John Nosek and Leon Stevens Interview, 15 August 2023

John Nosek (b. 1949) and Leon Stevens (b. 1948) are native Clevelanders who grew up on the east side. They discuss the Cleveland gay community in the 1970s and '80s, including managing the Gay Educational and Awareness Resource (GEAR) Foundation's High Gear newspaper in its early years and their gay activism in the mid- to late 1970s. Nosek and Stevens detail the early history of GEAR, its Gay Hotline, and its long struggle to establish what eventually became the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. The interview explores uneasy interactions and divisions that slowed the realization of a unified LGBTQ+ community as well as the characteristics of various geographical concentrations of LGBTQ+ residency in the Cleveland area. They discuss the role of gay men in historic preservation and urban gentrification, notably in Ohio City, where Nosek and Stevens designed an official neighborhood flag in 1983.

Participants: Nosek, John (interviewee) / Stevens, Leon (interviewee) / Habyl, Riley (interviewer)
Collection: LGBTQ+ Cleveland
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Riley Habyl [00:00:03] All right. Today's date is Tuesday, August 15th, 2023. This is Riley Habyl with the LGBTQ+ Cleveland Voices Oral History Collection. I'm interviewing John Nosek and Leon Stevens at their home in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood. So, John and Leon, thank you for speaking with me today.

John Nosek [00:00:20] We're happy you're here and willing to talk to us.

Riley Habyl [00:00:23] Thank you. To begin, could you both state your names and spell them for the record?

John Nosek [00:00:29] Oh. Go ahead, Leon.

Leon Stevens [00:00:30] First name, L-e-o-n. Last name S-t-e-v-e-n-s, Stevens.

John Nosek [00:00:40] And I'm John Nosek. Last name spelled N-o-s-e-k.

Riley Habyl [00:00:45] Thank you. So, where and when were you both born?

John Nosek [00:00:50] Well, John speaking. I was born at Huron Road Hospital—which is now demolished—and lived up until age five at East 79th and Superior. And at age five, my family moved me and my sister to Garfield Heights, where I went to elementary school, middle school, and high school. And Leon?

Leon Stevens [00:01:25] I was born in St. Luke's Hospital, now demolished. And I grew up on East 75th Street, which is actually a continuation of Fleet Avenue—which is actually now called Slavic Village. And there you have it.

Riley Habyl [00:01:46] Thank you. Could you tell me a bit about your educational backgrounds? Where and when you went to school?

Leon Stevens [00:01:52] Yes, I have a master's degree in library science, and—with a distribution for law librarianship. And I have a master's degree in German language and literature.

John Nosek [00:02:08] From?

Leon Stevens [00:02:09] Case Western Reserve [University].

Riley Habyl [00:02:11] What years did you attend Case Western?

Leon Stevens [00:02:18] (Laughs) Okay, John. Answer that question!

Riley Habyl [00:02:19] No worries.

John Nosek [00:02:21] I'm really not sure. I would imagine that it was late sixties through early seventies. I went to Cleveland State University—and am a proud alumnus, I might add. And I got my bachelor's degree from Cleveland State University in 1972 after being a co-op student—which is the way that I paid my way through college—and got my master's degree in 1978. And that in itself is a story. I had done all the coursework between '72 and '74, but because I got involved in gay activism, I let that go. And then I found out that there was a statute of limitations on when you might be able to get your master's degree. So I opted not for the test but for the written examination, and I passed. So I got that in '78.

Riley Habyl [00:03:21] Fantastic. Could you tell me a bit about your current or previous occupations?

Leon Stevens [00:03:27] I've been a law librarian for about 25 years with Walter and Haverfield. It's a law firm in Erieview Tower now. And yeah, that's my—pretty much my work experience. And I'm retired now.

John Nosek [00:03:47] I worked for the Cuyahoga County Mental Health Board for 19 years and basically moved up in position there. And after 19 years there, I moved to Positive Education Program, also known as PAP. And I was their government affairs director for 11 years, basically lobbying people and making sure rules and regulations for mental health organizations were not too onerous.

Riley Habyl [00:04:19] So how long have you been living in Cleveland?

John Nosek [00:04:22] Well, I've lived in Cleveland all my life.

Leon Stevens [00:04:24] Me too.

John Nosek [00:04:25] Yeah. So both of us are native Clevelanders. My parents were Polish immigrants, so—. My mother, may she rest in peace, was very smart. We only spoke Polish at home up until age five. But then she got my prospective kindergarten teacher to tutor me on the side, and that's how I learned English. And that was an interesting experience.

Riley Habyl [00:04:58] At what point in your lives did you first come to an understanding or awareness of your sexual identity?

Leon Stevens [00:05:04] (phone alarm dings) About five years old, I would say.

John Nosek [00:05:07] It was third grade for me. I had a crush on a young boy whose name I won't mention because he's probably not gay. But that's when I first realized that I preferred boys to girls in that manner.

Riley Habyl [00:05:23] When did you first become aware that there were other people that shared your sexual orientation, or that there were other gay people in the world?

John Nosek [00:05:34] I guess for me, it was at work. And in fact, it ties in to how Leon and I met each other. There were a couple of gay guys who worked where I worked. And again, I won't mention their names, but one of them actually introduced me to Leon. We were living in the same apartment building at the time, the Crestview on top of Little Italy there in—. Oh, on Overlook Road. And he said, "Oh, John, you know, are you aware that there is a single man living in your building at the Crestview?" And I said, "No. We've never crossed paths." And so, then he introduced Leon and I to each other.

Riley Habyl [00:06:17] What year was that around?

John Nosek [00:06:19] Oh, my God. I guess it was 1974.

Leon Stevens [00:06:23] I think so.

Riley Habyl [00:06:25] How would you describe the LGBT community in Cleveland in the 1970s?

John Nosek [00:06:31] Oof! Very active. It was like the golden age of—well, not only in Cleveland, but probably in the country. It was pre-AIDS. Cleveland, unlike other cities, was—. There was not a heavy pattern of persecution here. We don't know if it's because the bars were paying off the police or whether it was state law. Which you might recall, in 1974, there was a consensual sexual act that allowed 16 years old people and older to basically be free. And so—. I don't know. The 1970s are just so multi layered that we'd have to pick a particular topic within that.

Riley Habyl [00:07:20] Could you tell me a bit about some of the social spaces, like—. Where were some of the primary spaces that people in the LGBT community in the seventies met and organized out of?

Leon Stevens [00:07:32] Well. Ha. First I would say in bars, of course. We had at least 20 bars in Cleveland at one time—gay bars.

John Nosek [00:07:41] And lesbian bars.

Leon Stevens [00:07:43] Yeah, yeah. And so there was that. I first joined the Gay Activist Alliance at Case [Western Reserve University]. And it was a small group of maybe 12 people at most, or 20 people. And so I would say that's it.

John Nosek [00:08:15] Well, there was more. I mean—. If I may put in a shameless plug for us, Leon and I wrote three articles for the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. One was on the GEAR Foundation, Gay Education and Awareness Resources [].

Leon Stevens [00:08:31] (crosstalk) Oh, yeah, yeah. I forgot that.

John Nosek [00:08:31] High Gear [], the newspaper that in its early stages, Leon and I managed. And the third article was on the Gay Community 1970s. And referring to the question that's on the table now, the Gay Community 1970s article [] lists everything that was there. There were religion—. There were at least three gay religious organizations. There were—. A restaurant, Gypsy's Restaurant [2418 St. Clair Ave.] was there. There were movie houses and baths. And then, of course, there were the organizations I just mentioned, GEAR. And what else, Leon?

Leon Stevens [00:09:14] Radi—

John Nosek [00:09:15] Did I mention radio? John Vogel had a— (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [00:09:18] Uh, yeah, you—

John Nosek [00:09:18] [GayWaves] On WRUW [91.1 FM]. So, there was a lot happening in the seventies in terms of where people could go. And things were pretty visible and out. The first pushback came when Anita Bryant launched her anti-gay rage. Although, in Cleveland we didn't seem to be really that affected by it. But I don't want to give you the impression that people were out and proud. That was not true. Basically, in the 1970s, most gay men and lesbians were closeted. I mean, there was fear of losing your job and the like. And Leon and I, from when we first met, decided that we would be out because we knew it was important that people knew your names. But if people wanted to participate and not use their real names to write articles for High Gear, we were open to that because we understood that coming out is a personal thing.

Leon Stevens [00:10:18] And the irony is, in High Gear we are always trying—. We were always trying to show faces of gay people. So we printed the pictures of these people—after asking permission. But the strange thing about it was they didn't want us to put their names. So—

Riley Habyl [00:10:42] Even with—? (crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:10:44] In other words, the image was okay but not the names. (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [00:10:45] Yes. So they can say, "Oh, no. He looks like me, but that's not me."

John Nosek [00:10:50] That's true.

Leon Stevens [00:10:51] And that's an interesting phenomenon.

John Nosek [00:10:57] Yeah. We can't underestimate the closeted-ness in Cleveland in the seventies. But that didn't—. People—. It didn't prevent people from going out and having a good time, because the bars were packed. In fact, it was said by some that in the 1970s—between New York and Chicago—Cleveland was the hottest place to be for the lesbian and gay community at that time. And it's true, there was a lot happening. The bars were packed. You have to remember at that time, pre-AIDS, gay men didn't have to worry—. Well, we had to worry about syphilis and gonorrhea. But as far as AIDS, not—. The interesting thing about the 1970s, though, in terms of organization is that when we were—. Primarily our gay activism was from 1974 to '78, during that four years. You can only be an intense activist for a shorter period of time. And we tried to work with lesbians at that time, but one must remember that's when feminism was occurring. And feminism very much affected us. We understood the concepts between sexism and oppression. And we wanted to work with lesbians, but they didn't want to work with us. They were working with the feminists of that time. In fact, there's a newspaper called What She Wants that was—where both lesbians and feminists were involved. But then, Leon, tell—

Leon Stevens [00:12:32] Well— (crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:12:32] —our listeners what happened, and how the lesbians did come around. Not during our time, but—

Leon Stevens [00:12:40] Well, the National Organization of Women [National Organization for Women] felt, at one point, that lesbians are trying to characterize all women as potentially lesbian. And so, now—

John Nosek [00:12:58] (crosstalk) Rita Mae Brown.

Leon Stevens [00:12:59] So, finally—

John Nosek [00:13:00] Just a reminder.

Leon Stevens [00:13:01] Rita Mae Brown, the—

John Nosek [00:13:05] Top national lesbian.

Leon Stevens [00:13:06] Top national lesbian, quit NOW [National Organization for Women]. And once that happened, there was a cascade where lesbians were joint—identifying with gay people more than with just women's—

John Nosek [00:13:25] Women in general.

Leon Stevens [00:13:27] —organizations. Yeah. So—

John Nosek [00:13:28] And we were grateful for that. But that was, of course, past our time, because it was around 1980, I think. Or late seventies.

Leon Stevens [00:13:35] Yeah.

John Nosek [00:13:36] —when that happened, so. But what was interesting is we made a point of having as many articles as we could about lesbians, especially news items that would be of interest to our lesbian sisters. And then we did have straight female friends who helped with the paper. But if they ever wrote an article, they would use their real name. So, kudos to them. Those were early allies. (laughs) And we would have them write articles about more generic things. Not like, for instance, when Patti Smith's—. I don't know if you know her, but she was a rock goddess, if you will, of the 1970s. And we put her on the front page of one of our issues because Robert Mapplethorpe, the famous artist, took that photo. And so then we had our friend—I can mention her now, Donna Minkler, who wrote the article, the review of the article. So we did try to incorporate women as much as we could, but they were not lesbians. And although we did, as I say, highlight lesbian news and features written by others outside of Cleveland. By the way, Leon and I first—. When we first met, you know, we hit it off. We're both of Polish ancestry, and something I would recommend for all couples in general—not just gay and lesbian ones—but you find things that you want to work on together. And he and I had been involved in political activism outside the gay movement. Because you have to remember, the Vietnam War was raging at that time. And then, of course, the Civil Rights movement and the like. So we had had experience in marching, and protesting, and being involved. And so, it just seemed natural for us to find out what was happening in the gay community. And that's when we met Art MacDonald and his partner, Michael Madigan, who basically told us what was happening. We said, "Well, we're in with you." And this was just when GEAR was being formally incorporated. And that's how we got involved.

Riley Habyl [00:15:45] Around what year was it that you first met Art [MacDonald]?

John Nosek [00:15:48] It was either—. Yeah, I tried to remember that. It was either late 1974 or early '75. It couldn't have been later than January because we met Art [MacDonald] and Michael Madigan in March of 1975.

Leon Stevens [00:16:03] Oh, you know, it might be on that— (indicating to copy of High Gear)

John Nosek [00:16:06] Oh, so—. They can go to the articles for the details. (laughs)

Leon Stevens [00:16:09] Okay.

