How Gay Culture Blossomed During the Roaring Twenties

How Gay Culture Blossomed During the Roaring Twenties

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On a Friday night in February 1926, a crowd of some 1,500 packed the Renaissance Casino in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood for the 58th masquerade and civil ball of Hamilton Lodge.

Nearly half of those attending the event, reported the New York Age, appeared to be “men of the class generally known as ‘fairies,’ and many Bohemians from the Greenwich Village section their gorgeous evening gowns, wigs and powdered faces were hard to distinguish from many of the women.”

The tradition of masquerade and civil balls, more commonly known as drag balls, had begun back in 1869 within Hamilton Lodge, a black fraternal organization in Harlem. By the mid-1920s, at the height of the Prohibition era, they were attracting as many as 7,000 people of various races and social classes—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight alike.

Stonewall (1969) is often considered the beginning of forward progress in the gay rights movement. But more than 50 years earlier, Harlem’s famous drag balls were part of a flourishing, highly visible LGBTQ nightlife and culture that would be integrated into mainstream American life in a way that became unthinkable in later decades.

The Beginnings of a New Gay World

“In the late 19th century, there was an increasingly visible presence of gender-non-conforming men who were engaged in sexual relationships with other men in major American cities,” says Chad Heap, a professor of American Studies at George Washington University and the author of Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940.

In addition to these groups, whom social reformers in the early 1900s would call “male sex perverts,” a number of nightclubs and theaters were featuring stage performances by female impersonators; these spots were mainly located in the Levee District on Chicago’s South Side, the Bowery in New York City and other largely working-class neighborhoods in American cities.

By the 1920s, gay men had established a presence in Harlem and the bohemian mecca of Greenwich Village (as well as the seedier environs of Times Square), and the city’s first lesbian enclaves had appeared in Harlem and the Village. Each gay enclave, wrote George Chauncey in his book Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, had a different class and ethnic character, cultural style and public reputation.

Gay Life in the Jazz Age

As the United States entered an era of unprecedented economic growth and prosperity in the years after World War I, cultural mores loosened and a new spirit of sexual freedom reigned. The flapper, with her short hair, figure-skimming dresses and ever-present cigarette and cocktail, would become the most recognizable symbol of the Roaring Twenties, her fame spreading via the new mass media born during that decade. But the ‘20s also saw the flourishing of LGBTQ nightlife and culture that reached beyond the cities, across the country, and into ordinary American homes.

Though New York City may have been the epicenter of the so-called "Pansy Craze," gay, lesbian and transgender performers graced the stages of nightspots in cities all over the country. Their audiences included many straight men and women eager to experience the culture themselves (and enjoy a good party) as well as ordinary LGBTQ Americans seeking to expand their social networks or find romantic or sexual partners.

READ MORE: 8 Ways 'The Great Gatsby' Captured the Roaring Twenties

“It gave them many more possible places they could go to meet other people like themselves,” Heap says of the Pansy Craze and accompanying lesbian or Sapphic craze, of the ‘20s and early to mid-‘30s. “At its height, when many ordinary heterosexual men and women were going to venues that featured queer entertainment, it probably also provided useful cover for queer men and women to go to the same venues.”

At the same time, lesbian and gay characters were being featured in a slew of popular “pulp” novels, in songs and on Broadway stages (including the controversial 1926 play The Captive) and in Hollywood—at least prior to 1934, when the motion picture industry began enforcing censorship guidelines, known as the Hays Code. Heap cites Clara Bow’s 1932 film Call Her Savage, in which a short scene features a pair of “campy male entertainers” in a Greenwich Village-like nightspot. On the radio, songs including "Masculine Women, Feminine Men" and "Let’s All Be Fairies" were popular.

The fame of LGBTQ nightlife and culture during this period was certainly not limited to urban populations. Stories about drag balls or other performances were sometimes picked up by wire services, or even broadcast over local radio. “You can find them in certain newspaper coverage in unexpected places,” Heap says.

“Pansy Craze” Comes to an End

With the end of Prohibition, the onset of the Depression and the coming of World War II, LGBTQ culture and community began to fall out of favor. As Chauncey writes, a backlash began in the 1930s, as “part of a wider Depression-era condemnation of the cultural experimentation of the 20's, which many blamed for the economic collapse.”

The sale of liquor was legal again, but newly enforced laws and regulations prohibited restaurants and bars from hiring gay employees or even serving gay patrons. In the mid- to late ‘30s, Heap points out, a wave of sensationalized sex crimes “provoked hysteria about sex criminals, who were often—in the mind of the public and in the mind of authorities—equated with gay men.”

This not only discouraged gay men from participating in public life, but also “made homosexuality seem more dangerous to the average American.”

READ MORE: How the Great Depression Helped End Prohibition

By the post-World War II era, a larger cultural shift toward earlier marriage and suburban living, the advent of TV and the anti-homosexuality crusades championed by Joseph McCarthy would help push the flowering of gay culture represented by the Pansy Craze firmly into the nation’s rear-view mirror.

Drag balls, and the spirit of freedom and exuberance they represented, never went away entirely—but it would be decades before LGBTQ life would flourish so publicly again.

How LGBTQ+ culture flourished during the ‘Roaring Twenties’

In Paradise: the latest arrival causes scandal among the other already set down in the previous centuries. Illustration by Gerda Wegener (1889-1940) for the amusing newspaper 'The Sourire'. France, Paris 1925.(Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images).

The 1920s are among the most iconic decades in U.S. history. After World War I, the country’s newfound wealth led to the flourishing of American culture that earned the decade the name the “Roaring Twenties.”

Women gained the right to vote in 1920 and began exercising this increased freedom and sexual expression as “flappers,” with short skirts and hair. As a result of prohibition, jazz music exploded in speakeasies that served alcohol illicitly. The sexual freedom of the decade invites the question of whether the LGBTQ+ community gained footing during this era. The answer, as usual, is more complex than you might expect.

