Archive for the ‘gay and lesbian’ Category

I just found out about an exciting queer history project initiated by Steven Reigns, an L.A.-based poet and educator. It’s called “The Gay Rub” and it’s devoted to collecting rubbings from LGBT tombstones, markers, signs, plaques, monuments, and so forth. Steven is looking for collaborators from around the country and the world, and has a wish list on the website of rubbings he’d like to collect. But he’s also open to suggestions of sites and markers that people may like to contribute. He will even mail you the materials if you can’t afford to buy them yourself. Check it out… and then start rubbing!

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Baltimore, Md.

Diana Press

12 West 25th Street

First housed in this brick building in Baltimore, Diana Press was one of the earliest lesbian-feminist publishing companies in the country. Established in the mid-1970s, it was committed to publishing openly lesbian material, which was not available from mainstream houses. Before she became a mass-market star with Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown published her collections of lesbian poems, Songs to a Handsome Woman and The Hand That Cradles the Rock, and a volume of essays, Plain Brown Wrapper, with Diana Press. Other titles from Diana included Elsa Gidlow’s Sapphic Songs and Judy Grahn’s True to Life Adventure Stories, as well as early poetry by Pat Parker. In the late ’70s, Diana Press relocated to the San Francisco area. If not for the efforts of this pioneering press, along with Naiad Press, Persephone Press, Daughters Inc., and many others, a lot of openly lesbian writing would have never seen print. As a writer who is also a lesbian, I’m grateful.

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January is National Drag History Month. Catch this slide show of photos from the legendary Jewel Box Revue.

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And while we’re in New York City… I just ran across and thought I would share this wonderful essay by Joan Nestle, co-founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives and dyke extraordinaire, about the Women’s House of Detention that used to stand at the spot where Sixth Avenue and Greenwich Avenue form a triangle, adjacent to the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library. The essay is an evocative mixture of history and personal account. The prison was demolished in 1974, and there’s a community garden on the spot now. I often heard stories about the prison when I lived in New York, but never saw a picture of it until now. Don’t miss Nestle’s memories of it. In her words:

Sites like the Women’s House of D are prisms of shifting queer historical concerns; urbanity, what it will bear and what it will not, race and class divisions and connections–imprisonment both within jails and without.”

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East Glacier Park, Mont.

Running Eagle Falls
Glacier National Park
Two Medicine Entrance

Near this eastern entrance to Glacier National Park (adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation) is the beautiful Running Eagle Falls, formerly known as “Trick Falls” for the way water flows out of different parts of the falls during different seasons. The falls are named for Running Eagle, the only female-born war chief of the Blackfeet.

In 1916, a white man, James Willard Schultz, published an account called Blackfeet Tales of Glacier National Park, concerning his experiences among the Native Americans of northwestern Montana. Schultz’s was the first written account of the story of Running Eagle, a 19th-century war chief who was born female but rejected traditional female activities and dress and was known as “sakwo’mapi akikwan,” or, in English, “boy-girl.”

From an early age, Running Eagle wished to be a boy. “But if I cannot be one,” she said, “I can do a boy’s work.” She joined her father in hunting, and when he was killed by members of the Crow Nation, Running Eagle began dressing in men’s clothes and joined the war party that avenged his death. By age 20, she had achieved the name “Girl Chief.” (Which is why I use the feminine pronoun.)

As an adult, Running Eagle kept her own lodge and took a wife named Suya’ki, a woman “who wanted nothing to do with men.” According to Schultz, their lodge was “a visiting place for many girls, young married women, and not a few old women.” Honored and respected for her achievements, Running Eagle’s exploits were still recalled in oral history accounts 100 years after her death in 1840.

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Los Angeles, Calif.

Autry National Center
4700 Western Heritage Way

The Los Angeles Times carried an interesting story about queers in the Old West this week. It seems there’s a new series on the history of homosexuals and transgendered people at L.A.’s Autry National Center of the American West. The shirts worn by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain have been on exhibit at the Autry since July of this year (see above), but this is a broader exhibit, a milestone in the presentation and recognition of queer history – it’s the first exhibit of its kind at a western heritage museum.

Here’s the complete story from the LA Times. And just to remind you, I had already written about Charley/Charlotte Parkhurst on this blog, so take a look at that if you missed it the first time around.

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Bridgeport, Conn.

85 Ferris Street

The 1970s saw a flourishing of women-owned feminist and/or lesbian businesses, including bookstores, cafes, and publishing companies. Among the many ventures was Bloodroot, a “feminist restaurant/bookstore with a seasonal vegetarian menu,” which is, remarkably, still in operation after more than 30 years. The name derived from an Eastern wildflower. “We found something symbolic in its slow spreading rhizomatous root system and the way each piece of root throws up its own grey-green leaf furled protectively around the eight-petaled white flower,” say owners Selma Miriam, 74, and Noel Furie, 64.

