GAY COMMUNITY IN THE 1970S. The 1970s marked an important period in the history of the Gay Community of Cleveland. This article provides details on various aspects of the community in the critical decade following Stonewall.
NEIGHBORHOODS. Unlike the Castro District in San Francisco or Boystown in Chicago, Cleveland never had one highly concentrated gay neighborhood. In the 1970s, though, there were four gay enclaves in and around the city. These included SHAKER SQUARE, OHIO CITY, COVENTRY in CLEVELAND HEIGHTS and the Gold Coast in LAKEWOOD. While not exclusively gay, these neighborhoods had the highest concentration of gays at the time. Individual gays in these enclaves were often involved in their respective neighborhood associations and contributed mightily and aesthetically to beautification projects.
NIGHTLIFE. The 1970s gay bar and entertainment scene is often referred to as the “golden era” in American gay history. Cleveland was no exception. There were a multitude of bars, clubs, and bathhouses in Cleveland and its inner ring suburbs. This was a pre-AIDS time of glitter rock and disco, when people dressed up, danced their cares away and had sex when they could, usually without condoms.
Gay entertainment centers were critical to the social fabric of gay Clevelanders. With most being in the closet, local gay people frequented bars and discos to meet friends, make hook ups (consenting partners called “tricks”) and bask in an environment with others who were like them.
Gay bars in Cleveland appealed to specific interests and ranged from discos to cruise bars, leather bars, piano bars, African-American bars and lesbian bars. Most gay bars had some sort of dance floor, no matter how tiny and a stage for drag shows, no matter how small. Lesbian bars often featured pool tables. The nature of bars often overlapped with cruising and dancing occurring at most all of them. An article on “Cleveland Bar Personalities” appeared in the April 1976 issue of HIGH GEAR.
Cleveland gay bars in the 1970s often portrayed themselves as membership clubs. While some bars used this tactic to keep straight people from entering, it also resulted in some clubs banning women (including lesbians) and gay African-Americans. Local gay activists resisted this practice but to little or no effect. For example in 1975, members of the Cleveland Gay Political Union picketed the 620 Club on Frankfort Avenue, a male-only cruise bar, for not admitting women.
In its September 1976 issue High Gear featured an editorial headlined “Stop the Racism – Now,” castigating the bars, but also holding the patrons accountable, saying in part: “We at High Gear strongly oppose selective, prejudicial treatment of our sisters and brothers. We urge all entrepreneurs who cater to the gay community to exercise a fair- minded attitude. We, however, do not place all blame on businesses. It is no secret that white gays flock away in droves from establishments, which become ‘too black.’ This behavior is infantile and rooted in ignorance.” High Gear continued to print letters from readers about prejudicial practices, but again to little or no effect.
Nevertheless, gay bars, clubs, baths, and restaurants were essential to the start of the LGBT COMMUNITY CENTER OF GREATER CLEVELAND. Their steady advertising in High Gear provided monies to keep GEAR activities like the Gay Hotline operating. They also sponsored ongoing benefits for the GEAR Community Center to find and maintain its own independent space.
What follows is a list of the most notable 1970s bars, clubs, bathhouses, discos, movie houses, and restaurants. Each has its own story and a few may not have even been gay or lesbian establishments, but businesses hoping to cash in on a new demographic.
