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 1980

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Other St. Louis Lesbian Groups and Gatherings in the 1970s

Introduction

St. Louis had a substantial and politically active lesbian community during the 1970s. Understanding the roots of the Celebration of Lesbian and Gay Pride that occurred Apr. 12-20, 1980 means understanding the many aspects of this community of women. While I cannot begin to speak for these concerns as well as someone who has lived these experiences from the inside of the movement, I do participate in this dialog as a gay man with some transgendered identity who feels strongly his connection to the concerns of women and other minorities.

There can be little doubt that a complex crucible of pride developed in the 1970s as more and more voices joined in protest against the dominant patriarchal culture of the Western World as it had continued to evolve in the U.S.A., England and other Western countries. Wikipedia defines second-wave feminism as it emerged during the 1970s:

"Whereas first-wave feminism focused mainly on suffrage and overturning legal obstacles to gender equality (i.e., voting rights, property rights), second-wave feminism broadened the debate to a wide range of issues: sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities.[4] At a time when mainstream women were making job gains in the professions, the military, the media, and sports in large part because of second-wave feminist advocacy, second-wave feminism also drew attention to domestic violence and marital rape issues, establishment of rape crisis and battered women's shelters, and changes in custody and divorce law. Its major effort was the attempted passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the United States Constitution, in which they were defeated by anti-feminists led by Phyllis Schlafly, who argued as an anti-ERA view that the ERA meant women would be drafted into the military."

Lesbians were leaders in this movement. That we do not clearly understand and acknowledge this today—the word "lesbian" cannot be found in the timeline of the Wikipedia article quoted above—is a sign of how deeply rooted in patriarchy is our culture. Lesbians were doubly oppressed. They were not men, and they were not straight. Further, many, perhaps most, gay men, who were not straight, were men not aware of their male privilege. Hence, they were not allies in the lesbian quest for their freedom. Neil Miller has written that

"The aim of post-Stonewall lesbians was to establish an alternative, egalitarian women-centered culture—a Lesbian Nation, to use the term coined by Village Voice critic Jill Johnson [in her 1973 book]. There was no attempt to transform patriarchal institutions, to make them more humane: These were viewed as a lost cause. Some women took the path of total lesbian separatism, determined to have no interactions with men whatsoever. Although separatists were always a minority, they had a profound influence on lesbian-feminist culture in general."

"In the 1970s a variety of "women's" institutions were established that were largely—although not entirely—run by lesbians and were part of the construction of a Lesbian Nation. There were women's bookstores, credit unions and health clinics, food co-ops and child-care centers. Women's publishing companies started up: Naiad Press, established in 1974, whch became the longest-lasting of the lesbian small presses, and Daughter's Press, which brought out Rita Mae Brown's coming-of-age novel, Rubyfruit Jungle.

In her important article on St. Louis' lesbian heritage, Nan Sweet (1998) has written of these changes as they emerged in the St. Louis region. For the article, she interviewed four lesbians—Georgia, Laura Ann, Totte, and Flowing—who had been involved in area events. Transcripts of notes are also available. It is worth quoting the section on the 1970s in detail, because any further history of St. Louis area lesbians will surely be filling out the details of Sweet's broadly sketched landscape.

"By 1969, Lesbians began to create alternatives. … Between 1969 and 1976, five coffeehouses, Gay or Lesbian, blossomed in the area, one in the basement of a mansion on Delmar, another on Twelfth in the current Youth Hostel.

"In 1974, New Lesbian Alliance opened its two-story space on Miami and Louisiana in the South Side, housing Tiamat Press, a library, Moonstorm, Lesbian Alliance legal committee, and rap groups. In February, 1975, the building was firebombed, a crime still unresolved. "My legal files had been rifled before I was contacted; and I lived only a block away," Laura remembers.

"The early Seventies also saw the First Annual Fruitbowl: a dyke softball game with Gay male cheerleaders. Georgia and her friends decorated their cars, held a parade, and ended with a picnic.

"Lesbians broke the all-male hold on St. Louis's premier technical institute, Ranken Tech. Laura was the first woman admitted, Peggy Miller the first graduated (in 1974). For their part, middle-class women professionals held a Conference on Lesbianism in 1972 at Washington University. Mac McCann presided at her bar, the Bottom of the Pot, at Euclid and McPherson. She later operated the Middle of the Road bar on Newstead near Manchester and Mor or Les on South Grand.

