|Frenchmen Street today|
Location: Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
We've spend the last day or so lingering in New Orleans, visiting all kinds of lost womyn's bars. So while we're here--nursing our imaginary hangovers--we might as well finish off our coffee with chicory and amble over to one more lost watering hole.
The Goldenrod Inn reminds me a lot of the old Palais in Detroit. In terms of its spatial design, it was cleaved right down the middle: Straight dudes and their dates monopolized the front, while the lesbians made do with the remnants to the back. Needless to say, this arrangement did not bode well for equal treatment. Once again, we're turning to Rebels, Rubyfruit and Rhinestones, and James Thomas Sears' list of pre-Stonewall drinking establishments:
Then there was also the Goldenrod--whose front area for straight men served as a cover for a back-room lesbian bar--where one Saturday night in 1953 forty-three women were booked for disturbing the peace and being "loud and boisterous."
That was one humongous raid. In fact, it's possible that even more women were arrested than that--this according to John D'Emilio, who made passing reference to this particular raid in Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities:
In New Orleans in 1953 vice officers packed Doris Lunden and sixty-three other women into vans after clearing them from a lesbian bar in the French Quarter. The next day, Lunden found the court overflowing with men and women brought in from other bars in the city.
Doris was only 18 years old at the time. Chris Strayer in Deviant Eyes, Deviant Bodies quotes her reaction:
That night we had to go to court and I discovered then that they had raided every gay bar in New Orleans. It was like a big cleanup. I had never seen so many gay people in my life. It was really exciting. I almost forgot to be scared about whether I would be convicted or not. My case was dismissed, but I think that set me free in some way.
Back in the New Orleans of the early 1950s, Doris identified as a butch lesbian. And as Doris has observed (in D'Emilio's book), butch-femme culture was quite ingrained within the lesbian community of that place and time:
"If you didn't pick a role--butch or femme--and stick with that, people thought you were mixed up and you didn't know who you were and you were laughed at and called "ki-ki"--a sort of queer of the gay world." The butch "seemed to fit with my notion of having boys' feelings," she said, and Lunden moved easily into a part she took quite seriously.
Doris Lunden, of course, went on to become a noted lesbian activist.
Photo: Frenchmen Street today