My first Anchorage Pride, 1983 — and (some of) Identity’s early history

Crossposted at Bent Alaska

My first Pride in Anchorage, just short of a year after I first arrived in Alaska, was in June 1983. This was my second Pride march overall — my first had been in Boston in 1981, the summer after I graduated from college. Boston newspapers reported that about 12,000 people marched that year.

Anchorage was a little different. There were just 19 of us trying to fill up the street. And yes, just as several marchers in 1978 had worn paper bags over their heads for fear of losing their jobs because of discrimination, so did one of my friend’s in 1983.

Here’s the photo I sent to Gay Community News (GCN), the nationally circulated Boston gay newspaper I used to read in those days. This is on 6th Avenue under the Penney’s skywalk. The banner had been carried by Alaska participants in the First National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 14, 1979.

1983 Anchorage Pride march

I can’t find a copy of my letter as published, but at some point I transcribed my handwritten draft of it. Relevant excerpts:

Dear GCN:

Enclosed is a photograph of this year’s Lesbian/Gay Pride March in Anchorage, Alaska. There were nineteen of us in this city of about 200,000, so a rough estimate is that for every one of us on the street, there were 1,000 at home in Anchorage (1,000 more in the rest of the state). Despite the small numbers in our march, I am told that this is the march’s 5th consecutive year. I am told that the maximum participation was two years ago, with about 50 people….

[S]omehow a very disparate group of people came to be walking down 6th Avenue behind the Alaska banner that is a veteran of the National March on Washington…..

The last march (and my first march) was in Boston in 1991 when there were 12,000 marchers. This was more frightening — it is like one of the marchers in our parade said in comparing marching in San Francisco with marching here. He said in San Francisco the march is very much a celebration, but coming here reminded him that there are still many places where the issue for us is not yet celebration — but simple survival….

But let me backtrack a little: it so happens that 1982/1983 was a pretty important period for the organization that’s now behind Anchorage’s Alaska Pride celebrations every year — Identity, Inc. Back in August 1982, when I arrived in the state, it wasn’t called Identity: it was called the Alaska Gay and Lesbian Community Center (AGLRC), and this was its building:

Alaska Gay & Lesbian Resource Center, Dec 1982

Alaska Gay & Lesbian Resource Center, Dec 1982You’ll notice the sign at the left has the initials AGCC, for the Center’s original name: Alaska Gay Community Center. The building was located on 837 I Street — not on I Street directly, but just east of it behind a bakery called the Bread Factory. Landlord problems led us to move the AGLRC in December 1982. In fact, I took these photos on our move-out day. I remember taking a lot of photos: the landlord had gotten quite creepy and homophobic, and we wanted to document how spiffily we were cleaning the place up, so he didn’t try to charge us for leaving it a mess.

I say our move-out day because at that time I was secretary on AGLRC’s board of directors. Here’s some of the other board members on move-out day:

Alaska Gay & Lesbian Resource Center, Dec 1982

From left to right, that’s Jay Brause, who at that time was board president — one of the first people I ever knew in Anchorage’s gay & lesbian community. Lounging on the floor is his partner Gene Dugan. The three of us lived roommates back then, living in the house of a terrific straight ally named Sami & her three kids. I don’t think Gene was on the board, but he certainly pitched in to help us move out and clean up. Gene, a theatre professional, was founder of the company we now know as Out North Contemporary Art House, where Jay also worked for many years after a long period as first board president and later executive director of Identity. Longtime community members will also remember Jay and Gene as the gay couple who sued Alaska for the right to marry in 1994, kicking off the so-far unsuccessful fight for marriage equality here. Jay & Gene are married (though their marriage is not recognized by the State of Alaska) & now live in London, England.

Okay, next in line: Fred Hillman, who still lives here in Anchorage and is still active in the fight for LGBT equality; and next to him is Les Baird. Les was a fireman with Anchorage Fire Department. I most remember for his grief and anger over the death a few weeks after this photo was taken of a young man — an AGLRC volunteer, actually, whose name I regrettably don’t remember — who was the first person in Alaska to die of AIDS.

From that old shacky building behind the Bread Factory, we moved into this building on 5th Avenue:

Alaska Gay & Lesbian Resource Center, June 1983

The building no longer exists. It was on the block on 5th Avenue just west of the Egan Convention Center, which was nearing completion at the time this photo was taken in June 1983 on the day of that year’s gay/lesbian pride march. We were in an apartment on the second floor — the two leftmost windows apartment — which consisted of a large squarish room with a large walk-in closet, just large enough to fit a desk for volunteer staff members who staffed the Gay & Lesbian Hotline (later “Helpline”). That little blue car in front of the building belonged to Jay.

At the end of June 1983, the AGLRC closed its physical facility due to our inability to continue paying rent. Shortly thereafter, our board of directors renamed the organization Identity, Inc. — the name it’s held ever since. We take it for granted now, but at the time the name change was hugely controversial within the community. Identity did its work for nearly two decades without a physical office until it opened the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Alaska (GLCCA) on Northern Lights in 2001 (moving to its present location on E. 5th Avenue a few years later).

But just before we moved out, the AGLRC was where we assembled for our 1983 Pride march.

1983 Anchorage Pride march

That’s Michael Day there on the left — he was a good friend of mine in those days. Fred Hillman again, and Dee Cox, at the time my roommate. She used to run the coat check at the Village Lounge & Disco, the gay bar located where the Kodiak Bar & Grill is today. By the time of this photo, my first Anchorage landlady, Sami, had remarried, and I had moved in to become Dee’s roommate. She died in the early 1990s of complications of Type 1 diabetes. The bearded fellow in the blue sweatshirt is David McCartney, who created and produced the radio program “Gay and Lesbian News Review” on KSKA, Anchorage’s public radio station (both Jay & I also worked on the program for awhile). And that’s Jay with his back to us. I’m afraid I’m not sure of the other two people.

Here we are after getting out the banner. You can see the Egan Convention Center in the background, near completion of construction but still surrounded by plywood. That’s me in the middle with the blue sweatshirt & painter’s pants.

1983 Anchorage Pride march

Mel Green in the 1983 Anchorage Pride march Here’s a closer look at what I looked like back then. Younger, more freckly, with longer hair and some really abysmal eyeglass frames. Ugh. And still wearing a sweatshirt from the college I’d graduated from a couple of years previously. (I missed my 30-year class reunion just last weekend: heys there, 1-9-8-1-Wellesley-rah!) This must have near the end of the march, on 9th Avenue by the Park Strip. You can see the Chugach Mountains there in the background.

And back to the photo we began with, marching along 6th Avenue under the Penney’s skywalk:

1983 Anchorage Pride march

We’ll see just a few more of us along 6th Avenue come June 25, don’t you think?

I hope others will share their memories of past Prides, whether in Anchorage or anywhere else. Happy Pride!

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