New Acquisitions: Bowling, Biking, and a March on Washington
By Kieran Robertson
Since 2005, the Ohio History Connection has been working with Outlook Media and other community partners to collect items that tell the history of LGBTQ individuals living in Ohio. This project is called the Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI). As a part of this effort, OHC held a collecting day in August 2016. I was lucky enough to sit down for a conversation with one of our donors from that day, before I cataloged and processed his papers.
The donor I got to speak with is named Michael O’Brien. Michael was involved in many groups in Columbus, especially during the late 1970s and the 1980s. I got to hear many of his stories about the objects he donated.
One of the groups that O’Brien was most involved with was called Not Ready For Prime Time Bowling League (NRFPTBL). This bowling league was organized in the fall of 1978, and it was the first gay bowling league in Ohio. O’Brien was a very active member, serving as president and at one point the secretary. He said that at the time he was one of the only people with a mobile computer, so he had to be the secretary and keep the bowling scores. Some of the league’s events were documented on video, which O’Brien included in this collection.
One day in 1980, as O’Brien was riding his bike to work, he noticed that the alley where the league bowled, Olentangy Village Bowling Lanes, was on fire. O’Brien recalled that other bowling alleys began calling the NRFPTBL that same day to offer their alleys as a place to meet.
O’Brien believes that these alleys understood that the bowling league was greatly social, which translated to a lot of spending by bowlers. Bowling alley owners wanted this spending in their establishments, but along the way they learned to accept the gay community.
In 1979, O’Brien attended the first LGBT March on Washington. He remembered going to Washington on a bus with other people from Columbus.
While at the march, O’Brien led a group of Ohio marchers in a state themed chant. The Cleveland Plain Dealer mentioned this chant, so O’Brien saved a copy of the newspaper, saying he was proud that someone noticed. O’Brien donated many excellent photographs from the march, which he rounded out with photographs from a journey to the National Equality March in 2009.
O’Brien is an avid bicyclist, and in 1982, he was one of three Ohioans to compete in the inaugural Gay Games. As a torchbearer, he rode 100 miles between Columbus and Toledo on his bicycle.
O’Brien was also involved with Columbus’s Stonewall Union. He worked in the control room for a show called the Gay Pride Report.
We love hearing personal stories from Ohioans like Michael O’Brien. Fortunately, the Gay Ohio History Initiative has allowed us to meet with many new donors. Interested in learning more? Check out our GOHI page right here!