Gay OKC pioneer Arnold Smith remembered

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.

—  John Wright

Activist (and hottie) Travis Gasper to return to Dallas as development director for AIDS Interfaith

Travis Gasper

Travis Gasper, founding president of the current chapter of Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats and a Dallas Voice “Future Pioneer,” is returning to Dallas from Colorado to accept a position as director of development for AIDS Interfaith Network, he told Instant Tea in an e-mail Wednesday.

Gasper, a Colorado native, left Dallas last December to run a newly created nonprofit in Denver that engages business leaders as advocates for early childhood programs. Gasper says he’ll be moving back to Dallas in a few weeks.

“I just happened to find out about the position when I was in town last month, and it was great timing since I had gotten to know the organization last year when we were fighting the city’s HIV/AIDS budget cuts,” Gasper writes. “The experience of starting a new organization has been great, and we have great board members and funders, but I miss friends and family and Dallas in general.”

—  John Wright

Thank you to SSgt. Robert LeBlanc: A ‘gay military rights pioneer’

Here’s some important gay history.

On this date in 1976, SSgt. Robert LeBlanc received an honorable discharge from the United States Marines. Michael Bedwell from posted LeBlanc’s story:

Heroic LtCol. Victor Fehrenbach was not the first gay servicemember to seek a restraining order to stop his discharge. One of the first filed was by gay military rights pioneer SSgt. Robert LeBlanc. And on September 3, 1976, almost a year-to-the-day after USAF TSgt. Leonard Matlovich appeared on the cover of TIME in relation to outing himself to try to end the ban, LeBlanc finally received an honorable discharge after defeating the US Marine Corps’ three attempts to give him a less-than-honorable one.

LeBlanc had served for 12 years, including two tours in Vietnam, had been awarded multiple medals including a Purple Heart, and been the Military Police Chief for all of Los Angeles County. Administrative discharge boards had voted twice to retain him when no evidence was submitted that he was gay other than claims by men LeBlanc had disciplined as a narcotics enforcement officer with the MPs. When asked directly if he was gay, LeBlanc told his superiors and the boards, “You have no right to ask the question!”—the kind of response the military does not like to hear. Gen. Louis H. Wilson, then-Commandant of the Marines, insisted that the accusations alone were adequate proof he was unsuitable, and ordered him discharged with the less-than-honorable designation which limits the kind of benefits a veteran can receive. The local MCC organized a then-rare protest of his treatment outside the gates of Marine Barracks, Terminal Island, Long Beach, California.

LeBlanc requested a restraining order in federal court, and no less than now-Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was one of the two Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judges who, while not ruling the ban itself was wrong, surprisingly ordered the Marines either give him an honorable discharge or retain him until his case could go to trial. They chose the former.

It’s hard enough to fight a discharge in 2010. Imagine the courage it took in 1976. Christ, it took courage to just come out in 1976. We really do stand on the shoulders of people like Robert LeBlanc.

Thanks, Robert.


—  John Wright