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STONEWALL 50 YEARS: A look back




June 28 and 29, 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, when LGBT bar patrons clashed for days with New York City police. The riots served as a symbolic catalyst, helping to spark the modern gay rights movement in the United States. Decades later, the Stonewall name remains synonymous with LGBT activism and empowerment.

Though the famed Pride Festival is Columbus hallmark mainstream LGBT event, other important pieces of LGBT activism and history also line its streets. The progress made since the early years after the Stonewall riots was neither accidental nor inevitable, recalls Douglas Whaley, Professor Emeritus at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, and an early Board member of Stonewall Columbus, founded in 1981.

Photos courtesy of Ohio History Connection

Whaley moved from Indianapolis to Columbus in 1976 for two purposes: to come out as a gay man, and to fulfill a visiting faculty position at Moritz. Entering not only a new city, but also a different social environment, was a frightening experience.

“It was a slow-developing thing, but I was terrified,” Whaley recalls. “I was afraid I’d be fired if someone found out. It had only been like 10 years since it had been a crime in Ohio to be gay and there were still statutes on the books against importuning, which is asking someone if they want to have sex. That could get you arrested and people were being arrested for that.”

His reservations didn’t last long, and that same fall when a woman named Rhonda Rivera arrived on the law school faculty, Whaley—tipped off to Rivera’s sexuality by the gay law students who often visited his office—worked up the courage to approach her regarding their “common social difficulty.”

While bonding that day at lunch, the two discussed what they would do if asked about their sexuality by other colleagues or the college’s dean. “Would we admit it, would we lie? And that’s how very different it was,” Whaley remembers.

Rivera soon became a titanic figure in Columbus’ LGBT community, using her legal background to advise OSU, the City of Columbus, and the State of Ohio’s incipient protections for the LGBT community. Stonewall Columbus’ annual Human Rights Award is named for Rivera, and in 2010 she was inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame for her work on behalf of the LGBT community.

“I one time told the San Francisco Examiner her name should be spelled with all capital letters and four exclamation marks,” says Whaley. “And the reason that Columbus is as gay-friendly as it is, is because of the great Rhonda Rivera. She was like a force, and everyone loved her. And she bullied people, but she did it in a good cause.”

While Rivera and Whaley worked with Stonewall Columbus to move the needle towards legal protection and mainstream acceptance, others initiated necessary, productive conversations and provided innovative safe spaces for the LGBT community across the city. While less-heralded, these groups and programs also contain indispensable pieces of Columbus’ LGBT history according to Luster Singleton, the Community Outreach Coordinator at Mozaic, Ohio’s first community wellness space for gender non-conforming youth and young adults.

“There’s so much history,” she said (Singleton considers themselves gender non-conforming, and uses he/they/she pronouns). “There are so many places that should have a metal plate in the sidewalk or something so that you could do a walk of historic and famous things that you need to know around LGBTQQIA stuff.”

Singleton was also drawn to Columbus from Zanesville by Ohio State in 1979, and she soon found herself at home in the university’s nascent Women’s Studies Department. Before long, Singleton and her “fierce group” of peers had founded a group called Diversity of Ohio, “to try and talk about the issues, and address issues, and to help Stonewall, and to help OSU Gay and Lesbian Student Services better meet the needs of folks of color.”


Singleton also co-founded H.I.S. Kings, a popular drag king production beginning in 1994, the International Drag King Extravaganza which examined masculine gender, and also worked as a coordinator at OSU’s LGBTQ+ student center, known in the mid ’90s only as the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Student Services Office (GLBSSO), with no advertisement of services for transgender students. 

Singleton, then also enrolled in classes and technically a student, made a subtle and strategic request of her boss, forcing the GLBSSO’s hand and the addition of a “T” to the office’s name. While at OSU, she helped start the Rainbow Celebration & Graduation ceremony for LGBTQ students, now hosted by the Office of Student Life’s Multicultural Center.

“We’ve done HIV and STI work in this city for 28 years. This right here [Mozaic], another first. Of all the places that they could pick to put one, they decided to put it in Ohio, which is insane. We get calls from West Virginia, Indiana, Michigan, because nobody has anything like this clinic available to them.”