Bars, Clubs, Discos
The Change on Prospect Avenue (closed November 1974)
Twiggy’s Place at 2537 St. Clair (founded March 1973)
“620” at 620 Frankfurt Avenue at West Sixth
Godmothers II at East 63rd and St. Clair
Leather Stallion at East 22nd and St. Clair Avenue (Cleveland’s longest continuously operating gay bar)
Bayou Landing/New Dimensions at 1012 Sumner Avenue off of East Ninth Street (Bayou Landing opened in June 1975; then changed its name to New Dimensions in June 1977; also in 1975 the Bayou Landing opened a leather bar called the Double L in its lower landing downstairs)
The Vaults at 1281 West Sixth Street (opened in October 1975)
The Shaker Club at 2775 South Moreland
Traxx, originally at 1812 Payne Avenue; torched overnight on October 31, 1977; reopened at 1273 West Ninth Street on January 1, 1978
The Rainbow at 2211 East Ninth Street (opened April 1976)
Zanzibar (formerly Jo Anne’s) at 1630 Payne Avenue
Joanne’s/Rikki’s at East 18th and Payne
Silver Spur at East 24th and St. Clair
Nantucket Lounge at 11624 Clifton Avenue
Pickwood Lounge on Clifton Avenue across from the Nantucket
Exedra at 1762 East 18th Street
Chez Ms on Prospect Avenue
JJ’s Disco at 2402 St. Clair
The Tomahawk Lounge on Detroit Avenue (first after hours gay bar in Cleveland, soon followed by Bayou Landing and After Midnight)
After Midnight at 2265 Ontario Avenue
Happy Apple Bar at 733 West St. Clair
The Boozerie at 6010 St. Clair
The King’s Bar at 2172 Taylor Rd. in Cleveland Hts.
Delta Club at 1700 Columbus Rd.
Tweety’s at 3739 East 93rd St.
Mista Henry’s on Payne Avenue
Dean’s Lounge at 1120 Clifton Blvd.
After Dark at 1311 Broadway Avenue
Putty Cat at Denison and West 65thSt.
Baskerville’s at 1187 Old River Road
Petrarca Lounge at 2216 Petrarca (off of Fairhill Road)
Market Pub at 2401 Abbey Avenue
The Equinox at 17555 Lakeshore Blvd.
Gypsy’s Restaurant at 2418 St. Clair
Cleveland Club Baths at 1448 West 32nd Street (the oldest Club Baths in the country, founded in 1965, and the original site of the Club Baths chain)
West Ninth Street Club Baths at 1293 West Ninth St.
St. Clair Baths at 1946 St. Clair
Bel-Air Spa at 11921 Bellaire Ave.
Cleveland Depo Baths at 1946 St. Clair
Adult Movie House
Adonis Male Movie Theatre at 1273 West 9th St. (opened in April 1975)
GAY SOCIAL LIFE OUTSIDE OF BARS 1970s gay Clevelanders had many social alternatives outside the bar and club scene. Private house parties were quite common and an easy, more relaxed way for gays to meet others who did not frequent bars and clubs. These parties were often inter-generational and offered one way for older gays to transmit gay cultural knowledge to younger gays.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the word “rap” was often substituted as a hip alternative for the word “talk.” Outside of GEAR discussion groups, a gay Rap Group began operating at the CLEVELAND FREE CLINIC in December 1975. The Rap Group met every Friday evening in space donated by the Free Clinic, where gays could meet to discuss any topics raised by individual attendees. Professional one-on-one counseling groups augmented the weekly Rap Group and were available on Thursday evenings.
Radio Lambda preceded the later, popular Gay Waves radio program. John Vogel, a CWRU doctoral student, started Radio Lambda on October 6, 1975. It was broadcast on WRUW (91.1 FM) (access the audio archive of Gay Waves).
Bars sponsored softball and bowling leagues in the 1970s. These were often organized by Twiggy’s Place and Godmothers II and afforded a rare opportunity for gays and lesbians to socialize with one another.
In the later 1970s, an independent group of gay men started a volleyball league that played a rotating series of games on Sundays at St. Paul’s Community Church at 4427 Franklin Boulevard in Ohio City.
Dignity Cleveland was founded on May 1, 1973 and was formed as a social and religious group for gay Catholics.
Integrity Cleveland was founded as a social and religious group for gay Episcopalians. Meetings were held at Trinity Cathedral at 2230 Euclid Avenue.
Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) was founded in 1968 as a faith based Christian alternative for members of the gay and lesbian community.
Public Cruising Spots
Principal outdoor gay male cruising spots in the 1970s included the downtown MALL and EDGEWATER PARK. The area around the Richard Wagner statue on the upper level of Edgewater Park was a popular daily gathering place for gay sunbathers, often more popular than the beach itself.
HEALTH ISSUES While Cleveland gays in the 1970s did not have to deal with the later horrors of HIV and AIDS, there were still significant health concerns. In a High Gear article in September 1975 entitled “VD Epidemic Hits Cleveland,” major problems were highlighted in the community re: gonorrhea and syphilis.
