Interview excerpt about local gay spaces in the 1960s
Following are excerpts from an interview with a white gay man who lived in the Durham area in the 1960s. He wished to remain anonymous.
Transcript Interviewee … I knew where the places were to go and meet people. … Wilson Library at UNC, for instance, was pretty open. And I guess that hotel that became the Jack Tar [the Washington Duke Hotel]… . There was a bar there. You could meet people with similar interests, shall we say. And … there was a place in southern Durham County, I think called the Ponderosa…. It was out in the boonies and people would go out there for drinks and get together.
And around the [Duke] campus you could meet people, too. But it was much more open in Chapel Hill than it was in Durham. Once at a Friends of the Library dinner at UNC, there was a visiting speaker…, a poet. She spoke to the group and made very clear that she knew of the scene at the Wilson Library and people were like (he gasps).
I don’t know about the scene for blacks. Sometimes you’d see blacks in these other places, of course.
Interviewer … at the Ponderosa?
Interviewee Yes, oh yes. It was a very democratic crowd, I would say.
The Feminist Newsletter/Feminary
In 1973, the Feminist Newsletter (which continued in the tradition of the previous and irregularly published Research Triangle Women’s Liberation Newsletter) began publishing every other week, changing its name to Feminary in 1974. Beginning in 1977, Feminary changed to a journal format and evolved into “a feminist journal of the South emphasizing the lesbian vision.”
These publications included reviews of books, magazines, art shows, films, and records; essays and viewpoint and opinion pieces; local and national women’s news; announcements by women’s groups; interviews with local women; creative writing; free ads, and a calendar of events. From the days of stencils and mimeograph machines through desktop publishing, these publications were instrumental in presenting and discussing timely issues (personal and political), publicizing local events, and creating a vibrant lesbian feminist community.
For more information about Feminary and for access to many issues of the journal, see the Feminary, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Mab Segrest papers at Duke University’s Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Durham Women’s Radio Collective (DWRC), 1971-circa 1980
DWRC produced short (three-minute) broadcasts called “Women’s Voices” that were played twice daily throughout the week. Topics included lesbians with children, movie reviews with a feminist slant, women’s poetry, and health issues. The collective, which also hosted the three-hour “Women’s Music Show" on Sunday evenings, was probably the first station to air lesbian commentary and music in North Carolina. The programs were aired on WDBS-FM, which broadcasted from Duke University’s East Campus.
DWRC provided a way for women to get experience in broadcasting and communicate to the wider community about issues important to them. Lesbians were always a part of the collective. Two of the founding members went on to work in public radio in Georgia and California.
Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists (TALF), 1973-1988
TALF originated on Duke University’s East Campus as the Lesbian Rap Group, part of the Duke Gay Alliance. In order to reach a wider community of women, the group moved off campus, regrouped as the Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists, and began meeting at the YWCA on West Chapel Hill Street. With the closing of the Chapel Hill Street Y, TALF met at the Tubman Y on Umstead Street and then for many years at the Y on Proctor Street. Before its demise around the end of 1988, TALF met briefly at the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship as plans for Our Own Place, a lesbian space, were evolving.
TALF had monthly meetings on wide-ranging topics—secretarial work, politics, lesbian mothers, and violence against women, for example. Any topic that someone wanted to present got the green light. TALF filled an important social role, organizing potluck dinners and several dances a year—often at Halloween, New Year’s Eve, and Valentine’s Day. This pivotal organization was a space for women who came mainly to socialize with other lesbians and also for the more politically oriented to organize around a variety of issues.
Audio clip about going to women’s dances at the YWCA
In this selection from a 2012 oral history, Lucy Harris remembers going to the women’s dances held at the YWCA.
Transcript Before that time, when we would have women’s dances, women would come from all over the state, because this was the only place in the state that had anything other than bars. And so, we had a lot of the dances at the YW[CA], which is now Camelot Academy. Do you know Camelot Academy on Vickers? It’s not very big. And, but, it had a porch all the way around, and the place would be just, like, overflowing with women who literally came from all over the state. A lot of women from Fort Bragg, from military bases would come. It would be the only time they could be out in the world.