For Singleton, the impact of Pride has always been deeply personal. The first Columbus Stonewall Pride parade in 1981 coincided with a dark time in her college experience. Feeling distant from family, and having recently put her child up for adoption, Singleton was on the verge of collapse.

“I honestly decided that I was gonna check out that day […] I just was like, everyone would be better. And so because I’m dramatic, I decided to take one last walk around campus. They were just building up Short North; I thought I would just take a walk. And when I did that, I ran across the first Stonewall Pride. And because I’m nosy and I saw six-foot drag queens with feathers coming out of their head—What on earth is going on?—I went over there and long story short […] I was standing on the side, and I look over and there’s this little kid. I’ll never forget his face. He couldn’t have been more than five years old. 

“And his mom’s holding his hand, and she’s looking at him and she’s going, “God hates fags, God hates fags” and he’s looking at her and then he’s like, “God hates fags,” and I just thought to myself, ‘Who am I?’ What kind of coward are you? You gotta step off of here. You have to do it.” That experience provided her the inspiration and resolve to carry on.

“And so I always say that Pride saves lives. It saved my life. And from that moment on, I just was like, ‘I’m going to try to be visible.’ You know, to help other people be visible.”

For both Whaley and Singleton, Columbus has served as a refuge and a supportive community, in turn inspiring activism that has returned the favor for the benefit of future generations. Their work has preserved and expanded the inclusivity of a city that now prides itself on widespread acceptance and defiance of repression, even amidst an increasingly conservative state legislature.

“My prayer every night was to be relevant. I just wanted to do stuff that was relevant enough to help my nieces and nephews,” says Singleton. “Relevant not just like super-famous or anything like that, but to have things that I did or worked on to be meaningful whether anybody knew it or not. I mean, it’s been an amazing life. So many things that we’ve gotten to participate in have just been incredible.” 

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Swallow your pride, literally, with themed food this month

614now Staff



We never want you to swallow your pride...unless it's food. This year, eateries and drinkeries across the city are showing their pride with new menu items offered this month early. So, get out there and swallow your pride, literally!

Hangover Easy | University District and Olde Towne East

No matter what you call them—flapjacks, hot cakes, pancakes, yummy breakfast circles—HOE's festive menu items will have your tummy celebrating Pride in the most satisfied way possible.

C.Krueger's | 17 Brickel St, Columbus

How sweet are the new Pride cookies at C.Krueger's bake shop?! You'll be the hero of the party when you show up with a box of these cuties before the parade this Saturday.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams | Multiple Locations

n celebration of #PrideMonth, Jeni's is partnering with our favorite drag queen, long-time friend, and fellow ice cream lover Nina West on a very special, very limited flavor in our shops: NINA WEST’S DREAM PUFF.

BrewDog USA | Multiple Locations

This Pride, BrewDog is honoring Nina West with Elevengendary: Tart Wheat Ale with Butterfly Pea Flower. Proceeds benefitting the Nina West Foundation. Available June 14th at all 3 BrewDog bars.

Laughlin's Bakery | 15 E. 2nd Ave, Columbus

Rainbow macarons are back for Pride month!

Daddy Cakes Columbus | Visit online

Place your order now for this magnificent tower of Pride—complete with Funfetti layers!

Plenty O' Cookies | Visit online

This drag queen baker is whipping out the most gorgeous Ohio and Pride-themed cookies! Host a baking party now.
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Meet the Guest Editor: AJ Casey, Executive Director of Stonewall Columbus

614now Staff



Cincinnati native AJ Casey brings over 25 years of experience to her new position as the Executive Director of Stonewall Columbus. This month she let us become part of her busy June preparations to help us shape our Pride cover package and we can’t thank her enough.

What excites you about your new position at Stonewall?

What excites me most is that it truly is a brand-new day at Stonewall Columbus. Not only do we have new leadership, but we have a new building, new board members and limitless new opportunities to engage with the LGBTQ+ family throughout the city and county. We are focused on being a catalyst for positive growth and are adamant in the pursuit of a united and thriving community.

