Compiled by Joyce Bolinger from multiple sources (sources available upon request). Most of the historical Wingspan photos are from “Wingspan Archive of Ken Godat” with his permission. Featured image (above) shows the logo for Wingspan’s Diversity in the Desert, Tucson’s 4th Annual Lesbian and Gay Film Festival Oct 22-25, 1998.
We look back at Tucson’s rich history of key moments in our community to remember when and how we got to where we are today. While we still need to fight for our rights, we also need to respect those who struggled in the past to install the foundations for the freedoms and resources we experience now.
If you remember key milestones in Tucson’s LGBTQI+ history and want to share your memories, we welcome you to email us!
Bars were social spaces and information hubs for the LGBTQI+ community: The lesbian bars were Zodiac, Colette’s, and Ruby’s. Gay men’s bars included The Graduate, Stonewall Tavern, Mr. Jim’s, and the Black Door bar at the McArthur Hotel, which was also the site of an adult bookstore notorious as a cruise area for sex hook-ups.
Casa Nuestra was a private lesbian club in an old mansion on Dodge Boulevard. Sue Sturtz, former owner of Antigone Books, looks back on it as “a great place where women went to hang out, dance, lift weights, swim, or shoot pool.” Casa Nuestra closed in 1982.
Lesbian-feminists joined others to establish Rape Crisis Center, Tucson Women’s Commission, and the Domestic Violence Shelter. Ann Yellott was a key leader in establishing these. Other initiatives were the Young Women’s and Women’s Company (which taught trade skills), and Southwest Feminist Media Collective. Lesbians formed an astrology group (Minerva) and other support groups.
First Women’s Center on Sixth St and Park: Another success by local lesbian-feminists, it was open to all women, included a lesbian coffee house, drop-in center, and residence.
Gay and lesbian youth support group started by gay and lesbian adults.
The Unitarian-Universalist Church of Tucson on 22nd welcomed lesbians and gays for dances and other gatherings.
First Openly Gay Bar in Tucson: The Graduate opened in January at 23 W. University Ave., serving only beer until its liquor license was approved in November.
MCC Church held first Tucson services: The first Metropolitan Community Church worship service in Tucson was held on December1970. The church met in various locations, including the Tucson Women’s Club, the Unitarian Church and the Pima Friends Meeting House before renting a facility on S. Stone Ave. and another on S. 10th St. In 1991, the congregation bought its current site at 3269 N. Mountain Ave.
Antigone Books opened in 1973: The original owners were Pat Kelly, Barbara Atwood, and Jonnie Cunningham, who pooled $1,500 to open what was then one of the country’s first feminist bookstores (Jane Kay, Arizona Daily Star). Forty seven years later, it continues to operate as a cultural magnet in Tucson.
Women-only land: Nourishing Space, founded by lesbian feminists, was 165 acres in Vail and existed from 1975-1978. Adobeland opened as a lesbian residence and campground.
Gay Community Services Center on Seventh Ave. established to handle crisis calls about health and other concerns.
Murder of Richard Heakin Jr.: The heinous June 6, 1976 beating and murder by 13 teenage boys of Richard Heakin, Jr., a 21-year-old gay man visiting from Nebraska, as he left the Stonewall Tavern shocked and galvanized the local LGBTQI+ community to stand up for their rights.
Only four of the 13 teenagers, all high school athletes, faced trial for the crime, and they were convicted only of involuntary manslaughter (equivalent to the charge for killing someone in a vehicle accident), on top of which they received probation rather than jail time, and the judge sealed their records as juveniles. By all accounts, this incident was pivotal in bringing about changes that are foundations for Tucson’s LGBTQI+ community today. Many of the actions listed below were direct reactions to Heakin’s murder and the lack of serious consequences for his murderers.
Tucson Gay Coalition (TGC), Arizona’s first LGBT political organization, was launched. The activist group polled political candidates about their stands on LGBT issues and tagged Pima County Public Library books that were “offensive” to gays and lesbians. Among other things, the TGC was highly vocal in the condemnation of Judge Ben C. Birdsall, who presided over the trial of the teens who killed Richard Heakin Jr. The TGC was involved in promoting and passing the Tucson Anti-Discrimination Ordinance and organized Tucson’s first Pride celebration.