Not many straight people went to those dances. (laughs) It was very funny, this friend of mine picked me up to go to a dance, and I said, “It’s so nice that I’m not the only straight woman that goes to the dances.” And I assumed she was straight, and she wasn’t! (laughs) She got a big kick out of that. But, yeah, there were some straight and bi women who would come to the dances. And my son came to just about every dance. He was kind of the little mascot. He loved it.
RFD: A Country Journal for Gay Men Everywhere
RFD: A Country Journal for Gay Men Everywhere is a reader-written quarterly magazine focused on gay country living and alternative lifestyles. Several local gay men were involved in the creation of RFD, and two issues from the 1970s were printed in Durham.
Whole Women Press, 1976-1981
Leslie Kahn and Nancy Blood founded Whole Women Press as a way for lesbian feminists to control their own stories and print items important to them. In addition to small jobs for local feminist organizations and businesses, they printed Break de Chains of Legalized U. $. Slavery—a book written by women incarcerated at the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women in Raleigh and compiled and distributed by a coalition of members of Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists and the North Carolina Hard Times Prison Project in 1976. They also printed Sleeping Beauty: A Lesbian Fairy Tale by Vicki Gabriner, Sign Language by Monica Raymond, Crazy Quilt by Susan Wood Thompson, and a number of issues of the journals Feminary and Sinister Wisdom. Other women who ran the press over time were Eleanor Holland, Cris South, and Jackie T.
Ladyslipper Inc. (formerly Ladyslipper Music) and Women’s Music, 1976-present
Ladyslipper began as a four-page resource guide devoted to the musical accomplishments of women artists. The goal of its founders, Laurie Fuchs and Joanne Abel, was to create a comprehensive guide to all the recordings women had ever made, a task that proved harder than they expected, since there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions, very few of which could be found in research libraries at the time. In addition to cataloging women’s music and offering many of the items in its catalogs for sale, Ladyslipper produced concerts and recorded artists on the Ladyslipper Music label. Today, the Ladyslipper Music Online Catalog and Resource Guide contains listings for over 10,000 current and past titles by a wide range of female musicians, writers, comics, and composers. At its peak, hundreds of thousands of recordings were being distributed to individuals, stores, distributors, schools and libraries annually; hundreds of thousands of copies of the annotated Ladyslipper Catalog & Resource Guide of Music by Women were being mailed out three times a year; revenues were over $2 million a year; and 16 women were employed full time, in addition to several part-timers and seasonal workers.
The Ladyslipper catalog was often the only source to which rural and closeted lesbians could turn to learn about and have access to the musical side of lesbian culture. It was also one of the reasons many lesbians moved to Durham. They often first heard of the Bull City through the catalog and left their geographically and socially isolated homes for a place more welcoming.
Kathy Tomyris’s Olivia Distribution, Durham's first women’s music distribution enterprise, merged with Ladyslipper in 1977. From 1977 through the mid-1980s, Ladyslipper produced concerts featuring many female artists including Alix Dobkin, Cris Williamson, Holly Near, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Alive!, and Margie Adam. Women from all over North Carolina flocked to these concerts to hear music that spoke to their lives. Learn more about Ladyslipper through their website.
Pocket Theater and Desperadoes, 1976
In 1975 Rebecca Ranson and Coke Ariail founded Pocket Theater, focusing on original and experimental plays. On March 25, 1976, the world premiere of Ranson’s play Desperadoes, about a woman exploring lesbian relationships, opened at the theater’s Main Street venue. In a clear sign of the times, the review in Duke University’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, never mentions the theme.
After its successful first run, Ranson revised Desperadoes and added music by Lisa Uyanik for a new production. It was performed in Durham again in 1977 and then traveled to New York, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, and Atlanta. Durham’s rich heritage of LGBTQ+ theater productions could be said to start with this groundbreaking production.
