EPISODE 31: These Maps Once Showed Where Being Gay Was Safe

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Show Notes

Today on the show we’re talking about a travel guide — The Damron Guides. It was like a Green Book for LGBTQ Americans traveling the country and looking for safe spaces.

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Straw media. Well, I think
you know, when we talk about L

G B T Q history there's a
pretension to sort of sideline right and I

tend to think that you can't talk
about US history without talking about L G

B D Q history. This is
Lucas grimly from next city, show about

change makers and their stories. Truth
is there are solutions to the problems of

pressing people in cities. If you're
listening, I hope it's because you want

to spread good ideas from one city
to the next city. And the Oscar

goes to green book. That was
in nineteen when Green Book won the Academy

Award for Best Picture. I have
to confess I've never seen the movie.

I'm not jumping into any debate about
the film. All I can say for

sure is the SCAR BUZZ had people
asking about the real life history it was

based on. Professor Tiffany Gill from
the University of Delaware, teaches history and

black American studies. She was asked
about the real green book in an interview

on c span just before the movie
won that Academy Award. The Green Book

was this really interesting travel guide.
I mean it's at its very core it

was a pocket size travel guide that
you could take with you when you're traveling,

when you're on going on an airplane, when you're going in your car.

And it was started by a man
named Victor Green in n Um.

He was a postman. Um worked
for the Postal Service in Harlem and actually

had an experience when him and his
wife were traveling and he faced discrimination and

uncertainty about where it would be safe
for him to stay. So he came

back home and, with his knowledge
as a postman right he knows the community,

he knows the streets. He actually
created a guide for New York City.

Um and actually a guy to show
places in New York City where it

would be safe for African Americans,
whether it is going to a restaurant or

to a nightclub, even to things
like beauty salons and barbershops. He creates

his guide for New York and then
eventually expands it to include the entire nation

and even international destinations by and in
it you would have the places where it

would be safe to lodge, cities
where it would be safe for you to

say they would have names of black
owned businesses and also white owned businesses that

were friendly to African Americans. It
also would include, for places like the

South, a list of the segregation
laws in the community so that African Americans

could be equipped to know how to
navigate them, as well as the number

for attorneys just in case they got
into any trouble. So it was a

travel guide, but one that had
really practical needs. Today on the show

we're talking about another travel guide.
Maybe one day there will be a movie

about it, but until then this
guide is known by many fewer people the

Damnron guides. It was like a
green book for Lgbtq Americans traveling the country

and looking for safe spaces. We'll
meet two historians who are digitizing and preserving

decades of Damn Ron Guide records and, along with them, important pieces of

US history. One of those people
is Eric and Zaba, Assistant Professor of

American Studies at California State University.
Our readers first met the professor when next

city covered this story in so our
story described this as the Gay Green Book.

What do you think of that analogy? You know, I think it's

relatively fair. I mean it's it's
it's always uncomfortable to try to compare sexuality

and race, but insomuch that the
green book was used by African Americans to

find safe spaces when they were trying
to travel through the Jim Crow South and

Jim Crow North. You know,
these gay guides were really lifelines for a

generation of gay man and eventually lesbian
women as they trappled around the country as

well. So the comparison is helpful
to people who know the Green Book,

but I'm never going to try to
compare race and sexuality. It's it's like

someone want to do. How would
you explain the Damaron guides to someone who

has never ever seen one or heard
of one? Sure So, the Dam

Ron guides were an early gay travel
guide. Um, and these were travel

guides geared toward gay men beginning in
the nineteen sixties. They were not the

first gate travelic guides by any means. Gay Travel Guides were beginning in the

late nineteen fouries. In nineteen fifties
we're being published around the country, but

