1992 - A Banner Year for Erie Area's Lesbigays
1992 was an unbelievable year for the gay community in the Erie area. Beginning in the spring, gay groups started popping up all over. Nothing like it had ever happened before.
The local exlosion reflectted what was going on nationally. All over the country, gay, lesbian and bisexual issues and actions burst onto the scene with unprecedented power and visibility. The 1992 election year was compared to the Stonewall Riots in 1969 in term of its importance for gay/lesbian power.
Here's a retrospect of an incredible year and here's to more of the same!
League of Gay & Lesbian Voters
The newly formed chapter ofthe League of Gay and Lesbian Voters gathered information on candidates for state and federal offices. This information was taken from questionnaires returned by the candidates as well as from the candidates' records.
The gathered information went into the LGLV Voters' Guide. That first guide would figure prominently in the Fall race for 1st District Assembly seat.
The production of the spring Primary Election issue of the Voters' Guide was complicated because voting districts had just been rearranged. On top of that, the Pittsburgh printer who had been commissioned to print the Guide was not doing so. The League ended up having an Erie printer do the job (5,000 copies-with one week to go before the election!) When it became clear that the local printer was going to be unable to finish it, the League managed to coordinate a massive volunteer effort that went on for two days and two nights-with about 30-40 volunteers folding, collating, stapling and "cutting" the guides. A potential disaster was averted by this great cooperative effort.
The Erie LGLV chapter put a lot of effort into the issue of hate crimes against "lesbigay" individuals. Members pushed for passage of House Bill 1353, which would amend Pennsylvania's Bias Crimes Act to includes acts committed against people because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. The Bias Crimes Act has protected other minority groups for the past decade. Activities included educating the public at large by speaking with the media, collecting hate crimes information from local victims of anti-gay violence and lobbying legislators. At least one member was successfd in obtaining the support of his representative.
The trial in the gay-bashing/murder of Donald Kremer, a local gay man, was held at the same time that HB 1353 was being considered in the PA House. The details of the well-publicized trial demonstrated why "special protection" is needed for the gay community. An Erie jury returned a guilty verdict against the two men accused of Kremer's murder.
The Times-News published an article on violence against gay men and lesbians in the Erie area. Jerry Trambley, author of the article, quoted several gay people. The article gave almost everyone pseudonyms and appeared just before the HB 1353 vote. The session ran out before the House could vote on the bill. (It was approved by the Judiciary Committee). The bill will be re-introduced.
Cascade Street Playground
One big cooperative project also was assisting in the construction ofthe Cascade Street Playground behind Emerson Elementary School. Pastor Todd Davis of Kingsley United Methodist Church had contacted the League, as well as numerous other groups and individuals in the general community for help in building the playground. In mid-May, members of Erie's lesbigay community worked 100 hours on the project. A plaque to be posted at the playground will include"Erie's Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Community." It was a very heartening experience to see so many of Erie's people, gay and straight, working happily together on a project to improve the community for all of us.
Local members of the Ku Klux Klan were also busy organizing in 1992. The Klan planned a massive rally to be held in Albion, with the hopes of building a strong Klan presence in northwest PA.
Inter Church Ministries (ICM), which is an organization of area churches, began meeting to discuss actions to take. Integrity became part of that effort, and sent Jacquelyn in as a representative. Integrity is the Episcopalian ministry to the gay and lesbian community.
"We were concerned about the Klan for two reasons," said Jacquelyn. "One, because we are generally opposed to the Klan's philosophy and practice of spreading fear and hatred. And two, because we as gay men and lesbians are a major target of that hatred."
After some dialogue, ICM chair Bill Merriman included "sexual orientation" in his public statements against bigotry and in favor of tolerance.
Cupa-ccino's, the popular gay-friendly coffeehouse, also participated in the pro-diversity activities by taking part in the Peace Project: A Peaceful Alternative, a day that celebrated diversity among all people. Musicians performed for free and management printed and made available a booklet featuring speeches and writings that caled for an end to all discrimination.
The Klan rally went on as scheduled and was a massive failure. As much as we tend to think of Erie as a conservative place to live, we may all take pride in the fact that organized hatred found no real support here.
Erie Gay Community Newsletter
The Erie Gay Community Newsletter started publication in the spring, on a more or less monthly basis. It listed together in one place all the activities, events, meetings, and announcements of interest to the "lesbigay" community. It helped promote an awareness of the burgeoning gay community in the area, and probably inspired new organizations.
