Election year fodder: Letters from the front lines of the St. Louis LGBTQ struggle for equal rights.

In honor of National Coming Out Day (October 11) and  LGBT History Month this post explores the the correspondence of Tom Miles, a St. Louis native and leader among allies of the LGBTQ community, provides an intimate window unto the LGBTQ rights movement of the 1990s and early 2000s. Miles, who was also a life-long Catholic and tireless activist for gay rights within the Catholic community, was in part motivated to campaign for the LGBTQ community because his daughter identified as lesbian.

“Congratulations on your pride in your daughter and for your participation in the very important P-FLAG organization. Your letter is a great encouragement to me.

Thine,

Vern Barnet”

Vern Barnet (CRES) to Tom Miles, 13 January 1999, regarding the latter’s involvement in PFLAG. Tom Miles Papers, Series II, Box 5, folder 1.

Reverend Vern Barnet (CRES) to Tom Miles, 13 January 1999, regarding the latter’s involvement in PFLAG. Tom Miles Papers, Series II, Box 5, folder 1.

Click here for full transcription of Barnet’s letter to Miles.

The letters featured here – from Vern Barnet, reverend of the Center for Religious Experience and Study, from Miles to a Missouri state senator, and between Miles and members of his Catholic church featuring his letter to  Archbishop Burke – outline Miles and others’ efforts to support the gay rights movement.

“As practicing Catholics (and, we believe, compassionate people), we were appalled at your comments regarding homosexuals. We have a 39-year old daughter (5th of our 6 children) who revealed (“came out”) that she is lebians 15 years ago. Our family loves and totally supports her and her life-partner.

…You must know that the American Psychiatric Association determined (some years ago) that homosecuality is not a mental condition…something which, apparently, our Church has chosen to ignore.”

-Tom Miles to Archbishop Burke, February 22 2004.

als-20040804-miles-from-miles-dave-pt1 copy

Email, Tom Miles to Archbishop Burke, 22 February 2004. Tom Miles Papers, Series II, box 5, folder 2.

als-20040804-miles-from-miles-dave-pt2 copy(Miles-Burke transcription)

The correspondence, and the collection as a whole, chronicles the victories and setbacks LGBTQ activists experienced during two critical decades of the struggle towards achieving equal rights in the United States.

“Please,” Audrey and Tom Miles urged Speaker Gaws, “do not allow religious political extremists to use the human rights of a group of people as election year fodder.”

Letter, Audrey and Tom Miles to Steve Gaw, Missouri state senator, April 2000. Tom Miles Papers, Series II, box 5, folder 3.

Audrey and Tom Miles to Steve Gaw, Missouri state senator, April 2000. Tom Miles Papers, Series II, box 5, folder 3.

(Miles-Gaw transcription)

Today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day. October is LGBT History Month.


This post is part of an occasional series, “Special Delivery – Letters from the WUSTL Archives and Special Collections.”

For more information about the letters and documents displayed here, or in general about Special Collections please contact us.

 

 

About the author

Lisa Lillie is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at Washington University in St. Louis.