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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

History and Hope

Kelley Coures’ new book discusses the LGBTQ+ community’s obstacles and progress

Appreciating the current state of LGBTQ equality in Evansville requires the examination of a darker past, Kelley Coures says.

A long-time advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights and causes, Coures also is an Evansville historian. His new book, “Out in Evansville: An LGBTQ+ History of River City,” says recent progress toward greater equality and understanding for the community’s LGBTQIA+ population is praiseworthy.

But, Coures writes, that these steps took decades to occur, and too many local LGBTQIA+ residents of earlier generations missed out.

Some even paid with their lives.

Coures’ book recounts four local homicides between 1954 and 1981 with overtones of LGBTQIA+ hate, including that of Rudolph Ziemer, who in 1963 was beaten to death outside an Evansville restaurant.

Three paratroopers on leave from Fort Campbell were accused in connection with the 56-year-old’s death. Ziemer was forced into his car by the GIs at the Old Kentucky Bar B Que, beaten near the Colonial Manor apartments, and then at the edge of Weinbach Avenue at the levee, two of the GI’s pushed his car into the Ohio River where he drowned.

The trial was moved to Warrick County, where a jury acquitted all three defendants.

“It was a case of terrible injustice,” says Coures, director of the City of Evansville Department of Metropolitan Development. “There was witness tampering, there were all kinds of things that happened in that trial, but no mistrial was declared.”

The book also describes the 1981 killing and rape of Laura Luebbehusen, who lived with a girlfriend on East Tennessee Street. Thomas Schiro was convicted of killing Luebbehusen. He was released from prison in January.

Coures says the high-profile case “was the first conviction of a capital murder crime where the victim was a lesbian,” and it played a role in the humanization of local LGBTQIA+ individuals.

“Even though that case didn’t rid people of prejudice necessarily, it was still a turning point that represented progress,” Coures says.

Out in Evansville: An LGBTQ+ History of River City is available at Your Brother’s Bookstore, 504 Main St.

But that seemingly positive development was followed by a worldwide crisis: AIDS. In the book, Coures mourns friends who died of the disease.

The book also remembers Evansville spots where local individuals would seek refuge from anti-LGBTQIA+ hostility, including the Swinging Door, a West Side club that became a gay bar in 1979.

“I try to give the feel of the viewpoint I had in 1981 when I was 22, what gay life was like,” Coures says. “The bars, places that we would go, the aspects of gay life at that moment.”


“Out in Evansville” outlines the history of local organizations that assist and advocate for the community’s LGBTQ population.

It notes the Evansville City Council’s 2016 passage, in a 7-2 vote of an ordinance extending anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ individuals. The book also celebrates the 2019 arrival of an annual Pride month celebration, sponsored every June by River City Pride.

Coures says he worked extensively on the book during the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown, and it strikes a sobering but hopeful tone.

Coures recalls attending the first Pride celebration in Haynie’s Corner Arts District and having flashbacks to his younger days “when we were running for our life from the Swinging Door, dodging pickup trucks full of boys with baseball bats chasing us down Maryland Street.”

“That first year that they had their First Friday dedicated to Pride, Justin (Coures’ husband) and I went, and I was just blown away by the sheer number of people that were there that were not gay people. These were straight people … And I told someone, you know, if you told me 40 years ago that this was going to happen, I’d have told you, you’ve lost your mind.”

“Out in Evansville: An LGBTQ+ History of River City,” by Kelley Coures
2023, Arcadia Publishing

Available at Your Brother’s Bookstore

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