Riley Habyl [00:16:10] No worries. How did you first become involved with GEAR? Or, active with GEAR, I should say.

John Nosek [00:16:18] Okay. It was—. Like I said, March 1975 we met Art [MacDonald] and Mike [Madigan]. Art [MacDonald] was kind of like a one-man gay rights guy. He had—. He and his partner Michael Madigan moved from Chicago to Cleveland. And he was going to Cleveland State University and revived—although what he was reviving, I'm not sure at the time—a group, a student gay group that developed into GEAR. And this is an interesting story. This is not in the articles on the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History because I only learned about it recently thanks to Tom Suddes of The Plain Dealer, who wrote an article. He's always been an ally of the LGBT community. He wrote an article about how in the early seventies—. I mean, now we're talking like '72, '73. There was a group in Cincinnati that tried to incorporate itself as a private not-for-profit. I can't remember the name of the group now, but the attorney general refused to incorporate them. And this caused the state attorney general—. This caused an uproar in the state of Ohio because there were those who were saying, "Well, what about freedom of speech and freedom of association?" And, "Oh, no, no, these are gay people. Blah-blah-blah." So he basically put the kibosh on that group's not-for-profit incorporation. And there was so much media about it that when GEAR—. By the way, this is important. This is not in the articles. GEAR was incorporated as a foundation to get around this private not-for-profit repeal of the state attorney general for the Cincinnati group. (sound of rustling paper as Stevens refers to old newspapers here and periodically for the next several minutes) So that's—. And then they used their own funds basically. Art MacDonald's partner Michael Madigan was a lawyer, and he said, "Here, I'm going to fund this for a while." And there's a picture of him right there. (indicates to copy of High Gear, laughs)

Leon Stevens [00:18:25] 1975! (John laughs) And—. Yeah.

John Nosek [00:18:34] He—. So even though Art MacDonald was out doing all of the activism, it was really his partner who was kind of doing the initial funding. (loud sound of paper rustling; this happens periodically over the next few minutes as Leon refers to old newspapers) So that's a little bit of extra history for those interested.

Riley Habyl [00:18:48] Do you remember the name of the group in Cincinnati?

John Nosek [00:18:51] I wish I could. I've tried to look up that article, and I can't find the article. I even had the Cleveland Public—. No, no. It was—. Western Reserve Historical Society was helping me try to find the article, and we can't. But maybe you have better research skills. So, it's Thomas Suddes. He's the Plain Dealer edi—. He's on the editorial board.

Leon Stevens [00:19:17] You should spell that out.

John Nosek [00:19:21] S-u-d-d-e-s, Thomas. And it would have been within the last year. It was in the Plain Dealer. It was an article. But there was another time he mentioned this group, which is not the one that you're looking for. You're looking for the one that shows the entire history of how the state of Ohio tried to stop an LGBT group from incorporating. So when we met Mike [Madigan] and Art [MacDonald]—. Leon, if you remember—. They made it clear to us that GEAR's primary focus was eventually to establish an LGBT Center, but that they were hoping that they could bring the newspaper, High Gear, up to a point to where the profits would be able—not to support the Center in total, because obviously that wouldn't have been enough money—but enough money to support the Gay Hotline and the rental cost for what was then activities that were occurring under the GEAR umbrella. So paying the rent for that. So that was really—. And so, I guess in a way it was seed money for the [Community] Center. And that continued, as we all know, until 1982 when the paper went out of business. And then I think a few years later, GEAR then dissolved itself into the Cleveland LGBT Center. So I'm not sure of the date, but you can check that in the articles. I think we did include that. You want—. Anything you want to add, Leon, about that period?

Leon Stevens [00:20:58] Not really. I don't think so. That was pretty summary, so.

Riley Habyl [00:21:06] What were some of GEAR's—. Er—. When you first joined GEAR, what were some of the early programs or services that it offered?

John Nosek [00:21:14] Well, aside from the newspaper? Oh, they had discussion groups. They had—. And those groups were–one was for elders, one was for teenagers, another one was for couples. The Gay Hotline was probably the most important thing because there you could call anyone anonymously. And by the way, it's important to mention that both GEAR and High Gear were all-volunteer organizations. So even the people who worked on the [Gay] Hotline, they were volunteers. We may have paid for the expenses of the rent and the, you know, the telephone charges and the like, but—. We had set it up so that people could actually answer the phone from their homes during their volunteer shifts. And this then would give people entree to, you know, whatever it was that they were calling about. You want a discussion group? Do you want information about the bar scene? Do you want—. "Where can I go to meet other gay people of my age?" That kind of thing. So, and of course, the—. I guess the influence of feminism was really more on Leon and me, because when we did High Gear newspaper we set out—. And this caused a lot of arguments, let me tell you. You think the LGBT community might be a little fractured now? It's always been that way. We felt very strongly that in High Gear there should be no idealization of sex. You know, we didn't want perfect bodies. And, you know, this was not a porn or a—. This was our goal, this was not a porn place. We did allow—

Leon Stevens [00:23:00] We wanted a newspaper that somebody could take home to their parents and—

John Nosek [00:23:05] Right. Although some of the content was pretty shocking! (laughs)

Leon Stevens [00:23:09] Well, yeah. Yeah. Well, we were straightforward but—

John Nosek [00:23:12] But not to look at, you'd have to read. (laughs) So I think the issue for us was our advertisers. Because, you know, without all of the bars and the organizations that we mentioned earlier we wouldn't have a newspaper, or a Gay Hotline, or seed money for a gay Center. So that's what—

Leon Stevens [00:23:36] Advertisers always wanted to have hot, hot bodybuilder—

John Nosek [00:23:39] Right.

Leon Stevens [00:23:41] Half of them completely naked.

John Nosek [00:23:45] Right.

Leon Stevens [00:23:45] And so, it was just a struggle. (crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:23:48] Constant battle to say, "No, this is a newspaper that we want to—." And we did. I mean, there were many [places]— We distributed our newspaper in many straight establishments that didn't mind, you know?

Leon Stevens [00:24:00] Coventry Books and—

John Nosek [00:24:02] Record Revolution.

Leon Stevens [00:24:03] Yeah.

John Nosek [00:24:04] The Little Tap. At any business. Back in that day there was no internet, so the information you could get was from the printed press. And so, if they had newspapers of others, then we would always go in and say, "Well, would you mind adding ours?" So in a way, that was important. And then of course, we also didn't—. We were against age discrimination, as well as gender discrimination. I think what listeners might find interesting, though, is that attitudes toward bisexuality and trans [transgender] people were very different in the 1970s than they are today. We thought bisexuals were just gay people—gay and lesbian people who wouldn't admit that they were— (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [00:24:51] Didn't wanna come out completely, so.

John Nosek [00:24:53] Yeah. And that was unfair. We did have an article on bisexuality because we knew that was relevant, even though we—. People thought what I just said. And then—. Oh, I lost my train of thought. Help me.

Leon Stevens [00:25:11] Well, what I would say about it is—. Well, we have already mentioned the division between lesbians not identifying with the gay—anything gay. And what I would say is—. Well, there are a lot of—. You had, for example, a gay Jewish group [Chevrei Tikvah] and then a gay Catholic group [Dignity], and then we had a gay church. I forgot what the name of it was.

John Nosek [00:25:50] Metropolitan Community Church [MCC]. (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [00:25:51] Yeah, Metropolitan Community Church, MCC. And so, it's hard to lump every—everything together. What I would say about it though is—. And the reason we wanted to have a gay, LGBT Center—at that time you just said gay—is because people who were trying to get together were always being kicked out of places. So we were kicked out of—

John Nosek [00:26:24] St. John's Episcopal.

Leon Stevens [00:26:24] St. John's Episcopal Church here once they found out we were assembling the newspaper there. And then Hillel, on Case [Western Reserve University] campus, kicked out the Jewish gays. And there was another Catholic center, I can't remember the name of it.

John Nosek [00:26:41] Dignity.

Leon Stevens [00:26:46] But the center was called something else. It was a Catholic building. And so they kicked the gay group Dignity out of that. And then we were always just like—

John Nosek [00:27:02] Trying to find a space.

Leon Stevens [00:27:03] Trying to find a space where people could—gay people could get together. And so it was in people's private houses. But, you know, if you have a large group, it couldn't be there. And so, there was always this migration of people trying to get together and getting kicked out of places.

John Nosek [00:27:27] I just retrieved my original thought talking about attitudes toward trans [transgender] and bi [bisexual] people. We even had arguments among the staff about drag queens because we felt—. Again, because of the influence of feminism on our political thought at that time. Those of us who were politically active thought that drag queens were caricatures of women and that, you know, to give them voice is kind of like doing the caricature—continuing the caricature. So I must say I am shocked at how popular drag queens are today. I mean, they were—. They've always been a part of the gay male subculture, and lesbians too. You know, there are drag kings. And so—

Leon Stevens [00:28:18] Not many though.

John Nosek [00:28:20] (laughs) Well, it's easier to be a drag king than a drag queen. Anyway, so then when it came to actual trans [transgender] people, that wasn't even on our radar. You know, I mean, we—. The—. I mean, yes, we knew about Renée Richards, but it was like—. During the time that we were active in the seventies, did we ever even meet a transsexual person?

Leon Stevens [00:28:42] I don't think so. Or, if we did, we didn't know it.

John Nosek [00:28:44] Right. Exactly. So it was just—. I think it was ignorance on our part back then, which I'm ashamed to say. (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [00:28:55] It was society in general, I would say. That was—

John Nosek [00:28:57] Right. But needless to say, as time went on and we got more educated—. We understand now that the B [bisexual] and the T [transgender] in LGBT are certainly as important, and warranted respect. And even going beyond that, that every person only has one life so let them live it as they like.

Riley Habyl [00:29:17] (unintelligible, crosstalk) Oh, sorry.

Leon Stevens [00:29:19] Well, what—. Can you remember the Kent State professor?

John Nosek [00:29:25] Dolores Noll.

Leon Stevens [00:29:26] Dolores Noll said, "What drag queens need is women's liberation."

John Nosek [00:29:36] (laughs) I remember her saying that.

Leon Stevens [00:29:39] And—

John Nosek [00:29:41] She was very important, by the way, in the Kent Gay Liberation Front. I think she— (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [00:29:46] Oh, yeah.

John Nosek [00:29:46] —actually organized it.

Leon Stevens [00:29:48] Yeah, yeah, yeah. She was—. I forgot what she was a professor of, but maybe I can find—. Maybe I can find the article here. (Leon peruses through copies of High Gear) Let's see. Not that. Not that.

John Nosek [00:30:03] Leon, you'll be looking a while. It might not even be in those bags. Let's move on.

Leon Stevens [00:30:07] Yeah, let's move on.

Riley Habyl [00:30:10] No worries. So you mentioned that you were heavily influenced by lesbian feminist communities in the seventies.

John Nosek [00:30:15] (crosstalk) No, by feminist philosophy. Feminism, yes.

Riley Habyl [00:30:20] How did you—. I guess, how did you learn about feminism? And in what capacity, or in what spaces? If lesbians and gays weren't, you know, unified in the seventies, how— (crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:30:33] We read about it.

Riley Habyl [00:30:33] —how were you influenced?

John Nosek [00:30:34] We read about it, and it made sense.

Leon Stevens [00:30:36] Yeah. I would say my mother. (laughs)

John Nosek [00:30:38] Yeah. Your mother was a feminist, too.

Leon Stevens [00:30:41] Oh, yeah.

John Nosek [00:30:42] You know, I mean—. It was clear that women should have equal rights, that they should have a right to control their own bodies. In fact, I often have educated younger gay people who don't understand the link between a woman's right to choose and the gay movement. And I always say, "Don't—". What's important to understand is that the feminist phrase that I used to wear on t-shirts was "My body belongs to me." And so, I would explain to them, "Look. Your body belongs to you—whether you're a man or a woman—and that's what links us together." That, you know, people need to have choices about and control over their bodies. So that made sense. We were—. Certainly—. (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [00:31:28] There's Dolores Noll. (indicating to copy of High Gear)

John Nosek [00:31:29] Oh, yeah. That's her. You found—

Leon Stevens [00:31:32] Yeah, we haven't—. We interviewed her.

John Nosek [00:31:34] She's deceased now, sadly, but—. So, you know, the Equal Rights Amendment. We were proponents of that. I think, unfortunately, that never did enter the U.S. Constitution. But, you know, when you read about feminism, it's—. You know, it's really humanism in a way. It's not—. I guess I never felt threatened by it, like apparently some men do today. It just seemed logical.

Riley Habyl [00:32:05] Was that—. I'm trying to think of a way to to phrase this. Were you outliers, as far as your—

John Nosek [00:32:15] Political beliefs?

