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John Helding Oral History Interview, 2016

Oregon State University
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00:00:00 - Interview introduction

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Partial Transcript: Today's date is May 3rd, 2016, my name is Natalia Fernandez, and this is an oral history interview for the Oregon State University Queer Archives.

Segment Synopsis: Natalia Fernandez introduces the interview and asks Helding to identify himself and his birth date and birth location.

Keywords: Emmanuel Hospital; OSQA; Portland OR

Subjects: Oregon, Western

00:00:41 - Childhood, growing up, and family

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Partial Transcript: And to begin, could you talk a little bit about where you grew up, um, your family and personal life

Segment Synopsis: Helding begins the interview by sharing information about his family history and early childhood in Spokane, WA and later Gresham, OR – Helding describes Gresham at the time as a small middle class community. In high school Helding’s activities included participating on the debate team, singing in the choir, playing sports, acting in plays and musicals, and being co-editor of the student newspaper his senior year.

Keywords: Gresham OR; Montana; PSU; Portland OR; Portland State University; Spokane WA; elementary school; timber industry

Subjects: Oregon State University; Oregon, Western; Portland State University

00:04:56 - LGBTQ+ issues in youth or community discussion

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Partial Transcript: And can you describe a little bit about your family or school or local community, um, in terms of LGBTQ+ issues

Segment Synopsis: Helding shares some of his memories regarding the lack of open discussion about LGBTQ+ issues and lack of support for LGBTQ+ peoples within the community; a community Helding describes as a complex mix of progressive and conservative attitudes.

Keywords: Oklahoma musical; Richard Nixon; Vietnam; Watergate; civil rights; gay rights; high school reunion; human sexuality; social inequality; teen suicide

Subjects: Education; Oregon, Western; Socialism

00:16:57 - Language and attitudes about queerness growing up

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Partial Transcript: But, do you, can you reflect upon where those maybe came from--from the media or even though it wasn't discussed

Segment Synopsis: Helding describes how the insecurities of teenage boys resulted in the use of homophobic slurs during his high school years, and considers why this was the only discussion of queerness taking place in his life at that time.

Keywords: Brigadoon; fragile masculinity; high school theater; kilts; sexuality; slurs

Subjects: High school students; Homophobia; Oregon, Western; Sexual minorities

00:18:29 - Attending college, choosing Oregon State University

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Partial Transcript: So looking forward to, um, to planning for university--were you always planning on attending college, and why did you choose OSU?

Segment Synopsis: Helding explains how family ties led him to attend Oregon State, and why he stayed for five years instead of the traditional four.

Keywords: 1976; 1981; Oregon State University; University of Oregon; engineering; public school; public university

Subjects: Education, Higher; Government aid to higher education; Oregon, Western

00:19:56 - Moving to the Corvallis area / Finding community

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Partial Transcript: And what was it like moving to the Corvallis area?

Segment Synopsis: Helding describes his introduction to the Corvallis area through his sister, and gives a brief overview of his experience and involvement at OSU.

Keywords: OSU choir; Oregon State University; Pauling Hall; football; resident assistant

Subjects: Education, higher; Oregon, Western

00:21:21 - Campus climate for LGBTQ issues in the late 1970s

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Partial Transcript: And can you describe the campus climate in terms of LGBTQ issues? Um, was that something that in your classes or your friends

Segment Synopsis: Helding begins to paint a picture of what the general campus climate was like in regards to LGBTQ issues and activism during his time at OSU. He describes a level of lesbian and gay visibility and activism not common at the time, as well as a considerable resistance from both political conservatives and evangelical Christians.

Keywords: Black Cultural Center; Campus Crusade for Christ; Eddie Hickey; Gay People's Alliance; Native American Longhouse; Ronald Reagan; The Barometer; activism; anti-gay theology; cultural centers; evangelical Christian organizations; moral majority; student newspaper; university funding

Subjects: Education, higher; Gay rights; Oregon, Western; Periodicals

00:27:03 - Getting involved with ASOSU, university politics and activism

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Partial Transcript: You began getting involved in the Associated Students of Oregon State University (ASOSU)

Segment Synopsis: Helding begins the story of the 1981 ASOSU vote to fund the Gay People’s Alliance. He explains that he was always very politically active during his high school years and that he was interested in representing independent students, especially the engineering program, rather than the students most represented by ASOSU, the Greek life affiliated students.

Keywords: ASOSU Senate; Fraternity; Greek life; Sorority

Subjects: College student government; Education, higher; Oregon, Western; Politics and government; Student participation in administration

00:30:43 - ASOSU, university funding, and student fundraising

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Partial Transcript: Can you talk a little bit about what types of things were discussed as part of the ASOSU senate?

Segment Synopsis: Helding recalls that one of the main issues for the senate that year was whether or not student organizations could charge for attendance to film screenings as a way to fund-raise (the local private movie theaters were lobbying against the competition); Helding and other senators drafted a policy to address the issue. He notes that funding was largely the most common issue addressed via ASOSU. He explains that many student groups requested resources but that in his opinion, some received more than their fair share of funding. Helding recalls that he wanted to examine the inequity involved in funding legacy organizations rather than new groups – and he wanted to change that.

