Early Chicago Pride Parades: A Reflection

posted by Madame Bubby

Four million persons are expected to be at Stonewall 50 in New York City. The 48th annual Chicago Gay Pride Parade in Chicago promises to be quite impressive too, one big party.

Even in these times of turmoil in the United States when the human rights of so many are becoming increasingly precarious, LGBTQ communities are still strong and vibrant. And note that in Brazil, now run by the virulently homophobic Jair Bolsonaro, the São Paulo parade attracted three million persons.

But in the years right after Stonewall, the parades were not the carnivalesque events they are today. They were militant liberation marches, risky on so many levels for the participants. These early parades were attended by only a few hundred people and received little official notice.
 

1976 Chicago Pride Parade

1976 Chicago Pride Parade

The first gay pride march and rally took place in Chicago on June 27, 1970, just one year after Stonewall.

The original parade went from Bughouse Square, right on the dividing line between River North and Old Town. From that point, a small crowd marched down the Mag Mile to the Daley Center.

According to an article by Emmet Sullivan, about 150 people participated. He notes:

The Chicago Tribune ran a 75-word blurb about the event on the third page of its June 28 edition, noting that it ended with festgoers circling the Picasso statue in the plaza and shouting, “Gay power to gay people.” By 1973, the parade had moved its starting point to Belmont Harbor. The “gay liberationists” leading the charge numbered 300, according to the Tribune.
 

Chicago Tribune 1971 Pride Parade Article

1971 Chicago Pride Parade

The parade then bounced between a few routes, mostly around Belmont Harbor and the intersection of Clark and Diversey, at that time developing as Chicago's gay neighborhood.

I remember inadvertently going to that parade in the 1980s (as I went to the old Great Ace hardware store at Clark and Diversey), which by that time attracted thousands rather than hundreds of people. In my naivete, all I remembered were hot shirtless guys holding signs, whose message and import escaped me, especially when a hunky guy with a big mustache marching in the parade came up to me and let me grab his nipple (part of my gradual coming out experience).

I now know that by that time, the AIDS crisis was in full swing and the heady days of liberation were over. The community, with a new-found strength, faced down death and chose life.

Without those brave persons in the 1970s, who literally risked their lives as persons living in the supposedly equal society of America by marching in public, the fabric of a community would not have been strong enough to band together and ensure that those who died would be remembered. And to fight for and with the survivors who would make the memorial quilts.

Maybe in these times when the hashtag #NeverAgain is so apropos, we need to think of this Pride Month kind of like Passover. We remember the nights of oppression, and we remember the days of liberation. But in this case, we saved ourselves. Perhaps it's time to do some more saving.

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The New Age of Leather

posted by Madame Bubby

International Mr. Leather 2019

Now that I am in the autumnal phase of my life (early autumn, mind you), and International Mr. Leather is fast upon us (its fortieth year!), I share again a paragraph I wrote a few years ago about this event:

“The leather community has entered a new age. It's no longer so much on the margins, even of the gay community. I even argue it's lost something of its edginess, its element of taboo and danger. Where do I, who was trained by a master who was influenced by hardcore Old Guard, fit into this picture? I'm still exploring that question, but I hold fast to the core values of mutual respect/courtesy and a desire to learn and grow in the scene I experienced through the years with the many leathermen I've known since that first day in 1991 when I entered the leather mart.”

I still agree with many of the ideas in the paragraph, but I am revisiting with another concern, one that is more focused on demographic. To what extent is the leather/BDSM community, still primarily gay and male, aging out? Or, perhaps, the real question could be, how is transforming itself as its social and cultural context changes?
 

International Mr. Leather, 1979
International Mr. Leather, 1979

Some of the changes that have developed I see paralleling with mainstream social progressive movements. 2010 was particularly significant when Tyler McCormick competed as Mr. Rio Grande Leather. When he won the contest, he made history three ways: first transgender IML, first IML to use a wheelchair, and first IML from New Mexico.
 

Tyler McCormick
Tyler McCormick

Yet, I've also noticed that the traditional leather/BDSM club social structure, based upon I claim a kind of lodge/fraternity model, seems to be less popular than before. Perhaps I am landing on a cliché or stereotype here rather than a more nuanced interpretation, but these groups are aging, and younger guys (not just millenials) aren't necessarily seeing them as a prime, exclusive space to discover, learn about, and grow in, their complex sexuality.