In fact, the question itself is a bit misguided because there wasn’t an LGBTQ+ community in the 1920s, according to LGBTQ+ history scholar Lillian Faderman, author of Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America .

There certainly were people who engaged in sex and relationships with the same sex and those whose assigned gender didn’t resonate with them, but most of these people didn’t have labels to classify their gender and sexuality, let alone a group of people to identify with. The only letter of LGBTQ+ that people had back then was the “G” even those we’d currently describe as “transgender, lesbian, or bisexual’ would have likely described themselves as “gay.” Even that term wasn’t known outside the community, until the Stonewall riots in the 󈨀s. The rest of the country knew these people as “homosexuals.”

In the Early 20th Century, America Was Awash in Incredible Queer Nightlife

In the Civic Ballroom of Hamilton Lodge of 1920s Harlem, satin heels beneath delicate gowns and feathers swept across smooth dance floors. Men who waited to take the stage adjusted their stockings, touched up their rouge. At tables nearby, women sitting together loosened their ties, drawing their hands and foreheads close. “Wigs, where necessary, were in evidence,” says The New York Age in March 1927. “From the garb of a biblical virgin…down to the very sparse attire only seen on burlesque stage of today, accentuated with feminine gesture and lingo, to say nothing of contortions of the hip, formed the make-up of these male masqueraders.”

It was only the last line that pointed at the radical nature of the event. “All’s well that ends well,” noted the Age, “The police did not find it necessary to raid.”

During the “Pansy Craze” from the 1920s until 1933, people in the lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer (LGBTQ) community were performing on stages in cities around the world, and New York City’s Greenwich Village, Times Square and Harlem held some of the most world-renowned drag performances of the time. While dominant American society disapproved of LGBTQ people, they were very fond of their parties. “It’s pretty amazing just how widespread these balls were,” says Chad Heap, a professor at George Washington University and author of Slumming, about the era. “Almost every newspaper article about them has a list of 20 to 30 well known people of the day who were in attendance as spectators. It was just a widely integrated part of life in the 1920s and 30s.”

All of this activity existed during cultural time that, as historian George Chauncey writes in his book Gay New York, many people believe “is not supposed to have existed.” Popular belief often holds that LGBTQ rights and acceptance was a forward-moving machine beginning with the Stonewall Riots in the 1960s, but when comparing Prohibition Era acceptance versus that of the 1950s, it isn’t so. “It’s not just that they were visible, but that popular culture and newspapers at the time remarked on their visibility—everyone knew that they were visible,” says Heap.

Even smaller towns included news stories about female impersonators and drag entertainment. Many African American newspapers, from Harlem, the Pittsburg Courier, and the Baltimore African American had news about drag events on the front page.

Some of the most iconic venues in New York City—like the Savoy, the Rockland Palace in Harlem, the Astor Hotel, and Madison Square Garden—held glamorous beauty contests and performances by drag kings and queens. Thousands of men and women met at these clubs and theaters as a safe space to dress how they wanted, and find friends, lovers and partners.

Drag queens danced, musicians sang songs like “Masculine Women, Feminine Men in clubs, and lesbians went out to dances dressed to the nines—be it in dresses or tuxes, with many famous blues songs with lyrics talking about female relationships sung by queer women of the time. A popular song called “Boy in the Boat” (a euphemism for a clitoris) says:

“When you see two women walking hand in hand. Just look ‘em over and try to understand. They’ll go to these parties have their lights down low. Only those parties where women can go.”

Men who dressed as women were often called “pansies”, while women who dressed as men were “bull-daggers” or “bull-dikers.” Chauncey notes in his book that drag performers were “likely to be presented to thousands of spectators, many of whom traveled from other cities, in some of the best-known ballrooms of the city.” Coming out was an initiation into the world of men in sequined dresses and women in white tuxes for drag performers.

In the early 1930s drag king Gladys “Fatso” Bentley played piano and sang amazingly lewd songs and parodies using blues music and popular showtunes. Openly bisexual, Bentley often wore a white tux, a hat, and played up a “bull-diker” image with male impersonation during her act. Garber writes that Harry Hansberry’s Clam House “featured Gladys Bentley, a 250-pound, masculine, dark skinned lesbian, who performed all night long in a white tuxedo and top hat. Bentley, a talented pianist with a magnificent, growling voice.” Famous blues singers Ethel Waters, Ma Rainey and Lucille Bogan were also lesbian or bi performers at the time Bogan’s song B.D. (Bull Dagger) Women Blues sings:

“B.D. women, they all done learnt their plan

They can lay their jive just like a natural man

B.D. women, B.D. women, you know they sure is rough

They all drink up plenty whiskey and they sure will strut their stuff” 

Drag queen Francis Renault, who got his start on the Vaudeville circuit, tended to impersonate high-society women and famous historic figures, and eventually opened a club after his own name in Atlantic City. Phil Black often passed as female while dressed in drag, pulling a more conventional female look. Harry S. Franklin wore cloche hats and fur capes over his beaded dresses, with the typical thin brows and dark lips that were in vogue. At one point, drag queen Gene Malin was the highest-paid nightclub entertainer in New York.

Rather than curtail the supposed moral decay of the American people, Prohibition played a huge part in making all these fantastic parties happen. Alcohol brought people together, but Prohibition gathered them in new combinations. The Harlem Renaissance was in full effect, and white LGBTQ people found out about the clubs and societies among Harlem’s black LGBTQ performers, frequented these parties, and often became part of them. Suddenly, when everyone was on the search for newly illegal alcohol, black and white gay and lesbian life came into contact with one another and dominant society.

And for a while, dominant society loved it. 

The Rockland Palace’s Hamilton Lodge could hold up to 6,000 people—and it was often packed for its annual Masquerade ball and frequent drag shows. With probably the best tabloid headline ever written, “FAG BALLS EXPOSED. 6,000 CROWD HUGE HALL AS QUEER MEN AND WOMEN DANCE.” The Vanderbilts, the Astors, and others from high society often came to watch.

