Savannah and the Spirit of Stonewall in 1969

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THE YEAR 1969 was when the straight brother of my high school girlfriend introduced me to the two gay men who would change my life forever. Savannah, like New York, had its own gay counter-culture that gathered in a Stonewall-like club known as the Basement, which was located in the basement of the neglected Armory Building that later became the home of the Savannah College of Art and Design. The entrance, like a stairway descent into Caliban’s den, still exists on the corner of Bull and Gordon Streets.

In 1969, Savannah was arguably more tolerant of gays than New York. In any event, there were no bar raids like the famous one at Stonewall. Perhaps gays kept a lower profile, slipping into the basement bar and dancing the night away undisturbed. For young gays like myself, it was a daring adventure and an act of bravery to go down those steps. Once a year, around St. Patrick’s Day, when Savannah has its own Irish form of Mardi Gras, the Basement held what was known as the Sara Awards, the biggest gay event of the year. The bar gave out awards of all kinds to people who contributed to the community, as well as awards of infamy. The evening was a drag extravaganza and most of Savannah knew about it and loved it.

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