Queering the Fourth of July
Economic expansion and ideas about the free market had a profound impact on what magazines and books could print as well as distribute, which meant that queer folk in far-flung places could gain access to information about homosexuality, civil rights activity, and identity-based discourses. They could become part of the national imagined community of gays and lesbians. In Pensacola, “adopted brothers” and lifelong lovers Ray and Henry Hillyer had a desire to keep abreast of the latest news and other homosexual happenings. The started a small book club in their home under the cover of a non-descript name Emma Jones that by 1974 had grown into a weekend-long convention with beach parties and patriotic drag shows at the San Carlos Hotel that drew thousands to the beaches of Pensacola. When queer visibility threatened Pensacola tourism, bars were raided, arrests were made, and Emma’s party was cancelled. Partying does not always lead to political action, but creating a space for gay men and lesbians to feel at ease with themselves is a profoundly political act. By deploying their bodies and their dollars, the Emma Jones Society established an LGBT presence in “The Sunshine State.”
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