A scene from a 1970s-vintage drag show at the former Andrews Inn in Bellows Falls.
Vermont Folklife
A scene from a 1970s-vintage drag show at the former Andrews Inn in Bellows Falls.

BMAC celebrates Andrews Inn and its legacy as a LGBTQ space

BRATTLEBORO — In 1973, the Andrews Inn opened in Bellows Falls and became a legendary dance club, restaurant, hotel, and gathering place for southern Vermont's LGBTQ+ community for more than a decade. Fifty years later, in honor of the people and culture that shaped the inn's legacy, the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) hosts a day-long celebration of the inn on Saturday, Sept. 23.

In partnership with Vermont Folklife and Out in the Open, BMAC is inviting visitors to drop in anytime after 10 a.m. to view the exhibition "Pride 1983" and record their own stories to be included in the Vermont Queer Archives.

At 5 p.m., there will be a panel discussion about the Andrews Inn moderated by HB Lozito, executive director of Out in the Open. Following the panel discussion, the celebration continues with an Andrews Inn-inspired dance party, complete with pop-up bar, 1970s decor, and plenty of disco tunes.

Kirsten Martsi, manager of education and community engagement programs at the BMAC, called the day-long event "a way for Vermonters to honor and celebrate a state landmark and the people that came together to make it possible."

The Andrews Inn embodied the spirit of gay liberation and pride that emerged in the 1970s in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York. The three-floor brick building in the center of Bellows Falls became a social beacon in the rural New England LGBTQ+ landscape - a place to eat, drink, meet people, stay overnight, work as activists, and exchange mutual support during a time when homophobia was rampant.

The inn's visibility in Bellows Falls helped break down barriers, but also made its patrons vulnerable to prejudice and backlash. "There was always tension," Thom Herman, a co-owner of the Andrews Inn, told Vermont Public in June. Regular patron Michael Gigante remembered "tremendous animosity" in Bellows Falls toward people who gathered at the inn.

First-person accounts from Herman and Gigante, among others, are part of the Andrews Inn Oral History Project, which emerged in 2015 from a collaboration between Out in the Open (formerly Green Mountain Crossroads), Marlboro College, and Vermont Performance Lab (VPL).

The result was new performance work by VPL-affiliated artists, Marlboro College student projects grounded in oral histories collected from local radicals, and Out in the Open's Andrews Inn Oral History Project.

Part of the impetus behind the collaboration and the oral history project was to correct inaccurate perceptions. "There is a pervasive narrative," Lozito said, "that LGBTQ+ people don't, can't, or shouldn't live in rural communities, or that our presence in these places is somehow 'new.' The story of the Andrews Inn illustrates not only that we can and should, but also that we have for a long time - even before the advent of the Inn. Our legacy is long and getting longer every day."

To kick off the Sept. 23 event at BMAC, educators from Vermont Folklife will record interviews with anyone who has a story to tell about Vermont's queer community. Those interviews will be added to the Vermont Queer Archives, a collection maintained by the Pride Center of Vermont. From 10 a.m. on, anyone can come to the museum and share a story; no registration is necessary.

While at the museum, visitors can also view the exhibition "Pride 1983," which explores the origins and legacy of Burlington's first Pride celebration. The exhibition draws on archival materials from the Pride Center of Vermont, UVM Special Collections, and the Andrews Inn Oral History Project, as well as the personal collections of individuals featured in the exhibition.

The 5 p.m. panel discussion features several local icons - including Herman, Gigante, and Robert McBride of the Rockingham Arts and Museum Project - who brought the Andrews Inn to life in the1970s and kept the party going until the establishment closed in 1984.

Admission to all the day's events, including the dance party following the panel discussion, is free.

This The Arts item was submitted to The Commons.

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