Print Project Proposal: Mapping Queer D.C.

In June 2017, the Kate Rabinowitz partnered with the Rainbow History Project (RHP) to launch the virtual map called, “Places and Spaces.” This interactive map charts locations significant to the LGBTQ community in Washington, D.C. since the 1960s. Hosted by RHP’s online archives, people from around the world can scroll through decades of D.C.’s LGBTQ history, click on individual pins implanted on Google maps, and search through the RHP archives of oral histories and digitized material for more information about a particular location.

This software is reminiscent of Philadelphia’s Philaplace application, although instead of embedding photographs and ephemera into the map, Places and Spaces offers metadata that describes the nature of the establishment (i.e. bar, health center, book store) with the dates of operation and the gender/ethnicity of the core clientele. Anyone is welcome to submit suggestions for additional points on the map, allowing amateur historians and community members to contribute.

Touching on four of Roy Rosenzweig and Dan Cohen’s seven qualities of digital media, this map of queer spaces contributes to the accessibility, diversity, interactivity, and manipulation of digital data to study memory of a marginalized community. Through Places and Spaces, users are able to manipulate the map to view the fluctuation of queer gathering places from decade to decade, highlighting disparities in the community’s public spaces as it responded to changes in the D.C. environment.

As D.C. gentrifies, housing for low- and middle-income residents has become scarce, causing overwhelming rates of displacement (DC Curbed reports a 10% decrease in families living in the district with incomes under $35,000/year). LGBTQ establishments are not impervious to new development and augmented rent, and the map reveals a sharp decline in public queer spaces beginning in the late 1990s and early 2000s. There are many theories towards what has contributed to the decline of “gayborhoods”–the AIDS crisis, the digital culture of dating apps, and increasing assimilation must also be held accountable. However, I plan to focus on the effects of gentrification on physical LGBTQ spaces by comparing the statistics and maps tracing change in D.C., as collected by Governing Magazine, DataLensDC, and an app created by the Urban Institute called “Washington, D.C.: Our Changing City.”

The purpose of this study is to 1) further document a history that has been ignored or intentionally erased, and 2) identify core causes of disappearing spaces and its impact on the present community. Although a far cry from the longue duree research toted by Jo Guldi and David Armitage in The History Manifesto, the availability of these interactive maps allows for the comparison between the queer spaces and gentrification over the past two decades.

3 Replies to “Print Project Proposal: Mapping Queer D.C.”

  1. I think this a great project idea! I took a class last semester titled “Black Popular Culture in D.C.,” where we also discussed queer spaces in D.C.. My professor did a similar field study specifically exploring black queer spaces in D.C.. In case you want to reference below are some links:

    “All the Lesbians are White, All the Villages are Gay, but Some of Us are Brave: Intersectionality, Belonging, and Black Queer Women’s Scene Space in Washington D.C.”:

    “Feeling the Spirit in the Dark: Expanding Notions of the Sacred in the African-American Gay Community”

  2. This is a great topic and you’ve identified a series of useful mapping resources that you can use to conduct your analysis. It’s great that you already have some solid context and data to work from to engage in your project.

    One of the key questions to think about as you work with these tools and resources is to consider how they can enable different or new kinds of analysis and comparison. In keeping with this being a digitally enabled research project, it will be important to be able to share out about how reading these interactive maps against each other enables different kinds of research and analysis.

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