Gay Old Times: It's LGBT history to us. To them, it was life.

Gay Old Times: It's LGBT history to us. To them, it was life.
This Jack Beal photo, archived on Steven Brawley's blog, shows the 1970s-'80s comedy drag trio Sex, Inc.

History can accumulate when we're not looking: a pack of matches from a bar that closed decades ago, sheet music from the cheeky songs we sang, the seemingly "boring" paperwork that implies so much more than it actually states.

Steven Brawley thinks so, anyway.

Brawley, 45, is a history buff and a blogger — and his blogs, not surprisingly, incorporate both his love for the past and his identity as a gay man in St. Louis. He's been detailing his obsession with Jackie O at www.pinkpillbox.com for years.

Steven Brawley wants to preserve history, one bar matchbook at a time.
Jennifer Silverberg
Steven Brawley wants to preserve history, one bar matchbook at a time.
Richard Trennepohl, above, recalls partying and Pride events.
Jennifer Silverberg
Richard Trennepohl, above, recalls partying and Pride events.

And Brawley's one-year-old blog, www.stlouisgayhistory.com, is the Internet repository of his latest passion: documenting the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life in St. Louis. He's gathering artifacts and mementos from the people who lived it, publishing online a history that mostly happened outside the books.

"Scrapbooks, postcards, anything. We're looking to document daily life," he says. "What was life like? Where would you go to socialize? Where did you go? Wink, wink, special knock?"

We've come a long way from the days when cross-dressers could be arrested in St. Louis, as many were under a municipal ordinance enacted in 1864 and not repealed until 1986.

Or be targeted in one of the 1960s undercover operations meant to catch men engaging in anonymous "tea room" sex.

Or find your name, address and occupation published in both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the (now departed) St. Louis Globe-Democrat after a sting in Shaw Park — as happened to some gay men as recently as 1984.

These days, gays and lesbians enjoy increased acceptance in mainstream culture. In Illinois, same-sex couples have the right to marry. And while that's still not true on the Missouri side of the river, the St. Louis Pride celebration — which kicks off this weekend — is widely regarded as the largest in the Midwest. Last year's event drew 80,000 attendees.

"A lot of younger folks feel privileged," Brawley says, even as "there were these struggles to allow them to live a different life."

If that's forgotten, he believes, something crucial is lost.

Brawley's blog isn't the first attempt to preserve St. Louis' queer legacy. The State Historical Society Research Center-St. Louis, at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, has maintained archives of all sorts of Missouri history, from the suffragette movement to the construction of the Gateway Arch to, yes, the culture (and persecution) of the city's gays and lesbians.

Curated by genial history nerd William "Zelli" Fischetti, the UMSL archive is a hidden gem. The boxes and folders are filled with memorabilia stretching back to the '60s. Find early informational pamphlets on a mysterious, scary disease that came to be known as AIDS. Browse lesbian magazines with car-maintenance tips so liberated women could maintain their vehicles without the help of any man. Check out pins and T-shirts from year after year of Pride events.

But while the UMSL archives of lesbian and gay history are fascinating and comprehensive, they're not terribly accessible, tucked away as they are on the bottom floor of a campus library. And because none of the materials can be checked out, it's an effort to absorb it all.

Enter Brawley. Along with Colin Murphy, senior writer at the Vital Voice, St. Louis' gay magazine, he's been working both to digitize the UMSL archives and collect more items, too. "We wanted to make as much of our stuff digitally available so people can look at it on their home computers," Murphy says.

On his blog, Brawley has been attempting to put together a comprehensive timeline of local LGBT history. Through parties known as Treasure Drives, he's been collecting whatever he can from local members of the community, documenting it and then turning it over to the UMSL archive. He's also recording oral histories for preservation.

Some history has already been lost. "When elder folks died, their families threw it out, some innocently, some not," Brawley says. "Some families destroyed it because they were ashamed."

But since Brawley started researching lesbian and gay history three years ago and launched a Web presence one year ago, the St. Louis LGBT History Project has found great success.

