We (and by “we” I mean “I”) are (am) proud to announce that my friend, Dan Vera, aka Managing Editor for White Crane, has been chosen as the awardee of the Letras Latinas / Red Hen Poetry Prize, for Latino poets who have already published at least one or two books of poetry. The inaugural judge for this prize was poet and Notre Dame professor Orlando Ricardo Menes.
Dan’s winning entry, slated for publication in 2013 is The Guide to Imaginary Monuments. In addition to his White Crane Journal and White Crane Books duties, Dan is a DC-based poet, and also the author of The Space Between Our Danger and Delight (Boethuk Books, 2008).
Two manuscripts were selected, and their publication by Red Hen Press will be spaced two years apart, to give Letras Latinas momentum to promote and publicize the winning books, its authors, this new literary series.
The second award was given to William Archila’s second book, The Gravedigger’s Archeology, which will be published in 2015. His first book was The Art of Exile (Bilingual Press, 2009), a book that speaks to Archila’s Salvadorean heritage and his immigration to the U.S. during the Central American civil war. He is based in Los Angeles.
A ceremony at the foot of the Cove Avenue Steps on Silver Lake Blvd. recognizing the site as a historic place by the City of Los Angeles. The dedication of “The Mattachine Steps” (which lead up to the house where pioneer gay activist Harry Hay founded the Mattachine Society in 1950) will be followed by a Radical Faerie-hosted picnic in an adjoining park overlooking the Silver Lake Reservoir (east side). Then, at 2:30, a book signing and reading of Stuart Timmon’s newly updated biography “The Trouble with Harry Hay” at nearby Stories bookstore, 1716 Sunset Blvd. (in Echo Park).
Sunday, April 15, at 2:00 p.m.
The ONE Culture Series will host a panel discussion about Harry Hay’s life and times. Film clips, literary readings and lively talk will be followed by refreshments in the Archive’s garden. There is a suggested donation of $5. The ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives is located at 909 W. Adams Blvd. (near USC). 213-741-0094 for further information.
For the past few months the muse has kept me happily busy in the electronic darkroom.
I am thrilled to announce the publication of THE BOOK OF MONKS, a series of 31 photages in a limited edition of 50 hardbound copies, numbered and signed (electronically). They are being printed and shipped by Apple in the U.S. The price is $100 per copy with 50% of the post printing costs benefitting the BIG JOY documentary film project.
I have been making photages for the past twenty-five years. Recently, on a memorable journey to Laos I photographed Buddhist monks in the World Heritage city of Luang Prabang where there are a number of monasteries. The monks have now been absorbed into images I had taken over the years, particularly during the past decade in New York City.
The Fire in Moonlight: Stories from the Radical Faeries
On Labor Day Weekend, 1979, 200 men gathered in the Arizona desert for the first Spiritual Conference for Radical Faeries. Called forth by Harry Hay (of Mattachine Society fame), Hay’s partner John Burnside, Don Kilhefner and Mitch Walker, this first of many Gatherings created a development that spread around the world and combined elements of gay liberation, feminism, environmentalism, new age spirituality and the counter-culture. Thousands of gay and Bi men (later joined by a few women) met in out of the way, rural Gatherings and Sanctuaries, creating a very loose network that defied the LGBT community’s tendency toward assimilation and institutionalism. Creative spirits like Will Roscoe, James Broughton, Andrew Ramer, Toby Johnson, Dan Nicoletta and Charlie Murphy became part of this sub-culture. It was Hay who coined the term Radical Faeries: both Radical (as to the root) and Faerie having to do with gays’ spiritual and cultural traditions rather than "radical" politics.
Among the 200 men who attended that first Faerie Gathering was author Mark Thompson. As Thompson remembers, the Gathering "was definitely a turning point in the burgeoning gay men’s spirituality movement. In some ways, I felt that gathering in the Arizona desert was as historically important as the Stonewall riots had been a decade before. Both events signaled a significant refocusing of values and vision, helping to create a new leap forward in gay culture-making. I attended many Gatherings – mainly in the Western United States – for the next 20 years."
