Orlando’s Parliament House: A Gay Community Landmark In Trouble
I first stayed at the Parliament House in Orlando in the summer of 1976, just a year after Bill Miller and Michael Hodges purchased the Abbey, a rundown motel at 410 North Orange Blossom Trail, and turned it into Florida’s premier gay resort. If I recall correctly, the rooms were rather seedy, certainly in comparison to the big hotel chains that began to take over Orlando in the wake of Walt Disney World. But, if the Parliament House was a dump, it was our dump. It hosted a wild pool party every day, the five bars and a disco catered to every segment of our community, and the Playhouse Theater presented a series of memorable shows, hosted by the immortal “Miss P” (Paul Wegman). Most notorious of all was “balcony bingo”: a never-ending parade of men of every age, color and lifestyle who cruised their way around the P-House, even (especially) after the bars closed. Those were the days.
The last time I visited the Parliament House was in the summer of 2009. The rooms were a bit run-down, and “balcony bingo” was not what it used to be. (Neither was I: This time, I went with my partner of over 24
years.) But the pool parties were still hot; the bars and disco still attracted crowds; and the fierce Darcel Stevens hosted fabu drag shows at the Footlight Theater and Cabaret where Miss P once reigned supreme.
A lot has happened to “La Casa del Parliamento” (to quote Miss P) during the 35 years of its gay existence. Both Miller and Hodges died from AIDS-complications–Miller in 1987 and Hodges in 1992–and the P-House was inherited by Hodges’s clueless relatives. The place floundered in increased decay until 1999, when it was purchased by the husband and wife team of Don Granatstein and Susan Unger. The new owners gave the P-House some much-needed renovations and the place resumed its place as Orlando’s de facto community center. Unfortunately, Granatstein and Unger made some unwise business decisions, like trying to start a time-share resort next door. And while the Parliament House didn’t change much, the community around it did. Gay tourists no longer had to stay in the P-House in order to be gay; as Orlando’s theme parks and world class hotels began to court the lavender dollar. The Granatsteins, a straight couple, frowned upon “balcony bingo,” though AIDS and the aging of Orlando’s gay population were also responsible for the decline of that time-honored tradition.
The current recession, which struck hard at the disposable incomes of so many of us, was not kind to the Parliament House. This venerable gay landmark is now facing a foreclosure action filed by its creditors. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston-based Southwest Guaranty Ltd. and Compass Bank of Atlanta initiated foreclosure actions over a $7.5 million mortgage that matured at the end of 2009. The P-House will be taken over by a court-appointed receiver, who will continue regular operations under a court order. Don Granatstein told the Sentinel that he didn’t have the money to repay the note when it came due. However, he continues to hold the liquor license and plans to continue to operate the P-House, even under a receiver. “Am I happy with this? That’s a big no,” Granatstein told the Sentinel. “But I’m stuck with whatever happens, and we will be open 100 percent.”
As a gay man with an interest in LGBT history, I believe there are certain places that need to be preserved as community landmarks. One of them was New York City’s Stonewall Inn, which went through a series of changes over the years before finally resurfacing anew as a gay bar. For LGBT Floridians, Orlando’s Parliament House is a community landmark that served our community well for 35 years, affecting the lives of several generations of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people almost as much as the Stonewall Inn did. It would be worse than tragic if the P-House goes under. For all its faults, the Parliament House was and is Florida’s “gay kingdom;” a queer oasis in the middle of the Bible Belt that was always there to serve our ever-changing community. I pray that “La Case del Parliamento” will survive this current crisis, and continue to serve and thrill and please us for many years to come.
Jesse Monteagudo (email@example.com) is a South-Florida-based gay activist and freelance writer. Monteagudo wishes to thank historian James T. Sears and the GLBT History Museum of Central Florida (www.gayorlandohistory.com) for useful information and long-forgotten facts about the history of the Parliament House.
Stephen Wayne Foster is almost a Native Floridian. Though born in Virginia in 1943, he moved with his family to Miami a year later and grew up in Miami Shores. Foster studied at Miami-Dade College and the University of Miami, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in History. Now retired, Foster lives in an apartment in Coral Gables that he first occupied in 1975, having lived through almost a century of South Florida gay history and culture.
