LGBTQ History is OUR History --- Pass it On!

History is not passed on from parent to child in our community. It's rarely mentioned (if at all) in elementary school school and we don't learn much about it high school either. That's why it's important to learn and share as much as we can, so the voices of the past are not silenced. We, as elders, can pass the stories on to youth in our community. Each week we'll be bringing you a piece of LGBTQ history -- these stories are curated by SAGE Upstate Board Chair Margaret Himley, Professor of Writing and LGBT Studies (emerita). 

Should Marriage Between Homosexuals Be Permitted? A 1974 Debate

The Advocates was a series of debates recorded at Boston's Faneuil Hall, with a moderator facilitating a discussion of national and international issues. On May 2, 1974, the topic of debate was: Should Marriage Between Homosexuals Be Permitted? Enjoy the debate, video and transcript, here.


Follow the erudite logic of Kameny's pro-marriage arguments. Laugh along with the audience at Noble's brilliant responses to hostile questions. Listen to Green's scientific countering of societal myths of the time. Boo along with the audience at Dr. Socarides's pathology claims. Three important figures in LGBTQ history served as the advocate and two witnesses--and, I'd say, won the debate:


Frank Kameny , a pioneering gay rights activist in the homophile movement. In 1957, he had been working for five months as an astronomer for the US government's Army Map Service. He was fired when investigators learned he was a homosexual. He was one of thousands ousted from federal employment for being gay--a crackdown and moral panic known as the lavender scare (see President Eisenhower's Executive Order 10450, which barred homosexuals from federal employment because they were considered a security risk). Kameny fought the decision, and in 1961 was the first to petition the Supreme Court with a discrimination claim based on sexual orientation. He lost and went on to devote his career to gay rights, including leading the effort to have homosexuality removed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) from its list of mental illnesses in 1973. He argued that Gay is Good and played a key role in advancing equal treatment for homosexuals.

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Elaine Noble -- a dedicated lesbian activist in the early gay liberation movement. She made history as the first open gay candidate ever elected to state-level office in her 1974 campaign for a seat in the Massachusetts' House of Representatives. She won 59% of the vote! She faced many threats but served two terms. Later she founded the Pride Institute, a gay and lesbian alcohol and drug treatment center. 


Dr. Richard Green -- a sexologist and lawyer. He published a paper in 1972 calling for the removal of homosexuality from the APA's list of mental disorders, and he was an early advocate for marriage equality when same sex marriage was opposed by 90% of Americans. He was often called upon as an expert witness in discrimination trails. Though he has been praised for his allyship, he has also been critiqued for encouraging gender non-conforming youth to identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. 

Digital Transgender Archive

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The Digital Transgender Archive (DTA) is a wonderful and extensive online hub that gathers digitized historical materials and born-digital materials from archival holdings throughout the world. The DTA uses the term 'transgender' to refer to a broad and inclusive range of non-normative gender practices from anywhere in the world. It was launched in 2016 by K. J. Rawson, a former graduate student at SU, and provides a starter's guide for anyone who wants to explore all the resources there. You can easily find all kind of things here, from documents and drawings to oral histories and erotica to photographs and poetry.


Check out a collection of postcards of female and male impersonators and crossdressers from Europe and the US between 1900-1931 here.  

Listen to contemporary oral histories of trans people color in NYC recorded by SAGE here

Imagine playing All Dressed Up, a board game for cross-dressers, created in Rochester, I think, and designed to give "all players a better understanding of who and what they are through self expression." Players move around the board and pick up cards that ask players to Players move around the board and pick up cards that ask players to talk about pants or beauty, or to imagine themselves dressed as a bride or living as a wealthy woman. You can view it here.


These digital resources make history fun, as you discover more and more things in this amazing and ever-growing digital archive! 

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Reclaiming Early LGBTQ Cultures

     In the mid 1940's, after WWII, the migration of homosexuals to Chicago led to a number of North Side gay bars, but they often excluded African Americans. Bronzeville, on the South Side of Chicago, became the home to a number of homo-friendly nightclubs (like Joe's Deluxe) that catered to African Americans and that supported a visible and well-accepted queer subculture. Drag balls with female impersonators and masculine lesbians drew large crowds. 

To learn more, read around in Queer Bronzeville by Tristan Cabello, which tells this history of African American gays and lesbians on Chicago's South Side (<>).

     Or learn more about early LGBTQ culture in NYC by reading around in When Brooklyn was Queer by Hugh Ryan. Ryan evokes a hidden world of pleasure and affection, as he tells the sweeping story of LGBTQ history from the early days of Walt Whitman in the 1850s to male impersonators like Ella Wesner in the 1880s through the women working at the Navy Yard during WWII -- and beyond. (<>). 

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Previous History Page Topics

Harry Hay, who helped to establish the Mattachine Society and Radical Faeires.

See the Mattachine Newsletter, One here and an interview with Harry here

Barbara Gittingsa lifelong proponent of LGBTQ rights, including work with the Daughters of Bilitis.

See a collection of her papers here.   See issues of Daughters of Bilitis Newsletter, The Ladder, here