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This article first appeared in the 4th Annual Mansfield Pride Festival Guide Magazine, Mansfield & Pride.

Co-written by Kindra Austin and Logan Ward

In the Beginning

Societal attitudes towards homosexuality have varied substantially over time and location; homosexuality is as old as humankind. Same sex relations in China have been recorded since 600 BCE. Homosexuality in Japan has been documented for more than a thousand years. Thailand has a history of kings who had both male and female lovers. Prior to European colonization, several Native American nations had esteemed roles for “Two-Spirit” individuals.

Throughout the Medieval period, homosexuality was largely condemned, calling up the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Roman Catholic Inquisitions in France in 1184, using torture to gain confessions, and punishing homosexuality by death. The Inquisitions spanned the globe.

In the twentieth century, the English-speaking world finally began to repeal sodomy laws, giving birth to the Gays Rights Movement in the United States.

1924

Henry Gerber was an immigrant from Germany, and a Word War I Army enlistee. He moved to Chicago to live near other German-speaking immigrants. Seeing how people of different sexual orientations were treated, Gerber founded The Society for Human Rights, the earliest known gay rights organization in the United States. Sadly, the organization was disbanded in 1925 due to public upset, and a series of arrests.

 

1948 and 1953

Alfred Kinsey was a zoologist at Indiana University during the 1920’s. In 1938, he began researching human sexuality. Kinsey and his team interviewed thousands of men and women; their findings were published in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948), and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). These publications divulged that homosexuality was far more widespread than the public believed.

 

1951

Harry Hay Founder of the Mattachine Society

Harry Hay, considered to be the founder of the Gay Rights Movement, formed The Mattachine Society, the first national gay rights organization.

 

 

 

1955 and 1956

The Ladder was the first nationally distributed lesbian publication in the United States

The first lesbian rights organization in the United States, called the Daughters of Bilitis, was established in San Francisco in 1955. In 1956, they went national.

 

1962

Illinois became the first state to decriminalize homosexual acts between consenting adults in private. Elsewhere, scandals surrounding gay males were consuming communities.

 

 

 

The Central Park Underground Restrooms: Mansfield

Central Park, 1962
Tearoom
courtesy William Jones

In the summer of 1962, Jerrell Howell was arrested for the gruesome murders of two young girls from Mansfield. While being questioned by police, Howell indicated that he had participated in homosexual acts in the Central Park men’s room. His interview caused local law enforcement to draw a correlation between the murders and homosexuals, which sparked what would become a five-month long investigation into the goings on in the Central Park restrooms. Police officers spent most of that time gathering video footage and following men to gather identifying evidence.

As a result, 70 people were arrested, and nearly all of them spent time in the Ohio State Penitentiary for sodomy. Local newspapers printed detailed information of several men involved, including their names and addresses. The subjects of the sting were varied: black, white, married men – some with children at home, upper-middle class, and felons, all mingling together.

In the fallout of the arrests, the Central Park restrooms were buried with dirt and a gazebo now stands over the site. Sodomy laws in Ohio changed and most of the men were released after one year in the penitentiary. Some of the men left town, their marriage, livelihood, or reputation ruined. Footage captured during the investigation was used to make an instructional video, Sex Deviates, to train police officers against a “growth of homosexual cults.” In July of 2015, more than 53 years after the arrests, Mansfield celebrated its first Gay Pride Parade.

 

Mansfield Pride Today

4th Annual Mansfield Pride Festival Central Park, Mansfield, OH 2018 Photo courtesy of Sam Ramirez

This year celebrates the Fourth Annual Mansfield Gay Pride Festival, which will be held in Central Park. The city’s Gay Pride Association makes it part of their mission to educate the public about issues affecting the LGBTQ community and is delighted to hold a celebration of pride in a place that once represented disgrace and indignity for the gay community. Each year the festival continues to grow and serves to enrich the general public by creating an atmosphere of acceptance.

Mansfield’s first pride festival was held in 2015, the year that also celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage in the United States. The festival is an ongoing reminder of the progress that has been made in the recent years as well as the advancements yet to come. Mansfield’s gay pride festival represents the creation of change and LGBTQ support within the community by providing scholarships and being an educational resource for the general public on issues affecting the gay community. While celebrating pride this year, take time to remember how far we’ve come as a community – and that now we celebrate pride in a place that was for so long a symbol of gay persecution. Happy pride!