Damron, Bob Damon, Begins Publishing
his own uh gay travel guide in nineteen

sixty four. And the reason why
they're so important is, unlike so many

of the other gay travel guides that
came before him and even after him,

he was in some ways kind of
known as the gold standard gay travel guide

Um and the most long lasting his
gay travel on like all of his competitors,

last from all the way of twenty. They were lists of states and

cities and they listed places like bars
and restaurants and coffee houses and bath houses

and public parks, places where gay
men could find one in another Um in

all over the country and eventually all
over the world. Professor Gonzaba came up

with the idea for mapping the Damn
Ron guides with another student while they were

in Grad School. Gonzabo was working
on a dissertation about gay night life and

was interviewing men about the clubs that
they could remember. Sometimes memories were fuzzy,

so he started using Damn Ron Guides
to find the old clubs. Enter

Amanda Reagan, who was an assistant
professor of history at Clemson. Yes,

so I'm actually Um. Ironically,
I'm not an LGBTQ historian. I do

women's history and study the history of
physical fitness in the early twentieth century,

but I'm a digital historian by training
Um, and this project sort of came

about when Uh Eric and I were
in graduate school. Um and we were

both teaching a class at George Mason
University called the digital past, and in

that Class I was with my undergraduates. I was using the green books actually,

Um and we were mapping the green
books in order to try to understand

the racial landscapes of a particular city, because you could very clearly see what

areas were segregated. UMU, and
it became very prominent when you mapped it.

And Eric and I happen to be
sharing in office while we were finishing

our dissertations, and I told Eric
about this assignment and he showed me one

of the Damron guides and I said, Eric, this is an incredible resource.

Um and I looked at it and
and because of my training in digital

history, I immediately saw data and
I said we could transcribe these, we

could digitize them, we could map
them, um and then and then ask

questions of them. And this is
where things really start to get interesting.

Lgbt Q history hasn't been valued by
the mainstream. After the break, some

unexpected discoveries about queer history have come
up during the digitizing of the records.

Welcome back to next city on the
show. Today. An effort to digitize

the Damnn died the green book for
Lgbtq Americans. To understand this history,

first we need to understand the person
behind it, who cataloged it, Bob

Damn Ron. Here is Professor Guintaba
M you're writing a book about Bob Dame

Ron. What do you think is
important that people know about him? You

know what, Bob Damn Ron is
fascinating he I think what I love about

Bob is not just about him.
I mean he's known by a certain generation

of game man, but he's relatively
unknown by, you know, gay men

who were born after maybe nine so
it's hard to kind of track his biography.

But what's interesting is that his life
coincides with major events. He owns

bars in Los Angeles that are rated
by the L A P D because homosexuality

and owning and serving gay people alcohol
the Nies is illegal. So I'm able

to tell that story about the nine
fifties. Eventually, like so many gay

people, gets frustrated about where he's
living at the time, decides to go

to a gay Mecca and one of
the game make at that time is north

of him in San Francisco, and
he becomes a huge gay bar owner in

San Francisco. There I'm able to
tell the story of, you know,

the the the diaspora of gay men
to places like New York and San Francisco,

like Harvey Milk will be right,
uh, and it becomes a major

kind of figure. There he starts
these Damn Ron Guides, which he doesn't

even think of his legacy. His
legacy, he thinks, is that businessman

is making these gay bars. But
ironically, I think his legacy are these

travel guides, because I argue that
they really bind the nation, the gay

nation, together. Right. It
allows people to find each other and allows

gay men to avoid something that they
that generations before them had had suffered through,

which was loneliness. Right, Dan
Bron's guide allow people to feel not

lonely whenever they were traveling. Right. And unfortunately, uh, you know,

the book is kind of the ending
of the book is unfortunate chapter of

the damner actors book. He eventually
sells it in the late eighties and he

succumbs to AIDS relatively quickly after he
sells it. In the late eighties.

Bob Dann Ron Kept and updated these
guides for decades and while they've been illuminating

the researchers warned that the data should
not be taken at face value. Eric

and I have an article coming out
in southern history quarterly that Um investigates the

relationship between so Damn Ron in his
guides he classified locations as B, for

what he called blacks frequent or blacks
predominant. Eventually it becomes multiracial clientele,

African American in the nineties, Um. And so the terms he uses change

over time. Um. And then
he has another categorization which is called RT,

which was Raunchy or downtown types.
So you have to think about who

Damn Ron was. Damron was a
white guy from San Francisco, Um,

and he's bringing that that bias,
that perspective to his editing of the guides.

