John F. Kennedy’s many lifetime secrets are common conversation today, but the story of his oldest and dearest friend’s sexual orientation is largely unknown
Note: This story first appeared in Boston Spirit magazine's November/December 2013 issue.
by Mark Krone
“Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.”
Fifty years ago this month, on the afternoon of November 22, 1963, Lem Billings had just returned from lunch when he heard the news. He was an advertising executive at Lennen and Newell in New York and as he approached his office building at 380 Madison Avenue, Billings saw immediately that something was wrong. Waves of people rolled out of the building onto the street, some looked confused, others wept. According to David Pitts, author of Jack and Lem: The Untold Story of an Extraordinary Friendship, a face in the crowd approached Billings and said, “I’m so sorry about the president.”
John Kennedy kept many secrets during his lifetime: poor health, drug use, and countless affairs with women. But one secret is still largely unknown today: Kennedy’s oldest and dearest friend, Lemoyne Billings, was a gay man.FULL ENTRY
November 18, 2003: The day that changed the gay rights movement forever
By Anthony Giampetruzzi
Note: This article first appeared in the September/October 2013 issue of Boston Spirit magazine.
For many, it seems like a lifetime since marriage equality became a reality for the residents of Massachusetts. But, indeed, it’s only been a decade since the Massachusetts became the first state to allow gays to marry after a Supreme Judicial Court decision in November 2003 and a subsequent fight in the legislature in 2004.
Sure, there had been a sprinkling of gay marriage activity throughout the U.S. to that point, with Hawaii seriously approaching the issue nearly 10 years earlier, and Vermont coming the closest to an actual tide change in 2000 when then-Governor Howard Dean signed the first civil unions bill into law.
But it was Massachusetts that triggered a hurricane of activity in New England and across the U.S., leading today to full marriage equality in all New England states, a repeal of key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by the Supreme Court, and a tipping of public opinion in favor of gay marriage countrywide.
Throughout, thousands of individuals worked both in the trenches and in much more public ways to advance what many believe to be the panacea of GLBT equality, marriage. Here, in the words of some of the most influential players, is an oral history of the ups and downs of the past decade.
On November 18, 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage when the SJC ordered the state legislature to open marriage to same-sex couples in the landmark Goodridge v. Department of Public Health ruling. The Court also ruled that if the Legislature failed to do so in 180 days, same-sex couples would be able to marry without any impediment.
Boston Spirit collected reflections from those who were there and who helped make the historic event happen:
“[On November 18, 2003] I was on my way to the Connecticut state house to testify about a relationship recognition issue when I received a call in my car that the SJC’s web site stated that Goodridge would be released at 10 a.m. Suffice it to say that I detoured and went back to Boston. At 10, I was in line at the courthouse to receive a copy of the opinion with plenty of people were ahead of me. I went out on the courthouse plaza to be alone and read the decision. Before I had even had a chance to do so, I received a call from then-Sen. Jarrett Barrios saying we had won. I looked at the opinion and made my way back to the GLAD office. I encountered plenty of jubilant people along the way!” — Mary Bonauto, GLAD attorney who filed suit in Massachusetts on behalf of the seven gay and lesbian couples who wished to marry. The case became known as Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.FULL ENTRY
Who in the ‘H*ck’ is Prescott Townsend?
Note: This story first ran in the September/October 2013 issue of Boston Spirit magazine.
by Mark Krone
Prescott Townsend may be the most influential Boston gay rights pioneer you have never heard of. If so, hang on; before we’re through, Townsend will cross paths with Andre Gide, 1960s hippies, John Waters and his star, Mink Stole. And that’s not counting the army of young men who lived with him on Beacon Hill and in Provincetown, as long as their waist sizes hovered very close to 30-inches.
Born in 1894, Townsend was Brahmin from head to toe. He claimed relation to no fewer than 23 Mayflower passengers and bragged that his third great-great grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. Author Douglass Shand-Tucci quotes a sardonic Townsend who referred to this relative as “the only man to be so inconsistent.”
Townsend’s early life followed a prescribed Brahmin path of prep school, Harvard, and military service. That path soon veered sensationally.
At Harvard, he had his first homosexual encounter “with a polo player.” Restless after graduation, Townsend decided to travel in search of a more vital world. He worked at a logging camp out west where he lived among men who seemed not to miss the company of women. That some of them were members of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies), which opposed capitalism must have influenced Townsend, though he was never particularly sympathetic to organized labor and was a lifelong Republican.
