By Charlie Hogan
Two weeks ago, Frank asked me to speak to you about the history of the gay and lesbian community in Orlando. Three times this year, I have been asked to do this and frankly, I think you got the wrong man. Yes, I was there during a lot of great things during the last twenty-seven years. But, I did not, do not, and will not call myself a leader. I did what I could with the help of some fantastic men and women that shared a common dream. From the seeds of small successes and failures, great trees have grown.
What I will tell you is about the dreams and courage of some wonderful men and women.
But first I must tell you what it was like in June of 1969 when two momentous events occurred in America. One was when a man, in New York City, wearing a dress, refused to "go downtown." He planted his heels and shouted, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore." The other event occurred when a slim, trim and bald Charlie Hogan
arrived in Orlando. He was full of vim, vigor, and loaded with what we have come to call ATTITUDE.
My introduction to the Orlando gay community came from Mike, who lived across the hall and knew just about everyone that one should know. He was tall, dark and Italian. He was also gay and took a liking to me.
The gay scene was pretty much a closeted thing. There was the Odds and Ends Bar where Faces now stands. It consisted of one-half of a leaking building shared with an Army and Navy Store. When it rained, the place flooded. You could not enter the place unless someone inside vouched for you, you entered with a member of the community, or were young and cute. I liked to never got into the place!
Most of my early memories are of nice little social gathering in peoples homes. Since I was a professional and "ran with Mike and the 'IN' crowd," I was finally invited to the "Sunday Afternoon Tea." This was the prime social event of the month and one could only attend by invitation ONLY. After about two hours of being on my very best Southern behavior and taking great care not to drop any silver or break any china, I was approached by the host and invited to leave. I apologized for any indiscretion and was told not to worry. It was time for them to discuss me and decide if I would fit in with the group. ——— Let's just say that at that moment, I let my razor tongue drop a lot more than fine china and grandmother's silver. Needless to say, I still have not been invited back to this day and have had to search for other groups with whom I might fit in.
For most of the early years the social scene was centered around the bars. During the bar heyday, we had the Odds and Ends on Edgewater, the Cactus on Bumby, the Diamond Head on Magnolia, the Annex on Orange - where I was kidnapped and taken on the morning of my thirtieth birthday. Soon, the famous P. House joined the ranks too.
Yes, we had lots of bars. But, attendance came often with a price. In the bars where the gays and lesbians were welcomed, the local law enforcement chose to also enforce the law of two forms of identification. Dance floors were often raided. If you had left your ID's in your car as most of us did, you were arrested and your name would appear in the newspaper as having frequented a place frequented by homosexuals. The word Gay was never used! Law enforcement would often force the patrons into the parking lot at midnight while they conducted drug searches. When that ploy would no longer work, they said they had received a bomb threat and did the same search. Rookie law enforcement officers were initiated by going to gay bars and shaking them down. Some of the bars actually kept attorneys at the ready for weekend raids. One news rag published in Winter Park actually published the names of everyone arrested at the bars or at the rest stops. Ruth Ann's was the one on the way to Disney and Martha Ann's was the one on the way from.
Then in 1978 I heard of a group of men and women - some gay and lesbian — some not, who had a dream of providing support for the gay and lesbian community. I was invited to attend one of their meetings. We shared common hopes and dreams for the future. Some of our dreams were:
- An organization that would act as an umbrella and coordinate services for our community.
2. A telephone hotline to provide information and counseling if needed.
3. Social Events we could all share.
4. There was even talk of one-day gay pride events held in public view to celebrate our uniqueness.
- We even dared to breach the subject that one day we could have a center for gays and lesbians to come and share together.
Thus begins the saga of GSS, GCS, and GLCS. Here, I met some of the really courageous men and women in the Orlando community. —— people like David, an attorney, Dave an Engineer at Martin, Carol and Dotty who owned a printing company, and Tom who headed a department at what was then called FTU, later to become UCF. They fought to create an organization that would provide hope and services to our community, a unique group of men and women. I was proud to join and become one of them. They fought every barricade that was thrown against them in the creation of what was then called Gay Social Services or GSS. They did it in such a way as to get non-profit tax-exempt status from the Federal Government. Trust me —In those days of Republicanism, the Federal Government was not in the habit of recognizing any organizations that had the words Gay and Lesbian in their Charter.
Things went smoothly for the first few years. We had great meetings and were providing social and counseling services. Then came the Southeastern Conference of Gay's and Lesbians. My old pal Malcom Boyd was the keynote speaker. A simple little group meeting at Junior Achievement; that had been quietly working for good suddenly went public and picketed the University for denying us space at the last minute. We made the media big time. We lost Junior Achievement as a meeting space as their sponsors refused to fund them for allowing a group such as ours to rent their space.
Then as so often happens, and after all the real difficult work is done, others wanted to push their own agendas. Those that labored so hard to get the organization off the ground got tired of the fight and moved on to other things. Ohh, they never quit supporting us. They just burned out. It's hard to keep working when all you hear day after day is, "Why don't you." " You should." ....the one I heard, "If you don't." ——— I didn't and was outted to the Superintendent of schools and the Attorney General of Florida. ...... Oh, those were the days when it was great to be gay and a public employee with a license to work in a state that called gays perverts and kept lists.
One fine spring day after the president of GCS mailed in his resignation; I found myself the only officer left and four thousand dollars in debt due to the unpaid bills of our newspaper, the NEW DIRECTION.
I was lucky. There were some great men and women who came to my support and the gay owned businesses also came to our aide. All of the bar owners actually began to work together and provided fundraisers to help pay the debt and even started to work together. Well, that lasted till one of them had his lawyer contact the landlord of another bar and attempted to persuade him not renew the others lease. So ended that business guild idea.