At its waterfront site, Bloodroot consists of a large room furnished with mismatched tables and chairs, and one wall covered in herstoric photos of women (see photo). “People gave us pictures [for] the wall,” Miriam told The Connecticut Post; one person gave her a photo and said, “This is my sister. I want her here.”

Off the restaurant is a small bookstore crammed with books by women, where authors occasionally come to read. There is also an outdoor patio facing scenic Long Island Sound.  Meals are strictly self-service – from ordering to picking up food to bussing tables. The veggie menu – printed daily on a chalkboard – includes ethnic soups and salads, crusty breads, and rich desserts.

Bloodroot also published four cookbooks in its “Political Palate” series, which included not only recipes but the most appropriate seasons in which to make the various dishes. Although the older cookbooks are now out of print, two Best of Bloodroot volumes are available.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.

818 Liberty Avenue

Pittsburgh’s longtime gay men’s bar, Pegasus, has closed in the location it occupied for the past 30 years; it has moved across the river to a new space. “If you ever saw Queer as Folk on TV, that’s what Pittsburgh was like back then [in the ’80s],” according to one bar-goer.

Read the complete story here.

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Nyack, N.Y.

Carson McCullers home
131 South Broadway

This rambling, three-story house in the sleepy village of Nyack was home to the writer Carson McCullers (1917-1967) from 1945 until her death. The front of the grand Victorian house faces one of the main streets of Nyack, while the rear sun porch enjoys a stunning view of the Hudson River. It is still a private residence, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

After the death of Carson’s father in 1944, her mother, Marguerite Smith, didn’t have the heart to remain in the Georgia house where she and her husband, Lamar, had raised their family. At the time, Carson’s husband, Reeves, had gone into the army, and she, too, was faced with living alone. She loved the scenic village of Nyack, just twenty-five miles up the river from New York City, so she, her mother, and sister decided to take up residence there in the fall of 1944. Nyack reminded Marguerite of the small, friendly towns she had known in Georgia, so she felt immediately at home.

Carson’s family first rented a specious apartment at 129 South Broadway, and then in the spring of 1945, moved to the house next door, which Marguerite purchased with $9,000 from the sale of her Georgia home. When her mother’s funds dipped in the early 1950s, Carson purchased the house from her with the money she received from selling the screen rights to The Member of the Wedding.

Carson used Nyack as her base in between trips to the artists’ colony of Yaddo, where she did much of her writing, and speaking and teaching engagements all over the country. It was at this home that she gave a luncheon to honor her idol, Isak Dinesen, after the two met at a literary function in 1959. Other guests included Marilyn Monroe and husband Arthur Miller. The high point of the afternoon was apparently a spellbinding tale Dinesen related – in true Scheherazade fashion – about killing her first lion in Africa.

Plagued by ill health, depression, and alcoholism through much of her adult life, Carson suffered her final stroke in this house in the summer of 1967. According to her biographer, Virginia Spencer Carr, the last words she spoke were to the young actor who rented living space in the basement. He stopped by her bedroom and told her he was appearing in the play Stop the World, I Want to Get Off. “Oh, darling, isn’t that a marvelous title,” Carson said. “Ahh, to get off. Wouldn’t that be something. Wouldn’t that be marvelous.” She suffered a massive brain hemorrhage twenty minutes later and died at Nyack Hospital.

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Seattle, Wash.

The Garden of Allah
1213 First Avenue

Seattle’s first gay-owned bar (also one of the first in the country) was located at this downtown address from 1946 to 1956, in the basement of the Victorian-era Arlington hotel. The hotel sat midway between a gambling and red-light district at one end of First Avenue and an upper-class commercial district at the other.

The Garden of Allah, as the club was called (it had also been the name of a famous apartment complex in West Hollywood owned by Alla Nazimova), operated as a gay cabaret. From First Avenue, a guest descended a white marble staircase and slipped a $1 bill through a peephole for admittance. Inside, blue and pink lightbulbs provided a sensual ambience, and palm trees and stars stenciled on the walls gave the place a “Casbah” feeling. Tables were tightly packed in front of a stage, the centerpiece of which was a 1924 Wurlitzer pipe organ that accompanied every cabaret show (see photo, ca. 1948). The owners paid off the police to avoid raids, and an ever-present off-duty cop was stationed in the club to make sure that same-sex couples didn’t touch.

Drag entertainers were the highlight of the cabaret’s shows, and gay men, lesbians, and straight people alike made up the boisterous audiences. On opening night in 1946, the featured attraction was the Jewel Box Revue, the famous drag show that started touring clubs in 1939. Over the years, some of the Garden’s drag entertainers also performed striptease.

With a decline in interest in drag during the repressive 1950s, the Garden of Allah eventually closed. For a while, the space was used to store nuclear-attack rations. Later, it became a biracial rock club called House of Entertainment, where Jimi Hendrix once played. The hotel was razed in 1974. For more about the club, see Don Paulson and Roger Simpson’s excellent book, An Evening at the Garden of Allah: A Gay Cabaret in Seattle.

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