Anne Foreman and Mary Jo Risher discuss the book "By Her Own Admission"
BROADCAST: Jul. 25, 1977 | DURATION: 00:52:31
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Studs Terkel My guests this morning are Mary Jo Risher and Anne Foreman, and they are, how shall I put it? The heroines of a book, though they don't say it, they are, and victims, too. It's a book called "By Her Own Admission", Mary Jo Risher wrote this in collaboration with the writer, Gifford Guy Gibson, Doubleday the publishers. And it's very simple, it's a, it's "A Lesbian Mother's Fight to Keep Her Son", that subtitle tells it all. I suppose what makes the story a, not a story, something about us, all of us is there, the son is 9 years old at the time. Richard. Richard says, "I want to be with you, Mother. You know, I'm, I'm happy with you." But because she is lesbian, it was taken away. He was taken away from her. This is what the story is about, and seemingly it's just trial. But far, far more than that. And so my guests this morning to talk about the subject: their lives and in a sense ours. "By Her Own Admission", so Mary Jo Risher and her friend, her good friend, Anne Foreman. In a moment, the program after this message. [pause in recording] So where do we begin, Mary Jo, in the very opening of the book? So funny. The opening of, the opening line of the book is, "On December 23, 1975 a Dallas Domestic Relations Court jury of 10 men and two women," and soon we'll ask about the men and women of the jury in a moment, because they -- "Found that a material substantial change had occurred in the home of 38-year-old Mary Jo Risher and awarded custody of nine-year-old Richard Calvin Risher to his father. The material substantial change was homosexuality." Your [wife? life?] became the issue of the trial.
Mary Jo Risher Right.
Studs Terkel How'd it begin? You and your husband, ex-husband Doug got a divorce.
Mary Jo Risher Well yes, and I had custody of the two boys for almost four years, and then
Studs Terkel Two boys, there's Jimmy age
Mary Jo Risher -- Yes, Jimmy age 19 at the present time. At the time that we went into court Jimmy was around 17 years old. And of course at a earlier time Jimmy had relayed to me that he had told his father of my homosexuality. At the time that he told his father, he received a automobile, and two weeks after he received the automobile, I received the citation telling me that I was unfit as a parent because of my homosexuality, and Mr. wanted -- Mr. Risher wanted the children immediately removed from the home. In a temporary hearing, the judge denied removing the children. In fact
Studs Terkel -- 'Cause that was not the issue. Was
Mary Jo Risher Well, the issue of homosexuality at that time was not brought into the courtroom. The issue that I was a good parent, that the children were not, would not be harmed to remain in that home until we came to the court. The jury and everything, like I say, it was a temporary hearing, and at that time the judge ordered the car back to Mr. Risher.
Studs Terkel And this is because by the way because you were living with the woman whom you love, the person you love, Anne Foreman, Anne, and you have a child, Anne.
Anne Foreman Yes, I do. I have a 12-year-old daughter that's living in our home today. Judy Ann's extremely fortunate; her father supports her, her mother, and you know no matter what the lifestyle is, a fact that Judy Ann loves her mother and her mother loves her, and it's a love that he feels like he shouldn't intrude on, and also he thinks it's healthy for the child, and so do I, that we support each other in what we believe and what we feel.
Studs Terkel This is, this is your ex-husband and his wife, both of whom understand
Anne Foreman And his present wife also.
Studs Terkel 'Cause she's, by the way I should point out Judy Ann is a very open kid, a very, quite marvelous, her openness, sunny nature. They are obviously unharmed. This is a very [unintelligible] what is unharmed? We'll come to that and the matter. And your case, Richard, who's what the battle is all about. Is very much in love with you, gets a kick out of being there with Anne, with his new friend Judy Ann, your daughter.
Mary Jo Risher Oh, yes. And then too, the psychologist that evaluated our family was able to relate to the jurors and to the courtroom that Richard had relayed to them that he wanted to remain with me, that he did love me, and that of course in evaluating me they felt, you know, I knew that I loved him, and they said that Richard wanted to stay with me and was very fearful that he might be removed from
Studs Terkel Now later on we should read some of the, some of the dialogue, the cross-examination of the attorney for your husband and you and others which was very revealing. Before that let's go back to the beginning, because the book is more than a fight for custody of a child who is very unhappy with being taken away from you. The book is about us and these deep, deep fears in us of homosexuality and our deep fears, I mean, come back, so we come back to you, beginnings. You, you were aware that you were different in this respect, different from what is called a norm after you'd been married, but all your life you had a feeling, did you now?
Mary Jo Risher Oh yes, I -- of course I was able to identify those feelings, probably at the age of 12 or 13. The only thing is, I had no one else to communicate my feelings to even though I came from a very loving family. Mother and father that loved their children and the children loved them. But I could not relate to them I did not feel my feelings. And then too, it was a traditional family. You know, they wanted their children, the girls to grow up to marry and have children. And the boy to grow up and marry and be responsible for a family. So I knew of these feelings. I also when I went into nurse's training viewed a girl
Mary Jo Risher Yes. I viewed a girl being thrown out of the dormitory at 11:00 at night, and also realizing that these were the same feelings that I had that this that this woman had was a crisis point in my life, to realize that society, if they knew of my feelings could do the same thing to me. And so I think that you know, throughout your early years and all, you try to suppress these feelings and I did so, and I met Mr. Risher and fell in love with him and married him and lived with him for 14 years. When I divorced him, it had nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality. I will say that at some periods during the marriage, I would think about, you know, not ever being able to be myself.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking about not being able to be yourself, the fears you had to hiding, you -- in the hospital you were obviously a very good nurse. You were excellent, but there they had to be hidden all the time, did it not? We'll come back later to the reactions after the case.