The calendar will continue to come out on a monthly basis. The expanded newsletter- with news and features-will come out on a quarterly basis. [Ed's note: Subscriptions are available! See Subscription and Ad Rates in this issue! Never miss another issue! Operators are standing bi!]
First Publicly Out Erleite
In May, Michael Mahler became the first local gay person to voluntarily come out in the media.
Mahler is the spokesperson for the Erie Chapter of the League of Gay and Lesbian Voters, and had been contacted by WSEE-TV to respond to the guilty verdict in the Donald Kremer gay-bashing/murder trial.
Since then, Mahler has appeared several times on TV, twice on WLKK, and in the local paper.
"I was tired of gays always looking like mafia members, hiding in the shadows. If there is going to be any progress in respect and decent treatment for gay people, we have to act responsibly and with pride," Mahler said.
He has not suffered any real repercussions, but reports receiving hate-messages on his answering machine.
In June the Pride Picnic was held. The picnic was scheduled for June because that is the month when gay and lesbian pride marches and other observances take place around the country and internationally.
Held at a cabin near Beach 6, the picnic attracted about 40-60 people. Organizers of this first effort didn't strive for large attendance, preferring to see how the event went before moving on to something that drew a real crowd.
There weren't really any organized events, but folks attending the picnic kept themselves entertained by hanging out on the beach, playing games, hiking, listening to music, chatting with friends ... and, of course, sampling the various foods (it was a pot luck).
Bridges will be taking over the Pride Picnic (next is scheduled forJ une 12,1993), but in the future, it will probably not be held at the peninsula. The decision was reached because it contradicted what the picnic was supposed to be about: since the picnic was in a public park, the lesbians and gay men attending the picnic respected the sensibilities of others in the park and did not "act gay" or show physical affection to the same sex. Although such respect for others is to be commended, it doesn't seem right to go to a gay pride event and feel restrained about being gay. So at this writing, alternative sites are being investigated. Suggestions would be appreciated.
In the mid-summer and early fall, a group of people from several local gay and lesbian organizations started meeting to talk about developing communications and cooperation between the various groups. One of the ways they wanted to accomplish this was by working on certain projects together. The first of these projects was the Community Dance, held on October 24. Another dance is planned for January30 and an open forum pot luck for February 20.
Bridges' first dance was a roaring success. The dance was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church and attracted about 150 people. The DJ kept the crowd dancing all night. A separate quiet area was set aside for those who wanted to socialize with each other. La Bella Bistro Restaurant donated a delightful spread of gourmet food. A long table with free literature from the various organizations was set up. The Closet Door Prize Raffle, a Basket of Debauchery, was a major hit. Another is planned for the next dance. Another positive result of the Community Dance was this expanded version of the newsletter. The monies raised from the dance are helping to defray the cost of this publication.
Linda Bebko Jones vs Jerry Knight
Erie's first gay rights battle took place in the fall race for the First District (Eastside) Assembly seat.
Republican candidate Jerry Knight attacked Democratic candidate Linda Bebko- Jones for her support of gay and lesbian rights, and distorted her statements favoring better AIDS education and prevention programs. The anti-gay stance became Knight's major focus in the campaign. The Republican State Committee helped fund these efforts.
Knight used the League of Gay and Lesbian Voters' Voters' Guide as "documented proof' of Bebko-Jones' stands on these issues, and frequently referred to the guide in campaign literature and ads. The League specifically prohibits the partisan use ofinformation in the guide, and sought legal recourse for copyright infringement. Knight also misused voters' guides put out by the League of Women Voters and the Central Labor Counciil,and these organizations publicly criticized Knight for that misuse.
A number of lesbians and gay men became active in the Bebko-Jones campaign, because they were angered and concerned about Knight's tactics. It was the first time gay people became active-as a group-- in an Erie election, and many who participated said they would like to become involved in an ongoing partisan political action group (the LGLV does not become involved in campaigns for political office).
Bebko-Jones won by over 1,000 votes. It's not known how much Knight's gaybashing hurt him. One can safely assume that this approach upset almost all of his district's gayand lesbian voters, which would have cost him a 10% voting block. Also, in elections around the country, gay-bashing as a political tactic tended to back-fire on the people using it, with many of the gay bashing candidates losing elections. But Knight also offended the sensibilities of liberal Democrats and moderate voters of both parties. Also Bebko-Jones has a lot of support in the black community, in organized labor, in women's groups, among seniors, and among the city's eastside Democratic voters. These people were willing to work hard to get Bebko-Jones into office.
