Archive for the ‘activists’ Category

If you haven’t seen the website for the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, get thee hither! This amazing project documents historic sites related to LGBT people across all eras and all five boroughs.

Plus, its interactive map has a filter option, so you can search for sites by specific topics you’re particularly interested in, like, say, activist sites or theatrical sites. You can also search just for places related to lesbian history or trans history.

The group also sponsors talks about its work in the area of history and historic sites, and highlights other programs related to LGBT history in the city.

Gay “Be-In” at the Sheep Meadow in Central Park at the end of the first NYC Pride March, June 28, 1970. Photo by Diana Davies. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.



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Twig drove her to The Hornet’s Nest, a bar in the basement of an old hotel in town. It wasn’t a homosexual club so much as a place where gay people gathered while the management turned a blind eye. Both women and men frequented it, and Cam had accompanied Auggie and Twig there many times, against Ada’s advice. The place seemed seedy, dangerous, with an entrance down a dark flight of stairs. “And what if you run into someone from school?” Ada had asked.

“I reckon they’ll be as scared to see me as I am to see them,” Cam replied.

The plot of my new novel, The Ada Decades, covers seventy years in the lives of LGBT people in Charlotte, N.C. In the above scene, which takes place in 1962, Ada goes (reluctantly) with her gay friend Twig to The Hornet’s Nest, one of several bars in Charlotte to “serve as ad hoc gathering spaces for the gay community,” according to Charlotte historian Josh Burford.

Before there were LGBT community centers, conferences, high school and college associations, bookstores, and choruses, bars served an important function in the lives of queer people. Even at the seediest bars, queer folks could meet each other for friendship and love, finding community when they might have feared they were alone.

As Burford notes, bars as community institutions laid “the groundwork for future activism.” For example, at Julius, a gay-favorite bar located on West 10th Street in New York City, gay men staged a “sip in” in 1966 to challenge a state law that prohibited serving alcohol to “disorderly” people—and just being gay was considered “disorderly” conduct. The June 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Sheridan Square, are generally credited as the start of the modern LGBT rights movement.


The “sip in” at Julius in Greenwich Village in 1966

The downside, of course, is that bars foster drinking, and habitual drinking can lead to alcoholism—a problem that our community has been tackling through LGBT-specific social services for 30+ years.

For more about my characters Ada, Cam, and Twig and their experiences as gay Southerners “back in the day,” pick up a copy of The Ada Decades at your favorite bookstore or online retailer.

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Harry Hay

Los Angeles, Calif.

Harry Hay home/Mattachine Society

2328 Cove Avenue

This split-level house located in a cul-de-sac in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles was home to Harry Hay (1912-2002) and his wife, Anita, beginning in 1943. The living room boasted a grand piano and a view of the lake that was the Hays’ “pride and joy.” In those days, Hay was a member of both the Communist Party and the folk music movement, and his home was the site of numerous meetings and soirees.

But even while married, Hay began acting on his same-sex desires, becoming lovers in 1950 with Rudi Gernreich, future designer of the topless swimsuit for women. Because Hay had a wife and Gernreich lived with his mother, the lovers met clandestinely at the home of a friend at 313 Alta Vista Drive in Hollywood to be together. Hay later said that he and Gernreich formed a “society of two” that became the Mattachine Society.

It was at this Cover Avenue residence that Hay, Gernreich, and two of their friends, Chuck Rowland and Bob Hull, began meeting every week to discuss homosexuality and homosexual disenfranchisement. Hay discovered the name “Mattachine” in his research into folk songs. The Mattachines had been all-male troupes of jesters during the Middle Ages in western Europe, who boldly dressed as women and performed songs and dances throughout the countryside for the poor and oppressed.

The Mattachine meetings of the early 1950s were always secret. If a guest was invited, he would meet a member in public and be driven around to disorient him before being taken to Hay’s home. Eventually, as the group grew in size, public meeting sites were chosen. In 1953, a Mattachine convention at the First Universalist Church at Ninth and Crenshaw, a rift in the membership forced out Hay and other founders and brought in a more conservative leadership. The group became less political and eventually disbanded in L.A., resurfacing in a new form a few years later in San Francisco. Other Mattachine Societies sprouted up in cities across the country.

