Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Taking Care of ‘Our Own’

Editor’s note: This is the first of several articles that appear in our Summer Pride print edition we will be publishing digitally as a regular series. If you would like to pick up a copy of OutLife757, copies have been distributed throughout Hampton Roads at libraries, community centers and businesses. Click HERE to find a copy or view the print edition online.

When asked about the difference between being gay in the Seventies and today, Fred Osgood primarily remembers how difficult it was to connect. 

“We had to actively seek our community out,” he said. “The only other identifiably gay activity in those days were the bars, and they certainly served their purpose.”

“For the men, there was Mickey’s and the Ritz in downtown. The Nickelodeon was popular for both men and women,” he recalls. 
“I still think those spaces are important, and I have trouble sorting out what happened to them,” he said. “Maybe their time is just up. But Norfolk also has a terrible track record of tearing down somewhat significant spaces. That’s been a knock on them for a long time.” 

He recalls other than the bars, there wasn’t any sort of organized effort locally or nationally to connect the community with common goals.

“I used to look at the classifieds in the weekly or monthly magazines published in Ghent, and I was never successful in trying to identify any LGBT groups,” he said.

He went to the first Gay and Lesbian National March in Washington in October 1979, and he was astounded by the thousands of LGBT people from all over the country. 

“But apart from, say, the ACLU, there wasn’t much participation from supportive organizations–completely different from Pride celebrations today.” 

Those were the nascent days of the LGBT Rights Movement, and individuals were still feeling their way towards it. That’s one of the reasons that Fred and other organizers founded the first Unitarian Universalist Gay Community (UUGC) in Hampton Roads, followed by Our Own Community Press, the area’s first queer newspaper. 

The challenge was daunting.

“The most difficult thing was continuing to support those efforts,” he said. “It required a lot of time and energy from countless people doing many different things.”

The paper, however, flourished for 22 years and is now digitally archived at ODU’s Perry Library, an invaluable resource for those exploring Hampton Roads mid-twentieth century LGBT culture.

“We used to go to college campuses, and professors in the social sciences would have us in their classes,” he said. “We would send a gay woman and a gay man to represent what we considered to be the whole spectrum and educate the kids with real world examples.” 

Contrast that effort with the fact that now most major universities offer classes in Queer Studies and Literature.

He also notes that it’s encouraging to see the younger community members reclaiming slurs, such as “fag” and “queer.” 

“Some of that existed, even back then. I probably have some fag buttons around,” he said. “I think the alternative is to shy away from it and ignore it, and that just gives the words and the people who throw them at you power.”

For younger activists, Fred has this advice:.

“If you want to have a social group to get together and go out, or if you want to work on gay rights at the state level and meet with legislators, or have a religious group, do that and be focused on it,” he said. “With the UUGC, we all tried to do everything, and we burned ourselves out.”

“So find the people who are interested in the same projects that you are,” he said. “As long people are interested, they will continue to give you their time.”

If you are interested in perusing an online archive of the Our Own Community Press, you may do so HERE.

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