“Walk a Mile in Their Pumps:” Combating Discrimination within Indy’s Queer Community

Famous Door Kick Line
Performers at The Famous Door, an Indianapolis club known for its drag shows, ca. 1975, accessed The Michael Bohr Collection of the Indy Pride Chris Gonzalez Library and Archives, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

“In our endeavors to attain social justice, we cannot afford the
destructive luxury of discriminating against one another.”

Justice, Inc., an LGBTQ+ rights organization, issued this statement in 1989 after some gay bars in Indianapolis refused to serve cross-dressing and transgender individuals.[1] The city’s queer community had already encountered and protested numerous challenges posed by law enforcement, including police harassment, surveillance of cruising sites, and possible prejudiced police work as homicide rates increased for gay men. Although gay bars afforded a degree of shelter from discrimination, not all were afforded the opportunity to patronize them.

While examining Indiana’s gay newsletter The Works, I came across recurring incidents of discrimination within Indianapolis’s queer population. In 1973, outspoken transgender rights activist Sylvia Rivera drew attention to these incidents on a national level at New York City’s Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally. Rivera had helped found the Gay Liberation Front and, with her friend Marsha P. Johnson, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in NYC, which provided desperately-needed shelter and food for homeless trans youth.

In addition to advocating for people of color and the impoverished, Rivera advocated for white, middle-class men and women jailed because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. She also fought for the women’s liberation movement. Despite this, she was shunned for her attempts to include trans individuals in the broader gay rights movement. She famously addressed this ostracism after pushing her way on stage at the Liberation Day Rally. There, she passionately addressed the crowd, stating “I have been beaten. I have had my nose broken. I have been thrown in jail. I have lost my job. I have lost my apartment for gay liberation and you all treat me this way?” Her speech was met with a smattering of jeers and applause.

However, marginalized individuals within the queer community have been increasingly recognized through public artwork, Netflix documentaries, and seminars like The New Republic’s recent “Sex Workers as Queer History”. Cecilia Gentili, founder of Trans Equity Consulting and transgender actress in the Netflix show POSE, recalled in the seminar that gay men had significant power over transwomen and if you “weren’t fabulous enough” then you couldn’t get in the bar. She likened these experiences to the “criminalization of gender.” In this post, I examine similar incidents in Indianapolis, as well as strategies employed by the victims of discrimination to help secure rights for all.


Kerry Gean, dressed as the “woman I am deep inside of my biological male self,” and friends went to the Varsity Lounge in February 1989. After they were seated, their server singled out Gean with a request for identification. The server then informed her that she was breaking the law because the photo on her I.D. did not identically match her face. Humiliated and hurt, she returned home, changed into “male” clothes, and upon return was immediately served. After Gean’s experience, she asked readers in an editorial for The New Works News “Are we now turning against ourselves? Can we forget what it feels like to be barred from a public place by the owner, or even a bartender, who has some reason to hate us for the hard but true choices we have made?”[2]

Roberta Alyson, courtesy of The New Works News (August 1989): 1, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

By June, things were no better for Roberta Alyson, described by The Works as a “pre-operative transsexual.” Alyson was denied entrance to the gay bar Our Place on the grounds of not meeting dress code and identification not matching Alyson’s face, despite having a doctor’s note confirming the necessity of dressing as a woman. Bar officials got an off-duty officer who worked security to check the 31-year-old’s ID. He crumpled up the doctor’s note and Alyson “regrettably began to panic,” walking away from the parking lot. When the officer pursued and arrested Alyson, who later said one of the back-up officers was abusive and tried to lift Alyson’s skirt. Alyson was charged with and fined for fleeing an officer.[3] 

Alyson addressed the implications of such discrimination in a letter to the editor of The New Works News, noting Our Place’s dress code “flies in the face of the Stonewall Riots and sends a terrifyingly repressive message to the ‘straight’ community.” Alyson noted, “There were ‘genetic females’ in the bar on the night I visited it” and asked “Am I somehow more of a ‘threat’ to the bar’s image than a woman born?” Reflecting Gentili’s recollection, Alyson wrote “We, the greater gay community, are seeing a disturbing trend in that ‘gay rights’ seem only to apply to gays and lesbians who ‘fit in.’” Simply put, “Gay rights are human rights, and they apply to all of us!”[4]

Indianapolis police liaison Shirley Purvitis, one of the first to be appointed in the nation, organized a meeting to try to resolve issues between “certain segments of the gay community” and local gay bars. These bars included Our Place, 501 Tavern, and The Varsity. She noted later that “one of the most effective ways to fight discrimination was to ‘shut up and listen to what the other person has to say.’” Bar Owners, members of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and Justice, Inc., IPD vice officers, and members of the Indiana Crossdresser Society (IXE) attended the meeting, which was, “as expected, confrontational from beginning to end.”[5]

