“WHEN BROOKLYN WAS QUEER”

August 21, 2019 at 4:45 am

Tonight, we take a look at the little-known story of Kings County’s vibrant and forgotten, LGBT past.

Aired on June 11, 2019 and August 20, 2019. 

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>>> WORLD PRIDE AND STONE WALL
50 ARE UPON US.
INSTEAD OF DISCUSSING THE WEST
VILLAGE AND CHRISTOPHER STREET,
LET'S TAKE A LOOK ACROSS THE
EAST RIVER AT BROOKLYN.
THE PASS, BELIEVE IT OR NOT,
YES.
IT GOES TO GENERATIONS BEFORE
THE GAY RIGHTS MOVEMENT EVER
EXPLODED.
THE NEW BOOK TITLED, WHEN
BROOKLYN WAS QUEER IS A GROUND
BREAKING EXPLORATION OF
BROOKLYN'S LGBTQ HISTORY FROM
WALT WITTMAN TO THE LESBIANS AT
THE NAVY YARD IN WORLD WAR II.
IT EXPLORES THESE ALMOST
FORGOTTEN STORIES AND SO VERY
MUCH MORE.
THE AUTHOR IS HERE WITH US NOW
TO TALK ABOUT THAT.
>> THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.
I'M SO EXCITED TO BE HERE.
>> WE'RE DELIGHTED TO TALK WITH
YOU ABOUT THIS.
IT IS A FASCINATING BOOK.
I WAS FASCINATED WITH HOW YOU
CAME TO THIS.
YOU SAID MAYBE I HAVE, MAYBE
THERE'S A BOOK ABOUT THIS.
>> I HAD LIVED IN BROOKLYN FOR
PROBABLY 13, 14 YEARS AT THE
POINT I STARTED DOING RESEARCH
FOR THIS BOOK.
ONE DAY YOU REALIZED I KNEW
NOTHING ABOUT THE GAY HISTORY OF
BROOKLYN.
I KNOW ABOUT CHELSEA, HARLEM,
GREENWICH VILLAGE IN THE LOWER
EAST SIDE.
ALL THIS STUFF ABOUT MANHATTAN.
I WENT TO THE LIBRARY THINKING,
SOMEONE HAS WRITTEN A BOOK.
I JUST HAVEN'T READ IT.
AND THEN THERE WAS NOT ANYTHING.
AND THERE WAS NO WEBSITE AND
THERE WAS NO DOCUMENTARY.
AND I THOUGHT, IS THERE NO
HISTORY SOME.
>> THAT'S THE FIRST INCLINATION.
YOU WOULD THINK THERE IS NOTHING
THERE.
I GUESS THERE IS NOTHING THERE.
ABSOLUTELY.
THEY'RE LIKE VAMPIRES.
THEY CAN'T CROSS THE WATER.
THEY'RE STUCK IN MANHATTAN.
I'M A JOURNALIST.
I'M ALREADY INTERVIEWING PEOPLE
ALL THE TIME.
WHY DON'T I START ASKING AND SEE
WHAT I CAN FINDS?
AND SLOWLY THESE PIECES STARTED
COMING TOGETHER.
NO.
THERE IS A WHOLE HISTORY HERE
HAD THAT NEEDS TO BE TOLD.
>> YOU HAVE A QUOTE FROM WALT
WITTMAN AND IT READS, THERE WILL
BE A TIME WHEN NOTHING WILL BE
OF MORE INTEREST THAN AUTHENTIC
REMINISCENCES OF THE PAST.
TELL ME HOW THAT WORKS FOR THIS
BOOK.
>> IT IS THE PERFECT QUOTE FOR
ME.
FOR A LONG TIME, NOT ONLY HAVE
PEOPLE NOT LOOKED FOR QUEER
HISTORY OR NOT SHARED WHEN IT
THEY FOUND IT, BUT THEY ALSO
HAVEN'T LOOKED FOR BROOKLYN'S
HISTORY.
NOW WE TALK BUT WHEN I WAS
GROWING UP, YOU NEVER TALKED
ABOUT BROOKLYN BEING A PLACE
