kid reading a book called While Six Million Died [by Arthur D. Morse] about the Holocaust. It was very upsetting to me, and convinced me that one had to make a commitment to resist evil and work for change. This was one thing that led to my becoming an activist.

I was in high school when President Kennedy was assassinated. We lived in a conservative suburb of Milwaukee and there were kids in my high school who cheered. That incident was one that gave more impetus to my commitment to political activism.

Not long after that, during the ‘64 election, the suburb we lived in (Wauwatosa) went for George Wallace. I wrote a letter to the local paper condemning this. My mother got a lot of hate calls (there weren’t any other Riddioughs in the phone book). All of this made me angry at the Right, but also more oriented toward working with rather than attacking those with whom I disagreed.

In college I joined the anti-Vietnam war movement and that ultimately led me to many years of Left activism.

A defining moment for me was when a good friend in high school refused to speak to me because her father was a contractor and my father was in the union during a strike. Also, having an illegal abortion in the ‘60s effectively put me outside the law and enabled me to begin to think and act for myself.

23) Additional comments and memories.

When I moved to Chicago, I got involved in the women’s movement, specifically the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. One of the projects I worked on was the Liberation School for Women, which held classes on issues from organizing a softball team to repairing a car to political perspectives on feminism.

In about 1971 I attended a class called “Women’s Liberation is a Lesbian Plot,” which was the first “public” thing I did related to lesbianism. During one of the sessions Renee Hanover came and lambasted us for being “nouveau lesbians” – dabbling in lesbianism. In a quirky way that made me want to show her and others that we/I were no mere dabblers.

Sometime later (a couple of years) I remember attending meetings of Chicago Lesbian Liberation. Each meeting would have about 100 women attending, but each time it would be a different 100. There was no real coherent organization – it was like consciousness-raising in its purest form. It also was one of the early groups to adopt a sort of “I’m more of a lesbian than you” attitude. Some of the folks would go on about how lesbians in CWLU were not real lesbians because we worked with straight women.

Another incident occurred after a situation at Augie’s, where Augie’s son (an adult at the time) started harassing women at the bar. The Lesbian Feminist Center asked for a meeting with the owners of Augie’s. Donna Pomerance came and at one point said something like “I admire what you’re doing; we rebelled against the norms for women by role playing, but your way is better and healthier.” It stuck with me and made me realize again that fostering divisions in the community was not a good thing.

In my work with IGLTF and the Coalition I grew to admire many of the people who made up the community, from Renee Hanover to Guy Warner to Al Wardell and many others. At the time Chicago seemed in some ways to be more “backward” than some of the gay meccas like New York City and San Francisco, but in many ways I think we were able to build a more solid and diverse community in part because we needed each other more. Indirectly I think the Chicago organizing tradition also helped solidify the community.

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