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Jerry Watkins III, who has researched the convention in great detail, said of the event near its end, “The Emma Jones Society parties [the Hillyers] hosted were written about as a gay event on the front page of the paper by the 1970s.
To be clear, repression was swift and severe when somebody stepped too far out of line.
Benton Abbey was intrigued and wanted to meet this mysterious woman.
At the time he worked for , a New Orleans based newspaper in the 1970s known for its reporting of unconventional news topics, such as homosexuality.
As a result, the hotel welcomed the gay community especially since they had more expendable income than straight couples and families that once frequented the establishment.
Sunday magazine, even took note, writing of its former glamor, “its bars and men’s rooms were all that remained popular.” The hotel suggested the event be billed as a convention.
The police would raid any place they would conjugate. That’s the way things were until Ray and Henry Hillyer decided to change the status quo. Regis Paper Company and Henry worked in the display department at Gayfers Department Store.
The couple shared a last name, which was almost unheard of in those days. Despite its name, it had no connection to the LGBT community..
While the actual numbers are difficult to determine, it is thought that the events drew the same amount of people, or perhaps even more, than the much more famous Christopher Street Liberation Day celebrations in June that started in 1970 following the Stonewall Riots in 1969. With those kinds of numbers they could no longer be as inconspicuous and decided to move the crowd indoors.Emma Jones was one of the greatest LGBT allies in the 1960s in northern Florida. When a reporter once went looking for the mysterious woman he was told, “Honey, the Emma Jones Society is you and me and every other faggot in this town, and nobody here gives a damn who Miss Emma Jones herself is.” Emma Jones turned out to simply be a cover for a regular gay gathering on the beach in Pensacola Florida, starting on the Fourth of July in 1964.The That’s pretty remarkable considering how conservative the Panhandle of Florida is – even now it’s still known as the “Redneck Riviera.” While today the area has a handful of gay bars, back then, there was nowhere for the gays to go.And one of my main arguments is that when a politician or city needed an image boost in the ‘tough on crime’ or family friendly department, LGBTQ folks proved easy targets.” And that’s just what happened.“Emma Jones died in the streets of Pensacola on July 4, 1974. Some attendees started receiving death threats, local ministers organized against the convention, and the city council started to work closely with law enforcement to find ways to curb the annual event by raiding popular bars catering to gays such as the Yum Yum Tree and the Red Garter.
At first it started off with close friends of the Hillyers but word traveled and it soon became a much larger group.