A Place for Us Transcript

Jun 26, 2019

Back to the A Place for Us episode.

Margaret Tamulonis: I won’t be able to unfold it completely…but these banners and posters, you can see they all reflect all the different names for Pride. So let’s see…this is Vermont Lesbian and Gay Pride, 1987.

This month we’re going to do something a little different on Before Your Time. Usually we go inside the stacks at the Vermont Historical Society to look at an object. But today, we’re visiting with Margaret Tamulonis at the Pride Center in Burlington. She’s the volunteer curator for the Vermont Queer Archives.

Margaret: Certainly any collection of LGBTQ historical material often includes Pride material because Pride is often one of the biggest festivals of the year for LGBTQ people, and the Vermont Queer Archives is no exception. For example, we have a series of buttons from different Prides in Vermont. One of the treasures, I think, is this one from 1983 that says, “Water won’t run straight and neither will I,” which was the theme of that first Pride.

That first Pride parade took place in 1983 in Burlington. The banners and other objects in the Queer Archives show changes in the lives of the Vermont LGBTQ community. Such as this color postcard from the 2000s.

Margaret: Yeah, definitely after the Civil Union Law was passed. A same-sex female couple. It’s got a lovely wedding picture on it. We have a few of those.

Margaret: And then T-shirts because really, there’s no community archival collection I think without t-shirts. You see the Alison Bechdel Stonewall t-shirt…

Alison Bechdel is the Vermont cartoonist behind the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.” Her popular memoir, Fun Home, was made into a Tony-award-winning Broadway musical.

On the shirt, a cow holds a sign that says “Stonewall 25.” The shirt dates to 1994, the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising against police raids of gay bars in New York City. Stonewall is often seen as the start of the civil rights movement for LGBTQ people. June 28, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the uprising.

Margaret: Sometimes they just are dropped at the door of the Pride Center. Sometimes they’re dropped at the door of my house.

Donations to the Queer Archive come from all over.

Margaret: And sometimes people will contact me and just say, “Look, I have this pile of papers sometimes literally in the closet that I don’t know what to do with them and I’m going to move, I’m downsizing.”

Margaret’s day job is serving as the Manager of Collections and Exhibitions at the Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont. In order to write her thesis on queer archiving, she researched LGBTQ life in Vermont in the 1960s.

Margaret: I reached out to people who may have been in the community in that time period and I got a few responses. I looked in newspapers and other archival materials and there weren’t that many sources there. There might be descriptions of police busts in different cities or something like that. That’s how those histories get reflected. We know that’s not all of the history, that there were all of these amazing maybe more private social lives that were going on at the same time.

These lives—and histories—were often kept private for good reason: the fear of losing your job, your home, or your family. The fear of violence.

Margaret: The people who marched in that first Pride, in Burlington, on Church Street and in City Hall Park, they knew they were going to be marching by their coworkers, by family members, past their students with signs declaring that they were lesbian or gay, queer. And they knew that they had a chance to lose jobs or families, and they did it. And I have to say that group of people is amazing.

Looking at the objects in the Queer Archive, one can believe that life is much better now for gay people in Vermont than it was in 1983. But the Pride Center displays a brick that was thrown through one of its windows almost 25 years later. And the center continues to experience hate incidents.

Margaret: It’s still not easy being LGBTQ. It’s still something that a lot of people may have a hard time with. There’s a lot of social pressure, there’s a lot of cultural pressure around living a heterosexual lifestyle. That’s in all of our culture. Seeing how people lived queer lives in the archives I think is really helpful and amazing.

HB Lozito: It’s so important that people know that LGBTQ people are here, that we’ve always been here, that we’re a part of history.

This is HB Lozito from Brattleboro, who we’ll visit with in a moment.

HB: People are actively interested in erasing us. And if no one is going to continue to tell our stories but us, we need to do that.

This is Before Your Time, presented by the Vermont Historical Society and Vermont Humanities. I’m your host, Lovejoy. Today we’re going to take a closer look at LGBTQ history in Vermont. Later in the episode we’ll hand the controls to Reggie Condra, host of the Brown N Out podcast, which focuses on the lives of queer Vermonters of color. And we’ll finish with a story about Ron Squires, the first openly gay member of the Vermont state legislature.

But first, let’s go to Bellows Falls, an old railroad town on the Connecticut River. HB Lozito is the executive director of Out in the Open, which was formerly known as Green Mountain Crossroads. The organization’s mission is to connect rural LGBTQ people.