These drag balls, in some form, may have come from masquerade balls combined with gay nightlife of the late 1800s. “By the 1890s there were a number of dance halls and entertainment venues in the Bowery area that had what we would now call drag entertainment,” Heap explains. While the Hamilton Lodge Ball may have begun in the 1860s or 󈦦s, it probably didn’t gain a predominantly gay and lesbian presence until the 1920s. By the mid-30s, it was the largest annual ball held in New York, attracting spectators who were gay, lesbian, straight, black and white all at once.

In the clubs of Greenwich Village, the bohemian, artistic stereotype often gave cover for LGBTQ people, as did the theater district of Times Square as outsiders, artists and theater-workers were a little more open-minded to what the dominant society believed were “deviants.” Chauncey writes that even “the most “obvious” gay men stood out less in Times Square.”

An advertisement for Francis Renault at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (Photo: Courtesy BAM Hamm Archives)

During the Pansy Craze, the phrase “coming out”, when someone in the LGBTQ community tells larger society of their gender or sexual identity, had a different use than it does today. In the 󈥴s and early 󈥾s, coming out had to do with making a debut into the gay and lesbian world, and was derived from when wealthy women would “come out” formally into high society. Steven Watson in his book The Harlem Renaissance quotes Richard Bruce Nugent saying, ”You didn’t get on the rooftop and shout, ‘I fucked my wife last night.’ So why would you get on the roof and say ‘I loved prick.’ You didn’t. You just did what you wanted to do. Nobody was in the closet. There wasn’t any closet.” 

Still, LGBTQ men and women were sometimes living double lives, hiding their identities from their coworkers or engaging in “lavender marriages” legal marriages for the purpose of a “cover” (though some may have also been marriages of bisexual couples). Queer men and women who didn’t live publicly as a pansy or a bulldagger didn’t necessarily “identify” as anything in particular, even if they acted on their desires and had same-sex partners. 

“They didn’t see a conflict between not being openly gay at work and sort of only being gay during their leisure time,” says Heap, adding that a person’s class was likely indicative of how you might participate in gay and lesbian culture at the time. “These were moments when working class gay men and women could more freely explore their sexuality, desires, and interests in cross dressing, but probably no doctor or lawyer is going to dress up in drag at these events, out of risk of being exposed.” Most middle and upper class gay men and lesbians sat in the upper booths at drag events among straight people, using the popularity as a cover.

There may not have been an official closet, but as indicated by the famous Stonewall riots of the 󈦜s just a few decades later, the toleration of the community didn’t continue forever. Sodomy laws that had been updated in 1923 were enforced heartily, and in the 󈥾s the cultural reactionary force against visible LGBTQ identities was strong. Sex-crime panic grew, and gay men and lesbians were seen as dangerous to society. Prohibition was repealed, and the New York State Liquor laws were updated to serve alcohol only in places that were “orderly”, which didn’t apparently include gay and lesbian nightclubs.

Women dressed for a drag ball at Webster Ball. (Photo: Public Domain)

“To use the modern idiom,” Chauncey writes, “the state built a closet in the 1930s and forced gay people to hide in it.” In the mid 󈥾s, production codes were put into effect that restricted and prevented performances of openly gay characters in film or in theater, and in the following decades, thousands of LGBTQ people were arrested post WWII for frequenting their own clubs. Drag balls continued, with each new generation of drag performers seemingly picking up the torch as needed. Often in a smaller, more segregated form, the impetus for large groups of people to flock to one location to watch drag performances disappeared, taking much of the history of the pansy and lesbian craze performances with it.

 The Pansy and Lesbian craze of the 1920s was influential, and almost surprisingly open to LGBTQ activities to the modern eye, but when presented with the information about the popularity of drag balls of the time, it’s unbelievable that knowledge of them had almost been forgotten completely. It wasn’t until the 1970s and 80s that historians examined this part of gay and lesbian life.

Now, among drag queens and kings around the country, and the roaring popularity of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, the seeds of costume and performance and identity and oppression and celebration seem more rooted than ever in the pansies and bull daggers of the early 󈥴s and 󈥾s. “It’s not just that there’s the moment in time that’s been forgotten, but how visible, how integrated into American nightlife, and how popular this form of entertainment was,” says Heap. “There was this new moment of possibility and flowering of nightlife that had been spectacularly forgotten.” 

Between the Wars, Paris Was the City of Lesbian Love

During the second and third decades of the 20th century, Paris was home to a thriving lesbian subculture. In lively bars in Montmartre and elegant apartments on the Left Bank, women who loved women were forging new identities, innovating artistic forms and taking on centuries-old cultural institutions.

The Culture of Pride celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

If you were a lesbian in Paris in the 1920s or early ʼ30s, on the lookout for love or something more short term, chances are you would have wound up at Le Monocle.

As a woman of means, you might have strode there in a finely tailored tuxedo, a white carnation in your buttonhole, a cigar between your lips and a monocle perched on your cheek, not a strand of closely cropped hair fluttering in the evening breeze if, however, you came from the lower ranks of Parisian society, and were likewise inclined towards a more masculine attitude and style, your journey to the bar would likely have been more covert – no matter how stiffly the wind blew, it probably never quite explained the blanket wrapped around you from head to toe. But, once inside, every woman was free to sip champagne and dance with whomever she pleased.

During the interwar years, Paris was among the most liberal cities in the world – not quite as open-minded as Berlin but far more progressive than, say, London or New York – a haven for artists, writers and freethinkers. Against this relatively permissive backdrop, a vibrant lesbian subculture blossomed, out in public, in Montmartre bars like Le Monocle, and in private abodes, more often than not in the swanky apartments belonging to the Left Bank intelligentsia.

