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“A League of Their Own” chronicles the lives of LGBTQ women in the 1940s

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Amazon recently released a series that reboots the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own.” about the Rockford Peaches, one of 15 World War II All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) teams. The original film carefully avoided — and barely hinted at — the potential weirdness of the ballplayers, as well as the exclusion of black women from the league, but the show seeks to mend those erasures. It centers the queerness and racism that structured the league and the times.

The new series focuses on two queer women who cross paths at AAGPBL tryouts. Carson Shaw, a white woman whose husband is at war, is recruited by the Peaches. Max Chapman, a black pitcher employed in her mother’s beauty salon, is left out of the team despite her obvious talent. The series follows the two women as they pursue their baseball dreams, fall in love and fall in love, and reconcile their own desires and identities with the pressures they face to conform.

The show’s portrayal of queer life in the midst of World War II may seem unrealistic to some, but the story reveals that queer women and trans men – from butch to female and married to single – often found opportunities to act on their desires and build queer communities both during and after war. As the series shows, the formation of these queer communities was indeed often also racially segregated.

Many scholars have written about how World War II enabled the growth of queer communities, bringing together young men and women from across the country to live and work in spaces separated by gender. For many, this experience served as an awakening to the possibilities of same-sex relationships and provided an introduction to the very words “homosexual”, “gay”, and “lesbian”. A member of the Women’s Army Corps, which began in 1942 as an auxiliary unit, recalled that even during basic training, lesbian relationships were rampant: “Everyone dated someone, or had a crush for someone or was preparing to leave with someone.”

Women on the home front also found new opportunities for same-sex relationships, including in wartime industries that began hiring women as workers for the first time. Elizabeth “Deedy” Breed, a white woman from Connecticut, had her first lesbian romance with another woman she met while working at United Aircraft. The relationship was unhappy. After reading Radclyffe Hall’s classic 1928 tale of queer misfortune, ‘The Pit of Loneliness’, Breed felt there was no way to build a happy gay life and soon after married a man. But his feelings for women never went away. Decades later, in the 1970s, after becoming involved in the women’s movement, she ended her marriage and came out as a lesbian.

As the series “A League of Their Own” shows, underground bars were important meeting places for many white lesbians, but they also generally excluded black patrons. Ruth Ellis, a single African-American lesbian who lived in Detroit during the war, recalled meeting lesbians — married and single — at house parties rather than bars. Ellis’ own house eventually became known as “a house where the fags go”, which sometimes included married black church women.

After the war ended, military leaders intensified repression against gay women in their ranks. Beverly Todd, a white woman from Michigan, had several relationships with Air Force women in the early 1950s. Despite her best efforts to hide them, Todd’s unit captain discovered one of his affairs. In the middle of the night, he and other agents came to his room, separated Todd and his lover, and questioned Todd for over nine hours. Todd’s lover was kicked out of the military, likely because of an “unwanted” discharge that would have barred her from receiving veterans benefits. Meanwhile, Todd promised the Army psychiatrist that she would change rather than be sent to a civilian mental institution. “I did what they wanted me to do,” Todd recalled. Eventually, she married a man.

Even after the sobering experience of being kicked out of the military, some women have found ways to explore their desires for women, including playing sports. After being discharged from the army in the 1950s because of her lesbianism, Beverly Dale, a white woman, moved to Detroit, where she joined softball and bowling teams. She recalled that the games provided opportunities to meet and discreetly date women. Unlike the surveillance she endured in the military, the sport provided a relatively safe space in which to socialize with other queer women, provided they were in public romantic relationships with men.

After the war, gay women faced not only public discrimination, but also family homophobia and transphobia for defying gender and sexual norms. In 1953 New Orleans, Doris “Blue” Lunden, another white woman, was still a teenager when she was caught in a police raid at the Goldenrod Inn, a lesbian bar in the French Quarter. Lunden was arrested and her name was published in the next morning’s paper. She initially lied and told her father she didn’t know what kind of bar the Goldenrod was, but she left the house nonetheless, partly to escape the pressure to fit in. Months later, she came back to tell her father that she was a lesbian and was living with another woman. At that time, she had a crew cut and wore men’s clothing. “I’d rather see you dead,” he told her. It was the last time they spoke.

“A League of Their Own” reflects a long history of queer women across the country who found each other and together faced oppression. It depicts a brutal police raid on a lesbian-owned bar and details efforts by some of the Peaches to protect themselves by hiding their lesbian relationships. It alludes to how queer women and others began to organize in the 1950s and 1960s – against police harassment, medical misunderstandings that lesbians and gays were sick, and anti-violence laws. obscenity that restricted the circulation of gay publications – long before the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Daughters of Bilitis, founded by a group of women of various races in 1955 in San Francisco, was the first lesbian rights group in the country’s history. Through its many local chapters and nationally distributed newsletter, it has helped connect queer women across the country.

The series also reminds us of the many ways queer women and transmasculine people have claimed and created territory for themselves, their lovers, and their communities in ordinary and unexpected places. This message – and the story behind it – is especially resonant today as the United States continues to see the decline of explicitly lesbian spaces. At the start of the pandemic, two Brooklyn filmmakers created the Lesbian Bar Project, a fundraising effort to help “celebrate, support and amplify remaining lesbian bars” in the United States. From a historic preservation perspective, the project is a laudable endeavor that draws attention to the dramatic degree to which lesbian bars have declined in number since their peak in popularity in the 1980s.

While the Lesbian Bar Project seeks to shine a light on the vitality and importance of lesbian bars, “A League of Their Own” also reminds us that queer and trans people have long made and remade their place and continue to do so. . These spaces, whether in homes, workplaces, bars or baseball diamonds, have played a central role in shaping the queer community for decades and cannot easily be contained or erased.