Gay OKC pioneer Arnold Smith remembered

Posted on 01 Dec 2010 at 12:28pm

Arnold “Arna Lee” Smith, who owned a series of gay bars in Oklahoma City dating back to the 1960s, died Oct. 31 at 83, according to the Metro Star:

During the early 1960s America and Oklahoma were quite different, where being gay was officially still a mental illness, sodomy laws were still in the books, and gay rights (let alone marriage) weren’t even discussed. Police raids on gay bars were common, albeit on dubious pretexts and very selective law enforcement, much facilitated when most people victimized by these tactics were either afraid and/or ashamed to fight back. But even in this dark scenario Arnold’s first club, Lee’s Lounge which opened in the mid 1960s in the Paseo District, was a bright spot for the GLBT community that refused to back down. Although the club endured relentless police harassment, the club proudly kept going. On many occasions when he was arrested along with his customers, he would bail himself and his customers out and re-open the bar the same night. His drag persona, Arna Lee, became famous during this time, accompanied by his outrageously fun costumes and tap dancing with a campy wit to match. During this time he became a Drag Mother to many budding female impersonators, a passion that spanned over 40 years.

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