"Lesbians developed Camp Artemis for welfare mothers and their children and the Land collective near Ava, Missouri. They ran collectives for roofing, a Women's Garage, and the Women's Eye Bookstore, "never meant to be a traditional business," according to Laura, who was involve with it until it closed last year. The store was a place for women to work collectively, to test "theory and practice." July House, a housing collective for women, is still going.

"In 1979, and on the eve of the Eighties, Lesbians organized St. Louis's first Take Back the Night march, attracting 1500 marchers. This event was a Direct Action, and would come to typify the political style of the Eighties."

Coffeehouses

Mention has already been made of Nan Sweet's 1988 article based on interviews of four lesbians. Sweet additionally made extensive notes on these interviews, which are available in transcript, and for some, in audio form. She had one of her students, Janette Sanchez, conduct a 2 hour interview of Laura Ann Moore in 2011. Finally, we have a lengthy, detailed interview of Kris Kleindienst conducted by Monietta Slay in 1994.

From this and other sources, we get a picture of one emerging form of lesbian gathering of the 1970s: the coffeehouse. These coffeehouses were unique in that they provided an alternative space for women to gather —where "women" was used as a token word often for "lesbian"—that was free of many of the negative aspects of bar culture, which was associated with risk, police harrassment, and other marginal aspects of society of the time, such as prostitution and organized crime. Also, these were forms of gatherings borrowed from the counterculture which emerged in the 1960s, where one of the background images guiding the counterculture movement was to move away from the greed and production driven modes of the dominant culture and toward a creation of a new mode of existence. Indeed, the metaphor of "Lesbian Nation" was tangibly in the air in the early and mid 1970s. So actually, it is an important aspect of the research problem noted above to fully document this coffeehouse movement, identifying names of coffeehouses, locations, periods of existence, leaders who created and maintained them, and what went down within them.

One of the problems that I have encountered in disinvolving clear outlines of this movement is that most people who were involved with coffeehouses in one way or another do not have clear and accurate memories of when and where various events happened. This is why in addition to recording memories, stories, and interviewing, other parts of historical inquiry are the creation of accurate timeline, and the development of historical narrative which keys memories, stories and interviews, as well as other uncovered historical artifacts and documents, to probable positions on a timeline.

It is clear from conversations with lesbians active in the community in the 1970s that once an alterntive meeting place for women was started, many hands pitched in to do this and that to develop and maintain that place. However, it seems equally clear that, while there are others who deserve credit, Laura Ann Moore was a dominant leader in the coffeehouse movement of the early 1970, and in fact, in several of the dimensions of an imagined "Lesbian Nation" emerging in St. Louis at that time.

The Lesbian Alliance and Moonstorm

Probably the most politically influential lesbian organization in St. Louis in the 1970s was the Lesbian Alliance. Through their newsletter, Moonstorm, they certainly were a factor in the 1980 Celebration of Lesbian and Gay Pride. Andi Harpring presented her analysis of this group for an undergraduate research symposium at University of Missouri St. Louis in 2011.

"In the early 1970's the Lesbian Alliance, through its publication Moonstorm, increased the visibility of the lesbian community in St. Louis and provided a vehicle for lesbian-feminist expression. Moonstorm highlighted a topic to discuss and allowed women outside the Moonstorm Collective to contribute multiple points of view, [and] allowed more political lesbians a way to get their thoughts out to the St. Louis Community.

"The event lists included in Moonstorm helped promote the lesbian community by providing a vehicle for lesbian and women's organizations to advertise their existence and events they were holding. Event lists included: local and national events, placing the lesbian-feminist community in St. Louis in the context of the larger community, and happenings in St. Louis lesbian and feminist organizations outside of the Lesbian Alliance."

Kris Kleindienst remembers that within a year after she got out of high school, a group of women started an all-lesbian collective "right down the street from here [Left Bank Books] on McPherson." There were several leftist collectives on that block intermingled with residential dwellings. The collective Kleindienst was involved in was in an eight-bedroom home and became known for housing women students on the road, some of whom would end up staying for periods of time. "We started a women’s coffeehouse … in our basement. Friday night, you know, informal, burn candles and play guitar music and stuff. … maybe we put flyers in bars; I don’t really remember."