More than thirty years after attending that first Gathering, Thompson, along with Associate Editors Richard Neely (Osiris) and Bo Young, have assembled the first anthology by and about the Faeries. The Fire In Moonlight: Stories from the Radical Faeries, is published by White Crane Books / Lethe Press as part of the White Crane Wisdom Series ($25). "Since their sudden inception on a remote site in the American Southwest in 1979, the Faeries have grown like some exotic species of flora around the world," Thompson wrote in his "Introduction." "This book of many voices continues that early call – a call for freedom of mind, body and spirit from the petty, awful tyrannies of those who have tried every means to destroy us. It is about how being a Radical Faerie has changed a life." Among the contributors are Will Roscoe, Franklin Abbott and Trebor Healy.
Bo Young, publisher of White Crane Books, and Associate Editor of The Fire In Moonlight, began his involvement with the Radical Faeries in 1990, when he first visited the Short Mountain Sanctuary in Tennessee. As Young is quick to point out, "the organizing principle of the Faeries is consensus and the Faerie Circle . . . no leaders. Everyone is ‘equidistant’ from the center. No one person is out in front. . While the Radical Faeries are identified most often as a ‘movement’ it isn’t something you join. It’s a state of mind. If you say you are a Faerie, you are a Faerie. There are Faeries who are into drag and organic farming and wild fermentation and there are Faeries who are theatrical and there are Faeries who are living communally and there are Faeries that are eremitic. There are rural Faeries and there are urban Faeries."
In The Fire in Moonlight, Faeries past and present share in their Faerie experience. According to Jerry Berbiar (Jerry the Faerie), "the Radical Faeries were founded for gay men. The Gatherings were places where gay men could individually recreate themselves, create community, explore faggot essence and create their own culture, free from the dominant all-encompassing hetero viewpoint." "At the heart of the Radical Faeries is a recognition of and exploration into gay men’s souls: our unique way of viewing, experiencing and being in the world," Joey Cain wrote. "I found myself in environments where my very sexuality, my embrace of myself as male and female, my determination that my sexual nature was both natural and magical, were honored and explored," recalled "EuroFaerie" Marco Shokti. "For a freaky little queer boy like me the Radical Faeries were the family I hardly dared to dream might exist," declared Pete Sturman, AKA Mockingbird and Pistol Pete. "The Faeries provided me with a safe environment to try all sorts of different things. I could split wood in high heels, bake bread in my underwear or run around covered in mud. I could laugh like a hyena or take a day of silence. They helped inspire me to become a musician and songwriter, a loud and proud queen troubadour."
One of the most interesting parts of The Fire in Moonlight is the book’s "Faerie Glossary." According to Young (at left in photo), "a shared, unique language is one of the defining elements of ‘culture.’ The Faeries have a very definite and unique use of language and one of the chief motivations of the various traditions such as Sanctuaries is a ‘time out of time’ period in which the gay individual removes him (or her) self from the dominant culture and literally engage in ‘coming to terms’ with who s/he is." Hay challenged the Faeries to self-define, from which emerged a vocabulary which the editors believe required a Glossary. Many Faeries have taken "Faerie names;" spiritual or ecologically-inspired names in contrast to their "mundane, everyday names."
The Fire in Moonlight presents a mostly-positive view of the Radical Faeries. But there are dissenting views. "Improbable Faerie" Artwit, who was active with the San Francisco Faeries during the 1980’s, is critical of a subculture which, like other gay tribes, favors the young and beautiful: "I have no desire to be a Faerie Mormon and make breakfast while the pretty ones sleep in and fuck," he said. Young admits that "one of the challenges we had was finding an African-American contributor. The Faeries are like any other part of this American society and suffers from the inherent racism of the culture. But that said, it is one of the few communities of which I am aware that actually attempts to address that." In short, "The Fire in Moonlight is not meant in any way to be a hagiography of the Radical Faerie movement."
