| Gail DuBois and Jamie Cox relax in their West Nashville home. The two have been together for 25 years and were married in New York in 2011.|
(Photo: Larry McCormack /
Down Dickerson Pike, just past the Starlite, was a place where Gail DuBois could sit relatively undisturbed.
The CC Club was a straight club, but — at one corner of the bar — they let gay people sit and drink.
There, for snippets of time, they were sheltered from the contempt and cruelty outside.
Except, that is, until the police combed the place.
That's when DuBois bolted for the bathroom, climbed through the window and crawled through the weeds outside.
"I didn't want them to catch me," she says.
This is just a singular snapshot of what it was like to be gay in Nashville before 1970.
Now 76 years old, DuBois came of age at a time when homosexuals were harassed, victimized and feared. She holds a first-person account of the ways in which life has changed for the gay community in Nashville over the last seven decades — a valuable historical recollection that recently has been documented as part of the The Brooks Fund History Project's oral history collection.
The reflections from a community of 60-, 70- and 80-year-old men and women from Middle Tennessee will provide a record of an earlier generation that struggled for acceptance — a group that survived in a time before New York's Stonewall riots began the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States. The collection will soon be accessible at the Nashville Public Library and will be featured as part of a panel discussion Wednesday.
DuBois has advanced through the homosexual panic and paranoia of the '50s, gay decriminalization in the '70s and the push for sexual equality as we turned the century.
She lives now in a decade where same-sex marriage is legal in a majority of states — though not in Tennessee — and where the Supreme Court will soon take up the discussion.
And, despite the enduring conflict, she marvels at the progress.
"I never thought we'd live to see it," DuBois said from the front room of her Nashville home where she resides with her cats, dog and partner of nearly 25 years.
"I thought we'd always be hiding."
DuBois is a native. Born in Saint Thomas Hospital when it was on Hayes Street and an alum of Saint Bernard Academy, she was 12 years old when she understood she wasn't attracted to boys in the same way she was to girls.
The first people she knew who were gay were guys, and she met other lesbians through them. She never really had a coming out conversation with her parents, it eventually just became understood.
She dated a girl at Saint Bernard, which at the time also taught high school students, for three years. But publicly the relationship appeared very different. "We would double date with boys," she says, "but we knew what we were." She was, as so many others like her, living a double life.
In fact, it took her 50 years before she attended her first high school reunion, always afraid others would discover her secret.
"You lied about it, is what you did," she says.
Most Friday and Saturday nights, particularly in the '50s and '60s, she and her friends stayed in and played cards. "Really, you didn't take a risk going out," she says.
She developed a network of Nashville safe havens: CC's, a place called Ralph's on Second Avenue, and — for a short time in the early '80s — a lesbian bar in which she became part owner called The Women's Room.
Even there, at her own bar in a more progressive era, 20 officers once came in and lined the dance floor, surrounding the women who continued to shake their hips and cling to each others waists as the music provided its steady pulse. The cops did nothing but watch, but they were sending a message. "It was total intimidation," she says.
She taught for 40 years in Metro schools. And while in her private life she organized women's liberation marches and slung drinks, within the confines of the classroom she hid her identity from parents, students and administrators for most of her career in fear of being fired. It wasn't until she retired in 2001 that she really felt comfortable being public with her sexual identity.
"I didn't have a job to lose," she says.
Since then, she has gained. She married her partner, Jamie, in New York in 2011. And though she can't verbalize exactly how, her relationship of nearly 25 years does feel different.
"It's more intimate," she says. "It's like you are legal."
And that, she says, is unbelievable.
"Surely, I'm still in a dream," she says. "Because I ought to be climbing out windows and crawling through weeds to get away."
But, on the other hand, she adds, it never should have been like that.
Reach Jessica Bliss at 615-259-8253 and on Twitter @jlbliss.
Hear the history of homosexuality in Middle Tennessee
The Brooks Fund History Project is a diverse multimedia record of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life in Middle Tennessee, which will be archived in Nashville Public Library's Special Collections Division: Oral History Collections.
This collection, which is comprised, recorded and transcribed reflections of 28 subjects ranging in age from 63 to 85, will be accessible to the public and provides a record of an earlier generation that struggled for acceptance. It is provided by the H. Franklin Brooks Philanthropic Fund of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, which funds projects specifically addressing the LGBT community.
"It's important for us to have this perspective on who we are and how we evolved and where we are coming from," project chair Iris Buhl said.
A presentation of the project will take place Jan. 21 at 11:30 a.m. in the Special Collections Center of the Nashville Public Library (615 Church Street, Nashville) followed by a panel discussion at noon that will spotlight six Brooks project collaborators including Gail DuBois, a retired Nashville elementary school teacher.
Jessica Bliss, firstname.lastname@example.org