WOOHOO! The LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History theme study has been released by the U.S. National Park Service of the Department of the Interior for National Coming Out Day! Happy coming out, National Parks!!!
Who made this happen? (Queen) Megan Springate is a kind, brilliant scholar who works on queer archaeology (that’s a thing! and it’s such a cool thing!) and she truly led the effort to bring this to life. There are dozens of authors involved. And what was my role? Besides serving as a peer reviewer for many, many essays, my own essay, “LGBTQ Spaces and Places,” is meant to be a really wide-ranging piece that allows those unfamiliar with LGBTQ geographies and pushing thinking beyond the notion that all “gay” people live and/or hang out in gay neighborhoods in cities, and just adoreeee bars. Amen. I account for the rural and suburbs, other forms of place-making, and the role of the nation-state in all of this multitude of queering space and place, as well as various LGBTQ identities in place.
I include the PDF in links and then at the bottom of this page, and pasted in the full transcript of my own essay here. I hope it makes more people feel heard and seen, and I would love to hear comments and thoughts! ALWAYS!
“LGBTQ Spaces & Places”
in LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History
Published 2016 by the U.S. National Parks Service
Jen Jack Gieseking
American Studies, Trinity College, Hartford, CT
As LGBTQ people have been invisibilized, criminalized, and outcast, they have created ways to respond specific to their geographies. Like the injustices they have suffered, their tactics of resilience and resistance and their spaces and places are similar to but unique from other marginalized groups. Since sexuality is not always visible in a person’s appearance, certain types of places and spaces have developed as key environments for LGBTQ people to find one another, develop relationships, and build community. Due to unjust laws and social mores, socialization among LGBTQ people focused on sex and relationships or was limited to small groups until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. LGBTQ people created social and political spaces in order to share face-to-face contact and find community. The physical landscape of LGBTQ lives, therefore, plays a special role in this group’s history. This chapter looks at a range of LGBTQ spaces and places to provide a broad context for thinking about them as they are discussed in other chapters.
While LGBTQ people are discussed here as a group, each sexual identity—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer—is specific not only to that group, geography, and period, but also to the individuals themselves. Gay and lesbian spaces are a longtime part of the American landscape, but queer places are more recent. The reclaiming of the derogatory “queer” in the 1980s and 1990s as part of LGBTQ activism relates to the act of “queering space”—developed from queer theory—which envisions a space as in flux rather than fixed. There are few specific bisexual or transgender physical spaces, as these groups often navigate between straight, lesbian, and gay spaces, and cisgender (gender conforming) and gender nonconforming spaces. As such, the meanings of spaces and places discussed here also shift over time, just as spaces and places change and grow through history.
Since at least the 1920s, the association between LGBTQ people and spaces in the popular and LGBTQ media, as well as in scholarly research, is often reduced to three geographies: the city, the neighborhood, and the place of the bar. With greater acceptance and tolerance toward LGBTQ people in recent decades, the understandings around and recognition of LGBTQ spaces and places are also increasing to encompass more diverse places, including bookstores, community centers, and public spaces. This essay pays special attention to LGBTQ environments from a geographic perspective, including those at the scale of the individual as well as temporary places and places of memorialization.
The Space of the Body, Bodies Making Space
For some LGBTQ people, sexuality is at the core of their being; more recently, some LGBTQ people claim their sexual identity is tangential and identify as “post-gay.” Regardless, behaviors of LGBTQ people often link their spaces to practices related to their sexuality, ranging from the political or social, economic or cultural, to sexual acts or being in relationships.
The visibility and recognition of LGBTQ people changed drastically throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, affording a public LGBTQ presence. Since the late 2000s, scholars across the disciplines have made further attempts to take an intersectional approach to LGBTQ studies and preservation. Intersectionality recognizes that identity is not singular to one dimension (gender or race or class) but that each person is all identities at once.
The visibility of LGBTQ spaces is heavily related to the dynamics of private and public spaces. Since the late nineteenth and throughout the twentieth century, most gay, bisexual, and queer men were largely unable to occupy private spaces alone together with the result that their “privacy could only be had in public.” Such practices of meeting in public venues for sex, friendship, and conversation still continue today. Women and transgender people are more often associated with private spaces like the home or indoor gathering spaces as the persistent male gaze and claim to public space limit their options. The claims of women and transgender people to public spaces are more transient and ephemeral, such as the use of softball fields. Age and generation also matter: an individual who made their sexuality known to others (many would use the term “came out”) during the McCarthy era of the 1950s or the AIDS crisis of the 1980s will have a very different outlook than someone who comes out today. For example, young people today now see positive representations of themselves in the media and have greater legal supports so that they feel more confident and well adjusted.