Artwit is in the minority. As Thompson (in photo at right) put it, "once a Radical Faerie, always a Radical Faerie." "The Faeries are by no means a perfectly evolved group," Thompson admits, "but it definitely represents a quantum step in healing gay male relationships and community practice. The Radical Faeries may appear as a rather funky, insignificant tribe of social outcasts, but I have to state here for the record that nowhere have I encountered more intelligent, creative and beautifully self-aware gays in one place than at a Faerie Gathering. A Gathering is the antithesis of a typical gay ghetto environment. It is an intentional community – a destination on the inner journey, not some angry place of refuge. There is a lot of joy that comes from being a Radical Faerie."
"The strongest thing about the Faeries," Young notes, "is their commitment to community and their general awareness of and respect for history and tradition. Another strength is the creation of and maintenance of the Faerie Sanctuaries in their various manifestations," many of which are listed in the "Radical Faerie Resource Directory" found at the back of The Fire in Moonlight. On the other hand, Young admits that the Faeries’ "generally perceived flamboyance tends to scare people away." The Radical Faeries, Thompson says, "claim no particular leaders (we say we are ‘leader-full’) so there is not a problem of domineering egos holding others in thrall. People like that quickly get invited elsewhere. The reverse of this is that sometimes chaos ensues and the group experience can rapidly devolve into incoherent confusion. Over the years, the Faeries have learned how to walk better in balance between these polarities."
"The Faeries," Thompson continues, "have a very significant role in the greater understanding of what I would call our core gay values. Because we are living so in the moment, the archetypal motifs of gay psyche are more keenly felt and expressed. This is one crowd that is not going to be assimilated into mainstream mythology, which is still a narrative of heterosexual dominance. Faeries are shape-shifters, makers of ritual and beauty, natural teachers, healers and soul guides. We walk between the worlds, the seen and unseen, and between the genders. It represents a more authentic vision of who we gay men really are inside." "For myself," Young adds, "the chief asset of most Faeries I know is that they understand a history of same-sex people and tend to see themselves as connected to that history. There are so many other aspects of what I think of more as a culture than as a ‘movement’ . . . the attraction to the land, the care of the land, the rejection of consumerist culture, the sense of humor. It is one of the ancient archetypes of same-sex people to be jesters, culture carriers, interpreters and teachers. The Radical Faeries are all of these. These have always been incredibly important to any vital society . . . and they always will be."
THE FIRE IN MOONLIGHT Stories from the Radical Faeries Edited by Mark Thompson White Crane Wisdom Series 9781590213384, 309 Pages, $25.00
Mark Thompson’s latest anthology, The Fire in Moonlight (White Crane), is a collection of first person accounts of the Harry Hay-inspired Radical Faerie movement. Hay, a co-founder of the Mattachine Society, joined forces with Don Kilhefner and Mitch Walker to start the Faerie movement in order to add a spiritual dimension to the (often dry) nuts and bolts world of emerging gay politics.
Inspired in part by the writings of Edward Carpenter and the Calamus poems of Walt Whitman, Hay saw the homosexual as much more than a creature fighting for rights in a hostile society. The homosexual, according to Hay, was a multidimensional being with roots in the mythic, a sort of alien spirit with special healing gifts for the world.
As Stuart Timmons notes in his introductory essay, “The Making of a Tribe,” Hay once told a circle of 200 Faeries: “We Faeries need to stop saying, ‘My consciousness is better than your consciousness.’ That’s heterosexist. No one person, no one group, no one ideology has the answer. You need a spirit.”
Theologians may quibble with that relativist statement, insisting that if one truth is as good as another truth, then there’s no truth anywhere. One thing’s certain, however: You have to have spirit in order to “build.” For Hay, this meant constructing a homosexual spiritual dimension outside the world of conventional religion.
In a 1975 edition of RFD, Hay wrote: “To be a true homosexual, is to be put at odds with home, school and society….We are so other that we have to learn early how to protect our very survival.”
While this perspective may seem dated post-DADT, Hay was nonetheless insistent that a pronounced queerness was buried inside the homosexual’s “stubbornly perverse genes.” Hay’s vision of a monastic-like collective of queer men of all ages coming together in friendship circles for a process of “shedding the ugly green frog skin of hetero-imitation” started with the first Faerie Circle in Colorado in 1979.