Mary Jo Risher Oh, definitely. Definitely. You know, one thing the fear of being fired. You know, if they knew that you were homosexual. Also, you know, patients.
Studs Terkel What about you, Anne? When did you first discover, you know, in your case because you too married a guy, this -- who is sympathetic and understands.
Anne Foreman Well, I actually -- I'd say junior high is when I first -- well, I had close friendships with young, well young girls as I was growing up, and I seemed to be much more involved with being around them as opposed to the boys in the neighborhood. You know, we all have a ready-made excuse that society gives us, we can always say, "Oh, well, that's just childhood curiosity and you'll outgrow it and girls will be girls and curiosity is there," so you try to convince yourself of that, and in high school I had a closer relationship with a woman that felt similar feelings for me who I eventually lived with for five years, but who we, we were talking in our, we were writing letters to each other, that's as far as it got, and her mother found the letters, and I, boy I tell you, I can't even express how low we felt by the time we got to hearing how unnatural and unhealthy and sinful that we were, that it was, it was a real shock and so, if shock treatment works at all, it certainly scared us into being heterosexuals for at least five or six years. We tried.
Studs Terkel You say you were scared and that's interesting. You were scared into being heterosexual. That's, that's
Anne Foreman Well, I think that you are. I think that that's a very legitimate.
Studs Terkel Rather than what you are impelled to be, want to be. I come back to Mary Jo Risher is a registered nurse and is very good at her work. We'll come to the matter of feeling, obviously you've deep feelings for your patients. Later on something happened to you as a result of this case. We'll talk about that. To your, attitude toward your work and patients. In your case, Anne, you're account bookkeeper
Anne Foreman Auditor for a bank, I was in the, yes, as an auditor for a local bank. I'd also been a supervisor of a department of seven or eight people in that same bank, and I was kind of going up the ladder, which stopped
Studs Terkel Perhaps we should go now to the matter of reactions of people, for we'll come back to the case. Because it's on my mind. Anne, when you went back -- the case made headlines of course, was in the media of course took it up from -- of course they were just ravenous and they went courtroom because you realized you were taking a tremendous risk, didn't you?
Anne Foreman Right.
Mary Jo Risher Oh yes, and of course we also realized that it was the first jury trial in the history of the United States that set judgment on a homosexual parent, which of course I feel like
Studs Terkel First homosexual, first time a homosexual parent
Studs Terkel Not involving, not involving say a male homosexual parent before this?
Mary Jo Risher No, this is the first one. The first jury trial.
Anne Foreman Yes.
Studs Terkel A jury was ten to two, wasn't it?
Studs Terkel That's interesting. Now, of the the two who dissented, the two who were in your favor saying you should keep the child, they were two men, weren't they?
Mary Jo Risher Yes, they were. And for five hours the jury deliberated, and three men were for me. Tony [Loscio?], who is a former Dallas Cowboy football player and was one of
Studs Terkel Being one of the most macho of guys!
Mary Jo Risher Yes.
Studs Terkel He
Mary Jo Risher Yes, he was the foreman of the jury. He voted for me, as did another gentleman. You know, he made mention that they could never get homosexuality out of the jury room, no matter, you know, what became of
Studs Terkel I think of, let's think of the, were there two women? Now, how many were on jury, women?
Studs Terkel Well, what do you think of those two, that's interesting, though. Three who voted in your favor eventually two were men. What about the two women who voted against you? Why do you think they did? Because now we come to something interesting I think.
Mary Jo Risher Well, I don't know. I think that they, you know, had the second level prejudice that most people have. You know, against -- I don't think it's completely just against homosexuals, but I think it's against most minority groups. I, you know, I could identify with those two women because I think about, about my life growing up and the different prejudice that is handed down through the generations, and realizing that about six or seven years prior to that I probably would have the same prejudice against a minority group. I'll say today that I belong to a minority group and I'm in tune with all minorities. They're not just homosexual, I'm in tune with, your all ethnic groups.
Studs Terkel Did you, is this true of you, Anne? This is interesting that you see the person out -- [considered?] outside the pale, and the pale would be pale! The pale would be a white middle-class society, you see. Male, but female goes along with it. But were you also this open change your view about other matters, too?
Anne Foreman No, I think I was basically born with a liberal view. I -- gay people are all different as they're growing up, and I don't think any of us can feel the same way. Mary Jo was more conservative in the way she was brought up, my mother I feel was more liberal. She gave me a little more insight, even though she, she didn't, didn't even understand homosexuality. I don't think it's something that she was ever involved around. She certainly -- some of my best friends as I were growing up were Black kids that lived behind our house, you know, and in our area and she, she encouraged me to play with them because she knew their parents would take care of me. So I kind of grew in
Studs Terkel But in Mary Jo's case different, you say your mother was fairly [on this thing?]. Now we come to perhaps one of the most fascinating people in your life, your own mother Mary Jo, your mother, Mrs. Davidson.
Mary Jo Risher Yes.
Studs Terkel And now when she discovered this, she was furious with you, or she was for the boy being taken away from you originally. Her grandson. Originally.
