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LGBTQ History Month: Looking at San Antonio’s queer past through the Lollie Johnson papers

October 28, 2013
Lollie Johnson, undated

Lollie Johnson, undated

In honor of LGBTQ history month, UTSA Special Collections highlights the Lollie Johnson papers, which have been recently digitized and are now available online. Lollie Johnson was a successful business entrepreneur who owned many bars and nightclubs in San Antonio that catered to the city’s queer community. The Zoo Club, Hypothesis, Faces, the Noo Zoo, and LJ*z were the names of just a few of the establishments run by Johnson. The Lollie Johnson papers are rich in photographs that document life in the queer social spaces of San Antonio from the early 1970s through the early 1990s. Central to these social places, were sites that lesbians could call their own; spaces in which to explore and establish connections with other queer women.

Zoo Club, 1976

Zoo Club, 1976

Zoo Club, 1978

Zoo Club, 1978

While some of Johnson’s clubs served as bastions of lesbian culture, other venues attracted diverse crowds. Lollie’s nightclub, the Broadway Cabaret featured San Antonio’s top drag performers. Patrons thronged to see the Cabaret’s glamorous female impersonators and glitzy musical numbers. Jimmy James, who performed as  Marilyn Monroe at the club,  landed an appearance on the Geraldo Rivera show in 1989.

Jimmy James as Marilyn Monroe, performing at the Broadway Cabaret, 1982

Jimmy James as Marilyn Monroe, performing at the Broadway Cabaret, 1982

Floor show at the Broadway Cabaret, 1982

Floor show at the Broadway Cabaret, 1982

Broadway Cabaret ad, 1983

Broadway Cabaret ad, 1983

Away from the thumping music and bustle of the clubs, Lollie loved entertaining at home and many images exist that depict fun times among friends and family. Lollie’s well-known warmth and love of life shine through as she enjoys gatherings in her home.

Lollie and friend at Christmas, undated

Lollie and friend at Christmas, undated

Lollie at home with friends, 1983

Lollie at home with friends, 1983

Lollie’s joyful time spent with family and friends extended beyond her clubs and home; many photographs chronicle vacation trips to exciting destinations like Cancun and New Orleans. Other images capture the simple pleasures of a trip to the beach accompanied by best friends and companions.

Lollie in Cancun, 1982

Lollie in Cancun, 1982

Friends of Lollie enjoying vacation, 1982

Friends of Lollie enjoying vacation, 1982

A day at the beach, undated

A day at the beach, undated

Social outings and charity events were also an important part of Lollie’s life. Lollie was active in the Alamo Human Rights Committee, the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, and the San Antonio Tavern Guild. Images of Johnson attending fundraisers underscore her commitment to the LGBTQ community, both locally and beyond San Antonio.

Lollie poses with Reno Gay Rodeo group, circa 1980

Lollie poses with Reno Gay Rodeo group, circa 1980

LGBTQ history month prompts us to probe facets of the past that have often been unexplored. Fortunately, collections such as the Lollie Johnson papers allow glimpses into San Antonio’s queer past. The photographs present in the collection offer insightful views into the private and public lives of lesbians, gays, and transgender persons who moved within the world of Lollie Johnson and played a pivotal role in the evolution of the city’s queer community. Celebrate the vibrancy of San Antonio’s LGBTQ history; explore the Lollie Johnson papers online.

Other LGBTQ collections of interest at UTSA Special Collections:  GLBTQ publications, the San Antonio Area Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Related Web Collection and more.  Also see other Top Shelf blog posts related to San Antonio’s LGBTQ history.

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