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5/31/2007

The Queer Issue

CHAIRMAN OF THE BROADS
Sue Hannah was the matriarch of Orlando lesbians

 

Sue Hannah was no slacker. Hannah spent nearly 50 years quietly carving out a name for herself as the owner of Faces, the city’s only lesbian bar; as a leader in the gay community (though she shied away from publicity); and as a devout supporter of the down and out.

Her favorite cause was aiding lesbians with cancer, making her death in February of cancer at 63 somewhat grimly ironic. In mid-January, Hannah learned she had lung cancer that had spread to her liver. Two weeks later, on Feb. 4, she died.

But the community hasn’t forgotten Hannah, who was outspoken in her beliefs back when it wasn’t considered safe to be “out.” She was a pioneer at a time when gay gatherings happened at someone’s house or took place secretly in local clubs. Those who knew her best called her the “chairman of the broads.”

“She was just really a down-to-earth gal. She was plain-spoken and honest and always said yes,” says Debbie Simmons, who met Hannah more than 25 years ago. “She was certainly noteworthy. She was one of the pillars here for us.”

Hannah was born in a small Georgia town and moved to Orlando in 1958, where she worked for a catering company. In 1969, Hannah began working as a bartender at Palace, the future home of Faces. She worked there through the early 1980s. For a while she and her late partner, Angie Spruill, operated games and arcades at a midway and traveling carnivals. She also managed the first local women’s bottle club (pay $7 and get free liquor, provided you buy setups), called Sapphos. She later owned the clubs Cheeks and Key Largo.

By 1983, Hannah had saved enough money to allow her and Spruill to buy a bar on Edgewater Drive called the Odds and Ends. Hannah dubbed the bar Faces, and it opened that same year, quickly becoming a haven for the gay community, predominantly lesbians. The bar held a special place in her heart and consumed much of her time.

“I’ve seen her break up fistfights, take care of people and make sure people didn’t drive while intoxicated,” Simmons says, noting that the bar “was Sue’s life.”

She wasn’t stingy with her bar proceeds, dumping much of it into causes ranging from AIDS and cancer to the Humane Society, heart disease and mental illness. Assisting women who had cancer always remained her favorite cause. Just two weeks before she was diagnosed with cancer, she helped a cancer survivor who underwent a radical mastectomy raise more than $10,000.

Hannah lost her mother and several family members to cancer. Spruill and Spruill’s sister and mother also died of cancer. Spruill died shortly after the couple bought Faces.

Ten days before she died, Hannah was chosen to receive a humanitarian award for her efforts in assisting lesbians fighting cancer. A representative from the Juno Foundation informed Hannah of her recognition as she lay in the hospital; she received the Xena Award posthumously.

Hannah enjoyed helping out the individuals-turned-friends who patronized her business, frequently holding fund-raisers at the bar. It wasn’t unusual for her to have someone going through hard times staying at her house. She also bought meals for the homeless at area restaurants, says Wanda Waldrop, Hannah’s sister-in-law.

“She’d help anyone in trouble. She had so much compassion for people,” Waldrop says. “She helped everyone; that’s the reason she was so popular.”

Jimi Sue, who worked with Hannah for decades, noted during her memorial that she also had a special knack for remembering everyone she met.

“One of her true talents was that she never forgot a name with a face. If you walked into her club 25 years ago, she still would know your name today, who you dated, what you were doing from the last time you met and what you drank,” Sue says.

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