Holly Tarry and Nancy Kepner
DescriptionHolly Tarry (41) talks to her friend Nancy Kepner (52) about the sexual harassment she experienced during her work as a lobbyist and the events that took place after she and other women who'd been victimized publicly accused their harasser, Colorado State Representative Steve Lebsock.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Holly Tarry
- Nancy Kepner
Recording LocationNew Belgium Brewing Company
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00:04 My name is Holly Terry. I'm 41 years old today is April 23rd, and we are in Fort Collins, Colorado. I'm talking to my friend Nancy Kepner.
00:15 I'm Nancy Kepner. I'm 52 years old today's date is April 23rd 2018. Where in Fort Collins Colorado and I'm talking to my friend Holly Terry. So how are you told me that I was a catalyst in your story. I'd love to hear how I was. Yeah, we were meeting at a coffee shop and chatting kind of new to getting to know one another and my experience at hsus came up the first half of my animal protection lobbying career in Colorado started as full-time and house at the Humane Society of the United States, which is a large National nonprofit whose CEO just recently in February was ousted very publicly and a big sexual harassment Scandal and when we were discussing it and my experience at hsus came up, I was remembering what felt like
01:15 Super toxic culture to me and the ways that fairness and logic weren't guiding the decisions. It was just kind of a Playboy situation in that work culture and I felt angry about it, which I guess you picked up on because you just looked right at me and said you have a withholding, which I didn't really know what that meant. I didn't know you well enough and know how you spoke to know that word and then I did totally knew what it meant somehow to I guess just feeling the context and knowing that I did I had a withholding you didn't know at the time that I had been in counseling. I'll probably a year in at that point going every week really trying to understand why my workplace experiences head felt so bad to me in the recent past, but that comment from you and and the work I done in counseling.
02:15 Really kind of pushing me to face some things in my life.
02:24 What happened next?
02:26 Well, I ended up continuing to examine my relationships and my professional relationships feeling so bad to me. I had gone into the counseling work that I was doing and sat down and said I feel depressed and I don't know why and starting to ask myself those questions and sort of being challenged by the me-too moment all around me. I really started looking at some of my key relationships in in work.
03:07 And does that bring us to Steve's?
03:13 So Representative Steve lebsock was a very intense figure in my life for about five years. He was a state representative and I was an animal protection lobbyist. He was extremely strong on my issues. He was really the only one who would put animal protection at the very top. He he prioritized it. He also fought really hard for it. So we were very much aligned right from the beginning because of that issue and on top of that he really liked and trusted me and on top of that he was really impaulsive. So he talked and just told me everything I got this kind of
03:57 Behind the curtain sense of what was going on in the house Democrats caucus in Colorado and Beyond he was paying attention to politics the issues the people and he was talking to me about it and sharing all the inner workings. He was also advising me on a political action committee that I was running. I would raise money to get Humane candidates elected and then go out the checks and he was a primary advisor. We had long interesting conversations about you know, this candidate survey is really good. But does this person have any chance of winning? I don't want to throw away the money I want to be strategic and we would just have these conversations that were very interesting to me and very helpful to me doing my job. Well,
04:50 How often we seen him there were kind of Epsom flows during legislative session. I would see him more. I lived in Fort Collins and still do most of the time that I knew him. So I was not an at the Capitol all day everyday kind of lobbyists, but we saw each other a great deal and we always see each other when I was at the capital and we saw each other in the summer in election years because he was helping me strategize the checks and it was like brain candy talking to him. It was very interesting. There was a very fulfilling part of the relationship and I felt really good about the work. We were getting done to protect animals. Like I cared a lot about that but there was a dark side to so what was that was the dark side?
05:45 Well, the dark side felt it to me like control it's started when we went to lunch. We left the capital and went to lunch at a Mexican restaurant. He asked me to have sex. He basically suggested that we quote fuck and I said no that's off the table and he said it doesn't have to be on the table.
06:12 And we kind of moved on from that incident. He just he disclosed me a lot. He was always sharing a lot of information with me so Holly when he said that how did you feel me? What? Well, I felt I have kind of like a standard place where I feel adrenaline. I felt like adrenaline come through my it's a it's a it's a feeling that I recognized from other situations, but he was the Fourth Man from the capital of who had explicitly asked me for sex. I was not that upset about it. I didn't you weren't upset about it. I wasn't I felt a little I felt like, you know, the adrenaline rush it was it was stress, but I didn't lose sleep. I thought it was a cost of doing business. I just thought it was normal.
