top of page

The Other Rainbow Row

Charleston's colorful Rainbow Row, always a popular stop on the city's tourist routes, is especially significant during this month's Gay Pride celebrations, for Charleston has long had an active LGBTQ+ community. Charleston College archivist and librarian Harlan Greene has been writing about the Holy City's Queer history for some years now, and even created an interactive map of the noted places and people who contributed to the city's often inclusive, but sometimes not, atmosphere.

Armisted Maupin

Among Charleston's famous but closeted gay residents was writer Armisted Maupin, author of the San Francisco-based "Tales Of The City." But before Maupin settled on the West Coast and came out, he worked as a reporter in Charleston for The Post And Courier, living in the South Of Broad neighborhood and keeping his sexuality firmly under wraps. He often cruised The Battery, then a popular pickup spot for gay men, and told an interviewer many years later that he was still angry with himself for taking so long to come to terms with who he was.

Laura Bragg

Chalmers Street was the home of Laura Bragg (1881 - 1978), the first woman to lead the Museum of Charleston or any publicly funded museum, for that matter. Although not openly lesbian, Bragg was rumored to have had several affairs with other women, and was a friend and mentor to many of the city's gay men and women. Her "at homes" were a much-sought after invitation, and Bragg was cited by many of her guests for her emotional support as well as for encouraging their artistic careers.

Dawn Pepita and John Paul Simmons

One of the city's most colorful personalities was Dawn Pepita Simmons (1937 - 2000), who was born in England as Gordon Hall but moved to Charleston in the early 1960's and became one of the country's first transexuals with pioneering sex reassignment surgery at Johns Hopkins University in 1968. Simmons settled on Charleston's Society Street and, testing the city's tolerance level of the time, married a young black man. Scandalized Charleston society forced the couple to move their wedding from St. Phillips Church to the pair's home, where wedding presents piled in the driveway were firebombed and reduced to a heap of ashes. Firemen swept the debris into the street, and the next day the city's white Chief of Police served the couple with a fine for obstructing the roadway.

John Ziegler (right) and Edwin Peacock

One of the last surviving members of Charleston's more closeted gay history was John Ziegler (1912 - 2015) who with his life partner Edwin Peacock (1910 - 1989) owned The Book Basement on College Way, for many years a cultural touchstone for the city's arts community. The couple were active supporters of both the city's gay subculture and its broader artistic community, serving as a link between the two. A year before he died, at the age of 103, Ziegler told the Charleston City Paper "Everybody accepted us. We just lived our lives like everyone else."

Thanks to Harlan Greene and The Charleston City Paper for background material for this post.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page