Riley Habyl [00:32:16] Yeah.

John Nosek [00:32:16] Yeah, very much so. Very much so. I think we had to educate our volunteer coworkers on High Gear about why we were not permitting sexual advertising, and why—. It was a constant educate, but it was one-on-one. You know, "It's important—. Even though no lesbians are working on this paper, it's very important that we update people on news, and try to give them features, even if we replicate them from other sources." And that—. By the way, John Grabowski of the Western Reserve Historical Society said, "How were you able to get all these articles? And didn't you have to pay?" and the like. I said, "No, no, no. You have to understand, in the seventies gay newspapers were not that prolific." And in fact, I think we wrote about this—

Leon Stevens [00:33:08] Well, we [High Gear] were the original [LGBT community] newspaper in Ohio for—

John Nosek [00:33:12] No, no, no. I'm talking about how we would get—. How we would get permission to reprint articles from other sources.

Leon Stevens [00:33:17] Oh. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

John Nosek [00:33:18] There was a gay national press meeting in—. Yeah. We have to remember, this was just after Stonewall. Everybody [was] just trying to organize, and think about how to do things. So they invited all the [LGBT community] newspapers to Boston. I forget the name of it. Was it the Boston Gay Community News? Or something—

Leon Stevens [00:33:36] Something like that.

John Nosek [00:33:37] But anyway, they invited people from Toronto and Chicago, us from Cleveland, several other cities—mostly from the Midwest and the Northeast—to what they called the Gay Press Association meeting. And we all agreed there that we were important cogs, if you will, in terms of letting the communities—our respective communities know about gay and lesbian issues, and history, and the like—and so that we all agree that we could share each other's articles without any payment occurring. Things were very grassroots back then.

Leon Stevens [00:34:17] Well, we did put an ad in the newspaper for the Boston Gay News all the time, because that's where we got most of our—

John Nosek [00:34:25] Well, we got stuff from other sources, but—

Leon Stevens [00:34:27] Well, yeah, but we wanted to give them something for—

John Nosek [00:34:33] For letting us share—

Leon Stevens [00:34:34] —for letting us borrow their stuff, so.

John Nosek [00:34:39] So that's basically what happened. And then of course, we wrote our own articles. And truth be told, Leon and I wrote probably the majority of the newspaper. Only—. We did get more people as time went on. People would pick up the newspaper and say, "Oh, I'd like to write an article about that." And we did. We had university professors, and teachers, and the like. So—

Leon Stevens [00:35:04] Yeah. The other people contributed, but we did most of the writing and—

John Nosek [00:35:09] Compiling, and all of that.

Leon Stevens [00:35:11] Yeah. So we used pseudonyms, so it seemed like there were more people. (Riley laughs) More people writing the stuff.

John Nosek [00:35:18] Thankfully, it was a monthly newspaper. Because remember, it was volunteer. So we were going to school, working full time. You know, trying to complete our educations. We had to worry about our careers. We were in our twenties. At some point you have to think, "What am I going to do to support myself the rest of my life?" And so, like I said, we—

Leon Stevens [00:35:41] Yeah, the paper was like a part-time job.

John Nosek [00:35:45] Yeah, exactly.

Leon Stevens [00:35:46] But you don't get paid for it, so.

John Nosek [00:35:47] Right.

Riley Habyl [00:35:49] Did either of you have prior newspaper editing experience before you started working on High Gear?

Leon Stevens [00:35:52] No.

John Nosek [00:35:54] No. and this is where the Call & Post comes in. We had gone—. Leon and I had gone, with Art [MacDonald] and Michael [Madigan]'s permission, to try to find printers for High Gear. Early on, just as Leon and I were starting, the Pittsburgh Gay News wanted to kind of take us over and have us be their Cleveland reporters. But then we got together with Art [MacDonald] and Mike [Madigan]—and whoever else was on the board at that time, of GEAR—and said, "Look, if we do this, then we're not going to have seed money for the [LGBT Community] Center or be able to support the Gay Hotline. So yes, we might have a more professional looking paper, but is it really going to help our goal?" So we rejected that offer, and then Leon and I went looking for printers.

Leon Stevens [00:36:40] Yeah, we started from scratch.

John Nosek [00:36:43] (laughs) And we didn't really know how to put together a newspaper.

Leon Stevens [00:36:46] No, we didn't know anything. And so, it was the— (crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:36:50] Well, this is before the Call & Post.

Leon Stevens [00:36:51] Call & Post taught us how to— (crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:36:53] That's just a mimeograph. (indicating to early copy of High Gear)

Leon Stevens [00:36:56] Yeah. We used to have an old typewriter. You know, one [of] those with the ribbons. And then finally the Call & Post said, "Well why don't you let us just typeset everything, and it'll look more—"

John Nosek [00:37:11] Yeah. We met with William O. Walker, who was the publisher [of the Call & Post]. We tried to explain what our newspaper was, and we tried to play on the connection of African-Americans and gay and lesbian people trying to fight for their rights—and he was sympathetic. And so, he had an assistant, whose name I can say is Smitty, who—

Leon Stevens [00:37:37] Mr. Smith.

John Nosek [00:37:39] We all called him Mr. Smith. He was older than us. And we think that he was gay—although he never came out to us. But he would stay after hours and work with us, way until like 11 or 12 at night. He showed us how to do the ty—you know, the layout. (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [00:37:54] Like a course journalism is what it was.

John Nosek [00:37:57] Right, exactly. So we learned on the spot, so to speak. And we are forever eternal to the Call & Post for allowing us to publish the paper.

Leon Stevens [00:38:08] Yeah.

Riley Habyl [00:38:09] What year did you start publishing the paper [High Gear] through the Call & Post?

John Nosek [00:38:13] I think it was 19—. When we took over. So it would have been April or May of '75. What month is that? (indicating to copy of High Gear on the table) Old one.

Leon Stevens [00:38:21] That is May '75.

John Nosek [00:38:23] Yeah. So that probably was the last one. So June '75 we probably already had been to the Call & Post.

Riley Habyl [00:38:31] Could you tell me a bit about your specific role as editors of High Gear?

John Nosek [00:38:39] Coordination, basically. You know, nur—. Researching. Leading. Because we had to lead our volunteers, you know.

Leon Stevens [00:38:46] Probably the most important person was—. He says I can—.

John Nosek [00:38:52] You can use his name now, he—.

Leon Stevens [00:38:55] Wade Tolleson was-

John Nosek [00:38:56] He's known as Matt Phillips in the newspaper [High Gear]. That was his pseudonym.

Leon Stevens [00:39:01] Yeah. Because he was a teacher, and so he was— (crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:39:04] He might be worth talking to because—. Not only from a High Gear perspective. He also is very active with the North Coast Men's Chorus now, and I—. He may have done other gay things that we don't know about. Because you know how it is, you know. Some friends you keep, but— (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [00:39:21] Turns out he got most of the advertising for High Gear. And I feel—. I've always felt sorry for him because, as mentioned, the advertisers wanted to have naked guys in their ads and—

John Nosek [00:39:39] He had to be the front line to explain—

Leon Stevens [00:39:40] And he had to—. Yeah. He had to say, "No, no, no, no. We can't put that in there." (crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:39:43] But more importantly, he took our newspaper all over the state. He drove down to Cincinnati. He was the marketing and distribution manager [for High Gear]. He went to Columbus. He went to Dayton. He went to Toledo. And of course, then we started getting inquiries about, "Why aren't you covering more about our local communities?" And then we'd have to put in the paper, "Sorry, we're volunteers. But if you have articles that you would like us to include about your home community, please send them." I mean—. Let's face it, we were pretty Cleveland-centric. And Akron. We covered Akron as well. But outside of Cleveland and Akron, not much.

Riley Habyl [00:40:23] How many volunteers would you say there were, at least while you were both the managing coeditors? How many volunteers other than you were working on the paper at any given time?

Leon Stevens [00:40:35] Oh, I would say— (crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:40:35] 10 or 12?

Leon Stevens [00:40:36] Yeah, something like that.

John Nosek [00:40:37] 10 or 12.

Leon Stevens [00:40:38] And they were always shifting, you know.

John Nosek [00:40:41] Right.

Leon Stevens [00:40:41] Somebody would show up one day for one issue. Other people would show up for another issue, and—. Yeah, we have a picture of them somewhere, but I—

John Nosek [00:40:51] And then—. Also, when the Call & Post's folder would break down, we would have to have folding parties. (Leon laughs) So we would invite everybody that we knew to come to our apartments and just fold the paper before it would be distributed. And then, of course there would be errors that the Call & Post would make where the front page was sometimes on the back page. So it was not always smooth sailing, but I think for a volunteer operation we did pretty well.

Riley Habyl [00:41:21] Did the paper make enough of a profit to support the efforts to raise money for a Community Center through advertising?

John Nosek [00:41:32] No, no. As I said earlier, there was no way that the paper alone could. 'Cause you remember, we have to pay the Call & Post for all of the copies, and the printing, and what have you. Then the Gay Hotline was most important to us, because we knew that that was the major way that most people were connecting. And then—

Leon Stevens [00:41:53] Also the bars would have—

John Nosek [00:41:56] Fundraisers.

Leon Stevens [00:41:57] Fundraisers.

John Nosek [00:41:59] For GEAR. Not for High Gear, for GEAR. And that helped with the Community Center. So I would say no. The newspaper never really could provide enough profits to maintain the Center. What we did was we tried to maintain what we had, which was like the discussion groups. One of the things that we did outside of High Gear—and GEAR—is that we would go on television a lot. Both Leon and I have. And that's the one time when we worked with the lesbians. Because we felt that, you know, if we're going to have a gay guy on stage, it's not going to be comp—. A gay guy cannot explain a lesbian perspective, and probably vice-versa. So we would call—. And we did have—. I remember one time I went to Cleveland State University. Mary [Ann] Huckabay, and—. Oh, I can't remember her partner's name. Well, Mary [Ann] Huckabay and partner, they would be our go-to people. So if we were able to get something on TV, then we would call them. And if they didn't do it, they would get somebody else. But we—. That was the one time when we worked together. So I've been on Public Square Channel eight. Leon has been on several—

Leon Stevens [00:43:17] And Radio too.

John Nosek [00:43:18] Oh yeah, and Radio. PBS. [Public Broadcasting Service]. And that was an important part of our visibility campaign, if you will. So that was important to us. So that was part of our jobs, too, because we'd have to make time. Sometimes I'd have to take off work to appear on a filming of a program, but we did what had to be done.

Leon Stevens [00:43:43] (Riley coughs) And I have to give credit to our law firm. They didn't care, you know.

John Nosek [00:43:49] Yeah, that that's important too. You might want to know, "Well, you came out. You used your names way back then, and this was even before your careers began. Did you think it was a detriment?" I'll ask the question for you. (laughs) No. Actually, Leon and I have been living together since 1978. So we met like late '74, early '75. And I have to say, people knew that we lived together. I mean, we didn't hide it. You know, "I live with—." Well, at that time we'd say, "My friend Leon Stevens." But again, it was a personal thing. You don't—.

Riley Habyl [00:44:28] Yeah.

John Nosek [00:44:28] You don't want to—at work say, "I'm gay!" (laughs) You know? But I'm sure people knew. But it didn't seem to affect us. Leon was—

Leon Stevens [00:44:38] Well, one of [firm] partners just told me, "Leon, you know, if anybody gives you any grief about this, let me know." So—

John Nosek [00:44:49] Well, your firm was very libertarian, I think, in a sense.

Leon Stevens [00:44:51] Oh, yeah. I would say so. Yeah.

John Nosek [00:44:54] So for me, being in mental health—. Mental health people are compassionate. I'm sure that gays and lesbians were treated compassionately by the people I knew—at least in the seventies—as much as anyone else would. So I don't think it was an issue in community mental—. So I don't know if it was our careers that lucked—but it never was an issue.

Riley Habyl [00:45:20] What was that experience—. Your jobs were accepting and weren't discriminatory in that way, but was that a common experience for other gay men at the time?

Leon Stevens [00:45:36] Oh, no. (crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:45:37] I don't think so. I think that's why many of them remained in the closet.

Leon Stevens [00:45:40] Yeah.

John Nosek [00:45:41] Not only from their employers, but from their family members. You know, you might see them dancing on top of tables at New Dimensions [1021 Sumner Ave.] or something, but they're not going to come out outside of that safe environment of being with other gays and lesbians. So it's hard for me to say because. Do—. Leon, do you remember? Is there anybody we knew that lost their job because of their gayness?