Courtesy of The New Works News (August 1989): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

As to claims that individuals were being denied entrance due to discrepancies between their photo I.D. and their physical features, Excise Chief Okey stated that “the only requirement that excise has for a person being served alcohol is that they be 21 years of age or older. . . . crossdressing, either male or female, is not grounds for refusal of service.” Other bar owners stated blatantly that they refused to admit these patrons, not because they feared breaking excise laws, but because they intended to “‘preserve the established atmosphere of their bars.'”[6] A 501 Tavern spokesperson stated that these individuals “‘were not wanted there,’ and if they had been admitted violence might have resulted. The bar owners also voiced the fear that if they admitted people in drag their regular patrons might leave.” Gay TV producer Gregory McDaniel denounced this reasoning, stating, “‘What I’m hearing now is exactly what I heard 20 years ago when attempts were being made to keep blacks out of Riverside Park and other public places.'”[7] Aside from being morally wrong, McDaniel alleged this discrimination halted momentum in the broader fight for gay equality, noting, “The wire services have picked up these stories. This shows the dominate [sic] society that we are not unified and that they are safe in oppressing us.”

David Morse, manager of Our Place, stated at the meeting that he felt “‘very much trapped in the middle.’” He tried to reconcile the needs of both parties, “perhaps naively,” by establishing the dress code and I.D. policy. However, he noted that he “‘learned many lessons'” from the ensuing discussions. [8] Perhaps fear of losing the bars they fought so hard to establish—whether by mistakenly breaking excise laws or drawing unwanted attention to the establishment—owners implemented discriminatory policies. Unfortunately, the meeting to discuss these policies ended without much resolution.

Members of IXE, Courtesy of The New Works News (August 1989): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

IXE met separately with Justice, Inc. to address the issue and one observer at the meeting speculated that “perhaps one reason that the crossdressers were causing such a stir in the ‘male’ bars” was because they looked:

‘too good and too much like natural, normal women and a far cry from the narrow gay-oriented perception of what “drag queens” look like. Perhaps some of the shakier ‘male’ egos couldn’t handle this unaccustomed image.’ [9]

By September, there seemed to be a bit more acceptance, as Our Place admitted Roberta Alyson, who by then had two pieces of “‘official’ feminine'” identification. The newsletter reported that Tomorrow’s and Jimmy’s had also been more welcoming.[10] McDaniel also commented that the The New Works News‘s extensive coverage of the discrimination showed that the community could be “introspective and self-correcting.”[11]

The New Works News (July 1989): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archive, IUPUI Library.

Sharon Allan, of IXE, decided to affect change by sitting down with bar employees. She met with Brothers manager Michael David to ask if their policy that identification had to match one’s appearance was implemented uniformly. After he said yes, Allan informed him that she “had been in the bar four times, after work and in a tie and had never been asked for ID.” Allan reported to the New Works News that “Michael immediately saw the lack of universality in their policy and promised to speak with the owner at the next staff meeting.”[12]

Capitalizing on the positive momentum, Justice, Inc. hosted the second “Discrimination Within the Gay Community” workshop in December.[13] While the turnout was low, and bar employees noticeably absent from the meeting, attendees reported that most bars had “reversed” their discriminatory policies. At the meeting, Gary Mercer, of Goshen, quipped “’Before you judge other people in the gay community, you better walk a mile in their pumps.’” Gay Cable Network’s Eric Evans agreed, noting that “‘discrimination is usually the result of ignorance.'” He suggested ongoing education for “both the gay and straight communities.” This, he said, could be accomplished through television programming and by forming a Gay Community Center.[14]

While awareness and dialog did not end prejudice entirely within Indy’s queer community, reported incidents diminished in The New Works News. Genny Beemyn notes in “Transgender History of the United States,” that in the early 1990s a “larger rights movement” emerged, “facilitated by the increasing use of the term ‘transgender’ to encompass all individuals whose gender identity or expression differs from the social norms of the gender assigned to them at birth.”[15] Still, activists fought an uphill battle for inclusion, as the “March on Washington” steering committee voted overwhelmingly to leave them out of the  1993 “Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation” march, despite support from bisexual allies.[16]

New York dedicates East River State Park to LGBTQ activist Marsha P. Johnson
Rendering of Marsha P. Johnson State Park, courtesy of the New York State Parks, accessed timeout.com.