07:08 Okay, then like I said, he was not even close to the first one. He was constantly disclosing to me like telling me things about his personal life telling me things about a sex life. He would say. Oh, no, I can't tell you this. You already know too much about me and I would say don't tell me and then he would anyway and that happened several times. Sometimes he would not tell me sometimes he would but I never asked I was never trying to dig around for for that information, but he was constantly disclosing and he got kind of nervous and paranoid I think about that and was desperate to get a secret of mine and really started pressuring me to tell him a secret. So the next kind of adrenaline rush in my wrist moment was at the City Grill, which is a bar across the street from the capitol.
08:02 And he was pressuring me to give him a secret and he said come on tell me who's on your fuck list. Who would you fuck if you weren't married? I better be on that list.
08:15 And I knew that was an iced out the Russian my wrist and I knew this isn't this is another moment where I need to tell this guy can go and I did and he never
08:27 He never pursued me for sex again, but he started controlling me in other ways.
08:34 And you want to say more about that and he also you had a remember you telling me you have a the way he referred to you and you referred to him. We're totally different. Yeah, he started after after that. I think he did except at some point that the sex store was closed, but he started calling me his sister and I did not refer to myself as his sister and I didn't refer to him as my brother and I didn't even use his first name. I literally never called him Steve. I called him less talk and he didn't seem to notice the disparity you didn't seem to care that that wasn't usual. He had this he gave me the feeling that he wanted to collect people. He likes to be escorted everywhere. He went in the capital. He wanted to show up where he was going with an Entourage at best which he could never really put together.
09:30 But it S Corp at least and he had you know, some women that he hired to be as legislative aides that he use that way and he I remember wanted me to go with him to an education Bill stakeholder meeting and I have nothing to do with that bill. I'm not stakeholder and he really wanted me to go just seemed like he wanted to have people everywhere he went but I had also noticed that he was driving people away. He would get very angry very quickly. He would yell he would storm out. He was just this huge personality with with kind of a dark anger and that meant people were sort of avoiding him and thereby avoiding me. I remember one time. I was talking to him about the pack about the political a
10:30 And discussing, you know this this candidate and his score isn't really that good but what are the other options in that district and it is it worth supporting him and I could feel and kind of escalating and like at head like a butt hurt tone to him and said what is going on or are you saying you want more money and he kind of defensively so yeah, I deserve it more than he does and I tried to push back I said no you if you want a campaign check ask nicely talk about the mission say please you cannot believe me into giving you money, but he always going to soften D had that Charming kind side to he would he softens he he did speak nicely. He didn't say please and he got the check and that that was the cycle. We were in for a lot of years. I remember to one time.
11:27 He was very angry because I sent a couple of people including him to a meeting at the wrong time. I just made a mistake and I immediately took accountability and apologize to everyone at the meeting as much as I could and he just started rage texting me and I called him and said you are you kidding me or is this are you truly angry and cussing at me over text and he was yeah, really angry kind of double down on how mad he was and I said you can't talk to me that way and I hung up on him and we didn't speak for a while.
12:05 But the South Side always came back and he apologized and
12:11 The cycle kind of repeated the
12:16 The summer of 2000's it was late spring cuz we were still in session of 2016. I found him sitting outside of the capital on a bench and I sat down next to him and the dress I was wearing came up over my knees. And he said you look really good. You just need to shave the top part of your legs.
12:38 And I remember thinking.
12:41 Why on Earth do you think I care to impress you you douchebag? I was so mad. I was so incredibly angered.
12:54 By that and
12:57 Is this the time when there was something else going on as well? Yeah, so that was late spring 2016 right about that same time. I had a political donor join the board of directors of a political non-profit that I was running and he really blatantly and repeatedly hit on me and when I tried to draw boundaries and and you know had my own personal rule that I would not meet with him alone without an without an agenda or a specific reason anymore and he didn't like that. He he just kind of smothered me with 11 paragraph emails and threatened to withdraw his support for the organization. If I didn't give him a whole bunch of my personal time and attention.
13:51 So that incident was coming kind of on the heels of of years of control from lebsock and from the work. I have been doing and counseling and I was very upset by that situation. I did lose sleep over that. It was more acute if it was a tighter time frame it all happened a lot and this guy was really Brazen about how controlling and manipulative he was and it didn't work on me. I had them on and off the board and five months, but I was pretty disturbed by it and felt like I was swimming in a sea of harassment. I don't think I was really calling it back yet or had it figured out completely but
14:45 I felt really sick about everywhere. I turned how these men were treating me. I also was starting to see the ways that the work intersected with these problems because your work my work because animal protection lobbying is a very low-power Endeavor. This is not a high tower issue. It doesn't come with the campaign money and a huge lobbying team. I was in a position of begging for favors. Most of the time I was I was desperate and every step I took to get the work done and Desperation that is a pretty dangerous sent to where in politics and around the capitol. I felt constantly vulnerable to men who wanted to use power to get what they wanted.
