LGBTQ and Symbolism

Through LGBTQ history, symbolism has been integral to who we are. We have used symbolism to raise our spirits and causes. We have also used various symbols as a means of identifying who we are to one another. Modes of dress, buttons emblazoned with logos, flags, and even speech have been the symbols that we bear to live our lives. Many you may be familiar with, but there are hundreds more that have fallen to the annals of history and left our collective conscious. Thanks to Andy Campbell and his book Queer X Design: 50 Years of Signs, Symbols, Banners, Logos, and Graphic Art of LGBTQ we have documentation of what they once were. In this article, I will share my views of this book and some of the lesser known symbols. With Pride in the CLE, and Pride Season in general, just around the corner, it is important to draw some attention on our past.

This books shows 50 years of history, but actually goes back to a time before the Stonewall Riots. It hints at a history of terminology such as “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” and when they came into usage. It also speaks of the era of Vaudeville, roughly the 1920s, and some of the earliest mentions of same sex love. It’s important to show this, because many feel that the history of LGBT people didn’t start until Stonewall, when the truth is in American there is a documented history easily tracing back to the 1860s. That’s almost 200 years of LGBT history that many of today’s generation aren’t familiar way. These were the pavers to our present time, the ones who only wanted to be with the ones they loved and not have to fear for who they are.

Some of the earliest forms of drag known happened in Vaudeville performances. One of the first Drag Kings was Florence Tempest, born Claire Lillian James. Tempest ran a show where she always played the male role and was known for her hair stylings that hide the fact that she was actually a woman. Her sister, Marion, always played the female to Tempest’s male role. While Tempest was not LGBT, her role is one of the earliest popular forms of drag. In 1928 Ma’ Rainey released a song called Prove It to Me Blues, which spoke of sexual encounters with women.

They said I do it, ain’t nobody caught me.

Sure, got to prove it on me.

Went out last night with a crowd of my friends.

They must’ve been women, ’cause I don’t like no men

It is reported that Ma’ was arrested in 1925 for an orgy that took place in her home with the women of her choir. Political activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis noted that this song was the precursor of the Lesbian Cultural Movement of the 1970s. Ma’ was probably one of the first known Women of Color to speak about relations with other women.

During the 1950s some of the first LGBT publications came into existence, One and the Ladder being the earliest ones. One came into creation after a meeting with the Mattachine Society saying there needed to be a gay publication. This magazine almost failed before it started after they were brought up on charges of indecency, these charges were later dropped as the magazine, itself, never had advertisements for sexual behaviors or risqué pictures. The Ladder was the first exclusively Lesbian publication. The founders Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin wrote a conservative approach to the gay agenda and politics. They argued that women should give up the “butch/femme” modes of dress and style for wearing dresses and fitting in.

With the onset of the 70s, the division of how the LGBT population should act was becoming wider and wider. There was still the carry over groups that suggested we needed to assimilate in order for the dominant culture to accept us and be allowed into resources such as universities, health insurance, and even marriage. This was also the era that the hippy generation from the 60s was still influential and gave rise to groups who felt needed to change instead of the LGBT people. The symbols of this era showed the struggles of both sides and help gain visibility. December 21st, 1969 the Gay Activists Alliance was born, and the founder Tom Doerr created the Lambda symbol for the organization. He felt it representation since, in chemistry, it represented the complete exchange of energy. This felt appropriate coming on the coattails of the Stonewall Riots. Another popular symbol that went by the wayside over the years was the Labrys. This symbol became associated with political and social action of the early LGBT activists. Monique Wittig and Sande Zeig gave the definition to is as a “name for the double-headed axe of the ancient amazons and to the representation of this arm as the emblem of amazon empires.” The Amazons, according to ancient Greek literature, were a matriarchal society of women warriors. This symbol was the representation of radical lesbian feminism. Symbols like these were printed on buttons and handed out en masse to people. They became emblems to put power behind to bring recognition to gay liberation. This was the rallying point for a generation as a means to focus our anger and direct it in a way to work towards change.