To date, two Treasure Drives have yielded photos of Halloween parties, bar ads and snapshots from drag shows from as far back as the 1930s. And Brawley's timeline now goes back to 1804, when a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition observed that among the Minataree tribe, boys who presented as girls were tolerated and accepted.

Inspired by Brawley's work, Riverfront Times sought out people who've contributed to the project and the city's sometimes hidden, but always thriving, gay culture. Movers, shakers and ruckus-makers alike had a few tales to tell.

Today, it's history. But at the time, it was, simply, life.


Margaret Johnson
At 70, Margaret Johnson has a lifetime of lesbian, feminist activism to look back on. She made history earlier this month — and the Daily RFT — for being among the very first couples in University City to take advantage of its new domestic-partnership registry.

As recently as eight years ago, though, one of Johnson's aunts encouraged her to fight the other "single" ladies for her niece's wedding bouquet — even though Johnson and her partner had been together for more than a decade.

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51 comments
Guest
Guest

Deuteronomy7:1 When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;

7:2 And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them:

7:3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.

For many years this passage was used as justification for anti-miscegeny laws; god delivered the Indian and Indian lands unto white, the Africans and their lands unto whites. Whites were not to mix with them lest they come inbetween whites and their pact with God.

Leviticus18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

Here is a passage many cite today in their arguments against homosexuality. It's hard to argue that, from a biblical perspective, homosexuality isn't wrong but, then again, it's hard to argue that miscegeny isn't wrong, at least for Jews.What does all this mean? Does it mean that we should reconsider miscegeny laws? I hope no one here thinks so. Does it mean that we should reconsider using the bible as a source for legal code? I think so, but that's just an opinion.

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Tferguson
Tferguson

These perverted Butt Fuc-ing queers have ruined the Catholic Church, The Boy Scouts, Tower Grove Park, Highway Rest Stops and now even the the US military. These perverts are constantly preying on little boys. Hitler had the right solution on how to get rid of these d-ck suckers. The liberal morons that promote this crap should be eliminated as well. Please get back in the closet before you totally ruin this country.

Pragmatist
Pragmatist

Threw up in the back of my throat a little bit.

justmythoughts
justmythoughts

A Lifestyle choice? I think not, who would choose a life just to be hated by closed minded zealots who have either forgotton or never learned the "Golden Rule."

Sbl19532006
Sbl19532006

They can explain everything except how it's natural to put something up their shitter and swallow another mans cum.

'Pappy'
'Pappy'

Hey Yahoo: I think it's time to take down your political banner now! No other story has stayed on your site recently like this one. Even if all of you are gay, the homosexual community is still a minority in this country, not to mention the world. That's due to the fact that it is deviant, social behavior, and the majority of people know that it is wrong. Get off of your platform, go inside and eat your lunch. Take this disgusting gay story off of your site. I am about ready to do away with Yahoo for good. You keep trying to be political, and you will lose quite alot of customers...definately me and my entire family.

Stlblackman
Stlblackman

Crawl back into their dammd closets and stay there. WOW, what hateful language to use against another humn being. Little do you know that the very people you curse today, or the very same people you need tomorrow. I bet you feel that way about anyone that's different than you.

John Dyson
John Dyson

I have a personal problem with the title of the article featured in this week's issue of the RFT. The article is clearly announcing to the public the RFT is affiliated with the majority of the public, and separating the minorities talked about in the said article. The segregation of "Us" and "Them" as well as the denouncement of LGBT history within the straight community tells the community- as a whole- that we still have a far struggle to simply announce our community as one complete entity. We have to share this world with other people, so why not treat each others as equal or at least with respect?

While I commend the magazine for giving us the cover as well, the symbolism of the hourglass (to me) represents the near end of the LGBT community that is attributed to this segregation between the LGBTQ community and opposing groups. It makes me sad to see American journalism so fueled on the biases and opinions that reflect what the target audiences want to hear...

kirwin
kirwin

why read the entire article if it's so offensive..me thinks thou doest protest too much!!

JCHerzberg
JCHerzberg

In the early 70's there was the Onyx Room in the 3500 block of Olive. Just down the street was a coffee house that catered to transexuals and cross dressers, The Golden Gate.