In November, WSEE-TV ran a three part series called Erie's Gay 90's, produced by reporter Randy MacIlwain.
The station had done a three-part series on Erie's gay community once before-in 1985, loosely based around the theme of Gays and AIDS in Erie. The difference this time was that there were local gay men and lesbians willing to speak on camera, with no facial disguising or voice alterations.
People in the gay community were so divided in their opinions over this series that it's hard to believe they all watched the same thing. Here's what it included:
The first segment focused on legal and political issues, with much attention given to the League of Gayand Lesbian Voters and anti-gay violence. Chris Young (founder of the League) and Michael Mahler (League secretary and spokesperson) spoke on camera about the purpose of LGLV and the need for equality and respect.
Bob Burford, DJ at the Silver Slipper bar, spoke about the verbal harassment and assaults that had taken place outside the Slipper. Reporter Macllwain brought up Republican Jerry Knight's anti-gay political campaign, and mentioned the possibility that it may have cost him the election. Visuals in the first segment included an LGLV meeting and a waist-down shot of people dancing at the Slipper.
The second segment centered on work, and featured an interview with Dr. Lucinda Marsh in her office. Bob Burford was shown again, discussing the anti-gay harassment he experienced while working at the Millcreek Mall. Meg Maly, a local human sexuality educator, discussed anti-gay prejudice in the work place. Visuals included Dr. Marsh working on Macllwain (Marsh is a doctor of Chiropractic), and the bar scene from the first segment was shown again for some odd reason. Dr. Marsh said that she knew of at least nine gay friends of hers who were professionals, none of whom were in a position, personally or professionally, to speak out, but she was so "I can do it."
The third and final segment dealt with family-related issues. Much time was spent with Dr. Marsh,who has a 2-year-old daughter. She discussed being a lesbian mom, and was shown reading to and being affectionate with her little girl. Rick Shenker from the Erie chapter of the right-wing Christian Coalition was shown denouncing gays as "demented and depraved" and unworthy of parenthood; Dr. Marsh's dignified and gentle demeanor in the interview did a lot to discredit that view. Meg Maly commented favorably on the suitability of gay and lesbian parents.
There was another first achieved by this series, and it is much more disturbing: Macllwain "outed" three gay people, exposing their identities even though he had agreed not to. This, then, was the first time in anyone's memory that any media person has ever gone against an agreement to protect the confidentiality of local gay people.
House of Compassion
Father Pat Dunlap, a Roman Catholic priest, established the House of Compassion, a home for men dying of AIDS. In the fall, Father Dunlap passed away due to complications from AIDS, and the House of Compassion closed shortly after that. Fr. Dunlap is profoundly missed, and we offer our condolences to his loved ones.
New Groups/Campus Groups
The Men's Coffeehouse started meeting at the Unitarian-Universalist Church. providing a smoke-free, alcohol-free space for gay and bisexual men to get together. Activities include videos, pot lucks, sing-alongs, and game nights.
Life's Blood, the gay AA group, became more well-attended in the spring. Feeling safe about being open and honest is so important in succeeding with a 12-step program, and Life's Blood now provides such a place for gay people who need it.
Two new gay and lesbian student groups formed in the Erie area in 1992.
This past spring at Mercyhurst College, the Gayand Lesbian Alliance-10 was formed. It's a support group for lesbians and gay men as well as a place where concerned non-gay people can come to gain an understanding about gay people. Many people outside of the Mercyhurst community attend the meetings.
At Behrend, scudents have formed a support group called TRIGON (originally Gamma Beta Lambda). Despite the name, the group is not part of the Greek system and is open co all gay men and lesbians at Behrend. In December 1992, the Behrend Student Government voted unanimously to make TRIGON an official student organization.
Allegheny College's Committee in Support of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual People- formed in 1991, really started picking up steam.
And this year EGO (Edinboro Gay and Lesbian Organization) had its 14th birthday, making it the longest existing gay organization in northwestern Pennsylvania. Started in 1978, it was originally called the Homophile League. Alchough the group has had its dormant periods and the massive membership turnover characteristic of student groups, it has hung in there. Congratulations, EGO!
Two other groups celebrated anniversaries in 1992. Womynspace turned three years old this fall, Integrity turned two.
Groups forming at the end of 1992 include a lesbian mother's support group (see related arcicle) and Friends Alike, a peer support group for lesbigay and cross-gendered people in the Oil City area (see Groups and Meetings).
The Erie area lesbigay community had a lot to be proud of in 1992, and we are eager to see what the new year will bring!