Kleindienst recalls that "It eventually graduated to a building, and I guess it had two different locations besides our house. And it outlived the house; the collective broke up and the women’s coffeehouse went for a while, and then it was firebombed. And we think that the owner of the building did it, and luckily there was no one there when it happened." The coffeehouse took on a life of its own and moved from one location to the next. "It was called a women’s coffeehouse. So, you know, a lot of stuff was really kind of disguised. Part of it was this idea that all women are welcome, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean that all women would necessarily be comfortable. But I think it did come from the heart a little bit, and it also came from a fear of violence; you know, that you don’t put too much right out in their face, for your own self."

This collective that Kleindienst recalls was the emerging Lesbian Alliance. The evidence for the establisment and development of a women's coffeehouse in Soulard is scattered in bits and pieces in publications and interviews. But it looks like it was an outgrowth of the collective that Kleindienst described above.

In the article Dykes Find a New Home we read "Two years ago a fledging Lesbian Alliance found a home for its coffeehouse and business meetings in a Soulard back alley apartment. Since these early days, the group grew in both number and activities, untill the little Soulard apartment was bursting at the seams. The search began for a new home in Nov., but no one wanted a group of homeless Lesbians. 

We also read in Moonstorm (Fall, 1973) that the collective is back on the streets again. searching for woman’s coffeehouse as of Jan. 1, since the building where they were meeting is to be made into a youth hostel.

It may be, then, that as early as late Fall of 1971 the collective that formed into the Lesbian Alliance began meeing in a Soulard appartment near or at the location of the current Huckleberry Finn Youth Hostel at 1906 12th Street. Laura Ann Moore said, "[the] guy who operated a youth hostel gave us some of the, it was a four family building, and gave us on the second floor, space that we got really cheaply from him and operated out of."

The activities of this collective continued—possibly spilling out into the rest of the building?— until they were given notice that the building would be redeveloped as a youth hostel. This coffeehouse coexisted with the emerging publication, Moonstorm, published on the also emerging Tiamat Press, as well as the Lesbian Alliance Legal Committee, Sunday potlucks and rap groups. Regarding Tiamat Press, Kleindienst made the following comment: "Moonstorm was not funded. They [Lesbian Alliance] had their own printing press. Gay publications were often refused publication by non-gay publishing houses because of their “family values” orientation." Laura Ann Moore was undoubtedly a leader in the legal committee, and also actively involved at both this Soulard location and the next one in South St. Louis.

One way to better understand the work and meaning of the Lesbian Alliance is to attempt to reconstruct the life of the group from the contents of old issues of their publication, Moonstorm, at selected times. Some time in 1973 a first issue was created. Issue 2 (Fall 1973) informs us that the Lesbian Alliance formed over a year ago [in 1972, then] and includes the Coffeehouse Committee, Moonstorm, rap groups, Sunday potlucks, and picnics. There were 15 women at the Sunday, Oct. 28, 1973 meeting, the first in two months. Also in Issue 2 was an editorial article on setting guidlines for a publication (Moonstorm) in which both lesbians and non-gay women would be encouraged to express their feelings.

During that period a pamphlet, Homophile Community and the Law: Rights We Don't Have, was created on legal rights of gays by the Lesbian Alliance Legal Committee. Laura Ann Moore was in a leadership role here and in many other activities of the time.

By Issue 3 (Feb 1974) a pattern for the publication is set. There is lots of news, some national but much more news about the local lesbian community. As with any ongoing community there are events, creations, changes and dissolutions. Forthcoming events include the 2nd Annual Feminist Culture Weekend at Washington University and Women's Councelling Workshops. Just happened events include a review of a Woman's Art Show at Martin Schweig Galleries and a visit to St. Louis by national lesbian and women's rights activist, Del Martin. Creations include the formation of a Gay Nurses Associaton and a Thursday support group for women new to Lesbian Alliance. The location of Lesbian Alliance will be changing March 1. Dissolutions include the disbanding of the Women's Health Service.