Discrimination and violence against transgender individuals, especially those of color, endures, although largely waged by those outside of the queer community. However, public recognition of those marginalized within the community has increased, to some extent. In 2019, New York City announced it would honor drag queens and transgender rights activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson with monuments. Scott W. Stern and Charles O’Malley noted in their 2019 “Remembering Stonewall as It Actually Was—and a Movement as It Really Is” that the decision:

reflects a dawning awareness (among those in positions of power) that the LGBTQ movement was always more diverse, more radical, and more closely connected with other social movements than is commonly believed.

Along with the statues of Rivera and Johnson, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in August 2020 that the Marsha P. Johnson State Park, located along the East River, would be dedicated. This will be the first state park in the US honoring an LGBTQ+ individual, as well as a transgender woman of color. Stern and O’Malley argue that we should examine and commemorate those at the margins of equal rights movements not simply for history’s sake, but because “More accurate renderings of the past inform the way we act in the future; they inform whose lives we prioritize in the present.”[17] That is why we should be aware of Roberta Alyson and Kerry Gean, whose determination to transform humiliating experiences into policy change helped open the door to acceptance for other transgendered and cross-dressing individuals in Indianapolis. They remind us of the importance in engaging in conversations with “the other.”

*The professional study of LGBTQ+ history is relatively new.  We welcome feedback regarding accuracy and terminology, especially given the challenges in locating primary sources and the evolving conception of what comprises the queer community. We are especially interested in documenting lived experiences from a variety of perspectives.

[1] “Justice Investigation Calls for Uniform Bar Policies,” The New Works (October 1989): 8, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[2] “Varsity Drag,” The New Works News (July 1989): 3, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[3] “O.P.’s Dress Code Causes Arrest of TS: Transsexual Arrested Trying to Gain Admittance,” The New Works News (August 1989): 1, 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[4] Roberta Alyson, “Crossdresser’s Visit to Our Place,” The New Works News (July 1989): 3, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[5] “O.P.’s Dress Code Causes Arrest of TS: Transsexual Arrested Trying to Gain Admittance,” The New Works News (August 1989): 1, 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “IXE Meets with Justice,” The New Works News (August 1989): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[10] Gregory McDaniel, “Courageous Clear Thinking,” The New Works News (September 1989): 6, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[11] Ibid., 3.

[12] Sharon Allan, “No Discrimination Intended at Brothers,” The New Works News (October 1989): 3, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[13] “Justice Discrimination Workshop,” The New Works News (December 1989): 6, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Genny Beemyn, “Transgender History of the United States,” in Laura Erickson-Schroth, ed., Trans Bodies, Trans Selves (Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 28, accessed umass.edu.

[16] Ibid., 29.

[17] Scott W. Stern and Charles O’Malley, “Remembering Stonewall as It Actually Was—and a Movement as It Really Is,” The New Republic (June 24, 2019), accessed newrepublic.com.

[18] Ibid.

Challenging the “Double Standard of Morality:” Indiana’s First Women Lawyers

1) Adele Storck 2) M. Elizabeth Mason 3) Eleanor P. Barker 4) Jessie Levy 5) Ella M. Groninger 6) Mrs. “Peggy” Edward Franklin White, courtesy of The Indianapolis Star, August 11, 1923, 30, accessed Newspapers.com.

The results of a hotly challenged event, the first ever Women’s Safety Driving Contest made the front page of the August 12, 1923 Indianapolis Sunday Star. Sponsored by the newspaper and Indianapolis police department, the contest had drawn two hundred entrants. Competition proved fierce, with first place decided by a solitary point. Photos of the top eight “lady drivers” featured prominently, yet ten pages back, tucked between “Married Women Often Forget Maid Friends” and “Gotham Gossip About Hoosiers,” an event of arguably more significance would soon be taking place. The headline simply read: “Women Lawyers to Attend Convention.”

Fifty years before winning the right to vote in 1920, women began entering the legal profession. In 1899, a group of eighteen New York City women formed the Women Lawyers’ Club. Twenty-four years later, the newly-rechristened National Association of Women Lawyers planned to hold its first convention on August 28 – 29, 1923 in Minneapolis, with Chief Justice and former President William Howard Taft in attendance. The six Hoosier lawyers highlighted in the Star’s story would play key roles in moving women into positions of power and public leadership.


Emma Eaton, 1894, courtesy University of Michigan Law School.

On October 7, 1894, the Sioux City Journal announced that “Miss Emma Eaton of Creston, Iowa, passed the examination at the head of the class.” The paper noted “She is a graduate of the state university [Iowa University] and the law department of Ann Arbor University [University of Michigan]. When her standing was announced, she was congratulated by the judges present and applauded by her classmates.”