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Newcastle, Maine

Frances Perkins home
“The Brick House”
River Road

Frances Perkins (1880-1965), FDR’s secretary of labor, was the first woman ever to hold a presidential Cabinet post. The primary architect of some of the New Deal’s greatest programs, including Social Security and unemployment insurance, she played a major role in helping to bring the country out of the Great Depression. This 1836 house (see photo) on the coast of Maine was her family home; she and her sister inherited the site, and Perkins used it as a special retreat. It is still standing, and plans are in the works to transform it into the Frances Perkins Center, a place for students and scholars to work on projects that mesh with Perkins’ vision.

A graduate of Mount Holyoke College and Columbia University, Perkins was a lifelong social reformer and activist. Early in her career, she was part of the committee that investigated the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, which killed 146 workers, mostly immigrant women, who were trapped in the burning building. Following a career as a settlement worker and factory inspector, Perkins eventually held the post of N.Y. State Commissioner of Labor under Gov. Franklin Roosevelt. When Roosevelt became president in 1932, he invited her to join him in Washington, and the rest is herstory. Perkins served in the Cabinet for the next 12 years. In her later life, she was guest professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Although she married economist Paul Wilson in 1913, a 2009 biography of Perkins by journalist Kirstin Downey reveals that she had a secret affair with Mary Harriman Rumsey, the sister of Averell Harriman. The book further examines how and why Perkins, surely one of the greatest Cabinet members and social reformers of all time, has slipped into oblivion.

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Moylan, Pa.

Anna Howard Shaw home
240 Ridley Creek Road (private)

This picturesque stone house with blue trim, now a private residence, was built in 1908 by suffragist Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919), who lived here with her intimate companion, Lucy Anthony, niece of Susan B. The house was “a realization of a desire…No one could ask for a more ideal site for a cottage,” Shaw wrote in her autobiography, The Story of a Pioneer, in which she noted a nearby stream and forest, and the hilltop view. Shaw was a brilliant orator who traveled extensively on behalf of the suffrage movement. “From every country I have visited I have brought back a tiny tree,” she noted, and the pine grove she started planting at her home is now full grown.

While she lived here, Shaw, a minister by profession, was president of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association. Her early activism focused on temperance, but she was lured to the suffrage movement by Susan B. herself. It is estimated that Shaw gave about 10,000 speeches on suffrage during her career, mesmerizing her audiences with her powerful voice, dramatic delivery, and sharp with. She died here in Moylan, a year before the 19th Amendment passed, giving women the right to vote. The New York Times reported that “her secretary, Miss Lucy E. Anthony, a niece of Susan B. Anthony, who has been with Dr. Shaw for thirty years, … [was] at her bedside when she died.”

Q: Why does the Scripture say there shall be no marriages in heaven?
A: Ah, my dear friends [drawing a long sigh], someone has answered that by saying, because there will be no men there.

–Anna Howard Shaw, during a Q&A after one of her speeches

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Evanston, Ill.

Frances Willard home
“Rest Cottage”
1730 Chicago Avenue

Frances Willard (1839-1898) left her hometown in Wisconsin to attend Evanston College for Ladies. After a teaching career at various women’s colleges, she became president of her alma mater in 1871 and then dean of women at Northwestern University when the schools merged two years later. In 1874, with the founding of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Willard resigned from her post to become the WCTU’s corresponding secretary. Five years later, as WCTU president, she led a national movement for “Home Protection.” Her temperance campaign was a direct reaction against the violence (both physical and emotional) perpetrated on women and children by alcohol-abusing men, and it eventually led to the enactment of Prohibition in 1919.

In her autobiography, Glimpses of Fifty Years, Willard included a chapter titled “Companionships,” in which she outlined her passionate friendships with women over the years. One was with a woman in Evanston she calls “Mary B., for whom my attachment was so great that when she properly preferred my brother… the loss of her was nothing less than a bereavement, a piteous sorrow for a year or more, as my journals testify, one of the keenest of my life.” She referred to her relationships with women as “attachments, so much less restful than friendships.”

For 33 years, Willard’s live-in private secretary was Anna Gordon, also a devoted temperance worker. Willard called Gordon “the rarest of intimate friends” and by the pet name “Little Heart’s-ease.” Gordon stayed on in the house after Willard’s death, becoming president of the WCTU herself in 1914.

Willard and Gordon’s restored home in Evanston, a National Historic Landmark, is open to the public, appearing much as it did when they lived there. On exhibit are many memorabilia of Willard’s years as a temperance warrior.

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San Francisco, Calif.