HB: A lot of people continue to think that we don’t exist in rural places. And I think that has been a primary hurdle in our work, is actually just getting people to recognize that we are here and in every small community in the United States, and in every small community around the world.

Lozito has been interested in uncovering lost LGBTQ histories. They heard rumors and whispers about a place called the Andrews Inn.

HB: So the Andrew’s Inn was a gay bar, community space, co-counseling site, disco, club, hotel…[It] catered primarily to LGBTQ folks but also was for everybody. There were a lot of straight people who went there. So it existed from 1973 to 1984, and it was right on the square here in downtown Bellows Falls.

Eva Mondon: Busloads of gay men came from Boston.

Eva Mondon was one of many patrons of the Andrews Inn, and her stories helped inspire HB to begin the project.

Eva: And I remember seeing the bus pull up and they unload on a cold winter night. And people came from all over.

HB: So from there, I started contacting people, conducting interviews, editing interviews, transcribing.

HB helped start the Andrew’s Inn Oral History Project in the spring of 2015. It was a collaboration between Out in the Open, Marlboro College, and the Vermont Performance Lab.

HB: Folks would give me dates and little crumbs in interviews and I’d scribble things down and say, “All right, let me go see if I can find anything about that in the Reformer.”

Lozito has recorded dozens of interviews with people who frequented and ran the Andrews Inn. Here’s a recording of Michael Gigante from Brattleboro.

Michael Gigante: Bellows Falls was like it is today except that there is this hotel that was sitting right on the main intersection there. It’s beautiful. You know, it’s a beautiful little town.

Fletcher Proctor: It had been an old railroad hotel. His parents had been running it.

Fletcher Proctor, who now practices law in Putney, was another patron of the Inn. He’s talking about John Moises.

Fletcher: It wasn’t making any money, they were talking about going down in flames, and John said: “I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you let me run it?” And so he started running it as a gay establishment, but with no public acknowledgment of that.

HB: There’s a great photo of him that we found at the Rockingham Library of him driving a car in the bicentennial parade with a big Andrew’s Inn sign on the side, a huge white hat, and just waving to everybody.

John Moises grew up in Bellows Falls. His parents owned the popular Miss Bellows Falls Diner. Although he was openly gay, his status as a local may have granted him some special freedoms.

HB: A big part of the story is that he was from this community, and people, “Oh, that’s just John, doing John’s thing, and he’s one of us and we love him.”

Eva Mondon was a firefighter with the Westminster Fire Department and lived on Putney Mountain.

Eva: The old-timers they respected, or seemed to respect, or at least didn’t have judgement on the other as much, because the winters were harsh. And if you needed help, you didn’t want to have enemies.

Michael: I can see myself walking into the front door, being hit with this wall of sound and walking onto the dance floor and everybody was just bouncing and you know, up and down and against each other and it was so much touch. And joy. Oh, so much joy! Because it was a place where an oppressed group of people could come and just let loose.

HB: On the surface it’s dancing, it’s the Village People all night long, it’s Pac-Man, it’s dinner, it’s drag shows, but one layer underneath that is there was nowhere else for people to be together.

The initial live-and-let-live attitude faded after John Moises stepped down from owning the Inn.

Jeremy Youst: John was the perfect innkeeper, host kind of person. And he said, “Well, as a matter of fact, it’s for sale. Do you want to buy it?” And Thom and I looked at each other like, “Uhhh…Why not? Let’s do it.”

Jeremy Youst and Thom Herman were from New Hampshire, and they co-owned the Andrew’s Inn from 1979 until it closed in 1984. This is Jeremy.

Jeremy: The main mission was to get out there, to get normalized, to say, “We’re just two nice boys.” “Oh yeah, yeah, two nice boys run that.”

HB: I think they were really seen as outsiders coming in. And just the sense of, “You’re really going to change things in this community,” and I think that’s where some of the animosity started to come from.

The anti-gay feelings came to a head in May of 1979.

HB: It was against the Inn and sort of just against gay people in general. And there ended up being about 200 people, from what I understand, who just marched down Main Street and by all accounts, yelling like, “Get the faggots out of town!”

Jeremy: And down Main Street they come. And we’re like, oh, look hon, we have a welcoming committee. Coming to say hello! You know, I think that night the first stones were thrown.

HB: I think folks at that time were very used to experiencing and standing up against violence and doing that together. Not that it was like this happens every day kind of thing, because it doesn’t, but you know people had strategies and plans for dealing with it.