Foremost among the elite salons of the day was that of American playwright, poet, novelist and railroad-car heiress Natalie Clifford Barney – or The Amazon, as the poet Remy de Gourmont nicknamed her after she made headlines for riding astride, rather than sidesaddle, as was then customary for women of her standing. From 1909 until her death, in 1972, at the age of 95, Barney hosted her legendary ‘Fridays’ at her home at 20 rue Jacob. There’s not a famous Modernist or lesbian, let alone a lesbian Modernist, living in Paris at that time who didn’t pass through her doors.

Regulars at Barney’s soirées included Gertrude Stein and her long-time partner, Alice B Toklas – themselves hosts of a popular salon, one frequented by the painters, such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, whose careers Stein helped launch – the American painter Romaine Brooks, known for her portraits of women in this particular social circle, the Anglo-American poet Renée Vivien and Colette, the pioneering French author who immortalised the prevailing dandy-esque look of certain, in her (affectionate) words, “mannish women” in her 1932 book The Pure and the Impure.

In 1927, in an attempt to promote women’s writing, Barney founded the Académie des Femmes. She intended it to be a counterpoint to the Académie française, the illustrious council tasked with ruling on all matters pertaining to the French language. Founded in 1635, it didn’t admit its first immortelle (its members have traditionally been known as les immortels, or the immortals, which, besides being more than a little grandiose, is an inherently gendered term in the French), Marguerite Yourcenar, until 1980. In the end, Barney’s initiative was short lived.

Rather than for her literary contributions, either as a writer or a benefactor, and quite apart from her achievements as a society hostess, Barney is remembered for her unashamedly public, and unashamedly numerous, relationships. Blessed with the financial and social security afforded by inherited wealth, she was able to openly pursue prominent women from the literary and art worlds as well as the lingering aristocracies of Europe. Her liaisons, rarely monogamous but typically life-long, earned her depictions in many important lesbian works – most notably as Valerie Seymour in Radclyffe Hall’s groundbreaking novel The Well of Loneliness (1928).

Indeed, it was the visibility and vivacity with which sapphic desire could be fulfilled in Paris (albeit relative to your position in the pecking order) that made it, as far as lesbians were concerned, the queer capital of Europe – even more so than Berlin. Women who had the money and freedom to travel came from the UK, the USA and across Europe to attend salons such as Barney’s and drink and dance in the city’s lesbian bars.

This heyday, however, was tied to the prosperity of les années folles (The Roaring ’20s), and did not last long into the 1930s. The nation’s politics lurched to the right following the Great Depression, and little of Paris’s lesbian subculture survived the German occupation of the capital, which lasted from 14 June 1940 until 25 August 1944.

As much as the Nazi regime drove queer people even further underground, and in many cases sent them to their deaths, it did not wipe them out completely. And, as Europe emerged from the shadow of war, so too did this community rebuild and reassert itself. In 1966, the legacy of Le Monocle, and those who brought it to life, took centre stage when Yves Saint Laurent unveiled his women’s tuxedo, Le Smoking, on a Paris runway. It was at once a radical statement of female empowerment amid the decade’s sexual revolution and a nod, with all the world watching, to the free-living, free-loving lesbians who first donned the look.

Pride 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City and the beginnings of the international Pride movement. To celebrate, Culture Trip spotlights LGBTQ pioneers changing the landscape of love around the world. Welcome to The Culture of Pride.

This article is an updated version of a story created by Jade Cuttle.

Primary Sources

Republican Senator and presidential candidate Warren G. Harding of Ohio delivered the following address to the Home Market Club of Boston on May 14, 1920. In it, Harding outlined his hope that the United States would, after a decade of progressive politics and foreign interventions, return to “normalcy.” In November, Harding received the highest percentage of the popular vote in a presidential election up to that time.

In the following selection, Crystal Eastman, a socialist and feminist, considered what women should fight for following the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted American women the right to vote.

Inspired by the writings of Booker T. Washington, Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey became the most prominent Black Nationalist in the United States. He championed the back-to-Africa movement, advocated for black-owned businesses—he founded the Black Star Line, a transnational shipping company—and founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Thousands of UNIA chapters formed all across the world. In 1921, Garvey recorded a message in a New York studio explaining the object of the UNIA.

The “Second” Ku Klux Klan rose to prominence in the 1920s and, at its peak, claimed millions of Americans as members. Klansmen wrapped themselves in the flag and the cross and proclaimed themselves the moral guardians of America. The organization appealed to many “respectable,” middle-class Americans. Here, Imperial Wizard Hiram Evans, a dentist from Dallas, Texas, outlines the Second Klan’s potent mix of Americanism, Protestantism, and white supremacy.

Republican Herbert Hoover embodied the political conservatism of the 1920s. He denounced the regulation of business and championed the individual against “bureaucracy.” In November 1928, Hoover, a Protestant from the Midwest, soundly defeated Al Smith, an Irish Catholic from New York City. Here, in a speech delivered in late October, Hoover outlined his vision of American government.

In the 1920’s Americans across the country bought magazines like Photoplay in order to get more information about the stars of their new favorite entertainment media: the movies. Advertisers took advantage of this broad audience to promote a wide range of goods and services to both men and women who enjoyed the proliferation of consumer culture during this time.

This photo by popular news photographers Underwood and Underwood shows a gathering of a reported 300 Ku Klux Klansmen just outside Washington DC to initiate a new group of men into their order. The proximity of the photographer to his subjects for one of the Klan’s notorious night-time rituals suggests that this was yet another of the Klan’s numerous publicity stunts.

This chapter was remixed by Dan Allosso, who adapted The American Yawp Chapter 22 and added original content. The original Yawp chapter was edited by Brandy Thomas Wells, with content contributions by Micah Childress, Mari Crabtree, Maggie Flamingo, Guy Lancaster, Emily Remus, Colin Reynolds, Kristopher Shields, and Brandy Thomas Wells.


