October is one of my favorite months of the year for several reasons. Among them are National Coming Out Day and of course Halloween. But what most excites me about October is that it is also National Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans History Month. Yay!
A Gay History Month was first proposed in 1994 by a social studies teacher named Rodney Wilson who, as a high school teacher in Missouri, was upset about the omission of gay history from textbooks. So he set out to make a difference. He organized a grassroots network of teachers and community leaders around the nation determined to create a month of celebration that focused on the contributions of gay and trans folk. The idea quickly gained traction when it drew endorsements from major homosexual organizations. The Human Right Campaign, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation all thought it was a fabulous notion.
However, in the first year a feeble showing of only two or three “official” proclamations from sympathetic political officials were given. But in 1995 the governors of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon, as well as the mayors of Boston and Chicago, declared October National Gay and Lesbian History Month. The really big deal came in July 1995 when the National Education Association passed an amendment supporting the establishment of Gay and Lesbian History Month as part of a schools curriculum. This was huge! The concept then was modeled after, and is similar in purpose to, Black History Month and Women’s History Month. Unfortunately in Utah’s high schools, students are still ignorant to Gay History Month as educators are forbidden by law to promote homosexuality in any positive manner.
The month of October was selected for Gay History Month for several reasons. One was that it did not conflict with Gay pride events typically held in June. Another reason was that October falls during the academic calendar year, when educational institutions are able to plan related activities. A third reason was that the first and second National Marches on Washington for gay rights were held in October of 1979 and 1987. National Coming Out Day was a created as a response to the 1987 march.
So there you have it. Gay History Month offers a chance to educate the world and ourselves, about who Gay and Trans people are, how we live and what we have accomplished. It provides a sense of pride for closeted gays and offers models of courage, creativity and achievement for those coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity.
As such, for this month’s issue, the Q is celebrating our allies. I want to honor a short list of friends of our community from back in the day when gays were generally viewed as repugnant and loathsome. Yes, Virginia there was a time when gays were not generally loved by Utah’s high society.
Lee Caputo and Elvin Gerrard were business partners who opened Radio City in 1948. They knowingly allowed gay people to use the bar as a social outlet for over 50 years. It was, for its time, the most famous homosexual bar in the tri-state area of Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.
Rose Carrier worked at most of the gay bars during her career and became a surrogate mother to the community. In 1973 she hosted her first annual Pajama Party at The Sun Tavern. For over 40 years she listened to the cares and woes of her gay and lesbian friends who often lost their own families by coming out.
Shirley Pedler was an executive director of the Utah Chapter of the ACLU and who was the first director to publicly defend homosexual rights in Utah. In 1977 she issued a statement condemning the Hotel Utah’s actions in canceling Gay Pride’s convention facilities’ reservations. Indignant at any abuse of police powers and infringement of individual rights, she filed a class-action suit in 1980 against BYU on behalf of the homosexual students who were being unjustifiably entrapped by BYU security.
Jeff Fox, a social activist, who as director of the Crossroads Urban Center opened it for the use of Salt Lake’s gay community without remuneration. Wasatch Affirmation, The Restoration Church, Unconditional Support, Gay Fathers, and a host of other fledgling support groups either were formed there or met there for years.
Dr. R. Jan Stout was a respected professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah’s Medical Center and a popular guest speaker. He argued the unpopular position in Utah that “the preponderance of evidence suggests that homosexuality is neither a matter of choice nor a question of identifiable environmental factors.” Before Lady GaGa, he was saying we were born this way.
Gerry Johnson and Lucille Warren, founders of “People Who Care,” were two Mormon women who in 1986 began an unofficial Mormon support group for parents of gays and lesbians. At the 1988 Fourth Annual Fordham Debate held at the University of Utah College of Law, Johnson sat on a panel as a proponent of gay rights.
Tom Godfrey, a Salt Lake City Councilman, gave the opening address, in 1987, at Affirmation’s International Conference held in Salt Lake City. In 1989, 20 years after Stonewall, he became the first Utah politician to officially address a Gay Pride Day event.
Gary and Millie Watts who head Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays have been very vocal and public supporters of the rights of Gay people. Gary Watts believes that homosexuality is not a choice, but rather a discovery. He said, “We want exactly the same things for all our children, gay or straight, including the right to be with someone they love.”
Ross “Rocky” Anderson, a civil rights lawyer and former mayor of Salt Lake City, as early as 1985, was speaking out on the “dismal opportunity for political recourse” which belongs to the gay rights activists. In 1996 he was one of the few Utah politicians supporting gay students at East High. As mayor he had the first municipal nondiscrimination act in Utah.
Teina Marie Nelson Scuderi has been a champion of LGBT people and their causes for over 25 years. She was a vivacious member of the Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire and threw her energy into organizing various fundraisers in the early days primarily for AIDS. She has served on Pride Day Committees and, in 2003, she co-founded Transgender Education Advocates with her husband and Rebecca Winter.
It would take a book to mention all the many others who opened themselves to disparaging remarks and ridicule to share in our struggle. So many stalwarts like Deeda Seed, who sponsored Salt Lake City’s first discrimination ordinance, Officer David Ward, a police liaison of the Salt Lake City Police Department, to the Gay and Lesbian Community Council of Utah, Sister Linda Bellemore, who organized the first AIDS ward in Utah, Randy Horiuchi and Jim Bradley who passed a Salt Lake County anti-discrimination ordinance, and Pete Suazo, a tireless proponent of a gay anti-hate bill in the state legislature.
These people and hundreds more stood on the right side of history. They were decent people who embraced America’s creed that all people are equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.