Race and class are key factors in the production of LGBTQ spaces that are often linked and always reveal the stark limits placed on people of color and the poor. The extra policing and more extreme regulation of people of color make clear that not all public spaces are made equally. An example of this is the treatment of gender nonconfirming and LGBTQ youth of color on the streets of New York City who are more heavily policed and harassed than gender conforming youth of color. Even today, the role of class also plays out in the harassment, violence, and rape common for LGBTQ steel workers in northeastern Indiana. People of color make less and have less access to resources, which means that their ability to make or retain spaces is often drastically decreased; dynamics of racism, sexism, transphobia, and classism often divide different groups into more segmented communities. The role of religion and cultural beliefs across races, classes, and ethnicities deeply affects the types of LGBTQ spaces and places that individuals can and will frequent. Context and intersectionality must always be considered to account for this group’s “situated knowledges,” or the place- and identity-specific experiences of actual individuals that define a place.
City, Suburb, Rural
This section addresses the scale of geographic settings: large cities, small cities, vacation towns, suburban areas, and the rural. Special attention is made to reject stereotypes around LGBTQ people in these settings to provide a more comprehensive, complicated view of American LGBTQ environments. Each city, town, suburb, or rural environment relates to the context of its state and region; however, rarely is research conducted at the level of the state, region, or nation state. Identities and communities including LGBTQ develop differently in different places. All cities, suburbs, and rural settings have included LGBTQ people, whether or not they are visibly read as such.
LGBTQ people have always existed in America’s urban areas. Cities are territories of dense populations, often with large varieties of difference among people, which serve as trading hubs, marketplaces, and cultural centers. Studying San Francisco in the early 1990s, anthropologist Kath Weston wrote that “The result is a sexual geography in which the city represents a beacon of tolerance and gay community.” Some researchers, activists, and biographers have contended that the city is the most viable home for LGBTQ people because of the cover of anonymity and for social interaction across differences it affords. It is essential to note that LGBTQ identities, cultures, and politics do not develop in cities and then “diffuse” to suburban and rural locales, rather each environment produces its own, which are connected via media and social networks.
Yet this sense of urban promise was, and is, both myth and fact. The clustering of gendered workforces in cities in World War II, especially the likes of San Francisco, and increased job opportunities and pay for women radically altered the possibility for many lesbians and gays to build and afford lives together. Soon thereafter, anti-urbanism, racist, and antihomosexual projects of the federal, state, and local governments of the suburbanizing 1950s went hand-in-hand with increased urban in-migration of LGBTQ people. In other words, LGBTQ people found an increased refuge in cities just as they were decimated, while the heterosexual families of the suburbs were heralded as “normal.” LGBTQ poor and people of color especially were driven out of cities by waves of gentrification. Other numbers of the same group were unable to move out of cities or rural areas as they were most limited in their ability to choose where they could live.
The white flight to the suburbs in the mid-twentieth century induced a re-norming of the heterosexual family which often made it necessary for LGBTQ people to move into cities and cluster. The LGBTQ movement and spaces began to become more publicly visible in the 1970s and 1980s, just as the United States saw massive funding cuts and the breakdown of most city infrastructures. Since then, US cities have experienced a renaissance with many Americans leaving rural and suburban environments to dwell in cities. In the late twentieth century and at the turn of the twenty-first century most especially, LGBTQ people played an important role in the gentrification of cities across the United States. This process is addressed further in the next section.
San Francisco and New York City are the two most well-known American cities associated with LGBTQ politics, culture, business, and history. All cities and towns are just as essential to the LGBTQ movement, and most key activism took place in urban centers. For example, the first gay rights organization, the Society for Human Rights, was founded by Henry Gerber in his Chicago home in 1924, and the more well-known homophile or gay rights organization, the Mattachine Society, was founded by Harry Hay and others in his Los Angeles home in 1950. A number of in-depth histories of everyday, urban LGBTQ lives in US cities have been written since the 1980s. There is a recent and vast in-migration of straight residents into cities identified closely with LGBTQ communities as varied as San Francisco or Ogonquit, Maine. Along with the often steep increases in property values and mortgage loads, there is much debate over whether these gay villages have assimilated, or are being “de-gayed” through processes of gentrification.
