Local News

Part one of a two-part series

It was supposed to be a sex game. 

It turned into a rape. 

Terrell Johnson was only 20, his partner, Matt, 26, forced him to have sex against his will. It’s an experience that, even five years later, Johnson has trouble discussing with all but his closest friends. 

A Pennsylvania senator is among three U.S. legislators who introduced a bill to expand health services and resources for the older LGBTQ population. 

U.S. Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA) authored the Inclusive Aging Act with Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

 

Seven months after the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission became the owner of an LGBTQ-oriented historic marker installed near Rittenhouse Square, it remains to be seen whether its language will be revised to recognize contributions of the the early transgender community. Revisions may hinge on whether the city elects its first openly-trans City Council member in November.

Roberta Hacker grew up in a small, mostly working-class, largely Mennonite community in Telford, 50 miles outside Philadelphia.

At 17, she graduated from high school, six years before the Stonewall riots.

Victory Fund, the organization dedicated to getting more LGBTQ leaders elected to public office across the country, rolled out 17 new endorsements for the 2019 election cycle — and five of those include candidates running in Pennsylvania.

The latest list of endorsees emphasizes individuals running in less-flashy local government races in parts of the country where LGBTQ representation is critically low, including Virginia, Mississippi, Indianapolis and central Pennsylvania.

Eugene Brown, an openly gay resident of the Brewerytown section, calls anti-LGBT bullying a “national crisis” that needs urgent attention. Brown, 30, said he was targeted for bullying numerous times as a student at Olney High School and contemplated suicide on multiple occasions.

Another Philadelphia Black Pride weekend is in the books, and according to PBP President Le Thomas, it was a big hit, attracting nearly 5,000 attendees from Philly and along the East Coast at a host of nightlife and community events held around the city.

“The weekend was a success because it was truly community-driven and people were getting to know each other through networking,” Thomas said. “That’s always the most exciting thing to see during Black Pride, the new friendships that form during the week — and seeing people who don’t go out a lot catch up with old friends.”

Eastern State Penitentiary, one of Philadelphia’s most iconic, is incorporating some newly uncovered history about LGBTQ prisoners into its multimedia exhibition.

Annie Anderson, Eastern State’s manager of research and public programming, spearheaded this addition during her efforts to catalog and digitize documents from the prison’s history. 

“Any time I come across a journal documenting someone who might have identified as LGBTQ, I save that record in a file I’ve been creating to capture the stories of people who were sentenced for their sexuality,” she said. “It’s a little bit tricky using historical records because a gay identity didn’t necessarily exist before the 1900s.”

Anderson had to look for records of cases that included sodomy in order to locate LGBTQ prisoners.

“Digging a little bit deeper into a person’s court records,” she explained, “we’ve been able to uncover records for people who had been in prison for their sexuality or participated in same-sex activity.”

It has been a personal side project for Anderson to collect this data, and she has found at least 484 people that were imprisoned at Eastern State for sodomy — which she defines as “the nebulous term that criminalizes certain sex acts and has been used to criminalize same-sex activity throughout history.”

Anderson said the stories of LGBTQ people incarcerated at Eastern State would now become a permanent addition to the audio-visual programming available to visitors of the historic landmark. 

“We just created a new audio stop about LGBTQ history at the penitentiary to explore some of these stories,” she said, adding that they installed a small interpretive sign to go with the stop.  “A couple years ago, we noticed there was very little interpretation about LGBTQ history at the penitentiary. So we wanted to add this new interpretation to flesh out these stories more and acknowledge that queer people have been criminalized and incarcerated throughout history.”

Anderson said the Eastern State staff feels it can testify to this story, as the institution has held many LGBTQ prisoners in its 142-year history. 

One queer prisoner’s history particularly caught Anderson’s attention. This person’s name was Isaac Hall, and his story is now on the audio stop.

“He was charged $100 and sentenced to eight years of solitary confinement for what records indicate was a consensual sex act with a male partner,” she said. “But next to every court document and prison record for Isaac Hall was the alias Lady Washington. The warden at the time wrote that Hall was known, in the locality that he resided, as Lady Washington. The specifics of Hall’s identity might be lost to us forever since this person lived 140 years ago, but it’s interesting to navigate Hall’s records, because it seems that if Hall were alive today, he might have identified as trans. And that’s one of the earliest documents I’ve ever seen of a trans or genderqueer person being incarcerated at the penitentiary, and that is the early 1880s.”   

Anderson said she hopes this addition to Eastern State’s tour programming will give visitors a clearer picture of how far laws and policies regarding sexuality have come in the last century. 

“I’d like to get visitors thinking about how identity has been policed and punished throughout time,” she said. “Laws have really shifted. In most places, the Supreme Court struck down the Texas sodomy law [Lawrence v. Texas in 2003], and that made most state sodomy laws illegal.”

She said she wants visitors to think about the way law changes and how, at different points in history, it impacts groups of people.

“What was once criminalized is no longer criminalized and people that were criminalized are no longer criminalized,” she said. “I wanted to get into those changes and expand the narrative of Eastern State’s interpretation to include LGBTQ folks.” n

 

For more information on Eastern State Penitentiary, 2027 Fairmount Ave., visit www.easternstate.org. 

In an unprecedented action, two Swarthmore College fraternities have announced they are disbanding in response to campus protests by women’s, LGBTQ and other student groups.

The action comes after documents from Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon were leaked to the campus newspaper, the Swarthmore Phoenix, and other media.

 

Freda Anderson created the first Queer-Straight alliance at the U School, a North Philadelphia high school where she teaches a community-organizing class.

On May 11, she will be one of 12 educators to receive the Teacher as Hero Award presented by the National Liberty Museum.

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