Gay Bar

Title: Gay Bar
Author(s): Will Fellows and Helen Branson
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin
Year: 2010, originally published in 1957
Available: The Fairness Project

Gay Bar is gives insights into an interesting segment of gay American history, the history of gay bars in the 1950s. The title of the book caught my attention when I saw the book in a bookstore. Running a gay bar has never been for cowards and it took a very brave person to run a gay bar in the homophobic 1950s. I found myself wondering how Helen, a straight lady, who was born in small-town Kansas, found herself managing gay bars in California and how she was able to handle such a potentially difficult job.

The 1950s was a difficult time for gay men and lesbians. The police were known to record the license plates of automobiles of people parked close to gay bars and inform employers. The police informing an employer that an employee’s car was parked close to a gay bar was enough to cause employers to fire employees. Given the high societal levels of homophobia, it was no mean feat that Helen seems to have operated a gay bar with no serious problems from the police.

Helen shares interesting stories from the gay bars where she worked, as well as her personal understandings of homosexuality. Helen’s stories are interspersed with history about gay America in the 1950s and information about homosexuality. While Helen Branson’s thoughts about homosexuality sound dated and homophobic by today’s standards, she was a liberal, straight ally by 1950s standards.