Mary Jo Risher Yes, originally she was, but also I believe that, you know, during the book and all, when my mother first found out of my homosexuality, on the surface she still in a way supported me. That was surface. In depth, she did not. At a period of time when Jimmy had relayed to his father of my homosexuality, Jimmy moved in with her, and I believe that the two of them fed each other on negative views of homosexuality, and for four months I had no communication whatsoever with my mother, but my mother has grown tremendously. And today is one of my strongest supporters.
Studs Terkel You know, this is very moving by the way, 'cause here's an elderly woman, and it's difficult, it's so strange event that she reads about sometimes exotically and of another life, another world, these strange people, here her own daughter. And this line, Mrs. Davidson, your mother, is "I cannot see -- I can't see how you can think you can love another woman like you would a man." Say, "Mom, it's not for you to see it, it's for me to know. And I know." And I guess it must've been terrible for her, wasn't it? You know, to
Mary Jo Risher Well, I tell you, my mother related to me at a later time that she spent many, many nights laying awake trying to figure out where, you know, "Did I go wrong? Did I do something wrong to cause Mary Jo to be
Studs Terkel You mean did she do something wrong.
Mary Jo Risher Yes. To cause me to be this way. And I tried to reassure, you know, through the only way I could, would be through words. And I said, "Mother, I assure you that you and my father never did anything wrong to cause me the way I am."
Studs Terkel And then so, but now today, but in the meantime, the case and her own reading and knowledge, now she's
Mary Jo Risher Yeah, my mother was on radio. She goes on radio, television. She's a, you know the news media or you know sometimes come to her, you know as a as a parent of a homosexual and also a family member and what have you, but my mother the other day on radio she said, "Years ago I used to pick up the paper and I would read the paper and if there was anything in there, an article on homosexuality or, or something like that, I would just, you know, sort of skim over it, or you know or I would -- wouldn't even read it." And she says, "Today I pick up the paper and if there's any articles on homosexuality or Anita Bryant or anything in there," she says "I read that, and then I don't, you know, worry about [the
Studs Terkel Now I'm sort of thinking about the rest of your two, two sisters, and one sister was for you all the time.
Mary Jo Risher Oh, Pat. Pat was very supportive. In fact, when, when I knew that Doug knew of my homosexuality
Studs Terkel Pat is heterosexual.
Mary Jo Risher Oh, yes, yes. Well, I've got a brother and two sisters in the family and they're, they're all heterosexual, as my mother and father are. But Pat was very encouraging to me in that she said, you know, "Mary Jo" excuse the language -- "Fight like hell for that baby." And I did have one member of my family that supported me completely.
Studs Terkel I like the way you say, "Excuse the language. Fight like hell for the baby." You did come from a conservative background, didn't you?
Studs Terkel So I'm -- and your one sister was opposed to you, and she she's come around.
Mary Jo Risher Yes. That was my sister Carol. She was actually above all of the family, she was the one that was most in opposition of me and I would like to relate that my mother is very supportive of me, but this sister has become I guess my, my strongest supporter in that she goes to organizations and speaking out of the family's viewpoint and telling people, you know, the people are the same, you know, as they were before you ever knew of their homosexuality.
Studs Terkel Now, in your case, Anne, you never had any family difficulties, did
Anne Foreman Well, that's not true. No, my mother and father -- my mother was already deceased when this came out and they didn't know, my father, he was elderly and not really in good condition at the time it all came out and more -- he was sick and I don't -- he passed away in January and I'm not real sure he knew really the entire -- I just don't know what he, he never discussed it with me and I think he had too many of his own problems at the point, you know, to be involved. My great aunt was, who was almost 90 years old was a problem. The book points out what we'd try to hide the newspapers, and we called her during the news to keep her from hearing it, but finally it caught up with her, and she had a hard time dealing, extremely hard just like Mary Jo's mother except maybe even a little worse, it's because it was such a shock, you know, all of a sudden she saw her niece, her great-niece on the television and she was a lesbian and in court, but she's come to the point now where she'll never -- I don't think she's so old, I don't know that she'll ever except all of it, but she's at least able to say "I love you no matter what you are or what you do, I love you very much, and also, you know, and I'll never forsake you, and your friends are good people. And I, even though I didn't know they were gay in the beginning, I know that they're not child molesters, that they don't do all the awful things that I heard about, and that they are people and human beings."
Studs Terkel You know, it's funny, speak of child molesters, it's funny this whole about child pornographic ring, the headlines and all that, and of course were used by Anita Bryant and anti-gay movement. The irony is, most child molesters are very macho, are everything, and has nothing to do with homosexuality at all. It has to do with a kind of brutishness and attitude toward other lives, and in many cases a very macho and very hetero indeed.
Mary Jo Risher Oh, yes. The law enforcement
Studs Terkel And so this is the irony, coming back to, to the case is something interesting. When I was young, there was a book about lesbians, a very beautiful book called "The Well of Loneliness" by Radcliffe Hall. And loneliness, by the way, is the word. So I discovered something reading your book here, that is, that in a gay society, certainly a lesbian I imagine, this may not apply to male homosexuals as much, there is a cooperative, there is a helping one other out, or am I wrong? Or am I romanticizing? In contrast to the feeling of tremendous loneliness, there's a spirit of community, or am I wrong?
Anne Foreman There is, especially among close friends, but you have to find them first to be their friends, you know, and then they're helpful. They're a community, yes, of friends. And that's again it's not a -- some areas it's much more political. In other areas, in Dallas area especially we feel like that it just close friends that try to help each other. Also there are some heterosexual friends that we're able, women are tend to, be able to have heterosexual friends and be able to conceal their homosexuality, too.
