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While gay and women’s guides are notorious for being out of date, this 1976 version presents a fairly accurate approximation of what I’m finding in documents and/or anecdotes.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

 

Mafia Bars and the Male Gaze


Here is a throwback to the days when Northampton gay people had to travel to Hampden County to find a bar to cruise, meet others, and perhaps dance together. For most of its history, Northampton has not had a bar specifically for LGBTQ folks, let alone one owned by family. The town reverted to that condition with the October 2016 closing of Divas, the lesbian-owned dance club had been open on Pleasant St. for fifteen years.

In this reminiscence about the Arbor in Springfield in the early 1970s, Jacqueline E. Letalien touches on mafia ownership of bars and the discomforting danger to lesbians in not having control of space. Thanks to Jacqueline for permission to publish this piece, which has previously appeared in Kulture Klatch and Common Lives: Lesbian Lives, and also for the wonderful recent portrait of her.

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Jacqueline Elizabeth Letalien, photo used with her permission.

                                                  Lesbian – November, 2003

Kulture Klatch – Jacqueline Elizabeth Letalien – L-Word

My family and friends adamantly assure me when I come out at twenty-three that this being a Lesbian is a Passing Phase.  They don’t understand that I have been a Lesbian all of my life. Some say being a Lesbian is due to genes or hormones; others say it’s environment; still others say it’s a Disease that’s contagious.  I have a friend whose aunt always and immediately washes the glass The Lesbian Niece drinks out of, to make sure nobody else in the family catches The Affliction.

In these times of the early seventies and the heterosexual revolution, no one believes that lesbians are lesbians by choice because no one believes women have a sexuality.  Men are the reference point:  their pleasure (usually very exclusive), their sexual prowess (usually very overrated), their whim (usually very undeniable).

In the Springfield bars straight men come to ogle the lesbians.  While they are a bit fearful of us, they embolden themselves to be the knights of heterosexuality, trying to convert lesbians to straighthood.  This is a challenge that really amps them.  They never seem to get that even if I’m interested in fucking with men, it wouldn’t be them.

The worst of these are the mafioso pals of the Arbor’s owner.  They are walking stereotypes of themselves.  White shoes with little brass do-dads on the top of their shoes.  They drive up in white or black cadillacs; very, very shiny.  These are creepy men. These are also dangerous men with very fragile, yet over-inflated, egos.

I don’t just know them from the bars.  I know them from living in Agawam where the families of the mafioso reside.  What I learn is that they have rules, codes of honor.  They do not do business in Agawam because that’s where their families reside.  Their influence is still felt throughout the town.

It’s when I move to Springfield that I learn about how they do business.  Because they own the bars and they believe they own everything in them, the mafioso funders don’t get that they should never come to the gay bars.  Interactions with them always have the subplot that offending them could have very negative consequences.  Declining their advances is a tricky business.

The first rule of engagement is to refrain from eye contact unless I have a gun and am foolish enough to use it.  The second rule of engagement is to utilize wit to the maximum.  The third is to avoid an argument.  The golden rule is to watch out for the ego, theirs and mine.

The man owner does not get that these men should never be allowed into the bar.  He does not get any of this about the oglers and mafia because he is a mafia connected ogler.  One night he approaches me.  I know what he’s up to.  I do not look at him as I ponder how I’m going to get out of this without ending up missing and later floating to the surface of the Connecticut River.

He swaggers over, steps uncomfortably close to me.  His cologne doesn’t mix well with the amount of rum I’ve consumed.  I bet you wouldn’t be a Lesbian if you had a good fuck; have you ever fucked?  (I pause for the mere split second there is to set the direction of this interaction.)  Yeah, I been fucked; let me ask you a question: when you were in the navy, did you ever fuck with men?

He’s obviously startled by this question.  He’s also tricked by the query because his ego thinks I’m expressing interest in his story:  Uh well, there weren’t any women around you know; yeah, I fucked with men.  I ask in a rather voyeuristic voice: did you like it?  Now he’s off balance while being given a chance to assert his ego: Like it!  No I didn’t like it.  Still without eye contact, the action is checkmated: Neither did I.  He doesn’t approach me again.

The thing that none of these relatives, friends, oglers seem to understand is that being a Lesbian is the complex will of the spirit, the simple logic of the heart:  I am a woman, I love my self; I love women.

Election Reflection


Ronald Reagan might be credited with prompting the inception of Northampton’s Pride March. Following his swearing-in as the 40th U.S. President on Jan. 20, 1981, the Valley experienced growing violence toward women, gays and people of color. The Valley Women’s Voice, an area feminist monthly newspaper, carried reports of this from alternative news sources across the country during 1981.