'Pappy'
'Pappy'

You know.......it's amazing how this sinful, depraved, deviant, disgusting story is still on the page. All the others that were on at the same time have disappeared, but this one is still here. Hmmm, isn't that interesting. Almost like there was, oh I don't know,.......an agenda?!!!

Liz Hughes Wiley
Liz Hughes Wiley

This was a fabulous -- incredible -- article. Thank you so much for posting it RFT -- and thank you for writing it, Melissa.

'Pappy'
'Pappy'

It's not history to remember or celebrate; it's SIN! It's deviant behavior, no matter how many people accept it. And, by the way, the overwhelming majority of people, DON'T! Sooner or later you will find out the truth...I pray that it is sooner!

Guard Brian
Guard Brian

@alzari God forbid that people celebrate who they are or fight for rights that so many other people just take for granted.

Michael Tramble
Michael Tramble

Bravo and thank you to the RFT for showing us the face of gay history in this city. But more than that, thank you to the people mentioned in this story and the thousands of other ordinary people living extraordianry lives as LGBT citizens and activist. This story just reminds me that history is important but also that history is people--just folks living their lives, eating, drinking, reading, loving and standing up for themselves when they need to.

Alzari
Alzari

I've always known they were here, I just never gave it much thought as it didn't concern me in any way. Now that they have become so in your face about this crap with festivals and such, I just wish they'd all crawl back into their damned closets and stay there. And this crap with gay marriage is obscene to the max!!!

ihatesuburbs
ihatesuburbs

Yeah, bigoted ignorance certainly is gross. It is reassuring though that most people with these views are inbred folks who fornicate with chickens if they can't seduce their sisters.

Melissa Meinzer
Melissa Meinzer

John, you raise a good point, and I can certainly see how the headline could be interpreted that way. The intent, though, was more along the lines of "us" being people who weren't around in, say, the 50s or 60s--which I certainly wasn't--and "them" being folks who were. As far as setting the history apart from "straight" history, it's a worthy thing to acknowledge stories that weren't part of the mainstream dialogue, and for a long time, these stories were, in fact, excluded or hidden. So highlighting them on their own isn't mean as a segregation; rather, a celebration.

soulard
soulard

Pappy sure is concerned about all of this. In fact he seems rather uncomfortable and hostile. Maybe he is hiding something?

Justin M. Stoddard
Justin M. Stoddard

You know....it's amazing how this bigoted, small-minded, wrong-headed and misinterpreted religiosity is still on this page. Most of the other comments are respectful, but this one is still here. Hmmmm, isn't that interesting. Almost like there was, oh I don't know,.....a complete disconnect with everything that's decent and conforming to the basic standards of being an upstanding human being?!!!

I can do this all day long, Pappy. I'm more than happy to respond every time you crawl out of your little troll cave.

ihatesuburbs
ihatesuburbs

Oh goody! The asshat inbred shit Fred Phelps has made an appearance on on humble local website! We should be so honored! Its not everyday that a senile piece of shit like this can actually still figure out how to make his fingers work well enough to type his 19th century bullshit. Take a picture everyone we have a living antique!

Kirk Johnston
Kirk Johnston

I hope you find out the truth sooner, rather than later, Pappy. I don't remember the passage in the Bible that left "Pappy" as the judge of sin and I think it is sad that people like you are who people think of when they hear the word "Christian". Kinda like how people think of Osam BinLaden when they hear the word Muslim. For those unaware, following is a link to a commercial from the United Church of Christ which show that, not all Christians have the same faith and values as "Pappy". http://vimeo.com/10409854

Justin M. Stoddard
Justin M. Stoddard

Religion is kind of like a penis, Pappy. Don't swing it around in public and don't shove it down the throats of children.

Shame on you for doing either.

Theo
Theo

How is something deviant when it has existed through all of time? I guess you are one of those stone throwing people. It's a shame pappy that most lgbt folks have a better understanding and respect for the message of Jesus than you will ever hope to have.

Longgeo1951
Longgeo1951

You assume that all people who do not share your beliefs take their rights for granted. You, Guard Brian, are no better than those you denigrate.