Studs Terkel So there's a question of -- well, it's quite obvious there's a, in what's happening in the past decade, there's been a coming out from inside the closet, a great deal. Let's come, before we come to Jimmy, to Richie which what this case is all about, we're talking about the happiness of a child here. We come down to specifics in a moment. And where is the child most happy? Where will he grow up to be the most healthy human being? With you or with your husband? We'll come -- that's interesting. Before that, reactions. The case now was headlined all over, certainly all over Dallas, in Texas and nationwide. Now you two were known, and coming back to the hospital where you were a respected nurse. What happened when you came back?
Mary Jo Risher Well, the first day back when I got to work in my time card slot was a note that said, "Miss Risher, do not wear your name tag until further notified." Of course, I relayed to them right away that I respected the hospital, my patients, the employer, and the employees I worked with, that I would not wear my name tag. Also I was reassigned
Studs Terkel You wouldn't wear your name tag 'cause some people might recognize the name.
Mary Jo Risher Yes, might recognize the name since it was new, in the news. But also
Studs Terkel -- Not your patient with cancer whom you are, whom you are treating will be terribly hurt and disturbed by it, of course.
Mary Jo Risher Yes, right. And also I was reassigned. I was put on another division. I was put with patients that generally would not be reading the newspaper or watching television.
Mary Jo Risher Yes.
Studs Terkel And you were taken, it says somewhere in here in the book you were taken from more affluent wards and put into the poorer wards.
Mary Jo Risher That's right. Yes. But you know, I didn't I didn't mind that all that much because I'm a nurse first, and I administer to the sick, and immaterial to the age of the person. But another thing
Studs Terkel No, I mean when I was -- what interest me in taken away from the more affluent to the poor that the objection would come from the affluent,
Mary Jo Risher Oh, yes, yes, of course. Well, I don't know. I would say that not so much the poor, but maybe the elderly. You know. That's what it had, that's what happened. It wasn't completely that I was put in a sort of a charity-type of division as it was I was put in with the elderly, the citizen, the senior citizens.
Anne Foreman Which of course wouldn't have the same amount of money that
Studs Terkel So, so there was this, there was this standoff, so what, what fin-- did they speak to your colleagues? I want to come to Anne in
Mary Jo Risher Well, they, they did. They did not speak at the trial. I learned at a later time that the hospital,, the doctors, the staff, the administrator of the hospital, the board and all had met and discussed "What are we going to do with Mary Jo Risher?" Well,
Studs Terkel Well, you had a good record as
Mary Jo Risher Oh, yes, yes. My record as a nurse was almost the level of excellence. And so they said that as long as I kept up the nursing that I had done in the past that I would have a job with them. The nurses treated me in the beginning as if I had been on a vacation. Like I say, they did not speak anything of the trial.
Studs Terkel Yeah. What finally happened?
Mary Jo Risher Well, a number of things. After about five months, the media wanted to know what happened to Mary Jo Risher and Anne Foreman, and we were in the news. But I had told the hospital earlier that I was in the appeal process and I could not guarantee that I would not be public at a later time. So when it came out in the newspaper, I was called in to the director of nurse's office and then after the discussion at a later time I found that she had gone up on the floor and talked to other nurses of our conversation. So I took her and myself to the administrator of the hospital, and at that time I resigned. But another thing happened to me, and of course I felt like that I was a very dedicated person to my profession and to my patients. But also I was, after you know it became public, I was beginning to feel that I could no longer administer to my patients like I had in the past, and that was to give my whole self to that patient. For fear that they would recognize me in something that I would do routinely and had done for many, many years as a nurse would be taken the wrong way.
Studs Terkel I'm going to ask you about that, what happened to you, your sense of feelings for patients. There's something interesting. Jane Kennedy, a marvelous head of nursing at University Hospital took a stand against the war. She helped some of the young activist Catholics. She was one of the one -- burned some draft -- object to the Vietnam War, and she would spend some time in the prison. When she came out she didn't have her job at this particular hospital. So you see, when you talk, it's a while ago, but other things being connected about you recognize what it is to be an outsider? In some cases the Black, the lesbian or the antiwar protester at that time, too. So there's Jane Kennedy's case, and as we take a pause right now, a break for this, and we want to return, perhaps Anne Foreman's experience on your return to the bank where you worked. Was it a bank? Where you were working and reactions of your colleagues. We're talking to Mary Jo Risher and Anne Foreman, and the book is "By Her Own Admission", it's Mary Jo Risher's book, but Anne of course is in it all the way, a lesbian mother's fight to keep her son, and Doubleday the publishers, and it's more than a lesbian mother's fight to keep her son, I think it's about our fight to keep a sense of sanity and a sense of some kind of justice. So in a moment we continue after this message. [pause in recording] So here was the case, it was nationwide, and the headlines of course, "Lesbian Mother Fights for Her Son Richie," and I was very -- by the way, you describe the family life of you and Anne and your little girl Judy Ann, it seems like a very happy one, the kids are having a great time.
Studs Terkel And your, your little daughter Judy Ann, she understood all this, didn't she?
Mary Jo Risher Yes she did. She underst-- well, she understood as much about our relationship
Mary Jo Risher As she did her father. She's
Mary Jo Risher Twelve and a half.
