Partial Transcript: Kaylin P:First off, I want to thank you for your time and your stories. My name
is Kaylin Preslar and I'm a UNC Asheville student working with three other
undergraduates and faculty mentor, Dr. Amanda Wray to record oral histories from
elders and representative members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Our goal is to
document alternative histories and foster intergenerational connections.
Collected data will be used to develop a needs assessment and asset map for
LGBTQIA+ people in the Western North Carolina area. With your permission, all
stories will be archived for special collections at UNC Asheville. I have an
oral history release form for you to sign that gives your oral history and other
archives you may have to special collections with or without restrictions.
Research participants can remain anonymous if they prefer select soon enough.
The date of today is October 21st, 2019 now let's move on to some basic
questions. Could you tell me your name, pronouns, and where you were born and
Susan Wilson:I'm Susan Wilson, my pronouns are she, her, hers, and I grew up
primarily in Atlanta, or at least has the longest. My dad was in the military
briefly and so I was born in Charlottesville, didn't live there very long. Wound
up in Texas where he did basic training, then he went to Germany, my mother and
I followed. We were there for about four years and then when we came back we
lived in Buffalo, New York for about four or five and then moved to Atlanta in 1966.
Segment Synopsis: Susan briefly introduces herself with her name, pronouns, and where she grew up.
Keywords: Asheville, North Carolina; LGBTQ Community; UNC Asheville; Western North Carolina
Partial Transcript: Kaylin P:Could you tell me about your time there? How long you lived there and
what it was like?
Susan Wilson:Well, I don't remember much about Germany except I spoke German
before I spoke English. I always said I knew what hell was like when it froze
over because we lived in Buffalo and then we moved to Atlanta because we were
coming from the North. Even though my parents had grown up on the coast of North
Carolina, it was the first time my brother and I that had ever moved to Georgia
or to a Southern state. And so we weren't sure we were going to have to wear
shoes, we'd get to run around barefoot all day playing that kind of stuff, which
we were just do stuff here quickly. We had lived in rental places and when we
moved to Atlanta, my father had just purchased a relatively big house, all
things considered, which was kind of shocking for us. For the first few years,
we only lived on the lower level of a two story house because we didn't have
enough of anything to put upstairs.
My dad started the division of rheumatology immunology at Emory University and
he worked at VA, at Emory and he had a free clinic, there on Grady in downtown
Atlanta, which was the indigent hospital. And when I was in high school, I began
working for him at his Grady office. And prior to that though, in 1968 we lived
in Atlanta in a place called Brookwood Hills, it was not that far from downtown.
And in '68 when Martin Luther King jr was murdered, many of our neighbors left
because they were afraid that Atlanta was going to blow up like so many other
places had. And instead, not only did we stay and we continued as we always had,
but my dad went down to Grady everyday and he had colleagues who said, "Rick,
are you sure that's a wise idea?" And he said, "My patients want to see me, they
going to make sure I'm okay." And my dad had had snow white hair from the start
of his 30s and he was exceedingly pale. So my father was a far as white as you
He had a patient one time that woke up, looked up at him and went, "Oh my God,
that's an angel." It's like, no, it's just a doc. But it was an interesting time
to live in Atlanta. I remembered the hippies in between 10th and 14th street
living on the street. I mean it was, for us it was like a tourist attraction,
friends would come in again we drive them through the strip was what it was
called. And that was, most of that was my early teens.
Segment Synopsis: Susan describes moving around as a child and talks briefly about her father.