LGBTQ experiences in smaller cities and towns, such as Reno and Boise, have been largely overlooked by researchers. In contrast, much has been written on vacation towns and places frequented by LGBTQ visitors. With limited resources and places to gather through the twentieth century, LGBTQ people desired an elsewhere to go and be among like-minded people. Towns like Northampton and Provincetown, Massachusetts; and Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines, New York have been LGBTQ oases in the vast national sea of homophobia from the 1930s through the present. Other vacation towns include Asheville, North Carolina; Ogunquit, Maine; Saugatuck, Michigan; Guerneville, California; and Key West, Florida. Other LGBTQ tourist venues that are more transient as well: Pensacola Beach, Florida, on Memorial Day; Gay Days at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Park in Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California, respectively. Tourist places privilege the middle and upper classes in that they can afford the travel, time away, and costs associated with such trips. The towns, especially, catered to white LGBTQ populations who possessed the privileged ability to move more freely about the United States and congregate without police agitation. Also, given men’s increased incomes, LGBTQ tourism has primarily targeted gay men. Locations once shared by word of mouth became part of the central advertising focus of the increasingly visible LGBTQ media outlets of the 1990s and this still continues today.
Heteronormativity, or the privileging of male and heterosexual identities and relations while casting all others as deviant or lesser than, became the norm post-World War II, the same period of mass suburbanization. As a result, LGBTQ people were often discouraged from finding a way to make a home in the suburbs through the 2000s. However, many suburbs are seeing a rise in LGBTQ populations as increased legal protections and social tolerance allows for a greater range of living options. Karen Tongson’s recent work on Los Angeles suburbs upsets the rural/urban dichotomy. She pays special attention to the growing body of LGBTQ people of color in suburban landscapes, indicating a profound shift in these areas. Tongson especially brings to light the experience of LGBTQ people of color in the suburbs as these areas diversify racially across the United States.
After decades of media and popular culture painting the rural as backwards or hateful, understandings of rural queer life have begun to shift in the public eye. Historically, LGBTQ people remained closeted in rural environments or relied on upper-class status and white privilege to bend gender and sexual norms. Until recently, conservative politics largely sided with anti-same-sex marriage bills by claiming LGBTQ people are deviant or undesirable in small tightly-knit communities, namely as a push against cosmopolitanism. The violent murders of Brandon Teena in 1993 in his home in Humboldt, Nebraska, and of Matthew Shepard in 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming—as well as the films, television specials, and plays developed from their stories—brought national attention to the experiences of LGBTQ people in rural environments. As shows like “Queer Eye for the Straight Eye” took off to national acclaim only a few years later in 2003, the US tendency toward cosmopolitanism as chic and rurality as “backward” became profound.
Many LGBTQ people have made happy homes in rural environs. Unlike cities that afford visible difference, processes of kinship and community override private sexual practices in longtime rural, working-class communities. The rise of internet, social media, and mobile apps developed into a means of connection, support, and education for these more dispersed, rural populations, just as they have for urban residents. Again, assuming that rural people or places are devoid of lgbtq bodies and communities is a flawed idea. Anthropologist Mary Gray writes of how white, working class LGBTQ youth in rural Kentucky appropriate the spaces and fashions available of them to embody the genders and sexualities by performing drag in their local Wal-Mart in the 2000s. The documentary “Small Town Gay Bar” (2006) charts the dispersed, close-knit, and mid-sized community of lgbtq people in rural Mississippi. In many of these studies and histories, gender plays out differently in these areas, and masculinity in both men and women is generally accepted. In all of these records, most attention is paid to white experience and paints rural LGBTQ people of color as of yet possessing less support and infrastructure to claim and enact physical space.