Day 1:

Introduction (Slides) (5 minutes)

  • Introduce “The Celluloid Closet”, a 1996 documentary directed by Rob Epstien and Jeffrey Friedman and written by Vito Russo. The documentary examines Hollywood’s relationship with homosexuality and analyzes depictions of gay and lesbian characters in mainstream American movies.
  • Play the first film clip (the clips take a minute to load, so press play while introducing the documentary) (3 minutes)
  • Ask students their initial reactions to the clip (1 minute)

The Hays Code (20 minutes)

  • Introduce the Hays Code, or Motion Picture Production Code.
    • What is the Code?
      • This code was a set of self-regulating guidelines dictating the content allowed in United States Motion Pictures from 1934-1968.
      • No picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience shall never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil, or sin.
      • Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.
      • Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.
      • Discuss the 1915 Supreme Court Case, Mutual Film Corp. v. Industrial Commission of Ohio that ruled that films did not have freedom of speech
      • Facilitate a class discussion about the importance of Freedom of Speech.
      • The impact of 1915 Supreme Court Case, Mutual Film Corp. v. Industrial Commission of Ohio
      • Pressure from religious groups in the 1920’s to censor what can be portrayed in films
      • Hollywood scandals resulting in critics of the industry

      Introduce the historical context of each decade (35 minutes)

      • 1920’s: The “Pansy Craze”
        • Discuss the impact of the Prohibition on LGBTQ+ culture
        • Discuss the 1927 New York legislature’s public obscenity code’s ban on “depicting or dealing with the subject of sex degeneracy or sex perversion”
        • 1930’s: The Beginning of the Hays Code
          • Discuss the impact of the end of the Prohibition, the onset of the Great Depression and the upcoming World War on LGBTQ+ culture
          • Discuss the notion of “subtext” within early Hays Code films (Can you think of examples of films/TV shows or novels that use subtext today?)
          • 1940’s: McCarthyism
            • Discuss the 1943 ban on homosexuals in the military and psychiatric screening
            • Discuss how McCarthyism reinforced traditional gender roles and heterosexuality
            • Discuss how McCarthy’s House of Un-American Activities Committee influenced the publics perception of homosexuality
            • 1950’s: The Lavender Scare
              • Discuss the 1952 Joseph Burstyn Inc. v. Wilson case that granted films First Amendment protections
              • Discuss how Eisenhower’s Executive Oder 10450 fueled the gay purge
                1. Emphasize the impact that this time period had on perceptions of LGBTQ folks
              • Discuss the increased sense of community among LGBTQ folks and the start of the Homophile Movement
                1. The Mattachine Society
                2. The Daughters of Bilitis
              • 1960’s: The Gay Liberation Movement
                • Discuss the rise of the New Left and the shift in activist tactics from assimilationist to radical
                • Discuss sodomy laws and the first removal of such laws in 1961 (by 2003 The United States Supreme Court ruled that these laws were unconstitutional)
                • Discuss the effect of the repeal of the Hays Code and the Stone Wall Uprising on queer films and perceptions of the LGBTQ community
                • 1970’s: The Post-Stonewall Era
                  • Discuss the rise first commemorations of the Stonewall Uprising
                  • Discuss the removal of homosexuality from the DSM (and how it exemplifies assimilationist approaches– being gay is no longer considered a mental illness but being transgender is)
                  • Introduce the first queer elected public officials (Kathy Kozachenko and Harvey Milk— touch on his assassination and impact on LGTBQ+ rights)
                  • Discuss Hollywood’s discovery of the LGBTQ+ community as a profitable consumer market (How does Hollywood continue to appease both the LGBTQ community and their wider audience base? Ex: “The Bury Your Gays” Trope)

                  Distribute the handout for homework and explain the assignment. Ensure that students know what group they are in and have access to the film clips.

                  Day 2:

                  Introduction (5 minutes)

                  Explain the requirements for the class discussion and state your expectations.

                  Class Group Discussions (45 minutes)

                  Allow 5-10 minutes for each group to facilitate their discussion with the class.

                  Essential Questions Discussion (10 minutes)

                  Put the essential questions on the board and allow students to answer and discuss the questions.

                  Filling the gaps in is my speciality – Patrick Gale

                  This is what inspired me to write my latest novel, The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle. It's about a lonely, socially awkward and secretly gay postman living in a fictional town in the north of England who hits retirement, realising he wants to turn his life around and finally be happy – but to do this, he needs to find the love of his life, a man he hasn’t seen for nearly 50 years. His search for his lost love is interspersed with a series of flashbacks to his youth that gradually reveal the pressures their relationship found itself under as a result of the social climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s – and ultimately how these pressures tore them apart.

                  The photobook Loving features images of men from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries believed to be in love (Credit: 5 Continents Editions)

                  I'm not the only writer who's introducing queer history to a popular audience. My novel is riding on a wave of interest that dates back in the UK to 2017 and the 50th anniversary of the beginning of decriminalisation of homosexuality. That same year, the so-called "Alan Turing law" offered pardons to 49,000 British gay men who’d been convicted of homosexual acts – following a campaign arguably bolstered by the greater awareness brought about by The Imitation Game, the hit film that depicted the conviction and chemical castration of the Enigma-codebreaking computer scientist.

                  The increased interest in queer history is by no means limited to the UK. Loving by Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell is a book of photos from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (found in flea markets and car boot sales) that show men who appear to be in love. It was launched in the US and internationally in October 2020 – and is already entering its fifth print-run. Over on Instagram, The Aids Memorial shares photos and stories of people – predominantly gay men – who died of the disease, written by those who loved them. It now has 185,000 followers. Meanwhile, on Netflix, 2020 documentary A Secret Love tells the story of a US lesbian couple who kept their relationship secret from their families for nearly seven decades.

