Archive for the ‘District of Columbia’ Category

Lambda Rising Bookstore at its original location

For fans and friends of our nation’s capital, there’s an amazing online history project that attempts to pinpoint and chronicle the social spaces frequented by LGBT people in Washington, D.C., from 1920 to 2000. You’ll have to squint to read the map, but if you click on the database link, you’ll find an exhaustive list of places where queers congregated in the 20th century. Many, of course, were bars, which served as informal queer community centers (and in many places in the country they still serve that function today); but there were also bathhouses, social clubs, parks, churches, bookstores – see the photo above of Lambda Rising Bookstore at its first location in 1974; sadly, the store closed last month after 35 years – and other queer spaces. The author of the project is Mark Meinke, who did a wonderful job of documenting our physical past.


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(photo by Dan Vera, Beltway Poetry Quarterly)


Washington, D.C.

Tim Dlugos apartment
1437 Rhode Island Avenue, N.W.

Gay poet and activist Tim Dlugos (1950-1990) lived at this address as a young man, while working for Ralph Nader’s organization, Public Citizen. Raised Catholic in Arlington, Va., Dlugos joined the Christian Brothers as a teenager, but left the order and came out as gay in 1971.

While Dlugos was living in Washington, he was an active member of Mass Transit, a peer poetry workshop that convened weekly at the Community Book Shop in Dupont Circle. Mass Transit started a publishing venture called Some of Us Press, which published Dlugos’ first poetry collection, High There, in 1973.

In the late ’70s, Dlugos moved to New York City, where he edited the St. Mark’s Poetry Project newsletter and was a contributing editor of Christopher Street magazine. He published his own work widely, in magazines, anthologies, and chapbooks. His poem “G-9,” an account of his time in an AIDS ward, appeared posthumously in The Paris Review.

When he died in December 1990, Dlugos was enrolled in graduate studies at Yale Divinity School, with the intention of becoming an Episcopal priest. Poet David Trinidad is currently compiling Dlugos’ collected poems for publication.

My list of daily intercessions
is as long as a Russian
novel.  I pray about AIDS
last.  Last week I made a list
of all my friends who’ve died
or who are living and infected.
Every day since, I’ve remembered
someone I forgot to list.

–from “G-9,” by Tim Dlugos

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Washington, D.C.

1736 G Street, N.W.

Though never intended as such, since the early 1900s YMCAs provided gay men with places to meet, live, and have sexual encounters. For that reason, though, they also became targets of the police, as in the following incident.

In a crackdown on “tearoom” sex in October 1964, members of the Washington, D.C., vice squad began a stakeout of the men’s room in the basement of this YMCA (no longer standing), just a few blocks from the White House. Concealing themselves behind the locked door of a shower room that was no longer in use, they spied through peepholes that afforded them a clear view of activities in the men’s room, which the New York Times later described as “a 9-ft. by 11-ft. spot reeking of disinfectant and stale cigars.”

Did they expect to catch big game? Arrested were Walter Jenkins (1918-1985), President Lyndon Johnson’s chief of staff, and a Hungarian immigrant named Andy Choka, who were charged with “disorderly conduct.” Jenkins was at first calm, but soon was admitted to George Washington University Hospital and put on a 24-hour suicide watch.

Though few of us know of him now, Jenkins was a household name at that time. A married man described as “retiring and camera-shy,” he had worked for LBJ for 25 years. He was forced to resign from office when the incident was reported in the Evening Star. (LBJ had tried unsuccessfully to get the news report killed.)

“A great deal of the president’s difficulties can be traced to the fact that Walter had to leave,” Johnson’s press secretary, George Reedy, later said. “All of history might have been different if it hadn’t been for that episode.”

Johnson never replaced Jenkins, but simply parceled his duties out to other staffers. Jenkins returned to his home state of Texas, where he worked as an accountant. Reportedly, he was frequent visitor to LBJ’s ranch after the president left office; to his credit, Johnson didn’t shun his friend.

Here’s a link to an interesting contemporary report on the scandal in Time magazine, dated October 30, 1964.

