Reading’s gay history project

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Lorna McArdle, Andrew Stonehill Brooks, Brendan Carr, Yvette Barda and Bobby Smith at the launch of Hidden Voices | Get Reading

A new project has been launched to research the history of LGBT people in Reading, UK in time for LGBT History Month which takes place in February 2015. (October is the chosen time in the US.) The project has Heritage Lottery funding and will involve local LGBT charity Support U leading research from older members of the LGBT community who remember when it was illegal to be gay.

Lorna McArdle said: “Support U is dedicated to supporting the LGBT community and this project will assist our organisation in seeing a real picture of the cultural past and present. The older generation is still detached from the LGBT community at large and we would like to bridge that gap with this project. It is only right that we make sure the history of the LGBT community is shown, to highlight just how far we have come towards acceptance.”


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Leather Daddies and Rainbow Crossings – welcome to San Francisco’s new-look Castro

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Leather enthusiasts at the 1978 San Francisco Gay Day Parade | San Francisco Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society

Writing in Mission Local, Daniel Hirsch is concerned that marking gay places as historic places is counter productive and diminishes or alters the history.

At a time when bars and other queer spaces are struggling to stay open, the approach some groups are taking to mark LGBT history also has the potential to forever alter, and possibly diminish, surviving spaces. The fear is that by marking a place as historic, its current inhabitants may get pushed out to make more room for all the memories.

In the Castro district, not all residents are happy with the redevelopment of their area.

The rainbow crossing designs | Castro Biscuit

In the Castro, there’s a current plan by the Department of Public Works and the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District to paint the district’s crosswalks in rainbow colors. It might seem at first glance like a whimsical way to celebrate the neighborhood’s queer history and culture. But for some, being somewhere over these rainbows represents further gentrification and worse, “Disneyfication.”

“How many more rainbows do we need, I mean, jesus,” said Waiyde Palmer, a contributor to the Castro Biscuit and Castro-resident since 1986. “I’m fine with a little bit of fey, but the rainbow crosswalks are the equivalent of a cheap souvenir T-shirt, like, ‘I went to the Castro, and all I got was this rainbow crosswalk.’”

Rainbow crosswalks date back to 2008, when efforts of the Castro Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District coalesced with the city’s plans to repave roads and improve sidewalks, in a large effort called the Castro Street Improvement Project. (The Castro CBD, one of many in the city, is a special business district funded by a special tax, made up of merchants organized to improve the neighborhood as they see fit.)

In conjunction with the Planning Department and Department of Public Works, the Castro CBD took on the task of “beautifying” the neighborhood. Through a process of public input and outreach, this means the improvement project will include the following decorative elements: 20 sidewalk etchings featuring highlights of Castro history, as well as decorative LED sidewalk lights, and those rainbow-colored crosswalks.


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Charlotte and the Angels of America

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Fort Worth Opera in a performance of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” opera version, 2008 | Ellen Appel

The Levine Museum of the New South, in Charlotte, N.C., recently unveiled a history exhibit, “LGBTQ Perspectives on Equality” to tell the history of Charlotte, N.C.’s, gay and transgender community. 18,000 same-sex couples call the state home, including 2,000 in the Charlotte area, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

The exhibition casts fresh light on the “Angels of America” controversy.

In 1996 a brouhaha erupted when some county officials objected to gay themes presented in a local performance of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Angels in America.” The controversy led to a vote in 1997 to restrict funding to the Arts & Science Council. The move gave the city a reputation for being intolerant.

Bob Barret, a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, took a high-profile stand for the gay community during the “Angels in America” affair, helping to create an organization called Citizens for Equality, which staged a defiant news conference on the steps of City Hall.

“I don’t know that it changed anything, but we were visible and saying, ‘We don’t like what’s going on,'” says Barret, who had challenged the Observer’s coverage of the gay community as far back as 1992, when he met with editors at the newspaper. “The media didn’t have a clue who gay people are, because people weren’t willing to stand up. Once we started to do that, attitudes changed fairly quickly. Still, there were death threats, and awful stuff was sent in the mail to me. And stuff was left on my car. People in charge at the university told me, ‘You need to be very careful. People are watching you, waiting for you to make a mistake.'”

University of North Charlotte Multicultural Resource Center

Book shop proprietor Sue Henry was perhaps the city’s most high-profile LGBT representative of the ’90s, and was the first openly gay candidate for mayor of Charlotte, in 1995.

Her store, Rising Moon Books & Beyond, became a meeting place for gays and lesbians during the “Angels in America” controversy, with groups gathering among the books to make placards for their demonstrations. She likens it to the city’s first LGBT community center. It closed in 1997. Henry was also involved in bringing the annual North.Carolina gay and lesbian pride event to Charlotte in 1994, which she says made local gays and lesbians aware of “what we can do when we came together.” “I don’t feel especially brave. Maybe I’m stubborn,” says Henry, who currently lives in Greenville, N.C. “For the first couple of years I had the bookstore, I would go in expecting the windows to be broken out by a brick, but it never happened. It’s that worry, that fear, that often stops the LGBT community.”


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The John West Murder Case

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Gwynne Owen Evans (left), 24, and Peter Anthony Allen, 21. Prison Service Photos/Liverpool Echo

On 7th April, 1964, two unemployed men, who could not afford to pay £10 in court fines imposed on them for earlier thefts, murdered a man. Peter Allen, age 21, and Gwynne Evans, age 24, drove to the home of John West, age 53, a laundry van driver of Seaton, Cumbria.

