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03 October 2009

Lee Brewster (1943 - 2000) retailer, activist.

Lee was raised in the coal mining areas of West Virginia. As a young man he worked in finger-printing for the FBI, but was fired when it was suspected that he might be gay.

On moving to New York, he organized drag balls as fund raisers for the Mattachine Society. However they were disinterested in drag queens and other transies, so in 1970 he and heterosexual transvestite Bunny Eisenhower founded the Queens Liberation Front, and Brewster began publishing Drag, one of the more political transgender publications of the 1970s, which ran for 10 years.

They campaigned successfully to de-criminalize cross-dressing in New York. Previously a bar or club could be closed and patrons arrested, simply because a single person, deemed to be crossdressed, was present.

They organized with Sylvia Rivera.

The balls he organized continued until 1973 – the last one was attended by the real versions of Jacqueline Susann, Carol Channing and Shirley MacLaine.

He was the proprietor of the drag emporium Lee's Mardi Gras – in business for 30 years at various locations around Manhattan, carrying a large stock of clothes, prosthetics and books. In addition to individual clients, the shop supplied costumes for Broadway, television and movies, in particular To Wong Foo and The Birdcage.

In 1999  Lee donated his extensive library  to the Wollman Archives of Transgender History and Culture, curated by Rusty Rae Moore at Transy House.

He continued to answer to ‘Mr’ in the style of old-time drag performers.

He died after a battle with cancer.

3 comments:

  1. I was a regular client with Lee as a young transgendered person. I was so happy to venture into his shop (located above a wine shop on 10th Ave. between 41st.& 42nd. in NYC. (S)he made me feel so at home on my first vist. No judgement, no ridicule. I accepted who I was with that simple walk up the stairs. What a paradise I found! When I heard of his death (after the move to 14th street) I was very sad. My mentor. My Lee!!!

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  2. I miss Lee and the fun times working at Lee's Mardi Gras!
    And the feasts she would make us, oh GOD.

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  3. In the 70's I met Lee at a party she gave at a bar called Mothers in the Village. She told me I would look great with makeup and I should come in to her shop. I was such a fool. i didn't go because I was too scared. I regret that to this day.

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