Springfield experienced an increase in forcible rapes that was three times the average national increase (though that also rose). One analysis of that increase in rape in California found that 30% of the victims were lesbians. Within a two-month period, six women drivers in Springfield and South Hadley were forced off the road or lured to stop their cars then beaten and raped by the “tire iron man.”

The Puerto Rican communities in the North End of Springfield and Holyoke were targets of arson. In the first eight months of 1981, 85 fires in Holyoke left 600 people homeless and killed six residents. That same summer, the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses in Westfield.

Accompanying this direct violence was federal and state legislation in 1980-81 that denied gays immigration and citizenship. Legislation also cut funding for or access to food stamps, Comprehensive Education and Training Act (CETA) positions, contraceptives and abortion, emergency assistance, aid for dependent children, and community health programs. Two of the many programs affected in the Valley were Springfield Womanshelter, which lost five of its eight staff for battered women’s services, and Northampton’s only program for alcoholic mothers, which closed.

The election of Reagan in 1980 brought not only a new militarism and cuts in community services, but also encouraged the consolidation of Christian fundamentalists into a New Right “Moral Majority.” The Oklahoma legislature voted to castrate homosexuals for sex crimes. The U.S. Congress forbade the provision of federally-funded Legal Services for gay people, among many other results.

Upon hearing of the New Right campaign in San Francisco and the concurrent rise in violence against lesbians and gays, Northampton lesbians pointed to recent local efforts by men to close women-only events, the firing or not hiring of lesbians, and increasing verbal harassment. Lesbians noted that the lack of any state law or city ordinance prohibiting discrimination increased the danger, but expressed willingness to defend themselves.

In April of 1981, a lesbian who worked at an unnamed local mainstream media organization answered the phone at her job, and learned that the “Citizens for Decency” wanted some coverage for their picket of the Frontier Lounge, a Springfield gay bar. She handled the call routinely and then, when she got home, called everyone she knew who would be willing to fight back. As reported in the Valley Women’s Voice by Sarah Van Arsdale, the twelve, mostly male, “Citizen” picketers with their messages from God were met by an equal number of counter-demonstrating lesbians with their own messages.

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Anti-gay and counter Demonstrations at the Frontier Lounge in Springfield. Originally published in the Valley Women’s Voice. Photo used by permission of the photographer Kathryn Kirk.

Toward the end of 1981, federal legislation was introduced to rollback even more social progress in America. The Family Protection Act threatened Affirmative Action, desegregation, and the rights of workers to organize, as well as the survival of women, the poor, and people of color. “Homosexuals” were specifically to be denied protection under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Over the winter of 1981-82, a coalition of Northampton-  area activists started a Family Protection Act Education Project. Their first actions were to give books to Forbes Library and set up an information table on Main Street in the cold of February 1982.

Two months later, an offshoot calling itself the Gay and Lesbian Activists, GALA, put out a call for a gay and lesbian march through Northampton to demonstrate opposition to the Family Protection Act.

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On May 15, 1982 Northampton became home to Western Massachusetts’ first Lesbian/Gay March.

Estimates of who and how many people participated in the day’s march and rally varied by source: “300 college-aged people” (Boston Globe); ”500 homosexuals and gay rights supporters, a mixture of college-aged and older people mostly from the Valley” (Daily Hampshire Gazette); “600 people” (PVPGA Gayzette); or, “more than 800 men, women and children” (Valley Women’s Voice). It was the first lesbian/gay demonstration and organized outing on the town’s streets, the first time the largely separate Lesbian and gay men’s communities came together in a sizable way, and the first public demonstration of support by straight friends and local progressive groups. The newly-formed Gay and Lesbian Activists (GALA) was responsible for this unprecedented event, which was endorsed by over forty Massachusetts groups.

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Marchers assemble in front of the school before starting to march. Photograph used by permission of the photographer Kathryn Kirk.

The March in Support of the Lesbian and Gay Community wound mostly through Northampton’s back streets, with signs, balloons and chants of “We are everywhere! We will be free!” From Bridge Street School, marchers only emerged onto Main Street for two short blocks before filling Pulaski Park for a two hour rally. Disguises were provided by the organizers for those unable to risk identification. Masks, costumes, sunglasses, face paint, and paper bags were worn by some marchers, including a Northampton high school teacher who has since been able to make her lesbianism known. Contingents from PVPGA, GALA, the Northampton Committee on El Salvador, the UMass Labor and Relations Center, and the Center for Popular Economics carried banners.

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The two hour rally in Pulaski park included speeches and entertainment by GALA; Angela Guidice, local lesbian anti-racism worker; John Calvi, gay folksinger from Vermont; local lesbian writer Judith Katz; and Marshall Yates, representing Third World/Lesbian Gay Focus for the People’s Anti-War Mobilization that had recently convened in town. As well as celebrating, the rally’s speakers drew the connection between all the different people threatened by the proposed Family Protection Act.

