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In its early years, the GLBT population in Central Florida was small and closeted. Oppression of GLBT persons was not uncommon. All homosexual acts were illegal in Florida and most remained on the books until June 26, 2003 when the U.S. Supreme Court (Lawerence v.Texas) invalidated sodomy laws in Texas and thirteen other states including Florida. Additionally, Orange County and Orlando both had 1940s ordinances against cross-dressing. Before the Palace Club opened in 1969, gay-owned businesses and organizations catering specifically to GLBT persons were not apparent in Central Florida and likely did not exist. As a result, LGBT people met mostly in private homes and in some public places known only by word-of-mouth. However, with the openings of the Kennedy Space Center (1962, formerly named the Launch Operations Center), the University of Central Florida (1968, formerly called Florida Technological University), the Naval Training Center Orlando (1968, converted from the Orlando Air Force Base which was initially opened just prior to WW II as the Orlando Army Air Base), Disney World (1971) and Sea World (1973), the demographics and culture of Central Florida began to change. More and more GLBT persons moved into or vacationed in the region, contributing to an increase in establishments and groups that catered to the GLBT population. Eventually, an obvious and thriving GLBT community emerged here.
Just after the McCarthy era (1950-1954), Florida began its own witchhunts. The Florida Legislative Investigation Committee (FLIC, also known as the Johns Committee after its Chairman) was established in 1956 by the Florida Legislature initially to eliminate communists from government and public education. However, the scope of the investigation expanded to include gays, first without formal sanction and then officially. In 1961, the Legislature directed the Johns Committee to broaden its investigations to include homosexuals and the "extent of [their] infiltration into agencies supported by state funds." By 1963, 39 professors and deans were fired, 71 public school teachers lost their teaching certificates, and scores of college students were interrogated and many were expelled. In 1964 the Johns Committee published its report, Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida, informally called the Purple Pamphlet. The report, which became infamous for its inclusion of images of homosexual acts, was a major factor in the demise of the Johns Committee on July 1, 1965.
In 1969, the year of the Stonewall riots, the first gay bar run by gays for gays was opened in greater Orlando by Bill Miller and Michael Hodge. Miller and Hodge leased half of the building at 4910 Edgewater Drive in Orlando from the Liquor World family to open the Palace Club, a bottle club for gays. Additionally, Miller and Hodge were licensed to serve beer and wine.
When the Palace Club moved to a new location at 1000 Humphries (pictured advertisement), this historical gay site at 4910 Edgewater Drive became home to a succession of gay bars: Circle J, End Zone, Odds and Ends (owned by Wally W. Woods and Jimmy Bruce), and Face to Face which was shortened to Faces (owned by Sue Hanna, Angie Spruil, and one other person), the first lesbian owned bar for lesbians in Central Florida. This Edgewater site remained a gay establishment for the next 38 years, until 2007 when Faces closed.
The Palace Club closed sometime after its move to 3400 N. Orange Blossom Trail.
(The image is an advertisement from the Humphries location of the Palace Club.)
A 70 year old librarian from Orlando Florida writes to Ann Landers (pictured) after she faints when asked for books on homosexuals.
Many people set the date for the begining of Orlando's Gay History in tandom with the opening of Walt Disney World on October 1, 1971. Before that, Orlando was a small town. Along with tourism, Walt Disney World brought throngs of gays and lesbians to the sleepy city of Orlando.
The homosexual bar scene became actively operational in the Orlando area by a key group of five individuals. They were (pictured top, left to right) Mike Hodge, Bill Miller, Jan Koren, and (pictured bottom) Wally Wood and Sue Hanna. They became known informally as the Gay and Lesbian Gang. They were the pioneers of the time, taking on the risky business of opening gay and lesbian bars in Orlando.
The Diamond Head, owned by Michael Hodge and Bill Miller before they purchased the Parliament House, was considered the first "real" gay bar in Orlando because it featured a bar, food service, and show bar on the entire second floor of a block sized building at 134 S. Magnolia above the offices of Junior Achievement. The first room you entered had a pool table and a bar. Then past the pool table through another door was a huge room with many tables and chairs. The decor was pretty tacky but there was a small dance floor and a stage for shows.
In 1972, a Miss Diamond Head Pageant was held and Lori Del Mar was selected as the winner.
The actual opening and closing dates of Diamond Head are unknown.
The site at 134 S. Magnolia later became the Orlando Blood Bank.
On November 5, 1973, the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Florida's sodomy law. In Wainwright v. Stone, 414 U.S. 21 (1973), Florida's statutory provision proscribing "the abominable and detestable crime against nature, either with mankind or beast . . . ," was held not unconstitutionally vague.
