The first LGBTQ business association in the USA: records of the Tavern Guild of San Francisco

The first LGBTQ business association in the USA: records of the Tavern Guild of San Francisco

Tavern Guild of San Francisco. Archive of membership reports, financial records, and other materials, 1964 – 1993. Approximately 500 pages in three binders and one folder; housed in an archival boxes. 0.5 linear feet.

A rich archive of material covering almost three decades of work by the first LGBTQ business association in the United States, which was significant as both a pioneering trade organization and as a locus for queer activism during a time of oppression.

As the historian Nan Boyd has observed in her essential history of queer San Francisco, the owners and bartenders who founded the Tavern Guild of San Francisco (TGSF) in 1962 had not intended to form a political organization. The early leaders of the group – who included Phil Doganiero (a bartender at the Suzy-Q bar), Bill Plath (owner of the D'Oak Room), and Darryl Glied (owner of the Jumpin' Frog) – were initially concerned only with figuring out ways of boosting business on Tuesday afternoons – a slow time for bars everywhere. But the members of TGSF swiftly recognized that they shared a number of other problems besides periodically empty tables, ranging from patrons who wrote bad checks to systematic harassment from the police and the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Within a year, the TGSF organized self-protective measures founded on sharing information – a bad-check list, and a phone tree to alert each other to police raids. Drawing on time-honored models on labor organization, the TGSF also established funds to support members, and for legal defense against discrimination. The organization’s 1964 constitution articulated its ideals by combining the languages of civil rights activism and the hospitality industry:

Believing in our democratic heritage and that ethical values are self-determined and limited only  by a person’s right to decide his own, we organize under this constitution for: The reaffirming of individual pride and dignity regardless of orientation; the elimination of . . . unjust laws concerning private relationships among consenting adults; the giving of real and substantial aid to members in difficulties; the promoting of better physical, mental, and emotional health; the creating of a sense of community; and, the establishing of an attractive social atmosphere and constructive outlets for members and friends.

By the summer of 1980, the membership of the TGSF included over 184 people and 86 different establishments.

The TGSF also engaged in the manner of traditional business associations by fixing prices and developing relationships with liquor distributors keen to promote their products within a thirsty but competitive market. These multifaceted goals – the economic imperative and the democratic one – came together in the annual Beaux Arts Ball, instituted by members of the TGSF. A lucrative event, this annual drag ball promoted the businesses of the TGSF, raised money for a variety of causes, and served as a focal point for the political strength of the LGBTQ community. It was at the Beaux Arts Ball that TGSF member and drag queen José Sarria declared himself "Empress of San Francisco," an event that would lead to the founding of the Imperial Council of San Francisco, a vital LGBTQ+ nonprofit organization that continues today.

The bulk of the present archive consists of the Guild's newsletters from 1971 to 1993, its last year of operation. Typed and photocopied for limited circulation, the TGSF newsletters, which provided members with meeting minutes, financial and committee reports, membership updates, circular letters, community announcements, notices of upcoming events, election ballots, and lists of unemployed bartenders and unreliable patrons. A few records from the 1960s are present, including four financial statements dated 1964 to 1966, a 3-page history titled "The Tavern Guild: A Record of Accomplishment," and a copy of the Guild's constitution.  Also included is a folder of the Guild's original financial records dated 1971-1972, more than 125 items in a variety of sizes, consisting mostly of invoices and memoranda for regular expenses: printing of bar calendars and yearbooks, dues, event tickets and catering expenses, often stapled with register receipts or other related documents, often referring to individual businesses. A memorandum of 19 April 1972 notes the deposit of a $1,000 "returned bail check." A sign-up sheet from the Guild's 27 July 1971 meeting includes 78 member signatures noting their bar affilations.

            This substantial gathering of historical materials on the TGSF is smaller than the holdings at the GLBT History Society in San Francisco, but larger than the collection of newsletters at Northwestern University, and it includes unique materials available nowhere else. The archive will offer ample opportunity for research for scholars LGBT history and presents a fascinating case study for students of business, marketing, and economics.

Selected Sources

  • Agee, Christopher. “Gayola: Police Professionalization and the Politics of San Francisco’s Gay Bars, 1950-1968” Journal of the History of Sexuality 15 (2006): 462–89.
  • Boyd, Nan Alamilla. Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
  • Fritscher, Jack. Gay San Francisco: Eyewitness Drummer: A Memoir of the Sex, Art, Salon, Pop Culture War, and Gay History of Drummer Magazine, the Titanic 1970s to 1999, Volume 1. San Francisco: Palm Drive Publishing, 2008.
  • Hillman, Betty Luther. “‘The Most Profoundly Revolutionary Act a Homosexual Can Engage in’: Drag and the Politics of Gender Presentation in the San Francisco Gay Liberation Movement, 1964-1972,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 20 (2011): 153-81.
  • Mattson,Greggor. “Are Gay Bars Closing? Using Business Listings to Infer Rates of Gay Bar Closure in the United States, 1977-2019,” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World 5 (2019).
  • Robinson, James “Robbie”. My Story, One Gay's Fight: From Hate to Acceptance (GLC 197), LGBTQIA Center, San Francisco Public Library, 2019.
  • Smith, Tegan. "Gay Bars in Pre-Stonewall San Francisco: 'Walk-In Closets' as the Source of a Surprisingly Divergent Queer Activism." Historical Perspectives: Santa Clara University Undergraduate Journal of History, Series II 26.1 (2021): 1-26.

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