Evans left Allen in the car while he tried to persuade Mr West to give them £10 in return for sex. Mr West declined. Evans went back to the car and fetched Allen. West saw Allen and asked him, “Who the bloody hell are you?” When Allen did not answer, West made a lunge at him. Allen panicked and hit West. Then Evans battered West with a bar.

Mr West’s battered and stabbed body, which was naked from the waist down, was found by Police one day later – 8th April, 1964. Police found Evans’ rain coat at the scene, and identified it as belonging to Evans when they found in one of the pockets, a medallion bearing Evans’ name.

Each man blamed the other for the violent murder.

Mr Justice Ashworth sentenced them both to death.

Their defence teams appealed. Lord Chief Justice Lord Parker, Mr Justice Winn and Mr Justice Widgery rejected the appeals of Allen and Evans, with the Lord Chief Justice saying: “A more brutal murder it would be difficult to imagine.”

Both Allen’s and Evans’ mothers petitioned then Home Secretary Henry Brooke for clemency. Clemency was not forthcoming.

Evans was hanged at Strangeways Prison, Manchester, by executioner Harry Allen (no relation) while Allen, who had trashed his cell when he realised that clemency was not forthcoming, was hanged at Walton Jail, Liverpool, by executioner Robert Stewart. Both men were hanged at exactly 8.00 am on August 13th, 1964.

In 1964 in Britain, homosexuality between men was illegal.

On 15th October 1964 Britain had a General Election which was won by the Labour Party. The incoming government had a reforming agenda and the death penalty for murder was temporarily suspended for a trial period by the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965. The Act did not suspend the death penalty for other offences, which included espionage and piracy.

On 16th December 1969, Parliament reviewed the temporary suspension and voted to end the death penalty for murder by an overwhelming majority: 343 in favour, 185 against, a majority of 158.

At that point Evans and Allen went into the history books because they became the last people in Britain to be hanged. The case became known as the Allens and Evans case and their victim West became completely forgotten.

£10 may not seem like much money in 2014, but in 1964 it was more than the average basic weekly wage.

The death penalty was finally abolished in the United Kingdom in 1998 by the Human Rights Act and the Crime and Disorder Act.


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The Long Beach Bath House

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Frontiers Los Angeles

Frontiers LA reminds us of the history of The Long Beach Bathhouse which was a popular cruising spot in 1914, and of the tragic consequences for some customers.

The bathhouse attracted all types of beachgoers, including men who thought a rendezvous was worth the risk of arrest. In November 1914, a police sting netted dozens of cruisers. Curiously, the state’s sodomy laws did not cover oral sex, so the majority of men were charged with ambiguous “social vagrancy” misdemeanors. While one person, a florist named Herbert Lowe, fought the charges, most pleaded guilty and paid a fine. Tragically, two of the arrestees committed suicide, including a respected banker named John Lamb.


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The Names Project and the Aids Quilt

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Forks Washington Chamber of Commerce

The Names Project began assembling the quilt of panels representing victims of Aids in San Francisco in 1987. The first name to be remembered on a completed quilt panel was that of Marvin Feldman. Each panel is six feet by three feet.

Name panels continue to be added to the quilt daily. The total quilt weighs more than 50 tons.

Sections of the quilt are on display around the US at various times.

The Names Foundation note:

The initial idea for The AIDS Memorial Quilt came to our founder Cleve Jones at a 1985 candlelight march to honor the memory of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, both assassinated in 1978. While planning the march, Jones learned that more than 1,000 San Franciscans had been lost to AIDS. In their honor, he asked his fellow marchers to write the names of those friends and loved ones on placards and carry them in the march. For the first time, numbers became Names.

At the end of the march, Jones and other participants taped the placards to the walls of the San Francisco Federal Building. It was this action, the creation of a wall of names with its resemblance to a patchwork quilt, which gave birth to the idea for The AIDS Memorial Quilt and eventually, The NAMES Project Foundation.


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The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

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Christopher Street Day parade, Fulda, Germany, 1993 | Sir James

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are a colourful and distinctive charity, protest, and street performance organization of Queer Nuns who fight sexual intolerance with drag and religious imagery. They also satirize gender and morality issues.

The movement started in 1979 when a group of gay men in San Francisco began wearing habits in visible situations to draw attention to social conflicts and problems in the Castro District. The original three men procured habits from a convent in Iowa pretending to be putting on a a performance of The Sound of Music!

They are an international organisation, and there are around 600 Nuns in Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Scotland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay.

It was a time when religious participation in politics was growing, and Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell were crusading against the acceptance of the gay life style. The Castro District as a major gay neighborhood was targeted by several dozen church members who took to its streets to preach about the immorality of homosexuality.

The name of the group became familiar in 1980. The nuns held their first fundraiser, and a write-up in The San Francisco Chronicle by Herb Caen printed their organization name, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The benefit was for San Francisco’s Metropolitan Community Church Cuban Refugee Program.

The community was then hit with the AIDS crisis and the Nuns played a major part in organising awareness, and are thought to have produced the world’s very first Aids awareness literature.

Members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who have died are referred by the Sisters as “Nuns of the Above”.


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