Bars in the 1970s and early 80s
Bars played an important role in the lives of many lesbians and gay men. They saw them as a refuge from homophobia, a place where they could be themselves and show intimacy in a way that they couldn’t in the outside world. LGBTQ+ folks could dance, hold hands, and kiss in these safe spaces. In the 1970s some members-only bars openly discriminated against people of color, and African Americans would sometimes ask whites to invite them as a guest in order to gain entrance. Older lesbians have shared fond memories of dancing the night away at these bars.
In this clip, Larry Wright speaks about the gender segregation that he saw when he went to local gay bars in the 1970s, before Pride marches started in North Carolina.
Transcript One thing that it does strike me is that there was a a lesbian bar, but the two didn’t mix like they do now. You know, when you’d have—we’d certainly have drag queens, you know, and there’d be … (trails off). And it seems to be that the drag queens attract, the drag shows attract women. But it just didn’t seem like they came into the men’s bars, and the men didn’t go into the women’s. There just wasn’t—And I think a lot [of what changed] had to do with the Pride [marches] and the things where people came together and registered as a common body their willingness to show pride in who they were. And I think that a lot of that brought people together.
Audio clip from oral history with Mignon Hooper, who speaks about going to the bar called 42nd Street, which later became the Power Company, and how welcoming it was to people from all walks of life.
Transcript But you’ll hear older gay and lesbians throughout the state who used to go say, “Girl, do you remember The Power Company? Ooh, do you remember how we danced in there?” And it was like people would dance as if there were no tomorrow, and they would dance until three or four o’clock in the morning. But it became a place where, because of the openness for people who were in whatever place on the spectrum of queer, it became a place where those who were not welcome in other venues were allowed to be there. So you had mixed-race couples who came there because they didn’t have to deal with the sneers and vicious attacks from folks who didn’t approve of mixed-race relationships, particularly black/white relationships. And you had folks who were immigrants who would come, because no one cared if you were an immigrant, and you had older folks who heard about it and came. So I had professors from the Economics department [at North Carolina Central University]–I remember a professor and he and his wife were there. And he saw me and he goes, ‘Hi! Isn’t this place great? My wife and I, we really love it!’ I was like, “Perpetrator! [laughter] We can’t have anything! You know, what’s ours is yours, what’s yours is yours. Come on, man, is nothing sacred?”
But everyone was welcome there, and you would see some of everyone there. People would come in after their wedding reception was over and people still wanted to party, and the bride and groom and whole wedding party would come in there and dance. But it was a very welcoming place in that way. And that was a big part of my orientation to Durham, and I met so many people there from so many different walks of life. So many different professions and aspiring professions. So there were professional contacts, social contacts, romantic contacts, and it just became a major hub for the city of Durham.
Soul singer John Snells performed in gospel choirs and at nightclubs in the early 1970s. He sometimes performed in drag with the tagline, “The He, the She, the It,” fronting a group of gender-bending performers called the Rocksteady Dancers. He was also involved with the Duplex Black Gold Music Program, which assisted black artists in producing, owning, and selling their own music and talent.
Women’s Sports, 1970s and 80s
Many lesbians found community playing on Durham County Parks and Recreation teams. Generally a mix of lesbian and straight women, the numerous teams included the Red Zingers (sponsored by the vegetarian restaurant Somethyme), Diamond Lil’s, Safe Sox, Wee Shop, and Our Gang—all softball teams; the Flames, Old Flames, and Bulls, who played soccer; and Ladyslipper, a basketball team. Meg Christian, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, captured this feeling of community in her classic song, “Ode to a Gym Teacher.” In Atlanta, the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance softball team would stand with their caps over their hearts and play this song before each game.
Audio clip about assembling The Newsletter
Lacking a local newsletter after 1976, a group of women started The Newsletter in 1981, which lasted as a monthly newsletter with an updated mid-month calendar, “Around Our Triangle,” until at least 2001. In this selection from a 2012 oral history, Lucy Harris remembers volunteering with The Newsletter and the privacy recipients needed.