Called “A Spiritual Conference for Radical Faeries,” at that Labor Day event hundreds of men (the gatherings would later include women) participated in mud baths and neo-pagan, quasi-Native American rituals like circle hand holding, chanting, and taking turns speaking to the circle while holding a Talking Stick. Many of these ad hoc talks were spiked with references to Aliester Crowley as well as Hay’s own take on what it means to be “queer” and “other.”
In these free-love pre-AIDS gatherings there was ritualized group sex as well as individual couplings. As Timmons observes, “In selecting fairies as a role model for gays, [Hay] combined logic with inspiration to surpass the medieval Mattachines—to a pre-Christian time and beyond human limits.”
With its emphasis on aspects of Native American culture and worship of the earth, the early Faeries attracted gay men who had had enough of the dead end clone life in the urban gay ghetto.
At the second Spiritual Gathering for the Radical Faeries in 1980, in Estes National Forest above Boulder, Colorado, faerie names were adopted and the emphasis on paganism was enhanced. As contributor Carol Kleinmaier notes, besides a denial of spirit-body and male-female duality, Faerie spirituality “was sourced in… the celebration of sacred sexuality, Wicca, paganism and shamanic traditions.”
As one would expect, highly eclectic and a diverse range of spiritual references as well as divergent opinions about the Faerie experience mark these essays.
Allen Page, for instance, writes that during the first gathering he “asked the Goddess (which Goddess he doesn’t say) to show him why he needed to be there.” Meanwhile, “a young man shook a rattle and stands up in a speckled dress.” The philosophy was to embody masculine and feminine energies although one finds in many of these stories a distinct prejudice against patriarchy as well as an emphasis “to take the gifts of the Father back to the Mother.”
Philadelphian Chris Bartlett (The Lady Bartlett) notes:
I like cultures that use rituals to embody choice: the Amish Rumspringa when Amish teens, following a year of exposure to the outside world, choose to join the Amish community (be baptized) or are shunned. Another example is the bar/bat mitzvah when young Jews choose to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. The investiture of a priest in various religions is another moment of powerful choice. When participants in a culture choose to embrace that culture, they become full actors, as opposed to full recipients.
In Faerie circles, identification with the feminine is assumed. It would not be unusual, for instance, for the males in a circle to cry while listening to reports of the rape of a female friend of a member. Since Radical Faeries spanned all age categories, older men were respectfully called elders and were regarded as purveyors of wisdom, even if that “respect” ended at the bedroom door. Wisdom cannot compete with beauty when it comes to a good lay.
Just as in any local city bathhouse, the young are attracted to the young, as the older and less appealing find themselves casting about for a bone or having to spend their nights alone, Trappist monk-style.
Artwit, for instance, writes that at one gathering he got lucky three times so that his “usual depression at being alone while the slender twinks slept in pairs was less severe.” Highly critical of many in the Faerie community, Artwit states that “self righteous beliefs about food seem to be a hallmark of the Faeries. We used to joke in the kitchen about making ‘Cream of Vegan’ soup for our next meal.”
Artwit also writes about the Faerie Drag Wars.
The first two Gatherings had that old rustic-northwest-jeans-and-flannel flavor and here come these queens from California doing wigs and make-up. So a small culture war was started at the Gathering, with the hosts deciding not to send the Call to California next year. “[But] over the years, wigs and makeup won and overtook whatever Heart Circles there were.
For Artwit, the Faeries main problem was making social problems into personal ones.
“I have no desire to be a Faerie Mormon and make breakfast while the pretty ones sleep in and fuck,” he writes.
Editor Mark Thompson is to be commended for not editing out Artwit’s less than flattering reminiscences. The inclusion of such criticism is a tribute to the Faerie generosity of spirit, although there’s enough good stuff in this book to make Harry Hay proud.
As Berbiar (Jerry the Faerie) puts it, “We need queers who have radical askance alternative viewpoints to dominant cultural mores. May the Radical Faerie movement continue to play its role in providing a cauldron of change so needed in this ignorant and repressive world.”
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About a month ago I went and saw “Hide and Seek,” the Queer portraiture exhibit now at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. I had just started a long term on grand jury and regularly found myself in that part of the city when a member of the jury urged me to go. So one evening my partner and I joined a friend and took in the show before dinner.