Neighborhoods and Territories
Throughout the twentieth century, LGBTQ people have developed physical enclaves in the form of territories in suburban or rural settings or ghettos and/or neighborhoods within cities. These spaces afford more navigable areas within those larger landscapes from which to create and share community, culture, politics, rituals, and economies. LGBTQ neighborhoods hold an iconic place in literature and popular media as a space (real or imagined) of total community, collectivity, and prosperity. It is essential that any study of a LGBTQ neighborhood, ghetto, territory, or enclave be situated within the cultural, political, and economic context of the city in which it is located. For example, for gay men in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century: “the emergence of gay speakeasies and drag balls…can be understood only in the context of and more general changes in the social geography of the city,” so that while neighborhoods like the West Village and Harlem afforded spatial community, these changes related heavily to the spirit of the city itself. The best-known American LGBTQ neighborhoods are the Tenderloin and Castro Districts in San Francisco, Washington, DC’s Dupont Circle, and the Greenwich Village and Chelsea neighborhoods of New York City, all of which are often used as a measure of what is or is not a LGBTQ neighborhood; as always, context matters. Other well-established LGBTQ neighborhoods include Los Angeles County’s West Hollywood (California), Philadelphia’s Gayborhood (Pennsylvania), Chicago’s Boystown (Illinois), Houston’s Montrose (Texas), San Diego’s Hillcrest (California), Midtown Atlanta (Georgia), Miami Beach (Florida), and San Jose’s St. Leo neighborhood (California).
Since the 1920s, LGBTQ spaces have been understood as being neighborhoods or territories. A neighborhood is “dominated by residential uses,” “walkable” in scale, and has a (physical) territory that is often conflated with the (social) communities that live within it. LGBTQ neighborhoods are also referred to more globally as “gay villages” or, in the United States, under the colloquial term “gayborhoods.” These neighborhoods grew as key public establishments, public meeting grounds and centers, businesses, and residences were knit together through LGBTQ people’s repeated gathering in these spaces over time. These neighborhoods form, shift, and dissolve as political economies and social and commercial networks change over time. Similar to the dissolution of other ethnic enclaves such as Chinatowns or Little Italys, the intensified gentrification, tourism, and financialization in San Francisco, for example, has rendered the Castro unrecognizable to many long-term residents and more a tourist hub.
LGBTQ people in the 1970s, primarily white and middle class, developed more formal spatial concentrations in urban residential areas which eventually coalesced as “gay ghettos.” The term “ghetto” evokes both the broader public sense of unwanted enclaves of LGBTQ people and the margins on which they lived in society; despite this, the term has become common parlance within LGBTQ discourse as a term of recognition of overcoming such marginalization. The term “gay neighborhood,” in contrast, evokes white individuals in cities, mimicking idyllic small-town life. Manuel Castells argued that gay men in San Francisco’s Castro District were living not in a ghetto but in a neighborhood based on the confluence of their unique production of culture, economy, and physical spaces. Still today the common narrative of the LGBTQ neighborhood is a utopian one: those LGBTQ people who lived in or used these spaces often experienced a reprieve from isolation and grew communities from which to work toward social and political gains. The term LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood, in comparison, refers to areas where LGBTQ business and people are in the minority, but openly welcomed, or are areas that target LGBTQ tourists. The use of “ghetto” or “neighborhood” usually changed over time but also relates to an LGBTQ person’s connection with that area relative to when the change in terminology happened. In more recent years, the idea of a “creative class” extols the role of LGBTQ people and artists in “improving” the conditions of cities. Yet, this viewpoint is narrow. As early as the 1970s, it was clear that LGBTQ people’s territorial gains at society’s “margins” were at the expense of a loss of space for working-class people and people of color—including LGBTQ people, making LGBTQ people key players in processes of gentrification.
Due to their decreased economic and political power, it is much more difficult, if not impossible, for people of color, the poor, and women to sustain formal LGBTQ neighborhoods. Gay and queer men’s bars and informal territories often dissipate and then come together again through intermittent instances of hate crimes and practices of cruising, respectively. This dissolve-rebuild pattern can be seen, for example, in communities of Latino and South Asian men in the Jackson Heights neighborhood in Queens, New York. Perhaps the only neighborhoods to lay claim to the title “lesbian neighborhoods” are Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York, Andersonville in Chicago, Illinois, and the Mission or Valencia of San Francisco, California. Unlike gay men’s neighborhoods or cruising grounds, lesbians and queer women possess “spatial concentrations” because they are rarely known to possess and retain urban territories.
