The Happy Foundation’s quest
to save a bit of LGBT history
QSanAntonio, May 17, 2006
It’s down a long narrow hallway, far away from the dance floors
and video screens of the Bonham Exchange’s public areas. The room
is filled, floor to ceiling, with file cabinets, old display cases, and
boxes of magazines, newspapers and miscellaneous memorabilia. This is
the home of the Happy Foundation, a fledgling non-profit and San Antonio’s
Trying to keep order among the clutter of historical artifacts is the
Happy Foundation’s founder, curator and board member, Gene Elder
-- a local artist and activist. It was Elder who in 1988 began collecting
bits of local gay history that have since filled every nook and cranny
of the 400 or so square feet of the room the Bonham Exchange has given
him to house the project.
Last March the Happy Foundation became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization
paving the way for Elder and the board of directors to begin raising funds
to help preserve the archive for future gay generations. "All this
time it has just been me saving newspapers, books, posters, T-shirts,
political buttons, photos, etc.," says Elder. "I start a file
on pretty much every topic or person that becomes the latest news. It
changes regularly -- art, military, murder, marriage, politics."
The Happy Foundation is named after Arthur P. "Happy" Veltman
who died of AIDS in 1988. Veltman was a local gay entrepreneur who was
involved with the development of the Blue Star Arts Complex and real estate
projects throughout San Antonio. He was the owner of the now defunct Kangaroo
Court Restaurant and the San Antonio Country, the gay bar that eventually
moved downtown and became the Bonham Exchange. It is Veltman’s legacy
vis-a-vis the Bonham Exchange and his surviving partner Kenneth Garrett
that currently funds the Foundation’s efforts.
"The goal is to save the history of the LGBT communities and create
a resource facility so that people doing research can find information
on who and what we were, and what we did to change the world," says
Elder. It’s a serious goal with a lighthearted point of view. The
Foundation’s mission statement reads, "The Happy Foundation
is dedicated to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness; the preservation
of GayBLT history; encouraging contemporary art; and promoting ballroom
The Happy Foundation’s collection is a treasure trove for gay history
buffs. One could easily spend days exploring the contents. However, until
the materials are thoroughly catalogued, preserved and stored the archive
is not open to the public.
Now that it’s a non-profit the Foundation can begin the work of
turning the contents into a place for serious scholarship. With the help
of the community and some extra cash, the Happy Foundation will be precious
resource where San Antonio can recall and reflect on the life and times
of GLBT generations past.
For more information about the Happy Foundation, contact Gene Elder via
email at: email@example.com.
Gene Elder, chief archivist at the Happy Foundation.
Paul Boskind (left), proprietor of the Church Bistro and Theater with
playwright Del Shores.
Gene Elder interviews "Sordid
Lives" playwright Del Shores
QSanAntonio.com, September 24, 2007
Gene Elder, the chief archivist at the Happy Foundation, sat down
with Del Shores, the playwright who penned "Southern Baptist Sissies"
and "Sordid Lives." Shores’ adaptation of "Sordid
Lives" debuted recently as a LOGO television series. Elder elicits
comments from Shores on everything from the influence of Texas on his
writing to what’s wrong with the Log Cabin Republicans.
Elder: So Del, I'm delighted to get you
on the Chartreuse Couch. It's not as important as a Hollywood couch but
it'll do for a good Texas interview. So, let's see. I believe we got to
meet in person when you came to San Antonio for "Southern Baptist
Sissies," which I greatly enjoyed. Were you happy with that production?
Shores: Yes, I love Paul Boskind, and the
Church Theatre was just amazing for that production. Honestly, it's always
hard for me to watch any production other than the ones I direct and produce,
because those are my vision, but I've learned over the years to watch
the audience and their reactions to the production as well as what is
going on stage. The San Antonio audience adored the play and I really
did enjoy the cast, the audience, the direction and the production. Well
done! Thank you, Paul.
Elder: And now you are getting a good response
with "Sordid Lives" on LOGO?
Shores: I am. The show is their biggest
show to date -- by far. They tell us that it is in a league all it's own.
I wrote, directed and produced all episodes, so I really took a chance,
knowing that if it worked, I'd get a lot of praise, if it didn't, I'd
be the fall guy. So I'm getting a lot of praise which I prefer. My fan
mail has exploded to the degree that I can barely keep up. I still answer
all My Space messages (myspace.com/sordid_lives) and all my fan mail that
comes to firstname.lastname@example.org personally and I'm getting such amazing letters
Elder: That is really great to hear because,
I am, and I suspect that you are too, a Texas chauvinist. And I'm glad
to know this tale that takes place in Texas --meaning "Sordid Lives"
-- is getting a good reaction. I am interested in one thing right off
the top of my head. How did your Texas experience serve you in creating
the play and TV series?