Keywords: The Daily Barometer; rally; school spirit; student organizations; university funding

Subjects: College student government; College student newspapers and periodicals; Student affairs administrators; Student participation in administration

00:34:50 - Introduction to April 1981 ASOSU meeting to fund the Gay Peoples' Alliance at OSU

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Partial Transcript: Well let's discuss that. So, can you describe what occurred during the April 28th, 1981 ASOSU meeting

Segment Synopsis: This portion of the interview focuses on the April 28, 1981 meeting in which the ASOSU vote to fund the Gay People’s Alliance was discussed. Helding notes that he recently began to think about the issue due to the university’s diversity initiatives in these past few years – he began to think back on his time at OSU and began researching OSU’s LGBTQ+ history. He found Thomas Kraemer’s Corvallis, Oregon State University gay activism 1969-2004 online, however, it did not include the 1981 vote that Helding recalled. In January of 2016 he came to the OSU Special Collections and Archives Researcher Center to look through the ASOSU meeting minutes for 1980-1981 in which he found the documentation he sought. He shows the meeting agenda and minutes with the information about the vote – he especially notes that while the documents are typed, there are some handwritten notes, most likely written by the faculty adviser, specific to the Gay People’s Alliance (GPA) vote. In the section regarding the student fees allocations, the notes say “GPA $150 18-13” and Helding recognized that as the Gay People’s Alliance vote.

Keywords: Eddie Hickey; GPA; Gay People's Alliance; OSU alumni; Special Collections & Archives Research Center; Thomas Kramer; gay activism

Subjects: College student government; Sexual minorities; Student participation in administration

00:39:09 - Helding recalls the details of the ASOSU meeting to fund the Gay People's Alliance

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Partial Transcript: And it was our second to our last meeting. And this was the meeting where we approved our recommendation

Segment Synopsis: As this was the second to last meeting of the year, this was the meeting that student groups lobbied for their organizations to be funded. Eddie Hickey represented the Gay People’s Alliance since the student fees committee had denied them funds and they wanted the senate to overturn that ruling. Helding says that he did not know who they were as individuals or as an organization and that the group of individuals were the first openly gay people with whom he interacted. He says that he was interested in the GPA request because it was a new request and thought it should be more seriously considered. He also recalled that his beliefs had evolved over the course of his college experience and that by that time, he saw LGBTQ+ issues as a civil rights issue and that it was the right thing to do to fund the GPA the amount requested. Helding then describes the process of the debate on whether or not to fund the GPA – he goes into great detail explaining the discussion, which lasted over an hour, and the pros and cons to funding the GPA.

Keywords: funding; student fees; university budget

Subjects: College student government; Sexual minorities; Student participation in administration

01:00:28 - Exposure to new ideas and personal development at OSU

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Partial Transcript: Any other recollections about your time at OSU in terms of how you evolved, um, in your thought process that you'd like to share?

Segment Synopsis: Helding concludes this portion of the interview by reflecting upon lessons learned at OSU and how he evolved as a human being through his college experiences. He recalls the many diverse students and professors he met, classes he took, and his time on the ASOSU senate – and how his experiences and people he met all helped open and broaden his perspectives. He concludes by expressing that he wishes he had been less fearful to being associated with the GPA. He also surmises that if perhaps he had joined the senate sooner, he may have been in a more powerful position to take part in the arbitration committee and influence the final decision. He further concludes by acknowledging his progress in his personal evolution of knowledge and understanding of human diversity during his time at OSU.

Keywords: Gresham OR; Oregon State University; diversity

Subjects: Education higher; Oregon, Western

01:04:31 - Post-graduation plans and working in industrial engineering

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Partial Transcript: So picking up where we were, um, you were coming to an end of your time here at OSU

Segment Synopsis: Helding continues the interview with his post-OSU life story. He reflects on the importance of the ASOSU GPA vote and its impact on his career. He recalls that during his time working for the company Tektronix in Beaverton, OR, one of his co-workers was a transvestite – he notes his continued evolution in understanding and appreciating the diversity in the human experience. He also recalls writing about the ASOSU GPA vote as part of his business school applications; he ultimately chose to attend Stanford University.

Keywords: Gay rights; business school; diversity; trans identities

Subjects: Gender minorities; Sexual minorities

01:08:20 - Attending graduate school at Stanford

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Partial Transcript: But I decided to go to Stanford, and um, there I, uh, just started to meet a broader group of people

Segment Synopsis: At Stanford, Helding describes how he met an even broader group of people from all over the world. In his second year he was in a class called “Interpersonal Dynamics” to develop communication and trust building skills. In the class, two of his classmates and friends were gay, one of which was Mike Smith, a co-founder of the Names Project which created the AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1987.