This distinction is based largely on the ever persistent gender pay gap and women’s lesser power and authority, which leads them to rent longer and buy later as house prices continue to climb. Lesbians’ sexual practices also do not require or claim public cruising spaces like those of gay men, which also adds to their invisibility. Most invisible are lesbians and queer women of color whose neighborhood-like areas may be intentionally less visible in neighborhoods of color. An expectation that LGBTQ people are able to territorialize and own their spaces privileges the viewpoint of elite, white capitalist society. As a result, special attention must be paid to those spaces which may not have been owned by LGBTQ people.
Scholars have noted that gentrifiers who possess less wealth—namely women and people of color—are eventually economically displaced by later, more economically stable waves of gentrification. Much has been made of the 2000 and 2010 census data on the location of same-sex couples which has been interpreted as showing the waning of LGBTQ neighborhoods throughout the United States. As many LGBTQ people do not have the means to form full neighborhoods, some LGBTQ people are grouping together in smaller enclaves or clusters of residences rather than full neighborhoods with commercial and residential elements. Still, across races and classes, LGBTQ neighborhoods matter to people across gender and sexual identities—who see these spaces as a place to meet, mingle, and mark history.
The concept of territories is best applied to areas carved out by LGBTQ people in urban public spaces or within rural spaces. From the 1890s through the 1920s, gay men in New York City claimed the most remote and unwanted spaces of the city as cruising grounds for public sex, friendship, conversation, and recognition. Cruising grounds included public spaces the likes of waterfronts, beaches, bathrooms, bathhouses, and parks such as the Ramble in Central Park in Manhattan and Riis Beach in Queens, New York. Such areas are still used today by men and transgender people across races and classes, despite intensified policing and gentrification that have made them difficult to sustain.
In rural environments, LGBTQ people have created their own loosely-knit residential communities. On reservations, and beyond, Native Americans who identify as two-spirit organize and gather. Other rural territories have been established driven by gender separatism and a need to escape the mass of city denizens and social expectations. In the 1970s, lesbian feminists created their own Lesbian Nation, territories away from mainstream patriarchal society in the form of “women’s land” or the “landdyke movement.” These territories include Sugarloaf Women’s Village in Florida Keys, Florida, and the Wisconsin Womyn’s Land Co-op in Monroe County, Wisconsin. Fewer women are moving to these lands and with few children and a refusal to permit men on the land, many of these matriarchal communities, including the Alapine Village in northeastern Alabama, are starting to fade. Men also have created separate spaces for themselves in rural areas. While now a multigender group, the Radical Faeries have been practicing rituals of men-loving-men in eleven rural “sanctuaries” across the United States. In 1979, the Radical Faeries had their first gathering at Sri Ram Ashram Ranch, located outside Benson, Arizona. The Camp Trans campground in Monroe County, Wisconsin, was formed in opposition to and outside of the women-born-women-only policy of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and affords a space for people across genders who support and respect transgender people. The MichFest, as it was informally known, ran 40 years from 1976 to 2015 and afforded freedom and security tens of thousands of cis-gendered women in rural Michigan that they previously could not imagine.
A Range of LGBTQ Places
Across cities, suburbs, and rural settings, and within and beyond territories and neighborhoods, LGBTQ places evoke the practices that define this group and vice versa. Contrary to the idea of place as merely fixed coordinates on a map, place is dynamic; it is always becoming. Attachments to and memories of place contribute to forming identities and navigating experiences. In this section, places are examined by the primary practices that form them. Because LGBTQ people often have fewer resources and access to capital, many LGBTQ places are impermanent and temporary—for example, rented, or borrowed spaces for meetings. This impermanence, however, does not necessarily lessen the importance of these places.
Since the 1920s, one type of space, bars, has been most closely associated with LGBTQ communities by both society at large and LGBTQ individuals. Bars were the only spaces that afforded socializing and “prepolitical” gatherings in the 1930s to 1960s, places where those of varying genders, sexualities, and races could mix. These were predominantly working-class establishments. While smaller cities and towns have fewer places where all LGBTQ people can gather, LGBTQ bars in cities are often highly segregated by race and class because greater numbers of people allowed for places where specific groups can congregate.