What I saw stunned me. We went from room to room and I found myself repeatedly goggled in disbelief that I was seeing what I was seeing. Many of the pieces I had heard of or seen over the years in textbooks or online. Many were by artists whose work I had always wanted to see and never had the chance before this show. Artists like AA Bronson and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, the Cuban-American artist whose portrait in this show is perhaps the most unconventional and most memorable. A small pile of beautifully wrapped candies against a corner weighing exactly 175 pounds – his partner's body weight at the time of his death. The artist requested that the viewer take and eat a piece to "participate" in the “wasting away” of his partner – a bittersweet evocation of the way that time fades on the tongue. As I went from artwork to artwork I felt as if I was participating in a sacred pilgrimage, witnessing the relics of masters and their attempts to put into visual form a lasting record of their lives, their loving, and their loved ones.
The well known artists are well represented: Andy Warhol, Annie Liebowitz, and Robert Mapplethorpe… the "usual suspects" you'd expect in an exhibition about Gay portraiture. Their place is certainly deserved. But this exhibition aims at more than mere predictability. It seeks to lay bare what has been long known but consigned to whisper. So there is work by Robert Rauschenberg, and his lovers Cy Twombly, and Jasper Johns. There are also canvases by Marsden Hartley and perhaps most daringly Grant Wood. Think about that for a minute. These are all artists largely understood by those in-the-know to have been Gay (or whatever term theorists want to apply to men-who-loved men back in the day). But their families and estates have stubbornly refused to acknowledge the fullness of their sexualities. This show does not hedge its bets. It seeks to lay bare the closer truths of these lives.
I was especially delighted by what I perceived as hidden, or perhaps just accidental, pairings. The aforementioned portraits of and by Hartley appear across the room from the works of Charles Demuth. Hartley and Demuth were contemporaries and colleagues and traveled in many of the same circles. They were also both Gay men. But they chose to live their lives in very different ways. Hartley was conflicted and embittered by his sexuality (his early letters and poems to Walt Whitman's executor and friend Horace Traubel reveal the young painter's awkward attempts to reconcile and find joy in his sexuality — sadly to no lasting avail). Demuth on the other hand was surprisingly "out" for his day and lived a productive life as an individual cherished by a wide circle of friends. Demuth is best known for his symbolic portraits (William Carlos Williams’ portrait as “I Saw the Figure Five in Gold”) and his precisionist floral watercolors. But his luscious portraits of 1920s New York's gay bathhouses speak across the decades and are represented in this show. It was as if these two artists were “speaking” to one another across the hall and my mind began to spin. This exhibition continually had that effect on me.
And then there's the direct influence of poets in this exhibition. A handsome portrait photograph of Walt Whitman holds pride of place. This is fitting since it was the curator David C. Ward's inclusion of a portrait of Whitman and his lover Peter Doyle that led to his meeting the Gay scholar Jonathan D. Katz. Their collegial friendship led to this historic exhibit. But Whitman's work also pops up in David Hockney's "We Two Boys Together Clinging" on loan from a museum in England. The other poet whose life threads through the exhibit is Frank O'Hara. Not surprising since O'Hara was very much a part of New York's mid-century art scene as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art. The Jasper Johns in this show is based on one of O'Hara's poems and O'Hara is physically embodied in four portraits here.
I could go on about this exhibition. But the important thing here is this: if you have even the faintest interest in this subject matter, you must see this exhibition. You should do whatever it takes to get on a plane, drive a car, or take a train to the nation's capitol and see this show. It is not hyperbole to state that this may be the most important Queer exhibition of the decade. This is our King Tut exhibit. That is, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime museum experience. Why? Because it’s hard to imagine the stars aligning again anytime soon to have all of these works in one place. The pieces are on loan from museums across the United States and Europe — itself a miracle of curatorial good-fortune. For this brief window of time these portraits are here speaking to each other. And they are here to speak to you.