Thom and Jeremy’s strategy was to try harder to become part of the community. They started an annual “Yellow Rose Ball” to benefit a local family whose daughter had died. And Jeremy—who managed repairs to the building—took daily walks.

Jeremy: I purposefully walked downtown with my toolbelt on. I had my personal toolbelt outfitted for whatever I needed to handle. From phone to electrical to plumbing. And every day walking down to the hardware store to get some other part. And the guys were like, “Hey, that faggot has a toolbelt.”

Eventually, local retirees began buying 50-cent coffees at the Inn’s café and sitting and talking for hours. Thom and Jeremy called this group the “50-cent millionaires.” Shopkeepers in Bellows Falls grew to enjoy the boom that party weekends brought to the town.

Over time, Thom and Jeremy expanded what the Inn offered.

HB: Okay, we have this captive audience of people. We’re making a lot of our money off of selling alcohol to people who are addicts and alcoholics and self-medicating. Is there something that we can do as a community to help heal each other? And so they started doing some co-counseling in the basement of Andrew’s Inn. Which is not something you think about happening at a typical disco/nightclub/bar.

Michael: “It helped me come out. It really did. I was very closeted, except just to myself. And I was with a woman at the time.

Michael Gigante is one of the founders of the AIDS Project of Southern Vermont and of the Southern Vermont chapter of ACT-UP.

Michael: She did not know that I was gay until I came out to her in the late 70s. And then I started coming to Andrews Inn and it was just so wonderful and it was so free. And it just helped me feel more comfortable being different in that way.

A number of factors led to the Inn’s closing. Some things seem small in retrospect, like a change in licensing fees for the music played in the bar. Or the cost of heating oil during the energy crisis. 

HB: So when we started this project, a big reason why I was interested in doing it was demonstrating a counter-narrative that this was also a place that was critically important and life-saving for a lot of people. And the end of the Inn was very challenging, and I think that’s what a lot of people in this community remember.

There was a controversy about possible prostitution at the Inn. Although no charges were filed, the accusations lingered.

HB: For a space that’s already kind of on the edge and they’re constantly having to prove their worth in a community, I think that really pushed things over the edge.

And soon a new threat would irrevocably change life for many LGBTQ people.

HB: And, of course, AIDS was also starting to happen, and I think there was a lot of fear of people of all kinds of identities about, “We don’t know what this is, this is really scary,” and so was sort of a large confluence of a number of factors that kind of led to its closing.

Ryan Newswanger: Could Bellows Falls use a place like the Andrew’s Inn now?

HB: I think every community could use a place like Andrew’s Inn! There is no dedicated bar for LGBTQ people in all of Vermont right now.

HB: It still is really important for LGBTQ people to have spaces that are just for us. And not necessarily even all the time. I think one inspiring thing about Andrew’s Inn is that there was so much cross community allyship and support. But it was a place for people to come together and be together. And I think especially in small communities, we need those kinds of places.

Jeremy: I think there was a number of people for who, that was enough. Just coming in. And those big doors closing. Coming into the lobby and that brick building. It’s like, “Wow. I haven’t felt this safe in a while.”

HB: This is a project that I worked hard on, but it’s really the project of the people who were there. I wasn’t even born when Andrew’s Inn was still open, and I think for me it’s been an incredible honor to get to know some of the people who were there and to share their stories. And I think this project is really for them to be able to say, we did this thing, and it was important.

Michael: There was so much love that came out of that place. So much love. Despite the negativity and animosity from the community around it. So much love was generated in it and by it and for it.

Reggie Condra: Hey folks. This is Reggie Condra and I run a podcast called Brown ‘n Out where we highlight the voices of queer Vermonters of color. In every episode I ask the question, when do you feel most brown and out? Here’s a selection of our guests’ answers.

Shani Stoddard: I think I feel brown and out when I’m with a bunch of heterosexual white people because it’s like a stand out, which I sort of love. It makes me feel a little of like a little unicorn. I also feel super brown and out when I’m with other people of color and queer people or a combination of the two just because then it’s easy to look around and be like, yes, yes, yes. Power in numbers, I guess, but the representation is important.

Shani: Coming to Burlington and being in a space with other queer black people has just, unfortunately, has not been a part of my life in many ways. I do feel so brown and out when I’m with other queer people of color because I’m always thinking about how happy I am to be able to be in that setting just be it is relatively new for me. I’m just going to keep looking around the room being like, I am so stoked on this.

