Movie about Juneau's secret history coming to Wrangell

A video filmed of the award-winning play “Blue Ticket,” a historical fiction of dark pieces of Juneau history in the 1960s, will show at the Nolan Center at 6:30 p.m. April 15.

The author of the play, Maureen “Mo” Longworth, will be present for a discussion following the film.

The play is based on true stories about gay Alaska men who were secretly removed from Juneau by police in the 1960s.

When Longworth moved to Juneau with her partner Lynn in 1992 to work at SEARHC, she discovered that LGBTQ topics were not talked about openly. She learned that Juneau had a dark and secretive history.

In the 1960s, gay men were given one-way tickets, referred to as “blue tickets,” for the ferry out of Juneau. Often, men were sent away without any warning and disappeared in the middle of the night, never to be seen or heard from again. The police would show up at their door at midnight and escort them to the ferry, Longworth said.

The removal of gay men from Juneau was not documented, nor was it discussed publicly. Longworth said the community is still quiet about this topic.

Patricia Lattime, the producer and an actress in the play, said that when she was a child in Juneau in the 1970s people only spoke in whispers of what had happened. Though there is no record, Lattime thinks that over 100 men were removed from Juneau.

Instead of looking for non-existent records, Longworth learned about the topic by collecting personal stories and memories from people who were in town in the 1960s.

What she learned was that the men who began disappearing one by one were involved in all sectors of the community — they were fathers, teachers, barbers and pharmacists. For the most part, Longworth said, families and friends of the men who disappeared never knew what happened to them.

In some cases, she learned that stories were made up to explain their disappearance. For example, she learned that a pharmacist who disappeared was said to have been filling illegal prescriptions.

Because it was so shameful at the time, Longworth said that even if men did have warning, they rarely told people or said goodbye.

As people began to figure out what was happening, she said people had no way to protect their friends and family members because there was no legal recourse they could take.

The systematic persecution of LGBTQ people was going on at the federal level as well. The government removed many federal employees they believed to be “sexually deviant” in the 1950s and 1960s, known as the Lavender Scare. At the time, LGBTQ people were said to be communist sympathizers.

Lattime said police were trained to identify “sexual deviants.” She said they would search people’s mail and interrogate them. One of the scenes in the play depicts a U.S. Coast Guard member who was interrogated, and Longworth said the scene is almost identical to what he told her in an interview.

When Longworth broke her back in 2012 and could no longer work as a doctor, she began writing about the stories she had collected. She took script-writing classes at the University of Iowa and a writers residency in Washington state. In these classes, she started to develop the characters that would tell the stories of the history she had been collecting since the 1990s.

The play premiered in 2019 in Juneau, where all of the shows sold out and more were added to the calendar. Public TV station KTOO filmed a live performance of the play in 2019.

The script was selected by the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, and the film received awards of excellence at the LGBTQ Unbordered International Film Festival. The Juneau-Douglas City Museum honored Longworth in 2022 for a work of art highlighting a marginalized group in previously unspoken Alaska history.

A play just seemed like the natural way to portray the story, Longworth said. She is a longtime theater lover and described writing plays and performing them with her sisters as young as 7 years old. Juneau, Longworth added, is a theater-rich city, which made a play a practical approach to get the information across.

Though the play is about something that happened 60 years ago, Longworth said it feels timely. While LGBTQ people are not being kicked out with one-way tickets, she believes they are still being driven out in some places. If people don’t have legal protections and equalities where they live, she said, they are going to go somewhere else.

Longworth sees a lack of equal rights for LGBTQ people under the law that others have, such as proposed legislation in Alaska that would expand a state ban on transgender girls competing in girls sports.

“These are really frightening times for LGBTQ people, and it’s time people come to their aid,” she said. People should see her play because what happened in the 1960s is the foundation for an ongoing equal rights struggle, she explained.

She believes one way to change the world is through the arts. “The arts tend to make things less threatening,” she said, and stories about love and romance are ones that anyone can identify with.

The movie will be put on free of charge by St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. Longworth, producer and actress Patricia Lattime and Mark Lattime, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska, will be present for the discussion after the film.

If you can’t make it to the showing April 15, the movie can be watched online on Longworth’s website http://www.blueticketalaska.com, on YouTube or KTOO’s website.

 

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