By Suzanne Deakins, GLAPN
Billye Talmadge, Ph.D., was born on December 7, 1929 in Missouri, and raised by her mother in Oklahoma. The black sheep of the Talmadge family, she is the niece of former U.S. Senator and Georgia Governor Herman E. Talmadge.
In September 1955, she joined a group of other women in Rose Bamberger’s living room for a gathering that would lay the foundation for the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first lesbian civil rights group in America. By 1958 DOB had formed a network of local chapters across the country and between 1960 and 1970, DOB sponsored public conventions on gay and lesbian issues. Billye acted as educator to the women that came as well as in interviews and literature, presenting the DOB and GLBT issues in a non-threatening manner to the general public. She was involved with the Gab ‘n Java sessions, The Ladder magazine, and in the formation and development of the Council on Religion and Homosexuals. She was an early supporter of Troy Perry and the formation of the Metropolitan Community Church. From the very beginning she was heavily involved in education and peer-to-peer counseling, which often was as simple as reassuring lesbians they were not ill or depraved.
DOB became more and more involved with civil rights. Instead of speaking in terms of gay and lesbian, DOB often used the term variant, as in alternate sexual preference. Members were assured that their identity would be kept secret as it was a time when many would have lost their jobs or been expelled from school if their sexual and gender preferences were known. Billye used a code name of “PD Griffin” or “PD Griff”.
Early on Billye became interested in human sexuality and the variations it represented. She has always identified as female, but taught and showed that the androgynous nature we all have allows us to identify as any gender. She was instrumental in providing the philosophy for Del Martin and Phyl Lyons activities on human sexuality in San Francisco.
One of my recollections of stories Billye told me about the early days of DOB was that they were inclusive of all races. She often recounted that there was no greater minority than a Hispanic or African American lesbian.
Billye has dedicated her life to education and inclusion of all women. Her memories are full of DOB and the early days and the individual stories of the women who came to DOB seeking shelter and companionship from their well of loneliness in a world who rejected them.
I moved Billye from Maryland to Portland in March 2013. She now resides in a convalescent home. Billye and I are in the process of recording her stories. These are the stories of women, their humanity, sexuality, and the drive to be accepted politically and equally in our world.
(In addition to working with GLAPN, Suzanne Deakins is owner of One Spirit Press. Her company has published a number of LGBTQ books.)