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?

 

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.

 

#KiltedBros

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Nestled in the 5th Street Arcade is Cleveland, Ohio’s very own kilt store, Kilted Bros. However, this kilt store isn’t like any other kilt store out there. These two guys started their business in October of 2014, as they say over the course of one evening. Jefferson and Nick had been wearing kilts for about 15 years before they decided to open Kilted Bros. Today they are located in the 5th Street Arcade and planning to move to a bigger location across the hall.

“We believe in comfort and marching to your own drummer. If that’s you, drop your pants, and get into a Kilted Bros kilt”, says Kilted Bros. This isn’t your traditional kilt store, they believe that kilts are for everyone, for any occasion, and any heritage. So come in, drop your pants and put on a kilt.

They offer traditional 5 and 8 yard Tartan style kilts and the more modern Cargo kilts, which include pockets and snaps. Their Hybrid kilts combine Cargo kilts with the ability to include inserts of any tartan designs or colors. One of their newer styles of kilts involve using a sublimation printing process, using heat to transfer ink to fabric to create various designs. At present they offer a Puppy Bone Leather Flag and Bear Flag Paw option, that are also cargo styled kilts.  All of their kilts are hand sewn, so they can accommodate any special orders you may have. Build time can vary; depending on the order, but usually takes about 6 weeks. They also offer a wide range of accessories to go along with your kilt; sporrans, belts, kilt pins, fly plaids, Ghillie shoes, tartan vests, kilt hose, and much more. Cant find it in the store, no worries you can order it from there website.

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Jefferson and Nick do travel the year, going to various Pride, Bear, and Leather events, selling their brand. They fully embrace an inclusive mentality and believe that all men should live a pant free lifestyle. Women are welcome, as well. They have built kilts especially for them, so if you need specific measurements they can set you up. Want to outfit your wedding, they got that covered. Just stop by and talk to them.

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Visiting their shop is amazing; their staff is welcoming and helpful. Never wore a kilt? No problem, they are there to walk you through your first purchase. They help with providing measurements, showing you options, and even walking you through ordering online, if they do not have what you are looking for. They truly treat you as a member of their family and the reason why I keep going back. This is my favorite place in all of Cleveland and I love these guys.

Yes they are LGBTQ friendly, they even have a Bear Pride kilt which is on the national Tartan registry and can be view here. That is one of two designs that Nick has registered, the other is the Pride of Cleveland tartan. These are just two of their many designs they carry. Truly something for every flavor.

They have made me a believer and I am in a kilt as often as I can be. When people ask me about my kilts I always tell them that once you try one on, there is no going back. They are quite possibly the most comfortable garments I have ever worn. Then I always flash them the Kilted Bros logo. If you are a person of your own style and confidence, then these guys are for you. Check them out and drop your pants.

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Kilted Bros.

530 Euclid Ave. #16 Cleveland, OH 44111

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.

 

I kilt it!!!

KILTS!!! I love them, what more can I say. They are an amazing piece of fashion. Why more men don’t wear them, I can’t seem to understand. At present I have 9 and it will be growing from there, thanks to Kilted Bros in downtown Cleveland. While there may be some Irish and Scottish in my lineage, my love for them is because of how they look and feel. After putting on my first one, I was hooked. I have always been fascinated with them but seemed to lack the courage and accessibility to wear one. At least until I moved to Cleveland almost two years ago. My best friend, Tammy Mellert, had mentioned that a local kilt vendor was at Pagan Pride and they had a shop downtown. I promptly replied that we needed to go. My heart was racing with excitement and fear. I laid awake thinking about the possibilities. Her husband had worn one before and said he liked it. I figured if he could, so could I. My mind was filled with the possibilities. I poured over their site studying all they had to offer. My mind reeling with options and getting ideas as to what I wanted. I tried not to get my hopes up on any particular style, for fear of them not having it. I studied the videos on how to measure and what would work. Finally, the day arrived and we went to their shop. One of the representatives Eric was working that day. We advised him that I had never worn a kilt, but I did know my size. I looked over their stock and immediately fell in love with a tartan that was mostly purple. Tammy said that should be the one I tried on, she knew that purple was one of my favorite colors. The other being black, which was also in the tartan. It is called the Pride of Scotland. So, finding my size, I absconded to the dressing room to ditch my pants. I knew that tradition stipulates to wear them regimental, so I dropped my undies and began to strap into my kilt. Once I had it on, I knew that I was in love with it. However; I hadn’t stepped out of the dressing room yet. My nerves kicked in and immediately was afraid of how I would look to others. I knew I had to come out or get dressed. I swallowed my fear and opened the curtain and stepped out. Both my best friend and Eric said that the colors worked very well on me. I stepped in front of the mirror and saw myself for the first time. I knew I liked it, but still had the fear in the back of my mind that “men don’t wear skirts.” Tammy assured me I looked good in it and I knew I wanted to, so they only thing to do was buck up and buy it. I did and haven’t looked back. I wore it out of the shop that day and her husband had also worn his in solidarity. We went to a few places before heading home, to get the feel of wearing it in public. It was freeing to wear something so comfortable. I loved it so much that in two weeks I went back for a second one. Slowly, my kilt wardrobe began to grow and I wanted to take it to the next level and start wearing them more. The next step was to wear them to work. At the time I was working in retail as a manager of a Sunglass Hut, since fashion is part of what drives their culture and the uniqueness of fashion is their mainstay, I thought I would give it a try and ask them. They wanted to see pictures to make sure it wasn’t gimmicky. I assured them that it wasn’t costume quality; in fact my kilts cost easily $150. After showing a picture they conceded to allow me to wear it. So, I donned my favorite kilt, The Pride of Scotland Tartan, and went to work There was that initial fear when I got out of the car and crossed the parking lot. The tassels on my sporran beating in time to my racing heart. Then I heard it; someone recognized I was in a kilt. “Awesome Kilt” was yelled at me across the parking lot. Immediately my confidence and ego shot through the roof and I strutted the rest of the way to work. I wore them almost every day and people would see me through the door and stop in to see me. This in turn always resulted in a sale. It was awesome. I wear them every chance I can get. When someone asks me why my response is always “try one on and feel how comfortable it is, you will never go back.” My thanks goes out to my best friend Tammy Mellert for dragging me to get my first one and to Kilted Bros (www.kiltedbros.com) for being a local small business in Cleveland. Without them I wouldn’t have this addiction. I will be reviewing their store soon, so stay tuned.