Leon Stevens [00:46:06] Well, no, but they could have. We have a neighbor who was a history teacher. And as I mentioned, Wade [Tolleson] was a teacher, too. And so, those kinds of people were pretty vulnerable. We know at least two or three priests, who—

John Nosek [00:46:31] I think what people forget is that the 1950s and 1960s—. You might have heard of the Lavender Scare, and the fact that this all started under Dwight Eisenhower. They tried to root out gays in all federal jobs and the like. So we were taking a chance. I mean, we were not naive. We knew that what we were doing—. But we also knew that unless we came out, we wouldn't make progress. You know, without—. And especially now with the politics of 2023, which are pretty horrendous. In fact, I would say that when same sex marriage was finally approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, we were so happy. We couldn't believe that what had happened in the seventies had now resulted in so much progress. It was unbelievable. And then, of course, things started changing and the deterioration started of our rights—deterioration of our full rights. Particularly for the trans [transgender] community, but also for the rest of us.

Leon Stevens [00:47:41] Yeah. If you told us then that gay marriage would finally exist, we would have said that—

John Nosek [00:47:48] "No way."

Leon Stevens [00:47:49] "You're crazy."

John Nosek [00:47:49] "You're on drugs." (laughs)

Leon Stevens [00:47:49] "No, no. That's never going to happen." Yeah.

John Nosek [00:47:53] That was never even our our top agenda. I mean, our primary agenda was to inform and educate gay people about their culture, and their history—and also straight people, since the paper could be picked up, as Leon said, by someone who might be able to show his mother. But—. Again, I lost my chain of—. This is what happens when you're almost 74.

Riley Habyl [00:48:23] Where did the idea to create High Gear come from? I know it was the first gay paper in both Cleveland and Ohio.

John Nosek [00:48:30] Yes.

Riley Habyl [00:48:30] So there wasn't a precedent. So—

John Nosek [00:48:32] That was Art MacDonald's idea. You know, he—. Everything—. (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [00:48:37] And it started out as a newsletter. (crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:48:37] Everything comes down to Art [MacDonald].

Leon Stevens [00:48:40] It was a newsletter. It wasn't even—. I wouldn't call it a newspaper, really. It was just a couple of pages.

John Nosek [00:48:45] Yeah. Actually, it became a newspaper when Leon and I took over. So we were—. I guess just by sitting—. You know, Art [MacDonald] and Mike [Madigan] and Leon and I would be just sitting around chatting. And then, you know, we would talk about, "Hey, let's make High Gear more of a newspaper and then use the profits for the Gay Hotline and your rent for the discussion groups and stuff." So I think it was organic. By the way—for the record, High Gear was never copyrighted. And we had a problem with the Cleveland Public Library. They wanted to do a display of gay newspapers, and their lawyers kept throwing roadblocks in front of us and saying that, you know, somebody—. Because they're worried, obviously, about the liability of the Cleveland Public Library in case somebody sued [and] said, "What? You're putting those newspapers up without permission?" And we tried to explain to them, "It was never copyrighted."

Leon Stevens [00:49:42] We were the editors of the newspaper! (laughs, crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:49:44] We knew! We would know whether it was—if it was copyrighted. (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [00:49:47] Yeah, we were f—. We were the editors of the whole thing.

John Nosek [00:49:50] And that's because High Gear was really just an arm of GEAR. Or, well, maybe a more important body—but still, body part. But that's how it is.

Riley Habyl [00:50:05] When you were managing the paper from 1975 through 1977, what were some of the—. Oh, I should say—. How did you transform the paper from a typewritten newsletter to a professionally printed 20-something page actual newspaper?

Leon Stevens [00:50:28] I don't know. Well, when [we] went to Call & Post, they printed a few issues that had this primitive typewriter script. And then Mr. Smith said, "You know, you just—. This would look a lot better if it were typeset and professional." So—

John Nosek [00:51:00] That's what we did. We followed Mr. Smith. (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [00:51:01] That's what we did, yeah, we just did it, yeah.

John Nosek [00:51:04] And then of course, Leon and I were—. The more volume you have, the more advert—room for advertising you have. So we knew advertising was critical. So.

Leon Stevens [00:51:15] And the better the paper looked, the more people are likely to advertise in it, so.

John Nosek [00:51:19] Right. Although now, they still look like the Dead Sea Scrolls. (laughs)

Leon Stevens [00:51:23] Well, they're—. They've oxidized, so.

Riley Habyl [00:51:28] One thing I've noticed when reading through issues of High Gear is that there were different sorts of bar maps of Cleveland.

John Nosek [00:51:36] Oh yes!

Riley Habyl [00:51:37] So I know that bars were important in terms of advertising, but where did the idea come from to include maps of gay bars and how did you choose which gay bars made it on to the map?

Leon Stevens [00:51:48] I think we only had one map, actually, of—that covered all of the bars. But—

John Nosek [00:51:56] We had some mini maps though, in the beginning.

Leon Stevens [00:52:00] Maybe if a advertiser wanted to have a map or something to show where to go. But—

John Nosek [00:52:09] Well, we also wanted to show people where these places were.

Leon Stevens [00:52:13] Yeah, well, the ads did that.

John Nosek [00:52:15] Yeah, the ads pretty much put the addresses in. (sound of rustling paper) So, you know, I don't know how to answer that. Like Leon said, it was either through advertising or somebody said, "Hey, we need to do a map and I'll do it." And that's what—. Whenever somebody came up with an idea, we'd always assign them for it. (laughs) It's kind of like the military. "Oh, that's a great idea! Do you mind doing it?" (laughs) So we were interested in volume, information, education. Those were all important things to us. So I guess we just started increasing the volume the more advertising we got.

Leon Stevens [00:52:53] Yeah, like this is typical of advertising here. (indicates to copy of High Gear featuring a full-page bar ad) You know, we'd always try to put the advertisements on the periphery, unless somebody took out a full-page ad.

John Nosek [00:53:07] Right.

Leon Stevens [00:53:08] And they did that occasionally too, but. Yeah. Yeah, we didn't—. Let me see if I can find something here.

John Nosek [00:53:21] Oh, there's an—

Leon Stevens [00:53:22] Oh.

John Nosek [00:53:23] (reading High Gear headline) "Community Center Burns." That was heartbreaking.

Leon Stevens [00:53:25] Yeah. We had a Community Center originally on Coventry [2795 Euclid Heights Blvd.], and—

John Nosek [00:53:32] Everyone was so excited.

Leon Stevens [00:53:34] Yeah. (crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:53:34] 1977.

Leon Stevens [00:53:35] Yeah. Everything was rosy until—. For some mysterious reason the whole top floor of the—

John Nosek [00:53:46] No, the whole building burned down.

Leon Stevens [00:53:47] Yeah, the whole building did.

John Nosek [00:53:49] But we [the Community Center] were only on the top floor [of the CoventrYard building, 2795 Euclid Heights Blvd.].

Leon Stevens [00:53:51] Well, they've—. I think they've restored the bottom floor of it. I mean, it's not an empty parking lot or anything like that, you know. But—

Riley Habyl [00:54:03] Was—. Oh, my apologies.

Leon Stevens [00:54:04] Go ahead, no, no.

Riley Habyl [00:54:05] Was the fire accidental, arson, or was it—?

John Nosek [00:54:07] We never knew.

Leon Stevens [00:54:08] Nobody knows. (crosstalk)

John Nosek [00:54:09] We even wrote about that. No one ever knew what—. It could have been arson for insurance purposes. That was very common in the 1970s. When we were living—first moved to Ohio City, the fires were just continuous. I mean, Cleveland luckily still has a lot of its core architecture, but much of it was lost during the 1970s because of insurance and arson and the like. We don't know. We don't know.

Leon Stevens [00:54:36] Yeah. People would take out insurance on a building, and then 'mysteriously'—

John Nosek [00:54:43] Now—

Leon Stevens [00:54:44] —it burned down.

John Nosek [00:54:45] Generally, I would say—. Leon and I have lived in Cleveland all our lives, and I don't think there would—. Outside of isolated incidents—. And there were those, you know, where people would be harassed for being gay. They might be leaving a bar, and then somebody would jump them or something, and that would happen. But generally, it didn't seem like there was an anti-gay feeling in Cleveland. And I don't—. You know, I've often thought, why would that be? And it just—. I don't know if it was the state law that passed in 1974 allowing consensual sex between adults.

Leon Stevens [00:55:21] I think it's because of—. We're a multi-ethnic town, very much. And so, you know, you had Catholics having to marry a Protestant person and— (laughs)

John Nosek [00:55:36] And you would meet people of other nationalities and races when you would go out. (crosstalk).

Leon Stevens [00:55:40] Yeah, yeah, yeah.

John Nosek [00:55:41] So gays might've just been another mix to it.

Leon Stevens [00:55:44] Yeah, just another ingredient.

Riley Habyl [00:55:47] So the location that burned down was the first LGBT [Community] Center on–?

Leon Stevens [00:55:52] Yes.

John Nosek [00:55:53] Well—. I guess the question is—. How do you define LGBT Center? You could say that—. And when we met Art [MacDonald] and Michael [Madigan], they already had a Center of sorts—

Leon Stevens [00:56:05] (crosstalk) Well—

John Nosek [00:56:05] —because they were paying rent for a space where there were discussion groups, and where the [Gay] Hotline was operating. Was that a gay Center? I would say so, to some degree.

Leon Stevens [00:56:16] Well, I would say this one was—

John Nosek [00:56:19] Well, that was the first actually designated LGBT Community Center. Yes. But again, you know, having discussion groups and the ability to contact a place for resources and information, and they were generally clustered together. Either on West 25th Street, or on Lorain Avenue. Those were the two early locations. And they had addresses. So—. But they weren't called gay Centers.

Riley Habyl [00:56:49] Speaking of which, do you remember the addresses of those first offices that GEAR operated out of?

John Nosek [00:56:55] Yeah, I think it's in the articles, but I don't know if you want me to get them.

Riley Habyl [00:56:59] We could follow up after too if—

John Nosek [00:57:01] Okay. Yeah, why don't— (crosstalk)

Riley Habyl [00:57:01] It's up to you.

John Nosek [00:57:03] Let's follow up after. I can guess—. Well, no, I don't want to guess. But there was one on 25th Street, and then they moved to Lorain, or vice-versa. I can't remember.

Leon Stevens [00:57:15] Somewhere we have a grand opening of it. If I can just find it. But—

John Nosek [00:57:21] So I guess, there were places. Yes, they were not very big, and usually no more than two rooms. So you know, one room big enough for discussion groups or whatever activities. And I think the important thing to remember, too, is back then, when Art [MacDonald] was in charge, he was also the minister of the Metropolitan Community Church Cleveland Branch. So he had to juggle both GEAR and MCC [Metropolitan Community Church], and sometimes there might be overlaps. Now, we made it clear from the beginning that we were only interested in GEAR, not in MCC, which I think was a relief for Art [MacDonald] because that means he didn't have to worry about the newspaper. At least there would be other people who could take care of it, and he could focus more on the church. So.

Riley Habyl [00:58:16] How did the establishment of the first official LGBT [Community] Center come about?

John Nosek [00:58:22] Well, it was from the GEAR board of trustees. I mean, we actually had a board even before we were incorporated. I mean, the incorporation of GEAR—official incorporation—was, I think, in May of 1975. But—. I'm sorry, I lost the question again.

Riley Habyl [00:58:44] No worries. So could you sort of tell me about how the original LGBT [Community] Center came to be at the the first location in '77?

John Nosek [00:58:56] Well, actually, we had wanted to open a spot in University Circle at the corner of Cornell and Mayfield. It was also a top-floor space, smaller than the one in 1977—but the lease fell through. And it could have been for homophobic behavior. Maybe the owner consulted with other— "Oh, do you really want an LGBT Center here?" Et cetera. So that deal fell through. Then we—. Everyone was so hyped on that that folks started looking for other spaces. And then when we came across the Coventry space [CoventrYard building, 2795 Euclid Heights Blvd.], we thought, wow, that's perfect. Let's shoot for that.

Leon Stevens [00:59:39] Yeah, it was—. And there was a lot of room there for meetings and so forth. And a bunch of people contributed, painting the walls, and—

John Nosek [00:59:49] Yeah.

Leon Stevens [00:59:50] —putting carpets out, and all of that. And then you had counselors, physicians, all sorts of professional volunteers doing services there. And so, yeah. That was the first place where the community could come together and—. With all sorts of services beyond just the [Gay] Hotline, so.

John Nosek [01:00:27] And then we were heartbroken. And, you know, we tried to find another place. I think it was that—. After it burned down, I think—. Oh, God, what was the name of that street where New Dimensions [1021 Sumner Ave.] Was? It's right next to the Erieview– Erie [Street] Cemetery. Oh. Anyway, it's—. It was, that's where the next space was [1021 Sumner Ave.]. But it was not as nice as the one on Coventry.

Leon Stevens [01:00:57] No.

