Giving a Rat’s Ass about LGBTQ History, 2017 edition

My grandfather, who in conversation would often ask “Why should I give a rat’s ass?” as if out of the blue, loved to tell stories of yesteryear.  Although I was never sure if his salty language came from growing up in the Thumb or working in Flint’s factories, I came to understand his storytelling as a significant means of conveying personal values, culture, and history to his grandkids.

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Jon Nalley’s Affidavit

Thanks to Jon Nalley’s arrest, their names live on.

On January 23, 1991, New York police arrested 263 demonstrators following the rush hour takeover of Grand Central Station by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.  ACT UP members brought the city’s evening commute to a halt.  A banner hung over the Metro North arrival board that read “One AIDS Death Every 8 Minutes.”

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Homage to Newsletters

The stapled sheets of paper contained everything from the puzzling to the profound.

“Help us find the ‘cow collar’…  During the Gay Pride Week rally Steve lent us a collar (or whatever it is called) to hold down the papers on the table,” the Association of Suburban People newsletter announced in September 1977.  Anyone with information on the object’s disappearance was urged to call Wes.

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Origin Stories

The statewide LGBTQ civil rights advocacy group Equality Michigan, also known as EQMI, made an embarrassing gaffe last month when it used the wrong photo to identify organization founder Henry Messer in promoting a key annual fundraiser.  Instead of Messer, the promotion showed his partner of 62 years, Carl House.  EQMI then exacerbated its mistake by again identifying House as Messer at the event itself.

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The Purging of Ann Arbor’s (Queer) Past

I knew criminal court cases could be a gold mine for researching LGBTQ history.  I did not know such records were so vulnerable.

As I recounted in an earlier blog post, my path to queer remembering started in the late 1980s with looking into old gross indecency and sodomy cases at the Genesee County Court House, unkind clerical staff and all.

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The Q Word

Last month I received some feedback about Michigan LGBTQ Remember that caught me off guard.

The message came from Leonard Graff, who was a key and pioneering activist in the Gay Liberation Movement at Michigan State University in the early 1970s.  Leonard expressed appreciation for the project, then shared his deep dislike for the Q at the end of LGBTQ.

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Obits as Primary Sources

It’s back to school time and I am in teacher mode.

One of the ways I have prodded students over the past several years to understand how historians study the past is to have them analyze primary sources.  Put simply, primary sources are documents of some sort that provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence.  Examples include personal journals, legislative hearings, census records, emails, newsletters, photographs, and oral histories.

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Gay Funerals

So far as I can remember, the first gay funeral I ever attended was for Ralph Wilson.

I knew dear Ralph from the University of Michigan-Flint, where he was one of the few semi-out gay students on campus in the early 1990s.  He got a job with the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project in Ferndale after he graduated and was killed in a freeway accident driving home from the Timesquare nightclub.

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Queer Expats

Remembering Michigan’s LGBTQ past needs to take into account its queer expats.

Born here, these former Michiganders ended up elsewhere.  Some fled to escape family rejection or local hostility or sexual boredom.  Others moved away in pursuit of new kinship or some semblance of local tolerance or sexual opportunities.  Some left early on in their lives.  Others resettled in retirement.

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