Off-campus gay venues became less important to LGBT students as on-campus spaces became more visible and accessible. But students and faculty still visited places such as the gay-owned Club Baths in Cleveland, founded in 1965, which even offered student discounts.
In 1971, the Club Baths’ founder told the Lorain Journal that “many Oberlin College students are gay and come to Cleveland for contacts.” Roger Goodman (OC 68) “knew [organ major] Bart [Pitman (OC 70)] went to the baths,” he recalled. “And there was a great mystique to that…Bart would flaunt his KY jelly in his back pocket, and we knew he was headed for Cleveland.” Pitman “would just come back some times in the morning the next day, and I’d see him in the Con lounge and he would just say, [languidly] ‘My dear…So. Much. Fucking.’”
Cleveland bars also remained destinations. One, called Jack’s, was a “couple of doors down from the police station in the back alley, and it paid off the police,” Ken Sherrill, a government professor from 1965 to 1967 recalled. Another bar, owned by two lesbians, “played ‘Strangers in the Night’ sort of 24/7,” Sherrill said, “and everybody danced to Frank Sinatra. And they had one of these balls on the ceiling…that gave off this soft light, romantic light, as they danced.” The bar was “underground,” he recalled; “there were occasional brawls.”
François Clemmons (OC 67) made his way to gay bars with some other “closet queens.” Like Cleveland bars in the 1940s, he found that some discriminated against black men. He was also frightened about the consequences of exposure. “In those days you were always afraid the police were going to raid them,” he recalled. “There was always that feeling. They were a little bit like dives, you know, they were not cutting edge discos yet, and there was always this partial feeling of surreptitiousness, that you were sneaking off of Oberlin’s campus to go to a gay bar…and that if you were caught there might have been repercussions.”
In the mid 1960s, a faculty/staff person was arrested on homosexual charges in Cleveland, as then Oberlin Psychological Services director John Thompson remembered. “Because of the terrible prejudice rampant at that time in our society about homosexuality, the entire matter was kept ‘under cover,’” he recalled. “My role was one of serving as a consultant to the Dean of Students and the President in attempts to have this matter handled in a ‘medical’ rather than a judicial way.”