Tucson’s first pride event TGC organized the “Tucson Gay Pride & Richard J. Heakin, Jr, Memorial Picnic” in June at Himmel Park.
Tucson Anti-Discrimination Ordinance: Tucson becomes one of the first U.S. cities to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance to protect gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Transgender protections were added years later.
Tucson Observer: Bob Ellis launched the Tucson Gay Newsletter, which later became the Tucson Observer. (The Observer is now on Facebook under the auspices of the Colby Olsen Foundation.)
Tucson Pride was founded, making it Arizona’s longest established LGBTQ Organization. Each year, Tucson Pride hosts the Annual Pride in the Desert festivities, including a well-attended Pride Parade and the Pride in the Park Festival.
Anita Bryant Protest: A large contingent of LGBT people protested against the Tucson Convention Center appearance of entertainer and anti-gay activist, Anita Bryant who proclaimed that homosexuals were an “abomination” in her Save Our Children campaign to overturn Dade County, Florida’s anti-discrimination protections for sexual minorities. An anti-gay mob threatened the protesters and tossed items at them.
Radical Faeries movement, founded in California by pioneering gay activist Harry Hay, brought its first “Spiritual Conference for Radical Fairies” to southern Arizona near Tucson in September
Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness (The Biz), Venture-N, and IBT’s bars open. Stables Private Men’s Club Baths and The Office private men’s social club do not survive the AIDS crisis.
Tucson AIDS Project: When the AIDS epidemic struck, Craig Snow organized meetings to brainstorm how to help a panicked and dying community — and explain its plight to the public. That effort produced the Tucson AIDS Project (TAP), which provided vital services to those fighting the disease for 12 years under Snow’s direction.
Shanti: TAP was followed shortly by the Shanti Foundation.
Cornerstone Fellowship Established: Founded as LGBTQ-led and inclusive ministry, welcoming to all, Cornerstone Fellowship Hall hosts many community events. Its Current Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall is on 2902 Geronimo Ave.
PACT for Life: A group of people living with HIV/AIDS incorporated their grassroots advocacy efforts into People with AIDS Coalition of Tucson, PACT for Life. TAP, Shanti and PACT worked in concert to create an array of services for people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS, meeting basic needs as well as more sophisticated ones, while also providing information and skill-building programs to help prevent further infection.
GLBT Hotline started by gay and lesbian youth support group; became AIDS crisis hotline
Prime Timers founded for men.
Call for HIV/AIDS Quarantine: Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham called for a quarantine of all people with HIV/AIDS. Tucson ACT UP protested Mecham’s appearance at a local restaurant on Cushing St.
Tucson’s First AIDS Walk held in October as a “Walk for Life” candlelight procession up “A” Mountain.
Wingspan organizational meeting: Wayne Blankenship and others met in February to found LGB Community Center. Wayne suggested the name “Wingspan.” The center was housed in a room at the Women’s Commission.
Desert Voices founded as Tucson’s gay and lesbian chorus. The chorus now includes LGBTQI+ straight allies among its singers. Desert Voices performed extensively in Tucson and nationally since.
Tucson LGBT Chamber of Commerce opened and is still going strong.
Tucson Gay Rodeo Association founded.
Wingspan reorganized: After community meetings in 1991, Ken Godat, Wingspan’s board president, and others restructured the organization and raised funds to move the LGBT center to a storefront on 4th Avenue with a visible pink triangle in the window. Dave Eyde sells homemade brownies every Saturday during downtown events to raise funds for the new center. Wingspan sponsored readings, art exhibits, theatrical events, dances in a downtown parking lot, an LGBT film festival, a library, and support groups.
Bears of the Old Pueblo (BOTOP) organized by a group of “horny, lonely and fat” men on the patio of Venture-N and held its “infamous” Spaghetti Dinner of 1992. Since 1996, BOTOP has hosted 300 visiting bears from around the country each January at its Fiesta de Los Osos.
