Interview with Lesley Gore

The Center for the Advancement of Women's 10th Anniversary Gala

Former ’60s teen idol Lesley Gore, who is best known for her classic songs “It’s My Party (I’ll Cry if I Want To)” and “You Don’t Own Me,” talks to us about her career, her new album, and why she hasn’t officially come out as a lesbian (until now). So, you’re about to tour with your new album, beginning in New York—is that right?
Lesley Gore: Yes. We’re concentrating on New York during the summer…kind of trying to sneak it out in New York over the summer and then on a more national level come September. The release date is June 28th and our first performance is at Joe’s Pub. New York is where I live.

AE: Do you live alone—besides with your dog [which appears in a photo with her on the In the Life website]?
LG: I have a partner of 23 years and I have a cocker spaniel who turned two—what’s today?—she turned two on Friday, June 4th. Little Billie, named after Billie Holiday, one of my favorite singers.

And I thought, you know, a little gender confusion makes a better person. A little adversity in life at an early age. It’s character building.

AE: Our readers are interested in representations of lesbians and bisexual women in the media, and I imagine a lot of them will be surprised to be able to claim you amongst ourselves. I was wondering, have you ever come out on the record?
LG: On the record? Well, you know, it’s funny. I just never found it was necessary because I really never kept my life private. Those who knew me, those who worked with me were well aware.

For a couple of years now I’ve been hosting [the PBS series] In the Life, and that was just kind of my way of saying, here I am and this is what I feel I should be doing now, and it was sort of a natural evolution for me as opposed to, you know, this great gong in the head.

AE: I knew you had hosted an In the Life episode earlier this year. I didn’t realize you’ve been doing it for two years.
LG: Yeah, the show I just hosted is I think the second one I’ve done for them, and I think they’re terrific people and they know if they ever need to call upon me, I’m there. It’s a great program.

You know, the interesting thing about having traveled around the country as much as I have, and I think it’s sort of inadvertently what made me come out or at least begin doing things within the community and thinking more about that, was that I get to travel quite a bit.

I meet a lot of young people in the Midwest, and I saw what a difference a show like In the Life can make to their lives in some of these small towns where, you know, there are probably two gay people in the whole damn town. It’s made a real inroads for them. They come and they talk to me about this stuff, so I know how important it is.

AE: Would you say that people knew you were gay back when you were first performing? You were pretty young, about 17, right?
LG: Well, I didn’t know until I was in my twenties, so if they knew it, they knew it before I did. [Laughs] You know, maybe someone did think that. I don’t know, but I certainly didn’t know it until I was in my twenties.

AE: Once you did know, did you have to go to lengths to conceal it in the music industry?
LG: Well, I don’t think I went to lengths. I just kind of lived my life naturally and did what I wanted to do. I didn’t avoid anything, I didn’t put it in anybody’s face. Times were very different then, so, you know, I just tried to live as normally as humanly possible. But as truthfully as humanly possible.

AE: And how would you say that times were different?
LG: Well, there were was very little acceptance of gay people. I think the record industry, by and large what’s left of it, is still totally homophobic. I think it’s much less so in the film industry now, but the record industry, it’s always been a man’s world.

It’s always been a patriarchal situation, and it always puts women, not necessarily down, but certainly on a lower rung.