Input from both the Cleveland Division of Health and the Cleveland Free Clinic helped educate local gays about the symptoms of venereal diseases, where to get confidential help, what to do to prevent such illnesses, including condom use, and what to look for in potential sex partners.
There was a VD Hotline in Cleveland at the time and identified city clinics where doctors and nurses could be consulted and patients tested.
ACTIVISM AND POLITICS
Gay Pride Marches, Celebrations, and Parades The first Gay Pride March in Cleveland occurred in July 1972 and was sponsored by the Gay Activists Alliance. The parade originated at the Change, a gay bar at the corner of Prospect and East 14th Street, and journeyed to Public Square along Euclid Avenue. More than 70 people participated.
Although it was not a Gay Pride March, per se, GEAR sponsored a Gay Pride Picnic at Edgewater Park from 12 to 8 pm on June 22 nd, 1975. About 100 people attended. While there were various protests and other actions taken by advocates from 1972 to 1976, the third Gay Pride March/Celebration didn’t occur until July 1976 when with minimal publicity Dan Richmond, newly appointed worship coordinator of the Cleveland Metropolitan Community Church, held a march from Gypsy’s Restaurant at 2418 St.Clair through downtown Cleveland to West 6th Street. A picnic occurred at Edgewater Park after the parade. Over 50 people attended.
Due to a lack of coordination and missed opportunities, Cleveland had two Gay Pride Marches in 1977. The first occurred on June 25, 1977 and was ultimately sponsored by the Cleveland Gay Political Union and the Gay Caucus (GCPU) of the Youth Against War and Facism (YAWF). The person who was supposed to secure a street permit for the first March waited too long and couldn’t get city approval until July 9, 1977. Unfortunately, the first March date in June already had extensive publicity through High Gear and elsewhere. CGPU and the gay caucus of YAWF stepped up to see the March through, even though the 225 people who attended had to march on city sidewalks down Euclid Avenue. The second march occurred on July 9, 1977 and was sponsored by Cleveland Metropolitan Community Church. Although the latter march was considerably smaller, there was ample Cleveland media coverage of both. GEAR stepped up to sponsor the fifth Gay Pride March/Celebration on June 25th 1978.
In the 1970s Gay Pride Marches occurred without major incidents, aside from the perpetual harassment of religious zealots. Cleveland Gay Pride Marches during the seventies were also much more political than latter day Pride festivals. Gay people were being harassed, stigmatized and victimized by members of the community at large. Gays were afraid of losing their jobs and families by coming out; but those brave ones who did, left a lasting mark.
Political Organizations and Activities Unlike other US states and cities, the political environment toward gays and lesbians in Ohio and Cleveland was not overtly hostile in the 1970s. Ohio became the eighth state in the Union in 1974 to adopt a consensual sex law for adults. This made the practice of homosexuality legal for all Ohioans. In 1974 the age of consent was 16 years old.
Cleveland city government and police were generally tolerant of the many gay bars, clubs, and baths. There were occasional exceptions, of course. Sometimes police were known to issue a wave of parking violations outside certain bars, including even to those who were legally parked. Other times, bars were sporadically raided, ostensibly, for crackdowns on drug dealing and use. Undercover policemen working at gay bars were not unusual. Nevertheless, there was not a general pattern of persecution of gays as there was in New York City prior to the Stonewall riots.
The four primary gay political groups in the Cleveland area in the 1970s were the Cleveland Chapter of the Gay Activists Alliance, the Cleveland Gay Political Union, the Kent Gay Liberation Front, and the Gay Caucus of Youth Against War and Fascism.
Cleveland Chapter of the Gay Activists Alliance The Cleveland Chapter of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) was the earliest, established gay political organization in Cleveland. Chaired by Anne-Weld-Harrington, the group met at CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY and organized the first ever Cleveland Gay Pride March in 1972. The Cleveland Chapter of the Gay Activists Alliance was dissolved when Ms. Harrington moved to Boston around 1974.
