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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.

Studies show that being social and cultivating an interpersonal support system leads to a healthier lifestyle. Action Wellness, a Philadelphia-based organization serving the needs of those living with chronic illness and HIV, knows this intimately.

“For over 30 years, a particular ‘human connection’ program, known officially as the ‘Buddy Program’ at Action Wellness, has been mutually successful to those who participate in it,” explained Ronald Hoskins, Director of Volunteers.

A former student at Valley Forge Military Academy and College has filed suit against the prestigious Main Line institution, claiming he was sexually assaulted by other male students in a brutal hazing ritual known as “toothpasting.”

On April 17, attorneys for “John Doe” filed a 24-page lawsuit against the school in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.

A Juniata Park man recently filed suit against Woody’s Bar and Voyeur Nightclub claiming he was served excessive amounts of alcohol at the establishments that caused him to sustain “life-altering” injuries, including a permanent injury to his left ankle.

The patron, Joamir Vazquez-Rios, filed a 16-page complaint on April 17 against the Center City venues, seeking damages in excess of $50,000.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals this week said city officials acted within their legal rights when they stopped referring children to a Catholic foster-care agency that refuses to certify same-sex couples as foster parents.

In March 2018, city officials stopped referring foster-care children to Catholic Social Services after published reports disclosed the agency wouldn’t place children with same-sex couples.

The Gay Liberation Front has been named one of a few grand marshals for World Pride 2019/Stonewall 50 in New York City. The group represents LGBTQ community past, present and future. 

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Rebellion began. Gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, drag queens and trans people refused to be subjected to one more police raid; one more night of lesbians being strip-searched to see if they were wearing three articles of women’s clothing; one more night of gay men being shoved apart with night sticks; one more night of lesbians and trans women being sexually abused; one more night of the worst verbal abuse and as much physical abuse as the police could get away with.

The nation’s newest culture war played out on the grounds of a Philadelphia library last weekend, marking the first such local demonstration over a Drag Queen Story Time. 

A Christian group from Hanover clashed with community members outside the Free Library’s Lovett Memorial Branch in Mount Airy during an April 20 DQST  reading.

The Attic Youth Center has named an acting executive director and launched two investigations following damaging allegations that a minor was sexually assaulted on its premises and that former employees had experienced racial discrimination while working at the LGBTQ youth-serving nonprofit.

Attic board member Shawnese Givens stepped into the acting executive-director role, replacing Carrie Jacobs, who was immediately relieved of her duties when the accusations surfaced in early March.

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