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Gays and lesbians

  • Pat Norman (1939–present)

Pat Norman (1939 – present), a longtime leader in the fight for lesbian and gay rights.

Pat Norman has dedicated almost 40 years to improving the lives of lesbian and gay people. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, her activism began in California in 1971, when she founded the Lesbian Mothers’ Union to address child custody issues for gay women.

Later she became the first openly gay person hired by the San Francisco Department of Public Health to serve the gay community. When the AIDS epidemic surfaced, she helped develop a successful program of AIDS care, called the San Francisco model, that involved a collaborative network of city agencies, community organizations, hospitals and healthcare providers.

Norman is currently founder, president, and chief executive officer of the Institute for Community Health Outreach, an organization that provides training for community health outreach workers.

Norman was interviewed in 2005 at the Bancroft Library, as part of an oral history project on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.

When did you move to San Francisco?

What brought you out to the city?
I had been going through an enormous amount, for several years, over my sexual orientation. I had four kids in five years, and I think that I was trying to prove to myself and everyone else that I was normal, just like everybody else, right. So basically, I wasn’t. I think that while I was straight, I was quite clear, meaning that that’s when I felt in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now I’m perfectly wonderful.

So basically I had gone through psychiatrists and counselors and ministers, trying to change my sexual orientation because obviously I wasn’t in the right place. So when that didn’t work, after seven years of going and talking to every imaginable person, I basically came to a decision in 1970 that I could no longer just deal with this. I had a lover at the time who was very wonderful to me, gave me some money, and I left. Came out here to San Francisco because this is where the movement was happening.

So you were quite aware of a gay and lesbian movement out here?
Oh, sure. I mean, I was a part of the Radical Lesbians in Philadelphia when I lived there, and prior to that I had been not a part of, but in and around the Dallas, Texas, gay and lesbian community at that point, and that was in, say, ’67, ’68, through the time that I left, which was ’71.

So you were living in Dallas at the time that you left?
No. I was living in Willow Brook, Pennsylvania. The reason that we had moved to all those places is, obviously, my husband was a career Navy guy, and he had to go where he was sent, and when he had to go, we went.

So, basically, when I came here in ’71, I left the East Coast to come to the West Coast because that’s the only way I knew how to leave and how to get where I wanted because I had been asking my husband for a divorce. I’d said to him, “Hi. This is who I am.” Not that he so much wanted me, but he also didn’t want to be embarrassed by having a wife who’s a dyke. A lot of pain and aggravation, a lot of pain … and a lot of involvement from the medical profession and everybody else. I mean, I was taking every pill imaginable to be able to deal with my problem.

And then when I left I came out here. There were people who I had met in Pennsylvania who said, “Yes, we live there, and you can come. We will give you a place to sleep.” So I came out here, and it just started with me being involved with this group of women who were writing a newspaper.