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The 70s also brought us the Gilbert Baker Flag. Gilbert Baker was asked by Harvey Milk to design it for the first upcoming Gay Freedom Day celebration. At the time, Milk wanted to move away from the Pink Triangle as he felt it carried to much negative connotations with it being a symbol from the concentration camps. The original Baker Flag had eight colors and meanings tied to them. Hot Pink – Sex, Red – Life, Orange – Healing, Yellow – Sunlight, Green – Nature, Turquoise – magic/art, Indigo – Serenity, and Violet – Spirit. They were characteristics Baker felt the LGBT people had and needed to work on to move forward in our struggle. It was meant to inspire and motivate. After the death of Milk, Baker wanted the flags mass produced, but hot pink was not easy to replicate in mass quantities and the Pride committee decided they wanted equal representation of the colors on each side of the street. With that the Baker flag became the six striped rainbow flag we have today.

 

The 80s changed many minds of LGBTQ people. As the seventies came to an end and move forward, a new killer started to take its toll on the population of gay men in San Francisco and New York. What was known then as GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) was quickly reaching epidemic proportions and was leaving bodies and confused doctors in its wake. Through the Reagan era it was known as a “Gay Disease” or “Gay Cancer” and as such never received the funding or attention it should have. Once it was found to be targeting more than just the “homosexual scourge” and became HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) that the focus changed. By this time thousands of gay men had died. During this time frame the Pink Triangle, left behind in the 70s) made its way to popularity again with ACT UP!’s poster Silence is Death.That iconic image solidified this to be the symbol of queer resistance and empowerment. From this lead to the AIDS quilt that was started in 1985. It has been called the largest collectively ongoing community arts project in history and bears testament to the impact this disease has had on our community and the community at large. This iconic image has its roots from Cleve Jones, who had participants write down the name of a loved one lost to AIDS onto a white poster board. They were walked through the streets of San Francisco and later taped to the wall of a government building. During one such parade it began to rain and the names on the boards started to blur. It is said that at that point, Jones remarked that it “looks like a quilt,” thus giving rise to the quilt.

The 90s brought a lot of focus onto LGBT culture, our people were becoming more seen in television and movies, though not always in the most positive of light. Shows like the Golden Girls and the Simpsons often showed gay men in a campy light or lesbians is a lipstick view of themselves. This era gave rise to DAM! (Dyke Action Machine!) and the underrepresentation of butch lesbians in pop culture. The Human Rights Campaign became one of the focuses of driving conversation about LGBT people in mainstream media. They symbol, that we now all know, went through many iterations. HRC wanted a symbol that would showcase the values and virtues and first incorporated the groups torch as a focus for the symbol. They were passed up for the next three signs that incorporated the equal sign. After discussion and rebranding it ended with the current logo of blue background and the yellow equal sign. Both the Bisexual and Transgender flags rose out of the 90s because these groups were underrepresented in the current LGBT movement. We saw thrift stores catering specifically to the LGBT community as well as clothing brands, like 2(x)IST come into large acceptance. The founder of 2(x)IST, Gregory Sovell, was a former Calvin Klein employee decided to head out on his own course. Building upon the homoerotic nature of many Calvin Klein ads, Sovell decided to pitch is campaign on sexually provocative poses and scantily clad men. This gave him the ground he needed to be the premier brand some on most stores catering to gay men.

With the 21st century, we have seen many logos and companies grow and be replaced with new ones. Gay.com was popular when surfing the web was best done on a home pc and now has been replaced with the likes of Grindr and Tinder. We have seen the birth of gender-neutral bathrooms and the NOH8 logo. All things that show we are moving forward in our fight for our places in this world. We are finally seeing the HRC symbol being replaced with the Against Equality Logo. Many of the LGBTQ people of this era feel the HRC logo simply does not look out for our best interests anymore. That Equality was only given to those of certain affluency and many of us are left by the wayside in the wake of their forward movement. Many of us feel it was HRC focus to only include gay marriage as their focus and in essence slipping back to earlier times where the only way we could/should get rights is by assimilation into the dominant culture. This leaves out people of color, those who focus are not on marriage but basic rights, and those who economically cannot benefit from the standings of HRC. Perhaps it is a calling to return to our activists’ ways. We have seen that history changes constantly and when most needed, perhaps this is the stirrings of the voice wanting us to fight once again. Fight for our next level of acceptance and to move beyond the bigotry that is returning to us a thousand-fold. Are you hearing the call?