William G. Miller, future co-owner of the Parliament House, purchased the historic Las Novedades restaurant in Ybor City and converted it to El Goya lounge. Miller was an original member of the so-called Gay and Lesbian Gang which was responsible for the early gay bar scene in the greater Orlando area.
Bill Miller and Mike Hodge took control of the almost bankrupt Parliament House Motor Lodge at 410 N. Orange Blossom. The motel, originally established in 1962, had fallen on hard times after the opening of Walt Disney World, as the tourism business had moved to the south towards the attraction. The official opening date of the newly purchased Parliament House was May 1, 1975. Steve Herring in his Orlando retro blog describes the Parliament House as "one of the oldest gay resorts and entertainment complexes in the U.S."
On February 16, 1976, Florida Technological University (later to become the University of Central Florida) gave formal recognition to the Gay Student Association (GSA), making GSA the first official GLBT organization in Central Florida. After several name changes, in 1994 the gay student group became UCF's Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Student Union (GLBSU) and then in 2009 underwent another name change to become "Equal".
The El Goya, a historic landmark restaurant that had been renovated by Parliament House founders Bill Miller and Mike Hodge, was destoyed on the evening of November 13, 1977, under suspicious, but unprovable circumstances. It was located at 1430 E Seventh Avenue in Ybor City and was formerly called Las Novedades.
The original Hanks bar was owned by Wally Wood and was located at the corner of N Orange Blossom Trail and Silver Star road. It was a converted gas station that was known for its leaking roof. Patrons often brought umbrellas during rainy weather. It had two juke boxes and an infamous back room. There is now a McDonalds located on the site.
On June 7 a Dade County Florida referendum, forced by pressure from fundamentalist Christians Anita Bryant and husband Bob Green and their "Save Our Children" organization, repealed the county ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
It was a major political battle -- and defeat -- in the struggle for gay civil rights in United States. It was also the first successful use of the "child molestation tactic" by anti- gay forces and set the pattern of anti-gay attacks for the remainder of the Seventies and into Eighties.
(From Blue Pride - http://www.bluepride.org/index.cgi?board=general&action=print&thread=96; photo from Stonewall National Museum)
The passage of Florida's gay-adoption ban in 1977 was influenced by anti-gay activist Anita Bryant. A one-time singer and a Miss Oklahoma beauty pageant winner and the spokesperson for the Florida citrus industry, Bryant had conducted a well-financed and successful campaign called "Save Our Children." In Central Florida and around the country, GLBT persons boycotted Florida citrus and eventually Bryant lost her job with the citrus industry.
The San Juan Grand Central Hotel, located at 32 N. Orange Avenue across from the Angebilt Hotel, opened its doors as a gay resort on October 6, 1978. The Grand Central took over downtown's historic San Juan Hotel, which dated back to its own opening on January 9, 1888.
Grand Central was a venture of the owners of Fort Lauderdale's Copa Club. The San Juan Grand Central featured the Studio cabaret and show bar, Golden Era piano bar, Nifty Ladies girls lounge, Yellow Submarine game room, Laguna pool bar, and the Sweetwater restaurant.
Immediately after its opening, a public feud broke out between its principal owner, Kenneth Bray, and Parliament House owners Bill Miller and Mike Hodge, who alluded that Mr. Bray was under investigation for the fire that destroyed their Tampa bar, the El Goya.
After a major fire in early 1979, the San Juan Grand Central closed for good . The building was demolished in 1982.
The first LGBT multi-service organization in Central Florida, Gay Social Services (GSS), was incorporated on November 27, 1978. Since 1978, the group has undergone several name changes, Gay Community Services (GCS), Gay and Lesbian Community Services (GLCS), the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Community Center (GLBCC), and the GLBT Center. The organization currently is located at 946 N. Mills Avenue in Orlando.
On January 2, just a few months after its opening as a gay hotel, a fire broke out in an unoccupied wing of the downtown Grand Central Hotel (previously the San Juan Hotel) at 32 N. Orange Avenue. The unused part of the hotel burned to the ground. It's main tower also was severely damaged by smoke and water. Over 100 Orlando firefighters battled the blaze that destroyed the hotel which recently began hosting gay men. 70 guests had to be evacuated. A transient in the hotel, who had been evicted the night before, was held but never charged.
Three competing reports exist:
(1) "The first Pride Picnic occurred in June of 1979 at Turkey Lake Park."
(2) "They told us we'd never get a Gay Pride Picnic off the ground. Then on the last Sunday of June 1984 with the help of my friends Steve, Rick, Rusty, Paul, Margaret — to name just a few, over seven hundred men and women celebrated their uniqueness at Lake Whippoorwill in Southeast Orange County."
(3) "Actually the first picnic was in 1980 at Turkey Lake Park as I was one of the original planners from Joy MCC."