As Gay people, this is our inheritance and a breathtaking exhibition of our stories. These are works of art by men and women who came before us and tried to make sense, in their way, of what it means to be men who love men and women who love women. And even all of that aside, the art itself is stunningly beautiful. That the Smithsonian has mounted this show is a feat that would be staggering and unprecedented for ANY arts institution in the country and they are to be applauded for their boldness and gutsyness. Do not let this opportunity pass you by. The show is on till mid-February.
Get off your asses and make it to this show. Trust me. This is one exhibition that will stay with you for a very long time.
UPDATE: as many of you know this exhibition is now getting media attention because right-wing religious fundamentalists and many Republican elected officials are outraged about the content and want the show shut down. Even more reason to go see this exhibition as soon as you can.
The Smithsonian has a brilliant show titled Hide/Seek exploring sexual difference in modern portraiture. It is a stunning show and the companion book by the same name is worth every penny. The range of artists and the sheer quality of the art on display is a once in a lifetime kind of show and I encourage anyone within visiting distance of our Nation's Capital to pay a visit to the Smithsonian.
Because, of course, this privately funded exhibit is under attack by the radical religious right again, this time in the guise of The Catholic League, the self-appointed Taliban of Catholic faith. And what exactly has them so exercised? A video by gay artist David Wojnarwicz titled A Fire in My Belly, mourning the death of his lover. Apparently there is an image in this video of the crucified Jesus's body, covered with ants. Now…it's not the sado-masochistic image of a man nailed to a wooden cross that upsets Mr. Donahue. It's the ants. His comment is that the Smithsonian wouldn't show Mohammed covered in ants, but Jesus? That's OK.
Really? Is fundamentalist radical Islamism who you really want to get in bed with Bill? … er, I mean associate with?
I digress. Herr Donahue goes on to — predictably I suppose — demand that Congress cease all funding for the Smithsonian because…and you can't make this stuff up…the regular Joe, the blue collar worker doesn't go to museums. I (Donahue) don't. They go to see WWF wrestling matches (really? all of them?) …and we don't ask for tax-support for wrestling.
Where to begin?
To draw a parallel between wrestling…even legitimate wrestling, not even the comic book staged variety…and the Smithsonian is just so..what? Ignorant? Breathtakingly stupid? I'm sorry…it deserves a new word all its own: Goebbelsian (as in Joseph "tell-a-big-enough-lie-and-they'll-believe-you" Goebbels.) Just as a charitable explanation, one (wrestling) is a staged form of entertainment or sport. The other, (The Smithsonian) is an educational institution that preserves the culture and history of these United States. We fund one because it is in the interests of education. We don't fund the other because a) it makes a gazillion dollars on it's own, and b) it's stupid.
Oops. My bias slipped. Oh well. The Smithsonian, by the way, caved. Wojnarwicz's video has been taken down. But Herr Donahue is still demanding that funding for the museum be cut. If I could show it here, I would.
It is always almost chilling when The Roman Catholic Church (and let's not even begin with the pedophile scandal) cries about being "under attack," whines about "discrimination" …while they attack and discriminate and murder at will.
This man William Donahue should not be taken seriously. And yet "fair and balanced" has him on every news broadcast, making a publicity stink in the interests of his bigotry.
It's hard not to consider "second amendment remedies", ya know?
Hide/Seek is one of the most important, most ground-breaking gay-and-Lesbian-friendly exhibits to appear in any museum anywhere in a long long time. That it is in The Smithsonian…our nation's own museum…is all the more important. If you can possibly make the journey to visit and support this exhibit (which, I repeat, is privately funded...no tax-payer money is even connected other than the fact that it is in a government-funded building.) This is a visual history of LGBT people in the most lyrical form. Our ancestors. Our history. Our sacred texts and prophets (I'm looking at you Walt!) The most valuable thing that can be stolen from a people is their history. That's what Herr Donahue is trying to do. Rewrite history. Erase us.
He is, fortunately, a dying breed of homophobic, sex-phobic, good-ol' boy bigot. He will fail. But not if we don't fight back. Go to this show. Buy the book. Know …AND RESPECT…your history.