Garry Pigg
Garry Pigg

I agree that all of the political discussions about gay marriage is atrocious considering the state of our economy. It's simply a distraction that is meant to divide people and keep the masses from knowing the real issues. However, your way of communicating this is quite harsh. Are you saying that it is ok to hate certain types of people? You want everyone to be the same? You want folks to hide in the close, have children and a wife, and do gay sex behind their backs? No one is inviting you to their festivals and you don't have to go. You are also seeing footage of the festivals that is always pointing out the wildest sides. You forget that your boss, your teacher, you professor, your congressman may be gay as well. Who knows? Members of your family whom you love and cherish could be. Like I said to the other commenter, I hope God has mercy on your soul for spreading so much hate. I truly feel sorry for you.

Michael
Michael

Are you serious? I'd like to see you make a case for how heterosexuality isn't more "in my face" than homosexuality. Your ignorance insights so much indignation in me I don't know where to begin. However, I foresee no intelligent discourse taking place here, so how might I provoke you to embarrass yourself further, you backward waste of space? I'm glad you came out of the closet, BIGOT!

NoStreetBS
NoStreetBS

Well said Alzari. In their growing bombardment of our society with their message, what the gays refuse to acknowledge is that their choice of an alternative lifestyle is truly and fundamentally rooted in an atypical sexual preference. The photo above, their parades, other public demonstrations and in some communities their frequent lack of propriety illustrates that. Their sexuality-laced message is not appropriate for many pubic forums - especially when children are present. They ignore this impropriety and attempt to indoctrinate our children though the media, entertainment, and public school systems.I don't personally care what consenting adults do in their own private domiciles. But I am tired of the "LGBT" community's insistence that we must all accept their atypical sexual choices as a publicly acceptable topic - particularly when children are present. Do we eventually have to teach our children to cater to every possible sexual preference and fetish out there???

ihatesuburbs
ihatesuburbs

I guess you wish that the blacks would hide from you as well you ignorant fucking rube. The world is moving on beyond 1955. Don't like it? The only solution I can suggest is that you somehow age faster and die already. Better yet, why don't you hide your bigoted ass in the closet since YOU are the one with the problem. Your bullshit 'leave it to beaver' values never fucking exist in the first place, at least in any situation that wasn't a crappy black and white sitcom.

jon
jon

@alzari: don't be a jackass. there's enough hate in the world w/o comments like these. @justin: just wanted you to know, i am a christian...a straight, gay affirming christian. we are not all the same. ;) i apologize for any hate that's being done in god's name to you. peace.

Justin M. Stoddard
Justin M. Stoddard

I've always kind of suspected you heterosexual Christians were out there, too, Alzari. But, you've been so quiet on the issue for the past 1000 years that it didn't concern me in any way. Now that you have become so in your face about your heterosexuality and your Christianity and such, I just wish you'd crawl back into the dark ages and stay there.

You people were saying all this stuff about inter-racial marriage back in the days. Why is any of this different? I dare you to explain yourself.

All this crap about discrimination is obscene to the max!!!

'Pappy'
'Pappy'

Soulard: Concerned...yes. Uncomfortable or hostile...hardly. Instead of utilizing left-wing liberal attacking stratefies, try posting something intelligent and useful/helpful to the situation. If, in fact, you are able to do so, I'm sure we would all love to hear it. If all you can do is criticize without offering any helpful suggestions, maybe it would be better not to post.

'Pappy'
'Pappy'

The United Church of Christ is not a good place to look for what God says is wrong or not wrong. Look in the Bible. A pedophile can find people to agree with him, that is not the point and is a very lame argument. God says it's wrong. Period! End of story! If you don't believe that, I challenge you to read the Bible. One cannot speak of what one does not know. Trite little comments are not going to save people from spending eternity in hell. And we who are true Biblical born again Christians are following Gods command to tell people if we see them doing something destructive to their lives. Your argument, you must understand, is not with me...it's with God. Do you really think you will win that argument? The answer is no. We tell people of their sins out of love. We don't want them to suffer, in this life or the next. As far as the rest of the filthy mouthed responders, I hope you read this, as I won't waste time addressing your childish comments.