Studs Terkel But she understood
Mary Jo Risher Yeah, she did. She understood we loved each other. She understood we loved each other like her father and his -- and Jan did, her stepmother. She couldn't, what she couldn't understand was the fact that society or twelve people could actu-- or even ten people could decide to take Richard away from the home. It was, it was extremely hard for her to deal with that, she said, "But they don't know. They don't know what our home's like. You know? They don't live here with us. They don't see we're happy," and it was hard for her to deal with that. She wanted to tell them. She wanted to go on the stand and tell the world how happy she was.
Studs Terkel Here's this 12-year-old little kid, who is very open by the way, wants to tell that, this friend of hers, Richie, who is the daughter of her mother's friend, it's very happy here, and is distraught when he's taken away.
Studs Terkel Now, she understood it. But ten of the 12 people the jury did not.
Mary Jo Risher That's right. I think one of her comments is, "They just don't know. They should live here, too."
Studs Terkel What happened to you after case -- the case is lost. Well, it's pending right now, there's an appeal, but for the moment the case is lost, Richie is with his father Doug. Right?
Mary Jo Risher Yes. He's been with him for a year and a half now.
Studs Terkel Quote unquote, "normal person." So we come to -- and you returned -- 'cause you're in this case, you're cause célèbre, was he, you returned to the bank. Now you were pretty good at your work, aren't you?
Anne Foreman Oh yes, yes. I felt like I was. I felt like that I had, as I said earlier that I was on the ladder up in the bank. All of a sudden the ladder just stopped, though there wasn't any -- there weren't any more steps to
Studs Terkel Were you pretty popular at the bank before all this came out?
Anne Foreman Yes. I'm pretty outgoing person I think. I have lots of friends. Some of them I had confided my homosexuality in, who remain my friends, seven or eight of them in the bank. But the other ones I hadn't, I'd just been a good friend to. I felt like
Studs Terkel -- What happened when you came back?
Anne Foreman Well, when I came back nobody said anything to me. It was amaz-- for two days, I don't like anybody -- two or three days nobody spoke a word, and then finally even my supervisor, who I was close to and who I again am, but it took me, it took her a while to deal with it too, I think. But she -- you know, finally a couple of people had come to me. I remember one particular guy who, who worked with the, the plants and things in the bank and I'd never even realized was good, I never even knew who he was, and he came up to me and he said, "I just want you to know what you're doing, I'm real proud of, that my lover and I really think you all have a lot of courage." But that was about the all, you know. And then I heard the remarks like, "Well, they're sick." You know, there's -- and one time when I called back to the bank before I got back I got the word that if Mary Jo and I didn't lo-- didn't win, we might, I might as well forget my job and not come back. You know, so needless to say I was a little terrified, and I would -- I just refused to go into the bathroom when there was any other women in there, because I wasn't -- I wasn't going to, I just didn't want to be hassled about anything that wasn't the truth.
Studs Terkel So here something happens to your personal life to the very act of going to the bathroom or being with somebody alone, suddenly you [realize?] you can't do that. In your case you were -- you as a nurse, Mary Jo, showed feelings for your patients. Now something happened to you as a nurse, didn't it?
Mary Jo Risher Well, I mean you know, the things that was routine for me to do, changing of dressings, catheterizations, even giving medications. This became really -- well I, it became very paranoid that especially if I had to do these things to a female. Whereas in the past they were routine for me to do. And you know, I never thought anything about it. And then all of a sudden now I'm having to be fearful, you know, of my own actions, my own -- you know, I mean the patient might recognize who I am, and you know scream out, you know, well, you know, "I'm being handled by a lesbian." But there is one thing that I would like to relate, and it means a lot to me and it's not in the book. But I was on a radio show not long ago, and a patient that I had had evidently was listening -- well, she was listening to the radio show. She called in and she said that when she entered the hospital she was just about on her deathbed, and that Mary Jo Risher had taken care of her for two months, and she said at no time did Mary Jo Risher ever indicate to me that she was a lesbian, said "If it had not been for her tender loving care and the care that I received under her," you know as a nurse, said "There's a possibility that I could have died," and she did nothing but, you know
Anne Foreman Oh, she was fabulous.
Mary Jo Risher I almost in tears when I heard it, because that is the first time since all of this has come out that I've had a patient to say that to me, and it meant a lot to me, even though I'm sure there's a lot of patients that you know feel the same way.
Anne Foreman She just happened to hear the radio show.
Studs Terkel See, obviously something happens to you. And to Anne, it was this fear of being with somebody alone, a woman.
Anne Foreman Right.
Mary Jo Risher Yes.
Studs Terkel I imagine it could happen to a guy, a male homosexual too, as part of a case of this sort. If I could just offer an opinion, of the two jurors on your side, originally three were men, two women against. I have a theory. It was a male homosexual in your case fighting for the right to his child and his male lover [unintelligible], I think the two women would have been the dissenters. Because I think we come to something -- Wilson Watt is over here, I remember a gay activist is sitting by. Do you think I have a point here? Because I think it is a deep fear of everybody by himself. We live in this very macho society, and he fear -- even though a person is heterosexual and fine and healthy, a person is homosexual and fine and may I add healthy, that fear of being considered different, you know? And so the one of your own sex would probably vote against you. Not out of hate, out of fear.
Anne Foreman Oh, I think there's maybe that and a little more that for some reason Mary Jo and I allowed ourselves to not stay in the conditioned role of women. We allowed ourself to be ourself, and I think these women maybe didn't quite understand that either, because they believed -- they made comments like, "Well, we believe that there should be a male and female in the home." So they agreed that maybe two women couldn't raise children by themselves, and these were women who obviously raised their own, so they should know.