Transcript And The Newsletter was always wrapped. I mean there were like fifty staples around. I mean it was so, so, so, so important for people to not have to worry about the mail carrier or anybody else knowing. There were a lot of very closeted people who got The Newsletter all over the state. Some people also had it delivered in an envelope. They paid extra to have it delivered in an envelope. But for most, for many people, the highlight of the newsletter was the calendar and the inserts. Oh, you know, it probably wasn’t that many pages. You could only have so many inserts to be able to staple it closed. And everybody wanted to have an insert if you were having any event. If you wanted anybody to come, it had to be in The Newsletter or forget it; no one was going to know about it because this is, you know, no computers. And so, if you had—were going to do an event and wanted it to be announced in the newsletter, it could be listed in the calendar. But then if you wanted an insert you had to bring 500 or 1,000 copies and you had to be there at collating to help insert your insert. So sometimes we would have like 20 people at collating. It was actually really fun.
Recollection about creating family through The Newsletter
In this written recollection, Sherry Kinlaw remembers the importance of the community created by The Newsletter.
Transcript The friends I made while working on The Newsletter formed my new family. My fellow lesbian feminists felt like a special secret club. I remember the first Pride March in Durham back in the 70s [actually 80s]. I was a marshal. One of the women marching was caught in a photo that made its way into the newspaper. She lost her job! Everything we did was undercover and out of sight… . We saw ourselves as radical feminists. I still do. Feminary eventually faded and The Newsletter remained viable for many years. This publication was on time and consistent. These were my two priorities. It grew in size and covered many topics, but not in so much depth that it became burdensome. Lesbians were welcome to join the group and some of us left to pursue other interests as they became available. I started a business.
Can you imagine a bunch of young women sitting in a circle in someone’s living room or around a kitchen table to discuss patriarchy, gender bias, and issues of great concern for women and lesbians alike? I imagine you can, because women have gathered in this manner for a long, long time. I imagine women who feel oppressed or on the outside of the norm are still meeting in this manner and having these types of discussions, in private, all over the globe.
Recollection about the The Newsletter’s treatment of the AIDS epidemic
In this written recollection, Patience Vanderbush reflects on the role of lesbian publications such as The Newsletter in bringing men and women together during the AIDS epidemic.
Transcript I think an interesting area of study of lesbian publications over this period would be the degree to which HIV/AIDS was in our consciousness and changing the ways we interacted with and worked with gay men and the ways we perceived our sense of community with them. The very first article that I wrote for The Newsletter was about the Lesbian and Gay Health Project (LGHP) (“Health Project’s Outreach is Community-Wide,” August 1986), and I also wrote articles about “Lesbians and AIDS” (January 1987) and “Lesbians, Gays, and Sodomy Laws” (August 1988). (During the same period that I wrote for The Newsletter, I also wrote some articles about HIV/AIDS and other issues for the Front Page, a statewide gay and lesbian newspaper published in Raleigh by Jim Baxter.) I believe that the community building, organizing, and visibility that came about as a result of the onset and early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic were major factors in the civil rights gains for our LGBT communities in subsequent years.
Recollection from a founder of The Newsletter
In this written recollection, Sherri Zann Rosenthal remembers the resourcefulness required by the founders of The Newsletter.
Transcript I was one of the group that started it, back when we took turns “printing” it on a mimeograph machine in the basement at the 604 W. Chapel Hill Street building, which housed War Resisters League. The mimeograph machine may have belonged to them.
I think a significant part of the story includes that we had very little money. For several years, we would all go up to an office at Duke University after hours, where a friend was a secretary and would let us in to make use of the typewriters to create the mimeo stencils. We also made liberal use of other of the office supplies and used to talk about how “Mr. Duke” was a major contributor to The Newsletter. Typos were a bear to correct and were not very correctable. Later on, a different member of the broader lesbian community who at that time worked for the legal aid office would secretly take pasted-up layout originals of The Newsletter up to her office and make use of a stencil laser burner to create the finished stencils for mimeographing. This was terrific, as it allowed us to have line art (and really poorly reproduced photos).
Folk Dancing, Early 1980s
Nationally renowned gay activist Carl Wittman and his partner Allan Troxler led English and Scottish country dances in a “gender-free” style developed by Wittman, which allowed for people to dance together without having to follow traditional gender roles. These dances, which began in the early 1980s, were sometimes held specifically for gay men, providing an important community gathering space outside of gay bars.