'Pappy'
'Pappy'

Actually, shame on you for not knowing or apparently caring about what God has told us through His Word. It would behoove all of you to not worry about being "pc" or "tolerant", and to actually learn for yourselves what God has told us to do and not to do. And, again, your argument is not with me: These are not my opinions; they are what God has clearly told us. It's easy to find out for yourself, if you are truely interested in the truth. If you choose to live in dasrkness, ie. not knowing the truth, that is your decision. But you will be held accountable for those decisions in the end. Better to understand totally, before you make eternal dicisions without all the facts.

'Pappy'
'Pappy'

Well, by your answer, you obviously don't have the vaguest understanding of Jesus in the least...that is if you are speaking about Jesus of the Bible: Jesus who is God: Jesus who tells us that homosexuals don't enter into Heaven. And not just homosexuals, but ALL sinners. Homosexuality is a sin. You know why? Because God says so. And I guarentee you, He has the last word. No matter how you choose live your life on this Earth, when it comes time for you to die, or when Jesus returns, there will be no second chance. You will have already made your decision. If you choose to spend your entire life running away from God and His teachings, He will honor your choice throughout all eternity. You will be seperated from His love and protection. That is what is called hell. I've chose not to go there, based on God's promise through His son Jesus Christ. You should do the same. As some wise man has said bdfore, when choosing your eternity, do you want smoking or non-smoking? I choose the latter. Ps. Murder has existed throughout time, so based on your logic, that should be ok with everyone.......which is obviously a pretty rediculous way of looking at things, don't you think?!

Michael
Michael

@Jon: Thanks for being reasonable... @Sandman: People who speak for God are terribly presumptuous. Your canned answer is so wrought with fallacies that there is virtually no grounds for communication here. I'm sorry you're so wrapped up in that silly, backward, time-honored doctrine. I used to be a Christian too because Jesus said some really cool shit but I ran out of excuses for "Christians and their Christianity" and I had to walk away. Everything I liked or loved about Christianity is lost on virtually every Christian I know and I can no longer look the other way. It's been a long road and a tough pill to swallow but I've been awakened from the curse. I made it out, sanity in tack. Thank goodness! :)

Sandman Vb
Sandman Vb

It's different because God says that homosexuality is an abomination. He said nothing of the sort of interracial marriage.

Just think about it this way: You created something for a specific purpose. You created other parts for theri specific purpose. Then, all of a sudden those parts decided that what you created them for wasn't good enough. They had a better idea. They wanted to be put in place for uses other than you deisgned them - like a foot wanting to be a heart, or a hand wanting to be a stomach. God created male and female for a reason. And who are we to change what He designed?

You don't have to believe in God. You also don't have to believe the sky is blue or the grass is green or gravity exists. You and I are nothing. God's plan is what matters, and He will accomplish it whatever happens.

But, you matter to God. Note that I didn't say YOU or any homosexual is an abomination, just the act itself. Just like evrything else, the thing that will make us happiest is the thing that God designed us for. Clearly, homosexuality is not one of those things. So, the bottom line is, you are being deceived. Plain and simple.

We don't like to hear that God doesn't want us doing what we're doing sometimes. But this message is not one of hate but of hope and love. God loves us in spite of ourselves and the things we do (insert anything you will accuse me of here - and by the way, you're probably right). The insidious thing about homosexuality is the lies it perpetiuates: it is natural, it is alright, there is nothing we can do about it, we're born this way, etc.) They are all lies that drag us away from our true purpose to be of service to God. Everyone of those statements that are the justification for homosexuality are lies from the pit of hell.

Hope this DARE to explain is met. If not, would be glad to re-engage.

anonymous
anonymous

10/10 mr. stoddard, could not have said it nearly as well myself

Garry Pigg
Garry Pigg

Not everyone believes in God so your assertions about God and his rules are completely meaningless to some people. Also, there are other Christians who interpret God's rules differently and are able to accept diversity. I'm sorry that you have this hatred inside you. Maybe God will show mercy on your soul.

 
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