                  Queer (Living the Twenties #AtoZChallenge 2020)

                  The Twenties were strange times for queer people. In most countries, the relations and intercourse between people of the same sex (which mostly meant between men, queer women were seldom acknowledged) were against the law. Still, there were instances where this community started to gain recognition and in some cases, even acceptance.

                  Secrecy was the norm

                  In most countries of the Western World, homosexuality (or as it was defined, sodomy) was a prosecutable crime.

                  The queer community mostly lived in secrecy. Relationships happened in private houses. Though there were places where people could meet, these were generally underground and secret, and mostly functioned as ballrooms, where drag balls took place. Although secret to the outside, these balls could be very large. Tens of people may attend, and nobody would know, unless the police broke in, as sometimes would happen.

                  Meeting was difficult, both because of the secrecy and the danger of being discovered, so queer people developed a secret language that actually happened quite in the open. It sometimes appeared in newspaper adverts, were especially men would ask to meet other men, for example, to share a holiday. Or they could say that ‘I have an unusual temperament’. References to Edward Carpenter, Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman were also quite common.

                  Drag shows in Harlem

                  The artistic environment had always been more open to queer people. Entertainment was an especially favourable space because, on a stage, people would dress as they wanted and seldom be judged. Therefore, in some such places drag shows started to leave secrecy and come more in the open.

                  Gladys Bentley photographed by Carl Van Vechten in Harlem, 1932. (Yale University Library) She was probably one of the most popular drag artists in Harlem

                  In the 1920s, Harlem, the black city inside the city of New York, was the beating heart of the jazz revolution and the place of a thriving artistic community. Harlem housed famous theatres, as well as unnumbered speakeasies both known and secret. Here, people could enjoy and dance to the hottest jazz.

                  All of this made it seedy by default, a place where legal and illegal activities were expected to happen. Yet, the rebellious jazz music seemed to make all these liminal activities attractive.

                  Even wealthy whites who during the day would condemn everything happening in Harlem, at night would slum down to the entertainment district in search of any excess.

                  In this environment, drag shows occasionally came in the open and both queer and straight patrons would attend. It was still a very stylised form of meeting, as everything was when different communities met in Harlem, but it was the first step toward a more open frequentation.


                  In all this secrecy and shady relationships, Berlin was the one exception. In the 1920s, this was probably the most queer-friendly city on the globe.

                  Conrad Veidt in a still image from the 1919 German film Anders als die Andern ( Different from the Others)

                  It didn’t depend on the law. ‘Sodomy’ was a crime in Berlin as everywhere else. But over almost a century, the city had developed a form of control based on tolerance that proved to be both effective and ultimately open-minded.

                  After WWI, this unusual ‘freedom’ merged with the thriving entertainment industry of the Weimar Republic. Queer drag artists performed side by side with straight drag artists. Queer artists performed in mainstream establishments and shows. The mix became so common that the public stopped worrying who they were watching and simply enjoyed the show. Queer and straight people started to mix both on and off the stage and even in the audience. This created an environment of surprising tolerance.

                  The 1920s sexual freedom that allowed women to enjoy their sensuality more fully involved the queer community too. Berlin, the sin city of Germany, became a place where living one’s sexuality freely was a common occurrence.


                  Peter Jelavich, Berlin Cabaret. Harvard University Press, Harvard, 1993

                  Munford, Kevin J., Interzones. Black/White Sex Districts in Chicago and New York in the Early Twentieth Century. Columbia University Press, New York, 1997

                  Patrick’s story … World Blood Donor Day and rules changing

                  Patrick’s story

                  Many gay men born in the 1950s and 1960s, before homosexuality was partially decriminalised in 1967, stayed firmly in the closet for decades. It can be hard now to remember the societal pressures that drove many into denial and marriage with women, despite knowing their own preferences. But not Patrick, who identified as straight throughout his early life.

                  “My friends think I’m a very strange gay guy, but I just loved women!” he says. “I knew about the gay life, but I had no feelings for it, nothing to do with it. I got married, had a very happy marriage, had two sons.”

                  He worked as an English teacher and, with a strict Irish Catholic upbringing, was active in his local church, while his wife was a teacher in a local Catholic primary school. So when an incident on holiday triggered unexpected feelings and he began to explore his sexuality, it came as something of a surprise.

                  “If I’d had feelings like that before I’d have told people,” he says. One thing led to another and, 30 years ago aged 41, he came out it was a traumatic time for him and his whole family.

                  “It was a shock, and not everybody took it well,” he says. “It was different for my wife, different for my boys, different for my mum and dad – my mother took it very badly indeed, though my dad was amazingly supportive. Thankfully, attitudes have changed since that time.”

                  For today’s young people, it can be hard to imagine the difficulties faced by earlier gay generations. Patrick’s local priest banned him from the church, his marriage broke down, and he led a double life for some years, keeping his sexuality hidden at work and not coming out to his wider family for five years.

                  It was a lonely time. Then he bumped into a former pupil, got into a conversation about faith, and learnt about a support group for gay Catholics, which he started attending.

                  “That led to meeting people involved with other groups. It’s a networking thing, you get to hear about other clubs you might be interested in,” he says.

                  He joined a gay badminton group (he had always been a keen badminton player, playing in the top division of the local league), a gay choir and Manchester’s first LGBT line dancing club, the Prairie Dogs, set up 25 years ago (it won the best walking entry in Manchester Pride 2019’s parade). He also volunteered with the LGBT+ community, working with befriending schemes and as an HIV/Aids buddy.

                  “That was difficult at times, but I wanted to do something giving back to my community,” he says.

                  He stepped up as a diversity officer for his union, which led to him being appointed a delegate to LGBT+ conferences, where he has given speeches on a number of motions.

                  “I went through a lot, but I hear stories of unbelievable bravery and courage even now,” he says.

                  Clearly there is still much work to be done to ensure recognition and acceptance for LGBT+ people. But the community has many friendship groups to support older gay singletons – Patrick is a regular at Out in the City, a Manchester group for the over-50s.

