Congratulations to 2023 Charley Shively Prize winner August Bernadicou

August Bernadicou

The William A. Percy Foundation is pleased to announce August Bernadicou as our 2023 Charley Shively Prize for Gay Liberation recipient. Journalist, historian, archivist, Bernadicou has been interviewing lesser known LGBTQ movement veterans since he was 13 years old, collecting the stories of queer writers, performers, activists, artists, thinkers and leaders, from the homophile movement of the 1950s to the AIDS crisis. By the time he was just 21, Bernadicou had amassed hundreds of hours of interviews.

After moving to New York and wondering what he could do with all of the conversations he had had recorded, in 2019 he came up with the idea to found a nonprofit, the LGBTQ History Project, and in 2020 he launched the QueerCore Podcast. Whether his interviewees were under the spotlight or in the background, all of them were on the frontlines in the battle for queer liberation, citizenship, and justice, and Bernadicou is committed to preserving their stories before they are lost to history.

As Bernadicou says, “Now I think one of the biggest problems with our understanding of gay history is vested interest overriding our understanding of what really happened; by painting a rosy picture, we’re trying to take control of a certain market…so people are digesting these stories, and buying these t-shirts with photos of people who look good on a t-shirt, and not understanding the full story, and not appreciating the lives of the people who were behind the scenes, but quite possibly in my opinion as a historian, made a much more significant contribution.”

Here is a list of just some of the individuals Bernadicou has interviewed:

Jewel Thais-Williams: Jewel opened one of the first Black, gay discos in America, “Jewel’s Catch One,” in 1973 when same-sex dancing was still illegal. Later, in 1989, she co-founded Rue’ House, a living facility for minority women with AIDS and their children. 

Reverend Troy Perry: Rev Perry began hosting inclusive worship services for sexual minorities in 1968. Rev Perry’s services began with a dozen attendants in his living room, and in just three years he grew his congregation to over a thousand members.

Keith St Clare. Keith became an editor of Vanguard magazine after a stint in the air force, and as early as 1967 he took aim at the gay movements’ temerity and drive towards respectability politics.

Perry Brass: Brass was an early member of the Gay Liberation Front and co-editor of Come Out!, who was banned from Facebook in 2016, in part for his use of the word “seduction” in the title of his book The Manly Art of Seduction. Brass co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Project Clinic in 1972, which encouraged safe sex among homosexuals 15 years before the AIDS crisis.

Flavia Rando: Gay Liberation Front member, Flavia helped found the Lesbian Herstory archive after noticing that history was “disappearing as quickly as it was being made.” Flavia took her activism to the streets and was literally stoned for it. 

Recently, the LGBTQ History Project has published a memoir by Rumi Missabu, Off the Grid. Rumi was an original member of the psychedelic theater group, “The Cockettes,” and was known for his flamboyant, gender-bending style. Rumi lived in the heart of the hippie counter-culture, and for 35 years did not even have a government ID or social security number. See his interview with August here.

Bernadicou is interested in hearing the unfiltered narratives of those who fought for their freedoms when safety and support could not be counted on, in a time when “victory” was but the merest of abstractions, saying, “these people who did it, some of them did it alone, most of them did it with a community, but they all had no resources available, and often they had no money, and it always felt urgent. So try to find an urgency, something you believe in, and just always tell yourself, ‘it’s urgent.’” 

With LGBTQ activism’s primary objective today being one of mass appeal and marketability, these earlier voices are invaluable for reminding the world of just how precarious sexual justice really is—and how much it really costs. Bernadicou’s work seeks to restore this sense of uncertainty to the queer community, as well as both the terror and the liberation that comes from it, stating “One day you will wake up and realize that your youth is behind you even though you are still young at heart. Ideologies and labels are limiting. Don’t overthink it. The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you. What does?” 

For more about August Bernadicou and the amazing work he is doing, check out The LGBTQ History Project here, as well as The QueerCore Podcast here.

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