SOURCES:

__Van Arsdale, Sarah. “Lesbians/Gays Fight Back!” Valley Women’s Voice. March 1981.

__A Sister. Letter to the Editor. Valley Women’s Voice. April 1981.

__Van Arsdale, Sarah. “Lesbians Oppose Attacks On Gays.” Photograph by Kathryn Kirk. Valley Women’s Voice. June 1981.

__Newsbrief. “Cross Burns in Westfield.” Valley Women’s Voice.  Sep. 1981.

__Sperry, Jackie. “But That Can’t Happen in America.” Valley Women’s Voice. Sep. 1981.

__LaBonte, Dale. “The ‘Family’ Protection Act: Beware.” Valley Women’s Voice. Oct. 1981.

__McCrate, Elaine, spokeswoman GALA. Press release. Apr. 28. 1982. Northampton MA.

__GALA. Flyer. “Support the Lesbian and Gay Community March. Northampton. Sat. May 15.”

__Young, Iris and Irvine, Gail. “Gala March: The First.” Valley Women’s Voice. Northampton. Summer 1982.

__G.S. PVPGA Gayzette. “GALA March a Success.” Northampton. June 1982.

__Bradley, Debra. “Homosexual march here attracts 500.” Daily Hampshire Gazette. Northampton. May 17, 1982.

__Associated Press. “Northampton March Backs Gay Rights, Hits New Right.” Boston Globe. Boston. May 16. 1982.

Homosexual Bar Bombed in Springfield


At five in the morning of Wednesday, September 12, 1973, an explosion leveled the Arch Café at 1737 Main Street in downtown Springfield. In the newspaper photo published the next day, it looks like the walls blew out and the roof lifted, broke, and then resettled onto what had just become a pile of rubble. No one was injured in the blast, but the building, which the owners estimated to be worth $90,000, was totally destroyed.

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courtesy  Springfield Union Sep. 13, 1973

Sixty windows were blown out in the side of the Hotel Charles right next to the Café. Changes in the transportation patterns from rail to automobiles had brought the once proud Hotel to near financial collapse, but it was a handy tryst place for subcultural denizens. There was additional damage to the Army&Navy store on the ground floor of the Hotel and to the Friendly Tavern across the street.

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The Hotel Charles in its decline

The Arch Café was named after the immense granite railroad arch that flanked the café’s south side and carried the Penn Central railroad over Main Street. The Arch Cafe was so well known to authorities that it was described in the Springfield Union as “long acknowledged as a gathering place for homosexuals in the Connecticut Valley and beyond.”  Men had previously been arrested at the café on “morals” charges, and the establishment was regularly scrutinized by the Health and Liquor Licensing Boards. Smith College professor Newton Arvin, who lived in nearby Northampton, described the Arch in his diaries as a place he cruised for casual sex in the late 1950s and early 60s. (See the previous blogpost the Scarlet Professor .)

springfield_ma_6 main st arch postcard

The incident was investigated by local, state, and federal authorities. The Arch Café had been operated for seventeen years by brothers Louis and Andrew Lake and in-law Constantine Kyros. The Lake brothers told investigators that the establishment had been plagued in recent weeks by obscene, threatening telephone calls. The reason Andrew Lake gave for not previously reporting these calls to the police was that “after a while you get used to this kind of thing.” The owner of the neighboring Army&Navy store told investigators his business had also received numerous obscene phone calls, starting two weeks before the explosion. Follow-up by police revealed that other bars with homosexual crowds had not been receiving such calls during this period.

When enough debris was cleared away for the fire marshals to get a good look at the damage, gas leaks or an oil tank combustion were eliminated as possible sources for the explosion. A kerosene soaked rag that had not ignited was found on the scene. The rag, along with other forensic evidence, was sent to the state’s lab for analysis.

KMArchCafe NO SALE photoSept171973
Visible in the background are the Hotel on the left and the end of the railroad arch on the right. courtesy Springfield Union Sep 15, 1973.

Pursuing the idea that the Café might have been deliberately targeted because of its homosexual clientele, a Springfield Union reporter James Shanks interviewed Robert Dow of the Homophile Union of Boston. Dow said that his group was “quite concerned” about the Arch explosion. He added, “A number of churches sympathetic to homosexuals and gay churches in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York have been destroyed or damaged by fire bombings. The number of crank calls against gays increased alarmingly in the last month.”

