The stories of older queer persons cannot be forgotten—and it’s not their job to get their stories out there.
That is the role of the next generation, the younger gay and lesbian and non-conforming queers who have to turn to their elders to log their stories. Whenever there is an opportunity to dig into these histories, I take them, even if only online.
Recently I came across the story of Ruth Ellis and felt the tingle of American queer history pull. Ellis was a very inspiring figure. She not only lived to be a very old, very active queer woman but she was a bit of a Midwestern queer icon. Ellis lived to be 101 years old, much of it with her partner Ceciline “Babe” Franklin. The two ran a printing business in Detroit—And Ellis was the first woman in Michigan to do so.—which became a hub for local queers.
Their house became the local hangout for African-American gays and lesbians. Known as the “gay spot,” Ellis opened her home for parties and dances, and never turned down a gay or lesbian friend who needed a place to stay.
The “gay spot”: how cute is that?
What’s even wilder abut Ellis is that, despite aging and living in three centuries, she remained a huge figure in her community through her hundreds. She was so beloved that filmmaker Yvonne Welbon made a documentary dedicated to her. Titled Living With Pride, the little film highlights how important Ellis was to her community and how she represented a history of queerness to not be forgotten.
We all may not have our own Ruth Ellis but her story is as inspiring for us to achieve more in our queer communities as it is inspiring for us to engage with our queer elders. Why? Because they are just so fabulous and just like us—and we are going to be like them one day. You can catch a clip from Welbon’s documentary below.