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.

 

All The Queen’s Men

Last night I experienced one of the most spectacular shows in all the drag I have seen. All the Queen’s Men made their eastside debut last night at ALL AXS and they knew how to bring the show. This amazing group rolled into town, took over the bar, and left the crowd begging for more. And, like I said, the best Drag King show I have ever had a chance to see. Their energy definitely took over the crowd and they knew how to work it. And they were part of the amazing shows that Billy Welker is bringing to his customers to make ALL AXS the most inclusive and friendly place to be in Willoughby.

Angelica Arkett, Terri Mann, Mr. Ohio King All-Star Matt Cockrin, and Santana Romero make up All the King’s Men.  If you have never been to a King show, then it is definitely something you need to experience. Sure, Queens can turn a look and duck walk across your wallet for tips, but Kings show the sexy side of male performers that both men and women fall for. My own experience with King shows were back home in Virginia and while they were fun, they were nothing like the show I experienced last night. Angelica was a captivating host, kept the audience engaged with her quick with on fleek lip syncs. Terri Mann is the MAN behind the show and just left you wanting to open your wallet for him. Your current reigning Mr. Ohio King All-Star Matt Cockrin gave you smoky intense and soulful lip syncs that just made your heart skip a beat. Santana Romero brought you flavor and rhythm that made you want to move your hips to his beat.

This group was crowd interactive and boy did the patrons eat it up. Many times, they were dragging the women to their feet to sweep them up in their intensity, while Angelica entranced the men and left the swooning. For some it this was their first ever show and for others it was their first ever King show. No matter which they were All the King’s Men treated them like familiar lovers, giving them more and leaving them wanting. High energy and captivating was the theme for each half of the show. The crowning performance, for me, was Terri Mann who performed a song mashup of 30+ songs, talk about turning it out.

I would like to say thank you for All the Queen’s Men for coming out and making an awesome Tuesday night at All AXS. You guys were incredible, and I loved the show. If you missed the show, never fear they will return, and don’t quote me, on March 25th. If I am wrong, I will update this post with the correct date. When they return, make sure you are there with your dollars out and ready to have an awesome time.

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No T, No Shade

If you have not been to ALL AX’S, then why the hell not? This bar has been steppin’ it’s pussy up almost every week. They are doing it for our community and to become a destination spot on the east side of Cleveland. What it needs to get there is you, so make sure you get out there and show them some support.  The weekend of February 22nd was a definitely step up and a history maker for the little town of Willoughby. Queens can pack a house, of that there is no doubt. A Queen throwing a read at a slightly drunk audience can be an amazing thing to witness. No matter if it is a drag show, drag brunch, or even a drag bingo, it is a guaranteed fierce time. Friday, February 22nd was a prime example, All AX’S in Willoughby played host to Veranda L’Ni, Kari Nickels, Aurora Thunder, and Natasshja Norielle. This was the first drag show in Willoughby, at least that I am aware of, and it truly went down in history.

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The show started about 10:30 pm and the house was packed long before the show even started. I am not sure that Billy Welker and the staff was truly ready for the experience that a drag show can bring. The energy and anticipation of the show was amazing and true to queen time telling, it started about twenty minutes late. If you have been to a Veranda show, then you know even late this queen can run the crowd. Her engagement is amazing, and her performance is one of the best I have seen in the Cleveland area. Kari Nickels is another queen that is amazing to watch. And they did not fail in packing the house. As you can see from the pictures, I did not get very close to the stage area, but it shows off the amount of people who turned out to support the show and the bar.

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These Queens worked this crowd, not a one stayed on the stage and posed. Each one of them worked for their all mighty dollars and the people were as eager to hand them out. The floating through the throngs of people, lip syncing for their very lives, as it were.” The crown was intense and the largest that the bar has seen, so far. Yes, there was some waiting for drinks and yes they were a bit understaffed, but the staff at ALL AX’S never walked away from taking care of us, never complained, and did their best to provide the service needed. Yes, there will be growing pains along the way, but Billy Welker and his staff will not be scurred away. I mean damn, how many other bars have you been to have called in all they support to help out and even bring in people from the crowd to help serve everyone? That’s right, henny, not many. Special shout outs to Dennis Baker for rolling up his sleeves, although we tried to get him to take off his shirt instead, jumping in to help run dishes to the kitchen and serving drinks to those who were waiting.