The search for a new location for the Lesbian Alliance from the 1906 12th St. location took two months. (Moonstorm, Feb 1974) According to her, Moore lived "right down the block" from the location at 3400 Miami and Louisiana. "And it was first floor commercial, second floor residential. We turned it into a coffeehouse, a bar area, well, it had been a bar, on the first floor, and then we had office space, and a library, and a rec room, and the legal room, we had a office for that, the files and stuff that were rifled through, you know. We were in various rooms on the second floor." Somehow between Jan. 1 and March 1 of 1974, this transition was made. In the September, 1975 issue of Moonstorm appears an unsigned article, "Dykes Find A New Home," that gives a good "insider" overview of the activities of the Lesbian Alliance between 1973 and 1975, especially at the Miami and Louisiana location.

Sweet says that the Feb 1975 Moonstorm reported that the building was firebombed on Jan. 30, 1975. Here are some of Sweet's notes on what Laura Ann Moore reported in a 1988 interview about the incident:

The landlord had given rent free at first for improvements made; had granted option to buy at year end at low price. She speculates that improvements led him not to want to sell. She recalls that shortly before the incident a man came in to "move radiators" and made pointed inquiries as to when people would be in the building. The fire was centered in a stairwell. She adds that her political files on the second floor were rifled before she got word of the fire; she lived one block away. She refers to possible police involvement, particularly a "Red Squad" which kept tabs on radical groups, communists, lesbians. She notes that neighbors seemed accepting of the women's presence, liking the improvements made, preferring the coffeehouse to the bar there previously.

This is also a publication designed to assist and enrich the lives of women, with a particular focus on lesbians. Scattered throughout the publication is poetry, including a poem titled "Lesbian Isolation" by Ruth Hubbard. It turns out that Ruth Hubbard was an important liason person between lesbians involved in the women's movement and those struggling for gay rights in MLSC; she wrote for Prime Time in 1977. There are recipes and an installment of Dr. Dyke's Fix It Manual on how brakes work. There is an article on lesbian bars. Another recurring feature in Moonstorm is "What's Your Story?" This issue the story is of a woman who became a nun and gradually freed herself from the confining structures of the Catholic Church.

Women's Coffeehouse in the Basement
of a Woman's Mansion on Delmar

Asked by Jeanette Sanchez in 2011 about a women's coffeehouse on Delmar around 1970, Laura Ann Moore replied:

Yeah, that’s still there. It was a family owned home in University City, right on the edge of it. That was probably some of the women-only space starting … besides the Women’s Eye later and stuff like that which took off. … I remember that as being one of the first places that we met without men. … It was lesbian women. Self-identified. … Everybody said, “Let’s see your badge.”

Apparently, this coffeehouse was independent of the McPherson coffeehouse last discussed which took on a life of its own and evolved into a publication and the Lesbian Alliance collective.

Washington University

Also some time in 1973 Conference on Lesbianism to be held at Washington University was "organized by 4 closeted academics. …[They] sent notices to schools, hospitals, social work agencies in an effort to reach professional lesbians. …About 40 attended. Led to coming out of several professional women." (Sweet, 1988b)

Red Tomatoe Productions

A prominent fact in the 1970s was that many women, including lesbians, desired to create their own space freed of the patriarchal restrictions that they experienced as suffocatingly repressive. Miller has concisely described the role that music played in this creation of space:

"Women's music was a major glue that held the lesbian-feminist culture together in the 1970s. Unlike disco—which was performed primarily by heterosexual musicians and recorded by mainstream record companies—women's music was recorded and distributed by women and performed at women's coffeehouses, concerts and music festivals. Women's music started off as folk music but soon encompassed a variety of styles, including blues, salsa and soul. Lyrics were sometimes overtly lesbian—Meg Christian's "Ode to a Gym Teacher," for example, or Cris Williamson's "Sweet Women." In other cases, they involved genderless love ballads.

"Although it was called "women's music," in reality, as Holly Near pointed out, it was essentially lesbian music. To have used that term, however, would have scared off too many women. "There was an inherent understanding of the part of lesbians," said Near, "that not all women knew if they were lesbians or not." One purpose of the new music was—very gently, in a nonthreatening manner—to coax women out of the closet, to make them aware of feelings toward other women, feelings that might not always be sexual, but often were."

