Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Surprising Glimpse of Gay Spokane from 1976

A quick post to highlight a really interesting newspaper article that one of my students, Logan Camporeale, discovered in a 1976 issue of the Spokane Chronicle: "Homosexuals Expose Conditions in Spokane As They Plan for Halloween 'Queens' Ball."


I began reading it with some trepidation, expecting ugly stereotypes and dismissive language, and was surprised to find instead a very sympathetic article that used the upcoming drag queen contest to give voice to at least some of Spokane's gay community from 40 years ago. It is interesting that Spokane seems to have regularly hosted such events with up to 1,500 in attendance, that there was a gay part of downtown with multiple bars, and that at least some gays were speaking on the record about their problems and their goals, including marriage equality.

Go ahead and read the article yourself if interested. I did a quick search for some keywords and for the reporter, Lew Pumphrey, and did not come up with any similar stories.

A great resource for delving further are the oral histories gathered at Spokane's Pride, an ongoing project of my EWU colleague Dr. Laura Hodgman. A portion of an interview with Leonard Mace addresses coronation balls like the one in Spokane, for example. And this interview with Gene Otto provides a less-rosy view of the relationship between the Spokane Police Department and the gay community than we read in the Chronicle piece.

Reading this, you can get a feeling that at least some Spokane gays were very optimistic about their future in 1976.  With the great strides that blacks and women had made in the 50s and 60s, they probably thought it was their turn. Little did they know that it would be almost four decades before marriage equality would come to Spokane.

3 comments:

Spokanes Pride said...

Hi Larry and Logan: Yes, an interesting piece. My impression is that, in general, the Spokesman/Chronicle did write quite a number of progressive articles on LGBT matters, at least from the 1970s on. The newspaper also notoriously (within LGBT activist communities) refused to print the world “lesbian” when Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays first attempted to publicize its meetings in 1984. Apparently, the word “gay” was okay, but “lesbian” was a different matter. I think LGBT activists were optimistic in the 1970s—and then there was a setback with HIV/AIDS. People have suggested to me that, in the 1980s, fear surrounding the disease “sort of made it okay” to discriminate against the gay community again. In a plug for our graduate program: These are some of the matters graduate students will be working on in an upcoming research seminar on LGBT Spokane.

Buffalo Brian Breen said...

The “Gay Balls” as they were referred to, had their beginning back in the late 1960s and were held at the Foresters of America Hall building located on Pacific just West of Division upstairs in “The Grotto Hall”. The events increased in size with people coming from all over to the point that they had to move to a bigger venue and the Sheraton Hotel which was the only place willing to take the event. I worked every Gay Ball from 1969 until the mid-1990s, The Imperial Lilac Court always hired two Cops basically to make sure the “Straights” didn’t cause any problems. There were very few problems at any of those events. The events offered an opportunity for members of the Gay Community who were not “out” to really have a great time and interact without fear. I met many great people during that time and some became good friends including “Jack” Allen who is mentioned in the story linked by Larry Cebula above.
Jack at the time was the owner of the Nighthawk Tavern one of the few Gay Bars in Spokane. He was later murdered.

http://www.spokesman.com/.../dna-evidence-in-2007-murder.../

Two years after the story Cebula linked, the infamous Chris Peck “Swish society” story appeared in the Spokesman Review drawing the ire of the local gay community.

https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1314&dat=19791118...

The most difficult aspect of keeping the peace at these events was being the “Independent Judge” of the Drag Queen Beauty Contest especially when the DQs from San Francisco started attending, someone was always unhappy with me.
These events were great fun even for my wife who would on occasional tag along with me, and the stories I could tell.

The bottom line really is that somethings have changed and somethings remain the same.

Buffalo Brian Breen said...


The “Gay Balls” as they were referred to, had their beginning back in the late 1960s and were held at the Foresters of America Hall building located on Pacific just West of Division upstairs in “The Grotto Hall”. The events increased in size with people coming from all over to the point that they had to move to a bigger venue and the Sheraton Hotel which was the only place willing to take the event. I worked every Gay Ball from 1969 until the mid-1990s, The Imperial Lilac Court always hired two Cops basically to make sure the “Straights” didn’t cause any problems. There were very few problems at any of those events. The events offered an opportunity for members of the Gay Community who were not “out” to really have a great time and interact without fear. I met many great people during that time and some became good friends including “Jack” Allen who is mentioned in the story linked by Larry Cebula above.
Jack at the time was the owner of the Nighthawk Tavern one of the few Gay Bars in Spokane. He was later murdered.

http://www.spokesman.com/.../dna-evidence-in-2007-murder.../

Two years after the story Cebula linked, the infamous Chris Peck “Swish society” story appeared in the Spokesman Review drawing the ire of the local gay community.

https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1314&dat=19791118...

The most difficult aspect of keeping the peace at these events was being the “Independent Judge” of the Drag Queen Beauty Contest especially when the DQs from San Francisco started attending, someone was always unhappy with me.
These events were great fun even for my wife who would on occasional tag along with me, and the stories I could tell.

The bottom line really is that somethings have changed and somethings remain the same.