Returning to Boston, Townsend moved to Beacon Hill where he met Elliot Paul, an experimental theater producer. Writer, Lucius Beebe, a contemporary of Townsend’s, described Paul as the quintessential 1920s Bohemian who wore a Van Dyke beard and favored broad-brimmed hats. He and Townsend quickly became inseparable. Together, they created The Barn Experimental Theatre in 1922. Townsend’s steady if modest trust income came in handy. Beacon Hill during the Roaring Twenties bristled with Bohemian culture.
The Provincetown II docking during Boston Tall Ships (photo: Courtesy Bay State Cruises)
40 years ago, new boat service initiated a freedom ride to sexual and personal liberation during a time less welcoming to LGBTs
By Mark Krone
Note: the following article is adapted from the July/August 2013 issue of Boston Spirit magazine.
It’s been one of those weeks. Your boss revealed yet another irrational side; you can’t seem to please your partner; and you had so little time to pack for this trip to Provincetown, you must have forgotten something. When you arrive on the dock, you decide the perfectly coiffed men in front of you are a little too self-consciously handsome and the high-spirited young women in front of them are too happy for this time of the morning.
Looks like you need a little Provincetown.
With the engines grumbling, the boat slowly makes a 180 degree turn and heads away from the city. When it passes Nick’s Mate into the Outer Harbor, the seas swell, the breeze cools, and your body slackens. You lean on the railing facing seaward for the rush of salt air. Suddenly, you know why the women were laughing and the men-boys were smiling. The truth is, you’re all lucky to be alive, on this boat, and heading to the unique seaside town you’ve come to love. Transformations like this do not happen in traffic on Route 6, but are a regular event on the historic Boston-Provincetown ferry route.
If you’re a veteran P’town ferry rider, memories of prior trips dip and dart in the boat’s wake like seagulls chasing tossed pretzels. For LGBT passengers who came of age in less welcoming times, the boat was a freedom ride to sexual and personal liberation where they could escape land-side’s harsh stares. Though only 55 nautical miles, it seemed like a trip over the rainbow.FULL ENTRY
After years of disrepair, the 2100-seat Lynn Memorial Auditorium was reopened in 2006 following a full refurbishing. It now hosts major talent on both the local — Boston’s Gay Men’s Chorus — and national scale.
Just ask the leaders of NAGLY, Go Out Loud, Art After Hours, Lesbiatopia.com and other locals—the formerly maligned suburb is turning around, and LGBTs are leading the way
By Scott Kearnan
“Everyone deserves a second act.”
So says DJ Brian Halligan. Halligan stepped away from spinning for nearly a decade. But dance music remained a passion, so last year he decided to get back into the groove. He had few connections in the current local landscape, but networked away. Gig by gig, doors reopened. Now he’s not only a regular on the Cambridge and Boston scenes, but has a Friday night residency at gay club Cirque—a revamped version of gay bar 47 Central in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Halligan sees a certain commonality between his own experience, and that of the city.
“I feel like my story is a parallel to Lynn’s,” says Halligan. “There can be a certain condescension that comes across from people outside it. But it deserves that second act.”
Ah, Lynn. She’s sort of like Boston’s hardscrabble little sister: only a fraction of the size (about 90,000 people) but with a big reputation. That rhyme “Lynn, Lynn, city of sin” is ubiquitous enough to go on coffee cups, and associations with high crime rates and economic malaise have been hard to shake. But as one of the largest cities in Massachusetts, and located just a few miles outside Boston, Lynn has a thriving gay community. It’s becoming an increasingly popular pick for LGBT folks seeking a cost-effective alternative to living in the Hub, and those looking to enjoy the city’s revitalized dining, entertainment, and arts scene as a visitor.
On November 28, 1998, two men followed transgender woman Rita Hester to her apartment in Boston and fatally stabbed her inside.
One year later, transgender activists in San Francisco remembered the event with a candlelight vigil, which has become an annual, globally commemorated observance known as the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Recently, organizations like the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC) inaugurated Transgender Awareness Week.
This year, MTPC is working with Fenway Health to provide an array of events, including launching of a new video. Other organizations, including local colleges and towns, have also scheduled activities.
Here’s some of what is being offered:FULL ENTRY
‘Ghosts of Boston: Haunts of the Hub’: spirited launch party set for new book by local out author Sam Baltrusis
Adam Berry, of Syfy's 'Ghost Hunters,' will be on hand for the launch party of 'Ghosts of Boston: Haunts of the Hub'
It promises to be a spirited evening at Old South Meeting House tomorrow night when Sam Baltrusis’ new book Ghosts of Boston: Haunts of the Hub gets its big coming out party.