Common Woman Chorus, 1983-present
Open to all women, the Common Woman Chorus performs concerts of progressive songs, including an appearance each year at the NC Pride Festival. The name comes from a Judy Grahn poem that reads, in part, “A common woman is as common as a common loaf of bread … and will rise.” The group allows lesbian and feminist women to sing together, share feminist culture, and have fun.
Black and White Men Together (BWMT)
Several groups formed in the 1980s to address race in the LGBTQ+ community and create social, cultural, and educational spaces for African-American gays and lesbians. Among these were Black and White Men Together, led by partners Gary Lipscomb and Joseph Fedrowitz. The organization featured film nights, dances, educational play shops, sports-related events, and more for the community.
Triangle Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays
Several groups formed in the 1980s to address race in the LGBTQ+ community and create social, cultural, and educational spaces for African-American gays and lesbians. Among these were the Triangle Coalition for Black Lesbians and Gays, led by Mandy Carter and Gary Lipscomb.
Real Women Productions, 1986-1990
When Ladyslipper stopped producing concerts, Real Woman Productions—Mandy Carter, Lucy Harris, Cheri Sistek, and Cris South—began to fill the void. The group produced music, comedy, and dance events, many in conjunction with Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists, War Resisters League/Southeast, and North Carolina Senate Vote 90.
Manbites Dog Theater
Life partners Jeff Storer and Ed Hunt founded Manbites Dog Theater, a professional, nonprofit theater company, in Durham in October 1987. Over its first 28 seasons Manbites Dog mounted more than 130 productions, many of them regional or state premieres, and a broad range of works by local and national guest artists and companies, including plays with an LGBTQ theme. Manbites Dog hosted “Don't Ask Don't Tell: A Festival of Queer Theater and Performance,” from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s.
Lesbian Thespians, 1990-1992
Dale Wolf, a producer for Lesbian Thespians, also wrote In the Outfield, which is about growing up as a butch lesbian, in 1992. It was first performed at Manbites Dog Theater with Touch Mime. Wolf did later performances solo and in 2004 wrote and produced 50! Evolution of a Butch Lesbian.
In this audio clip, Dale talks about the performance and how it was inspired by the homophobia and marginalization of lesbians that Dale witnessed during the 1990 political race between Jesse Helms and Harvey Gantt.
Transcript “In the Outfield” was a response to Jesse Helms’s re-election in 1990. There was a huge effort to get him out of office, and a huge effort in the queer community here, specifically in Durham, led by Mandy Carter and the organization that she formed called Senate Vote ’90. She [is] a fabulous organizer, she’s an African-American lesbian person who’s been here for many years and has done some amazing work on the national level. And in 1990 when Harvey Gantt was running against Helms, we really came very close to defeating Jesse Helms. And his advertising had a lot of homophobic stuff in it, and he always went on about the gay community, the gay this, gay that. And I just, once again, the lesbian face wasn’t visible, and I took real offence at that.
I wanted to just put a face on a lesbian human being in the world and tell my coming out story, and that my story is as valid a story as anybody else’s. And that the stuff I went through as an adolescent is as valid and should be as affirming as anybody else’s experience, going through what you go through to become a decent person in the world. I thought that if I could find bits and pieces of universal thematic stuff that people could connect to–everybody knows what it’s like to be left out. “In the Outfield” means you’re out there in the outfield, you’re not playing in the infield, you’re sort of left out there, when you’re sitting out there alone counting clover or something. You know what it’s like to feel left out, you know what it’s like to have a crush on another person when you’re in junior high or middle school, whatever. You know what that’s like. People understand that, it’s unfortunate that they just get so bent out of shape when it happens to be two people of the same sex or same gender or whatever.
So what was my inspiration for that was that election, because I worked hard, too, along with a lot of other people, on that campaign. So this was sort of the response to that. And it was a very affirming show for me personally, but also I could tell from the handwritten letters I received over the time I did the show that it really, really meant something to others as well. So in that regard it was a rather successful piece.
