What is a Friend of Dorothy?

Whilst we are known as Club F.O.D, the letters F.O.D are actually an acronym for “Friend of Dorothy”. This name was chosen by because of it’s history and as a tribute to how generations of LGBT+ people used it to prevent social isolation amongst the LGBT+ communities which reflects the work that we do here at Club F.O.D.

Whilst some members of the LGBT+ community may have sadly encountered the acronym as an insult, in gay slang, a “friend of Dorothy” (occasionally abbreviated FOD) is a gay man. Unlike other words that the LGBT+ community have reclaimed, the phrase “Friend of Dorothy” originates from within the LGBT+ Community in the United States and dates back to at least World War II, when homosexual acts were illegal. Even the word gay was originally used as an insult despite it being the accepted word we use to describe a homosexual man (associated with immorality and referred to a woman who was a prostitute and a gay man was someone who slept with a lot of women (ironically enough), often prostitutes.)

The trustees are satisfied that the use of the term is not likely to cause offence to the public or members of the LGBT+ community. Before we were established ourselves, we reached out to members of the community to determine opinion and were met with positive feedback. In fact, for many of the younger generations, this was the first time that they had encountered the phrase and were not only learning about our history as a community but were also minded as to how we can change things for the future so that we can be the shoulders for the next generations to stand on.

Stating that, or asking if, someone was a “friend of Dorothy” was a euphemism used for discussing sexual orientation without others knowing its meaning. The precise origin of the term is unknown.

Some believe that the phrase is derived from “The Road to Oz” which was a sequel to the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The book introduces readers to Polychrome who, upon meeting Dorothy’s travelling companions, exclaims, “You have some queer friends, Dorothy”, and she replies, “The queerness doesn’t matter, so long as they’re friends.” There are numerous references to LGBT+ characters and relationships, including a possible innuendo about bisexuality – when Dorothy asks Scarecrow which way to go on the yellow-brick road he says, “Of course some people go both ways” – although it is unknown whether they were intentionally included. For instance, in a case that may be seen as changing gender identity, or transgender, Ozma, while still an infant, the baby daughter of the former King Pastoria of Oz, was given to the witch Mombi of the North by the Wizard of Oz. Mombi transformed Ozma into a boy and called him “Tip” (short for Tippetarius) in order to prevent the rightful ruler of Oz from ascending to the throne. Thus, Ozma spent her entire childhood with Mombi in the form of the boy Tip, and had no memory of ever having been a girl. Later, Princess Ozma would be the ruler of the fictional land of Oz. Princess Ozma is “one of the first transgender characters in literature.

“More commonly, it is stated that “friend of Dorothy” refers to the film The Wizard of Oz because Judy Garland, who starred as the main character Dorothy, is a gay icon. In the film, Dorothy is accepting of those who are different. For example, the “gentle lion” giving the line, “I’m afraid there’s no denyin’, I’m just a dandy lion.”

Additionally relevant is the classic song “(Somewhere) Over the Rainbow” that Dorothy (Judy Garland) sings, which was possibly “the most memorable performance” of Garland’s career, and the song “contributed to the evolution of the rainbow flag as a gay icon”. The song “act[ed] as a cultural catalyst, propelling the eventual embrace of the rainbow symbol by the world’s LGBTQ communities”.

The death of Judy Garland earlier in the week on June 22, 1969, has been attributed as a significant factor in the Stonewall riots, but no participants in Saturday morning’s demonstrations recall Garland’s name being discussed. No print accounts of the riots by reliable sources cite Garland as a reason for the riot although Sylvia Rivera recalls she was saddened and amazed by the turnout at Garland’s funeral on Friday, June 27, she said that she did not feel like going out much but changed her mind later.

In the early 1980s, the Naval Investigative Service was investigating homosexuality in the Chicago area. Agents discovered that gay men sometimes referred to themselves as “friends of Dorothy”. Unaware of the historical meaning of the term, the NIS believed that there actually was a woman named Dorothy at the center of a massive ring of homosexual military personnel, so they launched an enormous and futile hunt for the elusive “Dorothy”, hoping to find her and convince her to reveal the names of gay service members.

In the UK, a similar term was used in the first half of the 20th Century and that was “friend of Mrs King” (Queen).

When Club F.O.D was being established, Jamie Wake (FOD Founder) recalled that the late Sel Jones (Jamie’s late husband and a key figure in the Reading LGBT+ community) used to romanticise that when he retired he would open a bar called Dorothy’s – a bar reminiscent of the traditional gay bar where all people were welcome whether they were wearing Jeans, full drag, leather or a crop top, greeted at the door and every aspect of the gay scene would share a great night out. So Club F.O.D –not only aims to reclaim a sense of gay community and prevent social exclusion but is also a tribute to Sel in every possible way.