There is plenty of evidence that St. Louis very early linked into the wave of women's music that was developing. According to Laura Ann Moore, who was intensely involved in trying to create alternative spaces for women from before the beginning of the 1970s,

"actually, I think, it grew into separatism as an evolution, a natural evolution of understanding the need for women-only space in order to strengthen yourself, you know, as a group. I believe that any oppressed peoples, whether it’s 'cause you’re a person of color, class differences, whatever, have the right and the necessity to have time alone to grow and learn from each other. So it was pretty natural that when we were doing things like the Midwest Wimmin’s Festival [started in 1974], which is still existing, and the Michigan Women’s Festival way back when that started [in 1975], all that stuff, when I was involved with all that, that it be women only space."

Kris Kleindienst was involved in bringing women's music to the St. Louis area. In a 1994 interview she described it as a major change for area lesbians"

"1975, is … when we produced our first concert. … I was involved with the group that produced women’s music in St. Louis when it first was a thing. It was called “women’s music,” it really was lesbians, and Meg Christian, you know, went on her tour, and the rest is history, but that was one of the only ways besides a bar, it was the only thing you could do that wasn’t a bar, if you were lesbian in this town. And it was pretty cool. For several years it was really pretty wonderful. It gave women who would never go to a bar, or maybe never would go to a bar first, or never think by themselves, “Oh, I might be a lesbian, maybe I’ll go to a gay bar” a place to go and be around other lesbians and have this really affirming thing happen, and it was a real like watershed experience. I would always have people come up after concerts with tears in their eyes, and it was like they had come home."

Women's Eye Bookstore

Tiamat Press

Loosely Identified*

The women's poetry collective Loosely Identified has influenced St. Louis women's poetry for three decades. With more and more women's poetry available through the sharing and support of its workshops, "the group began its tradition of public readings [around 1975], performing at Frank Moskus in Exile, the University City Public Library, the Dead Dog Gallery on Delmar, and the Women’s Eye Bookstore on DeMun." (Sweet, 2007) "The group came together at a Women’s Art Fair in 1974. It was the early days of second-wave feminism, and we worked to reclaim ourselves and our art. In her book, The Dream of a Common Language, published in 1975 [sic], Adrienne Rich celebrated the nourishing language of women’s intimate relationships. We wanted that language for ourselves. Our membership grew, and our workshop met, sometimes every two weeks." (Sweet, 2004)

More precisely, poems from Rich’s 1978 book subtitled “Poems 1974-1977” were circulating among lesbian feminists in 1975, when longtime Loosely members Nan Sweet and Martha Ficklen heard Rich read from her manuscript in New York City. Classically trained and massively talented, Rich embraced the expression of her own sexuality as a part of a larger struggle to break free from the definitions of women's experience by the patriarchy.

Nan Sweet, who stayed with the group from 1975 on, had an academic background, employment, and connections, and thereby "became a link for the group with the academic settings where I studied or worked." Her study with Don  Finkel of Washington University led to his supporting the St. Louis Women's Poetry Workshop in the late 1970s along with his wife, poet Connie Urdang. Sweet—who has written at least two articles on the group's history—mentions the "anti-feminist buffeting of the Reagan years" as she traces the group's history up to about 2007. Some time in the 1990s the Poetry Workshop was influenced by women "loosely identified" with University of Missouri St. Louis (UMSL). Sweet had used the phrase "loosely identified" in explaining the group to a new member, but that phrase then replaced the original group name; it also distantly echoes the political linkages of Rich’s “lesbian continuum.” Poets from “LI” have read for River Styx at Duff’s nearly every other year since 1996. At least 135 women, mostly heterosexual, have been involved in the Poetry Workshop over its years of existence.

Adrienne Rich’s 1980 essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” liberates women’s “intimate relationships” as mothers, daughters, sisters, co-workers from patriarchy and marriage and includes them in a “lesbian continuum.” With her eloquence and ever-broadening imagination, Rich rose to leadership among women poets in diverse situations and multiple sexualities: at her death in 2012 she was mourned as the vanguard figure she was.