15:38 You were desperate for the cause of her to progress the cause share a situation trying to get a bill sponsor, which is hard Colorado. It is really tight Bill limits and it and it just the clock is ticking and deadlines are passing and I felt desperate most of the time.
16:02 So how did you get away from?
16:07 Despite what it would happen. So you were in the situation with the political donor, you're in the situation would love sock. And yeah, well, I I unraveled the political donor situation. I got voted off the board, but I it's still lingered for me. I knew that he was in power positions in the state. In other ways. I knew that he had a reputation for behaving in a very manipulative and controlling way and I felt compelled to to tell I felt compelled to warn I felt compelled to talk about it more and this is the ironic part. It was November 10th. I was pacing the floor trying to work up the nerve to contact representative face winner who I knew but was not a friend and ask her to help me get a hold of conservation Colorado where this political donor was on the board because she was very well connected.
17:07 I knew she was strong and gender equality issues and I just wanted her support to help me take my story to this other place where the sky help our I was literally trying to work up the nerve to call her when I saw on Facebook that want to make one of my Facebook friends had shared the breaking story from kunc of lebsock sexual harassment to totally the other story on your life and you are contacting her about 1 and she was involved in this other and I had no idea so I read the story and I knew it was true partially because I just knew it. I knew his character. Am I you read us a story about yes website to send the story had I think my another anonymous people it was an extensive story. I did not know the story of sexual harassment exactly and Faith winter was
18:07 Only one he was named there were several other Anonymous players who had complaints about him. I didn't know any of those stories, but I could feel that they were true. I knew from his character that they were true and and part of the story with face. He had told me that he of course did not tell me the whole story but some of the exact words that he used in the conversation with her that night that he harassed her. He he told me I knew he remembered it. I knew he told me how drunk he got that night. So just to clarify she corroborated her story in conversation with you. He he he harassed her tried to get her to leave the bar with him to go to go make each other happy and he escalated and got angry when she turned him down will he told me because I was meeting with her to give her a campaign check and he knew that.
19:07 He was nervous and we were going to sit down together. But he said oh, she's funny. She's great. We joke around about how you know, it's the end of session and we deserve to be made happy. So we're going to go home your significant others and be made Happy. Hahaha. So I knew I really did not hesitate. I did not have a second of doubt that I was going to help her. I had been pacing the floor trying to get her get up there and ask her how many it just was not right for me to turn my back on that. So I called her and she was very real with me right from the beginning and every step of the way. She was very scared. She's scared of
19:56 I think she was she was scared of him. I think that was kind of the most primary fear. There were lots of others as it went on but
20:06 But he scared her. He really scared her that night that he harassed her. He really scared her and he was not the kind of guy who takes no for an answer. So I understood why she was scared and she was I think felt anxious to get somebody else on the record. So I talked to the Denver Post and kunc that day. And I think also that day another woman came out publicly and said that he reached over at a legislative event and unbutton to the top button up her shirt and said that's better.
20:40 So that all happened on November 10th, and I had no idea any of it was coming. I had no conversations before that with anyone other than my family and friends. No no talk with reporters or face or anything. I didn't know anyone else's stories and no one else knew mine.
21:04 So in one day this
21:07 Thanks hun. We took a different turn you called her. You were suddenly a witness and this unfolding case with a prominent.
21:22 Yeah, I blocked him from my phone. I was scared to so a question that always goes through my mind is where did you get the courage?
21:33 Suddenly say yes, and
21:36 Go forward. There was Zero decision making process for me. I think because I had done so much. I had since so much time talking about it unraveling how I felt about my workplace issues. And am I talk with you pointed me in the same direction and I was trying to work up the courage to get face to support me. I just had zero decision making process. I was just instinctual and I knew I was uniquely positioned because I didn't have to go back. I had already started marching deliberately a way. You didn't have to go back to your grandma. I mean I did and I do but not very much I had turned away work. I had ended projects I care about
22:25 To to deliberately March away from let's talk. I wanted that relationship to end even though you cared so much about the causes you
22:38 Wanted to get away because of an individual or series of individuals the environment that that c of harassment. I felt like I was swimming in that position of of low-power and begging for favors. And I'm I'm sure that there is a way to do that work, but I was by the time I learned all that I needed to know I was exhausted and sick of it and I was marching way. I felt like I was uniquely positioned to use my name in support of face.
