Druid Heights: The US’ hidden LGBTQ+ community

From this wooded community came books of leading feminist and lesbian thought, Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry, provocative experimental films, recordings of genre-bending jazz and numerous groundbreaking philosophical and spiritual treatises, like Watts’ book, The Way of Zen. Gidlow’s 1975 book, Ask No Man Pardon: The Philosophical Significance of Being Lesbian, was a landmark of gay liberation, as was the film in which she participated, Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, the first feature-length documentary about gay identity made by gay filmmakers. 

In her later years, Gidlow continued to publish, give readings and speak at conferences, and gathered a following of younger women whom she mentored at Druid Heights. As author and former part-time Druid Hills resident Hallie Iglehart Austen said: “The vision that these folks, Elsa and Roger in particular, had to just create their own world even outside the bohemian world they’d been part of in San Francisco, was quite remarkable.” 

Born in England in 1898 and raised in Quebec, Gidlow was only 25 when she wrote On a Grey Thread, the first book of lesbian love poetry published in the US. She had already broken ground by publishing Les Mouches Fantastiques, an underground magazine published between 1918-20 that’s considered the first gay publication in North America. Gidlow went on to author 12 more books, including her 1986 autobiography, Elsa, I Come with My Songs, the first explicitly lesbian autobiography not written under a pseudonym. 

“Elsa Gidlow holds a place in history that nobody else holds and it is really too bad that she isn’t better known,” said Marcelina Martin, a close friend of Gidlow’s and executor of her literary estate. “It’s important that she’s not forgotten because of the incredible value of her life. She was herself from the beginning and it didn’t matter what was accepted and what wasn’t.”

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