PEOPLE WENT TO.
IT WAS ALWAYS PLACE PEOPLE CAME
FROM.
AND I THOUGHT, WOW, WHITMAN IS
REALLY RIGHT ABOUT.
THIS THERE WILL BE A TIME AND I
THINK IT IS NOW.
PEOPLE WILL SAY NO, BROOKLYN IS
THE SECOND CITY OF THE EMPIRE
AND IT HAS ITS OWN HISTORY THAT
IS INTIMATELY CONNECTED WITH ALL
FOUR OF THE OTHERS.
BUT WHEN I CAME ACROSS THAT
QUOTE IN HIS JOURNALS, IT IS THE
START OF MY BOOK.
TO HEAR HIM SAY THAT.
IT FELT LYING HE WAS REACHING
OUT THROUGH TIME AND SAYING,
WRITE THIS BOOK.
>> TELL US WHAT YOU FOUND.
YOU TALK ABOUT PEAKS AND VALLEYS
OF THE QUEER COMMUNITY IN
BROOKLYN.
>> THE BIG THING I FOUND,
HISTORICALLY WHEN YOU GO BACK,
YOU CAN FOLLOW THE COMMUNITY
THROUGH FOLLOWING THE GROWTH OF
BROOKLYN AS A CITY.
MY BOOK IS AS MUCH ABOUT
BROOKLYN AS BITS THE QUEER
PEOPLE.
IT IS THE ECONOMICS THAT ENABLED
THE LIVES.
THE WATER FRONT IS WHERE
BROOKLYN BECAME A CITY AND IT IS
WHERE THERE WAS ALL THIS
CULTURAL INTERMINGLING.
YOU HAVE PEOPLE COMING TO SEE
SAILORS AND YOU HAVE
ENTERTAINERS TRAVELING THE
COUNTRY AND ALL OF THAT
INTERMINGLES ALONG THE
WATERFRONT.
VINEGAR HILL AND CONEY ISLAND.
ONCE I ESTABLISHED IT WAS THIS
ECONOMIC TRENDS TO FOLLOW, IT
STARTED TO BE EASY TO SAY TO
MYSELF, ARE THERE PARTICULAR
JOBS AND WHERE ARE THOSE JOBS
AND CAN I FINDS PEOPLE IN THOSE
JOBS?
EVERYTHING FROM SAILORS.
TONS OF SAILORS AT THE BROOKLYN
NAVY YARD.
EVEN IF YOU GO BACK
HISTORICALLY, I FOUNDS THESE
GREAT STORIES OF A TRANS MAN IN
THE EARLY 19 00 AND GETS ARRESTD
FOR WEARING MEN'S CLOTHING.
BUT THEN SEX WORKERS.
EVERYTHING FROM PEOPLE WHO WORK
AS STREET PROSTITUTES TO
BURLESQUE DANCERS.
AND THESE STORIES WERE JUST SO
EXCITING AND UNDERTOLD.
>> WHY DO YOU THINK THAT THEY
WERE FIRST UNDERTOLD AND
SECONDLY, YOU TALK ABOUT IT.
THE TRANSITION OF BROOKLYN
ITSELF.
>> I THINK THEY WERE UNDERTOLD
FOR A LOT OF REASONS.
WHEN YOU GO BACK HISTORICALLY, A
LOT OF PEOPLE DESTROYED THEIR
OWN RECORDS.
THEY DIDN'T TELL PEOPLE.
OR THEIR DESCENDSANTS DESTROYED
THEIR RECORDS FOR THEM.
ONE OF THOSE IS HART CRANE, THE
POET.
HIS MOTHER AFTER HIS DEATH
DESTROYED ALL THESE LETTERS HE
HAD BETWEEN OTHER MEN.
ANOTHER PERSON I FOCUSED ON IS
FLORENCE HINES.
A BLACK DRAG QUEEN IN THE 19th
CENTURY.
SHE WAS THE MOST POPULAR
PERFORMER OF HER DAY.
THE NEWSPAPERS DIDN'T FOLLOW HER
BECAUSE SHE WAS BLACK AND
MASCULINE PRESENTING.
SO YOU CAN'T FIND A LOT OF
STORIES.
I SPENT YEARS LOOKING AND FOUNDS
ONE IMAGE OF HER EVEN THOUGH SHE
WAS SO POP HARD.
SO THERE ARE THESE RECORDS THAT
