CP File Photo
Chuck Tierney (left) and Chuck Honse in April 2007, a few weeks before they closed their LGBTQ bar, the Holiday.
Chuck Tierney, a longtime LGBTQ activist and former co-owner of The Holiday Bar in Oakland died Oct. 11 from complications of liver cancer. And while he may be gone, his impact on Pittsburgh's LGBTQ community will be long remembered.
“I have gotten many calls from friends, who said they will really miss Chuck,” says Chuck Honse, Tierney's partner in The Holiday. “It is a big loss for me, but an even bigger loss to the community.”
When Tierney and Honse first got together romantically, they shared a bond linked by a desire to provide a sanctuary for LGBTQ Pittsburghers. They would do so, by purchasing a hidden-in-plain-sight bar in Oakland, and turned it into a safe place for the LGBTQ community.
They bought the Holiday in 1977
, creating the city’s first gay bar, and owned it together for more than 30 years. The Holiday closed down in 2007, but Tierney and Honse remained an integral part of each other's lives. By that time, several major LGBTQ organizations had been established and the city had more gay bars.
“When we first opened, there were virtually no [LGBTQ] organizations to speak of,” says Honse. “Persad was around and a few other smaller groups, but the center of the community was the bars. People felt safe to go into gay bars.”
Tierney grew up in Munhall, moved to Shadyside and eventually settled in Squirrel Hill. Honse says they bought the Holiday to convert into a gay bar because it was a necessity for the city’s LGBTQ community. Through the years, the bar served as an organizing spot to help combat the AIDS epidemic, and also as a place to hold celebrations.
Honse says that Tierney was the “idea man,” for the bar and for fundraising efforts for LGBTQ causes. However, Tierney usually kept a low profile and let Honse be the voice of The Holiday.
According to a Facebook post honoring the life of Tierney written by the Pittsburgh LGBTQ organization The Delta Foundation, Tierney was “instrumental” in bringing the 2,700-paneled AIDS Memorial Quilt (part of the Names Project
) that honored victims of the AIDS epidemic to Pittsburgh. Tierney also spearheaded the the annual City Theatre AIDS benefit, and he was honored in 2010 as the co-Grand Marshal of the Pride Equality March. Tierney also served as a founding board member of Delta.
Tierney is survived by his sister, Mary Dixon, his nephews Michael Dixon and Ken Dixon, and their wives Amanda and Judi. He is also survived by his great-nieces and -nephews, Tiffany, Carolyn, Alesha, Shane and Lyndon Jr.
Scott Noxon, a close friend who followed Tierney’s lead and owned gay bars like The Eagle and The Pegasus through the years, says he enjoyed Tierney’s reservedness. Noxon says it gave Tierney power when he did choose to talk. “When Chuck talked, everyone listened,” Noxon says.
Noxon says Tierney was a “pioneer” in Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ scene and that his loss shouldn’t be forgotten quickly. “It is a shame that the newer bar owners never got to know him,” says Noxon.
“He had a lot of wisdom that he could give you.”
Noxon says he will remember most the good times he and Tierney had, palling around together during Pittsburgh Tavern Guild meetings. “We were the meeting clowns, we had a lot of laughs,” says Noxon. “I never saw him get messed up and drink too much, he would always just smile and laugh.”
Honse says that even at the end of his life, Tierney maintained this good-hearted nature. “His last words were, ‘Let’s get this show on road,’” Honse says.
Honse says Tierney is a once-in-a-lifetime figure, whose impact on the LGBTQ community is immeasurable. But, above all, Honse will miss Tierney’s personal friendship dearly: “He was my anchor.”