And you know, you get negative stuff. I had the occasion to perform in Johnson City, Tennessee, and the theater received bomb threats as a result of my going there to perform. We had sold out houses and a very good response from our audiences, but there were individuals who felt like I shouldn’t be speaking on these issues. And I didn’t listen. [laughs] I didn’t listen and I think we’re better off for it, frankly, and even they are better off for it, though they may not agree with me and they may not feel like they are. But I think, community-wise, we’re better off knowing who we are. We’re better off knowing each other; we’re better off getting to know each other, understanding each other.
North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
In 1995, the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival started its annual run at the Carolina Theatre, becoming the second largest of its kind in the Southeast. It provided a new setting and new means for lesbians and gays to meet and experience the diversity of their culture.
SafeSchools NC, a statewide organization dedicated to making schools safe for LGBTQ students and educators, instituted a program called the Triangle Gay-Straight Alliance Network. In 2005, young people from that group formed InsideOut, a youth-run organization that supports LGBTQ and allied youth in the Triangle. InsideOut celebrated its 10th year in 2015. The group’s programming included workshops, retreats, queer proms, and “Queernival” events. A subgroup, UpsideDown, began, focusing on youth 12 or under who were questioning their identities, were children of LGBTQ adults, or otherwise just needed a safe space to be their full selves.
Beaver Queen Pageant, 2004 to date
The pageant began in 2005 when Duke Park lesbians, gay men, and allies (known as Beaver Lodge 1504) joined forces to protect a family of beavers put in jeopardy by the widening of I-85. Concurrent with the lodge’s work to save the beavers, the Independent Weekly newspaper was running a “Queen of the Triangle” contest. The lodge inquired, tongue firmly planted in cheek, whether they could enter a beaver in the contest. From these two events, the idea was born to hold the Beaver Queen Pageant, a family friendly beaver drag event that happens in Duke Park the first Saturday in June to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month. The event raises money for the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association.
Despite the often-publicized image of religion being incompatible with homosexuality, religious congregations such as Durham Friends Meeting, Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and Pilgrim United Church of Christ were important early supporters of the gay and lesbian community in Durham, and LGBT events were often held in their facilities. The late 1990s and early 2000s saw a rapid expansion of LGBTQ-affirming congregations, including the creation in 1997 of Imani Metropolitan Community Church, led by Rev. Wanda Floyd. That same year, controversy erupted at Calvary United Methodist Church after news coverage of a meeting held there by the Reconciling United Methodists of North Carolina. Some congregants and community members were upset that they had allowed a sermon by Jimmy Creech, a Methodist pastor who had come under fire for performing a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple. By 2012, there were at least eight LGBT-affirming congregations in Durham, and as progressive religious voices increased statewide, the faith community became an important component of the campaign against Amendment One. The case that eventually overturned the amendment in North Carolina, General Synod of the UCC v. Reisinger, was the first instance of a national Christian denomination challenging a state’s marriage statutes.
In this audio clip, Cris Rivera and Beth Stringfield remember their decision to attend First Presbyterian Church in 2004, before the church officially welcomed gay and lesbian members.
Transcript Cris Rivera But I just didn’t want to necessarily go to a church where people were not going to accept me the way I was, or accept us, and I didn’t want to make waves. So we actually went to a Sunday school. I think that’s how we got to that church, is because we went to that Sunday school. Because First Pres[byterian Church] has a Sunday school class on Sundays that’s called Faith and Community, where they have different speakers come in, either people that go to the church or other outside speakers that work in different civic organizations. And the one that we went to just so happened to be one where they were discussing–what was the specific topic? It wasn’t HIV, it was …
Beth Stringfield No, they were talking about homosexuality in the church. And it turned out that someone who I worked with was a member of the church and was speaking, her and her partner were. And they had this discussion, and it was all kind of nice and friendly. [To Cris:] I’m taking over.
Cris Rivera Go ahead.