Sasha Morrissette: I feel like when I attend events where there’s other people of the LGBTQ community. I feel more brown and out going to Higher Ground, going to dances because I think it’s important to have those kinds of spaces in our community that really embrace, especially when you have run-ins with homophobic folks. It feels like a place where you’re able to be more yourself.

Reggie: When do you most feel brown and out?

Billie Miles: I feel brown and out today.

Mercedes Mack: Hey!

Reggie: Yeah?

Billie: I do. I do. Because I get to talk about all this stuff and there’s the three of us in the space. I feel validated, actually. It feels good. So I’m feeling brown and out right now.

Reggie: Good. Good. You know I love to hear that.

Reggie: When do you feel most brown and out? What are those moments?

Conner Cyrus: I think I’m going to answer this in two ways.

Reggie: Perfect.

Conner: The first, I think and the most important way I feel most brown and out is just me being at my job, and me being present, and me being a visual medium of being brown and out for people at home. Granted, a lot of people don’t watch local news, but a lot of people do. So I think just my presence of being a proud, black gay man just helps me feel brown and out. That’s part one.

Conner: Part two is when I’m at the club and Cardi B comes on and I shake my butt like it’s my job. That’s just me living my best life, and my most authentic life, and that’s just when I’m having the most fun. I think that being able to spread positivity and just joy and be joyful and happy is also part of being Brown ‘n Out.

Reggie: Can you just feel brown and out all the time?

Ita Meno: I do.

Reggie: All the damn time.

Ita: I feel definitely browner the longer that summer goes on.

Reggie: You made a joke about the sun, okay. I see you.

Ita: I do it, you know. I definitely feel brown and out a lot and having the opportunity to talk to my kids’, my youngest child’s class. The whole middle school, it’s a small, small school, but I got to talk to the whole middle school about gender identity and sexual orientation, and it’s really fun. The kids want to know about who you are.

Ita: I didn’t share a lot of personal stuff and I think that if I had the opportunity to do it again, I would tell my coming out stories because the story that I did tell there was absolutely silence. These children were really wanting to hear how does being a queer person impact you, or how did it impact you growing up, or when did you know. What was your root? So yeah, I feel brown and out all the time.

Reggie: Those were the voices of Shani Stoddard, Sasha Morrissette, Billie Miles with Mercedes Mack, Conner Cyrus, and Ita Meno.

Thanks to Reggie Condra for being our first guest podcaster on Before Your Time. You can find Brown ‘n Out wherever you get your podcasts, as well as on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Verandah Porche: “From the apple tree, you bear left and head toward the hill. At the end of the first field, on a bank of wild grasses, mosses, and junipers, was an old logging skidway.”

Verandah Porche, a poet and author from Guilford, reads from the introduction to Home Comfort: Stories and Scenes of Life on Total Loss Farm.

Verandah: “I often remember going up that road, sometimes to pick butternuts at the tree on the side hill…At night I’d crawl into my top bunk, our bedroom looked like an army barracks. With five younger brothers and sisters, numerous visiting cousins, and a couple of other kids who lived with us, you had to pile them in deep. Assuring myself before I dropped off to sleep, that I knew every inch of the road between the apple tree and the corners and most of the land in between.”

The introduction was written by a man named Ron Squires. An eighth-generation Vermonter, he grew up on a series of dairy farms with his large family. Verandah continues reading as Ron’s mother, Shirley Squires, listens.

Verandah: “I first heard about the sale of the farm when I was in Maine. A letter from home said simply, ‘Rosie has sold the farm and a bunch of hippies are moving in.'”

Verandah was one of the newcomers from out of state who began a commune at Packer’s Corner in the late 1960s. It was up the hill from the Squires farm in Guilford, and Ron was a frequent visitor.

Verandah: There was a lot of big conversation, everybody loved to kick around ideas, and Ronnie was a really active part of that. And so that, plus the fact that Ronnie knew he was gay…Well it didn’t matter what your orientation was up there, it was what kind of friend you were.

Shirley Squires: He could do that right up at Packer’s Corner, easier than…because back when he was young, it was frowned on if somebody was gay.

This is Ron’s mother, Shirley.

Shirley: Ron was in college before we actually really knew that he was gay. And my husband still loved him very much but he had a really hard time to accept it. Back in those days it was a lot harder to accept that kind of thing…than what it is today.

Shirley recalls that Ron was interested in politics from an early age.

Shirley: Ronnie got a lot from my father because none of the rest of us wanted to listen to him with his politics, so we had nothing to do with the politics part. Ronnie would sit by the hour and listen to my father talking politics.

