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Patrick Leonard World AIDS Day Tribute

pleonardBy John Hilgeman

December 1, 2014: One name I didn't find on the Project's HIV/AIDS Memorial list is Patrick Leonard. He was a key person in the founding of the NAMES Project in St. Louis, and the key organizer of the first workshop and first display in St. Louis in 1988. I was his buddy.

We saw the Quilt together at the March in Washington in 1987, and on the plane on the way back to St. Louis he said that he heard the Quilt might come to St. Louis, and he wanted to help bring it here. We went to the first organizing meeting for the Quilt in January of 1988.

He and I and Trish Phifer-Harwig went to San Francisco in February of that year to check out the workshop there and to assist with a panel for the tour.

He took a leadership role and was involved until his health began to fail. Were it not for him, it would have been more difficult to bring the Quilt to St. Louis. He also read names at the second national display of the Quilt in October of 1988. And he was involved with a couple other AIDS related organizations and fundraisers before he died.

I have kept a picture that I took of him holding his dog Shakee in his chair, taken the night the display closed, on the wall by my computer for many years. The two of us did a radio interview with Sandra Spirtas on her series about AIDS. Dan Johnson - on the Project's Memorial List - was his lover. Pat Gregory - also on the list (and my second buddy) - came to the workshop early on and made dozens of panels for the Quilt. When Patrick died, his mother and I were interviewed after his memorial service at the Sheldon.

I would be very happy for you to add Patrick to the Project's list. You don't know how emotional I got just now at your request. Some feelings slumber a long time, and then awaken unexpectedly with a simple trigger.

Picture courtesy of John Hilgeman: Patrick is holding a sign that a woman cheering on the side of the March gave us when I told I told her as we were passing by, that I liked her sign. We were at the Quilt display in DC in 1987.

Note: Since posting the Project's HIV/AIDS Memorial list on Facebook today, the Project has received more than a dozen additional names to add. If you have names, stories, or photographs to share to support our memorial list, please let us know.

Stephen Adams Donations

November 17 2014: The Project is honored to receive important donations by Stephen Adams. Performing as Dusty Michaels since the 1970s, Adams has donated three of his peformance ensembles to the Project for preservation. Thanks Dusty, these are true treasures:

  • Dress 1: a Madison Leigh animal print dress worn for comedy routines such as "OH JOHN DON'T DO THAT" and "CHECK OUT" since 1976
  • Dress 2: a black and white liquid beaded gown circa 1982, and only worn six times
  • Dress 3: a vibrant red Betsy Adams gown from a MGMA 2013 performance

Adams Gowns

Ed Abmeyer Donation

Clems JackietNovember 9, 2014: The Project begins a month of "thanking" the Project's supporters - beginning with Ed Abmeyer. Known to many as "Rosee", Ed has donated a rare leather coat featuring an early version of the Clementine's bar logo.

Ed tells us that he (and someone else who we cannot name yet) had the coats custom made in 1986 at a leather shop downtown on Washington Ave., that Clems used for promo items. So as far as we know, only two of these coats exist.

Ed worked for a time at Clems on Satrudays as a bartender, but most know him from his FACES' days.

Ed says he has more treasures to dig out and donate. So get to digging Ed. If you have items to donate, let us know. More great treasure announcements to come. Stay tuned.

A Historic Halloween: Remembering the Origins of the LGBT Movement in St. Louis

gresmithBy Ian Darnell

October 31, 2014: Tonight we celebrate the 45th anniversary of a pivotal event in St. Louis LGBT history. More than any other single date, Halloween 1969 can be said to be when a movement for the rights of LGBT people began in the Gateway City.

On the night of Friday, October 31, plainclothes officers from the St. Louis police department's vice squad waited outside a gay bar called the Onyx Room.

Vice officers, who typically concentrated on policing female sex workers, also enforced laws against gender nonconformity and homosexuality. At the time, it was illegal for people to wear the clothes of the opposite sex or to have sex with someone of the same sex.

The Onyx Room was on Olive Street near Grand Boulevard, not far from the Fox Theatre and Saint Louis University (picture below). It was on the eastern edge of the "gay ghetto," a part of St. Louis that largely overlapped with the Central West End.

The neighborhood had a high concentration of LGBT residents and bars and other places where queer people gathered. LGBT people from all around the St. Louis region and beyond came to the gay ghetto to meet and socialize with others like themselves.

Soon after midnight, a group of nine male-bodied people wearing wigs, evening gowns, women's earrings, and high-heeled shoes exited the Onyx Room. (Available sources suggest that these people identified as men, but it is possible that some were trans women.) The vice officers promptly arrested them. One account implies that the police had been at the ready in front of the bar as part of a planned crackdown on LGBT nightlife. Similar arrests also took place that night across the Mississippi River in East St. Louis, which had several lesbian and gay bars of its own.

According to a police report, the nine people arrested in front of the Onyx Room were all young, ages 18-25. All worked low-paying, low-prestige jobs, were students, or were unemployed. Seven were white, and two were black. Most lived in the city of St. Louis, but one was from the nearby suburb of Webster Groves, and three were visiting from out of town.

The vice officers took them to jail at police headquarters downtown, where they were fingerprinted, photographed for mug shots, held on a cash bond of $50 each (approximately $325 today), and charged with "masquerading," that is, cross-dressing. They said that "they were insulted by the arresting officers, roughly treated in the police van, and made the objects of jokes and derision in the jail."

Up to this point, the night's events weren't very unusual. Historical newspaper reports show that St. Louis authorities, like their counterparts in other cities, had been policing queer people since at least the late nineteenth century. Oral histories and other sources recount police raids of "fruit" bars and harassment of gender-nonconforming people throughout the 1950s and '60s. 

Read more: A Historic Halloween: Remembering the Origins of the LGBT Movement in St. Louis

Copyright Steven Louis Brawley, 2007-Present. All Rights Reserved.