By Jason Wilson
September 10, 2016: A little personal history. I first encountered the Cenral West End (CWE) in 1968, I was a totally suburban Junior in high school, a real "county kid" I knew of the CWE, then known more by the name "Euclid" as that was where all the action was, at least when taken shopping as a small child by my grandparents who lived in Clayton. However, this was on my own. I knew who and what I was. and was seeking out others. With a high school friend who was much more "out' at the time, we explored the possibilities and came across such social gathering spots as "The Cannon" in Forest Park. We were just another two skinny suburban teens. Nothing special, but we were instantly accepted.
If was a good feeling. Now this is important. we were not running from any hate, or abuse, we had many friends in school and around home...Some of whom knew we were gay....Or queer, as was used more freely by the straight world, then. We wanted more, we wanted to know there were others like us. The CWE showed us there were. Still had to be covert about a lot of things when in the public. Most folks just thought us just a couple more hippies, into drugs and free love... well, yeah. but the free love we had in mind would have had them clutching their pearls. We had gotten high out in our western county suburban world, but to be able to actively cruise, even with the veneer of discreteness necessary at the time, was an awakening. I was interested in older men... not more than a few years older, though, college guys.
My friend seemed a bit more open to any age.....When I was accepted as a student and started attending a university in September of 1969. Yep, I graduated from high school in 69. We had a ball with that number, you bet. I moved to the CWE. The whole urban experience was mind boggling. After graduation in 1973, I moved to a 1930s stone house out on Conway near 141 (Woods Mill) to start my self prescribed suburban adult existence, with a male friend as a roommate. ONLY as a roommate. two years later I was looking with another friend for a place in the city. we found an old Edwardian on Hickory in Lafayette Square and moved into it in the Spring of 1976.
The stories and adventures and my finally being settled with myself all made the years in the Square rather memorable. It was there I went full gentrification. And became a full fledged "guppie" Even the pin striped suit, and an Audi. But still had the below shoulder length hair. (always) screaming guitar out the second story windows.....Some folks actually thought I was straight when they met me....Usually didn't take long to ''ahem"...set them straight. All in all The environment of the "Gayborhood" of both the CWE and "The Square" both helped me a lot....I don't know how young LGBT folks deal today, likely due to social media it is easier to connect and like shopping, they don't need "brick and mortar" formats to meet. I just hope they are aware of what all of us had to do to get our community to where we are today....And like evolution that job will never be complete.
Photo courtesy Jason Wilson.
July 18, 2016: The Project is thrilled to have contributed to the Route 66 exhibit at the Missouri History Museum. Check out the LGBT travel guides on display supplied by the Project. The fact that guides like this were needed for people of color, the Jewish faith, and gays and lesbians tells of discrimination and necessary underground networks. Kudos to Sharon Smith for curating this amazing exhibit! Do you have any travel guides or other LGBT artifacts to donate to the Project? Let us know.