Emma made a handful of court appearances in Iowa, assisting the Union County Attorney before settling on legal editorial work. In 1900, she married Edward Franklin White, a respected Indianapolis attorney and author. “Peggy” as she now called herself, was expected to put aside her professional career. For a few years she did just that, likely helping her husband edit law books. But in 1915, she got involved with a legislative bill to grant Indiana women partial suffrage; evidently not a universally popular position judging by the number of letters to the editor opposing it.

Historian Jill Weiss Simins noted that the two major state suffrage organizations—the Equal Suffrage Association (ESA) and the Woman’s Franchise League (WFL)—opposed one another regarding the question “Should suffragists accept partial suffrage to get their foot in the door and later work for full suffrage or demand full suffrage as their inalienable democratic right?” White toed the ESA’s line of thought in this regard. Responding to one particularly irate missive, White noted, “Some little independence of thought doesn’t hurt any cause.” That same year, White prepared arguments to the Indiana General Assembly for a bill to approve “the appointment of policewomen in twenty-five cities of the state.”  Supporting her would be another entrant into Indiana’s legal profession, Eleanor P. Barker. Through their work, Indiana became one of the first to inaugurate a statewide system of policewomen. When “the policewoman bill” introduced by Robert W. McClaskey failed in 1915, she used her involvement in the Women’s Legislative Council of Indiana to pressure lawmakers to revisit it.

While membership in the Women Lawyers’ Club had grown to 170 members by 1914, locally two women would graduate from the Indiana Law School, one of them being Barker. The Indianapolis trailblazer became the first woman to win highest honors from any Indiana law school and the only woman to accomplish that particular feat two years in succession.

Eleanor P. Barker, circa July 1918, courtesy of (Indiana) Angola Herald.

Like White, Barker dedicated herself to the cause of women’s enfranchisement. However, she toed the WFL’s line and felt it couldn’t be achieved on a state-by-state basis, opining that partial suffrage “took the steam out of the suffrage movement.” Instead, she supported the Anthony Amendment, which would become the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Along with her role as the Indiana standard-bearer in Washington, D.C. suffrage parades, Barker chose to picket the White House “to impress President (sic) Wilson with the vigor of the militant suffrage crusade.” She also traveled the state registering women to vote and giving free classes in civics and political science.

Like many suffragists, Barker committed to war work at the outbreak of the Great War. Dr. Anita Morgan noted in her “We Must Be Fearless:” The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana that “What the war managed to do was to finally focus the energies of all these suffragists and clubwomen, so they acted in concert for one goal—win the war and in the process win suffrage for themselves.” The February 24, 1918 issue of the Indianapolis Star reported on Barker’s work, noting “In a time of below-zero weather, stalled traffic, all but impassable roads and multiplied discomforts and difficulties she heroically kept on her schedule made by the 14 – Minute Women’s Speaker’s Bureau.” As head of the state’s Congressional Union/Woman’s Party, Barker delivered thirty-two speeches, fourteen minutes long of course, about food substitution and conservation to record crowds throughout the Midwest. She also led the Women in Industry Committee, advocating for women’s and children’s working conditions during the war.

The Sacramento Star, November 3, 1919, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Ella Groninger was the second graduate from the class of 1914 and joined the family law firm of Groninger, Groninger & Groninger. A native of Camden, Ella had taught school before moving to Indianapolis in 1900. There, she attended the East Business College, clerking at her brothers’ law firm before obtaining her law degree. On October 15, 1919, in Marion County Superior Court, room five, Ella M. Groninger became the first woman judge to preside in an Indiana courtroom, ruling on the Tenney v. Tenney case.

George Tenney arrived with a litany of grievances in his divorce petition against Ida M. Tenney, claiming his wife hadn’t sewed buttons on his clothes and left the house lights on when she went out at night. After careful consideration, Special Judge Groninger denied the petition, saying “From the evidence introduced here, this woman has given twenty-nine of the best years of her life to this man. There is no proof of wrong.” When questioned afterwards on her decision, Groninger remarked, “The double standard of morality should not be given a chance to grow out of our divorce courts.

The Indianapolis Star, August 28, 1920, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Groninger was judge and jury, serving on the first jury of women in an Indiana court, made possible by ratification of the 19th Amendment. The case, a replevin suit for the recovery of a Victrola, took place in the court of T. Ernest Maholm, Justice of the Peace, on August 28, 1920. Although the trial was scheduled to start at nine o’clock, Mary E. Boatwick, the first Indiana woman to be served with a jury summons, had to be excused due to pressing matters related to her work for the Indianapolis Star. A half hour later, twelve women were sworn in to a courtroom, which was decorated with a “bank of flowers” arranged around dusty law books in honor of the historic occasion. The women represented a variety of religions, races, and professions, and included African American suffragist and actuary Daneva Donnell.

