Historical marker #2539 stands outside of one of the oldest LGBTQ gathering spaces in the United States.
As early as 1939, LGBTQ Kentuckians gathered discreetly at 224 East Main St. in Lexington. While not an explicitly LGBTQ space at this point, the ownership tended to allow patrons relative freedom from scruitiny. In 1963, however, gay men John Hill and Estel Wilson opened The Gilded Cage in the space and it has been a queer-friendly establishment ever since. This early opening predates the famous Stonewall Inn of New York City by three years. The space has gone through numerous name and ownership changes over the years, including operating as The Living Room after 1967, as Johnny Angels after 1978, and currently as the Bar Complex. In 1970, it was the site of the wedding between Marjorie Jones and Tracey Knight, who were the first lesbian couple in the country to sue for a marriage liscense. Given the long history of the building, it is only fitting that 224 East Main St. would be home to the first Kentucky historical marker celebrating LGBTQ history.
Marker #2539 was dedicated in a joint ceremony along with #2545, "Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Jeffery Wasson," in front of a large and enthusiastic audience. Hundreds of folks came out to the Livery see the first two markers in the Kentucky Marker program to focus directly on LGBTQ history. The size of the crowd was a clear indication of the broad support in the community for commemorating LGBTQ history and they were treated to remarks from the sponsors of both markers. After brief remarks from Brandl Skirvin and Mary Ellen Hart, board members of JustFundKY, and Dr. Andrew Patrick, Community Engagement Coordinator at the Kentucky Historical Society, Ernesto Scorsone gave a moving address on the bravery and sarafice embodied by Jeffery Wasson, but also reflected in countless others and Dr. Jonathan Coleman recounted the long LGBTQ history that has transpired at the Bar Complex on East Main Street. Throughout the dedication event, there was a strong sense from both speakers and the audience that while these were the first LGBTQ markers in the program, they would soon have lots of company.
The marker reads:
HISTORIC LGBTQ SITE
Oldest continuous LGBTQ gathering
place in Kentucky, and among
the oldest in the U.S. LGBTQ
patrons discreetly congregated
here as early as 1939. In 1963
The Gilded Cage bar opened, ran
by gay men John Hill and Estel
Wilson. Patrons enjoyed same
sex dancing and drag shows.
Sponsored by Just Fund Education Project, Inc.
& Faulkner-Morgan Archive
HISTORIC LGBTQ SITE
Renamed The Living Room in 1967.
In 1970, site of Marjorie Jones
and Tracey Knight wedding, the
first lesbian couple in the U.S.
to sue for a marriage license.
Renamed Johnny Angels in 1978.
Site of 1985 sodomy charge
against Jeffery Wasson. The case
overturned Kentucky’s sodomy law,
which helped decriminalize
homosexuality in the U.S.
The marker was dedicated on June 3, 2018.