BOOKS: ‘Gay Bar: The Fabulous, True Story of a Daring Woman and Her Boys in the 1950s’

Will Fellows and Helen P. Branson
University of Wisconsin Press (1957/ 2010), $26.95, 166 pp.

TGIF: Four little letters that, alone, have different meanings. One is a beverage. One, a gentle expletive. One a personal pronoun, and the last is… well, it’s a letter. Add them together, though, and they bring smiles to the faces of weary workers who’ve done their time for the week.

But what if your options for Friday night were limited? What if you couldn’t go out because you couldn’t come out? In Gay Bar, you can read about a woman who solved that problem when doing so was bold.

For most of her adult life, Helen Branson was interested in the occult and what we now call New Age subjects. Straight, married and a mother, Helen was also a woman ahead of her time: She was extremely interested in friendships with gay men.

Back in the 1950s, homosexuality was still considered an illness that could be “cured” with intensive therapy and classes. Gays and lesbians were degenerates shunned with horror by much of straight society. Some even considered gayness to be a threat comparable to Communism.

Helen didn’t care. Her “boys” were welcome in her establishment, as long as they behaved — and she wasn’t afraid to oust anyone who didn’t. She protected her clients from the police, roughnecks, haters, scammers and themselves. She fed them, gave them a safe place to congregate and became a surrogate mother to them. She also studied them, and encouraged their families to love them, too.

Will Fellows had seen a book that Branson wrote in the mid-’50s, and he thought the memoir/social commentary might make a good play. Fascinated, he began to dig into the life and thoughts of this progressive straight woman who embraced gay men.

If Fellows had just left well-enough alone, if he had just let that book stand on its own merits, this book might have been better. Gay Bar — the original version — had its charms. It offered a unique and honest vintage look at gay life from the perspective of a woman who genuinely loved them for who they were and who hated their persecution. Branson had some (very un-PC) theories on being gay, and she was obviously willing to discuss things with anyone who would listen, as evidenced by her friendship and correspondence with a sympathetic psychiatrist who also studied homosexuality.

But Fellows steps in and puts Branson’s words into today’s perspective. I thought his ideas were intelligent and well-considered, but against Branson’s bygone-era charm, they muddy the appeal of the original.

Read it only if you remember that this is more a gay academic history book than it is pleasure reading. If you’re looking for something fun, leave Gay Bar for another day.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2011.

—  John Wright

Mary Christmas Carols: Antoine Dodson’s ‘Chimney Intruder’

You might remember Antoine Dodson’s accidental claim to fame when his spirited response on the news was converted into a dance remix and pop culture landmark for 2010. Through no fault of his own, he became an Internet sensation for speaking out loud against the perpetrator who invaded his family’s house and for saving his sister from being a rape victim. But the openly gay Dodson seems to have handled the ups and downs of all the social commentary, jokes and parodies with tremendous charm.

Dodson still has his hustle going, and why not? George Lopez had the world premiere of Dodson’s “Chimney Intruder” last night on Lopez Tonight. Gone are the awkward implications of his reactionary remix. Instead, it’s kind of a train wreck, but still, he made us look … again.

—  Rich Lopez

Gay dad can’t be Scout leader in University Park

Jon Langbert and his son, Carter (Courtesy of Jon Langbert)

Jon Langbert, a gay father of triplets who lives in University Park, has been told that he can’t serve as a leader in his 9-year-old son’s Cub Scout troop.

For the last two years, Langbert has been in charge of the popcorn sales fundraiser for Pack 70 at University Park Elementary, according to Park Cities People. In 2009, Langbert helped the troop raise $13,000, up from $4,000 the previous year. And in September of this year, Langbert and his son, Carter, were invited to recruit new scouts on the school’s morning televised announcements.

But then someone complained about Langbert’s “homosexuality.” And now he’s been told he can’t wear his Scout leader T-shirt or serve in a leadership position, according to The Dallas Morning News:

“What message does that send to my son? It says I’m a second-class citizen,” Langbert said.

Robert McTaggart, the Cubmaster for Pack 70, said Langbert will be allowed to continue as a popcorn fundraiser. That position is not considered a leadership role and can be held by a volunteer.

The Boys Scouts of America has had a long-standing policy that rejects leaders who are gay or atheist. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the organization’s rules in a 5-4 decision.

“Our policy is not meant to serve as social commentary outside the Scout program,” said Pat Currie of the Circle 10 Council, the umbrella organization that oversees Pack 70. “We respect people who have a different opinion from us. We just hope those same people will respect our right to have a different opinion.”

Langbert says he plans to stay on with this year’s popcorn fundraising campaign. But he’s also contacted attorneys and plans to challenge the Cub Scouts’ decision in court. He noted that the Highland Park school district, which includes UP elementary, allows the troop to use its property despite the discriminatory policy.

Langbert and his partner were featured on 20/20 several years ago, when they lived in New York. Langbert, described as a wildly successful entrepreneur, is the father of triplets, two girls and a boy, who were conceived with donor and surrogate mothers using vitro fertilization.

UPDATE: A commenter below points us to the website for Scouting for All. Here’s their mission statement: “THE MISSION of Scouting For All, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, is to advocate on behalf of its members and supporters for the restoration of the traditionally unbiased values of Scouting as expressed and embodied in the Scout Oath & the Scout Law, and to influence the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to serve and include as participating members ALL youth and adult leaders, regardless of their spiritual belief, gender, or sexual orientation.”

—  John Wright