Beth Stringfield And an old woman raised her hand and started talking. And she said, “Well, I don’t see what the big issue is. We just need to …” The gist of it was, I don’t understand what the issue is. We just need to all get along, and of course we need to have gay and lesbian folks in our church. And the woman was Ella Fountain Pratt, who we did not know. She was a pillar of the Durham community, amazing, and did wonderful things in her life around arts in Durham, and she was also a pillar of the church. And so Ella Fountain spoke and in some ways that was the end of the discussion.
Cris Rivera Yeah, I think for me, when a 90-year-old lady gets up and says, “This is ridiculous. Move on,” then you’re like, “Okay, I’ll come back next week.” [laughter]
Beth Stringfield But at that time, First Presbyterian did not have a welcoming statement. It wasn’t until about three years later that the Session passed a welcoming statement that is now printed in all of our bulletins and it covers sexual orientation, economic status, nation of origin—it covers a number of things. And so they did that on their own, and actually our church also ordained gay and lesbian folks to be on the Session and the Diaconate before it was approved by PC-USA.
I’m sure there were people that were unhappy. Was there any public thing that I heard? No, no one ever said anything to us. When there was the article in the newspaper and someone—and I don’t even remember the statement that was said, but something was said about the tension about accepting gays and lesbians, at that time we stopped going. And after, I don’t know, four weeks or so, we got a call from [Pastor] Joe [Harvard]. And he said, “Can I come over?” And I can’t remember if this was the time, but Lord help me, Joe was known for this. I can’t remember if we said, “No, now’s not a good time,” and he still showed up, but he did that one time. He showed up that night, and we hadn’t said anything about why—he had no idea. Though clearly he did know. Because he came and he said, “Y’all haven’t been to church. We know that there was this article. And I want to show you the statement that’s going to be approved by the Session.” And that was the new inclusion statement. And that’s when we started going again.
The Cuntry Kings were a Durham-based drag king troupe founded in 2002. They traveled around the country and internationally to drag king festivals to perform their feminist, antiracist shows that often were as political as they were entertaining. They also held monthly “Drag It In, Drag It Out” shows in venues in Durham and Chapel Hill, where anyone could sign up to perform.
Once a month, people pack the 800-seat Durham Armory in North Carolina for family-friendly, alcohol-free drag bingo nights led by BVD (bingo-verifying diva) Mary K. Mart. The crowd is about half gay and half straight, and on a typical night, $10,000 is raised for the Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina. In 2002, when the Alliance ran its first game, “We thought that if we got a hundred people and a thousand dollars, it would be a miracle,” says John Paul Womble, director of development. The event sold out and the Alliance eventually moved to the much larger Armory. Nervous about filling such a large space, Womble got in touch with North Carolina resident Tammy Faye Bakker Messner—yes, that Tammy Faye, former wife of fallen televangelist Jim Bakker—and asked if she'd call the numbers. She agreed, and the Armory sold out. “Talk about surreal,” says Womble. “I was standing on stage with Tammy Faye Bakker and 12 drag queens.” The event is often held at the Durham Armory but has grown so large it moves around the Triangle. The current host is Durham’s Ms. Vivica C. Coxx.
The Butchies and Other Local Music Groups
Check out The Butchies and many other local queer bands from the early 2000s in the film “Whistlin’ Dixie: Queer Sounds, New South.”
Continuing its legacy as home to a groundbreaking music scene, Durham spawned The Butchies, a nationally known queercore band. (“Queercore” is a type of aggressive rock music derived from hardcore punk music, with lyrics focusing on LGBTQ themes and issues.) They formed as part of the Riot Grrrl movement in the late 1990s and toured until 2005. (Riot Grrrl is an international underground feminist movement that emerged from West Coast American alternative and punk music scenes of the 1990s.)
QORDS (Queer Oriented Radical Days of Summer)
Check out this short film about QORDS from the “Keepin’ It Queer” series by Rick Dillwood and Carrie Hart.
In 2012, QORDS, a queer-oriented summer camp, was founded in Durham to empower Southern queer and transgender youth and create community. They joined with InsideOut and the Raleigh-based Youth Organizing Institute to form the NC Youth Power Coalition.