Shirley: When he was 19 years old, his first time he ran. He didn’t do too bad either, I was just looking at the results from those books and he was running against a really strong candidate and he did really well. One time he lost by 11 votes, he had a recount of it but it came out, I think, 9 votes but he still lost.

Ron was a cook and a gardener who loved his community. And he loved politics, because it gave him the opportunity to help people.

Shirley: When he was up at the State House as a representative, he not only wanted to work to help out with the gay issue, which he did a lot of back just before he died, but for the little people in Gilford and Vernon. He always put them first before his own interests.

Ron first ran for state-wide office in 1976. Although he was open about his sexual orientation to his local community, he did not run for legislature as a gay candidate.

After four or five tries, he won election as state representative for Guilford and Vernon in 1991. That same year, he sponsored a bill that made discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal.

Shirley: I guess he was really, I saw pictures, a nervous wreck when he got up to speak. He didn’t have any papers in from of him, it just came from his heart and that he thought that they should have same rights that everybody else did. There were so many of the Republicans at that time that crossed over and voted for it and it passed.

During his speech, Ron said, “I cannot tell you how I felt as this body debated whether I had the same privileges as the other 149 members of this House.”

He was re-elected easily to a second term. A term that he was unable to serve.

Shirley: We didn’t find out that Ronnie had HIV/AIDS until probably, a lot of other people knew it before we did, probably four months or five months before he died. He knew for six years and he did all this. I don’t know how a person could do all this knowing that he was not going to be around to see it through, but everything he did he did because he wanted this to be a better place for people to live.

Verandah: He certainly didn’t make much of it and like the other people who had the virus, they wanted to go on with life as normally as possible. Of all of our friends, Ronnie was the only one who had family here.

Shirley: I went to Washington with a friend of mine, when the AIDS quilt was displayed there and there were so many people. We were helping with the quilt display and so many people were in tears because they had not come to terms with it while their family member was still alive and Ron always had friends, family, everybody around him, nobody stayed away.

Ron Squires died of AIDS-related complications on January 9, 1993, two days after he was sworn in for  his second term as a state legislator. The House had amended its rules to allow the Speaker and the Clerk to travel to Brattleboro to swear him in at the hospital. That day was the first time he publicly disclosed that he had AIDS.

Shirley: They came from the State House, they’ve never done that before, but they came and then they told him he would be the head of the … I don’t remember which committee but he gave them the biggest smile because he’d been working on that committee and it meant so much to him. Then they said … told him he could just sign his initials and he would not sign just his initials, it took him a good half hour but he signed his whole name.

After Ron died, Shirley joined walks to raise money for the AIDS project of Southern Vermont.

Shirley: He had been doing stuff and they had been helping him for quite a few years but I didn’t know about it. He died in January, and I did my first walk in May. This was my 27th walk this year. I have raised over $370,000 over those years, thanks to all the people that give to me.

Verandah: Nobody says no to Shirley.

Shirley: Verandah’s started right at the very beginning, I think she was one of the first. I have over 500 people who give to me every year.

Verandah: So much has changed since then, and what options they have in terms of care and even the hope of prevention. I mean, all of that seems, well, it seems as if it happened both overnight and also happened painfully slowly. It’s just a relief every year to know that Shirley is still there and here’s the envelope and here’s the response.

Shirley: And here I think every year they’re probably saying, “Oh no, not again.”

Verandah: Well, I think it’s just the opposite. I think keeping it personal which really is a legacy of Ron, you know, that commitment and compassion and courage.

Before Your Time is presented by Vermont Humanities and the Vermont Historical Society. This episode was produced by Ryan Newswanger, Amanda Gustin, Reggie Condra, Jonathan Butler, and Abra Clawson.

Thanks to our guests: Margaret Tamulonis, HB Lozito, Verandah Porche, and Shirley Squires. Thanks to Out in the Open for allowing us to use the oral histories they gathered about the Andrews Inn, and to the people whose stories we featured: Eva Mondon, Michael Gigante, Fletcher Proctor, and Jeremy Youst. And thanks again to Reggie’s guests: Shani Stoddard, Sasha Morrissette, Billie Miles, Mercedes Mack, Conner Cyrus, and Ita Meno.

Before Your Time comes out every month. Search for it and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you like what you hear, tell a friend to check it out. You can find photos, videos, and artifacts related to this month’s episode on our website, before your time dot org. Thanks for listening!