Police Chief Peter Ronstadt resigned in May under shadow of controversy for refusing to make arrest records available to the press to prove the legitimacy of a two-year campaign of entrapment and sex-crime arrests of 300 gay men in city parks – one charged with attempted murder because he had AIDS.
Domestic Violence Project: Lavina Tomer (now Senior Pride’s volunteer executive director), founded the Domestic Violence (DV) Project to serve LGBT survivors of domestic violence. The DV Project came under the fiscal agent auspices of Wingspan in 1995 and moved its office into Wingspan in May 1997.
Committee on Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual Studies at the University of Arizona formed: The Committee was formally reestablished as the UA Institute for LGBT Studies in October 2007.
Lesbian Looks: UA faculty members Janet Jakobsen and Beverly Seckinger co-founded Lesbian Looks, the first public program presented by the Committee on LGB Studies. LL recently presented its 26th annual season of independent films.
TIHAN: Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network started when representatives from local faith communities came together to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV and increase the level of support for Southern Arizonans living with HIV/AIDS. Founder Scott Blades opened TIHAN’s first office at St Francis in Foothills United Methodist Church.
Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness (The Biz) bar opened by Robin Muller and Lisa Oberstar, catered to lesbians but welcomed gays. Closed 2011.
Men’s Social Network held its first potluck in March at Cornerstone Fellowship Church’s social hall. Organized by Ray Evans, Gerald (Jerry) Curl and Les Elliot an alternative to bars for gay men over 50 to socialize, the organization recently celebrated its 25th anniversary
Reveille Men’s Chorus organized as a spin-off of Desert Voices with founding artistic director James Gall at the helm.
Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation: PACT, Shanti, and TAP merged under the name, Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF), creating one of the largest nonprofit consolidations in Pima County history. SAAF continued the traditions of PACT, Shanti, and TAP, providing direct services for those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS along with HIV prevention and general wellness programs.
LGBTQ+ Services Committee formed at Pima County Public Library. They provide library resources, sponsor nationally known speakers, host a book club, and offer Rainbow children’s events.
First Wingspan Dinner and Awards.
“Pink book” resource guide published by DV Project: “Abuse and Violence in Same-Gender Relationships.” The first resource guide was published by DV Project in 1995.
SAGA: Southern Arizona Gender Alliance organized at Wingspan by a group including Kevin Maxey.
Tucson Commission on Gay, Lesbian & Transgender Issues. Originating as a Mayoral task force in response to the killing of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, the task force evolved into a Commission of its own in 1999.
The Graduate Bar closed in June, ending its almost 29-year run as Tucson’s first and oldest continuously operated gay bar. The owners auctioned off bar memorabilia for its closing act before the building was demolished to make way for an apartment complex for university students.
LGBTQ+ Alliance Fund: Community Foundation of Southern Arizona convened a group of Tucson-area LGBTQ activists and allies and formed the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight Alliance Fund. It is now the LGBTQ+ Alliance Fund.
Arizona Repealed Sodomy Laws: HB 2016 repealed Arizona laws that banned cohabitation, oral sex, and sodomy, thereby depriving police of one of the charges used in anti-gay sting operations common from the 1960s through the 1990. In an unusual twist in gay rights history, HB 2016 was introduced by a gay Republican and Mormon, Rep. Steve May of Phoenix. May’s gay rights activities in the Arizona legislature caught the attention of the U.S. Army when he was call up for duty as a reserve officer during his legislative term. The Army asked May to resign due to violation of the military’s infamous Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. May refused, fought the Army and won, receiving an honorable discharge at the scheduled end of his service in May 2001, the same month HB 2016 was signed into law by Gov. Jane Hull. May lost his bid for reelection in 2002.
Wingspan’s First Executive Director: Wingspan board president Steve Hall restructured Wingspan, expanded the Wingspan Dinner, and raised enough funds to hire Kent Burbank as the center’s first executive director.
