Back in the 1970s before cell phones, computers, and social media, the only safe place to hang out was gay bars, and even those weren’t always safe. There were police raids and harassment entering and leaving the bars. There was a gay night at the Safeway on Osborn, and of course the baths.
In 1976, the bar owners came up with an idea of a bowling league. It was originally called Bars United and bowled on Monday nights at 9:00 pm when no one else bowled. It was safer that way since most gays were still very closeted to the outside world. The league was open to anyone, but the bars each sponsored at least one league. There is not much documentation of the early years since the league was not sanctioned by ABC/WIBC. The league eventually sanctioned in 1980, and changed its name to Our Gang. At its peak the league filled the house with 48 teams. The league continued until Squaw Peak Lanes closed in 2013.
In 1977, the People and Persons league began at the now defunct Thunderbird Lanes at I-17 and Indian School Road. This league chose to bowl on Sunday mornings at 10 am to avoid being exposed. By 1978, it had already grown to 32 teams. They moved to Northgate Bowl (now Let It Roll Bowl) in 1985 over their treatment by management. People and Persons still bowls today at Let It Roll on Sunday mornings at 10 am. Since we couldn’t drink at 10 am on a Sunday, we smuggled liquor in to the lanes in our bowling bags, and then most of the 120 bowlers would spend the afternoon at one of the local watering holes.
Both Our Gang and People and Persons were 4-person teams. Our Gang allowed all male, all female, or mixed teams. People and Persons rules were that there be at least 1 male and 1female on every team.
By the late 1980s, some of the stigmatism of being gay was beginning to waiver, some of the bowlers of People and Persons wanted to go prime time and bowl on a weeknight. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) formed in 1989 and bowled as a 5 person team on Thursdays at Northgate. That league moved a few times and eventually dissolved in the early 2000s.
As is always the case when a 150 or so gay men and women get together there can be drama. The Our Gang League split in 1994 to create My Gang. They also bowled at Squaw Peak on Friday nights at 6:30 pm. They moved to Christown in 1998 and eventually ended up at Let It Roll. They are still an active league on Friday nights.
A few of the bowlers on the KISS league wanted to try something different. They started a league that would take a bus to Laughlin at the end of the season. We started the Laughlin Lambda League at Let It Roll with 8 3-person teams in 1997 and by 2002 had grown to 32 teams. That league moved to several houses, and in 2013 moved back to Let It Roll, with 32 teams and a new name, Hump Day Foursomes on Wednesday nights at 7:00 pm.
In 1998 some of the bowlers of Our Gang wanted to bowl at 6:30 pm instead of 9:00 pm. Alternative Values also bowled Monday nights at 6:30 pm. As the league grew and needed more lanes, they approached management and were to no. In fact, they were told “We gave people like you a place to bowl when no one else would.” The league left in 2001 and moved to Christown and eventually Let It Roll where the still bowl today. A few of the bowlers stayed behind and formed Family Matters. The league struggled for a few years and finally dissolved.
The newest league formed in 2009, when some of the bowlers of Laughlin Lambdas wanted to move back to Let It Roll. We formed the Thursday Night 3-ways, that quickly grew to 30 teams and still bowls today.