Baltrusis is a regular contributor to Boston Spirit, and he just happens to be an expert on otherworldly spirits as well!
Ghosts of Boston made its appearance this month, and the big release event gets underway Tuesday, September 18, at 7 p.m. in downtown Boston.FULL ENTRY
The Crane Estate in Ipswich, Massachusetts
A Handful of Under-Rated LGBT New England Destinations
Including Bette Davis’ birthplace, Emily Dickinson’s home, Walden Pond, and a Cher filming location
Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from a feature that ran in Boston Spirit magazine, March/April 2010.
By Sam Baltrusis
Provincetown? Ogunquit? Been there, done that.
Why not head out to a handful of hidden gay-fave gems scattered throughout New England, like Emily Dickinson’s home, Bette Davis’ childhood home in Lowell, or Walden Pond?
What’s so gay about them? Fasten your seat belts ...
BETTE DAVIS HOUSE
22 Chester Street, Lowell, Massachusetts.
If the vibrant pink color of this old-school Victorian isn’t enough to tip off tourists, the historical plaque displayed on the front of this Lowell home dating back to the 1890s should set the record straight. The birthplace of movie legend icon Bette Davis is still standing amid a row of triple-deckers in the heart of the Highlands neighborhood near the UMass Lowell campus. In fact, most of the home’s original woodwork dating back to when Ruth Elizabeth was born in 1908 is still in tact. While the LGBT landmark is currently occupied by tenants and is off limits to Davis fans, locals seem to embrace out-of-towners wanting to sneak a peek of where the saucy Jezebel icon was reared.
Gay Factor: Birthplace of the woman who uttered some of the cattiest lines in film, like “But you are Blanche, you are in that chair!” from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? If these walls could talk.FULL ENTRY
Detail from Fierce Pride: 1992 by Joel Benjamin
It used to be that Gay Pride lasted a day.
Today, in New England, LGBT Pride stretches out over several months, with Northampton Pride having already happened last weekend and Connecticut Pride often scheduled as late as September.
A new exhibition — called Pride: 40 Years of Protest & Celebration — chronicles the early roots of New England's queer rights protests: from the city's first gathering of openly gay-identified individuals protesting the Vietnam war to today's long, loud, and voluminous activities.
Items from The History Project, New England's LGBT archives, are currently on display at the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE) until June 30.
An accompanying showing — Fierce Pride:1992 — features provocative photos taken by Joel Benjamin.
An opening celebration — dubbed "Sip the Rainbow" by event co-sponsor Boston Pride — commences from 6 to 8 p.m. this Friday, May 18.
For more information, and to register to attend opening night, check out the BCAE web site.
A toast to Pride!
The LGBTQ Equality Trail. For a full, interactive map, click here.
With the country's first civil marriages for same-sex couples, the first openly gay elected state official in the U.S., the first gay newspaper to go national, the first gay youth prom, and the place where the transgender day of remembrance traces its roots, Greater Boston is the cradle of equality for American LGBTQ citizens.
And with the warm spring weather upon us, it's an ideal time to get out and explore where the history happened.
A couple of years ago, Boston Spirit magazine consulted The History Project, Boston's LGBT archive, and others in order to map out a historical trail encompassing the incredible array of LGBTQ achievements of the area.
This Equality Trail commences at the Boston Common, where some of the city's first gay rights rallies were held. The path winds through much of Beacon Hill and the South End, where so many gay people gathered, lived and rallied in the 20th century. Then the trail ventures out to places like Cambridge, site of the nation's first civil marriages for same-sex couples, and on to Allston, where the Rita Hester was murdered, an event that has been called a Transgender Stonewall because it led to the international Transgender Day of Remembrance. It's all here in the Greater Boston Area.
The full list of places with commentary is below. An interactive Google map can be accessed here.
Hike as much or as little as you like. And while you enjoy the fresh spring air, enjoy your equality too!
1. Boston Common: Begin at America’s oldest public park, which has been home to countless public rallies reaching back to pre-American Revolution times. Here in 1970, gay-identified groups such as the Homophile Union of Boston (HUB), Boston Daughter of Bilitis (DOB), Student Homophile League, and the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) congregated to commemorate the Stonewall riots of New York City one year earlier—Boston’s first Pride.FULL ENTRY