The line of mentoring I experienced in this community seems to be less certain. Just because a young guy says Daddy, teach me, doesn't necessarily mean anymore a serious ritual of initiation. It could mean a quick fuck. It may have always been that way to some extent, and gay sexual spaces have always been commodified in various respects (thinking of bathhouses, another space that seems to be much less ubiquitous than before), but this is the age of nanosecond ratings, the Yelp/Amazon world. Of course technology has played a part in a fluidity that risks diffusiveness, and of course social media apps have changed drastically how one lives physically and mentally as a sexual person.

Perhaps the gay male leather/BDSM club, used to be the center of this world, forced in the past to into a fortress-like mentality because of its taboo activities in a world just starting to tolerate LGBTQ persons, is now shifting to one point on a spectrum.

Overall, I am concerned that future generations will forget about or even claim is outmoded this point of origin in spaces like the Gold Coast Leather Bar and the Chicago Hellfire Club. But without this history of external and internal courage and danger and respect and conflict, there wouldn't be persons today engaged in transforming it.
 

Chicago Hellfire Club

International Mr. Leather, 1979
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1979 In United States LGBTQ History: Mass Visibility Ten Years After Stonewall

posted by Madame Bubby

In 1979, Stephen Lachs becomes the first openly gay judge appointed in the United States. He is also thought but not proved to be the first openly gay judge appointed anywhere in the world. He served as a judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court from 1979 to 1999.
 

Stephen Lachs
Stephen Lachs

May 21 – The White Night riots occur in San Francisco after Dan White is convicted of two counts of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder in the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. White had employed the so-called "Twinkie defense".
 

White Night riots
White Night riots

May 29 – Los Angeles outlaws discrimination against homosexuals in private sector employment and in patronization of business establishments in its city. Mayor Thomas Bradley signs bills into effect July 2.

June 24 – 10th annual Gay Pride Parade in Chicago.

September 1 – New Jersey decriminalizes private consensual homosexual acts.

October 14 – More than 100,000 people take part in the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It was the largest political gathering in support of LGBT rights to date.
 

March on Washington

And, the Florida Citrus Commission quietly decides not to renew Anita Bryant's contract because of the backlash against her antigay crusade and also her association with white supremacist groups. The main reason: she was causing them to lose money.
 

Anita Bryant pied in the face
Anita Bryant pied in the face by a gay activist, 1977

Yet, after all these groundbreaking events, this year also heralded a religious revival movement in America, climaxing in the Moral Majority movement of the 1980s.

And in 1981, what was later called the AIDS virus appeared in America, infecting gay men and intravenous drug users. The LGBTQ community, in the wake of its first strides toward social and cultural liberation, would now be fighting for its physical survival.

We research and write on various LGBTQ history topics at our blog, which you can find here.

We also have created a Pinterest site with images and information and post additional information on our Twitter page.

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A Gay Bar Is Not "Just" a Bar

posted by Madame Bubby


Lately there's been much talk about safe spaces (mostly for psychosocial reasons) on college campuses, but the gay bar, as far as I am concerned, was always a “identity” safe space for LGBTQ persons long before the days of mainstream acceptance of a diverse sexual identity spectrum. And for many years, a precarious safe space, always at risk for being raided, and often depending for suvival on some rather “unsafe” connections (the Mob).

As a young gayling (in and then out of the closet) in the 1980s, I knew about the existence of gay bars, but not much else. Right after graduate school, living sparsely in a studio apartment in a liberal suburb, I knew about the existence of a gay bar in the adjacent suburb (the suburb I lived in was surprisingly dry given its overall liberal college-town focus, no bars or liquor stores, but one could obtain booze in a restaurant).

I was not out, but I wanted to go somewhere where I could totally be myself. I hung out with some friends from college, including one who lived down the street, and I was chummy with the neighbors, but I was never totally myself. I am sure the more sophisticated friends had figured it out (I fit the stereotypes at that time, especially cowboy boots and opera), but my gay “life” was jacking off to John Rechy's The Sexual Outlaw (my first gay book; bought it at Barbara's Bookstore close to my place) and assorted jack off books. Even in a place where being gay did not necessarily mean persecution, I was afraid.
 

The Sexual Outlaw book cover

Barbara's Bookstore logo

On several Saturday nights, usually alone, I would say to myself, I'll just walk down the street to the adjacent suburb and go to that bar. The name of the bar was Nutbush. The innuendo escaped me at that time. I never went. My motivation for not going: how would I get home, what would happen to me sexually if I went, and what if someone saw me there. But the pull was there, because I both knew and felt that I could go there and let all inhibitions down. I had danced at straight discos, I had smoked pot at mixed parties, but I couldn't interact with a guy the way I wanted and needed to.
 