Right. And so he's not using
the B categorization, right, for

for blacks predominant or blacks Um frequent, as a category reization for African American

men who want to go and find
community. He's using it as a warning,

right, and by associating R T
with the the Amenity B, he's

warning people that these are downtown urban
types, right, and so it's it's

more of a warning to those who
wouldn't want to go to a segregated bar

than it is about helping people find
community. Another one of Damn Ron's competitors

will often say we include, we
they have an easy and easiness including information

about race or gender. But we
included, as they say, because our

readers have asked for it and we
doesn't know why the readers asked for it,

but that's why we included right,
and this tells us a lot about

Bob Damn Ron and his competitors.
In the end there they don't think of

themselves as activists, they don't think
of themselves as like titans of the gay

community or muses or whatever. They
are business people, right, and they're

going to do what their their their
readership wants them to do. In the

fifteen years of data we currently have
on there, only about four percent of

all of the sites that list are
listed, as as our t as Raunchy

sites, and a separate statistic of
that is only about four percent of all

of the data of all those sites
that are listed as black spaces. Right.

So not very many black spaces in
the Damn Ron dies, not that

many Raunchy spaces. But, as
our team has done in the last couple

of months. If you isolate just
the spots that he lists Um as Raunchy

and black, almost half of all
the black sites are listed with that r

t label, which I don't know
if it's intentional or not, and this

is something that our team is trying
to understand. But whether or not it's

intentional, you know, Damn Ron
is is trying to tell us that black

gay spots were understood as as more
dangerous than their white counterparts. Right.

What does that tell us about Damron? Is it that means that does he

needs a racist? Um? Does
it doesn't mean the gay community at this

time as racist? We don't know
for sure, but it's really interesting statistics

that we would not have known if
we did not look at this data from

a macro level. It's the readership
would not know if they're just going line

by line right reading these individual addresses. I think a lot of people would

be surprised to hear, though it's
true that people of color would not be

allowed entrance to some gay bars,
extremely common practice, in fact, that

I'm writing a book right now on
the history of day nightlife in the in

the two decades after stonewall and one
of the major divisions in gay life,

Gay and lesbian life, is the
exclusion of of of racial minorities and also

women and also trans people from gay
bars, and they would do this the

most commonly. What a policy that's
kindly known as carding checking, asking non

white people or non white men specifically
from multiple forms of picture I d.

and this is an era that most
people do not need I d to go

to bars. You only need to
be eighteen years old in order to drink,

so most people are not carded.
And specifically they would ask multiple forms

of Right D when most people don't
have Um, you know, one per

form or carrying one form of I
D, but also ask for multiple forms

of picture I D, and that's
particularly egregious. In fact, there are

campaigns across the country, in cities
like Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Washing D C,

San Francisco, New York, Um
to end racist carding policies across the

country and for me it's one of
the major day rights battles. That's that's

less understood. The Damn Ron guides
continued long after Bob Danmron's death. By

the end of that year, the
number of Americans who had died from the

AIDS epidemic had reached a hundred and
fifty six thousand. Now, as the

researchers mapped the gay guides, they
can literally see the expansion of health clinics

in reaction to the spread of HIV
and AIDS. Professor Reagan explains how they

do them mapping. It turns out
the green book handled its data differently from

the Damron guides and that presented an
opportunity. The Gay guides were sort of

different, right. Um, different
but similar. They were similar in in

the sense that they listed safe places
to be able to find community or pleasure.

Um. But they're different in the
sense that damn iron classified his Um

listings in a much more granular way, Um, which is part of what

makes them so interesting to us,
is that he categorized these using these amenity

codes which would tell you, you
know, everything from which locations had a

pool table to which locations he thought
were Raunchy. And the first guide is

very small and by, you know, two thousand there's UH, well over

a thousand pages. They actually begin
as Um. If you ever see one

in real life, they're very small. They're meant to fit in your pocket,

right, Um. And by the
two thousands uh, there's no way

that's fitting in your pocket without making
a huge bulge because they're well over a

thousand pages. My job is the
digital historian on the project, is to

take these historical sources and turn them
into data that we can then ask historical

questions of. So part of our
process involves taking each of these guides and

transcribing them, turning them into uh, common, separated value data. Right.

