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2018 Annual Report

By Steven Louis Brawley

January 10, 2019: 2018 was another great year for the Project. Thanks to our many wonderful volunteers, contributors, and community champions for your support. Here is an overview of the many activities the Project led to fulfill our vision of preserving and promoting St. Louis' vibrant LGBTQIA+ history:


  • Risky Refuges: Gay and Lesbian Bars in St. Louis, 1930s-1960s presentation with Ian Darnell at Missouri History Museum


  • History of Drag presentation with Daniel Flier, Jimmy Price, and Cat Schmidt at Missouri History Museum
  • Headlines of Hope and Hate exhibit at St. Louis PrideFest with Pride St. Louis, Missouri History Museum, Griot Museum of Black History, and Home Movie Project
  • SAGE Lunch and Learn at MCC


  • Faces of LGBTQIA+ St. Louis exhibit at Coffee Cartel (last exhibit before closing)


  • Celebration of John Chaney (Bonnie Blake's) 90th birthday and recognition of pending status as world's oldest performing drag queen at Bar PM


  • Betty Neeley's Annual Party in the Park exhibit at Tower Grove Park


  • Documenting the Queer Past in St. Louis community partner project with Dr. Andrea Friedman at Washington University


  • We Are LGBTQIA+ presentation at St. Louis County Library (Bridgeton Trails)
  • Finding Lost Histories in the Modern LGBTQIA+ Alphabet presentation with Ian Darnell, Dr. Andrea Friedman, and Dr. Amanda Izzo at Missouri History Museum
  • Pride Alliance student presentation with Ian Darnell at Washington University


  • Transgender Spectrum Conference exhibit at UMSL


  • World AIDS Day Memorial Service exhibit at MCC
  • Ike's Mystery Man by Peter Shinkle author presentation at Left Bank Books

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Fall 2018 Calendar

Posted September 3, 2018

Coffee Cartel Exhibit

Faces of St. Louis' LGBTQIA+ History

Through September 12, 2 Maryland Plaza

The Project offers an exhibit of rare images at Coffee Cartel. 

St. Louis County Library Bridgeton Presentation

We Are St. Louis: LGBTQIA+

Monday October 1, 2018, 7 pm, Bridgeton Trails Branch

Join author Steven Louis Brawley, a historian specializing in LGBTQIA+ topics and founder of the St. Louis LGBT History Project, as he discusses St. Louis's rich LGBTQIA+ history. Learn about the LGBTQ+ community's countless struggles and successes since 1764, including protests, arrests, murders, celebrations and parades. Free. Registration required.

Missouri History Museum Presentation

Finding Lost Histories in the Modern LGBTQIA+ Alphabet

Wednesday, October 24, 7 pm, Lee Auditorium

Contemporary language descibing the LGBTQIA+ community is a relatively recent development, and it creates a challenge for historical research. Panelists will explore the roadblocks to researching LGBTQIA+ history and offer insights into uncovering lost histories. Free.

Project Research Suggests Bonnie Blake is the World's Oldest Performing Drag Queen

By Steven Louis Brawley

August 18, 2018: The St. Louis LGBT Project has bestowed the title of “Oldest Performing Drag Queen in the World” to John Chaney, who has performed as Bonnie Blake in St. Louis since the late 1950s. Chaney turned 90 on August 18.

Chaney bests by two years the current Guinness Book of World Records’ “Oldest Performing Drag Queen” Walter Cole (Darcelle XV) of Portland Oregon, who was born in 1930 and did not begin performing until the age of 37. The Project is reviewing Guinness’ application process to formally nominate Chaney in this category.

Chaney remembers doing a show around 1959 at the Snake Pit bar in downtown St. Louis. He was a popular member of the local drag show circuit on the east side of the river in the 1960s and 1970s.

Chaney was part of the first set of drag performers at the French Market gay bar in Soulard in 1972.

Since the late 1950s, Chaney has helped pave the way to mainstream drag performances in area gay bars during eras where anti-masquerading laws were on the books in St. Louis.

It did not become legal to do drag in St. Louis until 1985, after the laws were challenged.

He has operated several former gay bars including the Gallery Lounge and Blake’s. Since the late 1960s, he has also been the proprietor of John’s Furniture and Antiques on South Broadway.

Chaney still performs with local drag queen and drag king legends and is known for his love of country music, most notably Loretta Lynn.

Photo courtesy John Chaney.

Summer 2018 Calendar

postdragdeathMissouri History Museum Presentation

June 13, 7 pm, Lee Auditorium

Since the late 19th century, St. Louis audiences have been entertained by some of the world's foremost drag kings and queens. This was often a challenge since St. Louis' masquerading laws, which were on the books from the 1840s until 1985, prohibited a person from "appearing in public in a dress not belonging to his or her sex." Breaking this law landed many "impersonators" in jail. Steven Louis Brawley will be joined by legendary members of St. Louis' drag king and queen community to discuss the pivotal role these entertainers and social activists have played throughout St. Louis' history. Learn about the drag communities' legacy of competitive pageants, charitable causes, and political actions.

SAGE Lunch (SAGE Members)

June 20, 11:30 am, MCC

The Project will update our 2017 Transgender Spectrum Conference presentation on the complexity of researching transgender history.


June 23-24, Solider's Memorial

At this year's PrideFest History Village, the Project will offer an exhibit entitled "Headlines of Hate and Hope" documenting St. Louis' LGBTQIA+ experience via mainstream newspaper articles dating back to the mid-1800s. In addition to the exhibit, learn about other area groups and organizations that are making dramatic contributions to the research and preservation of our local LGBTQIA+ history.

Coffee Cartel Exhibit

July 19, 7 pm, 2 Maryland Plaza

The Project will offer an exhibit at Coffee Cartel from July 19 through September 12. Opening reception will be July 19, 7 pm.

Graphic: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 4, 1912

Copyright Steven Louis Brawley, 2007-2021. All Rights Reserved.