June is LGBT Pride month, our time to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan, those who came before us, and the legacy they left. The Stonewall riots were the breaking point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. In major cities all over the country, the community began observing “Gay Pride Day” on the last Sunday in June. In recent years, that day became flexible and the celebration grew to last all month long. Today, celebrations include a multitude of mediums to celebrate, from picnics, parties, workshops, concerts and, of course, pride parades. Around the world, millions of participants celebrate by holding memorials to honor those members in our community who have been victims to hate crimes or lost to HIV/AIDS. The purpose is to recognize the impact our vast community has had on history locally, nationally and now internationally. In 1994, a coalition of education-based organizations in the US designated October as LGBT History Month. We celebrate a month-long observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, along with October 11, National Coming Out Day. This is the month to reflect and remember those who fought for the rights we celebrate today.
Steven Brawley is the local founder of the St. Louis LGBT History Project. A lifelong history buff, Brawley has been a keynote speaker and media spokesperson on a variety of pop culture and LGBT topics. By day, he is an area not-for-profit executive with a 25-year background in education, healthcare and social service programs. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – St. Louis and Saint Louis University. Vital VOICE speak with Brawley recently regarding the History Project and his hunger to keep the past alive in St. Louis.
Where does the St. Louis LGBT History Project stand today?
Since 2007, the Project has grown from a simple web blog to a full-fledged historical effort that has garnered national attention. This past spring, the Project was a featured presenter at the Organization of American Historians Conference held in St. Louis. The Project has been asked to speak at events for SAGE, USDA, Citibank, UMSL, Missouri History Museum, Federal Reserve Bank and many others. Thousands have seen our annual exhibit at Pride. Our website and social media efforts reach thousands worldwide. The community has rallied around us by donating artifacts and supporting us financially at fundraisers, such as Just John’s annual bachelor auction and bartender’s review events. The Project has formal archival partnerships with the State Historical Society of Missouri (UMSL) and the Missouri History Museum, assuring that the artifacts we collect are preserved for future generations.
What artifacts are your favorite/most proud of?
Since 2007, the St. Louis community has really rallied behind us and donated hundreds of rare items. From photographs and videos, to t-shirts and female impersonator dresses, we have amassed an impressive collection. We have Magnolia’s bar disco ball; Gypsy Lee’s (Lee Maynard) beaded and feathered “Cher” inspired costume and headdress from the 1970s; the first known photograph of a gay or lesbian bar in St. Louis (Betty’s CB bar located at Shenandoah and California in 1951); a 1974 same sex wedding invitation, and the list goes on and on. They are all treasured, rare, and invaluable. We are always on the hunt for more. So everyone keep looking in your closets, basements, garages and attics for more items! We sadly hear every day that people threw away a treasure they didn’t think was important. Please don’t throw anything away, call us.
What are you currently on a mission to find?
We can only imagine how difficult life sometimes would have been for the LGBT community back in the day. Fear of discrimination led many LGBT people to keep their true selves hidden; leaving behind what is often a scant and shadowy historical record. As exciting as it has been to help assemble and contextualize local LGBT stories, there is also the sad realization that much of St. Louis’ LGBT history is forever lost. And while the history of gay white males has been well documented, there are missing gaps in LGBT history related to the African American and transgender communities, both in St. Louis and nationally. The Project is seeking to expand its efforts to gather local African American LGBT and transgender history. While there may be limited photographs and artifacts available, we hope that people will be willing to provide oral histories to enhance our archives. Looking at history (pre 1950s), using a modern LGBTQIA lens is complicated. You can’t force history into tidy boxes and categories. We know we need to expand and diversify our story base, and we need the community’s help.
Upcoming events or fundraisers?
Later this month, the Project and the Missouri History Museum will host a special event. In 1994 Rodney Wilson, a teacher at Mehlville High School, founded the now annual nationwide Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History Month, choosing the month of October to coincide with National Coming Out Day and commemorate the first LGBT march on Washington in 1979. Wilson will discuss the story of LGBT History Month and other local LGBT history topics at the event on October 26 at 7 p.m. at the Missouri History Museum. For more information on the event, click here.
LGBT history is rich and powerful, from pink triangles in concentration camps and Stonewall to the violent murders of Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard. We have risen above, made our voices heard and today, have full marriage equality. Let’s not get lost there. Celebrate yes, but do not stop progressing. Let’s not let up on this momentum. Let’s continue our story for generations to come. This is our month to reflect, celebrate and educate for the next bold move. V
Written by Karla Templeton
Just some interesting facts:
There was a band of 150 gay couples from Thebes who defeated a Spartan army, and went undefeated for 30 years.
Some historical gay and bi figures have turned their lovers into gods. Alexander the Great wanted to make his boyhood lover Hephaestion a god when he died, but was only allowed to declare him a Divine Hero. The Roman Emperor Hadrian, of wall-building fame, was successful in making his lover, Antinous, a god after he drowned in the Nile.
The word “drag” is apparently an acronym, a stage direction coined by Shakespeare and his contemporaries meaning ‘Dressed Resembling A Girl’.
In 1925, famous blues singer Ma Rainey was arrested in her Harlem home for having a lesbian party and was bailed out by her protege, Bessie Smith, the next morning.
The 1969, Time magazine’s “The Homosexual in America” was the first cover story on gay rights in a national magazine
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association decided that homosexuality should no longer be classified as a mental disorder. Also the same year, the American Bar Association passed a resolution recommending the repeal of all state sodomy laws.
The first openly gay doll, Gay Bob, was launched in 1977. He had a pierced ear and his box was shaped like a closet.
A Hong Kong billionaire offered $65 million to the man that was able to woo and marry his lesbian daughter. It didn’t work.