Keywords: Atlanta, Georgia; Buffalo, New York; Early Teens; Emory University; Germany; North Carolina
Partial Transcript: I worked in the x-ray departments when I was in college because my dad worked there, went to graduate
school at the University Georgia. I got a job working in South Carolina for
several years after I got my masters. My father referred to it as the time I ran
away from home. And then I went to law school and at the end of law school, at
the end of my second year, I got engaged and the guy that I was going to marry
had always been very supportive, but there were little things that started
When he had asked me to marry him, my first reaction was no. My second thought
was, oh my God, you'll crush him if you don't say yes. And what came out was
yes, and then when I told my friends, they all started crying. So my wife and I,
she was married at the time with a daughter in college and a son who was in
grammar school. And I went to a women law in the law conference in Detroit. And
while we were there, we started talking and her marriage wasn't doing well, my
engagement was not doing well. The summer after my second year, I went to Europe
and studied in Brussels in the Hague. And when I came back, I also was on the
comparative and in the international comparative law journal at the University
of Georgia. And it was time for the write ons for the next class. And I happened
to be one of the editors. And so I had to be there early for them to do the
writing and to read it and make choices and all that kind of stuff.
And I called her after I got back and we went out for a beer because she was
having a hard time with her son at that point and her husband. And on our third
pitcher of beer, we were talking and I said.
Susan Wilson:So we talked about the problems she was having in her marriage. And
I was talking about when I got into the airport and I was so excited to see my
family and then I looked over and saw my fiance and went, oh, I have to deal
with you, in my head, that's a very bad sign. So in the midst of that kind of
talking and being a little inebriated, I said something about having one last
fling before I got married and she said, "Oh really, with who?" And I said with
you. And she had told me about previous relationships with women she'd had in
the past. And so in the course of it she wound up separating from her husband. I
wound up calling off my engagement and we got together and we've been together
ever since. We've raised her son, managed to survive being parents of both bride
and groom and we were in business together briefly and we've done many similar things.
Segment Synopsis: Susan discusses her time in college and how she broke off an engagement when she met her wife.
Keywords: Engagement; Intimate Relationship; LGBTQ Community; Law School; Lesbian; Marriage; South Carolina; University of Geogia
Partial Transcript: How we wound up in North Carolina. I had taken the bar early in Georgia, you can
take it February of your third year. And I was already licensed in Georgia and
had already had a handful of cases. She had not taken the bar and so she was
taking it in July. And her son who has turned into the most wonderful man and
husband and father, at the time was a little difficult to deal with. He was
ADHD, diagnosed with a conduct disorder, behavior disorder and it was just a
real mess. And so she couldn't study with him around and there would be times
when I was go over to family housing where she was living at one point and he
would take a baseball bat and beat the concrete walls. Or slam his bed on the
floor or I mean it was just almost impossible to get him to just stay calm.
And so she brought him up to stay with her father and his second wife who owned
a health food store in Black Mountain and her son was as calm as he'd ever been,
and she wound up getting a job before she left. In 1991 we were in the midst of
a recession, that especially hit legal firms very hard. There were a lot of big
firms that were falling apart. There were friends of ours who were in the top
10% of the class who had big signing bonuses, had already used what they thought
was going to be their great job to purchase cars and put down payments out for
apartments, who were suddenly being laid off. And even though I wasn't in the
top 10% I was in the top one third or top 25% and jobs that I should have been
in the top contender.
For instance, there was a U.S. magistrates job and he said, "I am getting to
interview people that I've never got to interview before." Because they've
always been snapped up by name of firm or district court judge. Then he looks
down and he goes, oh, you're not her. And then he proceeded to talk to the
entire hour at the interview, I don't think he asked me a question or I got to
say anything. So it was like, well this is going well. So she had a job. So we
moved up here and lived in her father's unfinished basement for about the first
year and I worked at Seven Sisters Gallery in Black Mountain. And did pro bono,
not pro bono, but like internship volunteer work for Fiscal legal services while
we studied for the North Carolina bar. We took the bar in February, passed and
in April we hung out a shingle on a loan that I had taken out. And shortly
thereafter moved to Ridgecrest to the most God awful ramshackle, former vacation
summer vacation rental place you can imagine.
It had this kerosene stove in the living room that was about this size down, I
mean it was huge and you could see all around the doors and the windows. So we
didn't worry about carbon monoxide because we knew there was plenty of air flow,
especially in the winter. And there would be times when Judy and I and her son
and our three cats and dog would all be sleeping in the living room around the
kerosine heater because it was so cold. During that time, we became members of
Closer and at different points we were on the board and one thing or another, it
was a little interesting because we were an education for the court system. Let
me put it that way. We were not the first gay and lesbian attorneys in town, but
most of the other ones that we met had said, stay in the closet, don't come out,
people don't know I'm gay.
