1976 Gay Guide Reflects Valley Revolution


 

By mid-decade, the social revolution begun in the early seventies had markedly changed the gay subculture in the Connecticut River Valley in Western Massachusetts. This is graphically evident in the second edition of the New England Gay Guide: 1976 published by Gay Community News.

The southernmost, heavily-populated, and industrial Hampden County retained its traditional bar/cruising/bath scenes. By 1976, mid-Valley Hampshire County rivaled Hampden for sheer number of activities, all of which were new. Even northern, sparsely-populated, rural Franklin County had become semi-publicly “out” home for a few lesbians and gays.

Bambi Gauthier tells me that the 1975 first edition of the New England Gay Guide was a mimeographed and stapled publication by Gay Community News, the regional newspaper based in Boston that started in 1973. The Guide was organized alphabetically by states and then towns within each state. Bambi photocopied the Valley listings for me. For the purpose of this post I have cut and glue-sticked them into relevant segments for a close-up view.

While gay and women’s guides are notorious for being out of date, this 1976 version presents a fairly accurate approximation of what I’m finding in documents and/or anecdotes. Whoever wrote the copy also had a sense of humor. The Guide listings demonstrate not only the growth in the gay subculture that took place in the first five years of the decade, but also illustrate discernible differences in the character of that change, among the three counties and also among towns within the same county.

As the largest Valley city, Springfield, in Hampden County, has always been the epicenter of the area’s gay bar culture. It still was in 1976, when all three of the Valley’s gay bars were in the city. The Guide’s listing includes not only these bars, but the anticipated opening and noted closing of others, among them the bombed Arch downtown and the Hideaway (also known as the Girls’ Club) in nearby Chicopee. This appears to be so culturally typical that the Guide has a listing category “Bars, defunct.” Gay women appear to be comfortable at one of the three bars and encouraged at a second. The traditional baths, restaurant, nearest VD clinic, and interstate highway cruise spot near the Longmeadow exit are also included.

gay guide hampden county_edited-1

 

What had changed by 1976 in the heavily populated Hampden County, according to GCN’s Guide, was the addition of a few new activities outside the bars. A “small local sprig” of Dignity, the national religious group for gay Catholics, had a Springfield PO Box. The group appears to have been attending mass together in Hartford at the Metropolitan Community Church. The Springfield Gay Alliance also had a PO Box, as well as a phone, and the organization was meeting weekly at the Unitarian Church in Longmeadow. Another new activity, although bar related, is a listing for Artandryl, “An all-women’s band doing 60s rock and some feminist material.”

Listings for rural Franklin County are, not surprisingly, sparse but exciting. Though they had listed an agent’s address in NYC, the all-women band Deadly Nightshade  lived together in a farmhouse in Apple Valley, Ashfield. Though they had an Amherst PO box, the Hopbrook Community was just across the river. The Hopbrook Community of gay men in New Salem marked the beginning of the gay and lesbian (and radical hippie) back-to-the-land movement in the hilltowns of the Valley.

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Nestled between Hampden and Franklin, Hampshire County is a mix of small cities, towns, and farmland in which the largest industry is education. In 1976, Smith, Amherst, and Mt. Holyoke were elite colleges. Hampshire College was founded in 1970 as an “experiment in education.” UMass was one of the state’s large universities. This county proved to be extremely fertile ground for the social change Movements sweeping the country, including the Women’s, Gay and Lesbian. By the time the NE Gay Guide was published, the number of activities listed in Hampshire County surpassed those in Hampden County. All were new in the seventies. Some were extensions of old bar culture in slightly different form. Others were groups and organizations consciously created as alternatives to gay bar culture.

The greatest number of Hampshire County listings are in Amherst, on the east side of the river. Along with nearby Hadley, bars are listed though they are only gay tolerant or gay-themed one night a week. UMass, home to the beginning of the Valley’s Gay Liberation Movement , had multiple student groups, a first effort to support teens, the first gay radio in the region, and feminist endeavors that welcomed lesbians.

Two business listings in town are especially notable. Amherst was one of the earliest towns in the state to pass a non-discrimination law that included gays and lesbians, long before the state legislation. I am seeking a date and confirming detail for effort, which I think was led by a gay Selectman, Tom Hutchinson.

