In honor of Pride month, there will be a live reading of an original play about a piece of Juneau’s history many people don’t speak about and more have never heard: The expulsion of homosexual men from Juneau in the 1960s.
“Blue Ticket – Fairies Out of Alaska,” a fictional play by Maureen Longworth, focuses on Tommy, a young man returned to Juneau after college in 1963 who is saving up to go to law school by working as a police officer. He soon finds he is being asked to take part in something that he finds both morally and constitutionally questionable: interrogating and giving a blue ticket to suspected homosexuals to leave town on the next available ferry. When Tommy realizes that he is more than just friends with his old college roommate, now part of the Coast Guard, both their careers are put in jeopardy.
“I wrote (Tommy) to be sort of naïve to things that happened here, like he didn’t know about the prostitutes being ticketed back on the steam ship days,” Longworth told the Capital City Weekly.
Longworth first learned about this history at a lunch after a job interview in 1992. Longworth attended with her female partner, and said that was likely why the history was brought up. The woman who told Longworth had been a teenager during the early 1960s; one morning she noticed her hairdresser missing. In a town of around 8,000, missing people were noticeable. The woman’s mother told her it was because the man was suspected of being a homosexual. The story of the hairdresser’s disappearance was one Longworth heard from multiple people.
Longworth became accustomed to hearing tales about this expulsion from longtime members of the Juneau community. Often, at community and art events she’d run into “old timers” and ask about it.
“I was able to just ask during a social event and we could just stand up against a wall and they could tell me what they knew, how they experienced it in their situation,” she said. From numerous accounts, she was able to piece together that the year of the expulsion was in 1963.
“People who I trust, very reputable people – legislators, state workers, state higher-ups in the legislature, one of the writers of our constitution, people who taught here … I have some pretty reliable sources that (the expulsion) happened,” Longworth said.
Details both big and small from these accounts make an appearance in the play, such as the house of a recently expelled man being sold to a woman at a lucrative price, the disappearance of the hairdresser and of men belonging to a local gentlemen’s club. Longworth even interviewed one man who was away at college at the time and was pulled out of class and was interrogated about his roommate back in Juneau.
“The whole thing was so upsetting to him … he wrote out the whole thing that happened right afterwards because it had shaken him up so much. He did a lie detector test. He felt very violated even though he wasn’t personally being investigated and he personally had not had sex with or kissed a man. … He missed two classes. He said obviously it had been arranged with his teacher because the teacher didn’t even bat an eye when these guys came in and took him out of the class,” Longworth said.
The main character Tommy shares some characteristics with a woman who spoke to Longworth. She had recently graduated college at Northwestern University and was appalled when she learned of the expulsion.
“The woman who had come from Northwestern had a job in law enforcement, and she said every morning there would be rounds, and the names were given of who were the new ones they found out about and who they were going to go after,” Longworth said. “She said this would never happen in Chicago but she was brand new at her job and just came from college.”
While based on stories she heard, Longworth emphasized that the play is fictional.
“Everything adds up in the story but all of the characters are fictionalized, so Tommy, Marge, they’re not real people,” she said.
Originally, Longworth thought she would write a non-fiction book on the incident. She did research in local and state museums and archives to seek more information, and to get a better feel for what life was like in Juneau in 1963.
Longworth was no stranger to writing about real events. While in medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, she wrote “Turning Around: Sexism in Medicine,” a comedy exposé about the sexism she witnessed in medicine. The skits were turned into a screenplay and later internationally distributed after Vogue Magazine called it a “smash hit comedy.” According to an article in the LA Times in 1986, the 18-minute video became required viewing for the clinical faculty. To put out the information that she has on the expulsion, Longworth said was her “natural way.”
“I first thought that I’ll write a book about this. What I realized is that I didn’t have enough factual, substantiated information to connect all the dots to write a non-fiction like ‘this happened first and then this happened then that happened,’” Longworth said.
Longworth grew up putting on plays in her garage with her sister, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that this became the easiest way to write about it. She was inspired when “The Laramie Project” was performed in town — a play based on the death of Matthew Shephard, a young man who was murdered for being gay in 1998. Impressed, Longworth spoke with the playwright Moisés Kaufman after the show. Then she knew how to share the story.
Two summers ago, she began writing her play and then taking it to various workshops. Now, it’s finished except for the occasional tweaking. She’s ready to share her play and even have it produced if a theatre company is interested. It’s a story she wants told.
The play was accepted for reading at the Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Festival and will later be taken to the San Francisco Bay Area Playwrights Festival for further discussion.
There will be two free public readings of selected scenes of Longworth’s play, the first on Wednesday, June 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center gallery and then on Friday, June 30 at 4 p.m. at the Alaska State Museum.
At the back of the play is a historical epilogue Longworth wrote with her partner Lin Davis, giving a national and state context for the events in the play and why this story matters today. They conclude:
“LGBTQ people can be fired, evicted, denied financing, housing, employment and other services, on the basis of being, or suspected of being LGBTQ. Most states offer no legal recourse or protection, and in fact legislatures in 2017 debated proposals to reduce LGBTQ rights in the areas of marriage, adoption, foster care, LGBTQ wills and burial of spouses, and they especially and viciously targeted state transgender rights. This vicious inequality combined with the recent mandated legalization of same-sex marriage has created a dangerous loop for loving couples that marry, only to be fired or evicted once their marriage is recognized publicly. The urgency for equal protection has become a national and even worldwide emergency. In some countries gays are executed or imprisoned.
“None of us can be silent. As Tommy says in his opening monologue, ‘I’m counting on you. YOU have to do something!’ I share this true story, with fictionalized characters and plot, so you can understand and figure out where YOU enter the scene in this world we live in today.
“If you were sent away from Alaska, or anywhere; or violated for being suspected LGBTQ, the playwright would like to hear your story.”
Editor’s note: Some people have gone unnamed in this piece to protect their anonymity and not all historical information the Weekly could independently corroborate. If you have information in regards to the history mentioned in this piece and would like to share, both the playwright and the Capital City Weekly would like to hear from you. The playwright can be contacted at email@example.com and the Weekly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those interested in producing the play should contact the playwright.