Segment Synopsis: Susan discusses how she and her wife came to live in Western North Carolina. She also discusses their law careers and some of the work they've done.
Keywords: Black Mountain, North Carolina; Child Support; Closeted Gay; Georgia; Law Career; North Carolina Bar Exam; Ridgecrest, North Carolina; Volunteer Law Work; Western North Carolina
Partial Transcript: Yeah. I was like, okay. But I'd never been in a closet. So I didn't know how to
go into a closet. And so I was pretty upfront when I worked at child support, I
would talk about my wife Judy and Nicholas like other people talked about their
husbands and stepchildren. And someone finally came in and sat down and said,
you know you talk about them like you're married. Do you consider yourself to be
married? And I said, yeah, I mean we can't legally get married, but sure. In '93
we had a ceremony, the Episcopal church, All Souls where we were going would not
let us have it there. We went to the Bishop and the Bishop said, I wish I could
allow it but I can't, but let me pray with you, which was nice. Her, Judy's
father was an associate pastor and his wife was a unity minister along with
owning a health food store. And so they performed the ceremony. Our fathers
walked to send me off, this was 1993, my brother refused to come with his wife.
My mother came, my sister came with her fiance of six weeks or rather they'd
known each other for six weeks and they just got engaged. And it was a real
hippy dippy kind of thing, we had tie dye dresses and we had friends. One couple
of friends wrote a song for us that we never recorded unfortunately and so they
couldn't remember what it was and so it's long since faded into memory. Her
brother came, one of her brothers came and sang, the other brother came and
participated. Her daughter was her maid of honor and her son was her other
attendance and my sister was my maid of honor and my best friend from college
who was male and gay was my other attendant. And my mother was late, which meant
that we were about 30 minutes to an hour late starting. We had friends who owned
a restaurant who let us use it, who opened it up and the chef actually made
food. My parents gave a Honey baked ham and Honey baked Turkey.
My mother's comment was, "A lot of heterosexuals here." And most of the people
were from our church along with some gay friends. And I said, "Yeah mom, just
because I'm in love with Judy doesn't mean that I no longer have heterosexual
friends." Part of, I had wanted to get married to Judy to have a ceremony
anyway, but we had also found out that my father was diagnosed with salivary
gland cancer and people of salivary gland cancer live maybe two and a half years
at the outside. And my sister got married six months after I did and she had the
fancy country club wedding, of course she married a guy. A complete with the ice
Swan in the middle of the table and the band and the whole thing.
Segment Synopsis: Susan describes how she has never been a closeted gay. She also discusses the marriage ceremony held for her and her wife since they could not legally get married to one another.
Keywords: 1990s; Attorneys; Church; Closeted Gay; Familial Relationships; Gay; LGBTQ Community; Lesbian; Marriage Ceremony
Partial Transcript: My brother did come to that one and his wife and I were both her attendants. I
was her maid of honor, matron of honor, I guess at that point. And he died in
August of 1995. When I had realized that I was in love with Judy and that we
were living up here. I sent my brother a letter sort of explaining it, saying if
you want more information, there's an organization called P flag. I'm sure they
have one in Connecticut where he was doing his fellowship in rheumatology and
his wife were basically mini dads, they both became rheumatologists. And he sent
me back a letter that was so scathing. I felt like I'd had my hands burned off
just from holding it. It was not great. And when my dad died, at one point we
were, or when he'd been diagnosed, we were sitting in the waiting room of an
operating room that they were trying to take all the cancer out of my dad's
neck. And my brother looked at me and said, your relationship threatens
everything I believe in. And he wasn't the only one. I mean, it was a rough time.
Segment Synopsis: Susan briefly describes going to her sisters wedding. She also discusses her father's death and her brother's beliefs about her sexuality.
Keywords: Cancer; Familial Relationships; Misunderstood; PFlag Organization; Unaccepted; Wedding