A brief history of the Pansy Craze – the beginning of LGBTQ nightlife

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Like absolutely everything else, LGBTQ nightlife had to start somewhere.

It owes its beginnings to a period in the late 1920s and early 1930s called the Pansy Craze, which prompted a surge in the popularity of gay clubs and performers.

During the Pansy Craze, people in the LGBTQ community performed on stages in cities around the world, but New York’s Greenwich Village, Times Square and Harlem were at its centre, hosting some of the most renowned drag acts of the 1920s.

It was the early 1930s, however, when gay subculture became mainstream and rose to prominence on the stages of Manhattan.

The LGBT community becomes more visible

A brief history of the Pansy Craze – the beginning of LGBTQ nightlife

Why? Well, prohibition in the US had a large part to play in things. How come? Because everyone was in search of a delicious drink, of course.

Rather than doing what it was supposed to do, prohibition actually played a part in getting the party started. Because, unsurprisingly, alcohol brought people from all walks of life together in speakeasies and underground culture.

“It’s not just that they were visible, but that popular culture and newspapers at the time remarked on their visibility – everyone knew that they were visible,” says Chad Heap, a professor at George Washington University.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSlfQ49Bq1s&w=650&h=315]

And, while many Americans were disapproving of LGBTQ people, many of them were totally cool with their parties, performances, balls and beauty contests.

Some things never change.

“It’s pretty amazing just how widespread these balls were,” Heap explains.

“Almost every newspaper article about them has a list of 20 to 30 well-known people of the day who were in attendance as spectators.

“It was just a widely integrated part of life in the 1920s and 30s.”

Things go (fake) tits up

A brief history of the Pansy Craze – the beginning of LGBTQ nightlife

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In 1931, female impersonator Karyl Norman was caught up in a police raid at Manhattan’s Pansy Club, and on the same night police shut down a speakeasy called Club Calais.

Police were then stationed at the door of every pansy nightlife hotspot, and female impersonators were banned from local clubs.

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