In a recent study of transgender people’s experience of LGBTQ place, female-to-male transgender people often are not welcome or feel unwelcome in women-only lesbian or male-only gay bars, and seek out queer bars instead, which welcome a broad spectrum of genders. Male-to-female transgender people and drag queens more often find community in gay men’s bars. Intensifying gentrification and rising rents and property values have played a role in the closing of many LGBTQ bars today; the last lesbian bars in San Francisco (the Lexington Club) and in Washington, DC (Phase One) closed early in 2015, and the oldest continuing black LGBTQ bar in New York City, the Starlite Lounge, closed in 2011 after fifty-two years in business.
In addition to bars, LGBTQ people are often associated with political spaces and spaces of protest because of the strong visibility of the LGBTQ movement. Bold activist protests have been hallmarks of the movement. In 1966, a group of LGBTQ hustlers and drag queens refused to acquiesce to police brutality at Compton’s Cafeteria in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco and, for the first time in recorded history, fought back against police. This event and others paved the way for a spontaneous riot against police brutality of LGBTQ individuals on June 27, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, a predominantly gay bar with a smaller clientele of lesbians, transgender people, and bisexuals in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Since 1970, the Stonewall Riot has been marked and celebrated annually and internationally as the Pride March and Pride celebrations. Inspired by these uprisings and the radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s, a public gay and lesbian movement grew alongside and often in solidarity with other movements, often occupying homes, workplaces, campuses, and antiracist, anarchist, labor, and Marxist meeting spaces. Examples include the first Latino/a LGBTQ rights organization, Gay Latino Alliance, founded in San Francisco in 1975, as well as the Community Building in Washington, DC.
The eruption of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s incited the growth of national and international in-your-face activist actions, confronting issues such as healthcare, childcare, harassment, racism, violence, and the gender pay gap. These groups took the fight to those who ignored their cries for help; the group ACT UP laid down during the archbishop’s mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in New York City to protest the Vatican’s dismissal of AIDS research and rejection of LGBTQ people in 1989. At the same time, thousands of small local organizations formed in cities, towns, colleges, and high schools across the country to address local injustices. In the 1990s, large rounds of defunding of the federal government led to the outgrowth of a nonprofit industrialization complex, absorbing nascent organizations into official nonprofit status and often dampening radical trajectories. In the 2000s, the mainstream LGBTQ movement began to focus almost exclusively on obtaining same-sex marriage rights and overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies in the military. Conversations around “respectability politics,” laying claim to being part of already dominant social norms like marriage, are now at the center of many LGBTQ debates and will likely define many LGBTQ spaces in the future.
Practices of socialization are a central element of all LGBTQ spaces and take many forms, ranging from churches to coffee shops, Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) games to Pride parades, community centers to music festivals. The sexual openness of the late 1910s and 1920s afforded a wider but still small swath of places with which to find one another. As the twentieth century progressed, LGBTQ individuals and communities—and therefore their spaces—became more and more visible. In recent decades, this turning sociopolitical tide has included religious spaces. Founded by Reverend Troy Perry and others in 1969 in his private residence in Huntington Park, California, the now international Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) gave many LGBTQ people a home when other churches rejected them. By the late twentieth century, LGBTQ leisure spaces maintained specific roles “as sites of safety, community, political power and identity formation.” For example, WNBA games across the United States are particularly welcoming spaces for lesbians.
Cultural institutions including museums, universities, archives, libraries, and theaters have traditionally provided spaces for LGBTQ people to gather and express themselves. Artists pushed boundaries and brought to light difficult issues. In 2010, gay artist David Wojnarowicz’s artwork was removed from a National Portrait Gallery show in Washington, DC after the second outcry about its profanity; the first negative responses came in 1989 when the work was first shown. This event also recalled the 1989 debates over gay artist Robert Mapplethorpe’s art not being shown at the Corcoran Gallery of Art after it was shown, along with Wojnarowicz’s work, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. LGBTQ archives have become cutting-edge research sites located across the country. Some examples include: the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California and older LGBTQ archives like the Buffalo Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Archives now at SUNY Buffalo; the Black Queer Studies Collection at the University of Texas at Austin; the June Mazer Lesbian Archives; the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America at the University of Missouri-Kansas City; the Transgender Archives at the Transgender Foundation of America; and the Lesbian Herstory Archives. Some of the archives remain in private holdings in private homes, although many have become part of public archives.