Riley Habyl [01:00:59] How did—. In the interim between the Center's—. When the Center burned down in '78, I believe, and then— (crosstalk)

John Nosek [01:01:08] No, I think it was earlier than that.

Leon Stevens [01:01:10] Yeah, it's right there on top of the—. (indicating to copy of High Gear) John, it's right on the first—. Right there.

John Nosek [01:01:17] I'm looking! I can't—. Oh, February 1978. Yes. So it happened in January, I would imagine, of '78.

Riley Habyl [01:01:27] How did the Center operate in the interim between the first location burning down and then moving to the second location? Did operations pause or did they resume at a secondary—. (crosstalk)

John Nosek [01:01:40] Well, we needed to find another space, obviously. 'Cause people at that—. Once that happened in 1977, when we got a first real LGBT Center named so—

Leon Stevens [01:01:52] Well, we weren't directly involved with the [Community] Center so much. I mean, other people were doing it. There's—. So we were just mostly the newspaper [High Gear], and supporting the Center through advertising, and blah-blah.

John Nosek [01:02:11] Doing our public appearances and the like. In other words, the two of us could only do so much. So there was a separate cohort of volunteers who would work on finding space and the like. I mean, we were doing our part, but we learned about what things were going—. We were obviously board of trustee members of GEAR, so we learned what we could then. But I have to tell you, unless I was there actually participating, I don't want to comment on it because I—

Leon Stevens [01:02:40] Yeah, some people were—. Yeah, you have to interview some some other people who were—

John Nosek [01:02:48] Actually—

Leon Stevens [01:02:48] —connected with it. And we could give you names and contact— (crosstalk)

John Nosek [01:02:51] Stan Brown is one guy. I think he still lives in Cleveland, doesn't he?

Leon Stevens [01:02:57] Yeah, and—

John Nosek [01:02:57] He was [GEAR] board president for a while. He might have—. and I think he was an attorney, so he might still have documents related.

Leon Stevens [01:03:06] And what about—. Oh. The Center celebrating somebody who's retiring or something? You mentioned it, in fact.

John Nosek [01:03:22] No, no, that wasn't a Center person. That's John Corlett, who is retiring from the Center for Community Solutions. I think you'd have to go to the Center to get that information, to be honest with you. Or, like I say, call Stan Brown. Wade [Tolleson] might know.

Leon Stevens [01:03:41] I'd think so.

John Nosek [01:03:42] Wade Tolleson. I have contact information for him if you'd like to interview him.

Riley Habyl [01:03:47] I would love that.

Leon Stevens [01:03:48] Oh, yeah. That would—. He would be valuable to interview too. And—

John Nosek [01:03:54] Because on his rounds, he was constantly talking to people, so.

Leon Stevens [01:03:57] Mhm.

Riley Habyl [01:03:59] Speaking of the Center's original location in Coventry—. I've read through High Gear that there were a number of 'gay enclaves' in [Cleveland in] the 1970s. Could you tell me how those enclaves sort of came to be?

Leon Stevens [01:04:17] Well, I—

Riley Habyl [01:04:17] Where are the enclaves were, and then how the concentration of—?

Leon Stevens [01:04:20] Well, Lakewood has always been notorious for—

John Nosek [01:04:24] Yeah. Lakewood's—

Leon Stevens [01:04:26] —for being a—

John Nosek [01:04:27] I think it's a cluster of gays and/or lesbians. Because, you know, lesbians, by and large, in the '70s would be more in Cleveland Heights. Whereas the gay men were more likely to be on the West Side. Maybe Shaker Square, but probably more on the West Side. So.

Leon Stevens [01:04:44] And it's probably an organic development. You know, somebody would say, "Oh, you know, there's an apartment available here." And, you know, and then that person would say, "Oh, there's another apartment available here. Oh, there's a house here. There's a house for sale.".

John Nosek [01:05:05] Right.

Leon Stevens [01:05:05] And they just—. Gay gravitation, I think—

John Nosek [01:05:10] So like—

Leon Stevens [01:05:11] —did it.

John Nosek [01:05:12] And it also depends on what you're interested in. If you're interested in buying and renovating a home, then Ohio City made sense. And gay men have always wanted to beautify things. So, you know, they're going to buy old historic homes like this and renovate them. And then, like Leon said, they have friends. And, "Oh, we bought a house on 31st Place, you know. Maybe there's another one available on 32nd." So it's that kind of thing. And then if you wanted high-rise—. Like the Gold Coast [in Lakewood] was very popular because it was—. You could rent or buy a condo and not have to worry about anything, right? It would be taking care of you. So you're—. Depending on your personality, that's the enclave you would pick. But Cleveland never really had one central gay neighborhood, which is—

Leon Stevens [01:06:00] Nothing quite like a ghetto I would characterize. So for example, we have a gay guy living at the end of the street here, and we had there was a guy living around the corner. He's no longer living, unfortunately. But and—

John Nosek [01:06:16] There's more—

Leon Stevens [01:06:17] A couple blocks away there's—

John Nosek [01:06:18] You're not even mentioning everyone but—. Like Leon—. I agree with Leon. I think it's an organic process that, you know.

Riley Habyl [01:06:28] Do you think at all that the—. So you mentioned earlier that the political climate towards gays and lesbians in Cleveland in the '70s wasn't as harsh maybe as other locations. Do you think that that relative laxity sort of contributed to the development of gay enclaves versus a— (crosstalk).

Leon Stevens [01:06:51] Oh, yeah.

Riley Habyl [01:06:51] —specific gay neighborhood in Cleveland?

Leon Stevens [01:06:54] Yeah, I think so. Sure. Yep.

John Nosek [01:06:56] Yeah, I guess so. I don't know, really. I mean, it's speculative. You'd have to ask a sociologist, but— (laughs).

Riley Habyl [01:07:03] Just wondering. (laughs).

John Nosek [01:07:04] But, no—. Because you have to remember that these already were enclaves when we were writing the newspaper.

Leon Stevens [01:07:11] Mhm.

John Nosek [01:07:11] So it's—. And ironically, it's continued. Lakewood's still has a high concentration of gay people. So does Ohio City. Shaker Square, maybe a little less so. Cleveland Heights—there's still a lot of gay people and lesbians in Cleveland Heights. So I think if we were to identify the communities today, Leon, they'd be pretty much the same.

Leon Stevens [01:07:37] I think so, yeah.

John Nosek [01:07:38] Except maybe downtown would be more in the mix now.

Leon Stevens [01:07:42] Yeah.

John Nosek [01:07:43] Only because of the, you know, conversions of the buildings into apartments.

Leon Stevens [01:07:47] Birds of a feather fly together. (John laughs)

Riley Habyl [01:07:51] Do you know around what time those areas became known or talked about as being gay enclaves happened?

John Nosek [01:08:02] Not really.

Leon Stevens [01:08:03] I don't—. I think—. I would say mostly it was gay people who thought of those places as gayish. I don't think—

John Nosek [01:08:16] Right.

Leon Stevens [01:08:17] straight—. I think straight people were pretty much oblivious to [it].

John Nosek [01:08:21] Although really, when you think about it—. A lot of people in the surrounding communities of Cleveland—. They're gonna come to Cleveland because that's where most of the LGBT community is, right? In northeastern Ohio, the greatest number. So they—. When they come in, they start talking to their friends. "Well, I'm thinking of moving to Cleveland. Where should I move to?" And like Leon said, it's kind of, "Well, you know, there's a lot of people who live in this neighborhood, or that neighborhood." And I don't know, maybe it's changed now. Do you think, Leon? Is there—. Aside from downtown, what other places do you think gay people would be?

Leon Stevens [01:08:59] It's pretty much the same. Some people just stay planted and—. I mean, they would buy a house and they don't want to—. They're going to be there forever for the rest of their lives so I don't think a lot has changed. Unless, you know, there are more gay people in those spots than were years ago but—

John Nosek [01:09:23] I think it would behoove you—. And, you know, I've been disappointed, to be honest with you, that after we did our three articles about the 1970s for the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History—. I had hope that other people would step up, and there might be an article on the gay community of the 1980s, and of the gay community of the 1990s, and onward. But nothing has happened. And I think the [LGBT Community] Center itself—. While we can give as much detail as we have—and it's all accurate because it's all documented in our articles—it's only the beginning. And I think that it's maybe the [LGBT Community] Center itself someday will do its own history, because there were times when the Center did not have the building and it had to operate out of people's homes. And so—. You know, not even a rental space like we talked about on Lorain or West 25th. So I think the Center needs to take a look at its own linear development. I had talked to one of their board members and they said, "Yeah, we were thinking about doing that, but people have to step up." I believe we were both asked by John Grabowski of the Western Reserve Historical Society to write an article on the '60s. And so we interviewed a couple of people and I thought, "Oh my God, this is only two people." And sometimes they were contrary to each other. And then I've basically abandoned the project because I don't feel comfortable writing about the '60s if I wasn't there myself, you know, to [talk].

Leon Stevens [01:11:06] And a lot of people were or are no longer living, and—. Yeah, it's hard to track down.

John Nosek [01:11:13] I did send him a draft of what I had, but I just feel uncomfortable continuing it because I think people need to be of their own time discussing their own experiences and the like. So maybe this oral history project will urge the [LGBT Community] Center to look at its own history.

Riley Habyl [01:11:32] I hope so. Speaking of—. You mentioned that there were times that the [LGBT Community] Center was operating out of people's homes. Do you know around what years it was that that happened?

John Nosek [01:11:44] I don't. Again, you need to talk to people at the [LGBT Community] Center who were involved.

Leon Stevens [01:11:48] Yeah. It could be a different place every time, you know.

John Nosek [01:11:52] We know what happened through 1978. Well, actually, maybe through '80, because I did do more research to find that out. But after 1980—which is when the bad times were occurring.

Riley Habyl [01:12:08] Before we sort of move forward into the '80s, can you both tell me sort of how you—. When you were managing editors of High Gear, how did you understand your role as both editors of the newspaper and as cultural producers in Cleveland?

John Nosek [01:12:25] Hmm.

Riley Habyl [01:12:26] How do you view your responsibility and your role—

Leon Stevens [01:12:30] Well—

Riley Habyl [01:12:30] —in the community?

Leon Stevens [01:12:31] You know, well—. The newspaper was distributed at almost the bars in town. And, you know, Gay Education and Awareness Resources [GEAR] stands for trying to educate. (crosstalk)

John Nosek [01:12:51] You know, we followed the mission of GEAR, basically.

Leon Stevens [01:12:54] Yeah. And so it wasn't just, you know, raising money for the Center, or even a hotline, but it was about just informing people about gay history. There's—

John Nosek [01:13:12] Well, we were both college students and so we had opinions. And I think it was more grassroots, to tell you the truth. I really—. We were not thinking that we were making history. (Riley laughs) I mean, that was just not in our heads. It was kind of like, we gotta do something for the gay community of this town. And GEAR is our vehicle. You know? It's our—. We'll follow their mission statement. And our role is to try to organize the community to some degree.

Leon Stevens [01:13:44] And so, you know, I would say first and foremost, there's, you know, news on the first few pages. Then—. (Leon reads title of article announcing their resignation from High Gear) Oh, "Nosek Stevens Resign. Collective to Manage." (John laughs) Yeah, but there is some of the people who are (loud noise) involved in the—more at the Center.

John Nosek [01:14:13] Well, to be honest— (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [01:14:14] Oh, yeah, (loud noise again) Here's a—. (indicating to copy of High Gear) Here is a picture of participants in the newsroom. (Leon places a copy of High Gear on top of the recorder) Oops. Ooh, sorry about that.

John Nosek [01:14:26] Yeah, that's a—. (looking at newspaper) Their names aren't in here but—. Dan Meicznikowki, who took the paper over from us, where is he here? (John indicates to picture of High Gear staff) There he is. He was there. And then this is Leon and me. And these were two other volunteers on High Gear at the time. I guess the harsh truth is, it was very difficult to get people involved in activism of any sort so that you would often find that when there were street protests, the times that we would protest the 620 [The 620 Club, 620 Frankfort Ave.], for example, for not letting women in. Or, we protested at the Plain Dealer because they kept using the word 'homosexual' instead of 'gay' or 'lesbian,' that kind of thing. It was always the same—generally the same group of people doing these things. Every now and then there'd be some additions, but it was very difficult to get people involved with GEAR or with really any kind of gay activism. And so we felt an extra duty to, if nothing else, to inform and educate because it's—. Now, of course, I'm very grateful. And I—. You know, we're major donors to the [LGBT Community] Center, obviously. But we are so grateful to those who were able to pull the Center together to get the funding that it needed and the operations, because it's always been a—generally a hand and mouth operation. All-volunteer for a long time. I mean, I can't imagine that you could run a center like the current LGBT [Community] Center without paid staff, but it was different back in the 1970s. So we were trying to establish one and there weren't many of us doing it. So I also don't want people to think that we have an outgrowth, or what, what's the word, super role in making things happen. Yeah, we played our part. Others, many others played their part as well. And we're just very happy that the [GEAR] Foundation's finally bellied up to the bar to support the LGBT community. But we were, we were only small cogs in it.

