Charles Sawyer was born and raised in Philadelphia in 1940. He describes the need to be closeted as a young man, dating women, entering the military, and being discharged on suspicion of being gay. This outed him to his family who were largely supportive. He fell in love with a young man for the first time at age 21; his then lover was 17. Once the boyfriend outed himself to his parents, the boyfriend was sent to a psychiatrist who, he reported, he had sex with. Sawyer talks about gay bars and police harassment in Philadelphia and describes early monogamous relationships. He met his life partner David in the early 1960s; they remained partners for more than 50 years. David was from Maine; Charles joined him in Gray, Maine around 1970. The two men were employed at the same furniture company for 38 years; their fellow workers knew they were a couple and supported them. In Maine, they occasionally went to gay bars in Portland though most of their friends in Gray and in Portland were heterosexual. Sawyer observes that gay bars in Maine, unlike Philadelphia were mixed gender (both men and women).
Sawyer was raised Catholic but became an active member of the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Portland and volunteered with their soup kitchen. He discusses the early AIDS epidemic in Maine in the 1980s and early 1990s including fighting stigma (in this regard, he discusses Autumn Atunio and Terry Dannemiller). He volunteered with the AIDS Project and became Vice President of the People with AIDS Coalition (despite being HIV-negative himself). Sawyer observes that lesbians and straight women provided much of the support in those early years. Later, he worked with the marriage equality campaigns in Maine though he and his own partner decided against marriage for practical (economic) reasons.
Please cite as: Querying the Past: LGBTQ Maine Oral History Project Collection, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer+ Collection, Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, University of Southern Maine Libraries.
For more information about the Querying the Past: Maine LGBTQ Oral History Project, please contact Dr. Wendy Chapkis.
Philadelphia, PA; Gray, ME; South Portland, ME; military service and discharge on suspicion of being gay; psychiatry; gay bars Philadelphia (Allegro, Westbury Bar, Maxines); gay bars Portland (Rolands, Phoenix); monogamy; HIV/AIDS; The Names Project; The People with AIDS Coalition; Autumn Atuino; Terry Dannemiller; employment; religion; St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Portland; Sage Maine; marriage equality.
History of Gender | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Oral History | Women's Studies
Chapkis, Wendy, "Sawyer, Charles" (2017). Querying the Past: LGBTQ Maine Oral History Project Collection. 53.
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