The idea of targeting “homosexuals” was not at all unlikely. Such an incident had been reported in the local and Boston newspapers just a few months previous to the Arch Café explosion.  A page three article in the June 26 Springfield Union printed parts of an Associated Press story from New Orleans about an arson fire at a “gay” bar in which twenty-nine people burned to death, with another sixteen injured as they jumped from upper floor windows and a fire escape.

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Coverage of the NOLA arson that appeared in the Springfield Union June 26, 1973, courtesy of the newspaper

Almost two weeks after the blast the return of findings from the state laboratory helped the fire marshals determine that the Arch Café destruction was caused by a “malicious explosion” deliberately set using a homemade black powder bomb.

KMArchCafe1973
courtesy of the Springfield Union Sep. 25, 1973

With the help of federal agents, the investigation turned to trying to trace the source of the powder, a controlled substance. Months passed with no announced results, but sporadic newspaper coverage about arson in the area linked the Arch bombing to a group of other open cases of fire bombing in the Greater Springfield area.

In a May 1974 special feature on arson for profit in the Springfield Republican, Lt. Edward Smith, the State Fire Marshal, outlined the growing arson problem and described new patterns being discerned across the state as well as in Springfield. Since 1960, arson cases had tripled in the state. In Hampden County, one in eight deliberately set fires might be commissioned by property owners in order to profit from over-insurance. A representative of the insurance industry stated that they felt strongly that the syndicate or mafia was involved in this in Springfield. Neither the police nor the fire marshals would comment on this allegation except, in my interpretation of the article, to imply that arson arrests couldn’t be made without evidence against specific people and that there were an increasing number of arsons that no one was willing to talk about.

Early in the Arch Café investigation, it had been determined that the property was under-insured, since the owners were recouping only a fraction of its value. This made this case unlikely to be an example of insurance arson. Police discovered, however, that the Arch Café operators also owned the Viking Lounge, which had been the object of several bomb scares in recent months. These bomb threats had not been received at the Café. Although “no one was talking,” investigators brought the attention of journalists to a group of other unsolved fire bombings which had occurred in 1973 in the Greater Springfield area. In addition to the Arch Café, these included two trucking firms, a tenement, a pharmacy, a car, and two restaurants. The FBI was investigating some of these for a Boston connection.

No one was ever identified as responsible for setting the bomb, nor was the motive for it made clear. I have heard enough rumors of mafia control of gay bars and protection rackets in other cities to find that to be a plausible theory about what was happening in Springfield at the time. It is, of course, only speculation.

I never visited the Arch before its demise, and couldn’t find a photo of it. Google maps street view takes one along Main Street and under the railroad arch. The Arch Café would have been on the immediate right as one emerges from the arch, with the Peter Pan Bus depot, then as now, across the street. The large vacant lot, with some concrete being poured in Nov. 2015, was the site of the 400-room Hotel Charles, which had been next door to the Arch Café. The hotel was demolished after a fire in 1988.

site of arch cafe, google maps street view
1737 main street, site of the former arch cafe, 2009 google maps street view

 

SOURCES:

__Thank you Jan Whitaker for turning me on to GenealogyBank.

__”Arch Blast Probed.” Springfield Union. Sep. 13, 1973. Springfield, Massachusetts.

__Shanks, James M. “Officials to Raise Arch Roof.” Springfield Union. Sep. 14, 1973.

__MacConnell, Art, photographer. “No Sale.” Springfield Union. Sep. 15, 1973.

__”Survivor Says Arsonist Torched ‘Gay’ Bar.” Springfield Union. Jun. 26, 1973.

__”Bars Block Escape of 29 Fire Victims.” Boston Herald. Jun. 26, 1973. Boston, Massachusetts.

__”Arson Confirmed in Arch Café Fire.” Springfield Union. Sep.25, 1973.

__”Agents Seek Source For Bomb Powder.” Springfield Union. Oct. 3, 1973.

__”Firebombing Try Probed by Police.” Springfield Union. Apr. 4, 1974.

__Andreoni, Phyllis. “Insurance Sighting In On Arson for  Profit.” Springfield Republican. May 19, 1974.

 

COMING NEXT: Dancing Wimmin; Lilith

Bar Dykes


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From the poem Grit by Jacqueline Elizabeth Letalien

This is how Jacqueline Elizabeth Letalien began one of her four story-poems published in the very first issue of Common Lives/Lesbian Lives: a lesbian femininist quarterly in the Fall of 1981. I met Jacqueline at UMass through SHL a decade earlier than this publication. We both had come out in bars and wound up hanging out and working  together off n on until  1979. After she moved to California she sent me a bound sheaf of poems to add to the Valley history, among them these four which begin to express her Springfield working class experience in ways we had not yet been able to talk about.

With her permission they are reprinted here:

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