GREENSBORO — Reaching into a display case, David Gwynn pulls out a blue-bordered card with “Busby’s” emblazoned across the front.
The date, “8-2-85,” is written in pen on the back. It is a memento from his past.
“Membership cards, I think were particularly interesting,” Gwynn said. “These were a big part of the scenario at the time.”
Gwynn, a digitization coordinator and associate professor at UNCG, created “Out for the Evening: A Taste of Gay Nightlife in Greensboro,” along with Stacey Krim. Krim is a curator of manuscripts and an assistant professor at the university.
The history exhibit is on display near the reference desk at UNCG’s Jackson Library through the end of September.
It is part of a larger, ongoing project, “PRIDE! of the Community: Documenting LGBTQ History in the Triad.”
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That project includes digital archives, located online at http://go.uncg.edu/pride. Krim and Gwynn continue to look for photos, items and stories representing local LGBTQ history and life, and welcome contributions to the project.
The “Out for the Evening” exhibit includes T-shirts, advertisements, photos and other memorabilia representing the history of gay nightlife in Greensboro.
It traces that history from downtown’s General Greene Grill in the late 1950s, to places like Busby’s in the 1980s, up to Chemistry and Twist Lounge today.
Gwynn contributed many of the items in the collection, including the membership card.
“In North Carolina they were required in any bar that served liquor that was not a restaurant,” he said, “but they also were a convenient way ... of keeping LGBTQ clubs a safe space because they sort of gave you a filtering mechanism at the front door, which obviously could be used for good or evil.
“They are kind of an interesting thing to see, because I don’t think you see them so much any more with bars and clubs in North Carolina,” Gwynn said of the membership cards.
Some of Krim’s favorite items in the exhibit are the photographs of local drag performers.
“Drag is important not only because it’s wonderful entertainment, but also it gave permission for people to explore their gender — through makeup, through clothing — in a safe space in a bar, which was a dangerous thing in the past,” she said.
Dancing in clubs or watching drag shows have been major staples of gay bars, especially in the south.
The exhibit aims to give people a sense of the many roles bars and clubs played in the LGBTQ community in Greensboro. Those ranged from being places to connect with partners to hubs for political organizing and cultural expression.
“It’s sort of a gathering place where you meet your ‘tribe,’ if you will,” he said.
Nowadays, Gwynn said, gay clubs and bars are generally smaller, with fewer patrons overall. Dating and hookup apps make it easier to meet people without frequenting nightlife spots. And there’s more places now where LGBTQ people can feel comfortable being out of the closet.
It’s just not the same as the days when a gay man who was new in town might need to thumb through the “Places for Men” guidebook, like the one in the exhibit, to find a local gay bar to meet other gay people.
“We feel that is a part of history that needs to be documented,” Gwynn said. “Just to show people what it was like.”