When Foster was 17-years old and in high school, he discovered gay history. "I came across Sir Richard Francis Burton's [in picture, left] translation of the Arabian Nights from 1880 which included a very long article about the history of homosexuality. But for many years I didn't know where else to look for it [gay history]. In 1969 I went to Washington, D.C. I went to a newsstand and bought a copy of GAY, the Jack Nichols publication. I took the issue home with me and read an article by Dick Leitsch of New York Mattachine about gay history in which he said that nobody was writing about gay history and that there was a need for this. So I felt that if anybody was going to do it I should do it."
"At that time I was still a student at the University of Miami. So I took a notebook and a pen and I went into the student library and saw thousands of books before me and I didn't even know where to begin. But on the very first day I came across a book written a century ago called The History and Development of the Moral Ideas by Edward Westermarck. And this contained a long essay about gay history and anthropology and it formed the structure for all of my research after that."
"My mother died in 1970 and I moved away from home. And my father died in 1973. At some point I developed a habit of going down every Saturday to the University of Miami and spending the whole day at the Library doing research. I also went to the public libraries, to the medical library, the law library, every important library in Dade County and collected a vast amount of information. Eventually I gathered notes from at least 5,000 books."
Though Foster realized that he was gay when he was 13, he did not come out til 1969 when he first met other gay people and discovered Miami's "gay beach" on 21st Street and Collins Avenue. That was a time when the Miami Beach police ("real bastards" in Foster's opinion) used the laws as excuses to raid gay bars and make gay folks' lives miserable in so many ways. For this and other reasons, it took time for Miami gays to get organized. When activist Frank Arango came down from New York in 1972, Foster remembers, he Awas dismayed to find that there was no political base so he had to create one. Word got out and we met at the house of Barry Spawn," another local activist. Out of this meeting was born the Gay Activists Alliance of Miami (GAA-Miami).
According to Foster, GAA-Miami met at Spawn's home for a while before moving to the Center for Dialog, an activist group connected with Miami's St. John Lutheran Church that Foster dubbed "the center for all radical activity in Miami." (Miami's MCC also met at that Church.) Its founders, all white men (except Arango), formed the Executive Committee: "The president of the group was Bob Barry. The Vice President was Barry Spawn, I was the Treasurer and Bob Basker [best remembered for his later work with the Dade County Coalition for Human Rights] was Secretary. Frank Arango helped us out but I don't think he had a position. And the reason that they gave me the position of Treasurer is because I had to take the money of the organization and put it in my own private banking account under my own name since I was the only person they trusted with the money," he says.
library. Foster approached the Rev. Don Olson, pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church, and "asked him if I could use the room on the second floor. Olson gave me the go-ahead. He put some shelving into a small room on the second floor of the Center for Dialog and I took my private collection of books and publications and put them there. But three weeks later he came to me and said that he was embarrassed if straight people might walk past the open door of the library and see that it contained gay material so he wanted me to keep the door shut. I felt very insulted by that and I took all the material and took it home. So the gay library was the first one that we had but it only lasted maybe three weeks." This was a year before Mark Silber founded the Stonewall Library.
In 1972 GAA-Miami filed a class action suit against Miami Beach that led to the overturn of that city's law against cross dressing. Foster contributed to this victory by providing GAA-Miami with incriminating information about the Miami Beach Police Department that he had collected. Later that year Foster and other GAA-Miami members joined other activists to protest both the Democratic and Republican conventions that were being held on Miami Beach. To accommodate all the protesters, the City of Miami Beach opened Flamingo Park and let the protesters camp there. "There was a special area off to one side in the Park that became the 'gay area,'" Foster adds, one that attracted its share of queer notables.
One of those notables who visited Flamingo Park was Dr. Frank Kameny, whom Foster had met previously through their mutual friend Bob Basker. Dr. Kameny came to Miami for the conventions and Foster joined
him on a tour of the Park. One of the colorful creatures Kameny encountered in the gay section was "a somewhat overweight gay teenage boy known as Corky. He was in the gay area of Flamingo Park and he was persuaded to put on some sort of outrageous costume, complete with feathers. And he paraded up and down and some tourists stopped by to take pictures of him. And all of a sudden Kameny showed up and said, 'Corky! What are you doing? You are giving homosexuality a bad name! Take off those feathers!' I thought that was priceless," he laughs.