Riley Habyl [01:16:50] You mentioned that you were involved with the paper until—. Was it 1978 that you resigned?

John Nosek [01:16:56] No. (crosstalk) We resigned in '77, but we still kept writing articles and—

Riley Habyl [01:17:01] Yeah.

John Nosek [01:17:01] I mean, it's—. We just had to get away from the crunch. The time crunches and get coordinating everything, writing a whole bunch of articles. So we stopped writing articles probably after '78. And that's more or less when our careers had to command our attention.

Riley Habyl [01:17:22] Yeah.

John Nosek [01:17:22] So now our role—. Our roles are very much different now than they were then.

Riley Habyl [01:17:28] Do you remain involved with both GEAR, the foundation, and High Gear, the newspaper, after you'd resigned from your roles as editors?

John Nosek [01:17:37] Uh, like I said, through 1978, we would write articles. We weren't on the board of trustees anymore with GEAR. So I would say, to be honest with you, that late 1974 to 1978 was our time of gay activism. And that doesn't mean we didn't participate in gay Pride marches or—. We just didn't make gay activism our number one priority like we did in those years. It was important to us, obviously, and we gave money when we could. I've been on the board of the LGBT Center three times now, so once during the '70s and then once during the '80s and then, early '80s and then late '80s. It went off and then came back on. But it was, again, like I say, not the overwhelming compassion or passion that we had. Activists have—. They're like shooting stars. They go up and they burn brightly for a time and then they decline and then others take their place. There are more shooting stars.

Riley Habyl [01:18:49] What did you pursue after leaving High Gear?

John Nosek [01:18:54] Well, as I mentioned, our careers—

Leon Stevens [01:18:55] Here we go. "Stevens and Nosek both cited personal and educational reasons for their withdrawals. Stevens, who already has an M.A. In German Literature, plans to take an Anthropology curriculum at CWR—." [Nosek laughs] I never did that. "Nosek intends to finish his master's thesis in—".

John Nosek [01:19:14] Which I did in '78.

Leon Stevens [01:19:15] Higher Education at CSU and to expand his work with the Deaf."

John Nosek [01:19:20] Yes, I—

Leon Stevens [01:19:22] And John, John speaks Sign Language.

John Nosek [01:19:25] Well, I've forgotten it. (crosstalk) Although it's like a bicycle. It comes back to you. When I meet a Deaf person, I just go into it and then I explain to them that I don't speak it as fluently as I did. Your question was what? Oh, what other activity? Well, we got very involved in Ohio City when we first moved here in 1978. So I went—. I got on the Ohio City Redevelopment Association board. For many years, we used to have Sunday at the Market. You know, we'd meet other gay people and other straight people. And I guess our other claim to fame is that we created and designed the Ohio City flag. It was—. Leon and I went on a vacation— (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [01:20:13] (indicating to Ohio City Flag visible outside) Which is proudly waving out—

John Nosek [01:20:13] (laughs) Yeah, it's proudly waving on our porch. We went to Toronto for a holiday. This would've been in the early '80s. And there's a neighborhood there called Cabbagetown, and they had—. Every house in Cabbagetown had a flag with a cabbage on it. And I thought, "That's what we need in Ohio City, Leon. We need a flag, but it's gotta be based on something historic." So we went back to people involved in the Ohio City Redevelopment Association. I think it was their social committee or whatever, and they loved the idea. And we decided to use the seal of the original City of Ohio, which existed from 1836 to 1854. And we used the seal and the number of stars that were on it for the flag. And as you know, again, just like High Gear was never copyrighted, we deliberately never copyrighted the flag because it was for the community, basically. And so then Ohio City, now Ohio City Inc., makes the flags, distributes them, and then the money comes back to their organization. So that was kind of fun. But then, you know, we did other things within the Ohio City Neighbors. So that kind of became our new passion after gay rights.

Riley Habyl [01:21:40] Were you—. Or, I should say—. Were either of you involved in any gay organizations or community spaces outside of GEAR and High Gear in the 1970s?

John Nosek [01:21:51] Whew! That took up so much time. I remember we were working and going to school. I don't think we would have had the time. We knew about the [Gay] Rap Group, of course, and that was separate from GEAR. That was—. I don't, I don't really know. The Free Clinic hosted the rap group, but I don't really know if anyone owned it per se, the organization. So we were aware of it. They had more professional counseling. We could only link people to the kinds of professionals they might need if it were mental health or something biological or whatever. But aside from that, I don't know if there were—. I mean, we were consumed with GEAR and High Gear at the time.

Leon Stevens [01:22:33] Yeah. There's just—

John Nosek [01:22:34] And we felt good when we resigned because there were enough people involved in both GEAR and High Gear that—.

Riley Habyl [01:22:40] Could keep going?

John Nosek [01:22:40] —It could keep it going. Yeah. We wouldn't—. We probably wouldn't have resigned if we didn't feel confident that that happened. We would've somehow kept trudging through. But, you know, we had enough of a mass to—. And it did. It did. Even though we left in '77 officially, other than writing articles thereafter, the paper lasted until 1982. So I guess we were right.

Riley Habyl [01:23:08] Do you know why the paper [High Gear] ceased publication in 1982?

John Nosek [01:23:13] That I don't know. Do you know, Leon?

Leon Stevens [01:23:16] Probably, well, actually, what happened is the Gay [People's] Chronicle—

John Nosek [01:23:25] Gay People's—. That came later though.

Leon Stevens [01:23:27] Gay People's Chronicle.

John Nosek [01:23:29] That came several years after '82.

Leon Stevens [01:23:32] Uh, yeah—

John Nosek [01:23:33] Because there was a gap and people were saying, "Hey, we need information." The Internet wasn't quite as prevalent then. So that's when—. I don't know. We'd have to look it up, but I don't think the Gay People's Chronicle started until the mid-to-late '80s at the earliest.

Riley Habyl [01:23:50] '85, '86, I think.

John Nosek [01:23:50] Yeah.

Leon Stevens [01:23:51] Yeah. So the guy who started it [Charlie Callender] was my—. Was an Anthropology professor at Case [Western Reserve University]. He's unfortunately no longer living, but—.

John Nosek [01:24:02] Charlie Callender.

Leon Stevens [01:24:04] Yeah and—

John Nosek [01:24:04] You've heard of him?

Leon Stevens [01:24:05] Yeah. So he actually started the Gay People's Chronicle. So.

John Nosek [01:24:10] Or, was an impetus behind it. Have you talked to the Gay People's Chronicle?

Riley Habyl [01:24:15] No, I haven't. I've been try— (crosstalk)

John Nosek [01:24:16] Martha. Martha Pontoni.

Riley Habyl [01:24:18] I've tried to reach out to her. Hopefully in the future I'll be able to speak with her about this.

John Nosek [01:24:23] And, you know, she might give you insight on more, if—. You know, she'd be a good person to write a 1980s [LGBT] community article. Actually, now that I think about it. I know Mike Brunstedt, of course, has her contact information. Mike Brunstedt, what a great guy.

Riley Habyl [01:24:40] That's actually how I was able—. His Pride Museum website [] is actually how I was able to access copies of High Gear and read them.

John Nosek [01:24:46] Really?

Riley Habyl [01:24:46] Fantastic resource.

John Nosek [01:24:48] Excellent. I'm so happy to hear that. And he's got What She Wants and all the Gay People's Chronicle.

Riley Habyl [01:24:54] Everything on there. That's a fantastic website.

Leon Stevens [01:24:56] Yeah, he just did it, too. Not long ago.

Riley Habyl [01:25:00] You can even search on it by—. You can enter search terms and it'll give you every single issue of all of the newspapers that are uploaded onto the site. You can search them by specific terms, too.

John Nosek [01:25:12] Wow. That's wonderful.

Riley Habyl [01:25:15] Moving forward a little bit into the 1980s, when did you—. When did either of you first become aware, or start learning about, the HIV/AIDS crisis? Or the onset of it?

John Nosek [01:25:29] Wow. That would—. Act—. You know, it's ironic that you mention that because—. In one of the early issues of High Gear—. It was one of the 1975 issues. It was a small article, but it talked about a 'gay cancer' among gay men in 1975, '76. So HIV was around, we just didn't know about it. And then it really obviously, as you know, didn't become a major issue until the 1980s. It was pretty devastating to our community, I must say. We lost so many friends. Nobody knew what was causing it. People stopped having sex because they were—. They didn't know what particular sexual act might be causing it. And while we obviously supported—. I remember giving many contributions to the AIDS Task Force at the time. And then, of course, Dancing in the Streets, which was their major fundraiser. And the lesbians were very supportive and helpful during that period as well. It it was a very trying time, I must say.

Leon Stevens [01:26:44] Frightening, yeah. Especially when somebody you know had died of it. And we do know a lot of people who did die of HIV, so.

John Nosek [01:27:02] Yeah. On a personal level, it really was impactful with the folks that we knew. But all we could do is keep fighting. And I think that what you saw from the activism of the seventies, it just shifted. It shifted away from what we were hoping for would be. Equal rights, and access to housing, and employment, and all of that took a back seat because we had to prevent people from dying. I don't really know much about the politics of the AIDS Task Force. I know they were trying to do good, and certainly the [LGBT Community] Center was important. They had a program called the Living Room, and that was really critical. A lot of people- I think the saddest part was that people were being shunned. If you had the disease, nobody would come near you because again, they didn't know. Is it communicable? Is it not? There was so much unknown at the time, but somehow we managed to get through it thanks to a lot of activism. In fact, I would imagine the activism was probably more intense— (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [01:28:10] Well, Act Up, I think, was—

John Nosek [01:28:10] —in The 1980s. Act Up, right? The national—

Leon Stevens [01:28:17] —instrumental in changing everything.

Riley Habyl [01:28:23] How did LGBT communities and LGBT spaces respond to the onset of the crisis, and the effects of HIV and AIDS on lesbian and gay communities in Cleveland? I know that you've mentioned activism, and you know, raising awareness about the crisis.

John Nosek [01:28:42] You know, I'm not sure I'm the right person to ask. I don't know if you have an answer—

Leon Stevens [01:28:48] Probably a medical person would know more.

John Nosek [01:28:50] Wasn't there an im—. The person who ran the AIDS Task Force. Can you recall his name?

Riley Habyl [01:28:57] Not off the top of my head, unfortunately.

John Nosek [01:28:59] He would be the person to ask, then. Again, like I said, we were involved in Ohio City. We did what we could financially for the AIDS epidemic. But as far as actual activism, at that time, we weren't that involved.

Riley Habyl [01:29:21] Can you speak on the impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis on gay spaces? Like, you'd mentioned that the 1970s were the golden era of, say like, gay bars, gay entertainment. How did the onset of the HIV/AIDS crisis impact or change those spaces?

John Nosek [01:29:39] That changed everything, really. I—. People probably continued—. Well, we went to the gay bars. And there were still people going, but there was less sex happening between men. I know that for a fact. And we obviously took care of those who were close to us, You know, with our friends dying, we did what we could for them. But as far as the actual activism, I'm not sure that we could comment on that any further.

Riley Habyl [01:30:12] Did—. For instance, did cruising in bars and in public spaces decline in the eighties, as compared to the seventies?

John Nosek [01:30:23] Yes, and no. I think that there were indiv—. You know, I mean—. People are always going to be horny, let's face it. And they're always going to want sex. There were some people who—

Leon Stevens [01:30:36] A lot of people were just sloppy about sex. Didn't use condoms.

John Nosek [01:30:40] Right. That's true.

Leon Stevens [01:30:42] Do this or that.

John Nosek [01:30:43] So I would say for a minority of the gay male community, they were more cautious. Either they started using condoms, or they reduced their sexual activity until they had more information. But then, like Leon said, there were others who—. To this day, by the way, I think gay men— (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [01:31:05] Still don't.

John Nosek [01:31:05] —can be irresponsible.

Leon Stevens [01:31:06] Yeah.

John Nosek [01:31:07] I mean, I understand barebacking now is a common, which is very dangerous because—. It's not like PrEP is going to solve all of your problems. I mean, there's still a chance that something could happen.

Riley Habyl [01:31:23] This is jumping forward a little bit, but do you think that younger gay people nowadays are less aware of the impact of the AIDS crisis in the eighties and nineties?

John Nosek [01:31:38] I think so. I think that because of our finally understanding how AIDS is transmitted, people feel safe. We have younger friends. One says, "Oh, I take PrEP. I'm fine." You know, "I can have all kinds of sex and not worry about it."

