by Robin Beaudoin | photos by Greg Campbell and Joey Miller
First, it’s about camaraderie, THEN it’s about the cars.
In his 1960s youth, John O’Rourke’s mother handmade tiny coveralls and his father made a wooden step stool for John and his young brother so that when their father worked on cars in the garage, the boys could watch and learn.
O’Rourke now focuses his early interest in cars by showing them with the Hernando DeSoto chapter of the Lambda Car Club International (LCCI, United States and Canada participate). His show cars include an IROC-Z, a vintage Pontiac, and an 80-year-old Ford Model A. O’Rourke is now the membership director of the year-old chapter.
“The club was started specifically to cater to the LGBT community,” O’Rourke said, “because the traditional car clubs were either outright not welcoming, or it wasn’t comfortable for our families and friends to participate.
“Certain car clubs have an exclusivity or an uppity feel, where you must own the most expensive or oldest car. Truthfully, that discrimination was the case extreme in the 1980s, it’s less so now. It’s nice to be with like-minded people.
“Of course, we don’t discriminate. If somebody happens to be heterosexual we’ll still let them in!”
O’Rourke smiles, “We sit and eat and drink soft drinks and talk. We have “drive in” movies. It’s the camaraderie.”
O’Rourke has been a member of the international club for 20 years, and has held officer positions in three regions.
The Hernando DeSoto region includes Arkansas, Mississippi, the bootheel of Missouri, and West Tennessee. “We’ve got about 30 members here in the Memphis area. One down in Mississippi and two over in Little Rock,” O’Rourke said.
The club was started specifically to cater to the LGBT community because the traditional car clubs were either outright not welcoming, or it wasn’t comfortable for our families and friends to participate. – John O’Rourke
John O’Rourke, with his 1966 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight convertible
The club is actively recruiting more young members, especially women, who may fear they’ll be amongst a bunch of guys who will exclude them, or they won’t be treated equally. “That is not the case with us! We would love to have folks visit and join us.”
The only requirements for membership are to be an adult or have parent permission. Most members show a car they own, and prefer cars they remember fondly from childhood. Members drive everything from Mustangs to Lincolns to Ford F250s, and they all help each other out with repair work.
All regions of LCCI are very inclusive, and support members from different races, religions, genders, and socioeconomic levels. O’Rourke said.
The small nature of the club allows for social and philanthropic opportunities to be woven into activities.
“One thing our club does locally is called the ‘Spring dust off’. In springtime, everybody pulls their cars out of storage to get them ready for summer. Everybody comes over to my house, digs into my tools, and we clean the cars up and get them up to snuff and ready for the summer, front to back.”
Jake Callewaert, David Maddox, Thedford Byrum and John O’Rourke. Cars/Owner (L to R) 1970 Ford Country Squire station wagon/Maddox; 1970 Olds Cutlass convertible/Byrum; 1966 Olds Ninety Eight convertible and 1966 Pontiac Catalina station wagon/O’Rourke
In the winter time the group has a holiday party, and local regions are invited. On bad weather weekends, car-themed movies are shown at members’ home parties.
“We become very good friends, and most of the newer friends I’ve met through this car club tend to be enduring friendships,’ O’Rourke said. “That can be atypical in the LGBT community, where friendships can be fleeting.
“We make friends in many regions, everywhere we go. We go to invitationals all over. This year’s national invitational took place in Texas, and included a USO-themed dance and banquet,” he said.
The LCCI uses profits from events to give to worthy charities, and donates countless hours of drivers and cars to Pride.
“We want to benefit the community at large, not just the gay & lesbian community. We participate in Pride every year in Memphis and Little Rock,” O’Rourke said, “and every region we provide for our community with cars for the parades. This is another great opportunity to make friends.
1966 Olds 98 dash with optional AM/FM radio and AC/Heat controls.
“We support Tennessee Equality Project, the Majestic Krewe of Pegasus, Collierville Community Fund, Lindenwood Church ministries, and try and participate as much as we can. If anybody calls and needs people to man an event, we’ll pull together a volunteer crew. We’ll move chairs and tables – we have trucks! We’re here to help, and we’re here to include.”
O’Rourke says that because club members are so close and serve together so much, their partners are really the ones who suffer. Fortunately, O’Rourke’s partner Brando has become involved in cars too.
“My brother took him for a ride in his Ford Model A, and my partner was hooked. It’s contagious,” he said. “but the core of this club is really the friendship and camaraderie; the cars are really just an excuse for all of us to get together.”
To join the club: lccimembers.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.