Unfortunately, GAA-Miami did not long survive the 1972 conventions. As Foster recalls, "the thing that killed it was simply that people were showing up during the conventions and then when the conventions went away and the antiwar demonstrators went away and the whole thing died down and returned to normal then the people lost interest." Foster himself lost interest when he "got into an argument with a member of the Executive Committee and resigned. And I sent them their money that was in my account. And they took the money and sent out an emergency letter to all 250 people who were on their mailing list, asking them to show up for an emergency meeting so they can get the organization going again. And they [the EC] showed up at the meeting place and waited two hours and nobody showed up. Nobody!" By the end of 1973, GAA-Miami was history.
After Foster left GAA-Miami, he "was involved in the creation of a gay student group at the University of Miami," which was also short-lived. Unfortunately, in 1974 Foster developed a severe case of agoraphobia, which discouraged his participation in Miami's growing LGBT movement though of course he kept up with new developments. (Foster has since recovered from his agoraphobia.)
Foster's withdrawal from the political arena allowed him to return to his first love, gay history. By the late seventies, Foster had become a major contributor to the growing field of gay studies. Foster's "introduction as a gay historian" was an essay on Sir Richard Francis Burton. ["The Annotated Burton"] that appeared in the anthology The Gay Academic, edited by Louie Crew [ETC, 1978]. "At the same time I was helping Jonathan Ned Katz write his book Gay American History [Crowell, 1976]. I gave him very significant help." In his groundbreaking book, Katz gave credit to "Foster's inspired research assistance [which] led to the discovery of numbers of important documents." Through the years, Foster "helped many other gay scholars write their books. And my name is mentioned in at least thirty books, usually in the form of footnotes saying 'I wish to thank Stephen Foster for his help.' " Foster also contributed original essays and translations to the pioneer gay journal "Gay Sunshine."
Though Foster was never a member of the Gay Academic Union, he contributed to the GAU's periodical "The Cabirion," aka "Gay Books Bulletin" [1979-85]. Through the efforts of "Cabirion" editor Wayne Dynes, Foster contributed an article on gay communities for The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture [Edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris, UNC, 1990]. Foster followed that achievement by writing, for the Dynes-edited Encyclopedia of Homosexuality [Garland, 1990], articles on such diverse topics as Adelswärd Fersen, Afghanistan, Sir Richard Burton, Ralph Chubb, Charles Fourier, Henry B. Fuller, Robert de Montesquieu, Pirates, Poetry, Travel and Exploration, Edward Perry Warren and Oscar Wilde. Though some of the other contributors to the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality used pseudonyms (which caused a bit of a controversy at that time), Foster is quick to assert that in this case, as "in all of my writing, I used my real name." All in all, Stephen Wayne Foster should be credited for some of the most notable contributions to our culture.
This is the second of a series of articles about the history of South Florida’s LGBT community. The first one was a personal account of the Miami bar scene in 1974. I invite other veterans of South Florida's LGBT community in the 1970s and 1980s to share their experiences with us. You may reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Editors on Aug 16, 2010 at 09:50 AM in Ancestors, Arts, Books, Call for Submissions, Community, Culture, Elders, Friends, Gay Health, Gay History, Gay Wisdom, History, Homophobia, Jesse Monteagudo, Literature, Men, Politics, Religion, Right Wingers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Jesse Monteagudo is a regular contributor to White Crane and the GayWisdom blog.
Do we need "role models?
Is Perez Hilton a Gay role model? Not according to many readers of the Advocate, who protested vigorously when the magazine put the celebrity blogger on the cover of its August issue. There was such a strong reaction that Advocate editor in chief Jon Barrett had to issue a response. Even so, when Advocate.com asked its readers if “Perez Hilton [is] an appropriate spokesman for marriage equality and other gay rights issues,” 3.1% of respondents said yes while a whopping 95.6% said no. “Perez Hilton is a major embarrassment to our entire culture. No one likes a gossipy, hateful, self-serving bitter queen. He needs to be silenced for the good of the WORLD, not just the gay community,” read a typical comment. There is even a Facebook group, “1,000,000 AGAINST Perez Hilton being the GLBTQ SPOKESPERSON,” devoted to Hilton haters within the GLBT community. Unfortunately, as an openly-gay man who is often in the spotlight, Hilton has come to represent GLBT people, whether we like it or not.