(The museum would like to have a copy of a news clip and a photograph of the first Pride Picnic in its collection. If you have either of these, please share it with the Museum.)
On January 14 Joy Metropolitan Community Church (Joy MCC) held its first Orlando service conducted by Rev. Arthur Flescher at the Reverend's rented home. Twenty two people attended.
Previously at the Fall District Conference in November 1978, the Southeast District Committee of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches approved sending Rev. Arthur Flescher to Orlando. Later, under his leadership, Joy MCC achieved “New Work” status as a beginning church body on March 18, 1979; this was followed by “Commissioned Church” status on June 9, 1981.
On March 1, Gay Social Services (GSS) implemented Central Florida's gay peer information and counseling hotline. It initially started taking calls 4 nights per week, but quickly expanded to 7 nights a week. Calls were received by an answering service, and returned by volunteers each night between 8 pm and Midnight. Nancie Wilson, Pete Fisher, and Dr. Bob Bolletter trained the first 20 volunteers.
Gay Social Services (GSS) started the original Gay Skate Night at Semoran Skateway in Casselberry. It started as a gay event one night per month...and eventually expanded to one night per week. A small fee was charged. The facility was paid for and GSS made a buck or so from each admission. It was one of the only gay events in Orlando that did not serve alcohol and did not have an age minimum of 21 so a lot of teens came as well as older folks. Everyone got along well...and the older folks looked out for the younger ones. Rarely did they have kids under 18...but a few did show up. Some even came with their gay parents.
Bill Miller opens the Last Moving Picture Company in the rear of the Derby Room restaurant in Lakeland. Robert Wilkison was the restaurant's operator. The building was once operated as a gay bar called the Lobster Trap.
David Strickler and Charlie Hogan formed a peer support group that met on Tuesday evenings at the Northeast Orange Mental Health Center. The first meeting was held on January 13, 1980. It was attended by 17 people. Reportedly, "people here were still afraid to mention their last names, or sometimes even used false first names." (This 2007 photo shows only Charlie Hogan.)
The original Hank's location at the corner of Orange Blossom Trail and Silver Star Road is demolished to make room for a McDonald's. Patrons collect bricks as souveniers. The bar then moved to its Edgwater Drive location.
Numerous gay-related films were released nationwide including Victor Victoria, Personal Best, and Deathtrap. Theatre manager David Sheffield said "there have been very few complaints or walkouts with the exception of Deathtrap, which featured a kiss between Christopher Reeves and Michael Caine.
Southern Changes, on 375 Bumby Avenue opened in 1982. It later became known as "Southern Nights." It closed briefly in 2005 when it changed ownership. Later, the club's name became "Revolution." Recently, after another sale of the club, its name reverted back to "Southern Nights."
Port Au Prince opened at 912 W Colonial Drive in the location of a former Sizzler restaurant. It featured live bands 6 nights per week and boasted 8,000 square feet of the most modern disco in the south.
The first locally recorded death related to AIDS was on May 5, 1983. The person who died was a 53-year-old resident who had recently moved to the area from Australia.
The 3000 Club, located at 3000 N. Orange Avenue, opened near Florida Hospital.
The first church for GLBT persons in Central Florida was the
Joy Metropolitan Community Church (Joy MCC). The church received its charter on March 13, 1983 although its congregation had been meeting since January of 1979.
Its first pastor was Reverend Arthur Flescher.
Gerald (Jerry) Lucian Wright, 44, who formerly worked as a producer at an Orlando television station, was found asphyxiated in his home April 29, 1984. He was last seen at the Silver Hammer bar.
The Bier Board opened at 912 N. Mills Avenue in Orlando in April of 1984. Currently this address is the home of the Funky Monkey Wine Company.
Circuit Judge Frank Kaney ruled that a defunct Orange County ordinance prohibiting men from wearing women's clothing in public and vice versa violated constitutional rights. The Orlando city council had already dropped the ban in 1982 during an overhaul of city code. The city council had passed the ban on cross-dressing in 1948.
Thomas Provenzano, who walked into the Orange County Courthouse and killed a court bailiff and injured two others, used a "homosexual panic" defense. Psychiatrists for the defense stated that Provenzano suffered from a severe "homosexual panic" when searched by the bailiff that set off the incident.
The owner and the manager of Southern Nights were murdered and their bodies were discovered in the club's rest room. Joseph Cammarano (20 years old) was found guilty of two counts of first degree murder. Dennis Potenzo, who was also convicted, was believed to be the trigger man. They were both sentenced to life in prison.
Loving Comitted Network (LCN) was established in June of 1984 by a committee of women who were unhappy that Gay Pride Week plans did not include enough events of interest for women. Men were not permitted at most LCN events. This issue was fuel for political controversy and animosity between LCN and Gay Communitity Services (GCS) and the Center which was run mostly by gay men.
