Queer Histories of Washington, D.C.

Solicited by the OAH Committee on the Status of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Historians and Histories

Saturday, April 4, 2020, 8:00 AM - 9:30 AM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Gender and Sexuality; LGBTQ History and Queer Studies; Politics


This session features new historical research about LGBTQ communities in Washington, D.C., and related topics of race, class, gender and sexuality. Historical scholarship documenting the city’s LGBTQ past analyzes how city residents claimed public space, built cultural institutions and challenged discriminatory laws and polices from federal, municipal and private institutions. These works, along with histories of national LGBTQ politics that often unfolded within the District of Columbia, contribute to histories of sexual and gender transgression. This panel features scholars, public historians and political organizers who will discuss an array of topics including religious institutions, nightlife, and municipal politics.

Papers Presented

The Queer Battle for Capitol Hill: Marines and Violence at D.C. Gay & Lesbian Nightlife

This paper examines the relationship between diverse nightlife cultures in Washington’s southeast quadrant. The proximity of Washington Navy Yard and the Marine Barracks near many gay and lesbian bars meant that Capitol Hill became the epicenter of tension between homosexual communities and military personnel in the 1970s and 1980s, with violence often erupting at nightlife establishments. Such tensions exposed divisions within D.C.'s gay liberation movement. Attacks at lesbian bars received scant media and police attention, while marine attacks at gay clubs led to citywide condemnation. The paper also explores the causes and ramifications of this nightlife turf war on broader gay politics in Washington, D.C. It asks how the District’s gay community in the 1970s through 1990s and its relationship with bars, city government, the police, and the U.S. military remade both the culture and politics of modern Washington, D.C.

Presented By
Eric Gonzaba, California State University, Fullerton

Affirming Christianity: Race and Religion in the Gay Liberation Movement, 1968–1981

This paper demonstrates that LGBT Christians believed in the power of Christianity to disrupt racist discourse. Second, this belief caused them to understand Christian identity as a condition for establishing gay subjectivity. Therefore, Howard University professor James Tinney and Reverend Troy Perry, founder of Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, and other white gay and lesbian religious activists invoked the nation’s history of antiblack racism in order to render homophobia intelligible and to advance recognition of LGBT Americans within the beloved community. The paper argues that the gospel of gay liberation was predicated on the cultural intelligibility of antiblack violence, black religiosity, and the end of legal segregation. Further, attention to the role of religion in the LGBT social movement productively complicates scholarship on black and LGBT religiosity, which too often falls into well-worn debates over whether Christianity is “conservative or liberal” and whether the faith of black and/or gay Americans constitutes “assimilation or resistance.” In this paper, I first provide the context in which what I am calling the Affirming Christian Movement emerged. I then provide examples of the way Perry and Tinney invoked black suffering and religiosity in support of gay liberation. I conclude that these figures invite us to consider the value of queering scholarship on black, queer, and Christian identity in the post–civil rights era.

Presented By
Carol Lautier, Demos

D.C.’s Dykaries: Phase One—D.C.’s Last Dyke Bar (1971–2016)

This paper focuses on Phase One, a lesbian bar open from 1971 to 2016, which, before it closed, became the longest continuously operating lesbian bar in the United States. This project seeks to answer the question: Why did the “The Phase” stay open for 45 years while other lesbian bars, clubs, and bookstores open in the city during the same period fail? This ethnographic-centered project looks at intangible and tangible cultural heritage, theories of space and violence, and previously defined LGBTQ history in order to provide a framework in which to tell the history of Phase One and to understand its success. This paper aims to document previously untold lesbian hxstory in the city, using oral histories and archival research to create a historic and graphic narrative of these spacesto preserve both the cultural and architectural heritage of lesbian space in Washington, D.C.

Presented By
Ty Ginter, D.C. Dykaries

Queer Histories of a Rational Capital

Presented By
Kwame Holmes, University of Colorado Boulder

Session Participants

Chair: David K. Johnson, University of South Florida

Presenter: Ty Ginter, D.C. Dykaries

Presenter: Eric Gonzaba, California State University, Fullerton

Presenter: Kwame Holmes, University of Colorado Boulder

Presenter: Carol Lautier, Demos