California Hall
625 Polk Street

You’ve probably been reading about the police raid on a gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas, just last month – an unusual and shocking event these dayss. In the 1960s, however, police harassment of gay people was de rigueur. Take the New Year’s Ball of 1965, held at this San Francisco site on January 1. The ball was a “respectable” event, organized by six homophile organizations to raise money for the newly formed Council on Religion and the Homosexual, which was designed to open communication between the established church and the city’s gay community. Though council members met with police in advance to ensure a smooth-running event without incident, the police didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. (Surprise!) As intimidation, they took photographs of each person entering the fundraiser and parked patrol wagons outside the hall. Several attorneys were arrested for arguing with a policeman at the entrance.

Despite the deliberate police harassment, 500 people, gay and straight, lay and clergy, attended the ball. Outrage against police interference ran high after the event and led to a greater politicization of the homophile community, which demanded certain changes in police dealings with gays. Concessions ultimately obtained from the city included having a police liaison to the gay community, a hotline for minority groups against police brutality, and a National Sex Forum to educate officials and police about human sexuality.

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Philadelphia, Pa.

Annual Reminder marker
6th and Chestnut Streets

This state historical marker, erected in 2005 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, was the first in the country to recognize and celebrate LGBT history. It commemorates the “Annual Reminder,” the first public demonstration for LGBT rights, which began on July 4, 1965 – four years before the rebellion at the Stonewall Inn in New York. The peaceful, orderly protest – in which the lesbians wore dresses and gay men wore suits and ties – circled in front of Independence Hall, the placards bearing slogans such as “Homosexuals Should Be Judged as Individuals.” The “Annual Reminder” continued at this location through 1969, but after the Stonewall riots moved to New York City.

Behind the protest was Barbara Gittings (1932-2007), who had moved to Philadelphia in the 1950s and became one of the country’s most important LGBT activists. (That’s her in front in the photo above.) She also helped organize picket lines at the White House and the U.S. State Department. Among her many accomplishments, she was instrumental in getting the American Psychiatric Association to drop homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses in 1972.

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New York, N.Y.

Stonewall Inn
51-53 Christopher Street

This weekend marks a historic event in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history: the 40th anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, a popular gay bar and hangout in the late 1960s, a place to meet friends and lovers. But at a time when homosexuality was criminalized, police raids of gay bars were de rigueur. On June 28, 1969, when cops raided the Stonewall in the early morning hours and forced the patrons outside, drag queens, young queer people of color, gay men, and a crowd of supporters on the street began pelting the police with beer cans and rocks. The crowd then set the bar on fire, but the police extinguished the flames and “secured” the area within a few hours. A weekend of rioting ensued, during which gay people stood off city cops and claimed their right to live openly – “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad,” ran the headline in the New York Post.

The rebellion sparked a new movement that grew by leaps and bounds into the LGBT rights movement of today. The term “Stonewall” is now the international symbol of LGBT resistance and liberation, and the anniversary of the rebellion is celebrated around the world with marches, rallies, and parades. In 1999, the Stonewall Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places, the only LGBT site on the list. Although the original bar has gone through many transformations since 1969 – in the early 1980s, for example, it was a bagel shop – it is once again a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn.


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Chicago, Ill.

Henry Gerber home
1710 North Crilly Court

In December 1924, at a cost of $10, the Society for Human Rights incorporated as a not-for-profit organization, listing its business offices in this rowhouse, the home of its leading force, Henry Gerber (1892-1972). With this move, the Society went into history as the first homosexual rights organization in the country.

Gerber had been to Germany as part of the Army of Occupation after World War I, and had seen firsthand the early German homosexual rights movement there. Back home, he founded the Society to “protect the interests of people… abused and hindered in the legal pursuit of happiness” – coded language for protecting gay people from discrimination, harassment, abuse, and arrest.

The Society published two issues of Friendship and Freedom, written by Gerber, before running out of money for printing and distribution. The group disbanded after just one year, when the police caught wind of its activities and arrested Gerber, confiscating his typewriter, diaries, and all the Society’s literature. Although a judge threw the case out because the police had not obtained search warrants, Gerber lost his job when the newspapers reported his arrest. But he continued to write about gay rights throughout his life. Chicago’s LGBT library and archives, founded in 1981, is named in Gerber’s honor, and in 2001, the city of Chicago bestowed landmark status on Gerber’s rowhouse.

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