23:23 Then what happened? So Faith then the story gets really crazy. So after we came out publicly he made a statement that he didn't do it and asked us to the accusers to file formal complaints which we did so he denied yeah all of the well at first he did it goes round and round at first. He said he didn't do it that
23:57 He didn't remember parts of it and that I'm he was certain. He didn't do some of it and that we were kind of reprimanded Us in the statement for you for going to the press and said we should use the formal process. So we did face and I file formal complaint right away. Then he released a statement apologizing sort of he apologized for how he made us feel didn't really own up to anything that he did but he also kind of didn't deny it said, you know, it doesn't matter that. I thought we were flirting. It doesn't matter that. I thought they liked it.
24:34 So we sort of fast up to some of the behavior but the apology was not very complete. It was more about how we felt and less about what he did and then he was ignoring calls to resign he was he was not resigning with her. He was getting close to resign. Yes. He the speaker the governor of the lieutenant governor right away. They all know it. I think they felt that their personal experience with his character and these accusations were all pointing in the same direction. He was very difficult character then what did he next to you went on a radio show.
25:15 And he spoke for hours saying that we were liars and painting himself as a victim and really hard on face just saying horrible things about faith saying that she was playing dirty politics and some cruel stuff that I won't even repeat. Then he took a lie detector test and held a press conference, which was actually his second press conference in the first, press press conference. He cried a lot and said that he was being bullied online and was afraid for his life.
25:55 I & II press conference. He released the results of this lie detector test which was weird very confusing strange lie detector test where he he directed at he funded he initiated this lie detector test and if you could fund your own I didn't either lie detector test. I didn't either this is all new to me $350 parently, but it was as Tiny number of questions. I think it was three questions for face and face accusations and then later he released three questions for me, but they weren't about the things. We said he did they were weird irrelevant.
26:41 Confusing questions. They did not look like he was really trying to disclose truth. It was it was strange and stressful kind of another new cycle of reporters calling and face having to answer to all of these things and I'm her feeling very stressed and overwhelmed by all that then he did this 13-minute like propaganda video.
27:16 Where he is staring into the camera and kind of pleading into the camera for for viewers to help him fight against face. Dirty politics his his message throughout this whole very long, very strained. It's super triggering for me. I don't know if everyone feels that way when they watch it, but for me, it's hard to watch. It's it's a lot of eye contact with the camera where he is just
27:48 So sure that he has been victimized. He shows these pictures of face holding two axes. I guess you got a picture on a picture of her from an axe throwing contest and it's like this menacing, you know picture. He's trying to paint of her as his dirty politician and he's just pleading and victimized and on the verge of tears and it's a strange video it it's one of those things where you look at it and you think this does not look to him the way that it looks to everyone else. It's it's not it's not playing the same. And is this how many days are we talking about like all of this unfolding from the time you
28:37 It was early March when he was expelled and it was November 10th when we came out publicly accusing him. So three or four months of these, you know.
28:52 Antics and then he did a manifesting out then he printed a 28 page Manifesto and put it in the mail boxes of every single house representative.
29:07 That was
29:09 A pretty devastating day. So what was in the manifesto? Well, the manifesto says that Faith pursued him sexually and that she wanted to get with him and he rejected her so she was mad about it. And that's why she was going after him and that she was dating him that night that he harassed her by telling him that her husband was out of town and he also told a lot of stories about conversations. They had around her Senate race. He was he was definitely trying to imply that her Senate race had something to do with these accusations, but I can't tell you what really he's thought I D never completely through the line there. It didn't make sense.
30:07 And then with me he said that we did not have we work colleagues that we had a strictly personal relationship, which is insane. I was his legislative played after the person I recommended walked out abruptly leaving a note for leadership saying that he intimidated her and yelled at her and she wouldn't take it anymore. I lobbied on bills that he sponsored. I administered a caucus that he chaired. It's just nutty to say that I was driving from Fort Collins just to have lunch with a personal friend. He said that I was mentally unstable. He said that I was sleeping around. He said that I talk to him about my sex life. He told the story of him suggesting that he tried to give me an orgasm and I said that's what interns are for and he reprimanded me for saying that
31:05 Which is a crazy story that that story did not happen at all. But the line that's what entrance are for was from the initial story of his harassment. One of the anonymous women had that exchange with him and he appropriated that to me. I guess tube-like disappear her so very salacious 28 page memo that attempted to destroy you were and face reputation. So what happened ultimately cuz we know
31:37 Yeah, we know the ending but tell us what yeah, that's what happened.