 

Support Modern LGBTQ Artists

I am an 80’s kid and I still love the 80’s today. How could you not, there were awesome sitcoms, some of the most iconic movies of the last 20 years, came out in the 80’s/ The fashion was fun, the language was on its own plateau, and video games were taking over every mall, strip mall, restaurant, and grocery store. Hell, even cell phones got their start in the Totally Tubular 80’s. It had also been just over thirty years since the events at Stone Wall, we were still considered the cast-off minority, the groups like ACT UP were starting, the battle for rights were ramping up to a massive peak, and GRID (AIDS) was the silent mass murderer of our people. If you were a rural gay kid like me, the options for role models were very limited. Gay male representation on television was left to the ascot wearing, pearl clutching flaming next door neighbor. Lesbians had the complete leather and denim wearing, mullet haired diesel dyke ready to kick in your face as opposed to talk to you. The Transgender community was often cast as the bad makeup wearing, and cheap clothes buying ladies of the night. What about Bisexuals? Forget it, you were lucky enough to be cast as either a gay or lesbian.

Where did we draw our strength to survive and become the fierce people we are? As a gay kid, I fell to drawing my strength from strong female characters. I didn’t have to worry about hiding the fact that I loved the Golden Girls or Designing Women, because they were a part of family TV. Watching the Facts of Life allowed me to deal with issues internally because I could understand the roles of Jo the tomboy and Blair the beauty queen. I had a Wonder Woman and Princess Leia doll when I was a kid and I played with my sister and her barbies more, sometimes, that I did my own toys. Basically, we learned to become strong from the strong characters we surrounded ourselves with. We would sing and dance to Female musicians like Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Janet Jackson, and so many more. Getting lost in novels like Little Women or Wuthering Heights.Actresses like Bette Davis, Judy Garland, and Meryl Streep. These were the defining pieces of who we wanted to become, they allowed us to see strength when we were being made fun of and lacked the courage. They gave us abilities to pattern after and the presence we needed to survive.  Now this is speaking from a young gay male perspective, obviously. But does that stand true still?

From roughly 1869 to now, we have watched our fight for rights build momentum, gain some ground, and even backslide a little bit. The one thing that our fight has done is allowed for some pretty amazing people to become a part of our history. We now have role models like Harvey Milk, that are none by all, as role models for young LGBTQ children. There has been massive increases in actors/actresses, television shows, movies, authors, artists, musicians, and books for us to pattern after and look to for inspiration. So why is it that since we now have such a wide range of people bringing talent to our communities that we don’t support them? Is it that we don’t see them because mainstream music still pushes popular artists and not give enough time for the smaller ones? That is a very good argument, but I also feel it is because we are condition to consume what others tell us is popular, good, or en vogue at any given time. We, as LGBTQ consumers, should be looking to our own communities for music, tv, books, moves, and etc. That isn’t to say that we should abandon people like Bruno Mars, Shawn Mendes, Vin Diesel, Gal Gadot, or the many others simply because they are straight. However, they are artists that may not exactly understand what it means to be LGBTQ. There are plenty of artists out there that come from similar backgrounds as us and don’t simply pay us lip service because it is in fashion now, to do so. So, let’s take a look at some of the artists out there and see what they have to offer. First up would be Cameron Hawthorn, a gay country musician who currently has four singles out that are worth checking out. The most popular is Dancing in the Living Room.This song speaks of the love between two people being who they are at their most intimate, dancing. Not worrying about anyone or anything else in the world. Just sweet dulcet tones over love song style country music. Looking for something a bit more Top 40, check out Wils and Open Up Babe. His voice is somewhere between a Shawn Mendes and Ed Sheeran. If R&B is more your style the Kehlani has what you need. Sultry voice with smooth beats reminds me of the days of En Vogue, TLC, and SWV. Good Life and CRZY are two of my favorites by her. Last visit into music would be the trans star SOPHIE. While she is labeled as pop, to me they are a bit more reminiscent of KPOP meets Trance. Their song It’s Okay to Cry does have a bit more pop flavor to it while Immaterial definitely goes to the further extremes. All are bright and poppy while playing with styles as much as blurring gender lines.

