Wegener was a member of early gay rights organizations, The Mattachine Society, The Mandrake Society, and One, Incorporated in the 1950s and 1960s. He was also an amateur photographer who spent three decades capturing richly candid images of our community from the nameless, faceless hustlers outside of Herbies’ in the Central West End (CWE) to the fist Pride Celebrations here in The Lou.
According to St. Louis photographer Scott Lokitz, who picked up Wegener’s torch in documenting our community, the elder’s body of work was impressive. Sadly, when he died in 2002 at age 80, Wegener’s family destroyed all of his photographs and negatives. Whether they didn’t approve, didn’t understand or simply couldn’t care less—it was a tragedy.
“It just makes me cringe,” said Lokitz, who befriended Wegener in the 1980s and has what is believed to be the only collection of his photographs.
The 11 images are from the 1980 and 1982 St. Louis Pridefests (the first and third respectively.) Having taken millions of community related pictures since the early 1980s, Lokitz is keenly aware of their history, and we thank him for allowing us to publish a few of them here.
Sadly, much of our history winds up in the dumpster or has gone unrecorded altogether. I think that’s why we are a community of collectors. (We do hold on to the oddest things.) For over the past two generations we’ve had to seek out, unearth, reclaim and retell our stories. While the historical reach of the closet is formidable—each year gives way to new discoveries about our community’s history.
Steve Brawley has loved history for as long as he can remember. From an early age he was fixated on Abraham Lincoln, and later in life, Jackie Kennedy. (He has an awesome site devoted to the latter at www.pinkpillbox.com.) But it was at the 1988 Pridefest where the seeds of the St. Louis Gay History Project were first planted for the area PR Consultant.
“I would meet folks and they always had a story to tell,” said Brawley. “At a very young age I just loved to hear Bette Davis (Jimmy Walker) stories and was just fascinated by that history.”
“But one by one people die off and you think, why didn’t I talk to that person, why didn’t I record it?” recalled Brawley. “So I thought—this is silly. I really should do something about it.”
Accordingly, The St. Louis Gay History Project blog was launched in 2008. Brawley posted stories about what other cities were doing to preserve their LGBT history as well as local historical nuggets and pictures pertaining to the Gateway City. Reaction was almost immediate as Brawley heard from like-minded community members who wanted to help out.
One of those was college student Ian Darnell who joined Brawley in hosting community meetings, visiting the St. Louis LGBT Archives at UMSL and setting up oral history training for volunteers.
The St. Louis Gay History Project will launch its website in June. There, folks can read up on St. Louis’ queer history, view photos and images, and browse the first of the oral histories from area LGBT elders.
“There are several folks who are willing and interested and we are using them as a way of encouraging others,” said Brawley of the project that has started with a list of 200 potential subjects. “SAGE has been very interested in working with us and we’re looking forward to that.”
“I think we’re at a really fun, exciting juncture here with things coming together,” he continued. “I think there’s a lot of community interest and I’m just one cog in this wheel. My main goal is to use the web platform to do what I do.”
Diversity within the History Project is important and organizers look forward to lesbian, transgender and ethnically diverse community members to champion the effort.
On May 16, 2010 in honor of Equality Across America’s Harvey Milk Day Call to Action, The St. Louis Gay History Project will be leading a walking tour of sites in the CWE significant to the history of St. Louis’ LGBT community. This neighborhood—by the 1960s known as St. Louis’ “gay ghetto”—has long been a hub of LGBT social, religious, and political life.