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Washington, D.C.

Alain Locke home
1326 R Street NW

African-American scholar and intellectual Alain LeRoy Locke (1886-1954) defined his role in the Harlem Renaissance as that of “philosophical midwife to a generation of young Negro poets, writers, and artists.” His anthology, The New Negro, was the defining text of that artistic movement.

The Harvard- and Oxford-educated Locke was a professor of philosophy at Howard University for many years, and lived at this address near Logan Circle from 1912 until his death (it is marked with a historic plaque). At Howard, Locke encouraged the study of black culture and history along with the European classics, and founded The Stylus, the university’s literary journal, in which Zora Neale Hurston published her first story. His attention tended to focus on the brightest and most attractive male students, and he routinely warned female students that they could expect no better than C’s in his classes.

Locke shuttled back and forth between Washington and Harlem, where he mentored several queer young poets of the Harlem Renaissance. His protégé Countee Cullen introduced him to Langston Hughes. “You will like him,” Cullen told Locke of the elusive and sexually ambivalent Hughes; “I love him.” A romantic triangle formed and may have been the root of the mysterious rift between Cullen and Hughes from 1924 on.

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Washington, D.C.

Edith Hamilton home
2448 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.

For the last 20 years of her life, classical scholar Edith Hamilton (1867-1963) lived at this address, which is near Rock Creek Park. A Latin and Greek major at Bryn Mawr College, Hamilton became the popular headmistress of Bryn Mawr Preparatory School for Girls, a girls’ academy in Baltimore, when she was just 29, and remained in that position for 26 years. (In 1954, the school named a building after her.)

After retiring, Hamilton embarked on a second successful career as a writer, almost single-handedly popularizing the study of ancient civilizations with such books as The Greek Way (1930), The Roman Way (1932), and Mythology (1942).

From the 1920s until her death, Hamilton’s life partner was Doris Fielding Reid, a stockbroker and former student of Hamilton’s, who eventually became her biographer. The two women cohabited in Maine, on Park Avenue in New York City, and finally in Washington, D.C. Together, they raised Reid’s nephew, Dorian. Astonishingly, Hamilton, the woman who introduced most of us to the ancient Greeks, did not visit Greece herself until she was 90 years old.

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Nichols & Kameny 1965

Washington, D.C.

Frank Kameny house (private)
5020 Cathedral Avenue, N.W.

The house that gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny (b. 1925) has called home since 1962 won’t win any architectural prizes; it’s just a modest, two-story brick house built in 1955. But in February 2009, it was designated a Washington, D.C. historic landmark, in recognition of its significance, as the Washington Post put it, as “the epicenter of the gay rights movement in the nation’s capital” for 13 years.

Kameny served in World War II, earned a doctorate at Harvard, and came to D.C. to work as an astronomer for the Army Map Service. But in 1957, he was fired for being gay. He didn’t give up, and took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1961. The discrimination he experienced turned him into a lifelong activist for gay rights. One of his many accomplishments was helping head up the struggle to have homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses.

Kameny’s papers are now at the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Institution houses artifacts related to his gay activism, such as placards used in protests (like that shown above, in 1965). Many of those placards, Kameny has said, were made in the living room of this house. His home has now been nominated for recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Washington, D.C.

Leonard Matlovich grave
Congressional Cemetery
1801 E Street, S.E.

Air Force Sergeant Leonard Matlovich’s (1943-1988) tombstone reads “Never Again, Never Forget — A Gay Vietnam Veteran — When I was in the military they gave me a metal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” Matlovich, who did three tours of duty in Vietnam and earned a bronze star, was discharged from the Air Force in 1975 when he publicly declared his homosexuality. After three years of fighting the decision, Matlovich won his case and was given the opportunity to be reinstated in the USAF or settle. He chose to settle and donated some of his money to lesbian and gay organizations, including the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. The rest he used to open a pizza parlor in Guerneville, the gay resort on the Russian River north of San Francisco, which he operated until illness made it impossible for him to work.

