To celebrate National Coming Out Day on Tuesday, the Hazel Gates Woodruff Cottage on campus hosted “Helen Louise Young and Vivienne Armstrong: A CU Love Story,” a talk by a lesbian couple who met at the University of Colorado in 1971. The couple discussed their relationship, what CU was like in the 1970s and their lifetime of activism.
The two met in the spring of 1971 while Armstrong was working as a nurse in Denver and Young was getting her Ph.D in Geography at CU. Armstrong described the Denver area as the “third coast,” along with San Francisco and New York City, and said that many people were moving there and spreading LGBT culture. They both got involved in the Gay Liberation Front, a group that was created after the Stonewall riots in New York City. The couple also said that although it was a school group, it was not officially recognized by the campus administration at that time.
After a series of events, Armstrong ended up getting fired from her nursing job when her employers found out she was a lesbian. They moved to Dallas shortly after, when Young got a job with Texas Instruments. They decided that, “One: We were never going back in the closet, ever, even if we had to scrub floors or wash windows to make ends meet, and two: We would try and guarantee that what happened to us would not keep happening.”
After moving to Dallas, they got even more involved in political activism, and started working with the local Democratic party. They said that some of the other members didn’t know what to think of them at first, but came around once they realized what a solid volunteer base the LGBT community could provide. They joined forces with other organizations such as local Latino and African-American Democratic groups, and helped create a strong Democratic voter base in Texas.
When the AIDS crisis developed, Armstrong used her position in health care to raise funds and manage grants for HIV treatment. In the `90s, Young campaigned to be elected to the Texas Democratic Party board, becoming its first openly gay member. After that, she switched her focus to workplace equality.
She described a presentation she gave at her company where she explained how stressful it was to be in the closet — to illustrate, she asked her co-workers to take their family pictures off their desks and remove their wedding rings. The employees were told them to imagine what it would be like to be afraid to talk about your spouse for fear of being fired or denied a promotion. Young said that within months of her presentation, Texas Instruments was one of the first companies to offer domestic partner benefits.
The couple still live in Dallas, and are now legally married. In their talk, they stressed the importance of helping the younger generations of LGBT people and living your life authentically.
“If you live your life openly, it’s going to change your life and the lives of the people you come into contact with,” Armstrong said of coming out. “CU started us on our journey, and we are forever grateful.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Carina Julig at Carina.Julig@colorado.edu.