That can be by a computer,
because we have digitized copies of these

guides, but to the computer they're
just pictures, right. Um, there's

no data there until we come in
and ascribed meaning to it. And currently

on the site we've transcribed about thirty
or four thousand locations. And so on

our site you can go in and
Um, filtered by the type of location,

by UH, any of Damron's categorizations, Um, and actually go look

at your own city or your own
town and see what locations were there in

any year. I wonder if you
can see sort of the history of the

gay rights movement play out where in
the eighties, you know, we have

the emergence of HIV and AIDS.
Is there a new amenity code or anything

that's popping up in the guides.
I can't give you any hard statistics yet,

but I can tell you that what
we're seeing is an explosion in community

groups and support centers, Um,
hotlines and health clinics, Um, and

those are all UH. They're not
new amenity odes by Damron's system, um,

but there are new categorizations that we're
adding to the data as we find

them, because he doesn't add a
categorization for health clinic, for example.

We've created our own value, which
is called type, which is our own

sort of scholarly interpretation of what that
location was, and so we're able to

track those sorts of locations that way, Um. And we're seen by the

late eighties a really big growth in
those sorts of locations, Um, as

well as in, you know,
political activism groups, local gay business associations,

all sorts of new types of entries
Um that I think are going to

be really exciting to explore. The
data is already revealing lessons about race in

the gay community, about religion and
more. Here is Professor Gonzaba. Oh

Gosh. You know, we're still
in the early stage of the project but

you know, looking at this data
kind of from a macro level, we're

learning a lot two different things.
One of the things we're learning about is

just how diverse, uh, the
gay male community was beginning in the nineteen

sixties. You know, there are
stereotypes about Queer people to this day,

right, Um. But one of
the things, you know, it's very

fascinating to see how many gay men, for instance, beginning of the nine

and saties all the way through the
nineteen eighties, are a religious are religiously

minded as well. Right. So
we see the growth of churches like the

Metropolitan Community Church, Um, that
which which is a kind of gay affirming

church, beginning of the nineties,
seventies, Um, how much it grows

very quickly after night and seventy three
and we're able to see. We're able

to see how it grows, not
just in, you know, major cities

like New York and San Francisco,
but MCCs are all over the country,

in places like Detroit and in Florida
and in Texas. Um. So we

see and in some ways these guides
help break some stereotypes about the gay community.

That's just one example, but there
was hopefully many more as we continue

our work. One of the reasons
why I got involved in gay history in

the first place was I was growing
up in southern Indiana and when I I

was interested in about I thought I
was the only gay person in my small

hometown of Corton, Indiana, right, and I learned very quickly. I

went to college at Indiana University,
I learned very quickly that was not the

case. But I went to college. So I went to Grad School in

Washington D C, and I went
to like this rather like posh gay party

there and I was told by a
guy there, when I told him I

was interested in like world gay history, he laughed at me. He was

like there is no gay history in
Indiana, right, all the gay histories

like in New York. And that
really bothered me. And so's I wanted

to build a project and a lot
of my work is trying to tell people

that queer history is everywhere. It
may not look like the Queer history we

read in textbooks, like the stonewall
riots or the Compton cafeteria riot, right,

but it's just as important and and
by looking at queer history not just

in these major urban havens, by
looking at the nuances in suburban or rural

America, we can learn that queer
history is extremely diverse. It's not one

that's, you know, contained into
into stereotypes or into boxes. After the

break we'll talk about why these historians
see what they're doing. It's part of

a larger fight for lgbtq equality.
Queer people, like other marginalized identities,

have been frequently erased from US history, which is one reason why efforts like

these are so necessary. Someone has
to find these stories and preserve them before

they are lost forever. Here again, as Professor Reagan m well, I

think you know, when we talk
about L G B T Q history there's

a pretension to sort of sideline it. Right, and I tend to think

that you can't talk about U S
history without talking about Lgbtq history, and

these guides are a vital source for
showcasing that lgbt q history was everywhere right,

and it was everywhere well before stonewall
right, which is what most people

associate as the start of the gay
rights movement. I'm not saying that that's

the wrong interpretation. Right, that's
absolutely a key moment in L G B

T Q history, but damner on
his listening locations. Back into the midst

eties there was only one archive in
the United States that had an entire run

of these, a sequential run.
The Library of Congress doesn't even have a

sequential run. The victors write the
history, right, the powerful righte the

history. And so for so many
years, uh, people just ignored queer

people and and gaze and lesbians because
they were not considered important, they were

considered deviance. Right. It wasn't
until a generation of historians really beginning in

the late sixties, but really not
until like the seventies. And and the

first assertations coming out about gay history
don't come out until the early nineteen eighties.