Shores: When asked how my Texas experience
influenced my writing, I always respond, "How has it not?" All
the people I grew up with, the sayings, the church, the family -- everything
has gone into my writing. I love my home state, warts and all, and it
has given me a wealth of material.
Elder: And most important, we need news
about all the interesting actors you get to work with, particularly about
my hero Delta Burke.
Shores: I work with so many great actors
and we are all good friends. Rue McClanahan is a doll and I adore her.
She is gearing up for her one-woman show. Leslie Jordan is on the road,
promoting his book with his one-man show "My Trip Down The Pink Carpet."
The show is wonderful, as is the book. I recommend both highly. I see
that he has several Texas dates coming up. Delta and I remain good friends,
even though she wasn't able to do the series. I hope to bring her in for
a fun cameo in Season Two.
Elder: As you know I am the Archives Director
for the HAPPY Foundation, San Antonio's GayBLT history archives, and I
do keep a file on Leslie. I know about his performance. I plan to see
it. And LOGO what are they like?
Shores: LOGO is MTV's gay channel, about
3 years old. Part of the Viacom family. They are wonderful to work with
and are very invested in the series and allowed me creative freedom. Like
most new networks, they are limited in terms of budget, but we all got
creative to make "Sordid" happen. It is my pleasure to work
Elder: OK, enough of that. I want to move
on to politics. Is there anyone you know in that bunch who likes Bush
and how are you going to use "Sordid Lives" to help correct
all of the world's problems? That is what I want to know.
Shores: Yes, there are people who still like Bush. Kathy Griffith said
it best when she said (and I paraphrase) "Southerners are so proud
of their ignorance." Some people, no matter how glaring the evidence,
just CAN'T BE WRONG! Regarding Texas and "Sordid," I just write
characters I know and love and adore. They happen to be from Texas (mostly)
and I try to tell the truth.
Elder: I know we both are very concerned
about all the problems in the gay community and I like to keep up with
GLAAD. I have been out and causing trouble in San Antonio since 1972 and
watching the groups come into existence and fight is one of my favorite
soap operas. What do you think about GLAAD?
Shores: I actually have been nominated for
two GLAAD awards, one for the play "Sordid Lives" (I didn't
win) and one for "Southern Baptist Sissies" (I did win). Besides
the fact that they give awards and I have great memories of those awards
shows, I happen to think GLAAD does amazing work.
We need you and GLAAD and HRC "causing trouble", fighting the
fight. I had an experience in Nashville when we were touring my plays
"Sordid Lives" and "Southern Baptist Sissies." A TV
show there invited Leslie Jordan and Delta Burke to be on their show,
then uninvited them because "they felt their audience would be offended
by the subject matter." I cried foul, GLAAD stepped in and helped
expose how the station was supporting homophobia. We didn't get back on
the show, but thanks to GLAAD we exposed the truth and stirred it up.
Elder: Well, about the Log Cabin Republicans
and the Stonewall Democrats, what do you think of their organizations?
I know you won't say anything hateful, but give us some constructive criticism
Shores: Me, not say anything hateful? Oh
come on, you know I have a mouth (laughs). Look, I love what the Stonewall
Democrats are doing and have real issues with the Log Cabin Republicans.
When the Log Cabin Republicans refused to endorse Bush in 2004 (which
they had endorsed the first time the monster won)... but this time they
didn't because of his proposal for a constitutional amendment to ban gay
marriage... well, I wrote them and said, "What the hell did you expect?
Your party has never supported gay rights or gay marriage; the only difference
now is they want to make it a constitutional amendment. But every time
you voted Republican, gave your money to that party, you gave to a party
and a candidate WHO DID NOT SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR EQUAL RIGHTS. And that
fact has never changed. Sure, the Republicans accepted your endorsement,
they accepted your money and support, but THEY NEVER ACCEPTED YOU. Don't
be mistaken Log Cabin Republicans, you will always be the redheaded step
sister in the Republican party!" Needless to say, I did not hear
back from them.
And now they've endorsed McCain and Palin (don't get me started on her!).
Gene, I have never known a gay Republican who was a Republican for any
other reason than money. It's always fiscal. Always. A party that is anti-gay
rights, pro war, pro guns, wanting to take away a woman's right to choose
-- that's what you are endorsing Log Cabin Republicans and I say shame
on you. There is a line in my "Southern Baptist Sissies" --
"How do you embrace something that doesn't embrace you?" Enough
on that subject!
Elder: Del, this was great talking with
you and I know your two plays are an inspiration to all of Texas -- gay,
Baptist and confused. Thank you for sitting on the Chartreuse Couch with
me and know that Alamo queers are your biggest fans, and I don't care
who knows it. Also, see if you can work a chartreuse couch into "Sordid
Shores: Thanks for inviting me and I love
you San Antonio.
