Local author and photographer Frank Muzzy sneaks a peak at his new book, 'Images of America: Gay and Lesbian Washington, D.C.,' which offers snapshots of gay life during the past 200 years. (Photo by
WITH NATIONAL monuments, museums and historical moments dominating life in Washington, D.C., the city’s gay population is sometimes overlooked. But a South Carolina-based publishing house that specializes in documenting key details about cities and towns nationwide is helping change this.
After releasing titles about D.C. neighborhoods including Dupont Circle, Cleveland Park and Capitol Hill, and documenting the history of D.C. Marines, firefighters and baseball, among other topics, South Carolina-based Arcadia Publishing is planning next week to unveil its latest D.C.-themed title: “Gay and Lesbian Washington D.C.”
The 128-page paperback is filled with images of gay D.C., but contains far too many details about individuals believed to be gay without offering any concrete evidence.
Nonetheless, the photos D.C. resident Frank Muzzy collected, from various sources, of people and places sketch an intriguing portrait of gay life in Washington during the past 200 years.
“I felt that I’m 56 years old and that we should be handing down these stories,” Muzzy says. “We’re not the traditional family where grandma hands down the stories. I think we need to collect them ourselves and hand them down to the next generation.”
THE BOOK BEGINS in 1784 with city designer Pierre L’Enfant, who Muzzy says in the book was probably gay. His relationship with German general Baron von Steuben, who trained soldiers at Valley Forge for the Continental Army, is highlighted in the book.
There also are photos of a number of other famous Washingtonians who Muzzy suggests were likely gay. They include President James Buchanan, his live-in companion, William Rufus de Vane King, Abraham Lincoln, J. Edgar Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt.
“In many cases, the word ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ is a late 18th century term, so you can only speculate,” Muzzy says. “What I put in the book is what the speculation is, where it comes from, why we think it’s valid. As in all history, we should read between the lines. That’s where you find the meat of most stories, the things that are left out for social reasons.”
Other contemporary and historical gay figures mentioned in the book include poet Walt Whitman, lawyer Roy Cohn, as well as U.S. Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.).
Muzzy also includes in the book pictures documenting various gay civil rights protests and related actions, including demonstrations from the women’s suffrage movement. Snapshots from Gay Pride events, like Capital Pride and D.C.’s Black Pride, also are included, in addition to pictures from annual celebrations like the Atlantic Stampede, a popular gay rodeo event, and the Mr. D.C. Eagle contest.
In addition, the book devotes a chapter to HIV/AIDS activism, protests and treatment and includes a chapter highlighting different gay neighborhoods.
It also contains details about institutions that longtime residents probably couldn’t imagine life without: Whitman-Walker Clinic, the local AIDS and gay health organization, Results: The Gym, and Lambda Rising bookstore. Some gay places that no longer operate also are included like Nob Hill, LaZambra restaurant and Tracks, a popular gay club.
“I’ve already gotten feedback from people who glanced at my copy and they say ‘I remember this. I remember that,’” Muzzy says. “I want to conjure up memories, hopefully fond memories, that have gotten lost. These are shadows of our lives and this is our history.”
MUZZY BEGAN TEACHING himself about D.C.’s gay history when he moved here from his native West Hollywood, Calif., in 1996. He works as a photo artist and as art manager at Pulp, the gay-owned card company with stores near 14th and R streets, NW, and on Capitol Hill.
Muzzy, who has degrees in psychology and American studies from California State University, Fullerton, says he taught himself about the city’s past so he could educate and entertain houseguests when they visit.
Last year, an editor from Arcadia Publishing, which is based in Charleston, S.C., saw a display about equal marriage rights for same-sex couples at one of the Pulp stores. He suggested that Muzzy submit a proposal for a book on the city’s gay and lesbian life. After conducting more research, Muzzy submitted the proposal and the company accepted it.
“When he did the proposal, that was just the first step,” says Kathryn Korfonta, acquisitions editor at Arcadia, who worked closely with Muzzy on the book. “When he turned in his materials, he did a great job. It was just what we were looking for.
“[Our books] are predominantly photographic and they’re a unique way to show the history of a community,” Korfonta says. “People want to see their history in photographs, and the books are a good way to do that.”
Muzzy says he conducted research at the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, and D.C. libraries to find many of the photos included in the book. For more contemporary information, he borrowed photos from various gay civil rights activists and organizations familiar with D.C.’s gay population.
“It was a networking thing,” Muzzy says. “I would talk to people and they would say, ‘Did you talk to so and so?’”
Two key sources were Mark Meinke, founder of the Rainbow History Project, a group dedicated to preserving the city’s gay history, and Patsy Lynch a longtime resident and photographer who has taken pictures at many events in the city.
“Frank’s book will be a good signpost for people who want to know more about our history from a D.C. sense,” says Meinke, who dreams of writing a comprehensive textual history that offers another picture of gay D.C.
“The real history would be much lengthier and more textually oriented,” he says. “This book is a lot more accessible for people who are interested but who are not historians. It captures the attention.”
Pulp is hosting a launch party for the book on Saturday, May 21,at 7 p.m. It coincides with the unveiling of Muzzy’s latest photography display in the store, “From Flesh to Stone,” which will be on display until July 23. His most recent work involves photos of the city’s homoerotic sculpture.
“It’s like childbirth,” Muzzy says of “Gay and Lesbian Washington, D.C.”
“It takes nine months and then you forget about the pain and you just want to show it off to your friends and you want it to do something on its own,” he says. “I want this book to do something on its own, too.”