June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) Pride Month, celebrated annually to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, “a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement.” While the stories of the historically marginalized LGBTQ+ community have not generally been represented in the dominant narrative of the rugged Western frontier, including at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, there is important scholarly and community work being done to fully recognize and honor the community’s significance in the development of Southern California and the broader American West.

One such story is that of Charley Darkey Parkhurst, who was assigned female at birth but who lived their life presenting as a male stage-driver. An 1880 article that ran in several California newspapers, including the San Jose Union, Ventura Signal, Tehama Tocsin, Morning Union (out of Grass Valley), serves as a sort of obituary for Parkhurst, and states: “He was one of the best drivers in early days in various parts of the State, from Stockton to Mariposa, from Oakland to San Jose, and from San Jose to Santa Cruz—when San Francisco was reached by the way of San Juan. For 15 or 20 years he has been engaged in farming, working in the woods, etc, and it is stated that he accumulated several thousand dollars.” While this story may seem extraordinary, the resources included here paint a clear picture that Charley Parkhurst was not alone. Peter Boag’s research has uncovered the pervasiveness of people presenting themselves in different ways in terms of their gender identities, while Abel Brodeur and Joanne Haddad trace the legacies of LGBTQ+ communities in the context of gold rush settlements from the nineteenth century to the present day. In more recent cases, the 2016 San Diego Citywide LGBTQ Historic Context Statement designated the Old Town Theatre as a historic “resource associated with arts and culture in the LGBTQ community” because it was a known location of performances by the Beautiful Lesbian Thespians (BLT)/Labrys Productions performance troupe in the late 1980s.

The books, articles, and websites listed below are just a humble introduction to the vibrant, diverse history of the LGBTQ+ community in nineteenth century California. The ongoing Relevancy & History Project seeks to highlight underrepresented histories and voices of California’s diverse communities, such as these, in order to advance and integrate equity, inclusion, and social justice practices within the interpretive landscape of California State Parks. Through this Project, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park is committed to interpreting the stories of the LGBTQ+ community. So, the park is excited and honored to present its first celebration of Pride Month.

Regional Histories

San Diego Citywide LGBTQ Historic Context Statement (City of San Diego Department of City Planning, 2016)
Explore the City of San Diego’s 2016 LGBTQ Historic Context Statement, which includes the sites and stories of the LGBTQ+ community.  Old Town Theatre (just outside the park’s boundaries) is listed as a “designated resource associated with arts and culture in the LGBTQ community” because it was a known location of performances by the Beautiful Lesbian Thespians (BLT)/Labrys Productions performance troupe.

Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past, Peter Boag (UC Press, 2011)
“Americans have long cherished romantic images of the frontier and its colorful cast of characters, where the cowboys are always rugged and the ladies always fragile. But in this book, Peter Boag opens an extraordinary window onto the real Old West. Delving into countless primary sources and surveying sexological and literary sources, Boag paints a vivid picture of a West where cross-dressing—for both men and women—was pervasive, and where easterners as well as Mexicans and even Indians could redefine their gender and sexual identities. Boag asks, why has this history been forgotten and erased? Citing a cultural moment at the turn of the twentieth century—when the frontier ended, the United States entered the modern era, and homosexuality was created as a category—Boag shows how the American people, and thus the American nation, were bequeathed an unambiguous heterosexual identity.”—excerpted from the book’s description on the UC Press webpage

“Go West Young Man, Go East Young Woman: Searching for the Trans in Western Gender History,” Peter Boag (Western Historical Quarterly, 2005)
“Feminist scholars and popular writers of women's history have traditionally ignored the possibility of transgenderism among ‘female-to-male’ cross-dressers of the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century West. This article examines the multiple reasons for this, including the role that the taint of western myth and the frontier thesis had in coloring available evidence.”—excerpted from the article’s abstract

“Institutions, Attitudes and LGBT: Evidence from the Gold Rush,” Abel Brodeur and Joanne Haddad (University of Ottawa, 2018)
“This paper analyzes the determinants behind the spatial distribution of the LGBT population in the U.S. We relate the size of the present-day LGBT population to the discovery of gold mines during the 19th century gold rushes. Comparing the surroundings of these gold mines to other current and former mining counties, we find that there are currently 10-15% more same-sex couples in counties in which gold discoveries were made during the gold rushes. We also provide empirical evidence that residents of gold rush counties still have more favorable attitudes toward homosexuality nowadays. Our findings are consistent with two mechanisms. First, gold rushes led to a large (temporary) increase in the male-to-female ratio. Second, we show that gold rush counties were less likely to house a notable place of worship at the time of the discovery (and in the following decades) and are currently less religious, suggesting a role of institutions in shaping attitudes and norms.”—excerpted from the article’s abstract.

