Openhouse and Katie Gilmartin are collaborating to witness, honor, and preserve LGBTQ elders’ memories of tavern culture and bar raids through oral history interviews, walking tours, readings, and the writing of Vice Academy, a novel about Queer taverns and raids in mid-century San Francisco.
In the 1950s, danger permeated the enjoyment of Queer social spaces as police patrolled and harassed bar patrons, and arrests routinely resulted in the publication of names, addresses, and employers in the next day’s newspapers. Many of these bar patrons employed elaborate strategies of secrecy as they sought community. Reclaiming these stories foregrounds the role of community, public space, and collective resistance in LGBTQ history.
Gilmartin’s nonprofit partner in this project, Openhouse, was founded in 1998 to provide culturally appropriate services for San Francisco’s LGBT seniors. In the fall of 2016, in partnership with Mercy Housing, it opened the doors of San Francisco’s first affordable, LGBT-welcoming senior housing at 55 Laguna Street, and Openhouse and Mercy continue to develop additional affordable units next door. Through this collaboration, Gilmartin will focus on gathering stories from these community elders, offering home visits, collection and recording of their memories, and affirming their experiences.
Katie Gilmartin is a writer, visual artist, and teacher. For her doctoral research at Yale she interviewed 40 lesbians about their lives in the 1940s and 50s, material she later incorporated in her first novel, Blackmail, My Love. Material from her work with LGBTQ seniors and Openhouse will inform Vice Academy, a new work of fiction.