‘Through a Rainbow Lens’: A special sense of Pride on display at Lynn Museum (The Boston Globe)
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‘Through a Rainbow Lens’: A special sense of Pride on display at Lynn Museum (The Boston Globe)

By Lila Hempel-Edgers Globe Correspondent, Updated June 6, 2024, 7:59 p.m.


LYNN – A crowd donning sparkly sneakers and colorful wigs gathered on the first floor of the Lynn Museum Wednesday evening for a panel discussion and opening of “Through A Rainbow Lens,” an exhibit that documents decades of the city’s LGBTQ+ history through oral histories and nostalgic relics.


The panel, moderated by WBUR reporter Cristela Guerra, allowed historians and residents to reflect on the unique bar culture that established Lynn as a hub for LGBTQ+ people north of Boston.


“Bar culture was it, that was our culture,” said Pat Gozemba of Salem, a local lesbian author, activist, and historian. “There was no place else we could walk into and know there were other LGBTQ+ people there.”


Gozemba, 83, was one of 25 LGBTQ+ people interviewed for the exhibit. Project director Jim Moser said the interviews, which can be viewed on the exhibit’s website or on a television inside the museum, uncovered compelling tales of identity, self-discovery, and liberation.


The exhibit was funded by a $20,000 grant from Mass Humanities and produced as a collaboration between the museum, United Lynn Pride, and Salem State University. Moser said the project took about a year to put together and noted it was only possible because of 32 people who donated roughly 700 photographs, news articles, and artifacts collected during their time in Lynn.


“The detective work was actually kind of fun for me,” said Moser, 67, a Lynn resident. “My one hope for this project was that it would bring the community together, and I think we’ve done just that.”


Lynn was home to the state’s very first gay bar, the Light House Cafe, which opened in 1937 and thrived until a fire destroyed the building in 1975. The following year, a lesbian bar called Fran’s Place opened in the same spot. Fran’s, which hosted drag shows, fund-raising benefits for local charities, and a weekly Hispanic night, was a centerpiece of Lynn’s thriving gay community.


“It was one of the most joyful experiences,” said Kirsten Freni, a former Lynn resident who started frequenting Fran’s in the 1990′s. “Everybody got to be who they were, there was nothing else and nowhere else you could go.”


Freni didn’t come out as a lesbian until a few years after her first Fran’s visit, but she said the bar’s welcoming environment was crucial to her journey of self discovery. Other residents echoed Freni’s love for the space, but said the exhibit reminded them of some difficult aspects of their city’s history.


“It’s a joyful celebration, but it brings up some bad memories,” said Billy Mulcahy Moser, who said he is a “lifelong Lynner.” “I knew that Fran’s was there and that I could go and be safe, it was coming out of there when they would drive by and throw rocks and bottles.”


Mulcahy Moser said he was physically assaulted multiple times coming home from Fran’s in the 1990′s, once requiring a hospital stay to reattach his eyebrow. But Mulcahy Moser, along with his husband, Jim, said remembering the trauma is necessary to recognize how far the city has come.


“The community struggled a lot and was very resilient and really pulled together and supported each other,” said Moser. “I want people to see that community spirit in these panels, on the walls, and in the stories that are told.”


Fran’s, one of the 19 LGBTQ+ bars to occupy Lynn, closed in 2016. But as older locals studied the bar’s original menus and vintage merchandise Wednesday night, younger attendees said the exhibit made it possible to connect with a culture they never got to experience.


“There’s always something more to learn and more to appreciate,” said Doneeca Thurston Chavez, a city resident and the executive director of the Lynn Museum. “It makes me hopeful to know that these places once existed, and it makes me hopeful that there will be places like that again in the future.”


Freddie Anne Willing, a Lynn native who now lives in Salem, said the panel discussion helped him realize that growing up post-bar culture doesn’t make him less a part of the city’s LGBTQ+ community.


“I thought that I had moved away from Lynn before I really had queer history here,” said Willing, 40. “Hearing people talk made me realize that just wasn’t true.”


Lila Hempel-Edgers can be reached at lila.hempeledgers@globe.com. Follow her on X @hempeledgers and on Instagram @lila_hempel_edgers.



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