Sue Hannah and her business partner, Angie Spruel, opened Faces (originally named Face to Face) in 1985 as a comfortable meeting place for conservative girls. Angie died just 6 months later. Sue was once the roommate of Parliament House owner Mike Hodge in 1968.
The nude body of Paul David Switzer, 51, was found under a bed just minutes after he was stabbed to death in his room at the Parliament House. Switzer of Longwood had asked the suspect into his room. The suspect, James Edward Osborn, 26, tried to rob Switzer. It was obvious that Switzer had put up a fight but was overpowered by the suspect. Osborn was arrested two days later when he went to pick up a stolen van he had left at a body shop for repairs. He left a blank check with a phone number on it. The owner of the body shop called the phone number before starting repairs on the van and discovered that the number belonged to Switzer who was killed two days earlier. Osborn was charged with first degree murder. Prosecutors said at Osborn's trial that Osborn had sex with Switzer, slit his throat and stole his wallet. Osborn killed himself while in jail after being convicted of the murder.
The Orange Blossom Bowling Association premiered May 21, 1985 at Bowl America Winter Park for a 14 week Summer league. Charlie Hogan of GCS provided $50 in seed money to assist the league in getting started. Major sponsors of the league were the Silver Hammer Saloon, Cellblock M, and Orlando attorney Timothy Straus.
On August 11, 1986, Dorothy “Dotty” Davidson w/f, 39 years old (10-4-46), was reported missing from her residence (pictured), 5339 Lanyard Court, Winter Park, Seminole County. She was reported missing by her twin sister, Diane Davidson. Foul play is suspected. Three spent .25 caliber casings where found underneath an ottoman in her living room. There has been no sign of Dotty since this date.
Central Florida Aids Unified Resources, Inc. (CENTAUR) was the first AIDS Service Organization (ASO) of its kind in the Central Florida area to provide supportive services to persons with HIV/AIDS. Meeting in a private home, 12 males attended the first support group to share information and learn more about AIDS. Incorporated in July of 1986, its first Board of Directors was comprised of people living with AIDS, physicians, and family members and friends. Soon CENTAUR expanded to serve women, children and families both infected with and infected by HIV/AIDS. The number and types of services also expanded. The organization was supported by many means, including but not limited to donations, grants, Heart of Florida United Way, the Ryan White Emergency Care Act, Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS, and its own two major fundraising events - the Red Ribbon Ball and Laughter Positive. (Pictured is Debbie Tucci, Director of CENTAUR.)
William (Bill) G. Miller, co-owner of the Parliament House, dies. He was 53.
Hank's reopens on Edgewater Drive in a building that until then had been occupied by a business called "Family Pub".
Orlando's first gay and lesbian Center opened in September of 1987 at 1036 N Mills Avenue in a building that formerly housed a laundromat. According to Jim Crescitelli, "We'd open up in the morning and, my gosh, the world's largest roaches would scatter... ! But we made it work."
At that time, the Center and Gay Community Services (GCS) were separate entities. The Center later merged with the Gay Community Services (GCS) to become the Gay and Lesbian Community Services (GLCS). It has since evolved into the present GLBT Center.
The Center's first president was Bill Walton and its first Executive Director was John Brown. Instrumental in the formation of the group was Scott Alles, Larry Nicastro, and Chris Alexander.
The newsletter with the cover photo, We’re Open, was first laid out on the kitchen table of Jim Crescitelli by Jim, Margaret C., Christi V., Randy V. and Kirk J.
The Below Zero Club opened in the Lamar Hotel in the Fall of 1987 and closed a little over a year later. A Bohemian type bar, it was a place with atmosphere frequented by local artists, musicians, poets, punks, and fringe people of all sorts, as well as gays. Below Zero Club reopened again briefly in the early 1990s.
Central Floridians participated in the second March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights.
Key Largo opened in the former location of Margo's, a redneck country and western bar on Highway 441 in Lockhart. At the time, it was believed to be the largest lesbian entertainment complex in the United States with over 15,000 square feet of space on 2 and 1/2 acres.
The founder of the GLBT Center's bridge club and local accountant, Alan M. Kasper, disappeared one evening and turned up dead weeks later in Lake Gloria in South Orange County. He was 38 years old. A memorial for Kasper was held September 15. Christopher Barr, 21, was charged with second-degree murder in the beating death of Kasper. Deputies said Barr was angry at Kasper, who had given him a ride, for making homosexual advances.
On November 17, three men were charged with robbing and killing a Massachusetts man and with stealing a rented, blue 1988 Dodge Caravan from him while he was vacationing at the Parliament House.