Cleveland Gay Political Union The Gay Liberation student group at Cleveland State University was revived in 1974 by establishment of the GEAR student caucus. When this group spun off to become a service organization that included High Gear, the Gay Hotline, and early pieces of the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland, the Gay Federation, which later became the Cleveland Gay Political Union (CGPU), was formed.
Members of the CGPU were, by and large, GEAR members and volunteers. Early on, GEAR organizers knew that in order to establish a Gay Community Center they would first need to become an incorporated non-profit organization in Ohio and then, secure federal tax-exempt status from the IRS. Since there were strict rules about not engaging in political activity, GEAR insisted on a separate political organization, hence the creation of the Cleveland Gay Federation, which transformed itself into CGPU. The name change was made because most members felt “Federation” implied a number of organizations when, in fact, there was only one political entity.
CGPU’s primary goal was to act as a force to enact gay civil rights legislation in the immediate communities of Cuyahoga County and to organize political action, when needed. Meetings were held at CSU. The Gay Federation was active in 1974. CPGU was active from 1975-1977.
Kent Gay Liberation Front
Gay Caucus of Youth Against War and Fascism
1970s Political Activities In 1975 Cleveland Heights began a process of updating its non-discrimination employment laws. There was preliminary interest in including sexual orientation among the protected classes. Dignity Cleveland was instrumental in helping the city’s Law Department research federal service rulings to serve as guidelines for the legislation. The Cleveland Gay Political Union was active in organizing support for the initiative. In January 1976 Cleveland Heights became the second municipality in Ohio to include sexual orientation in its non-discrimination legislation. Yellow Springs, home of Antioch College, was the first.
Also, in 1975, one early morning, members of CGPU, picketed the offices of the CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER to protest their continued use of the word “homosexual,” in lieu of “gay” and “lesbian.” As staff members of the PD arrived at work, picketers gave them copies of High Gear and held signs declaring “We Are Not A Clinical Diagnosis.”
In February 1976 over 30 gay women and men marched en masse outside CLEVELAND PRESS offices to protest censorship of a 2-9 to 2-13-76 Doonesbury comic strip that featured a gay character, Andy. Those present represented the Kent Gay Liberation Front, the Cleveland Gay Political Union and the gay caucus of Youth Against War and Fascism. Leon Stevens, co-editor of High Gear, was interviewed on WEWS-TV and said “We’re out here to show the public that we will no longer tolerate being ignored…We have a press, our own entertainment centers and a culture as valid as any other. It’s time this area recognized us.” The Cleveland Press relented and printed the Doonesbury comic strip when Andy returned. A Press editorial official was quoted in High Gear saying “We did this, in part, because thousands of readers wrote in asking for the comic strip after we had refused to print it.”
When the Supreme Court ruled on March 29, 1976 by a 6 to 3 vote that states may prosecute and imprison people for committing consensual homosexual acts, CGPU sprang into action, issuing a press release denouncing the action and demanding equal treatment. CGPU members made appearances on WEWS-TV’s “In My Opinion” segments and on its Inner-Circle show, as well as on WVIZ-TV’s Kamm’s Corner.
On Saturday, May 8, 1976 members of CGPU, KGLF, and the YAWF gay caucus demonstrated outside of the Akron Court House to protest Akron police harassment of gays by issuing traffic and parking citations to those coming and leaving area gay bars. Activists were also furious that in the previous weekend Akron police had arrested 55 men for “soliciting for prostitution.” The names of all 55 men were then printed in the May 3rd edition of the Akron Beacon Journal.
Local media attention to gay rights spiked in the summer of 1977 when two Cleveland Gay Pride marches occurred. Not only did all three local TV news channels cover both marches but so did both local newspapers. The Cleveland Press wrote an editorial supporting gay rights and The Plain Dealer’s Jane Scott did a length series of articles on “gay lifestyles.” WGAR broadcast a Stonewall Commemoration weekend of hourly vignettes on issues concerning gay people.
While gay Clevelanders were not as deeply persecuted as others living elsewhere, there is no question that in the 1970s gays in Cleveland were visible, and ready to take any action necessary when they felt their rights were being violated or when they were being treated unfairly.
John Nosek and Leon Stevens