DON'T EXIST OR GET DESTROYED.
THEN YOU HAVE THIS REALLY
DOWNTURN IN QUEER LIFE IN POST
WORLD WAR II.
>> WHY DID THAT HAPPEN?
>> WELL, YOU HAVE THE ECONOMY.
THE WATER FRONT IS NO LONGER AS
IMPORTANT A DESTINATION.
THE ST. LOUIS SEA WAY OPENS UP.
AND YOU GET SUBURBANIZATION.
THAT RIPS APART A LOT OF
COMMUNITIES.
AT THE SAME TIME, YOU SUDDENLY
HAVE PEOPLE REALIZING THAT THERE
IS SUCH A THING AS
HOMOSEXUALITY.
AND THE COURTS SAYING IT IS BAD
AND YOU HAVE TO POLICE YOURSELF
AT ALL TIMES.
AFTER WORLD WAR II, THE ARMY
STARTS GIVING THESE INDUCTION
LECTURES WHERE THEY EXPLAIN WHAT
IT IS, HOW TO FIND IT IN OTHERS
AND HOW TO FINDS OUT IF YOU
YOURSELF MIGHT HAVE HOMOSEXUAL
TENDENCIES.
SO THEY TAUGHT PEOPLE HOW TO
AVOID IT AND HOW TO SUPPRESS IT.
SO WHAT WAS DESTROYED IN ITS OWN
TIME PERIOD THEN GETS SUPPRESSED
IN THE NEXT TIME PERIOD.
AND NOW WE'RE IN THIS THIRD
MOMENT WHERE BROOKLYN IS QUEER
AGAIN AND PEOPLE ARE INTERESTED
IN PULLING IT OUT AND THE NEW
COMMUNITIES IN BROOKLYN.
THERE ARE SO MANY NOW.
>> LAST QUESTION FOR YOU.
I WANT PEOPLE TO GO READ THIS.
IF SOMEONE SAYS TO YOU, HEY,
HERE'S A NEW BOOK.
AND THE QUESTION IS,
ESSENTIALLY, WHAT AM I GOING TO
TAKE AWAY FROM THIS?
WHAT WOULD YOUR ANSWER BE?
>> I GUESS THE BIGGEST ANSWER
WOULD BE, THAT HISTORICALLY,
THROUGHOUT EVERY TIME PERIOD WE
CAN LOOK AT, EVERY PLACE, THERE
ARE PEOPLE WITH QUEER DESIRES,
SEXUAL, GENDERED, AND THOSE
PEOPLE FORM LIVES.
THEY MIGHT NOT LOOK A LOT LIKE
OURS TODAY.
THAT'S THE IMPORTANT PART.
WE HAVE TO LOOK AT WHAT THEY
ACTUALLY DID.
HOW THEY EXPERIENCED AND TALK
ABOUT THEMSELVES.
I CAME TO THIS BOOK FROM A PLACE
OF IGNORANCE.
I DIDN'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT
THIS HISTORY BUT IT WAS THERE.
FOR A LOT OF US WE THINK, I
DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT A
QUEER HISTORY WHERE I'M FROM.
MAYBE IT DOESN'T EXIST.
SO I WANT TO TELL PEOPLE, LOOK
FOR THOSE STORIES YOURSELF.
I WORKED CLOSE WHEN I THE BROOK
LYNN HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
BUT YOUR LOCAL SOCIETY HAS
THINGS, TOO.
TO GO AND LOOK AND SHARE AND
WORK WITH THEM.
>> WELL, IT IS A WONDERFUL AND
COMPELLING LOOK AT TIME AND
PLACE.
I SHOULD SAY, PLACE AND TIME OF
THAT PLACE.
IT IS A FASCINATING JOURNEY YOU
TAKE US ON.
THANK YOU SO MUCH.
THE BROOK IS "WHEN BROOKLYN WAS
QUEER."
THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
>> THANK YOU.

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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