The online Wiktionary (en.wiktionary.org) defines “role model” as “a person who serves as an example, whose behavior is emulated by others. Wiktionary’s sister Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org) elaborates, adding that the term “first appeared in Robert K. Merton’s socialization research of medical students. Merton hypothesized that individuals compare themselves with reference groups of people who occupy the social role to which the individual aspires.“ An even better online description was found in techup.org, which tells us that “true role models are those who possess the qualities that we would like to have and those who have affected us in a way that makes us want to be better people. To advocate for ourselves and our goals and take leadership on the issues that we believe in. We often don’t recognize our true role models until we have noticed our own personal growth and progress.”
There was a time when Gay, Lesbian, bisexual or transgender people had precious few role models; men or women who showed us what it was like to be queer. When I was a kid in the 1960s, the only Gays I knew of were Liberace and a swishy “artist” who live with his mother in the apartment across the hall. It was only later that I learned about the likes of Franklin Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, and Jack Nichols (left) and Lige Clarke (at right). Kids growing up today have a larger group of models to look up to, ranging from out athletes like Martina Navratilova, John Amaechi and Esera Tuaolo to entertainers like Ellen De Generes, Neil Patrick Harris and Wilson Cruz. Even more inspiring are young GLBT activists who began their work at an early age, like South Florida’s Waymon Hudson and Tobias Packer. “Elder statesmen” like “Pompano Bill,” Larry Friedlander, Bill Mullins and Dick Rogers (just to name a few South Florida models) teach us that Gay men can lead active lives well into their golden years.
Unfortunately, even role models are human, and too many of them fall off their pedestals. We have seen too many famous or beloved athletes and politicians, of all genders or sexual orientations, get caught having illicit sex, committing petty or major crimes, or using illegal substances. Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter (Milk) and Advocate cover boy, got into a pickle when photos of the comely Mr. Black, naked and enjoying bareback sex, appeared in various web sites. Though Black has every right to enjoy bareback sex (as stupid as it is) doing it in front of a camera doesn’t help the reputation of someone who – like Ranger Doug of the country comedy group Riders in the Sky – is an idol of (Gay) American youth.
Black has since responded to the scandal the way people usually do, by suing the messengers: “The Oscar-winning screenwriter’s henchmen at Lavely & Singer - the bulldog law firm behind seemingly every celeb’s sex tape lawsuit threats – are going after Starzlife.com and its proprietors, which the lawsuit alleges distributed photos (and supposedly has video) of Black and one X [my deletion] having anal sex (without a condom, as everyone has noted!). Something about invasion of privacy and copyright infringement,” notes the web site queerty.com. Let’s see how this goes. Meanwhile, we should all heed queerty’s sage advice: “NEVER TAKE PHOTOS OF YOURSELF NAKED OR HAVING SEX, EVER, BECAUSE THEY WILL BE RELEASED.” (Caps were in the original, though I share the sentiment.)
Even worse is the case of Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan Bleiweiss. Back in March the South Florida Gay Blade wrote a glowing article about the openly Gay Deputy, noting that he “received the 2008 Employee of the Year award for the Oakland Park Division for his outstanding work, at a ceremony on the evening of Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at the Oakland Park City Hall. This is the first time an openly Gay deputy received this award from BSO [Broward Sheriff’s Office]. . . . Among Bleiweiss’ accomplishments are his capture of two robbers and recovering their AK-47 weapons, his arrest of a serial arsonist, and having made over 100 arrests in the last year that were directly related to quality of life issues in Oakland Park.” Five months later, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, this “pioneering, openly Gay Broward sheriff’s deputy who fought discrimination within that agency earlier in his career” was accused of being “a manipulative sex offender who preyed on illegal immigrants too scared to contact authorities. . . . Bleiweiss, arrested [August 3], faces 14 charges, among them three counts of sexual battery by a person in authority, four counts of battery and one count of stalking. He’s accused of intimidating at least eight men in his Oakland Park patrol district into performing sex acts with him during traffic stops.” Ouch! Though Gay activist Michael Rajner said that “this is not an act that necessarily impacts the gay community,” I cringed when I read the headline: “Deputy accused of sexual abuse was fighter for Gay rights” Already the bigots have come out of the woodwork, flooding the Sun-Sentinel’s message board with hateful messages about all Gay men, based on the actions of one Gay man. Though Deputy Bleiweiss is of course innocent until proven guilty, his precipitous fall from grace robs our community of one more role model.
Role models are good to have around, but we cannot always depend on them. So we should be our own role model; and be the best Lesbian woman, Gay man, bisexual or transgender person that we can be.
Jesse Monteagudo is a South Florida-based freelance writer and gay activist. Write him at email@example.com.