Now if you missed this show, have no fear they will be back to take our money and wow us again. This time make sure yo ass is in attendance. March 8th and then again March 22nd will bring back Veranda L’Ni and her crew. So, get out ya stripper change and bring yo’self out and tips those bitches. Oh, and buy some drinks, after all the bartenders are there to serve…. Just not shade.

 

The T On All AX’S

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Friday February 15, 2019 was the first LGBTQ night after All AX’S had their grand opening as an LGBTQ inclusive bar two weeks before. I wanted to check it out to see the differences from that visit. The idea of having a LGBTQ bar destination on the east-side of town is still an amazing idea. While many people feel the decline of LGBTQ bars is no big deal, I feel that it is important is providing structure to a community especially in a part of town that doesn’t have a lot of LGBTQ options.

Billy Welker is the owner behind All AX’S and is committed to making this spot all inclusive. A few of us had reached out to give a few suggestions on how to get the word out to the local community. One easy one that I suggested was to get equality stickers or rainbow stickers so that anyone would be able to identify it as a safe place. Upon walking up to the bar, we noticed the stickers in the main windows. Not overly stated, but if you know what you are looking for, they are a nice reminder that this bar is welcoming. Just peeking into the bar, it was easy to notice that there were more people this time.

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You could hear the music from the outside and was a nice beat. I knew that it was going to be DJ Toni Freeze and her set is always good. Always a great combination of modern and classic dance beats. There was about 20 people in the bar and was a good turnout of only the second publicized night of it being a LGBTQ club. The vibe of the bar was warm and fun, all seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere. If you read the first review of the bar, I mentioned that it had a kitschy atmosphere that is truly inviting. The walls are covered with vinyl record album covers, strings of multicolored lights stretch between the columns of the bar, bright mirrors behind the liquor selection gives it a larger appearance.

The have a good selection of beers and liquor and the prices are really good. A few beers and couple mixed drinks definitely do not set you back as much as many of the places downtown. The drinks are mixed well and skew a bit more to the liquor side, rather than the mixer. Their beer selection offers a lot of local flavors, as well as plenty larger labels. Food menu is more to just bar foods. You can find shrimp baskets, burgers, wings and fries, plenty enough to help soak up the night of drinking. There is a patio out back and will be awesome once the weather warms up for enjoying it.

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Many people were saying how awesome it was or that they couldn’t believe there was a gay bar in Willoughby. So, the word is out, and people are reacting to it. The entire time I was there I only heard a couple people have anything to say that wasn’t tinged with excitement. There were a few heterosexual people who did ask if the people in the bar were gay. Once they answered, that was about it. Only one seemed to make any kind of joke about it. The bar stayed busy up until about midnight, when I left.

I talked with Ms. DJ Toni Freeze and she asked how we liked the music. I told her that it was a great mix of songs, current Top 40 and back to the 80s. She mentioned that she thought people were reacting well to what was being played and that she tried changing up the music depending on the people that were in the bar. We talked a bit more about her set and style of music and she was happy that Billy offered her a reoccurring gig at the bar. I feel that her style of music will be a good balance for all people that come to the bar and not alienate any particular group. DJ Freeze also has a website for being able to download music she has put together and you can download them here.

This Friday, All AX’S will be hosting a drag show starring Veranda L’NI and will host Kari Nickels, Aurora Thunder, and Natasshja Norielle. The show starts at 10:30 with no cover charge, I mean how can you beat that. This will be a good measure of how the success of the bar will be. If you are in the area you really need to come out and give your support to the bar and check out a good show. I have seen Veranda several times, since I have moved to Cleveland and she always puts on a great show and works the crowd well.

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Billy Welker is doing everything he can to make this a destination and it is going to take you guys coming out and supporting it. If you have ideas of things you would like to see at the bar, you can drop a line in the comments section or better yet, visit the bar and let the staff know. Show your support and interest. Let’s make it a fun place to be and make the bar a success.

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