“'Female Husbands' In The 19th Century,” Linton Weeks (National Public Radio, January 29, 2015)
Explore the concept of gender identity in this brief NPR article. “Questions of gender identity are nothing new. Way before Transparent and Chaz Bono and countless other popular culture stepping stones to where we are now regarding gender identity, there were accounts of ‘female husbands.’ Stories of women dressing and posing as men dot the journalistic landscape of 19th century America.”

Outriders: Rodeo at the Fringes of the American West, Rebecca Scofield (University of Washington Press, 2019)
“In the popular imagination, the western rodeo hero is often a stoic white man who embodies the toughness and independence of America’s frontier past. However, marginalized people have starred in rodeos since the very beginning. Outriders explores the histories of rodeoers at the margins of society... [including] gay rodeoers in the late twentieth century. These rodeo riders not only widened the definition of the real American cowboy but also, at times, reinforced the persistent and exclusionary myth of an idealized western identity. In this nuanced study, Rebecca Scofield shares how these outsider communities courted authenticity as they put their lives on the line to connect with an imagined American West.”—excerpted from the book’s description on the University of Washington Press webpage.

General Resources for Further Exploration

A Queer History of the United States, Michael Bronski (Beacon Press, 2012)
“A Queer History of the United States is more than a ‘who’s who’ of queer history: it is a book that radically challenges how we understand American history. Drawing upon primary-source documents, literature, and cultural histories, scholar and activist Michael Bronski charts the breadth of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, from 1492 to the 1990s.” Be sure to note Chapters Three: “Imagining a Queer America” and Four: “A Democracy of Death and Art,” which cover the park’s interpretive period of the 1820s to the 1870s and discuss Southern California and the broader American West.

LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History, edited by Megan E. Springate (National Park Service, 2016)
See especially, “Latina/o Gender and Sexuality” by Deena J. González and Ellie D. Hernández, which explores how “Gender and sexuality among US Latina/o populations encompass a continuum of experiences, historical, cultural, religious, and lived. Gender and sexuality varied by culture or ethnicity and by era across the many different Latino populations descended from Latin Americans.”

Decolonizing Latinx Masculinities, edited by Arturo J. Aldama and Frederick Luis Aldama (University of Arizona Press, 2020)
Decolonizing Latinx Masculinities explores “how legacies of colonization and capitalist exploitation and oppression have created toxic forms of masculinity that continue to suffocate our existence as Latinxs. And while the authors seek to identify all cultural phenomena that collectively create reductive, destructive, and toxic constructions of masculinity that traffic in misogyny and homophobia, they also uncover the many spaces—such as Xicanx-Indígena languages, resistant food cultures, music performances, and queer Latinx rodeo practices—where Latinx communities can and do exhale healing masculinities.”—excerpted from the book’s description on the University of Arizona Press webpage.

“A Guide To Gender Identity Terms” Laurel Wamsley (National Public Radio, June 2, 2021)
If you’re interested in learning more about gender identity, check out this recent NPR article which explains common terms and reviews the importance of pronouns. “Our goal is to help people communicate accurately and respectfully with one another. Proper use of gender identity terms, including pronouns, is a crucial way to signal courtesy and acceptance.”

Other historic sites, museums, and organizations to explore:

GLAAD https://www.glaad.org/

Lambda Archives of San Diego https://lambdaarchives.org/

The San Diego LGBT Community Center https://thecentersd.org/

Equality California https://www.eqca.org/

Queer California: Untold Stories (Oakland Museum of California, 2019) https://museumca.org/exhibit/queer-california-untold-stories

GLBT Historical Society Museum https://www.glbthistory.org/museum-about-visitor-info