For our GLBT community, October is important. It’s GLBT History Month, when we celebrate our past. October 11 is National Coming Out Day, when we progress in being open about our sexuality. Both are of recent origin.
But Halloween, our most popular gay holiday, predates recorded history, reflecting sex and gender variance far better than these activist holidays. In Another Mother Tongue, lesbian writer and scholar Judy Grahn called Halloween “the great gay holiday.”
Halloween developed from a pagan holy day, the Celtic feast of Samhain, which was the eve of the new year. It was an ancient fire festival when huge bonfires were lit on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits. Modern pagans continue to celebrate Samhain.
In Cassell’s Queer Companion, William Stewart wrote that Halloween is “the gay festival par excellence. Halloween has always been a time of year when the gay communities experienced greater freedoms. Even in the 1940s and 1950s, when police harassment of gay bars was at its height, Halloween was the one fairy-tale evening when the drag queens could come out with impunity.”
In Minneapolis, the pre-Stonewall homosexual community celebrated Halloween with an annual drag ball held in one of the city’s grand hotels. It was the one time each October when they could open the closet door a little way. For the rest of the year, they sequestered themselves in the few bars that existed more than a half-century ago, like the Dugout, which opened in 1933, and the Happy Hour (now part of the Gay 90’s), which debuted in 1957.
Today, it’s the GLBT bars that lead our community’s celebration of Halloween. All of them schedule events on or near Halloween, many centering on costume contests with sizable prizes.
A number of Halloween events take place in venues besides the bars.