Safe Travels for the LGBTQ Community on Route 66
The heyday of travel in the United States kicked off following World War II. After wartime stresses, Americans were ready to have fun exploring their country and its many sights, particularly the westward sights along Route 66. But not every American could just jump in the car and embark on an adventure. Like their African American counterparts, gay and lesbian travelers in the 1960s had to plan their journeys wisely, ensuring they could find safe places to lay their heads at night and places where they could grab a drink or a bite to eat without fear of judgment, abuse, or arrest.
Enter Bob Damron, a businessman who traveled often and thought the gay and lesbian community could use a guide to friendly places throughout the country. In 1964, Damron published Bob Damron’s Address Book. Also called the Damron Guide, the book was small, made to fit discreetly in the palm of one’s hand. Despite its size, the book’s content was extensive. Perhaps most impressive was that Damron had personally visited each location he listed, adding credibility to his recommendations. Damron also took it upon himself to sell the books personally. (The modern version of the guide is now available online.)
Although the Damron Guide was the most widely known guidebook geared toward gay and lesbian travelers, other resources existed as well, including The Lavender Baedeker. This guide, first published in 1963 by Guy Strait in San Francisco, looked more like a newsletter than a book, and it contained far fewer listings than the Damron Guide. The text tended to be more vague than direct but could be easily deciphered by members of the community. For example: “***—This notation indicates it is a place that the editor would be sure to visit if he were in the area. It does not mean it is the “best” place in the area, but that it is friendly and may be counted on to give the traveler information of local conditions.”
Thanks to the St. Louis LGBT History Project, we have both of these publications in our collections. To see them in person, check out our Route 66: Main Street Through St. Louis exhibit, open now through July 16, 2017.
—Sharon Smith, Curator of Civic and Personal Identity