Vintage Nutbus bar ad

By the way, many years later I went to that Nutbush place with a couple of friends who lived in the liberal suburb, now an LGBTQ mecca. One of them said, “This place has always been a toilet.” Yes, it was one of those gay dive bars, a stale, nondescript place smelling of cheap beer and cigarette smoke. A safe space in some ways, perhaps, but not a social space where I could embrace the identity I was looking for.

Fast forward about four years, and I was sitting in one of the oldest gay bars in Chicago, many miles north in Rogers Park. It was called Charmers (it has since closed). This place was off the beaten gay neighborhood track at that time (most of the bars were further south in Lakeview). I made out with a guy, I sang opera in falsetto, and I got drunk. Note the getting drunk is last on the list. But I had arrived. And I knew by that time there was no going back.
 

Decor in Charmers' interior
Charmers interior

Now one doesn't have to go a bar to embrace one's identity. In fact, one doesn't have to necessarily go outside. That's a paradox. But why explore and embrace one's sexual identity primarily on a phone screen? We fought to be able to go outside. Without those bars, we wouldn't be holding hands on the street. Without the social structures those bars created, we wouldn't have survived AIDS. A gay bar is not “just” a bar.

Check out this moving documentary on the history of gay bars in San Diego.

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The Legendary Baton Lounge: Just a Few Steps Away

posted by Madame Bubby

Jim Flint in the Baton Show Lounge

A friend of mine sent me a link to a news item: the legendary Baton Lounge, long a fixture of the LGBTQ community in Chicago, has moved after 50 years in the same location. The entertainment venue, which has featured over the years so many famous drag queens (Chili Pepper, see below, was one of my favorites), had been located in what is now called the River North area. But, according to the news source, rents escalated, and Jim Flint decided to make the move north. And even north of the established Boystown, in the growing gayborhood of Uptown (and walking distance from my abode).
 

Family cast
Chili Pepper

Baton Lounge performers
Baton Lounge performers

Jim Flint
Jim Flint

What is significant here is Flint did not decide to just close up shop. Apparently the venue is still thriving; the entertainment he provides has not gone by the wayside like the great gay adult theaters (Bijou at the top of the list) or the bathhouses (only one is left in Chicago with the closing of Man’s Country).
 

Bijou Theater sign

It’s obvious Flint is not providing a venue of public sex or pornography in the stricter sense; he’s putting on live theater which does not focus on a naked porn star jacking off. Yet, remember, the Bijou used to do and was doing again broader forms of entertainment, rethinking the purpose and audience of the space, before its closure in 2015.

And drag is of course in the global spotlight. Hello, RuPaul (who actually appeared at the Baton). And whether one thinks this fact is unfortunate or not, a drag show is straight-friendly. It has been for some time. Think Victor/Victoria, which of course makes the illusion even more complicated. And that illusion was the basis of theatre for so many years. Women could not appear on the stage respectably in the West until the eighteenth century. The Greek tragedies and the plays of Shakespeare relied on men playing the women’s parts.

(I can’t imagine the Baton putting on a performance of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, though. It doesn’t lend itself well to parody or even camp, though one line in the play, “The queen is falling,” might get a laugh.)

And speaking of straight-friendly, I know someone whose date took her there on the first date. Now, both of us had met her date at a wine-tasting event, and we could not tell who he was attracted to. Still, it seems an odd, or rather, ambiguous, place for an ostensibly straight guy to take a straight woman on a first date, however original and exciting the venue. There was no second date. Que sera.

I was taken to the place on my birthday. I was not sure if that was a straight person’s “safe” idea of gay entertainment (the person who planned the event), but several persons from the office went (not all gay). I did enjoy receiving some attention from Chili Pepper, who was dressed up in some fabulous 1960s retro outfit (kind of a dress with a jacket with white buttons and trim). The host did not believe I was 28 (I wasn’t that young; so much for illusion).

Flint’s new location is in a beautiful building with a deco feel, perhaps an architectural landmark. Much of the area around it is either abandoned, waiting for or in the process of bland gentrification, perhaps diluting some of the illusion or edginess that feeds into that illusion.
 

Baton old and new locations
Baton old and new locations

Still, it’s not far from the legendary Green Mill cocktail lounge, and the Uptown Theater is in the process of renovation, or, more accurately, retrovation. That’s the paradox: idealizing and revisioning the past in a time when daylight too often intrudes upon magic and everyone thinks they are a star shining on the screen of a smartphone.

May the magical stars of the Baton reign for another 50 years.

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