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Dear Queer DNC delegates and friends:
Welcome to Boston, the birthplace of the American revolution, the cradle of American literature, and the capital of the only state to have the nerve, guts, and vision to legalize same-sex marriage — in spite of unrelenting mean-spirited resistance from Governor Mitt Romney and the viciously homophobic religious right.
While all of you will have plenty of duties to tend to at the DNC — including lobbying for a plank that endorses equal marriage rights for queers — you will quickly realize that there are an abundance of wonderfully gay things to do in Boston. These include garnering a keen appreciation of Boston’s distinctive and vital gay and lesbian history; enjoying the many opportunities to socialize in a city that can party as easily as it makes salted cod and baked beans seem like a treat; and getting laid. (These are listed in order of their importance, although you may want to skip to number three to find a companion with whom you can do numbers one and two.)
History can be a real drag
Boston and its environs have an amazing cache of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender history — from colonial times to the present. Here’s a quick list to bring you up to date.
•1636. The General Court of Massachusetts asks the Reverend John Cotton to draw up a legal code for the new colony. Cotton quickly pens the following: "Unnatural filthiness, to be punished with death, whether sodomy, which is carnal fellowship of man with man, or woman with women, or buggery." The good news is that the court rejects Cotton’s legal code. The bad news is that the legislature continues to be obsessed with all forms of non-heterosexual sex.
•1776. Abigail Adams writes from her home in Quincy to her husband, John Adams, who is away helping to draft the Declaration of Independence, that he should "remember the ladies." It is unclear if she is writing about Brahmin matrons, lesbians, or drag queens.
•1830–1900. Many middle-class Beantown women form lifelong intimate relationships that are commonly referred to as "Boston marriages." Since women are not supposed to have sexual desires, no one thinks this odd, and they are invited to the best homes and parties in the city.
•1900–1945. The Charlestown Naval base provides a wealth of "sea food" to Boston’s gay-male community. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, "Never has so much been done to so many by so few."
•1958. The Boston chapter of Daughters of Bilitis, the US’s first national lesbian political group, forms. It continues today, and is the only functioning chapter in the US.
•1971. Lavender Vision, the first joint gay-male and lesbian publication in the country, is published. It lasts only one issue, but everyone remains friends.
• 2004. On May 17, same-sex marriage becomes legal in Massachusetts. Close to 3000 queer couples tie the knot. It is a complete success, and three months later, none of the newlyweds has yet applied for divorce.
This is just a scant record of Boston’s GLBT history. If you’re interested in learning more, sign up for a trolley tour of the city’s gay and lesbian history, to be held during the convention. CityView Trolley will run 75-minute tours of queer Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Bay Village, and the South End. The tours, the city’s first, have been put together by Boston’s Gay and Lesbian Project, a group founded in 1976 dedicated to documenting the city’s queer past. If you want to learn still more about the city’s gay and lesbian history, check out the group’s book Improper Bostonians: Lesbian and Gay History from the Puritans to Playland (Beacon Press, 1996). It’s a lavishly illustrated record that details everything from where gay men cruised in 1950 to lesbian-feminist political collectives in the 1970s. Improper Bostonians will be available at CityView Trolley’s tours and at many local bookstores.
While many of the places on the tour no longer exist — Playland, one of the city’s oldest and most famous gay bars, closed in 1996 — a plethora of bars, clubs, and restaurants still awaits you. One of the best ways to begin negotiating your way around town is to pick up one of the city’s gay and lesbian publications. Bay Windows and In Newsweekly are available for free in many local shops, bars, and restaurants; both have comprehensive listings for places to eat, relax, cruise, and socialize. Bay Windows also includes listings for gay-supportive church services, support groups, and health services, while In Newsweekly carries listings for all of New England, invaluable if you’re staying in the region after the DNC and want to take in gay life in Provincetown, Providence (home to the only two gay-male bathhouses in New England), or Ogunquit, Maine. You may also want to pick up a copy of New England’s Community Pink Pages — given away free at many clubs and gay-friendly shops and restaurants — which will tell you what you need to know about gay businesses, vacation spots, churches, and community support networks in the Northeast.
No trip to Boston is complete without stopping by Calamus Books, which has a huge collection of GLBT books — ranging from the serious to the licentious, the popular to the scholarly — plus DVDs and videos, magazines, and assorted rainbow flags, hats, and more. From important, hard-to-obtain, imported gay-themed art books to small-press lesbian novels to out-of-print and collector’s editions, Calamus’s inventory makes it the place to go. You can also find the full range of local gay guides, newspapers, and magazines here as well.
Not banned in Boston
Of course, you’ll also want to get out and cruise and carouse. Luckily "banned in Boston" is no longer the case, and whatever your socializing and sexual tastes — mundane to arcane — you’ll find there’s someplace to go. Here are some highlights that may especially annoy those right-wing Republicans who think that gay life is nothing but sleaze and sex.
If you’re interested in drag shows, check out Jacques, one of the city’s oldest bars and one of the jewels in its demimonde. Here you’ll find ladies who range from the supremely elegant to the supremely tacky, all lip-synching and parading to their heart’s content — and yours.
If it’s leather and bears who interest you, check out Ramrod, one of New England’s most famous "butch" bars. On a busy weekend night, you’ll find what the Reverend Cotton had in mind when we wrote about "unnatural filthiness."
While Boston marriage now means something quite different from what it did in the 1880s, lesbians have several places to go to find like-minded women interested in marriage or something briefer. Club Hollywood is a Saturday-night-only club for lesbians. And Bay Village’s Dedo has a cozy, comfortable vibe.
For a mixed crowd, check out Club Café, in the center of Boston’s very gay South End. It combines a lovely restaurant with a very friendly bar; Wednesday through Saturday, the venue also hosts Moonshine, a great video lounge in the back of the club.
All these places will grant you gay relief from the pressing needs of national politics, and offer some fun in the mix.
Queer life is thriving here in Boston, and while helping to elect a president who’ll save the country from its current downward slide is hard work, it’s also important to take a break and get out. Your time in Boston will be busy, but there’s no reason why it can’t be incredibly fun as well.
Michael Bronski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Issue Date: July 23 - 29, 2004
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