Phoenix LGBTQ leaders discuss community history

Marshall Shore, Mary Lockmiller, Ron Wilcox, and Adebiyi Banjoko (left to right) discuss the visibility of LGBTQ people throughout history. (Jena Crum/DD)

Local leaders of the Phoenix LGBTQ community held a panel to discuss the history of the community in Arizona.

The event, LGBTQ A History in Arizona, was held at the Burton Barr Central Library on Tuesday to discuss national and local histories of the LGBTQ community.

The panel included Marshall Shore, Arizona’s Hip Historian; Ron Wilcox, owner of Nu Towne Saloon, the longest currently operating gay bar in Phoenix; Ray Bradford, chairman of the Maricopa County Democratic Party LGBT Caucus; Kim Moody, founder of the Alwun House, which was Phoenix’s first gallery to display gay art exhibit; Abby Jensen, director of Tucson’s Southern Arizona Gender Alliance; Mary Lockmiller a transgender leader in the community and Adebiyi Banjoko, a retired professor from Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

Members of the panel said they aimed the event at people under 30 to help educate the future generations on the history of LGBTQ people.

“It’s difficult for us to imagine today that there was a time when being gay could be used against someone,” Bradford said. “Homosexuality was treated with a great deal of hate and scorn.”

The panel discussed how, though gay and bisexual people were recorded in Native American culture in Arizona as early as the Pre-Columbian era, LGBTQ people have had to face many obstacles throughout history including violence and discrimination.

Jensen said discrimination during this time came from the public.

“The primary reason that gay and lesbian people were discriminated against was because they didn’t look like how a man should look or they didn’t act like how men should act,” she said. “The public thought that men are not supposed to love other men, which is the same thing happens to transgender people and others within our community.”

The panel said major events including riots and protests in the late 1970s acted as the main catalysts for activism within the community.

Shore said during this time, LGBTQ people were inspired to be seen and influence the world around them. These protests eventually led to the establishment of Phoenix Pride in downtown Phoenix in 1981.

“We were out, we were active, we were trying to create change and we wanted to succeed in winning equality,” Shore said.

During this time, the Nu Towne Saloon opened its doors to the LGBTQ community. Wilcox said that people came to downtown Phoenix and to his bar because they were looking to live their lives as who they really were.

“We’ve always been welcoming to all walks of life and we’re very, very proud of that,” Wilcox said.

Shore said while there were many years of fear and hate throughout history, he and others came to Phoenix and stayed because of the strong sense of community there.

“What was intriguing was the vibrancy of the community that was here in downtown Phoenix,” he said. “The community looked very diverse and integrated. That was one of the things that got me really looking at gay history in Arizona that nobody else is really talking about.”

Contact the reporter at jrcrum@asu.edu.