Authors can be a bit more confusion to pull. It would be easy enough to go back to Armistead Maupin the author of Tales in the City that took place in a small apartment building in San Francisco during the 80s-90s and mirrored many of the current events going on like the AIDS epidemic. I point him out only because they will be rebooting his series again for a new generation. I feel it is more relevant to be able to showcase authors that may speak to the people of this era and what they are living through, even though the classics are still important. Let’s start first with Michael Cunningham’s book A Home at the End of the World. This book is about two Cleveland, Ohio born men, one gay one straight,  who decide to raise a child together with the help of a surrogate mother, Clare. This group decided to live in a house outside of New York as a threesome. This book challenges all preconceived notions of sexuality, polyamorous relationships, and child rearing. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is an autobiographical novel about Alison and her siblings growing up in the home of their funeral director father who is also a closeted homosexual. This story documents the struggles Alison had with coming to terms with her own sexual identity. Perhaps you fancy something a bit more in the darker side? Look no further than Exquisite Corpse. This serial killer thriller was written by none other than transman Billy Martin, better known as Poppy Z. Brite. Many of you may know Poppy from her horror stories days with vampires and witches being some of the main characters. This book is about a serial killer who resembles Jeffrey Dahmer and falls in love with an HIV+ radio show host. Originally published in early 2000s is Michelle Tea’s Valencia. This book covers San Francisco subculture from sadomasochism to coming of age stories and focuses primarily on the lesbian area of Mission District. This book is 21 stories based on the author’s life. Lastly, if you prefer to read a book that does not hold to any gender identification, let me introduce you to Sphinx by Anne Garetta, this experimental novel is written without ever disclosing the genders of the main characters and only refers to them as “I” and “A.” This is a romance novel that is sure to leave you captivated and enthralled.

It is easy to keep going and show you so many ways you can support the LGBTQ community. The end point is remembered to support those that fight the fights with us. Standing strong together as one community allows us to support each other. Investing in people like we are shows that we cannot be driven by mass consumerism and what the media tells us is popular. We started our culture so many years ago with specific ways of speaking, modes of dress, hanky codes, symbols, and neighborhoods we chose to live in, why have we walked away from it. It is time to reclaim our homosexuality and show our love and strength, after all no one else will look out for our best interests. If there are musicians, authors, artists, and etc. you think should be showcased or just attention brought to, drop me a line or leave me a comment. I would love to hear what drives your passions.

 

One Stop, Amazing Shop

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In my early years after coming out, I remember going to the LGBTQ bookstores often. No, no not the adult shops cruising’ for a tryst. I mean an actual bookstore. Some of you kids may not fully remember them, but they were places you could go an buy books on all topics of LGBTQ culture. Need Pride jewelry? They had it. Need a new t-shirt with a bit of attitude for the bar this weekend, you betcha. How about some cool new decor for your fab pad, right over here on the counter, if you please. It was a one-stop shop of all things Queer. Sadly, over the years, these community centers have all but disappeared. At least I thought so until I had been out exploring with my friends.

I persuaded them to go to W29th and Detroit because it had been the epicenter of LGBTQ culture in Cleveland since the late 70s and I wanted to feel immersed. Granted, I used to go to that area when I spent some time here visiting. I remember going to A Man’s World, when it was still here, and the neighborhood was sketch to say the least. Since 2008, this neighborhood has become a hub of change. More businesses have moved to this area, new homes are being added, and remodeling what is there has become the new thing. I had heard that The Dean Rufus House of Fun was here and once we parked we decided to venture inside and take a look.

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As soon as I stepped through the door it was as if history itself had surrounded me. So many memories flooded back and it was almost like going home. Dean welcomed us in very energetically and offered help. A very engaging soul who treated his store like his home and us, as guests coming to visit. Being a southern boy, this was an immediate connection for me. Dean is amazing and full of history, he has been in that location for 13 years, and he has seen the neighborhood change. Want to know about the beginning of that area, he has that information. I learned so much about LGBTQ history from him in the 45 minutes we were there. He walked with us outside and showed us around the neighborhood, what was new and what had endured. Sharing with us how the building his store currently resides in was once the site of the first LGBTQ center of Cleveland. This man is a wealth of knowledge.

