Page 1


ABILENE LESBIANS continued from cover… Aside from a note in the district attorney’s file saying that Ms. Cain says she lives in a “homosexual environment” with the boy’s mother, prosecuting attorney R. Jack Grant has no reason to suspect that this case, scheduled for an August trial, is considerably more complicated than it seems. “I don’t know why you’re interested,” he says. “This is the kind of thing that we ordinarily plead out.” When the state goes on to trial, the verdict will almost entirely depend upon “the credibility of the child’s testimony,” Grant says. Grant has informally obtained some background information about the case from an employee in his office who happens to have been the young boy’s baseball coach and an acquaintance of Ms. Cain’s. It seems this indictment is, if you will, the denouement to a series of civil squabbles over child custody and visitation rights, both of which, Ms. Gobel has found, are hard to maintain when you’re a lesbian anywhere, not only in Abilene,. “But I can’t be concerned with the civil suit if it has indeed been ongoing,” Grant says. “It’s like these family feuds that sometimes come to our attention. And people say, ‘Well, it’s been going on for years.’ I don’t care if it’s been going on for years. My job is to see that justice is administered and the civil part of this sort of gets in my way. My concern is: Did she do it?” Here then, as accurately as I can describe it, is the background everyone needs to know before coming to grips with these people, this case, and these times in West Texas. Joy Gobel is a buxom, blond 33-yearold hairdresser whose eyes well up with tears easily these days. About two years ago, after two unhappy marriages and a drawn-out bout with alcoholism \(from which she says she’s emerged victoriyear-old Carol Cain. “I initiated everything,” Ms. Gobel says. “I was the first to suggest the romantic part.” This was not her first relationship with a woman, but it has proved to be the longest, she says, and the most emotionally fulfilling. “If our relationship was purely sexual,” says Ms. Gobel, “it would have died down long before now.” Ms. Cain, who somewhat lightheartedly admits she is frequently mistaken on the street for a man, has held a series of sales jobs over the years but is currently mowing lawns during the day and selling watermelons in the late afternoons. Both women say they attend “fellowship meetings” for recovering alcoholics every week. Ms. Gobel has been sober two and a half years; Ms. Cain stopped drinking a year before that. Ms. Gobel now thinks it’s ironic that before she introduced her newfound friend to her two kids, she’d cheerfully explained to Ms. Cain that the custody arrangement and their father’s right to visitation was working “smoothly.” Her children the aforementioned boy and a 7-year-old girl liked Ms. Cain almost immediately, Ms. Gobel says. Ms. Cain once wanted to be a physical education teacher \(of course, that’s all athletically-inclined. This endeared her TTHIS PROVED NOT to be the case. “The kids accepted Carol completely,” Ms. Gobel says, “but the rest of my family never even gave her a chance. They thought I’d gone cornpletely crazy.” Ms. Gobel’s sisters \(who ex-husband \(who has remarried and is Cain’s apparent live-in status at the house. “We do not accept homosexuality scripturally,” one sister said in a telephone interview. Ms. Gobel’s first exnot to comment, but when coaxed said: “I’m sure not in love with her you can quote me on that. Joy’s been saying for years that I’m still in love with her and that’s why she thinks I want my kids back. I’ve seen her go through lots of things, but when this homosexuality came up, I said, ‘enough is enough. That is it.’ On February 20, 1981, the father picked up the children for their customary visit and then refused to return them. Within a few days, an indignant Ms. Gobel took out a writ of habeas corpus and writ of attachment, went to a hearing, and on. March 2, got the kids back. The father requested a juried childcustody hearing. A date was set through his attorney, but when a witness scheduled to testify against Ms. Gobel had a heart attack, the hearing was postponed. Ms. Gobel recalls that upon their return the children seemed bewildered and confused. “Daddy says you’re evil, Mommy,” Ms. Cain says the boy said. Within a week, there was some discussion between Ms. Gobel and welfare workers at the children’s school about an outside report suggesting Ms. Cain might possibly be molesting the little girl. Ms. Gobel and Ms. Cain were furious. And the little girl, they say, didn’t understand what the word “molesting” meant. No charges were made. On July 8, Ms. Gobel’s family was successful in completing the papers necessary to get Joy’s head examined by the state. A sheriff took her to two different physicians; one deemed her sane, the second suggested “observation.” Ms. Gobel maintains that she was upset at the time and remembers she couldn’t answer two of the second doctor’s questions: What does it mean when people say…a rolling stone gathers no moss? Why should people who live in glass houses. not throw’ stones? “My family would prefer to think I’m sick, because they can’t face the fact I’m gay,” Ms. Gobel says. That night, thinking that if the family could connive the mental exam they could keep her irrevocably sedated in an asylum just as well, Ms. Gobel almost lost it. She and Ms. Cain drove past her sister’s house and saw that the car belonging to the kids’ father was parked there. Both women thought then they’d reached the height of shared paranoia. When would their real lives, the lives they’d wanted to spend together, resume? “Most gay people out here are still the closet.” to the little boy, Ms. Gobel says. “Carol Things fell into a regular routine dur was the first person who’d ever really ing the summer of 1981 the period of worked with him and sports. She was the time the indictment alleges the molesta first to get out with him and play.” tions took place. Ms. Cain had assumed Both women were careful, they say, the role of family bread-winner and was not to disclose the romantic nature of working to establish a Tri-Star Vacuum their relationship to the kids. Or anyone Cleaner business near Abilene. Ms. else for that matter. “Most gay people Gobel had quit hairdressing because out here are still in the closet,” Ms. rumors of her lesbianism had hit the Gobel says. “I thought if I could let my shop. And besides, she says, someone family get to know Carol gradually, needed to stay with the children while they’d come to love her and see her as I they were out of school. do.” 12 AUGUST 6, 1982