Researcher seeks interviewees for
lesbian history project
QSanAntonio, March 19, 2010
Melissa Gohlke, a graduate student at the University of Texas at San Antonio
who’s working on a lesbian history project that covers the decades
between 1980 and 1999, is looking to interview local women for her research.
According to Gohlke the project, Women’s History, Primary Source
Research Project – Spring 2010, will seek to "discover and
discern how lesbians in San Antonio created spaces for themselves which
differentiated them from, and incorporated them into, the city’s
greater gay and heterosexual communities."
"I will look at social, political, religious, and family organizations
that provided avenues for, and support of, the development of a lesbian
community within the city," says Gohlke. "I will also explore
how some lesbians challenged social norms and created their own families
and kinship networks."
Additionally, Gohlke hopes to uncover and address obstacles faced by lesbians
in San Antonio as they sought ways to connect with other lesbians and
forge identities within their local space. To add additional contextual
information, the research will provide background material on GLBT issues
and communities at the national level within this time frame.
This project represents Gohlke’s initial exploration of this topic.
She will be conducting more extensive research on this subject beginning
in Summer of 2010 which will continue throughout the remainder of her
graduate studies and will be part of her Master’s thesis.
Anyone interested in being interviewed for the project should contact
Gohlke via email at email@example.com.
Intern helps bring order to Happy
QSanAntonio.com, October 24, 2009
Melissa Gohlke, a graduate student at UTSA, has courageously volunteered
to intern at the Happy Foundation Archives and work with founder Gene
Elder in helping bring some organization to the collection.
Their duo’s mission this fall is to organize and catalog the extensive
collection of GLBT material that Elder has been collecting for 21 years.
Ultimately, the archives will be organized so they will be easily accessible
The meeting between Elder and Gohlke was purely serendipitous. After attending
the dedication of an urban island to the late Arthur "Happy"
Veltman, Gohlke contacted Elder and visited the archives the very next
Gohlke is a historian who is researching San Antonio’s GLBT community.
"When I discovered the archives I couldn’t believe my good
fortune," she says. "Who knew such a wealth of information was
housed in the back of the Bonham Exchange."
For those who have never been to the Happy Foundation, the collection
of GLBT materials is very extensive. It includes such topics as: gay men
and lesbians, Pride, military matters, political and religious organizations,
protests, marches, murders, arts, theater, court cases and many others.
Additionally, the archives house a vast collection of periodicals dating
back to the 1970’s. For anyone interested in conducting research
on the local, state, and national GLBT community, the Happy Foundation
is a treasure trove of primary material.
It was clear that Elder needed help organizing such a massive collection.
Therein the idea was hatched; an internship was the perfect solution.
The two are making great headway in their undertaking, which will continue
through the beginning of December.
After December Gohlke will become a regular visitor at the archives as
she pursues research for her Master’s thesis. She is beginning a
two-year project to examine the history of San Antonio’s gay community
and uncover the valuable contributions that gay San Antonians have made
in shaping the city’s urban landscape.
Early next year she will begin interviewing members of the community and
collecting recorded oral histories. Ultimately, Gohlke hopes to collect
enough information for a book. For more information Gohlke’s project,
contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Happy Foundation accepts donations of publications, periodicals,
books, newspapers, personal papers, and anything else that is related
to GLBT history and heritage. The email address is email@example.com.
The Foundation can also be reached by phone at (210) 227-6451. The Happy
Foundation is named for Arthur "Happy" Veltman, a prominent
San Antonio businessman, who died in 1988. Kenneth Garrett, Veltman’s
partner, is the president of the Foundation.
Another Conservation Society grant
for Bonham Exchange building
QSanAntonio.com, December 13, 2007
The San Antonio Conservation Society has awarded a $5,000 grant to the
owner of the Bonham Exchange to repair the facade of the historic building
it occupies near the north wall of the Alamo. This grant comes on the
heels of a similar award for $10,000 that was given last year to help
rehab the building which is on the National Historic Register.
The Turnverein Building, as it is known, was erected in 1891 and has housed
San Antonio’s most popular gay disco since 1981. James Wahrenberger,
a prominent Swiss-American architect of the period, chose a French Renaissance
revival style for the edifice which was originally built as a German social
and athletic club.
Local entrepreneur and club owner, Arthur "Hap" Veltman, purchased
the building in 1981 as a successor to the San Antonio Country that was
located on North St. Mary’s Street. The new club was named after
James Bonham, one of the heroes of the Alamo. Velman, who died in 1988,
left the club to his partner Kenneth Garrett and his colleague Wade Strauch
who died in 1992. Garrett still owns the building today.
The Bonham Exchange has evolved into one of San Antonio’s most popular
and successful gay clubs. Its interior spaces are large and vast. There
are several full-sized bars, a disco, an outdoor bar and a large ballroom
on the second floor that once served as a theater for live performances.
The building is also home to the Happy Foundation, San Antonio’s