me. I was really shocked. But after six to eight
months there, I went in, as only a young person
can do, and said, “This is not what I want to do.
I want to go to the ACLU. Or I’ll do international
The national office was not very large—I
finance.” So they said we don’t know anything
about the ACLU, but go visit a man, Robert Haft—
which you know is my last name. At that time he
could literally say to me, “You’re qualified but
you’re too attractive. The wives of my clients are
not going to be happy if you start traveling with
their husbands.” He was able to say that. … Long
story short, we ended up getting married. [They
divorced in 1975.]
I was actually in international finance for
about a year. I worked with Robert Haft in
Geneva, Switzerland and shared an office with
James Roosevelt. He was the only person who
took me seriously because his mother was
Eleanor, and she was bright, so he thought I’d
be bright. Everybody else kind of looked at me
like, “Huh?” Then Robert managed to get me
into the New York Civil Liberties Union, and
the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union,
Aryeh Neier, went to the national office and he
took me with him.
think maybe 10 or 12 lawyers and staff—and the
newbies get things like separation of church and
state, which was not important at that point.
Also prisoners’ rights. What you do at the ACLU
is you get cases on appeal. But to be able to take
those cases to the next level, whether it’s federal
court or state court, you had to have a good trial
record. And we didn’t get very good trial records.
So I decided I was going to become a litigator
Q: Playboy? Hugh Hefner?
myself. I looked around and I said who needs
representation? And gays really didn’t have real
representation. So I went to Mel Wulf, who was
the legal director, and the board, and they said,
“OK, but you have to raise money for yourself
to do it.” I did. I went to the Playboy Foundation
that had just started this stuff.
Q: For homosexual rights?
A: Because it was sexual privacy. I said, “Guys,
you’re making a lot of money on this stuff.” I
could tell you a lot of funny stories about what
happened when I went there. But I won’t.
Q: Oh, tell us one.
A: No, no. I’ll just tell you I got a lot of male
volunteers to come with me. And lo and
behold, they gave me the money. I started
the project and did a lot of the first gay rights
litigation in the country, including challenging
sodomy laws and challenging visitation rights
for gay people for their kids, employment. We
consistently lost but we made records. We
started the test case stuff.
Q: This is a time when there were sodomy laws
on the books in most states, right?
A: Yes. I brought a really, really good case
but … we lost. We expected to lose. North
Carolina. At the military base, there was a
guy who was gay, it was a bookstore, and [the
local authorities] sent somebody, not even
18 years old, to entrap my client. The sheriff
actually testified at the trial that he stood with
binoculars to look into the room … at the back
of the bookstore, and my client had pulled the
shades so it was private. So it was a ridiculous
case. It was entrapment, privacy, everything,
and we lost because it was time to lose. I can’t
believe how different it is today.
Q: I was going to ask you about that. Just in
the last five years there’s been this huge shift,
in both public opinion, and, as a result, policy,
toward gay marriage.
A: In 2003, when the sodomy law was
overturned, the Supreme Court, in its dissent,
specifically said, “What are they going to ask
for next? Marriage?” And here it is. I can’t tell
you how stunned I am. I’m excited, but it’s really
shocking in terms of how quickly it changed.
So getting back to the career, I was hired by NBC
to be a full-time consultant on the news.
Q: Did that appeal to you? You wanted to be at
A: But I’d been there for six years. And, for me,
television and news was about communication
and getting the word out.
Then I got a call to see if I was interested
in working on Bella Abzug’s staff, to be
counsel to her committee investigating
the intelligence agencies based on the
Watergate stuff. So I did that. I went down to
Washington. And all I wanted to do was come
home to New York. Because I’m a New Yorker,
New Yorker, New Yorker.
Q: But you stayed.
A: Carter was elected and I got a call from …
There was a woman named Midge Costanza,
who was the assistant to the president for the
Office of Public Liaison, and she invited me to
be on the staff of the White House. There were
about five of us, and we were each given areas.
I asked for and received the arts because I was
always interested in the arts. And I took Native
Americans because I didn’t know anything