Matlovich succumbed to AIDS in 1988 and received a veteran’s burial in Washington, D.C., complete with caisson, eight-member honor guard, and an Air Force bugler playing taps. But gay activists were his pallbearers, and his mourners carried lavender flags. “I’ve always been gay,” Matlovich once said, “and for most of my life I prayed not to be that way…. However, the harder I prayed the queerer I got. That must have been God’s response.”

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Washington, D.C.

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Oh, come on, you’re saying – the White House? A queer place?

Yes, the White House. The resident who comes immediately to mind is Abraham Lincoln, who, as a young lawyer in 1837, rode into Springfield, Ill., looking for a place to stay and found that storekeeper Joshua Speed had a large double bed that he was more than willing to share.

And then there’s James Buchanan, the 15th president, who enjoyed an intimate friendship with William Rufus King, whom he met when both were U.S. senators. King was referred to by Washington insiders as “little Miss Nancy,” “she,” and “Aunt Fancy” – need I say more?

But the person I was really thinking of in listing this most famous address wasn’t a president at all, but a president’s sister. When Grover Cleveland took office as president for the first time in 1885, he was a bachelor in need of a First Lady and White House hostess. His spinster sister, Rose Cleveland, a teacher and editor of a literary magazine, stepped in to help her brother during his first term.


19th-century view of the White House East Room

Cleveland was defeated for re-election, and Rose was once again her own woman. In 1890, she met and fell in love with a young widow named Evangeline Marss Simpson. Gay historian Jonathan Ned Katz has written in detail about the two women’s passionate relationship, including their intimate correspondence: “Oh, Eve,” Rose wrote, “I tremble at the thought of you….Sweet, Sweet, I dare not think of your arms.” The two lived together until 1892, when Eve backed away from the relationship to seek a traditional heterosexual one. In 1893, Rose (once again ensconced at the White House, following her brother’s successful campaign in 1892) wrote to Eve on White House stationery, wishing her dear companion “my best blessing – whatever you do.” Eve went on to marry an elderly Episcopal bishop, Henry Whipple.

Following the bishop’s death in 1901, Eve and Rose renewed their correspondence and finally reunited in Italy, where they lived together until Rose’s death in 1918. Eve died in 1930 and requested that she be buried beside Rose.

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Washington, D.C.

Lafayette Park
Pennsylvania Avenue and H Street, NW; Jackson and Madison Places, NW

Across the street from the White House, this public park has long been a cruising place for gay men. As early as 1892, Dr. Irving Rosse, a professor of nervous diseases at Georgetown University, addressed the topic of “the spread of sexual crime” in the park and elsewhere around the capital. “Only of late,” he wrote, “the chief of police tells me that his men have made, under the very shadow of the White House, eighteen arrests in Lafayette Square…in which the culprits were taken away in flagrante delicto. Both black and white were represented among these moral hermaphrodites, but the majority of them were negros.”

Lafayette Park also features statues of several prominent figures of the American Revolution, whom we now claim as gay. There is a statue of Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens, who were inseparable in life and whose hands in the statue appear to be lightly touching. The two were colonels in the Continental Army and together served as interpreters for Baron von Steuben, the Revolutionary War hero and lover of men. John Laurens was killed during a battle with the British, and Hamilton later went on to become the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

In 1777, Baron Frederick Wilhelm von Steuben, then a captain in the Prussian Army, faced charges of taking “familiarities” with young men, and, to avoid a public scandal, he accepted a commission with the Continental Army, arriving in the American colonies with a 17-year-old French nobleman whom he called his “secretary.” Von Steuben, who was well-acquainted with the rigorous drills of the Prussian Army, is credited with introducing much-needed discipline into the revolutionary forces and thus aiding immeasurably in the eventual American victory over the British. The baron is honored by a monument in Lafayette Park, at the base of which is this statue of two warriors in an appropriately suggestive position (see above).

“…I went into Lafayette Square and near the Von Steuben statue watched two fellows furtively engaged in mutual masturbation under cover of the dimness….Both were handsome, clean-looking chaps, refined and cultured.”

–Jeb Alexander (a pseudonym), August 1920

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