Under Burbank’s direction, Wingspan evolved to include the Eon Youth Lounge, the DV Project with its 24-hour hotline, SAGA, Rainbow Families, Senior Pride, LGBTQ library, Community Education, and pivotal leadership on community issues.
DV Project merged into Wingspan.
Youth project became Queer Voice, a collaboration among Wingspan, the (SAAF), and Pima County Health Dept. Queer Voice was renamed Eon by youth participants in 2003.
Alexander John Goodrum suicide: The Tucson transgender community lost one of its most visible and outspoken leaders to suicide. Alexander John Goodrum was founder and director of TGNet Arizona, a Tucson-based transgender advocacy organization.
Richard Heakin, Jr. Memorial: A memorial to the man whose murder sparked LGBTQI+ activism in Tucson was dedicated at Sunset Park, 255 W. Alameda St. in front of City Hall.
Murder of Philip Walsted: Philip Walsted, 24 years-of-age, was brutally beaten with a baseball bat and killed by a self-proclaimed white separatist and Nazi sympathizer in a pitch-dark side street off Fourth Ave. as he was walking home from IBT’s. Initially, police declined to classify the murder as a hate crime. Wingspan led protests and cited evidence that Walsted was attacked because he was gay. Months later, the Tucson Police Department re-classified the case as a hate crime and reported it to the FBI. A memorial is in Catalina Park on Fourth Ave.
Wingspan Anti-Violence Project: Wingspan DV Project renamed Anti-Violence Project, which continues operations today as part of SAAF.
Domestic Partnership Ordinance: Tucson’s City Council enacted the first domestic partnership registry law in Arizona. In 2013, the ordinance was renamed the Tucson Civil Union Ordinance.
Senior Pride: Wingspan Senior Pride was founded as a program of Wingspan community center.
University of Arizona Women’s Plaza of Honor was dedicated. Wingspan activists Lavina Tomer and Dr Jean Baker were among the honorees memorialized on the plaza of arches adjacent to Centennial Hall.
Jewish Pride: Jewish Inclusion was founded and was later renamed Jewish Pride. The organization ensures that the Jewish Film Festival includes an entry highlighting an LGBTQI+ issue or story each year.
Tucson chapter of PFLAG founded. Parents, Families, Friends and Allies United with LGBTQ People to Move Equality Forward.
Arizona Queer Archives was incorporated into the University of Arizona Institute of LGBTQ Studies. Jamie Lee was appointed director.
Wingspan 25th Anniversary: Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild hosted a reception at his home celebrating the 25th anniversary of Wingspan and proclaimed Wingspan Day.
S.B. 1062 Opposed: LGBT Tucson rallied against passage of S.B. 1062, which would have permitted businesses to discriminate against LGBT people based on “religious freedom.” Wingspan and others led protests the bill. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer ultimately vetoed the bill.
Wingspan closed: SAAF took over several Wingspan initiatives, including the Eon Youth Lounge & Anti-Violence Programs. SAAF continued Wingspan awards as part of its annual “Out Brunch.” SAAF changed its mission: “to cultivate a healthy and stigma-free society through transformative action.”
Volunteers stepped up to continue Wingspan’s program serving LGBTQI+ older adults, organizing Southern Arizona Senior Pride. Curt Stubbs initiated Words of Wisdom: Poetry by LGBT Elders.
SAGA was incorporated as an independent 501(c)(3).
Thornhill-Lopez Center on Fourth opens under SAAF to serve LGBTQI+ and questioning youth.
Tucsonan wins Social Security survivor benefits for same-sex couples: In a case with national significance, Lambda Legal won a federal ruling that Tucsonan Michael Ely is entitled to legal survivor Social Security benefits. Ely’s 43-year partner, James A Taylor, died before their marriage was within the required nine-month duration. The federal magistrate ruled that Ely was precluded from marrying Taylor until 2014’s national legalization of same-sex marriage and was entitled to survivor’s benefits. Further, the federal magistrate voided policies of the Social Security Administration that deny benefits to survivors of some LGBTQI+ marriages.