This purpose of this project is to commemorate and honor lost womyn's space--both ancient and modern. This can mean anything from lost women's colleges and schools, to lesbian bars and clubs. And everything sacred and profane in between.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Location: 47th Street just west of Rainbow Boulevard, Kansas City, Kansas, USA
Evelyn "Evie" Akers was instrumental in setting up Kansas City gay and lesbian bowling and sports leagues back in the 1970s and 80s. She was also an informal historian, collecting all kinds of ephemera related to Kansas City gay and lesbian history for her scrapbook--now in the collections of the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA). This June 2010 article from Pitch tells Akers' story--and also introduces us to Pete's Pub, an early lesbian bar in Kansas City, Kansas.
Evelyn Akers wasn't an activist. She never considered herself an actor in local history. The first sentence of her scrapbook admits: "History, to me, was never very interesting."
Now 75, she came out in the late 1950s. "When I first started out in this life, it was more or less underground," she says. "You didn't want people at work to know you were, and I didn't talk to my family about it. It was more underground because, you know, there were gay bashings." She struggles to suppress a giggle. "But it was still fun."
Her memories, packed into a thick binder, were another early donation to GLAMA. The cover is decorated with stickers of baseball bats and volleyballs. More than 100 pages brim with photographs of drag queens parading through bowling alleys and athletes drinking beer on the field.
On the cover page of Akers' scrapbook is a card from Pete's Pub, an early lesbian bar that was later renamed Birds of a Feather. "Probably most of you that look at this book have never heard of Willine 'Pete' Munhollon," Akers writes. "It wasn't easy to have a bar in a residential neighborhood, especially in Kansas. It had to be operated as a private club with membership cards and someone on the door. My friends and I always felt safe at Pete's — not that she wouldn't call you down if you did something she didn't like."
In 1974, Munhollon rolled out the idea of a gay bowling league. To protect the players, the name was vague: Pete's Mr. and Ms. League. Full names never appeared on the weekly league sheet. Akers was still wary. "When I heard Pete was starting a 'gay' bowling league at first I was excited," she writes. "Then my second thought was, 'What if someone sees me?' I went to the bars but shied away from being openly gay in public. But I considered joining and it was one of the best things I have ever done."
Within three years, the league went from 16 to 30 teams. Akers became its president. With 120 people packing the bowling alley, the league could close the doors to outsiders. "And things got wild," Akers says.
"Mission Bowl didn't have a liquor license, so David Dickerson, owner of the Tent [bar], brought in a suitcase filled with bottles of vodka, bourbon, scotch, etc., so all you needed was a set-up from the snack bar," she writes. "Ron Thomas would wander through the bowlers, offering a sip of his drink he called 'shoe polish.' Only the brave or the drunk took him up on it."
Kansas City wasn't the only town with a gay league. In 1981, players in Pete's league traveled to Houston, Texas, for a national tournament. The gathering led to the establishment of the International Gay Bowling Organization. At the founding meeting, Akers served as Kansas City's representative. She was also the only woman. "They were telling me how great we were in Kansas City," she says. "Women and men did their own thing back then. They didn't really mix. Everyone was really amazed that we got along so well."
That led Akers to spearhead a second mixed-gender endeavor: The Kansas City Co-Ed Sports Association. The gay sports league was established over drinks on the upper floor of the Tent bar in 1982. But Akers, as president, kept things organized. To gauge interest in different sports, she created a questionnaire, which was distributed in bars and churches that were popular in the gay community. "In the wintertime, it was bowling and shuffleboard on Friday," she says. "Then we went into the summer months, and we'd go to the park and do horseshoes. We always had something going on, something that was fun. We didn't have to be in the bars, though we usually ended up there."
She laughs. "Oh, if I had all the money I spent on booze, I'd be rich."
The coed sports association lasted less than a decade, Akers says, but gay sports leagues proliferated. In 2006, the International Gay Bowling Organization held its national tournament in Kansas City. The leaders of the group honored Akers for her leadership in the early years.
"I felt like a pioneer," she says. "I just felt happy in those days. I was just ... busy."