Although Gronginger was listed as the only attorney, juror M. Elizabeth Mason had begun her final year at Benjamin Harrison Law School. Born in Ohio, she had attended the University of Chicago before relocating to teach at Indianapolis public schools in 1904. At the age of forty-four, she decided on a legal career, taking classes at night. The following year, “Minnie” Mason became one of three exceptional women to earn a degree from Hoosier law schools.

The Indianapolis News, August 28, 1920, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.

The defense’s strategy, noted by the Indianapolis Star, was unique: “Louis Dulberger, in a snappy gray suit and white suede shoes, smilingly told the jury how he had ‘long awaited to see the time when women could sit on the jury in the court, and, now that the time has come, insisted that only women serve on the jury in this case.’” His platitudes did little to sway the jurors, who deliberated for five minutes before forewoman, Groninger, announced they’d reached a verdict—in favor of the plaintiff. As they filed out of the courtroom, the jurors were given a white chrysanthemum as a memento from the historic day.

Following Mason was Adele Storck, who became the second woman to graduate from Benjamin Harrison Law School in 1921, winning top honors for the best senior class thesis. Born in Kassel, Germany, Adele Storck immigrated with her family to Odell, Illinois. In 1900, similar to her friend, Mason, she took a teaching position within the Indianapolis public school system. Later, she attended DePauw University before entering law school at the age of forty-five.

After graduation, Storck became the first woman admitted to the Indianapolis Bar Association. She and her friend established Storck & Mason, credited as “the first woman’s law firm in Indiana” and one of the earliest in the country. On October 21, 1921, in one of the fledgling partnership’s first cases, Storck & Mason filed suit for the plaintiff, Hattie A. Storck, Adele’s sister in Marion County Circuit court. The outcome has been lost to history, but the law firm of Storck & Mason continued on for well over three decades with both partners considered “pioneer women attorneys.”

Advertisement, January 1, 1942, courtesy Indianapolis News, accessed Newspapers.com.

Officially, the law firm of Stork and Mason ended upon the death of “Minnie” Mason in 1955. Over the years, it had stood as a sterling example of equality, setting the stage for the emergence of numerous women-owned business nearly five decades later. Of equal note, Mason and Storck showed that it’s never too late in life to pursue your dreams.

The final woman from our group of trailblazers benefited from the others’ experience. Graduating in 1921 from the Indiana Law School, Jessie Levy eschewed the expected career “in estate planning, probate, and related tax matters,” instead gravitating towards criminal law. Her clientele included four members of the John Dillinger gang. Accused of trying to throw open “the doors of freedom to the most notorious public enemies in the Midwest,” Levy replied that her only interest was in obtaining a “fair trial,” but added, “When the time comes and I am challenged, I will have plenty to say.”

Jessie Levy and client, Russell Clark, in a Lima, Ohio courtroom, March 1934, courtesy of the author’s collection.

And that she did, becoming in May 1934, the first woman from Indiana admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. A month later, Levy became the first woman to deliver a stay of execution in Ohio. Reflecting back, she observed, “Oh, I had some pretty lurid cases in my time but I enjoyed what I was doing and found the cases challenging.” On February 1, 1951, a bill sat pending in the Indiana General Assembly with a clause allowing a husband to sell jointly-owned property without the signature of his wife. Contending that the proposed bill would make it easier for one spouse to cheat the other, Levy led a referendum for an amendment requiring the signatures of both spouses.

In 1971, after a half century practicing law and presiding over every Marion County court as either a special judge or judge pro tem, Levy would be honored by the Indianapolis Bar Association. When an Indianapolis Star reporter observed that fifty years in practice qualified her as a senior citizen, Jessie protested, “But I still feel young,” and then excused herself for a scheduled court appearance.


These six exceptional women epitomized the advice given by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who in 2015 told a group of young women at Harvard University: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” While the 19th Amendment increased women’s agency, it did not eliminate discrimination against them. Women still had to navigate a maze of state laws meant to keep them from exercising their rights. This is where the six Hoosier women made their most lasting contributions; each opposed discriminatory practices and laws restricting women’s access to the courtroom and the office. In the 1926 words of Eleanor P. Barker, “Women in Indiana have done more for politics and received less at the hands of politicians than the women of any other state.”

Click here for other firsts accomplished by these attorneys and a list of further reading sources.