Keywords: Interpersonal dynamics; Mike Smith; business school; trust-building

Subjects: Business students; Sexual minorities

01:09:50 - Friendships at Stanford and being "out" in business school / HIV/AIDS epidemic, activism, and allyship

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Partial Transcript: That's where I started--with Mike, and Jeff, and several other folks--but even at that time, especially in business school

Segment Synopsis: Helding explains that at Stanford he became friends with openly gay classmates and that he was part of a student group that organized a campus wide event to fund AIDS/HIV research – an act at the time that was controversial. The event was called “Stanford Cares: A Community Response” and the administration became involved and was supportive. Helding connects his OSU experiences to his Stanford activities and credits his continued personal growth later in life to his undergraduate years.

Keywords: AIDS; HIV; Jeff Phillips; LGBT activism; Mike Smith; Ronald Reagan; gay ally; safe sex

Subjects: AIDS (Disease) and the arts; AIDS phobia; Homophobia; NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt; Sexual minorities; Student movements

01:16:38 - Working in business consulting / Inclusive recruiting and hiring practices at the firm

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Partial Transcript: I, stepping out of Stanford, uh, went to work for a consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton

Segment Synopsis: Helding shares his professional experiences. He describes his work for the firm Booz Allen Hamilton; a firm he worked for from 1986-2000. He was a consultant and later a manager on a variety of issues, including recruitment. At the time the firm included 15,000 people and had a presence in over 25 countries. To give a specific example of his work as an LGBTQ+ community ally, Helding describes an event at Harvard called “Out of the Closet and Into the Board Room” for gay and lesbian business school students. As the Senior Director of Global Recruitment, Helding took the lead to ensure that the firm was represented at the event, and he personally called the chairman of the firm to attend. He recalls the powerful impact of this act for the firm and for the students.

Keywords: Harvard business school; gay and lesbian business school students; gay rights

Subjects: Business students; Sexual minorities; Virginia, Northern

01:24:39 - Establishing Booz Allen Hamilton's gay affinity group, "GLOBAL"

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Partial Transcript: Doing this, and by Bill [inaudible] going to this event, it encouraged the internal employees of Booz Allen Hamilton to form a gay affinity group of employees

Segment Synopsis: Helding shares the story of a group of Booz Allen Hamilton firm employees who created an affinity group called GLOBAL for LGBTQ+ employees. There was a backlash from other employees who expressed their objections, and Helding defended the group and advised the senior management should do the same – the chairman of the firm soon sent a company wide memo in full support of the group. Helding shares a story of the firm being in support of an employee who’s sex change operation caused a client to not wish to be served by them and the firm stood by its employee.

Keywords: Corporate America; LGBTQ+ employees

Subjects: Corporate image; Homophobia; Transphobia

01:32:05 - How community and business leaders have evolved their views on LGBTQ+ issues

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Partial Transcript: So you spoke a lot about your personal evolution, um, over the years did you see the community response change

Segment Synopsis: Helding notes that the oral history interview process has enabled him to reflect upon “touch points in time” throughout his life and how each of his experiences built on each other and helped him be more open and more supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. He then reflects that over the years there has been much change within the OSU community and society as a whole. Helding says that it was the courage of LGBTQ+ individuals “coming out” and activities like The Names Project that helped to humanize the issues so that more and more people could feel a more personal connection to LGBTQ+ issues. He says that the fundamental change he has seen is that the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community are no longer conceptual, they are personal. And, he says that from a business perspective, its smart and good business to hire the best and be diverse in hiring practices. He connects this to present day issues faced by the transgender community.

Keywords: AIDS; Booz Allen Hamilton; HIV; LGBTQ+ activism; NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt; Transgender rights; business school; leadership; social acceptance; visibility

Subjects: Gay rights; Oregon, Western; Sexual minorities

01:36:48 - Life and work after Booz Allen Hamilton / Involvement with the Quaker faith community

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Partial Transcript: So how long were you with Booz Allen and Hamilton?

Segment Synopsis: In the last part of the interview, Helding reflects on his professional life post Booz Allen Hamilton; he shares some of his many positions, mostly independent in the last 15 years. He also talks about his personal life and his involvement in the Quaker faith community which began during his time in San Fransisco in the early 1990s – his group acknowledged gay marriage in 1970. He shares the story of meeting his partner and moving to Lopez Island, WA, to live with her and her two children; they have been living there since 2006. Helding concludes the interview by reflecting upon major moments in his life in the last 40 years, and he especially reflects on his feelings towards OSU and Oregon in general. He says that as a native Oregonian, he has a special connection to the university and the state. He notes how proud he is of OSU for the strides taken to ensure that the campus is inclusive and how it strives toward equity for all.

Keywords: Best Places to Work for List; Fortune 500; Great Places to Work Institute; Lopez Island; San Francisco Friends Meeting; Stanford business school; activism; theology

Subjects: San Francisco Bay Area (Calif.); Washington (State), Western

01:45:12 - Concluding statements and reflections

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Partial Transcript: And in this time that you've reflected and in the stories that you shared, can you talk a little bit about

Segment Synopsis: Helding's last thoughts are about his positive experience of sharing his story as an oral history interview and expresses the power of people sharing their stories.

Keywords: Natalia Fernandez; OSU; Oregon State University; Oregon State University Queer Archives; Special Collections and Archives Research Center; oral history

Subjects: Oregon, Western