Nebraska organization works to promote and support the LGBTQ community in Nebraska.
October is LGBTQ History Month. Through trials and tribulations, groups across Nebraska have worked to promote the interests of the LGBTQ community. One group that has been active in the Nebraska community over the recent past is OutNebraska.
In a historically conservative state, members of the LGBTQ community have struggled to create an accepting environment. Through the work of many organizers, allies and dedicated activists working with government officials, Nebraska has made steps towards acceptance of the community.
Here’s a brief look at the history of the LGBTQ community from Queer Nebraska: A Timeline:
Back in the 1930s, the LGBTQ community in Lincoln was thriving underground. They met at local hot spots like Sagamore Manor, Volga Villa (a.k.a. Vulgar Villa), Radclyffe Hall, and Magnolia Manor. While these spots existed, the majority of LGBTQ Lincolnites were not living as openly queer.
In 1976, Julia Penelope founded the Lincoln Legion of Lesbians. Their goal was to build lesbian solidarity and to fight for LGBTQ equality. The group dissolved in 1991.
In 1982, Kelly Erisman and Barb Scribner opened “Cherchez La Femme,” a lesbian bar in downtown Lincoln. After the building changed ownership a few times and Erisman bought out and brought on new business partners, a mixed gay bar was born. “The Panic” bar was created to be an inclusive environment where everyone was welcome, regardless of gender. Their mission was to provide a safe place for gay, lesbian, bi and trans people (and their allies) to gather and enjoy themselves. After Erisman died in 2016, her partner, Kara, took over management until The Panic had to close its doors permanently in November of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On June 26, 2015, the first same-sex marriages took place in Douglas and Lancaster Counties following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
Today, the LGBTQ community experiences more freedom in their expression of their identity and sexuality, but members of the community believe there’s still a lot more work to do. OutNebraska aspires to do just that.
“We are an advocacy celebration and education organization,” said Lauren Falconer, the director of development and operations manager at OutNebraska.
Through its work in the Nebraska Legislature to advocate for the LGBTQ community and through its events, OutNebraska works to create a safe and accepting environment for people to express themselves.
Falconer, originally from Kearney, came to Lincoln to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and started working with OutNebraska in December of 2020. Since then, she said she has witnessed firsthand what it’s like working for an LGBTQ advocacy organization in a conservative state.
She recalled a recent private event they were hosting in July in a room they rented at the Lincoln Children’s Museum, Drag Queen Story Hour. This was, as it sounds, drag queens reading books to children.
“But of course, people in the community did not like it,” Falconer said.
The Lincoln Children’s Museum received threats from community members, and OutNebraska decided to ultimately cancel the event for safety reasons. The story was shared by local and national media, and soon OutNebraska was inundated with positive messages.
“We got so much support from the community both inside Lincoln and Nebraska, nationally, and internationally. It was a little wild,” Falconer said. “Lots of people were sending messages of support, and we got a lot of donations out of it.”
Contention still exists around the issue of LGBTQ rights, which is why OutNebraska is working with local representatives. Right now, its focus is on the Equality Act. The act would expand federal civil rights laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, credit, jury service and federally funded programs.
Currently, it is legal to discriminate against LGBTQ Nebraskans in the workplace, housing and in public accommodations.
“The Equality Act would fix this,” Aryn Huck, the community organizer for OutNebraska said.
“Nebraska has struggled for years to pass nondiscrimination protections in our state legislature. The country-wide Equality Act would finally get us these protections and put our state on an even playing field with the rest of the country.”
As OutNebraska works on the legislation and creates events for members of the LGBTQ community to connect, it acts with one goal in mind: acceptance.
“We want to see [Nebraska] as a community where people can be proud of their identity, and where they don’t feel the need to hide it or restrict it,” Falconer said. “A lot of times people are told to be shameful of it, that’s just the way society is right now. And we want to go against that.”
For a more in-depth view of the history of the LGBTQ+ community in Nebraska, visit Queer Nebraska: A Timeline