A 304-page catalog titled Hide/Seek Difference and Desire in American Portraiturehas been authored by the exhibition co-curators, David C. Ward, National Portrait Gallery historian, and Jonathan Katz, director of the doctoral program in visual studies, State University of New York at Buffalo. The catalog will be published by Smithsonian Books and distributed by Random House; it will be on sale for $45. It is the perfect holiday gift for any gay person in your life. Maybe even you.
Orlando’s Parliament House: A Gay Community Landmark In Trouble
I first stayed at the Parliament House in Orlando in the summer of 1976, just a year after Bill Miller and Michael Hodges purchased the Abbey, a rundown motel at 410 North Orange Blossom Trail, and turned it into Florida’s premier gay resort. If I recall correctly, the rooms were rather seedy, certainly in comparison to the big hotel chains that began to take over Orlando in the wake of Walt Disney World. But, if the Parliament House was a dump, it was our dump. It hosted a wild pool party every day, the five bars and a disco catered to every segment of our community, and the Playhouse Theater presented a series of memorable shows, hosted by the immortal “Miss P” (Paul Wegman). Most notorious of all was “balcony bingo”: a never-ending parade of men of every age, color and lifestyle who cruised their way around the P-House, even (especially) after the bars closed. Those were the days.
The last time I visited the Parliament House was in the summer of 2009. The rooms were a bit run-down, and “balcony bingo” was not what it used to be. (Neither was I: This time, I went with my partner of over 24
years.) But the pool parties were still hot; the bars and disco still attracted crowds; and the fierce Darcel Stevens hosted fabu drag shows at the Footlight Theater and Cabaret where Miss P once reigned supreme.
A lot has happened to “La Casa del Parliamento” (to quote Miss P) during the 35 years of its gay existence. Both Miller and Hodges died from AIDS-complications–Miller in 1987 and Hodges in 1992–and the P-House was inherited by Hodges’s clueless relatives. The place floundered in increased decay until 1999, when it was purchased by the husband and wife team of Don Granatstein and Susan Unger. The new owners gave the P-House some much-needed renovations and the place resumed its place as Orlando’s de facto community center. Unfortunately, Granatstein and Unger made some unwise business decisions, like trying to start a time-share resort next door. And while the Parliament House didn’t change much, the community around it did. Gay tourists no longer had to stay in the P-House in order to be gay; as Orlando’s theme parks and world class hotels began to court the lavender dollar. The Granatsteins, a straight couple, frowned upon “balcony bingo,” though AIDS and the aging of Orlando’s gay population were also responsible for the decline of that time-honored tradition.
The current recession, which struck hard at the disposable incomes of so many of us, was not kind to the Parliament House. This venerable gay landmark is now facing a foreclosure action filed by its creditors. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston-based Southwest Guaranty Ltd. and Compass Bank of Atlanta initiated foreclosure actions over a $7.5 million mortgage that matured at the end of 2009. The P-House will be taken over by a court-appointed receiver, who will continue regular operations under a court order. Don Granatstein told the Sentinel that he didn’t have the money to repay the note when it came due. However, he continues to hold the liquor license and plans to continue to operate the P-House, even under a receiver. “Am I happy with this? That’s a big no,” Granatstein told the Sentinel. “But I’m stuck with whatever happens, and we will be open 100 percent.”
As a gay man with an interest in LGBT history, I believe there are certain places that need to be preserved as community landmarks. One of them was New York City’s Stonewall Inn, which went through a series of changes over the years before finally resurfacing anew as a gay bar. For LGBT Floridians, Orlando’s Parliament House is a community landmark that served our community well for 35 years, affecting the lives of several generations of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people almost as much as the Stonewall Inn did. It would be worse than tragic if the P-House goes under. For all its faults, the Parliament House was and is Florida’s “gay kingdom;” a queer oasis in the middle of the Bible Belt that was always there to serve our ever-changing community. I pray that “La Case del Parliamento” will survive this current crisis, and continue to serve and thrill and please us for many years to come.
Jesse Monteagudo (email@example.com) is a South-Florida-based gay activist and freelance writer. Monteagudo wishes to thank historian James T. Sears and the GLBT History Museum of Central Florida (www.gayorlandohistory.com) for useful information and long-forgotten facts about the history of the Parliament House.