June 24 virtual panel discussion looks at the history of central Pa.’s LGBTQ community

By Frank Pizzoli

A new book that chronicles the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities in central Pennsylvania will debut in June. ​Out in Central Pennsylvania: The History of an LGBTQ Community, by William Burton with Barry Loveland, is being published by Penn State University Press.  

A virtual book launch event will be held at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg on June 24 at 7 p.m. The event is being co-hosted by the LGBT Center of Central PA, and Penn State University Press. This special event will include a discussion with the authors, moderated by Frank Pizzoli, editor of ​The Central Voice, as well as readings from some passages from the book.

IF YOU GO:

  • WHAT: Virtual Panel Discussion, Out in Central Pennsylvania: The History of an LGBTQ Community.
  • WHEN: June 24, 7 p.m., hosted by the Midtown Scholar Bookstore, the LGBT Center of Central Pa., and Penn State University Press. 
  • TO REGISTER: Visit this link. 
  • ABOUT THE LGBT HISTORY PROJECT: The LGBT Center of Central PA History Project engages people in discovering, documenting, collecting, preserving and presenting the history of the LGBTQ+ community in central Pennsylvania through oral history and material culture. Started in 2012, the collection is housed at the Dickinson College Archives in Carlisle. 

Outside of major metropolitan areas, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights has had its own unique and rich history – one that is quite different from the national narrative set in New York and California. ​

Out in Central Pennsylvania ​highlights one facet of this lesser-known but equally important story, immersing readers in the LGBTQ+ community building and social networking that has taken place in the small cities and towns in the heart of Pennsylvania from the 1960s to the present day. Drawing from oral histories and the archives of the LGBT Center of Central PA History Project, this book recounts the innovative ways that LGBTQ+ central Pennsylvanians organized to demand civil rights and to improve our quality of life in a region that often rejected us. 

The book explores the early years of gay life in central Pennsylvania in the 1950’s and 1960’s with the appearance of the first gay and mixed gay/straight bars. It discusses the development of the first gay and lesbian organizations and first activists and leaders in several small cities in Pennsylvania, and the beginning of campus organizing at Penn State University.

It chronicles groundbreaking efforts by former Gov. Milton Shapp to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for state employees and in the policies and programs of all state agencies.

It is through this effort that many of the early leaders and activists came together to form the PA Rural Gay Caucus, which led to the first gay lobby days, the first statewide gay conferences and the first gay protest marches in the state outside of Philadelphia.

The book covers the local response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, the work for passing local non-discrimination ordinances, the lesbian movement, the rise of Pride celebrations, providing safe space for LGBTQ+ youth, the transgender movement, election of local LGBTQ+ politicians, the development of the LGBT Center and many other topics. 

The narrative includes profiles of some of the leaders and heroes of the local movement with much of the content in their own words based on their oral history interviews. The text is supported by 86 historical photos and other images of historical documents and artifacts. 

The book includes a foreword by Dr. Brent D. Glass, former director of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Previous to that position, he served as executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 

Pre-orders of author-signed copies of the book will be available starting June 1, with partial proceeds benefiting the LGBT Center of Central PA History Project. Copies may be ordered through June 21 here.

Pre-ordered copies will be available for curbside pick-up at the LGBT Center, 1306 N. Third Street in Harrisburg, on Saturday, June 27 from 1-5 p.m.. Un-signed copies of the book will also be available from the Midtown Scholar Bookstore after that date. 

Frank Pizzoli is editor of the Central Voice, the LGBTQ newspaper of record for central Pennsylvania, and a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital Star, where this story first appeared