Studs Terkel You know we're really talking about ignorance too, here, not the women this fear that, but the first lawyer you consulted, this is very revealing. The lawyer listened, when you considered a lawyer to fight against Risher, for Richie, Richard. "It's going to be a hard fight. You have one thing in your favor." "What's that?" Mary Jo asked [enthusiastically?]. "Your children are boys." "Why should it make any difference?" "Well, if your child had been a girl, it'd be a lot harder to fight in a courtroom and win." "Why?" You see. Slow getting the drift. "Well, Mrs. Risher," says the lawyer, "You're a lesbian. The woman you live with is a lesbian. A daughter grows up, gets to be a teenager, who knows? Your daughter might look good to you, or look good to the woman you're with." I'm thinking of the obscenity of this man, you see.
Mary Jo Risher I tell you, when I heard that, I was, you know -- and I was at the hospital and I was talking on a pay phone, and I had to hang up. I just -- I got sick. I really did. To think that an individual could tell me, you know, me being a mother, the love of a mother and everything, to tell me that, you know, these
Studs Terkel There's this one part here that you add in the book, or your colleague Gibson adds in the book, "She, Mary Jo, didn't have the presence of mind to ask him if his teenage daughter looked good to him."
Mary Jo Risher Oh, we thought about that.
Studs Terkel Projecting his own sexual phantasm onto her.
Mary Jo Risher Yes.
Studs Terkel This of course is so often what we're talking about, you see. Coming back child pornography was the projection of something on there, so we -- of course the key of all the questions is, how would Richie, indeed how would Judy Ann be affected by their parents they live with being lesbians? This is the whole point of it, and of course we have testimony throughout, evidence you
Mary Jo Risher Oh
Studs Terkel Nothing to do with it except the happiness, if they're happy with a loving parent, or loving parents. And so we have testimony throughout here, perhaps we should read some of this. There is the lawyer for your husband, name of McCurley, and he's having a field day, isn't he?
Mary Jo Risher He certainly, he certainly was.
Studs Terkel But you had two lawyers, and they were pretty good.
Anne Foreman Well, we thought they were. We think they still are.
Studs Terkel As Aglaia -- what are their names again?
Studs Terkel And Frank Stenger, and here was the case now, we come to the judge, don't we? He at first agreed, the same judge, that this was not an issue at all. Yes Lars the happiness and health and mental health spiritual health the child is concerned then how to deal. How did
Studs Terkel As far as the happiness and health and mental health, spiritual health of the child is concerned. Then how did he, how did he change?
Mary Jo Risher Well, it from the time that we had the temporary hearing until we went into the courtroom, it was a year and about two months had passed. But in September of '75, the judge heard expert witnesses, and my lawyers had presented a motion of limine to keep the issue of homosexuality out of the courtroom, and those expert witnesses went on the stand telling why that motion of limine should be honored, you know, but after the judge heard the expert witnesses and what they had to say about it, finally decided that homosexuality, any acts or what have you on homosexuality could be brought into the courtroom.
Anne Foreman Maybe he was curious, too.
Studs Terkel You know what's interesting? Perhaps a bit of this testimony. Why don't I'll be the opposing lawyer, McCurley, and you be Mary Jo, and I'm quizzing you now, and "How would you characterize your relationship with Mrs. Foreman?"
Mary Jo Risher A loving relationship.
Studs Terkel "At the time when you met Mrs. Foreman, were you a homosexual?"
Studs Terkel "Had you had always sexual experiences with other women at the time?"
Mary Jo Risher One other woman.
Studs Terkel "Had you lived with this other woman?"
Mary Jo Risher Never.
Studs Terkel And then you explain how you and Mary and Anne got acquainted and went together. And then -- and it goes on. Oh, there's some other evi-- this guy in the meantime is trying to, is something very dirty and filthy to the audience, and to the jury I should say, who is an audience of course. And then you have testimony of a Dr. Gordon. Now, here we have a, he's a he's a he's a psychologist, is he?
Studs Terkel Now, Dr. Gordon is seemingly, is seemingly open, and he's saying he's going to find for your husband, not for you. He says, "I found that Mr. Douglas Risher -- I was satisfied about you" -- he's very nice to you, says Mary Jo Risher and responsive to your son Richie. We'll talk about Jimmy later, because he's
Mary Jo Risher Yes.
Studs Terkel He's the [other?] one. But was responsible for his educational and medical needs at the that time I interviewed her, and also by the way I did find Mary Jo Risher is a warm and loving parent. She cared very much for our son and her son expresses warm feelings toward his mother. Mr. Douglas Risher has a long history of emotional stability, [by?] a traditional family, [a warm? along?] with his wife, Delaine and their child. So therefore, since you Mary Jo Risher" -- this guy speaks -- "Had exhibited poor judgment in a number of instances, I conclude he (the boy) is better off with the father." And so someone asked your lawyers, "What are those poor judgment things?" Would you mind telling about that and then how your lawyer demolishes this psychologist.