                  “I’ve worked through some really bad times, but I’m very happy with my life,” he says.

                  “I’m single, but I’ve got a good, supportive friendship circle and a lot of activities. But do we have to have labels on people? I don’t go into places and announce myself as gay my sexuality is my business.

                  We’re all human beings that should be treated with mutual respect and caring.”

                  • Annie
                  • Ted

                  You can also read Annie’s story here and Ted’s story here.

                  World Blood Donor Day

                  World Blood Donor Day is held on 14 June each year. The event was organised for the first time in 2005 to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products, and to thank blood donors for their voluntary life-saving gifts of blood.

                  It is celebrated on the birthday anniversary of Karl Landsteiner (14 June 1868) who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the ABO blood group system.

                  Blood donation rules changing (from 14 June 2021)

                  The eligibility rules around blood donation are changing to move towards a more inclusive and fairer process allowing as many people as possible to make the life-saving decision to give blood safely.

                  Following the FAIR (For the Assessment of Individualised Risk) steering group’s recommendations and in line with the latest scientific evidence, blood donation will become more inclusive. More people could be eligible to donate blood based on their health, travel and sexual behaviour.

                  New guidance means your eligibility to give blood is based solely on your own individual experiences, making the process fairer for everyone. Switching to an individualised check is a fairer and as safe a way to spot infection. The changes mean many gay, bi-men and men who have sex with men in a long-term relationship will now be able to donate blood at any time.

                  What is changing?

                  From 14 June 2021, the questions you will be asked before you give blood are changing.

                  What questions will you be asked?

                  You will have to complete a Donation Safety Check and will be asked whether, over the last three months, you have:

                  • Had sex with anyone who has had syphilis, hepatitis or anyone who is HIV positive?
                  • Been given money or drugs for sex?
                  • Had sex with anyone who has ever been given money or drugs for sex?
                  • Had sex with anyone who has ever injected drugs?
                  • Taken Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) / Truvada for prevention of HIV or taken or been prescribed Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) for prevention of HIV?
                  • Used drugs during sex (excluding erectile dysfunction drugs or cannabis)?

                  If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then you are unable to give blood right now.

                  If you answered no to all of the questions above, you may be able to give blood if you meet the other eligibility criteria.

                  In addition, you will also be asked whether, over the last three months, you have:

                  If you answer yes to this question, you will then be asked if you had anal sex with any of your sexual partners.

                  • If you have, you will not be able to donate for three months.
                  • If you have not, you will be able to donate (subject to all other eligibility criteria).

                  What do the changes mean for transgender blood donors?

                  Being transgender does not in any way prevent you from being able to donate. All donors are addressed using the title and pronouns of their choice. NHS Blood and Transplant considers all donors to be the sex and/or gender that they identify as, including nonbinary, genderfluid and agender donors.

                  Currently, donors are asked about their assigned sex at birth every time they come to donate, because some blood products are safe to manufacture from the blood of donors assigned male at birth but not from those assigned female at birth.

                  Many trans people may not consider this suitable, but there are plans by September 2021 to require the assigned sex at birth only once at registration and not at every session.

                  First blood plasma for medicines donations begin

                  NHS Blood and Transplant is asking for men between the ages of 17 and 66 to consider donating their blood plasma which is used in the production of life-saving medicines. Thousands of patients rely on these antibody-based medicines called immunoglobulins, which are used for short-term treatment or lifelong diseases, they help people with weak immune systems and a variety of other rare disorders.

                  Men are more likely to have the blood plasma volumes and larger vein sizes making them ideal donors. Donating plasma takes about 45 minutes and is completely safe. During the process the plasma is filtered out of circulating blood by an apheresis machine and the red blood cells are returned to the donor. It is possible to donate as often as every two weeks and a maximum of 24 donations per year.

                  Since 7 April 2021, people will donate blood plasma for medicines for the first time in more than 20 years at 14 donor centres around England including Manchester.

                  There is a global supply shortage due to rising demand. Up until now, the UK has depended on imports of blood plasma from other countries – mainly the US. Donations will bolster the supply chain and improve the self-sufficiency of the UK in producing its own treatments.

                  The restriction on using plasma from UK donors was introduced in 1998 as a precautionary measure against vCJD (Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease), but was lifted by the Department of Health and Social Care in February 2021. The independent Commission on Human Medicines advised it is safe and can recommence supported by a set of robust safety measures. Find out more about donating blood plasma by calling 0300 123 23 23.

                  1920s Gay Culture

                  “Homosexuality was clearly part of this world. ‘There’s two things got me puzzled, there’s two things I don’t understand,’ moaned blues great Bessie Smith, ‘that’s a mannish-acting woman and a lisping, swishing, womanish-acting man.’ In ‘Sissy Blues,’ Ma Rainey complained of her husband’s infidelity with a homosexual named ‘Miss Kate.’ Lucille Bogan, in her ‘B.D. Women Blues,’ warned that ‘B.D. [bulldagger] women sure is rough they drink up many a whiskey and they sure can strut their stuff.’ The ‘sissies’ and ‘bull daggers’ mentioned in the blues were ridiculed for their cross-gender behavior, but neither shunned nor hated. ‘Boy in the Boat’ for example, recorded in 1930 by George Hanna, counseled ‘When you see two women walking hand in hand, just shake your head and try to understand.’ In fact, the casualness toward sexuality, so common in the blues, sometimes extended to homosexual behavior. In ‘Sissy Man Blues,’ a traditional tune recorded by nurnerous male blues singers over the years, the singer demanded ‘if you can’t bring me a woman, bring me a sissy man.’ George Hanna’s ‘Freakish Blues,’ recorded in 1931, is even more explicit about potential sexual fludity. The blues reflected a culture that accepted sexuality, including homosexual behavior and identities, as a natural part of life…

