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Cover Story: Our Back Story

Highlighting Cincinnati's GLBT history

By Eric Hunter · June 7th, 2006 · Cover Story
John Zeh: Gone but not forgotten
Jymi Bolden

John Zeh: Gone but not forgotten

I'm fascinated by the history of the gay and lesbian community not just because I feel connected to it but also because it's largely unrecorded. There is so much to learn by just listening to the stories of the people, places and organizations that opened doors for all of us. Here are just a few of Cincinnati's notable historic gay and lesbian institutions.

The Bar Scene: I don't know about you, but the closer I got to my 30s the less time I spent at the bars. Sure, I enjoy a night out as much as the next guy. But bars didn't play as much of a role in my social life as they did when I first came out. Back then I spent countless hours on the dance floor at The Dock and the Warehouse. When I just wanted to drink, I went to the Pipeline. During my time in the Cincinnati Men's Chorus we used to hit Cincinnati's country and western gay bar, Shooters, after rehearsal for karaoke.

Today the new hotspot is Adonis, the big, new dance bar complete with a pool. But there a number of bars that were catering to our community long before my time that are worth remembering. Downtown was home to Badlands and the Metro. Adam's Rib was a lesbian bar in Clifton, along with a restaurant that gets an honorable mention, GJ's Gaslight on Ludlow, because it was such a gathering spot. And we can't forget Northern Kentucky, where Just Friends and the Riviera Club were big spots and today people still enjoy Rosie's Tavern.

Crazy Ladies Bookstore/Greater Cincinnati Women's Resource Center: When I was in fifth grade and my good friend Sally was in sixth, I used to hear her midwife mother talk about Crazy Ladies Bookstore. I later found my way there through my own work with the Cincinnati Men's Chorus and The Center. Now, despite the best efforts of its board and the community, the only thing left of this Cincinnati lesbian and gay landmark is the building at 4039 Hamilton Ave. It was so much more than a bookstore. It was part community center, part information clearing house and part safe haven. Crazy Ladies opened in Northside decades before the neighborhood became the well-established gay enclave it is today. Though her doors are now closed, her legacy will not be forgotten. (Visit www.gcwrc.org.)

Gay Lesbian March Activists (GLMA): The local community's more activist roots grew out of this group and the local ACT UP chapter that was closely associated with the GLMA. Carol Lippmann, a former GLMA member, says the organization started after the 1987 March on Washington and played a role in the city's fight to include sexual orientation language in the Human Right Ordinance, a lightning rod issue for so many local organizations even today.

"It's so weird that this fight is still going on today," says attorney Scott Knox. "It appalls me."

Sadly after the "No on 3" campaign, the group lost energy and disbanded, Lippmann says.

Gay Media Gone But Not Forgotten: Today Cincinnati's GLBT media includes one newspaper, The Greater Cincinnati GLBT News, and two longtime radio shows, Alternating Currents and Everywoman. Though the city has never claimed a glut of gay and lesbian media, over the years the city has seen its share of gay and lesbian media outlets come and go.

In the late '70s and early '80s, long before the Internet and blogging software democratized publishing, the Cincinnati lesbian community stayed connected through a newsletter called Dinah. According to Phebe Beiser of the Ohio Lesbian Archives, who was involved in producing the publication for many years, Wendy Winkler started Dinah as the newsletter for the long defunct Lesbian Activist Bureau (LAB). Even though LAB stopped operating, the newsletter continued to keep lesbians connected and informed for more than 10 years. In the early '80s recently deceased local activist John Zeh was on the air with the radio show Gaydreams, which would later become Alternating Currents.

The late '90s saw two small newspapers, GayBeat and Nouveau, competing to be the top dog covering the local gay and lesbian scene. GayBeat was the first on the scene but a member of the staff left to start Nouveau. Sadly, neither of the papers survived the transition.

Many members of the community also still remember Gay Cable Network and Out Front TV, two cable access shows that are no longer in production.

John Zeh: In all my years in Cincinnati, I never had the occasion to meet or work with John Zeh. But there is no doubt that there are plenty of people in the local community who knew him well and acknowledge the work he did for both the GLBT and homeless causes. He created the Rainbow News Service and Rainbow Talk, an Internet bulletin board for GLBT issues and an Internet forum for public discussion. His writing appeared in Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and The Advocate. He also reported for National Public Radio's All Things Considered. At the same time, his life was plagued by struggle. Whether he was battling his way back from a debilitating accident in which he was run over by a bus, engaged in a First Amendment battle with Simon Leis Jr. in the early 1980s or later facing a prison term as a sex offender, he dealt with adversity head on and never lost his activist spirit.




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