Appalachian Gay Pioneer
Walter Davis |June 18, 2019
Appalachian people were part of the early lesbian and gay civil rights movement even before the Stonewall Uprising advanced the struggle. But it is difficult to see role models if they are excluded from history.
Over forty years ago, then Berea College student Bill Fields tells us that his inspiration for coming out as a gay man wasn’t some distant event. It was the life story of someone from near Bill’s rural Leslie County, Kentucky home. The role model was a young man who grew up on the Cave Branch Hollow near Hindman, Kentucky just 37 miles up the road.
Lige (short for Elijah) Hadyn Clarke became a pioneering figure in the young movement.
Clarke worked in the federal government in D.C. where he posted signs describing rights of homosexuals in hallways. He was not an aggressive person, however. A biographer describes him as a “A beautiful, multi-faceted pioneer of the gay liberation movement, he lived out the many paradoxes of his being with an indefatigable aliveness and zest. Fiercely passionate, Lige was also gentle, androgynous and loving.”
He helped organize the first “Gay” protest at the White House in 1965. Together in 1969, Lige and his companion Jack Nichols founded Gay magazine, the first weekly gay newspaper to appear on some newsstands. In its pages, the term ‘homo-phobia’ first appeared. He co-authored with Nichols the first non-fiction book by a gay couple, I Have More Fun With You Than Anybody.
In 1968, Lige and Jack wrote a column for Screw magazine called The Homosexual Citizen, the first gay interest column regularly to appear in a non-gay publication. (The title – The Homosexual Citizen – first appeared in the 1950s in a column written by lesbian pioneer Dr. Lilli Vincenz.) They published Roommates Can’t Always Be Lovers.
On February 10, 1975, Lige Clarke was shot and killed under mysterious circumstances near Veracruz, Mexico; His death at 32 was too young but he left a legacy and is now recognized in the history of the 1960s.
Here are some sources of further information about Lige Clarke (including his family in Kentucky):
For more about Lige Clark and the history of the LGBT movement in Kentucky, go the National Park Service: https://www.nps.gov/articles/upload/Statewide_LGBTQHeritageofKentucky-508-compliant.pdf
Lige Clarke: Body and Soul in Gay Today.com, 12/01/02
An Interview with Shelbiana Rhein & Jack Nichols By Raj Ayyar
Other books about Lige Clarke and the early movement
Before Stonewall (edited by Vern L. Bullough, RN, PhD, Haworth Press, 2002)
Rebels, Rubyfruit and Rhinestone: Queering Space in the Stonewall South (by James T. Sears, PhD, Rutgers University Press, 2001).
Voices of Revolution: The Dissident Press in America (Columbia University Press, 2001) by Dr. Rodger Streitmatter, and his landmark history of the gay and lesbian press, Unspeakable (Faber & Faber, 1995)