Leon Stevens [01:31:58] Yeah, especially younger guys.

John Nosek [01:32:00] Yeah. So, no, I don't think so. It's funny that you mention it, because Leon and I, we've been doing a lot of talks lately. I guess people wanted to know what it was like in the past, but they like to pair us with younger people. So we did a couple of presentations. The last one was at the Maltz Museum, and they their paired us with a couple of—. There was everybody there. There were lesbians and trans people. But for us—. They wanted elderly people. Us in our seventies, and then guys in their twenties. So I don't know if you know Taylor Henschel and Jim Forrest—. Neither of them live in Cleveland anymore, but they started the Cleveland Sports Stonewall—. I'm not sure. Stonewall Sports Cleveland. (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [01:32:54] Stonewall Sports Cleveland.

John Nosek [01:32:56] They started that organization. And the last question of the evening posed to us was, "What would you say is your most memorable experience as a gay person?" And of course, Leon and I had to talk about AIDS because it was so impactful. But they talked about the Pulse Nightclub shooting. So I think each generation has its touchstones for what most affected them. So, of course, you know, I mean, if you were born in 2000, you're not going to know anything about it. You can read about it, and watch movies. But aside from that, unless you were there, you couldn't really take in—. Let's face it. I'm grateful that we've made as much progress on AIDS research as we have. But even with COVID now, right around the corner, there could be another threat. So. Leon, you want to add anything?

Leon Stevens [01:34:00] No, I think that summarizes it pretty much.

Riley Habyl [01:34:08] I'm just checking through my notes here really quickly.

Leon Stevens [01:34:13] We're retired, so we have plenty of time.

John Nosek [01:34:16] Yeah. (Riley laughs)

Riley Habyl [01:34:19] (clears throat) So, into the 1980s—. Or, I should say, in the seventies and eighties, were either of you involved with the organization of any of the early Pride marches?

John Nosek [01:34:34] Again, there was only so much time.

Riley Habyl [01:34:36] Yeah.

Leon Stevens [01:34:38] Yeah. The first Pride march I remember—. John thinks there were more people at- I recall there not being more than 30 people. We couldn't get a—

John Nosek [01:34:47] Wait, are you talking about the ga—. There are several gay marches. The first one was in 1972. Ann Weld Harrington and the Gay Activist Alliance met at The Change [1510 Prospect Ave.], and then they marched down Euclid Avenue. I think The Change was on 18th Street, so they walked north to Euclid Avenue and then marched spontaneously down to Public Square. That one was small. That only had about 32 people. But then, the second gay Pride was mostly organized by Art [MacDonald] as a gay picnic. And I think that occurred in '75, was it?

Riley Habyl [01:35:29] I think so. (crosstalk)

John Nosek [01:35:30] It was a picnic. And then we didn't have another one until 1977. And then we had two marches, because somebody did not follow through with the paperwork for the city. It turned out okay because the media covered both marches. But ours—. And maybe this is what Leon is referring to. In '77, we had to march down the sidewalk. Although, I thought there were more than 32 people then. Must of—. Closer to a hundred.

Leon Stevens [01:35:58] No!

John Nosek [01:35:58] But we had a march down the—. Down Euclid Avenue. And there were elements. The Youth Against War and Fascism gay group [Gay Caucus] helped us with the numbers. And I can't remember who—

Leon Stevens [01:36:13] Well, they were not necessarily gay.

John Nosek [01:36:15] Yeah, but they were allies. You could call them allies. And then the second march, which was predominantly MCC [Metropolitan Community Church] people, under the leadership then of Dan Richmond. Because Art [MacDonald] had—. Art was only—. Art MacDonald was only in Cleveland for like two years at max. He came like '74 and left in '76, which is quite amazing. But—. He's like—. He's like the Ray Shepardson of the LGBT community. An outsider comes in, sparks something, and then leaves. I think they [Art MacDonald and Michael Madigan] moved back to Chicago, if I'm correct. Anyway, so Dan Richmond of MCC [Metropolitan Community Church]—. It's in one of the High Gears. When Art left, we thought it was important that people know. Then he [Dan Richmond] had a separate gay Pride march.

Leon Stevens [01:37:12] And then we had protests. We protested the 620 [Club] not allowing women in. And we protested the Cleveland Plain Dealer for saying 'homosexual'. 'Homosexual' instead of 'gay, not using 'gay.'

John Nosek [01:37:30] Now, when he says that we, it was not GEAR. It was what was then called the Cleveland Political Gay Union [Cleveland Gay Political Union]. And the reason was because GEAR was afraid that they might lose their status with the state of Ohio—as a foundation—if they got involved in political activities. I mean, we were taking advice from lawyers, so we had to. But it was—. Like I said earlier, the same group of people would participate, but—

Riley Habyl [01:38:00] Under a different name?

John Nosek [01:38:00] Under a different name, right.

Leon Stevens [01:38:03] Yeah.

John Nosek [01:38:03] Because we didn't we didn't want to lose our not-for-profit status. Things were different then. This was before 501c3.

Leon Stevens [01:38:12] But after we picketed the Plain Dealer, they stopped using—. (laughs) They started using 'gay,' and not—

John Nosek [01:38:19] 'Homosexual.'

Leon Stevens [01:38:20] Not 'homosexual,' so—. And we passed on High Gears as the employees came in. And so—. And the rest of the media too. I mean, uh, I guess they just followed suit after the Plain Dealer and started accepting 'gay' as a term.

John Nosek [01:38:40] The media was very important to us because- You know, Cleveland Magazine did a story on what was happening with gays. High Gear and GEAR kind of provided a catalyst for more visibility, so we were happy about that. Like we said, we've been on the radio, and then universities, and TV appearances, all of that. And we're still doing it now. Like, I think we're enjoying a second renaissance. Only because we're so old they're afraid that they'll lose any history once we're gone. (laughs) Or maybe a it's just a payback or a thank you for what we did almost 50 years ago.

Riley Habyl [01:39:24] Mhm. How would you describe the motivation behind early Pride Marches? I've read that they were described as being more— (crosstalk)

John Nosek [01:39:36] Political?

Riley Habyl [01:39:36] —political than current Pride marches.

John Nosek [01:39:39] That's true. They were.

Leon Stevens [01:39:39] Oh, yeah.

Riley Habyl [01:39:40] Yeah.

John Nosek [01:39:40] Yeah, we would—. Well, lesbians would participate in Pride marches. We would march chants that were specifically gay, like—. How did the Pap smear one go?

Leon Stevens [01:39:55] Well, that was so—. When we were in Columbus, I think.

John Nosek [01:39:57] Oh. Oh, okay.

Leon Stevens [01:40:00] "We're here. We're queer. Have you had your Pap smear?" (all laugh) This is lesbians, of course.

John Nosek [01:40:08] And then we would chant too. I don't—. I can't remember the chants specifically. Do you remember any of them?

Leon Stevens [01:40:14] Oh—

John Nosek [01:40:15] But our signs would say, "Gays deserve equal rights." (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [01:40:19] "Ho ho. Hey hey. Gay is okay." Stuff like that.

John Nosek [01:40:24] Yeah. It was much more a demanding of equal rights that we wanted. Equal rights, basically. Just like the feminist movement, and the black movement. So, yeah, it was more political because we had a mission. We wanted to not only be visible, but we wanted equality. We wanted to be treated like everyone else, and not as a second class citizen.

Leon Stevens [01:40:48] Yeah. And I would say after gay marriage became legal, the parades just turned into a parade. It wasn't, you know, necessarily political.

John Nosek [01:41:03] Yeah, it was more a celebration.

Leon Stevens [01:41:05] Yeah.

John Nosek [01:41:06] That probably happened in the late eighties, I would think, up to the present. It was more of a party time. But you know how our community is. We love a good party. (Riley laughs)

Leon Stevens [01:41:22] I would say so.

Riley Habyl [01:41:24] Do either of you—. So, I should say that—. I know that there were five or six Pride marches between 1972 and 1978, sponsored by different organizations and at different locations.

John Nosek [01:41:39] True.

Riley Habyl [01:41:39] I wasn't able to find a ton of information on marches in Cleveland between '78 and '89 with—

John Nosek [01:41:47] Right. There weren't—. I don't think there were any.

Riley Habyl [01:41:49] Were there [gay Pride] marches in Cleveland [between '78 and '89]?

John Nosek [01:41:51] Not that I'm aware of. Now, I know that some guy wrote a book claiming that it was Cleveland's first Pride march in 1989. And I thought, "Well, that's not true. I mean, we were—. Yeah, okay, our marches might have been small, but we were certainly marching." You couldn't—. When he was confronted we were on a Zoom call by Western Reserve Historical Society. The author said, "Well, I wasn't in Cleveland in the 1970s. So 1989 was, in my view, the first pride March." But I don't—. I'm not sure that there were pride marches in the eighties. They would have been sponsored by GEAR.

Leon Stevens [01:42:34] Yeah, I can't remember. These things have a tendency to just merge after a while, and—

John Nosek [01:42:42] And I only went by documentation. You know, I mean, we tried to be careful in our [Encyclopedia of Cleveland History] articles to have sources where we can be sure—. Either that, or we were somewhere and something happened and we were participants. Then we, you know—. That counted, even though it might not have been documented. But that was rare. Like the 620 [Club] protests. We never really wrote about that in High Gear, you know.

Leon Stevens [01:43:08] (laughs) They actually advertised that—

John Nosek [01:43:10] Yeah. They kept advertising with us despite the protest. (Leon laughs)

Riley Habyl [01:43:14] What year was the protest at 620 [Club]?

John Nosek [01:43:16] Oh, God.

Leon Stevens [01:43:18] Ehh—

John Nosek [01:43:18] It had to be between '75 and '77, but I can't tell you when.

Leon Stevens [01:43:24] Gosh, I couldn't.

John Nosek [01:43:25] An exact date escapes us. It's hard. It's hard to—. You know, when you're in the in the moment you're not thinking about the future.

Leon Stevens [01:43:35] Yeah, I—. You know, in retrospect, I wish I had kept a diary, and—

John Nosek [01:43:40] Yeah. Who would have had time for that? (all laugh)

Leon Stevens [01:43:44] Wow, yes.

Riley Habyl [01:43:51] Were situations like the one that you protested at the 620 [Club] common in other bars in Cleveland? Were those sort of— (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [01:43:57] No—

Riley Habyl [01:43:57] —discriminatory situations common in other bars?

John Nosek [01:44:02] Oh, yeah.

Leon Stevens [01:44:03] Yeah.

John Nosek [01:44:04] I think we wrote about that in the [Encyclopedia of Cleveland History] articles up. Bars at the time were—. Mostly tried to portray themselves as membership clubs. And if you consider yourself a membership club, then you can deny admission to people you don't want in your club. And who would be denied? Generally black people and women. Straight women and lesbians, because some bars wanted to have a predominantly gay male—

Leon Stevens [01:44:39] In other words, paying customers so—

John Nosek [01:44:43] Well, they also wanted—. You know, it's similar to what's happening now, in a way, where a wedding party—straight wedding parties crash gay bars. (laughs)

Riley Habyl [01:44:53] Yeah.

John Nosek [01:44:55] I don't know if that's still happening or not. But if it is, it's like—. Suddenly there's a whole group of people who would not be considered members. But that could be used then as a license to discriminate. We did in fact—. We got complaints about blacks not being admitted into bars, and we wrote an editorial [in High Gear] about it. I think it was called, "Stop the Racism Now." And, you know, we basically castigated the bars for their policies. But then we also castigated the patrons because we said basically that, you know, gay white men will leave a bar that's becoming, in their view, too black. That kind of things.

Leon Stevens [01:45:39] Or too straight.

John Nosek [01:45:40] Right, exactly. So—. Lesbians, of course, had their own separate bars. Leon always could describe a lesbian bar, that it had a pool table.

Leon Stevens [01:45:56] (laughs) Yeah, it's got have a pool table.

John Nosek [01:45:57] It's got to have a dance floor. A small dance floor. And—. I forgot the third criteria. It's in the article, you can read it there. But each bar was different, and- Lesbians were a little bit more tolerant of gay men. But they also wanted to have a safe space for women, which is understandable. And blacks, of course, as we wrote, had their own predominantly black bars. And they also tended to be a little bit more tolerant of gay white males. But somehow the reverse happened amongst some bar owners.