Queer economies are as complicated and diverse as the people themselves. The concept for LGBTQ people to “Buy gay!” emerged from Harvey Milk’s 1977 campaign in San Francisco’s Castro District as a response to the heterosexuals who would not sell to LGBTQ people. LGBTQ publicly-owned and run businesses like restaurants, cafes, food co-operatives, bars, bookstores, and sex toy stores have played an essential role in the survival and community of this group. Like most LGBTQ businesses—once a central part of the American urban landscape from the 1970s through the 2000s—LGBTQ bookstores (and presses and publishers) are steadily disappearing. Like other key businesses before them, one of the oldest and best-known bookstores, Women & Children First serves as a hub for Chicago’s LGBTQ neighborhood of Andersonville, and Charis Books and More serves as a hub for the Candler Park neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia. LGBTQ communities and areas built up around certain places. Much of LGBTQ culture and many LGBTQ spaces have been commodified because of what is read as their cosmopolitanism or through processes of gentrification. The country’s first LGBTQ bookstore, Giovanni’s Room recently reopened as a thrift- and bookstore. This change in business focus is due to processes of gentrification as well as the shift to online book buying. At the same time, many LGBTQ people seek to fight against capitalist practices that work hand-in-hand with patriarchal, racist, colonial, and heterosexist oppressions by producing more diverse and less hierarchical economic practices.
While many view home as a refuge, many LGBTQ people have experienced unsafe circumstances, domestic violence, and/or being unwelcome in their family homes. In the early twentieth century, some upper-class women lived together in what were called “Boston marriages.” Whether these women were physically intimate together is often unknown, but their relationships were described as “romantic friendships.” Meanwhile, gay men in the late twentieth century redefined gender stereotypes while claiming spaces of domesticity. Home ownership—a key component of the American dream—is an unreachable goal for many LGBTQ people. In general, women earn less money than men; people of color earn less and have higher unemployment rates than whites; and transgender people are disproportionately out of work. It is, therefore, important to consider an individual’s identity as well as their geography, education, and occupation when considering the possibilities of their access to different types of spaces.
Spaces of sex and sexuality are not limited to public places like parks or to private residences, but also include those associated with the study of sexuality at places like the Kinsey Institute in Indiana; performances of drag shows and burlesque; and private or semi-private places for sex like sex parties, dark rooms, peep booths, and backrooms. Public displays of affection, like kissing and hand-holding, still mark LGBTQ places, and in many areas are still perceived as acts of resistance.
Preservation, memorialization, and monumentalization are more unusual than common in LGBTQ spaces and history. Only recently are LGBTQ histories, spaces, and places being honored and remembered rather than attacked or excluded. One powerful example is the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Conceived of and first housed at the Jose Theater Building in San Francisco, the quilt was first displayed in its entirety in October 1987 on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Now too large to be seen at once, with over 48,000 panels and 94,000 names, the quilt tours in parts throughout the United States. While not a specifically LGBTQ space, the State of Pennsylvania commemorates the Annual Reminders at Independence Hall, indicating that many key spaces of preservation are not wholly permanent. LGBTQ people often recall and share their history with walking tours, which can be found in places including Washington, DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles, California, and New York City.
We cannot talk about LGBTQ spaces and places without noting their absence. Scholars suggest that LGBTQ people also experience a sense of placelessness that occurs when they feel intense pressures and expectations to disavow their true selves. Some placelessness is rooted in larger patterns of inequality; some in isolation; and some in a mismatch between personal and official identity. For example, both gay men and lesbians often experience an “absence” of more permanent physical places. Isolated queer white men in the mid-twentieth century in the Midwest required and were able to make use of their mobility and travel to find one another. In situations ranging from natural disasters to everyday bathroom usage or taking crossing borders or boarding planes, LGBTQ people often have no place to turn, particularly transgender people whose identification documents may not “match” their gender presentation. The difficulty in memorializing such absences speaks to the challenge of preserving and commemorating LGBTQ spaces. Further, while there is an excitement to marking history, preservation efforts may also lead to the unintentional and problematic effects of increasing gentrification and tourism that have eaten away at LGBTQ neighborhoods. The work toward preserving LGBTQ history requires recognition of all of these peoples, places, and spaces.
The invisibilization of LGBTQ spaces and places has often required workarounds to laws, policies, mores, and attitudes that would otherwise restrict their behavior and identity. By addressing LGBTQ people through the lens of the geographic scale of their spaces and places—area, neighborhood, place—this document provides a working document with which to understand the range and import of LGBTQ spaces and places.
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