By Kevin Rooker
And there it had remained. Stored in someone's basement, considered too important to throw out, but not interesting enough to come upstairs.
I brought the box home with me, told only that it was the 'library' and all that remained of a group named SAME.
SAME—the Society Advocating Mutual Equality—formed in the summer of 1966 in Rock Island, Ill., one of the small cities that hug the Mississippi River in Illinois and Iowa called the Quad Cities. Members of the local gay community started the group after the nearby Rock Island Arsenal—a military base—began firing civilian employees who were gay. SAME suspected who was helping the U.S. Army identify those employees and wanted to see what they could do to stop the firings.
But in that and other efforts, they were hampered by the need to remain hidden as gay men. Although they worked hard against appearing to be a 'secret society' to the local gay community, publicly they used fake names and were reluctant to identify the group as gay.
It was this conflict between working in the dark and changing the public image of homosexuals that tore at the group. When a member was allowed to state on a local radio show that SAME was a gay group, the Secretary was so upset he quit. And when their activist-minded President came out of the closet, the still-closeted members voted to disband the group.
All of this was unknown to me the afternoon I looked through their library, a box of muscle magazines from the '50s and '60s. SAME may not have been famous or changed the world, but they were looking out for gay people at a time when it was risky to do so. They shouldn't be forgotten.
Kevin Rooker is a writer from the Edgewater neighborhood and the former editor and publisher of the Quad-Cities' GLBT publication PROTOTYPE MAGAZINE. He has begun research for an in-depth article on SAME.