A generation of Queer people who,
you know, who really who,

thought not only is our history valuable, but it's extremely important to tell the

story of I'm an Americans, of
America, but also, you know,

of the world, right, Um. And so certainly they, they,

in some ways the gay history became
a form of activism. Right, because

if they, if if Queer people
and Queer stories could prove that they were

always part of American culture or world
culture or whatever, Um, they could

not be ignored. Right. It's
kind of like similar to Um. Why

one of the first gay rights battles
in the United States is in the night,

early nighte and seventies lately, and
sixties is trying to change the American

psychological association's definition of homosexuality to remove
it from the D S m. One

of one of the reasons why it's
the first major battles is because I think

you remove homosexuality as some kind of
mental disorder or as a disease, you

can prove that, you know,
Queer people are not inherently sick. Right.

Gay Historians Think about that? That's
in the same way, if we

can prove that we've always been here, been always part of of national and

international and life, Um, then
you can't ignore us, right, and

we deserve civil rights human rights as
well. I love the idea. It

sounds like historians, as you know, protesters and activists, because people think

of historians is all buttoned up and
maybe not. No, yeah, and

I think you know what's funny,
you know gay historians. I've always thought.

I mean not to say that all
of us are you in your face

activists, like we think of like
the active types of queer his right,

Um, but it's important to note
that it required. Gay Historians have always

thought of their of their work as
pseudo activism, as a partner should say

studio activism as kind of activists based, because it had to be right.

When, when the academy, when
even the larger American public thought of Queer

people as sick, we had to
kind of fight for our places within uh

in an education right. And now, as Queer history is starting to be

mandated in states like California and New
Jersey to be taught in create through twelve

schools, we're having renewed debates and
really fierce debates about the role of Queer

people and education. Right where it
took a lot for our queer historians to

get Queer Studies and Queer history into
college curriculum, it's going to take a

huge struggle to produce age appropriate material
to introduce queer lives and Queer Histories in

k through twelves. Now. Yeah, in California there's a lot that says

that you have to teach LDB history
as part of American history. But then

you have Florida where they're saying actually, let's not even bring it up,

let's say quiet about that. I
mean, how do you see the unfolding

and what's at stake? That's a
good question. You know, I'm not

an expert by this by any means, but it feels very much like we're

fighting battles from the nineteen seventies.
It's kind of frustrating as historians seeing these

battles unfold over and over Um and
I think it speaks to this uneasiness.

We think we live in a relatively
progressive environment. Now, you know,

gay marriage has been legal now for
seven years or so, since homosexuality has

been legal across almost every state since
the Lawrence, which text decisions in two

thousand three Um it felt like the
gay movement of the gay rights moment,

that should say the lgbt rights movement, has been making extraordinary progress in the

last fifty or sixty years. And
yet one thing historians have always have told

their students and has told the wide
republic is that history is not a linear

story of progress and hard thought.
Wins that lgbt rights mom has secured in

the last twenty thirty years are not
permanent and they could easily be taken away,

and so it's something in that we
will have to keep monitoring. We

hope you enjoyed this episode of next
city, a show about change makers and

their stories. Together we can spread
good ideas from one city to the next

city. Thank you to our guests, Professor's Aragon Zaba and Amanda Reagan.

You can see their maps in action
by visiting mapping the Gay Guides Dot Org.

Our audio producer is Silvana Alcala,
our scriptwriter is Francesca Mamlin, our

executive producers are Tyler Nielsen and Ryan
Tillotson, and I'm Lucas Grimly, next

cities executive director. By the way, next city is a news organization with

a nonprofit model. If you like
what we're doing here, please consider pitching

in to support our work. visit
next city dot org slash membership to make

a donation. We'd love to hear
any feedback from our listeners. Please feel

free to email us at INFO at
Nex City Dot Org and, if you

haven't already subscribed to the show on
apple, spotify, good pods or anywhere

you listen to your podcasts. m
Next City
Join Lucas Grindley, executive director at Next City, where we believe journalists have the power to amplify solutions and spread workable ideas. Each week Lucas will... View More




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