Our new facility offers 15,000 square feet of light-filled space that is just begging for creative new programs and services. We’re partnering with organizations such as Equality Ohio to provide free legal clinics; and North Central Mental Health Services to offer LGBTQ+-friendly counseling. And there is so much more room for creative, engaging programs that I can’t help but be excited about the good that can happen here.

Photo by Brian Kaiser

After 38 years, Stonewall Columbus is still the largest and only LGBTQ+ community center in central Ohio. As we move forward, we are fostering relationships to ensure that everyone in the extended LGBTQ+ family can experience Stonewall Columbus as theircommunity center.

Tell me about the work of your parents and how it has shaped you and your work.

My parents were very active in the Civil Rights Movement. My mother was an organizer and get-out-the-vote activist. My father was an attorney and one of the first African American men to be appointed Assistant US District Attorney during the Kennedy administration. Dad’s career was centered on eliminating discrimination in public schools, police departments and state-run construction projects. My parents taught each of their three children (I’m the middle child) the power of confidence when the world rejects you and the necessity of excellence to forge personal success.

My own work is informed by the ongoing struggle for equality. My life—as black, female and lesbian of a certain age—places me in multiple social, gender and political intersections. The consistent driver throughout my career has been visionary empowerment. I have mastered skills that allow me to help people initiate change in themselves, their organizations and communities. I am a perennial student of this work and I have invested decades in honing my craft.

We’ve seen many steps forward and several steps back in LGBTQ+ inclusion and rights in just the past few years. Where do we go from here?

Within the LGBTQ+ family, progress encourages us and setbacks strengthen our resolve. For example, recently, nearly 100 LGBTQ+ advocates showed up at the Ohio Statehouse for hearings around the proposed Ohio Fairness Act (Senate Bill 11) and hundreds more submitted written testimony in support. The bill, if passed, would add LGBTQ people to the laws which make discrimination illegal.

During the public testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, one advocate reminded the senators how long people within the LGBTQ+ community have been fighting for this law. “We’ve been showing up for decades in support of these rights,” he said. “And we will keep showing up until we share equally in the rights of all Ohio citizens!” So, if the question is “Where do we go from here?” the answer is an unequivocal we keep showing up until we help create a society, a city, a state where all of us thrive.

While the LGBTQ+ community in Columbus finds strength in being a large community, it is also a community with lines of division. How can we be more intentional about reaching out to and including more people?

We must be intentional about reaching out to and including more people. Period.

At Stonewall, that means that we are deliberate to about diversity and inclusion. We show it at the board level, the staff level, in our volunteer outreach and in our programs & events. We constantly ask ourselves who else we can bring to the table to ensure that our biggest plans are as welcoming and inclusive as possible.

I think that inclusion is about building relationships, not numbering participants. It’s not just about having people of diverse backgrounds or identities in the same space. It’s about how those assembled in that space combine their collective genius to create more powerful outcomes. Inclusion requires us to demonstrate what Dr. King described as “a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”

And I also have to quote RuPaul here. At the end of each episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Ru says “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” I believe that outreach and inclusion therefore require a dedicated practice of building self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-love. These practices have been a part of my personal journey and been prominent in my career. I intend that they will play some part in how we move forward and pursue a heightened sense of unity as an LGBTQ+ family.

You met your partner at Pride. Tell me about how that happened.

Singer/Songwriter Tracy Walker was one of the performers at Columbus Pride in 2016. I didn’t see her perform and hadn’t heard of her except to read her bio in the Pride Guide.

Somehow, we both ended up in the performers’ VIP tent that Friday night. It was already dark outside when we struck up a casual conversation standing in the glow of a string of white lights. Something about the glow around her made her appear angelic to me. Two minutes later, Tracy moved in to stand real close to me. That’s when I knew that this was more than a casual conversation! That was three years ago this Pride. We’ve been standing close in the glow of each other’s light ever since.

That’s the power of Pride. It is the perfect intersection of authentic personality and extended community. At Pride, people can discover themselves, explore new ideas and—sometimes—find true love.