                  Somewhat more public-and therefore less abandoned-were Harlem’s speakeasies, where gays were usually forced to hide their preferences and to blend in with the heterosexual patrons. Several Harlem speakeasies though, some little more than dives, catered specifically to the ‘pansy’ trade. One such place, an ‘open’ speakeasy since there was no doorman to keep the uninvited away, was located on the northwest corner of 126th Street and Seventh Avenue. It was a large, dimly lit place where gay men could go to pick up ‘rough trade.’ Artist Bruce Nugent, who occasionelly visited the place, remembered it catering to ‘rough queers . . . the kind that fought better than truck drivers and swished better than Mae West.’ Ethel Waters remembered loaning her gowns to the transvestites who frequented Edmond’s Cellar, a low-life saloon at 132nd Street and Fifth Avenue. Lulu Belle’s on Lenox Avenue was another hangout for female impersonators, named after the famous Broadway melodrama of 1926 starring Leonore Ulric. A more sophisticated crowd of black gay men gathered nightly at the Hot Cha, at 132nd Street and Seventh Avenue, to listen to Jimmy Daniels sing and Garland Wilson play piano.

                  Perhaps the most famous gay-oriented club of the era was Harry Hansberry’s Clam House, a narrow, smoky speakeasy on 133rd Street. The Clam House featured Gladys Bentley, a 250- pound, masculine, darkskinned lesbian, who performed all night long in a white tuxedo and top hat. Bentley, a talented pianist with a magnificent, growling voice, was celebrated for inventing obscene Iyrics to popular contemporary melodies. Langston Hughes called her ‘an amazing exhibition of musical energy.’ Eslanda Robeson, wife of actor Paul Robeson, gushed to a friend, ‘Gladys Bentley is grand. I’ve heard her three nights, and will never be the same!’ Schoolteacher Harold Jackman wrote to his friend Countee Cullen, ‘When Gladys sings ‘St. James Infirmary,’ it makes you weep your heart out.’

                  A glimpse into a speakeasy, based in part on the Clam House. is provided in Blair Niles’ 1931 gay novel Strange Brother. The Lobster Pot is a smoky room in Harlem, simply furnished with a couple of tables, a piano, and a kitchen, where white heterosexual journalist June Westwood, Strange Brother’s female protagonist, is first introduced to Manhattan’s gay subculture. The Lobster Pot features a predominantly gay male clientel and an openly lesbian entertainer named Sybil. ‘What rhythm!’ June comments to her companions. ‘And the way she’s dressed!’ Westbrook finds the atmosphere intoxicating, but abruptly ends her visit when she steps outside and witnesses the entrapment of an effeminate black gay man by the police.”

                  (Eric Garber, A Spectacle in Color: The Lesbian and Gay Subculture of Jazz Age Harlem,

                  “George Chauncey’s innovative and prodigiously researched Gay New York belies the myth of the pre-Stonewall closet and unearths a thriving gay culture in Gotham in the half-decade before World War II, before ‘the decline of the fairy and the rise of the closet.’ Contrary to Whiggish notions of severe homosexual repression up until the liberating 1970s, Chauncey argues that ‘the gay male world of the prewar years was remarkably visible and integrated into the straight world’ in the first decades of the twentieth century. In fact, it was not until after the close of Prohibition that new social norms and cultural anxieties forced a restructuring of urban gay life. ‘To use the modern idiom,’ Chauncey writes, ‘the state built a closet in the 1930s and forced gay people to hide in it.’

                  Chauncey’s book is rife with fascinating insights and conclusions, perhaps none so immediately surprising as the discovery that ‘in important respects the hetero-homosexual binarism, the sexual regime now hegemonic in American culture, is a stunningly recent creation.’ Tracing the rise of the word gay to encompass all homosexual men (be they previously classified as queers, fairies, trade or another term now considered much more perjorative), Chauncey argues that ‘the ascendancy of gay reflected…a reorganization of sexual categories and the transition from an early twentieth-century culture divided into ‘queers’ and ‘men’ on the basis of gender status to a late twentieth-century culture divided into ‘homosexuals’ and ‘heterosexuals’ on the basis of sexual object choice.’ Put another way, Chauncey argues that ‘homosexual behavior per se became the primary basis for the labeling and self-identification of men as ‘queer’ only around the middle of the twentieth century before then, most men were so labeled only if they had displayed a much broader inversion of their ascribed gender status by assuming the sexual and other cultural roles ascribed to women. The abnormality (or ‘queerness’) of the ‘fairy,’ that is, was defined as much by his ‘woman-like’ character or ‘effeminacy’ as his solicitation of male sexual partners the ‘man’ who responded to his solicitations — no matter how often — was not considered abnormal, a ‘homosexual,’ so long as he abided by masculine gender conventions. Indeed, the centrality of effeminacy to the representation of the ‘fairy’ allowed many conventionally masculine men, [especially] unmarried men living in sex-segregated immigrant communities, to engage in extensive sexual activity with other men without risking stigmatization and the loss of their status as ‘normal men.’

                  Besides uncovering this striking shift in gender and social norms, Chauncey accomplishes similar linguistic feats in his study of the term coming out. ‘Gay people in the prewar years,’ he notes, ‘did not speak of coming out of what we now call the ‘gay closet’ but rather of coming out into what they called ‘homosexual society’ or the ‘gay world,’ a world neither so small, nor so isolated, nor, often, so hidden as ‘closet’ implies.’ Indeed, ‘like much of campy gay terminology, ‘coming out’ was an arch play on the language of women’s culture — in this case the expression used to refer to the ritual of a debutante’s being formally introduced to, or ‘coming out’ into the society of her cultural peers.’ As the debutante connotation indicates, the prewar gay world of drag balls and speakeasies was one much more open and public than the prevailing trope of the closet suggests.”

                  Watch the video: What Russians think about LGBT?


  1. Aureliano

    The issue is remarkable

  2. Dristan

    I apologize for interfering ... I am here recently. But this topic is very close to me. Ready to help.

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