The Ohio Origins of National Coming Out Day (October 11th)
Did you know one of the founders of National Coming Out Day (October 11th) is an Ohioan? Read her story and about the origins of NCOD!
On Saturday, June 10th, a crowd gathered outside 2210 Summit Street in Columbus, Ohio to dedicate a new Ohio Historical Marker. The Marker recognized Summit Station (also known as Jack’s), one of Ohio’s oldest and longest-running lesbian bars. The bar stood at 2210 Summit Street from 1970 to 2008 and served as a home-away-from-home for thousands of women over the decades. It was a safe space for those looking to temporarily escape homophobia and those looking for community. It also served as the homebase for HIS Kings, one of the earliest drag king troops, who launched the International Drag King Extravaganza (IDKE).
In the 1980s, there were upwards of 200 bars catering to lesbian, bisexual, and queer women in the United States. In 2023, there are only 21 remaining open.(1) With dedicated LGBTQ+ spaces disappearing, recognizing these spaces that offered refuge and community is vital to preserving their legacy. The Summit Station Ohio Historical Marker does just that.
Summit Station Marker Unveiling. June 10, 2023.
The Summit Station Marker is the third Ohio Historical Marker recognizing LGBTQ+ history in the state, and the first in Central Ohio. The Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI) worked closely with the Marker sponsors, Friends of Summit Station, to prepare and submit the application for the Marker. Quincy Balius, who was an Education and Manuscripts Intern at the time, shepherded the Marker sponsors through the process of historical research, documentation, property and maintenance agreements, and text editing.
As with many marginalized communities, historical documents pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community are often sparse or nonexistent. Historically, people took great care to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity to avoid public scrutiny and legal trouble. Throughout the United States, there were several laws that restricted the LGBTQ+ community’s actions, publications, and personal relationships. In Columbus, Ohio, for example, a city ordinance was passed in 1848 that banned cross dressing.(2) This ordinance was one of the earliest to be instituted in the United States and was actively enforced until it was overturned in 1975 in an Ohio Supreme Court decision, City of Columbus v. John Rogers.(3) Laws like the Columbus city ordinance provided the impetus for members of the community to hide and destroy historical records, making modern-day research on LGBTQ+ topics difficult or impossible.
Ordinance of the City of Columbus, Sec. 12, 1848. 352.077157 C723
Quincy’s work on the Summit Station Marker served as the prototype for Marking Diverse Ohio (MDO), a major project of GOHI. MDO was envisioned to make it easier for LGBTQ+ histories to be recorded and shared. The project, which is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), funds the creation of 10 new Ohio Historical Markers that recognize LGBTQ+ people, places, and stories across the state. In addition to funding these Markers, MDO is intended to make the process of applying easier and more realistic for these stories that lack traditional archival sources.
As the project coordinator for MDO, I will be working one-on-one with Marker sponsors to conduct research and guide sponsors through the application process. Anyone can be a Marker sponsor – they are simply community members or organizations who are passionate about local history. Working together, the GOHI team will utilize our historical expertise to find the best primary and secondary sources to document these histories. MDO also aims to expand the availability of primary source materials on these topics for future researchers. That is why the project is also working to record additional oral histories with those that lived through these events and experiences, as well as adding manuscripts and objects to our GOHI Collection.
The MDO program is part of the Ohio History Connection’s larger effort to tell, share, and uplift communities that have been historically excluded from the Ohio Historical Marker Program. We want every Ohioan to see themselves reflected in our nearly 1,800 Ohio Historical Markers. Utilizing community organizing principles, I have been meeting with members of the LGBTQ+ community from around Ohio. I have already had the privilege of hearing many stories of challenge, survival, and joy that are worthy of being commemorated by an Ohio Historical Marker.
The LGBTQ+ community around the state of Ohio is diverse and their experiences are varied. That is why MDO aims to spark discovery of LGBTQ+ history as it intersects with black, indigenous, and people of color’s experiences, as well as the experiences of immigrants, underrepresented faith communities, those with disabilities, and Ohioans living in rural areas of the state. One Marker at a time, these historical monuments recognize that the people and places that matter to everyday Ohioans matter to Ohio’s larger historical narrative.
If you have a story to tell, reach out to the GOHI team!
(1) Colarossi, Jessica. “Where Are All the Lesbian Bars?” The Brink, June 23, 2022. https://www.bu.edu/articles/2022/impact-of-losing-queer-spaces-in-cities-and-how-dyke-bars-commemorated/ (accessed June 13, 2023).
(2) “Arresting Dress: A Timeline of Anti-cross-dressing Laws in the United States.” Nation (PBS), May 31, 2015. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/arresting-dress-timeline-anti-cross-dressing-laws-u-s (accessed June 13, 2023).
(3) “Columbus v. Rogers” Casetext. https://casetext.com/case/columbus-v-rogers (accessed June 13, 2023).