31:42 Well, he week the investigation came back. We had all been through this long process of having the accusations investigated and it came back and reported that 11 accusations over five people were all found credible and we're more likely than not to have happened the house leadership really quickly to get the issue debated to get the the report redacted so that all of the members could read this. I think it's a 250 Pages this investigation report and they had a full day of of the various groups getting together to debate it.
32:28 He forged a calendar from his ex-wife throughout the debate to prove that he wasn't where he said he was but then an estate agency added a different calendar that that proved otherwise if he sort of dropped that angle mean it was a real world end and this is moving towards moving towards the final day, which was 7 hours of debate on the house floor. The expulsion resolution was introduced and it needed a supermajority 2/3 of the house chamber needed to vote him out and we were not winning at the beginning of that day. We did not have one single Republican lockdown and we did not even have all the Dems. It was devastating thinking that we were going to lose thinking that Faith was going to have to keep going back.
33:18 To work with him and with all those people having the traitor, but the debate was crazy 7 hours of you know, a few people really a rose as these Fighters and just kept going back to the well and and fighting for the right thing and then there was kind of a turning point when a couple of key Republicans came up and we're here for and said that they were so upset at his retaliation at the manifesto at the way that he had had personally attacked us and then the real kicker was these two Democratic men who came up to the well, they were two men who have been really strong on the issue. One of them had stood next to Faith literally stood next to her every time that she was publicly addressing someone on this issue. And he also was the one who helped get her out of the situation that night that he
34:18 That love soccer roster.
34:21 And another man who had introduced the resolution and had been a really strong on the issue the whole way they came to the well, they had supporters around them. They were very emotional. It was a moment of just like shocking vulnerability and they let us know that they had been wearing bulletproof vests to work because because they were afraid of him. He had sent a text saying I'm going to take you down which I think of course could mean politically but he was acting so erratically and he the way that he was trying to defend himself but doing things that were so obviously and blatantly not right everyone else and he couldn't tell
35:12 I think that really scared people and yeah, two men two elected men were coming to work with bulletproof vests on everyday and I think that was a wake-up call to the full chamber people are really scared. This is not a safe work environment. This is a a distraction to the people's work at Best.
35:39 And we need to do something about it.
35:42 So it took 7 hours to get
35:47 This vote and meanwhile you were.
35:52 I think you're with your I was with my mom while my parents were in town visiting and I wasn't listening to the debate actually still haven't listened to it. I've tried and I feel panicky when I go to hit the play button. So one day I'll listen to it. I was just kind of in and out and watching what was going on in Twitter and was with my mom in the car going to the liquor store.
36:17 And we were getting updates from Twitter and Friends texting me and and found out that he was expelled right there in the car and we just cried and hugged each other and felt like it's finally over.
36:40 There's so many questions to ask but having gone through that.
36:46 Which seems to take?
36:49 So much courage and you haven't even mentioned all the things that happened to you. The Twitter feeds all the things that happened while you were going through this. How is this transform do you like what?
37:02 What what are you different from this?
37:07 I feel really different. I remember asking my counselor along the way and I know this seems to be happening to some extent to everyone. It seems to be happening to me a lot and then there seems to be some people that does not happen to how do I how do I become one of those sexual harassment light on the fact that it happens to everyone but almost everyone but not everyone. So how do I become a woman? This doesn't happen to you anymore and you know being a good counselor. She of course didn't directly answer the girls. They came to it myself and now I feel like William I am a person that does not happen to any more. I can smell it a mile away and I am not afraid to use my voice and I understand that it's about power and control and it's not flattering.
38:00 And I feel free. Logistically. I'm free. I don't have to take calls from that guy anymore and bigger than that. I'm just I'm free. I'm going to tell the truth and require respect from everyone that that I work with from here on out.
38:21 And do you have any more fears? Oh, yeah. I mean I have I feel I hear the word brave a lot and I get it. I do feel like I had moments that were brave brave feels like a mood to me more than a state of being I I have Braves moods and I have days that I want to hide under the bed all day long weeks, but I want to hide under the bed. So yeah, I still have fear.
38:52 How does it feel to think about going back to Capitol? It's really hard to think about going back to the capital. I have had to go back a couple of times and I really force myself to go in. It's the people's house. I care a lot about democracy. So I make myself do it. But yeah, that's a different place to me now.
39:10 Holly as someone that has the honor of hearing your story
39:17 I'm so grateful and I appreciate your courage and your
39:25 You are an example to others I've learned from you and I hope to be as Brave as you. Thank you, my friend. You were a good night.