Mary Jo Risher Well, he used two examples that I used poor judgment. One of them being that I had allowed, and of course you know my son Richard is, was nine years old and capable of dressing himself in any attire he wanted to, you know his clothes, he had his clothes in his closet. I had let him wear a boy's blue jean outfit bought from Sears, Tough Skin I believe is the brand, a blue jean jacket and blue jeans. They had belonged at one time to Judy Ann, Anne's daughter, and she had outgrown them, and Richard received them and he was quite happy. The psychologist complimented Richard on how nice he looked. But he said as soon as he found out that the outfit, when Richard said, "Well, thank you. It used to belong to Judy Ann." He said that you know, that me being a lesbian. I could never allow that to happen. Now, it could happen to, with a heterosexual mother
Mary Jo Risher Oh yes, yes, but under the circumstances
Mary Jo Risher But under the circumstances, me being a lesbian I could never allow this. The other poor judgment that I used, exercised, he said, was that I allowed Richard to wear a YWCA tee shirt. Now Richard belonged to the YWCA in Dallas County. He belonged to the brand-new building centrally located, as did my older son. They had many wonderful programs for men and women and boys and girls, and Richard and Judy Ann belonged to a gymnastics class there. They had finished their beginners' class and had advanced into the advanced gymnastics class, and that was a form of Richard's uniform. He was quite proud of it, and the
Studs Terkel I mean this guy was unaware that the YWCA had coeducational
Mary Jo Risher It didn't matter to him again. It didn't
Studs Terkel The fact that you were a lesbian, therefore you must behave in other matters in altogether than anyone else.
Mary Jo Risher Yes, I mean I would have to be -- my whole mannerism would have to be completely different than any other
Studs Terkel Well, this comes back to you and your work again, you see, then how you had -- you couldn't do your work anymore without the self-consciousness and fears, so you couldn't be with a person alone, certainly not a woman alone without the -- so we come back then to -- of course something has to happen to you. But now the case was lost, and for the moment it's pending. Didn't something -- now obviously you had to be bruised by this experience. You, both -- I don't know about you, Anne, but you were obv-- because now you became -- you started questioning everybody, even Anne and everybody else, didn't you?
Mary Jo Risher Oh, yes. Yes. Well, actually, in before I went into trial I began to doubt, you know, whether we were going to, you know, whether we were just going in with [innuendos?], being able to come into in other words just suggesting that I'm a homosexual rather than saying, you know, that's what I am. And then you know if indeed the [innuendos?] were allowed, would I ever be able to appeal? Would I ever have grounds to appeal to get Richard back should this happen? And also I wondered if my friends were going to, you know, to stand beside me. Of course, you know when we went into trial those fears were demolished because, you know, they did stand beside me and went on the, and went into that courtroom, some of them being mothers, and having chil-- and having children and all, and were asked, you know, are you a homosexual? And one particular person said, "Yes, I am." So I mean, you know, what more can you say for friends like that? And of course I became, you know, wondered if Anne was going to sort of stay, you know stick by me and everything. These were things that was going through my mind, but she was with me. She did not leave me when the citation arrived. And she also was very much in support in trying to get us support throughout the country to -- before we even went in the courtroom.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking of the trial and the testimony, there were two seemed distinguished psychiatrists, Dr. Dain and Dr. Dyer, a woman, social worker, analyst, Dr. Dyer.
Anne Foreman A clinical psychologist. Clinical
Studs Terkel Clinical psychologist Dr. Dain, as against two Bible Belt preachers in a sense.
Mary Jo Risher We also had a prominent psychiatrist that was on the stand in our behalf, too.
Studs Terkel And so but the others spoke of it being an abomination, a Biblical abomination, seemed to carry the, carry the day rather than the two.
Anne Foreman We did have an Episcopal chaplain go in our, go on the stand on our behalf, saying that he, you know, I think that they should have listened to him a little more, since he had been in our home and seen what our home was like, as opposed to the two preachers that had never even been around us.
Studs Terkel Yeah. You know we haven't talked about a key figure in this, that's your oldest son Jimmy. And it was his testimony that really cost you the case,
Mary Jo Risher Well, of course. I think the jury would like to think that. But I don't
Studs Terkel Who is Jimmy? How old is Jimmy?
Mary Jo Risher Jimmy is 19 at the present time. He was 17 at the time we were in court. Yes, Jimmy's testimony was different, definitely different than the testimony he gave in the temporary hearing. It was a young man who was 17 years old that was using words like role model. what were some of the -- I, but I mean they were not words that a 17-year-old
Anne Foreman Well, we felt that.
Studs Terkel But what about Jimmy though, see, Jimmy like he, he'd come -- even though he's staying with your husband, you were divorced and you got Richie, who obviously loves you very much. Jimmy's with his father, but Jimmy'd come visit you with his girlfriend, he had a good time at your house! He knew about you and Anne and everything, and there was
Mary Jo Risher Oh, well, now Jimmy, Jimmy lived with me. I got both boys at the time of the divorce and Jimmy knew of my homosexuality before Anne and I moved in together. And he lived with us for nine months, and during that period of time he brought his girlfriends into our home. We went to dinner theaters, went to football games, to the fair and what have you. He even at one period of time wanted to go on vacation with two of our friends and their children. But Jimmy -- I mean you know as far as after he, you know, got his car and lived with my mother and then he had a misunderstanding with my mother and moved in with my -- with his father and lived with his father for about nine months. Now he's married.
Anne Foreman After he moved in with his father, he had no communication with Mary Jo whatsoever, and he never has. And that was about what, three or four months just before the trial, and Mary Jo hadn't spoken with him since he had moved away from his -- her mother's house.