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Much like I remember from my past, this store carried everything you might need. Various tchotchkes abound, Pride flags and jewelry, clothing and even a local line of Men’s underwear called Bayne Wear. Yes kiddies, they also carry adult novelties as well, making it safe spot to buy your needs without facing the judging stares you may get from other places. They also carry a large selection of vintage vinyl and CDs; dedicated to all the songs and artists we grew up loving and singing. Books that still cater to our culture and even from local authors such as Ken Schneck’s book LGBTQ Cleveland.

You really need to get over there and check him out. I LOVE this place and you will too.  Be vocal and shop local. Keep your community strong and support their business.

 

Review of LGBTQ Cleveland

Recently, while out doing some photography on W 29th, I visited The Dean Rufus House of Fun  – review forthcoming- I picked up a book that I had been wanting to get for a hot minute. LGBTQ Cleveland is a book written by local author Ken Schneck. The book chronicles the LGBTQ history in Cleveland. Being a fairly new resident of the Cleveland area, I had been looking for a way to learn more about the LGBTQ history in Cleveland. Random searches turned up some information that had been in archives at CSU. This was all a good start but didn’t give me a picture of how things started and moved through time. Just before Pride I had seen a couple things popping up on my feed about this book and decided I wanted it.

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Ken wrote this book much like I, too, was thinking,  A way to find out about the community here in Cleveland. He had read an article in the Advocate that Cleveland’s LGBTQ community seemed as divided as the city itself. There are those who love it or those who would love to leave it. Not believing this about the city he moved to, he decided to ask his circle of friends their opinion and received much the same response. This was the spark for this book and one got which I am thankful. I moved to Cleveland from a very small rural town in southwestern Virginia and It has been hard for me to move from that small town mindset and out into this community. This book shows me that there is in fact a rich history here and it starts to instill pride in me about this city.

Each chapter is an inclusive “We…” showing how “We” as a community have come together to share in our victories and rally when we have setbacks. In the Chapter “We Connect,” we get to the all the groups that have provided needed information and solidarity. The backbones of our community that keeps us strong and focused on the changes that we need to make. Groups like Gay People’s Chronicle that gave us news about our community that other papers wouldn’t print, The Gay 90’s offering a beacon on the air waves as a means of speaking out, Cleveland Feminist Chorus that creates connections to people who otherwise may feel lost, and to the most recent Le Femme Mystique Burlesque that gives inclusion regardless of gender, orientation, size or gender expression. These are the very foundations of what makes a community strong.

Not long ago, bars and bathhouses were out community cornerstones. You may turn your nose up to it, but times were not as open as they are now. These were places we could go and be ourselves, freely. Even Cleveland had those places, places that shouldn’t be forgot. As they were our moments of fleeting freedom, the instilled in us the need for more and to fight for what rights we deserved. LGBTQ Cleveland shows those places, as well. Paying homage to places like the Leather Stallion Saloon (leatherstallion.com) being the oldest gay bar in Cleveland which opened in the 1970s. This bar has grown with the times and honors lesbians as well as gay men. Many of the bars this town once had, have gone by the wayside over the years. There are also mentions of places like Berkshire House, a place that was a gathering spot for the Lesbian community. These “safe places” were our refuge, our sanctity, and our church, even before churches started opening to us.

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Ken also gives us the beginnings of Activism and Pride celebrations in Cleveland. The book doesn’t sugar coat this history either. We can read about citizens of Cleveland that used their own resources in showing their hatred and bigotry. In a time when hate crime laws didn’t exist and definitely didn’t include LGBTQs, this was left unchallenged, except by our community. But rally we did. Many of these events are what prompted the first Gay Pride Celebration in 1974. However, it wasn’t until 1989 that it started gaining notice in the city. This event was held a W 29th and Detroit at the site of where the LGBTQ community center first stood. That block has remained a center for the gay community in Cleveland and is the site of a present day historical marker.

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This book has been an eye opener for me and has filled me with a renewed sense of pride for the city I now call home. This book has given me more cause to want to be included in this community and stand up for the change that the LGBTQ community, here, has fought so hard for. If you haven’t picked this book up yet, you need to do so. Visit places like The Dean Rufus House of Fun on W 29th and buy it local. You can get it from Ken Schneck’s website  just click his name. It is also available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Make sure you pick it up, knowing your history is important.