On their own scale in St. Louis, Lesbian poets in Loosely Identified have modeled independence and been core and sustaining members of this majority-heterosexual, broadly committed collective. Loosely’s 2004 anthology Breathing Out credits its members for their activist work for peace, the environment, and more, as well as for women’s and lesbian rights.

A Research Problem Emerges

As a researcher dedicated to building a truer picture of the emergence of LGBTQ pride in the St. Louis area, I have long been struggling with a difficult issue. So far as I know, no one else has attempted to address this matter in a fair and balanced way, or possibly in any way at all. This is the problem: there were lesbian activists involved in the women's movement who essentially built a structure in which lesbian pride could exist, while interacting skeptically or not at all with the more mainstream gay pride movement. There are written records here and there of these contributions. Recently, there has been a strong focus on collecting and sharing memories and contributions in the St. Louis lesbian community, led by Betty D. Neeley. However, so far as I can tell, no one is focusing on reconstructing those records in a chronological sequence that integrates them into other well-known records of advancing gay pride in St. Louis.

In my several years now of trying to take a deeper look at the reconstruction of the history of St. Louis LGBTQ Pride in the 1970s, I have noticed the following several strands. Uncovering, classifying and relating these strands would be a good starting point. 1) There is a long history of bar life in St. Louis, starting early in the 20th Century, and having many complex twists and turns. 2) Joyce Trebilcot came to Washington University in 1970 and steadily built a strong women's studies major. Lesbian feminism was a strong, but not the only component of that program. 3) There were several organizations at Washington University during the decade, and in particular, the Gay People's Alliance was active in 1977, later the Students for Gay Liberation. 4) The Lesbian Alliance published a newsletter, Moonstorm, from 1973 through 1980. Ruth Hubbard was active in the Lesbian Alliance and wrote an occasional column for Prime Time. 5) At the same time, there were more lesbians who were involved in the mainstream struggle for gay rights, especially Carol Cureton, who founded MCC St. Louis. These people were less into, or possibly not into at all, the lesbian separatist movement within the women's movement. 6) I have separately told the story of Glenda Dilley/Adrienne Rae/Cea Hearth, who comes from yet other Missouri Roots. 7) Another similar strand, although later than the 1970s, is within the Episcopal organization, Integrity. In listing only these sources, I by no means intend to oversimplify the situation. Each one of these points could be elaborated, and there are many other persons, stories, and lives that have other information to contribute.

The organizations and alliances that are described above express the emergence in the St. Louis region of a selected few of these larger feminist and lesbian efforts to create regions of pride for themselves, and must be understood against that background.

References

Adrienne Rich, Wikipedia article, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adrienne_Rich

Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985 (New York: Norton, 1986), pp. 21-75. Also found at http://www.terry.uga.edu/~dawndba/4500compulsoryhet.htm

Breathing Out: Poems by Loosely Identified (Glen Carbon, IL: Cherry Pie Press, 2004).

Harpring, Andrea, "Lesbian Alliance and Moonstorm: St. Louis Lesbian-Feminist Search for Space and Voice," Undergraduate Research Symposium, University of Missouri St. Louis,

Meinzer, Melissa, "Gay Old Times: It's LGBT history to us. To them, it was life," Riverfront Times, Jun 16, 2011 (online at www.riverfronttimes.com/2011-06-16/news/st-louis-lgbt-history-steven-brawley)

Miller, Neil, "Lesbian Nation and Women's Music," in Miller, Neil, Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present, Vintage Books, 1995, p. 432.

Sweet, Nanora, "Loosely Identified, A St. Louis Women's Poetry Collective," in the Figure in the Carpet, Vol. 3, No. 2, (Oct. 2004)

Sweet, Nanora, "Loosely Identified, A St. Louis Women's Poetry Collective," 1977.

Sweet, Nan, "Herstory: Finding the Lesbian Heritage," Lesbian and Gay News-Telegraph, Nov. 1988, p. 18. (file: les-herstoryLGNT88)

Sweet, Nan, St. Louis Lesbian Herstory Notes on Four Interviewees, unnumbered, 1988.

Endnote

*Nanora Sweet has kindly rewritten a loose draft of mine based on her two previous articles on Loosely Identified for inclusion into this document.