When you’re not an activist/nonprofit leader/director, what can you be found doing? Reading leadership books and books about world religions or philosophy. Traveling to beaches and bask in the sun. Shopping.

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Pride Calendar

Mitch Hooper



Columbus might be viewed as a cornfield in the Midwest to the rest of the world, but what they might not know is we have the third-largest Pride celebration in America, giving major cities like San Francisco and New York a run for their money. In way of celebrating all the city is championing this month, this extended calendar is your guide to Pride with art exhibits, parades, festivals, and so much more for you to sink your teeth in.

Pride At The Wexner Center For The Arts

The Wexner Center For The Arts will be featuring two artists whose work touches on LGBTQ+ lives. Starting June 1 until September, Alicia McCarthy: No Straight Lines will be on showcase where her abstract takes on punk and queer subcultures is highlighted through various styles of media such as graffiti and found or recycled items. Additionally, Barbara Hammer’s work will also be on display with Sensual Bodies on June 13 which features her experimental abilities. Just a short week later, another variety of Hammer’s work, Political Bodies, will be shown. Of the different works in the 100-minute video compilation is Would You Like To Meet Your Neighbor?—an exploration through hidden queer histories.

Loud and Proud Tour – Columbus 2019 Pride After Party
June 13 @ TRISM

Even before parade festivities kick off on Pride weekend, you can get the party started at one of campus’ most popular event spaces for a party raging from 9 p.m. Thursday night to 2 a.m. Friday morning. Join hosts Karin and Skyler and hit the dance floor for an LGBTQ+ DJ lineup that includes Kandy, Cristy Lawrence and Skyler Madison. Tickets are just $10, so get yours quick.

Photo by freemind-production for Shutterstock.

Columbus Pride Tea Dance
June 14 @ BrewDog in Franklinton

What other Pride event offers the opportunity to bump shoulders with a Grey’s Anatomy star? Join the hit show’s Ohio-born Jake Borelli on the breathtaking rooftop bar at Brewdog’s Franklinton location for drinks and dancing. The Tea Dance is a reference to secret afternoon speakeasy meetups among the LGBTQ+ community in the 1950s and 1960s, but make no mistake, this event is all about letting your pride be seen and heard from the highest reaches of downtown.

Unity Ball
June 15 @ Axis

At Axis’s 18th annual Unity Ball, you can have a blast celebrating Pride without feeling guilty about the money you blew through when you wake up hungover. The last 17 years of the event have raised over $1 million for local charities and LGBTQ+ civic groups. The $20 tickets also include admission to Dragapalooza, making this one of the hottest tickets in town over Pride weekend.

Columbus Pride Brunch 
June 16 @ Greater Columbus Convention Center

We know you’ll be getting hammered for Pride weekend, so why not start your Sunday recovery by getting some quality food in your system. Brunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Convention Center while Andrew Levitt, aka Nina West, will be honored. Levitt, a Columbus-native, placed sixth on season 11 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. What better way to wind down Pride than a hearty meal and the chance to meet a local celeb? •

Photo by aceshot1 for Shutterstock.

Pride Throughout The City

Of course, the big celebration that rivals NYC is Stonewall’s Parade on June 15 which steps off at Poplar Ave. and High St. Furthermore, you can join in on the fun on June 14 and 15 with Stonewall’s Pride Festival at Bicentennial and Genoa Park. But what’s a party without an afterparty? The official after-party for both days of Pride this year is hosted at Ms. Vikki’s Restaurant & Banquet Hall. There are VIP tickets available which secure you a table, allow you to skip the lines, and receive complimentary drinks for the night. However, Stonewall isn’t your only chance to celebrate Pride in Columbus. Community Pride will be hosting a variety of events such as a Spoken Word and Live Arts and Performances event at The Vanderelli Room on June 4. The schedule slate for Community Pride also includes a Queer Club Night on June 7 and a Documentary Screening and Panel Discussion on June 11. For more details about Community Pride’s events, speakers, and locations, stay tuned to their website at

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