Studs Terkel So he became using with certain words like "role" -- he became the witness saying this unhealthy life for to live with you for his younger brother. Let's read this early dialogue, and you and Jimmy before that, I'll be Jimmy, and you're you, and Jimmy haltingly enters the study, walks over to his mother's desk, stood waiting for her to recognize his presence. This is where, at the hospital? No.
Mary Jo Risher No, no. This is in my bedroom, in my
Studs Terkel Mary Jo looked up. "I have a question to ask you."
Mary Jo Risher That's fine with me. What's the question?
Studs Terkel "Are you a lesbian?" Mary Jo looks at her son.
Mary Jo Risher Do you want me to answer that question?
Studs Terkel "I want you to answer."
Mary Jo Risher Yes, I am a lesbian. Do you want to talk about it?
Studs Terkel "I would like to, yes."
Mary Jo Risher What made you ask me about it, Jimmy?
Studs Terkel "When I sort of overheard a few things between you and Grandma, I found a book over at Anne's house, it was a book on homosexual people." And now you're having this discussion with him. And then he, "Well, how could you love Anne, her being a woman, Ma?"
Mary Jo Risher It's like loving anyone. Anybody. I can love you. I can love Richard. I can love your Grandma. I can love Anne. I can love Anne like I loved your father. But for me the love I have for Anne is much more meaningful. I'm happier with Anne.
Studs Terkel And Jimmy's listening, and at the end Jimmy stands up and you say to him
Studs Terkel "It makes no difference. You're my mom and I love you anyway." And so here is Jimmy then, he understood, you thought, and he did. And then later
Mary Jo Risher That was before I moved in with
Studs Terkel But later on he's, with his, when the testimony. When we're talking about, why are we talking about here? We're talking about more than homosexuality, more than lesbianism, we're talking about relationships with people one to the other, loving relationships and the destruction of it by fears in our society, aren't we?
Mary Jo Risher Well, you know there's one, there's one heartbreak that we all share, and that is that Jimmy, who is now 19 years old, we have not had any communication with him for a year and a half. We understand that he has a son that was born in December of this past year. If it was just me, that this young man you know had not told of his marriage, told of the birth of his son and what have you, that would be one thing. But this young man has completely cut himself off from 70 members of my side of the family. I mean, it was his grandmother's first great-grandchild and her mother's first great-great-grandchild. And to this day, neither one of them had been told of the birth of this child.
Studs Terkel What about Richie?
Mary Jo Risher I just talked to him this this morning. Richard is -- he's doing, he's doing fine because Anne and I, we encourage him to do so. I mean after all, Richard has to keep up his schoolwork no matter where he is. He's got to take care of himself no matter where he is. So we encourage this. The only thing I know is that Richard is very secure in the fact that he knows I'm trying to get him back.
Studs Terkel Does he understand the case?
Mary Jo Risher Richard I don't believe, you know like most children, you know when they've got questions about sex, sexuality, the facts of life or what have you, they'll ask those questions. Richard has not indicated to me that he's interested that much in sex, but or anything else. He does identify our unit. He, and he relayed it to the psychologists who were able to relay to the courtroom.
Mary Jo Risher Richard does view our unit as a family unit, and he loves that unit.
Studs Terkel Anne
Studs Terkel Anne, we come back to your little daughter Judy Ann. What's her reaction to all this?
Anne Foreman You mean in general to -- well, she's very supportive of us now, I, you know. It's hard to say what her reaction is, I guess is she kind of reacts like us, at first it bothered her and now she's supportive of us. She makes it a point to tell her teachers who we are and to be proud of us. But again, you know, that, Studs, that has a lot to do with the positive support the children get from all the people they love. And I think this is what happened to Jimmy. He didn't have that positive support that he needed so desperately in order to find that he was okay with himself, that he was an all right person. And Judy doesn't have any problem. She knows she's an all right person, and she also knows the people she loves are. And that's what's important to her in her child's mind. And even as she grows up to be an adult that's what'll be important to her.
Studs Terkel So where, where, before we say goodbye, where -- what's the status now?
Mary Jo Risher Well, at the present time we're in the Texas Supreme Court on a jurisdictional question. The Civil Courts of Appeal in December of 1976 heard the merits of the case. A month later they said they did not have jurisdiction over this case, so they wouldn't rule on the merits of the case. We're asking the Supreme Court of Texas, did the Civil Courts of Appeal have jurisdiction? If they do, they have to rule on the merits of this case. If they do not, then this allows us to go in to the federal courts. I would like to add that that this case to this level has cost Anne and I alone $26,000.
Studs Terkel I know. the -- you're supported by various groups. Now backs you and various gay activist groups now and then at gatherings back you.
Mary Jo Risher Well, we have been able to pay of that $26,000 we've been able to pay $10,000 of it.
Studs Terkel What do you do now for, for, how do you get along now? That's a ques-- just a bread and butter question.
Mary Jo Risher Well, we have our own business now. We needless to say we decided that it was probably be wise and we can get a lot further ahead in our lives by starting -- creating our own business. We're working with interior decorators doing painting and remodeling and repair and stuff. We enjoy it.
Studs Terkel Well, that sounds sound like interior decorating has won a couple of good craftsman and seems that registered nursing has lost a very good nurse. And the bank is kind of stupid. They lost someone pretty good obviously. "By Her Own Admission" is the book. Gifford Guy Gibson, the writer did it in collaboration with Mary Jo Risher, one of my guests, and she and Anne Foreman my guests. "By Her Own Admission", Doubleday the publishers, it's available, and to both of you the very best of luck.
Mary Jo Risher Thank