In this interview (part 1 of a two part interview), Steve Bull describes growing up in the 1950s in Kennebunk and Cape Porpoise and becoming conscious at a young age of being “different.” At age 6 or 7, he was discovered having sex with a playmate. When, at age 13, his family moved to New Jersey, Steve instead secured a scholarship to instead attend an expensive boarding school in Massachusetts where he found himself surrounded by children from wealthy families and became aware of social justice, anti-war, and civil rights activism. After attending Johns Hopkins University for two years he returned to Maine to complete his BA at the University of Maine at Orono. At UMO, he met out-lesbian Karen Bye on campus and helped found one of the first gay rights organizations in the state, the Wilde-Stein Club at UMO. Because of his leadership in the group, he frequently appeared in hostile news stories and formally came out to his parents. His parents subsequently became very active in the first chapter of Parents of Gays (later to become PFLAG).
Much of the interview focuses on extraordinary early queer activism at UMaine through the Wilde-Stein Club. One of the first events planned by the group was a controversial dance on campus that made the group the focus of attention by the Christian Civic League. Wilde-Stein also organized the first state-wide gay conference, a Gay Symposium, which was initially opposed by University administration. Maine thus became one of the early battleground states around gay rights in 1974-75. Activists in the Wilde-Stein Club were also successful in removing a question from the university’s admission application that asked “Have you ever had homosexual tendencies.” Steve Bull describes working with Stan Fortuna, Steven Leo, and Mariah/Susan Breeding on feminist and queer organizing in Southern Maine, and with Gerry Talbot (the first African American elected to state government in Maine) to secure a gay rights plank in the Democratic Party platform (only the 2nd place in the country to do so). Working with Talbot, these activists also successfully removed all laws related to consensual sexual acts, including sodomy, from the Maine criminal code. Steve Bull discusses moving to Los Angeles after college to attend the People’s College of Law and becoming a Marxist active in the Lavender and Red Union and the Spartacus League. Toward the end of the interview, he talks about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, including the trauma of mass death among those in his social and political world, and his own experience living with HIV for 35 years.
The Principle Investigator for this project is Dr. Wendy Chapkis, Professor of Sociology and Women & Gender Studies at the University of Southern Maine. Professor Chapkis is also the Faculty Scholar for the Sampson Center’s LGBTQ+ Collection (from 2016 through 2018). The LGBTQ Maine Oral History Project integrates USM students into the process of community-based research; after being trained each fall, students serve as interviewers and transcribers of the oral histories.
Please cite as: Querying the Past: LGBTQ Maine Oral History Project Collection, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer+ Collection, Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, University of Southern Maine Libraries.
For more information about the Querying the Past: Maine LGBTQ Oral History Project, please contact Dr. Wendy Chapkis.
Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine
University of Southern Maine
Early childhood sexuality, Kennebunk, Cape Porpoise, Johns Hopkins University, University of Maine Orono, PFLAG, Wilde Stein Club, Christian Civic League, Maine Gay Symposium, Karen Bye, John Frank, Sturgis Haskins, Stan Fortuna, Steven Leo, Mariah/Susan Breeding, Maine Gay Task Force, Gerry Talbot, People’s College of Law Los Angeles, Lavender and Red Union, Spartacus League, HIV/AIDS epidemic.
History of Gender | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Oral History | Women's Studies
Larrivee, Alanna and Payne, Tracy, "Bull, Steven" (2016). Querying the Past: LGBTQ Maine Oral History Project Collection. 8.
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