ORLANDO, Fla. – Gay Pride Month is celebrated in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots in New York City back in June 1969.
What You Need To Know
- LGBTQ history in Central Florida
- Martha Brenckle catalogues the history
- In 1970s, 1980s LGBTQ establishments like Faces
The riots are seen as a turning point in the gay liberation movement, which led to more rights for the LGBTQ community today.
That movement evolved through a rich history of LGBTQ establishments in Central Florida. And back in the 1970s, tolerance towards the gay community was beginning to change. But Orlando entertainer and activist Michael Wanzie says it was a far cry of what it is today.
“If you were just perceived to be gay in Orlando and you were out and about and behaved in a way where someone perceived you were gay – it was dangerous,” Wanzie said.
In the mid-70s, new owners turned the failing Parliament House motor inn off Orange Blossom Trail into a gay resort.
“Suddenly there was this place, this mecca they could go to and dance and see shows,” Wanzie said.
Wanzie worked at Disney. He says even there, he had to be careful.
“Pizza Hut was code for Parliament House so that no one overhearing your conversation in the Fantasyland cafeteria knew you’re were talking about the Parliament House,” he said.
Martha Brenckle remembers going to Faces, a lesbian bar off Edgewater Drive.
“It was a place to go have a drink and dance, where you could dance with someone who was the same sex as you without people having a royal heart attack,” Brenckle said.
“It is good to be someplace where you can be like, whew, who I am doesn’t matter – I can just be.”
Brenckle now catalogues history for the LGBTQ History Museum of Central Florida. Due to a lack of funds, the history mostly lives online, where there’s a virtual tour of gay bars and clubs—past and present.
Brenckle knows how the work early pioneers in the gay-rights movement meant for her life.
“I think of all the people who were willing to put themselves out there and say yes I am gay, and put up with the prejudice and maybe you will get fired from your job,” Brenckle said.
“And that they were willing to do that, and knowing that I stand on their shoulders – and that’s why I can be married and that’s why I can work and be who I am at work – it really means a lot to me.”
Wanzie remembers when the Parliament House was the only place in town that would even allow him to show a gay-themed production.
“We will give you the theater, we will let you do this, but you have to promise you are not going to try to get publicity,” Wanzie said.
“Because their feeling was that any publicity was bad publicity.”
Wanzie says incidents of violence towards the LGBTQ community were still happening well into the 1980s.
“And they would drive through and throw rocks, open fire with bb guns, more than once shoot at a window with an actual gun,” said Wanzie.
Fast-forward to today. The LGBTQ community is generally accepted at any social hangout, including straight bars. But Wanzie believes those places will never replace the safe havens where he can truly be himself.
“It doesn’t bother me to go, but I still want – I’m not going to go there and make out with a man if he’s cute and the opportunity presents itself,” Wanzie said.
For more history about the LGBTQ community in Central Florida, visit www.floridalgbtqmuseum.org.