Categories: Lambda Lore

Student, women’s, and leather groups formed in 1980s Utah

One of the oldest LGBT support groups in Utah was the Lesbian and Gay Student Union at the University of Utah, now known as the Queer Student Union. In September 1983, the president of LGSU, Michael Aaron, with Wes Jolley, asked for and was granted funding for the first time by the Associated Students of the University of Utah Assembly after being denied similar requests the prior two years. LGSU received only $100 out of the $6,000 requested; however, the money marked the first official recognition of the group by the university’s student government.

The leaders of LGSU during the school year 1983–84, as did Affirmation a few years before, had guest speakers such as Utah Senators Frances Farley and Terry Williams. Farley was campaigning for a seat in Congress at the time. Other speakers were John Meng, from the Gay Helpline and Byron Haslem, a state health department official addressing AIDS in the community. They also co-sponsored, with KRCL, two concerts featuring popular women music songwriters and singers. In the fall Cris Williamson and Tret Fure came to Kingsbury Hall, and in the spring Teresa Trull and Barbara Higbee, who had just released an album called Unexpected, held a concert on campus.

First Gay and Lesbian Conference

More importantly, on March 25–31, 1984, LGSU sponsored the first Gay and Lesbian Conference at the University. The theme was “Reaching Out,” and Dr. Don Clark was brought in as the keynote speaker. Dr. Clark was the author of Loving Someone Gay and Living Gay. A drag show called “Kelley’s Broadway Revue,” held in the Union Theater, was the first openly gay drag show on campus. After the keynote by Dr. Clark, on March 30 the first AIDS Candlelight Vigil in Utah was held.

The Daily Utah Chronicle, which had been very supportive of the LGBT community in the 1970s, refused to cover any of the events and only ran one article regarding the conference. Most, if not all, the LGSU posters on campus were torn down, and KUTV’s Take 2 interviews were canceled for no apparent reason by the station. The conference, however, received news coverage on KTVX Channel 4 and was the top Utah News story in USA Today. The conference was funded in part by John Cooper, director of Salt Lake Affirmation, who never was paid back after it lost money. He forgave the debt because of all the good the conference achieved.

Perhaps the most significant event that came out of the first conference was when people were contacted by representatives from a student organization in Las Vegas. On March 31, 1984, Eve Goldman, Scott Mills, and Duane Dawson formed a committee to attend the next year’s Gay and Lesbian Desert and Mountain States Conference in Las Vegas.

Mike Loewy, president of the Lesbian and Gay Academic Union at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, founded the Desert and Mountain States Conference. Loewy was contacted by a gay man in Phoenix, who had learned about human rights seminars sponsored by LGBT students of the University of Arizona. Loewy learned that Phoenix was doing the same thing and another group in Albuquerque, called Common Bond, was doing something similar. It was suggested everyone get together to sponsor a full Southwest conference on LGBT activism and develop leadership within the LGBT community. Loewy then contacted participants from Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. It was decided to hold the first conference in Las Vegas because the Lesbian and Gay Academic Union had a strong presence on a university campus, which no other group involved had at the time.

20 Rue Jacob, Women Aware

Within the women’s community, Women Aware and 20 Rue Jacob, commonly called the Rue, a type of women’s community center and coffee shop at 228 E. 800 South, were the dominant players. Today the location of the Rue is the west building of a sandwich shop called Moochies. Women Aware meetings and activities were held primarily at the Rue. While 20 Rue Jacob was mainly a community space for Women Aware and other women’s groups, Metropolitan Community Church and LGSU often held joint social gatherings in the space.

Michael Aaron stated that as a student he used to go to the coffee shop located in the Rue all the time and said he was accepted there as a male as he was “tiny and non-threatening.” He also stated, “I have great memories of that place. They taught me to put a pinch of cinnamon in the grounds while making coffee. I don’t think it was open long. I and whomever I brought were often the only paying customers there.”

At the beginning of 1984, a bookstore and coffee shop was operated to keep 20 Rue Jacob afloat by the proprietors. A lesbian mother’s support group, a child abuse survivors support group, and a support group for lesbians over the age of 30 held meetings at the Rue. However, low attendance was always a factor in the survival of the Rue. On April 3, 1984, only seven women attended a Women Aware meeting that set off a morale problem among leadership. Discussions that if the Rue closed, Women Aware and other women functions would be homeless. In the May issue of the Women Aware newsletter, it was lamented how the women’s community was dwindling due to lack of support. On May  8, 1984, Women Aware held a meeting to determine if it would continue. It was voted to disband, and on June 1, 1984, 20 Rue Jacob closed its doors. It was the end of an era.

The specialty group for lesbians “over 30” and “wishful thinkers” continued to meet at private residences after the closure of the Rue, “to discuss, argue, and laugh.” The group became Older and Wiser Lesbians, known as OWLS.  In May 1984, OWL began to organize outdoor activities such as camping, fishing, and rafting, and indoor get-togethers such as potluck dinners, bowling on Sunday mornings at the Ritz Bowling Lanes, sing-a-longs, and rap sessions. Out of OWL was formed a group of women motorcycle enthusiasts called WOW, Women on Wheels.

Leather groups

In addition to Women on Wheels, the Wasatch Leather and Motorcycle Club formed in September 1984, to create a leatherman’s community in Salt Lake City. It was organized at the Deerhunter bar with 11 men as founding members. They sponsored campouts and a motorcycle run called “Falcon Flight,” as the falcon was the symbol of the organization. It was an exclusively male organization with a clubhouse and sex dungeon in the basement.

Another leather club organized in 1984, the Salt Lake Chapter of the Knights of Malta, by Lee Trinka, Emperor IX of the Royal Court. This adult social club was dedicated to community service and “having a good time while doing it.” The Salt Lake Chapter was open to both men and women. The group was loosely associated with the Royal Court and held its meetings at the gay bars. Every Labor Day Weekend the other chapters of the Knights held a “conclave” at a member’s chapter. Nationally, the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco became heavily influenced by these chapters of the Knights of Malta.

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Ben Williams

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