Glenn Burke: African-American Gay Baseball Player

Glenn Burke

Pride Month is upon us, and in these admittedly troubled times, I sometimes find it inspirational to compare and contrast what was going on in 1978, forty years ago, in the world of LGBTQ persons.

1978 was a year of hope and tragedy; the gay icon Harvey Milk was assassinated, but the Briggs initiative, which would have banned gay and lesbian persons from being teachers in California, was defeated.

But something else was going in the world of sports, which resulted in an action spontaneously made by the first openly gay major league baseball player becomming a common physical expression in our culture.
 

Newspaper article about Glenn Burke entitled We'll Never Know How Good He Could Have Been

Glenn Burke, known as “King Kong” by his colleagues because of his massive biceps, was the first openly gay Major League baseball player. And he was open about it.

According to an NPR interview, “Because you'd look over in his locker, you know, and he had his red jock in his locker. You know, nobody wore a red jock, you know? And Glenn wore a red jock and, you know, he'd be dancing around in the clubhouse.”

Hmm … I did not know wearing a red jockstrap was indicative of one's sexual orientation, but times were different, and also according to the interview, the teammates in the minor leagues really did not know.

But then, also according to the interview, the Latino guys figured it out, and started calling him “maricón” (which means, essentially, faggot), perhaps jokingly, and they supported him when he entered the major leagues.

Glenn played on the Dodgers, and when the management found out he was gay, they offered him $75,000 to get married. To this offer, Burke replied with acerbic wit, “I guess you mean to a woman.” Burke did not get married.
 

Glenn Burke Dodgers baseball calrd

He was traded to the Oakland A's as a result, close to San Francisco, at that time the gay mecca of meccas. But Glenn was not able to thrive. Billy Martin came over from the Yankees to manage the team soon after, and his homophobia was apparent. During the spring training, he was introducing all the players to the new players that were coming in. When he got to Glenn, he said, “Oh, by the way, this is Glenn Burke, and he's a faggot.”

The discrimination and harassment continued, and Glenn was demoted to Triple-A ball. He retired at the age of 27.

The story gets sadder, but there's a happy twist. Glenn Burke invented the high five! Yes, he did!

According to an article in the Advocate, Burke was waiting for his chance at bat on October 22, 1977. The Dodgers were playing against the Houston Astros. Left fielder Dusty Baker had just hit his 30th home run, putting the team into the playoffs. As Baker came back from his circuit around the bases, Burke thrust his hand out into the air. Burke instinctively slapped Baker's palm. Voila! Right after that action, Burke, his his first major league home run. When he returned to the dugout, Baker gaive Burke that high five.
 

Glenn Burke giving a high five on the baseball field

Glenn Burke died of AIDS-related complications on May 30, 1995, after struggles with drug addiction and homelessness.

If it wasn't for the legacy of Glenn Burke, Jason Collins and Michael Sam would still be unable to be their true selves in the sports world.

And Glenn's integrity makes those high fives, that expression of pride and jubilation, so much more meaningful. There's a history behind all of them them, and a history we should not forget in a time when one doubts that the arc of the universe curves toward justice.

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Snapshots of Old Town Chicago in the 1970s

When the Bijou Theater opened its doors in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago 46 years ago, let's just say that area was pretty much the Haight-Asbury of Chicago. Think hippies. Head shops. Art house cinemas. Think, according to one nostalgic online poster, a place where one might (and it did happen) actually see a woman walking a goat down the street.

Now, some claim that by 1970s its glory hippie days were over, but the gay places, including the new Bijou Theater and a bar called Glory Hole (self-explanatory) were glorying (literally) in the newly liberated gay sexual revolution (think lines of guys waiting to get in). Old Town, always raw and raunchy and funky, was becoming the gayborhood.

This new gayborhood was still the home of what are now legendary Old Town places.

 

This article pretty much says it all:

Chances R (1528 N.; occupied today by O`Brien`s Restaurant). The old saloon and hamburger joint was said to have started the Wells Street revival when it opened back in the early `60s. Customers were encouraged to toss their peanut shells on the floor. The restaurant`s name reflected the uncertainty of the location. ``Chances are we could go broke,`` the owners reportedly said among themselves.

Ripley`s Believe It or Not Museum (1500 N.). Ripley, which opened in 1968, was part of a chain of international Ripley`s museums. The Chicago branch contained 13 galleries, including the circus room with its various freaks and mutations as well as replicas of Cleopatra`s barge, of a man who lived to be 160 years old and of a mummified monk. The museum closed in 1987 and auctioned off its exhibits.

London Royal Wax Museum (1419 N.). Another popular stop along Wells, the museum included lifelike figures of Chicagoans Ernie Banks, Hugh Hefner and Al Capone. The dungeon featured replicas of Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein while the fantasy room contained Pinocchio, Cinderella, Rip Van Winkle and Alice in Wonderland.


The Earl of Old Town (1615 N.). The fabled club that came to epitomize the Chicago folk scene and honed such home-grown talent as Steve Goodman, John Prine and Bonnie Koloc opened in 1962. Owner Earl Pionke didn`t introduce music, however, until 1966.

 

In 1951, free spirit Slim Brundage established the College of Complexes at 1651 N. Wells St. Inspired by the legendary Dill Pickle Club of the `20s, the College of Complexes was part coffeehouse, part lecture hall and part speakeasy.

During the `60s Pipers Alley (1608 N. Wells), which opened in 1965, was Chicago`s answer to London`s Carnaby Street. A giant Tiffany lamp hung outside the entrance to the maze of unusual retail shops that had names like the Bratskeller, Bustopher Jones boutique, the Peace Pipe, ``In`` Sanity, the Glass Unicorne, Jack B. Nimble Candle Shop, Volume I Book Shop and Flypped Disc Record Shop. Customers walked down a brick alley lined with antique lamps.

Now more a playground for clean-cut tourists and inhabitants of expensive dwellings around the area, Old Town succumbed to gentrification. Some might claim it came back after a decline in the eighties, but its material prosperity lacks that unique funky edge that made it what it is.

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