But, our dreams were still alive and during the next ten years, we set out to make them a reality.
1... We wanted an organization that would serve as an umbrella for services. We got it and it was recognized by the state of Florida and the United States Government as non-profit and tax-exempt.
2... We were told that we would never get the word Gay in the Southern Bell Phone Directory. We did... and the word Lesbian too.
3... We were told that we would never get a group together that would meet every week to discuss gay issues. We did and I was proud to be its leader from its beginning in January 1979 until I left to search for my own personal dream in May 1988.
4... We were told that we'd never get businesses to allow gays to field teams. Every week we field teams to bowl, skate, play baseball and roller skate.
5... For the ten years I was an officer of GCS we answered the phone twenty-four hours a day from people that needed information, help, or just needed someone to talk to. Perhaps some of you talked to me during those days.
6... 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. In a few weeks we will all sport a tan and be flush with the pride of marching down Orange Avenue. Watch it Glenda! We plan to stop at your house and raise a racket.
7... and there was another dream that we all kept in the back of our minds and deep in our hearts. We dreamed that one day there would be a place called the Gay and Lesbian Center where everyone of us could come for news, information, meetings without disco music in the background, or just sit and read a book without hiding its cover. It was the greatest of dreams and would take a true leap of faith on all of our parts. So, one fateful night at the Tuesday Night Rap group we quit talking and began to plan for the dream of dreams.
Because of the courage of people like Bill, John, Margaret, Lee, Larry, Scott and countless others who decided to quit talking about — and wishing about — and put their money and their names into the dream, by donating dollars in amounts of one to a thousand, we began to walk toward the dream. And wonder of wonders, that dream came true when on an August night in 1986 at a dinner held at Lee's Lakeside we announced that Orlando had a Gay and Lesbian Center on Mills Avenue.
8. There is even a rumor that we ride Harley Hogs and wear leather in addition to singing in a gay chorus.
The trip had not been an easy one either. Just when the dream seemed within reach. GCS hired a lawyer to block the center from being a part of GCS. A self appointed leader in the community called Tallahassee and oued all of us that were working to build the dream. So, with the help of one of our founders, as an attorney, we incorporated The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Central Florida, Inc. and the dream does go on after all.
.......... but, our gains were not without losses. For every win, there was somebody that put their name and face on the line.
Yes, I'm proud that I was able to be a part of our beginnings. I'm proud that I was able to answer phone calls at night, bowl, skate and enjoy a sun-filled day at the lake. But, all that I did was done with others — wonderful men and women that stood with me. ...... And I miss them all!!
I miss Mark Cardwell and his courage to stand in public and before the Congress of the United States and force us to see the face of AIDS.
I miss Jim Birkheimer with his wonderful piano playing and penchant for detail as we put GCS's newspaper out every month. I still remember hearing his sister as we entered the church for his memorial stating, " I hope nobody says he had AIDS." That's all HER minister talked about.
I miss Perry Veach who wanted me to remember him as he was that summer when we last saw each other, and not as he was when he got ill in the fall.
I miss the friends that left when we founded The Center because they didn't want any part of the possible debt it might incur.
These were people to be proud of whom with dignity and courage showed us how to live proudly every day of their lives.
So you see, I have a lot to be proud of ...... from a time in the 70's when we were rousted from the bars and arrested because we didn't have an ID in our pockets to a time when, as occurred last June on Pride Day. A time when two Orlando Police Officers removed their helmets and prayed with Rev. Jimmy Brock in Eola Park. We have reached a time when they too laughed and applauded with us all that day.
I was equally proud when two weeks later the youth bowlers and their parents came to the lanes and served cake and cookies to over one hundred and forty gay and lesbian bowlers to say thank you.
I'm proud of men like Dave Strickler, who in 1978 put his name and face on television ads to tell Orlando that there was a GSS to help provide services to the Central Florida Gay and Lesbian community.
I glowed with pride when the Gay and Lesbian Community could take credit in 1980 for the election of a city judge, a man that came to us to ask our support and returned with his wife and newborn child to say thank you.
I am proud of the courage and pride all of you show so often. Just your presence here today is a testimony to how things have improved over the last twenty-seven years.....
..... and I miss so much of the past and the people that were there.
........ and I would be remiss if I did not sound you a warning ........
None of what you have came cheap .....
There are still those that would force us to retreat and we must be vigilant always.
Every time you place money in the collection plate and sit quiet in a church that condemns you from the pulpit, you place us in danger. If you aren't happy where you are, I encourage you to check out Orlando's Metropolitan Community Church where you are welcome and needed.
Every time you fail to support a group or organization that supports your ideas and dreams, you place that organization in danger.
Every time you tolerate a joke where words like queer, dike and fag are used, you place us all in danger.
Every time one of us is beaten down and we are silent, ALL of us are beaten down.
Every time you fail to vote for a candidate that believes in equality and justice for all Americans, you endanger freedom for all Americans.
I know that this has been a bit long. I appreciate your staying with me.
As I said at the start, I never thought of my self as a leader. There came a time when I realized that the things I helped to create were devouring me like those before me had been, and it came time to stand tall and walk away. A wise man once said that, "A man has learned the true meaning of life when he plants a tree in whose shade he knows he will never sit."
I am so proud of the courageous men and women I have known. They were true leaders of our community and now sit quietly with me as we listen to the great things that the new leaders are achieving. We were and are a part of your past. We are content to sit back and smile at your successes as you continue to give credit to and keep our dream alive.