Leon Stevens [01:46:36] Well, I think the management of bars were afraid that if you let women in, it would turn straight. But there wouldn't be that many straight people there, and they'd lose—. In the meantime, they'd lose their gay clientele. And so, yeah, a lot of bars had, you know, at least 100, you know, gay guys in the bar, and so that was a cash cow for them. And they tried to preserve that. Uh, I would say the 620 [Club] was more of a cruise pickup bar. And there was a long shelf in the bar that guys would always hop onto. It was called the 'meat rack,' and it was like—. You know, it was like a supermarket. You know, just pick out what you like as you go down the meat rack. And then other bars were more disco to dance bars, I would say, so—

John Nosek [01:48:04] And those would have women in them, generally. But none predominantly. So it's almost like there was a traffic cop at the door, and if he saw a straight couple coming—. Although, it could have been a gay man and his female friend coming- They might—. The complaints we got about African Americans being barred was when a group of gay guys would go, and one of them happened to be black, they would let the white guys in, but not the black guy. And of course, that made—. They were friends, so the white friends said, "Well, if he can't come in, then we're not going in." So. (sighs)

Leon Stevens [01:48:41] And there were token black guys that—just because they were known to be gay, they let them in. So I know one guy who—. Yeah, every Saturday he showed up, and they let him right in. And so you just had mix and match type situations.

Riley Habyl [01:49:16] How would you, broadly speaking, describe the gay community in the eighties and nineties, as compared to the seventies?

John Nosek [01:49:25] Well, the eighties obviously were dominated by AIDS. The seventies were the golden era. The nineties—. I don't really know. See, this is when it's helpful to have people who were very—. I mean, by the nineties, I don't even think we were in the gay scene at all. You know, that reaches a point in your life where there's no need to go to the bars.

Leon Stevens [01:49:49] Yeah. Time to retire.

John Nosek [01:49:51] (laughs) And of course—. Unfortunately, at least among gay men, there is an idealization of youth. So the older you get, the less desirable you are. But I would imagine that, especially given that techno music and, you know, deep bass music and house music, I think that the bars were pretty active.

Leon Stevens [01:50:17] Well, what I would say, too, is straight bars were—. People just didn't care anymore whether two guys were dancing together. Sometimes you'd have three or four people dancing together.

John Nosek [01:50:33] That's true.

Leon Stevens [01:50:34] And sometimes just see one guy jumping around.

John Nosek [01:50:40] The nineties were like the Dancing With Myself decade. (laughs)

Leon Stevens [01:50:44] Yeah. So, speaking of Mike Brunstedt, we used to—. We started out going to a gay bar, but the music was just so— (crosstalk)

John Nosek [01:50:57] Disco-oriented.

Leon Stevens [01:50:59] —so old. It was just old, so—. (John laughs) We were into techno music, and techno dancing, and everything, and it was just—. So we just went to a straight bar in the Flats, and danced together all the time. You know, nobody said anything or even noticed.

Riley Habyl [01:51:22] How would you compare the visibility of the LGBT community in Cleveland in the nineties—. Compared to the eighties—. Er, not the eighties. The seventies, for instance?

John Nosek [01:51:34] Oh, that's a good question. Well, thankfully, we had the Gay People's Chronicle by then, right? You said '85 to '86. That carried over into the nineties. So they kind of continued the information, education, news sharing. So that visibility was important. And of course, the paper was still free, which helped a lot. So that in that respect, the visibility was there. The nineties I think were- The eighties and the nineties- And again, you'd have to talk to people who were more active at the [LGBT Community] Center. But it seemed like the [LGBT Community] Center, the LGBT [Community] Center had a very low profile. I mean, yes, they were here on West 29th Street, and there's a [Ohio Historical Marker] plaque to show it. But when they moved to their old location on Detroit Avenue, they were in a basement [1418 W.29th St.] and there wasn't much visible visibility then. I mean, you had to know where you were going if you wanted to see them. Whereas now with the new [LGBT Community] Center [6705 Detroit Ave.], it's blaring. So I'm really thrilled that that kind of visibility is there. And what makes me happy is in the way that GEAR and High Gear worked together as a point of contact for the community. That same thing happens with this LGBT [Community] Center now. So whenever the media has questions about new laws or whatever, they have a place to go. And that's very important. And of course, the [LGBT Community] Center is put in a position where it has to carefully comment on things because they don't want to lose their 501c3 status. But as I understand it today, which we didn't understand back then, was that it's okay to do things on behalf of your mission. It's just that you can't-as a private, not-for-profit 501c3-endorse political candidates.

Riley Habyl [01:53:39] That makes sense.

John Nosek [01:53:41] So, I don't know if that was the case in the seventies. I'm not a lawyer. We understood it—

Leon Stevens [01:53:45] Yeah. And I would say, outside of gay bars or gay contexts, we really didn't know who was gay. You had gay—. Gaydar is a myth. You don't really know-

John Nosek [01:54:01] It's true.

Leon Stevens [01:54:02] Yeah. Unless somebody tells you, or you—. Or somebody else mentions that blah-blah is gay, you just didn't know. You just don't know. I still don't know, I mean. So-

Riley Habyl [01:54:21] We've gotten through the majority of the questions I was looking to ask, so I just have a couple of sort of summary and reflection sort of questions left. So, over the years, what are some of the most major, or most impactful changes to the LGBT community in Cleveland that you've experienced, or that you've witnessed?

John Nosek [01:54:45] Well, for me—. I am most impressed that there has been an embrace of private corporations, foundations, city government, all who have backed the LGBT community. I think that's kind of rare in the country. I mean, yes, bigger cities might have the same. But among cities of our size, I've been continually impressed at how so many allies have come to support the LGBT community. I mean, I don't think we had that at all in the seventies.

Leon Stevens [01:55:24] Heck no.

John Nosek [01:55:25] And probably in the eighties. Maybe even the nineties.

Leon Stevens [01:55:29] And- Yeah, and I think a lot of it's geographical. I can't imagine the same kind of freedom we have here in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi.

John Nosek [01:55:43] Even Charlotte, North Carolina.

Leon Stevens [01:55:45] Yeah.

John Nosek [01:55:46] We have a friend who moved here and lived many years in Charlotte. He says, "I see so many more pride flags here in Cleveland than we ever saw in Charlotte," which is supposedly this big booming area. So that impresses me, the way that the general community has come to support the LGBT people. It actually warms my heart. What about you, Leon? What do you think?

Leon Stevens [01:56:11] Well, some straight people are- Our councilmen did a spinoff on the traditional Ohio City flag that we did. It says— (crosstalk)

John Nosek [01:56:23] They call it the Ohio City Pride Flag. It's- Maybe you've seen it with multiple colors.

Riley Habyl [01:56:29] I think so.

John Nosek [01:56:30] It's the same size, with the same stars, the same lettering, except that it's multicolored. And Terry McCormick—who is actually gay, Leon, openly gay-is the one who designed that flag.

Leon Stevens [01:56:43] Yeah. But even straight people are flying this—that flag, because—. I don't know, they just like the colors or something. (crosstalk)

John Nosek [01:56:50] I think they like the colors. (laughs)

Leon Stevens [01:56:53] So we were—. I was talking to a woman who lives on—. In Hingetown, Victorian house on one of the corners, but—. So I just assumed that she was a lesbian, and there's, "Oh, no, no, no. We're not. I—. No, my—. I live with my husband here. We just like the flag."

John Nosek [01:57:18] Well, they're also allies of the gay community. Because she also said that somebody came and knocked on her door, a distraught young male who might have been kicked out of his house or something and said, "I saw your pride flag out here. I thought you could help me." And she directed him to the [LGBT Community] Center, which is also very—another important variable. So, yeah, I don't—. You know, I have to say I'm really proud of Cleveland when it comes to the LGBT community.

Leon Stevens [01:57:50] Yeah, I never imagined that, uh, I would live to see this—. On Pride day, this sea of people coming across the bridge here. (John opens and closes door in the background) And it's just unbelievable. I mean, it's massive. People just pouring over the bridge. When I can remember when there were only maybe 30 people in a march, or—. Well, John says 100. I don't think there were way back then. But—. Yeah. I just cannot—. It's mind boggling. And I think it just has to do with- I think gayness is becoming normal. I mean, you know, I don't know anybody who has been kicked out of their house because, you know, by their parents. I mean, there are those kind of parents who are doing that, but—. And I can't even imagine that, you know, just throwing your child out of the house just because of that. But, yeah, I think it's just, you know—. Our relatives just could care less about it. I mean, they're just—

John Nosek [01:59:19] And some of them are Republicans. (John and Leon laugh)

Leon Stevens [01:59:21] Yeah. Some of them are Republicans, actually. But yeah, we've never had any problems with relatives, neighbors even, or anything.

John Nosek [01:59:34] But there will always be a need for an LGBT [Community] Center.

Leon Stevens [01:59:37] Oh, yeah.

John Nosek [01:59:37] No question.

Leon Stevens [01:59:38] Yeah.

John Nosek [01:59:39] Because you never know when you might start losing your rights. And I was also very proud of this year's 2023 Pride march because a lot of people turned out. I guess—. I read over 18,000 people despite all of this inflammatory language against the LGBT community. So it comforts me to know that—. There is a small vocal minority on the right, but the people are not going to be dissuaded.

Leon Stevens [02:00:14] Yeah, there were so many people in the last Pride day that I—. They couldn't possibly all have been gay.

John Nosek [02:00:21] Oh, they're not. (John and Riley laugh) Or LGBT.

Leon Stevens [02:00:24] I mean, they advertised- They announced it on NPR [National Public Radio] and all sorts of media outlets, so—. Yeah, I think it's—.

John Nosek [02:00:40] That's another thing, the— (crosstalk)

Leon Stevens [02:00:40] It's just becoming a Cleveland holiday, actually, for people. (John laughs)

John Nosek [02:00:46] The allyship is much greater now than it was back in the seventies. I mean, we couldn't even get gays and lesbians to

be activists. But now, just by showing up they're being active. Is that—

Riley Habyl [02:01:05] [I'm] just checking my notes for the last couple of questions here too.

John Nosek [02:01:07] Sure.

Riley Habyl [02:01:12] Are there any topics that either of you would like to talk about that we haven't discussed so far?

John Nosek [02:01:17] No, I think you've pretty much covered the gamut.

Leon Stevens [02:01:19] Yeah. Once you leave, of course we'll think of something.

John Nosek [02:01:24] (laughs) Isn't it always like that?

Riley Habyl [02:01:26] Oh, yeah. So, I have a final reflection question. So—. What is a message that you would like others to hear about your experiences, or the experiences of others like you?

Leon Stevens [02:01:47] I would just say—. Fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. Just because we have gay rights now, it doesn't mean that—. There are people who are trying to repeal gay marriage. They're trying to repeal—

John Nosek [02:02:01] Gender affirming care.

Leon Stevens [02:02:02] So my message to younger people would be—. Be wary, be on guard, and just fight, fight, fight. Because there is—there are always people who want to take your rights away, and just persecute you. Just, I don't know, mental illness, meanness. I don't know what that would be. But yeah, we can't rest on our laurels. We gotta stay on guard and lash out when there's a rollback—. Or, a perceived rollback instead of—. Hang in there.

John Nosek [02:02:55] I agree. I think that LGB—. There will always be a segment of the general community population that is not going to like anything LGBT-oriented. And I know many gays think that—. Or, many LGBT people in general [think that]—

Leon Stevens [02:03:15] That it's easy street now.

John Nosek [02:03:16] Yeah, exactly. Or, that they think that this is the last gasp of the people opposed to the LGBT community. Well, if it is, it's a long last gasp. (Riley laughs) But I don't believe it is a last gasp. I think that, like Leon said, we always have to protect our rights. We've made great progress, and we can't regress. We just can't. And we have to leave it to the younger generations now to keep powering forward. You know, Stonewall was a major wake up call and we need to keep that spirit of fighting back continuously forever. Long live LGBT people. (laughs) I guess that's it.

Riley Habyl [02:04:05] Well, I've reached the end of my questions. Thank you very much for speaking with me, John and Leon.

John Nosek [02:04:10] Thank you. We appreciate your time as well.

Riley Habyl [02:04:12] Thank you.

Leon Stevens [02:04:14] And your efforts.

Riley Habyl [02:04:16] Is there anything else either of you would like to add before I stop the recording?

Leon Stevens [02:04:21] I can think of anything.

John Nosek [02:04:26] Thank you for this opportunity.

Leon Stevens [02:04:27] Yes.

Riley Habyl [02:04:29] Thank you both for speaking with me today. I'm stopping the recording.

Leon Stevens [02:04:31] You are welcome.

John Nosek [02:04:34] Oh, my God. I hope we were somewhat coherent.

LGBTQ+ Cleveland

This collection features oral history interviews with LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Same-Gender Loving) community members, leaders, and activists in the greater Cleveland area. Interviews explore the history of Cleveland’s LGBTQ+ communities, groups, organizations, places, and spaces both past and present. Interviews in this collection were conducted by Riley Habyl, a graduate student at Cleveland State University Department of History, beginning in the summer of 2023.…