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The Guide’s listings for Northampton, across the river to the west, are a sharp contrast, highlighting a great cultural difference between it and the rest of the Valley. All of them are for women, even if only described as welcoming, such as Legal Services, which I believe was submitted by the lesbian who worked there.

About half the listings are an extension of the old bar culture: a lesbian dance night at a straight bar, and two of the all-women’s bands  that played the straight and gay dance club circuits. The other half are the feminist centers of activity that included lesbians , exclusively or with other women.

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The differences within the Valley demonstrated in the 1976 New England Gay Guide show how the beginning of change was rooted here, to greater or lesser degree, in varying form, and for differing populaces. Gender and sexuality were both ways in which gatherings were called together, but so was political ideology. These differences come into play over the coming decades, sometimes in very dramatic ways.

SOURCES:

__New England Gay Guide 1976. Gay Community News. Boston. 1976.

__Gay Community News (Publication) Collection · Documented ...https://historyproject.omeka.net › collections › show

 

Scraps of the Past


In 2004 Mark Carmien, owner of Pride and Joy (the LGBT gift and book store on Crafts Avenue in Northampton at that time), got a phone call from a man saying that his gay uncle had died and in cleaning out the deceased’s home he had found some memorabilia. What, the caller wondered, should he do with it?

Carmien got in touch with Northampton’s unofficial gay archivist, Phil “Bambi” Gauthier, who collected the box of material dropped off at the bookstore. The box contained gay erotic magazines and several albums of undated color Polaroid photos.

These photo records, though undated, would probably have been from 1965 or later. Polaroid color cameras first became available in 1963, and they released their most popular low priced “Swinger” model in 1965. One obvious benefit of these cameras was cutting out the need to have the photos developed by someone else, and risk censorship or worse for any erotic content.

Two of the albums passed to Bambi were filled with no-face-showing close-ups, obviously in a private home, of erections and asses. As he leafed through the third album, browsing the selection of candid but more clothed snapshots from many home parties held or attended by the Springfield man during the 1960s and 70s, Bambi came across several snapshots of his own “grandmere,” R. Warren Clark, dressed as Sophie Tucker.

“Sophie Tucker” Warren Clark (on right) of Northampton at a drag party with unidentified escort, probably in Springfield during the late 1960s or 1970s. Source: Phil Gauthier collection

In 1987, the then-nineteen-year-old Gauthier had decided to join the local chapter of Integrity, and asked two Northampton gay “elder statesmen” to stand as his baptismal godparents. The two men, Warren and Ralph Intorcio, had for decades been part of a small circle of gay male friends who met regularly for little suppers. Many worked at the VA Hospital in Leeds, and were married with children, sharing their gay life only very privately with each other.

Interviewed in 2004, Bambi remembered Ralph coming home several years after his baptism with a few boxes belonging to one of those men. The friend had just died and, as per the contract this small group had with each other, Ralph used the key he had been given to go into the deceased man’s home and remove anything indicating his secret life before relatives might discover it. Bambi remembered getting brief glimpses of that secret life as he handed letters of WWII and Korean War soldiers—along with photos of them arm-in-arm, many with cheeky and loving notes on the back–to his godfather who fed them into a fire in the woodstove on the summer porch. Seeing this history disappear was one of the saddest things Bambi had ever witnessed.

Fifteen years later, because of a thoughtful nephew, Gauthier had a piece of the past that usually got destroyed. Most of us don’t think about the fact that as we live, we are making history. We don’t think about the history books that can be written only based on whatever documents have been saved or memories have been recorded. In recent decades many people have moved away, taking with them group records, flyers, news clippings and correspondence. Others have thrown out journals, letters or scrapbooks. Many boxes of documents are moldering in basements, attics, or garages.

SOURCES:
__Gauthier, Phil “Bambi.” Conversations with, Sep.2004, Northampton, Mass.
__http://polaroid.com/history  .

__Sophie Tucker, last of the “Red Hot Mamas”; very lovely tribute video on Youtube https://search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=sophie+tucker+video+biography&ei=UTF-8&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-001

__Integrity is a group within the Episcopal Church for LGBT people, formed nationally in 1975. The local chapter is St. John’s on Elm Street, founding date and other history still unknown. Do you know?

COMING NEXT: What else is currently known about Northampton’s gay world just before the revolution, the beginning of lesbian and gay political activism in 1970? Watch for Scraps of the Past part two surveying research literature as well as more personal anecdotes.