Walk a Mile in My Shoes: LGBTQ Edition

At the risk of centering queerness as the entirety of my personality and professional career, I have decided to focus on a digital project that foregrounds the experiences of the LGBTQ community in Washington, D.C. Historians, sociologists, and psychologists have recognized a pronounced generation gap between LGBTQ-identifying youths and the previous generations. Within a minority group that often cannot not rely on their biological families for support, it is still important for those coming to terms with their sexuality or gender identity to develop a “found” family, or a support system of mentors within the LGBTQ community. The current disconnect can be attributed to the HIV/AIDS epidemic that wiped out nearly 10% of the gay male community, but also to the disappearance of physical queer-centric meeting spaces. This has led to increasing misunderstandings and judgment between generations, that leaves each feeling frustrated. I believe that part of the divide stems from the younger generation’s lack of historical perspective and perceived absence of recognition of the struggles of the older generation.

Within Washington, D.C., LGBTQ history is being preserved and collected by the Rainbow History Project (RHP) and Ty Ginter’s DC Dykaries. Information about gay-owned businesses and venues can be found in collections at the Washington Historical Society and DCPL. Publications like Metro Weekly and the Washington Blade publish articles about activism and LGBTQ landmarks, and there are numerous podcasts with episodes devoted to D.C.’s queer past. While RHP has an extensive interactive map of LGBTQ places and a well-researched walking tour, I feel that there’s still a detachment in the way people remember their history.

I plan on developing an interactive Story Map Tour on ArcGis Story Maps that follows the course of several 1960-1970s LGBTQ individuals through a day/night in Washington, D.C. This virtual walking tour will be shaped by oral histories and other primary source materials from the Rainbow History Project (RHP) archives, DC Dykaries, articles from the Washington Blade, and other caches of D.C. LGBTQ history. ArcGis is an open source platform that offers a series of barebones templates where I can embed photographs, maps, oral history excerpts, and even music (with proper copyright agreements) from RHP’s digital archives. I am still in the process of identifying which community members to highlight, but RHP’s walking tour pamphlets and access to physical and digital collections will be instrumental for constructing profiles for a Story Map Tour. By centering the tour through the perspectives of real people active in the D.C. LGBTQ community, I hope to foster empathy and further engage queer youth with the past.

ArcGis allows for users to make a profile and share their Story Maps on social media. Posting the StoryMap to LGBTQ-centered pages Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all conducive for attracting the attention of individuals interested in this history as well as facilitating comments or critiques. The scope of the audience will also depend on the people I select to highlight as main characters. In terms of evaluation, I’ll measure my success by how much foot traffic the page acquires and the responses I receive from those participating.

There is only one existing project on the ArcGis site devoted to LGBTQ history. This Story Map, called “Taking Pride,” was created by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to detail the 150 year LGBT history of Greenwich Village. It begins with an embedded map of LGBT sites in the area and as you scroll, images of notable people and buildings appear next to narratives from the 19th century, early 20th century, and the period since the Stonewall Riots. Highlighted plat maps of Greenwich next to photographs of the buildings track the movement of businesses catering to LGBTQ individuals as they emerged or closed. I anticipate using some of this methodology to track the path of my own historical actors as they move through D.C.

So, after all of that–I’m still unsure how to completely construct a intersectional narrative tour that will appeal to a broad population. I hesitate to cast the perspective as a cisgender [person who identifies with the sex they’re assigned at birth] white gay man or woman, because of their historical reputation of gatekeeping and trans-exclusion. I also don’t want to ignore the numerous diverse African American LGBTQ experiences in D.C., but I recognize that as a white (mostly) cisgender gay woman, I don’t want to exploit or misconstrue the lives of LGBTQ people of color, and I hope that following a few people’s lives rather than just one will help bridge multiple perspectives.

As of now, I have a list of individuals who were active participants in the D.C. LGBTQ community during the mid-20th century of which to base a tour around:

  • Wayson Jones
  • Eva Freund
  • Bruce Pennington
  • Helene Bloom, or Fran Levine
  • Essex Hemphill
  • Meg Christian
  • Charlotte Bunch

Any additionaly suggestions are greatly appreciated!

2 Replies to “Walk a Mile in My Shoes: LGBTQ Edition”

  1. This is a fantastic project. Creating community through historical time is deeply profound measure to return a history to people who lack a sense of community. As a gay man, I am unendingly grateful for having a sense of community, past and present.

    And seeing as how this project is a work in progress, I am not sure if its success should be measured by how intersectional it is from the outset. Simply because you are unable to include an perfectly even cross-section of experiences over the course of a single semester does not mean that your project is intentionally or unintentionally exploitative or exclusionary; it simply means that you have begun work on a project with immense potential that, with time, will grow as you gather more information from text and oral history sources, as well as from project visitors who share with you historical information with you about, say, trans/Latinx experiences at certain DC sites. Can’t wait to see how your project turns out!

  2. As a starter, we could all benefit from work that centers queerness. So you will only get a thumbs up from me on the timely and important topic you are focusing on for this project. Your focus on intergenerational connection/disconnection is engaging and significant. I’m excited to see how that concept develops in the course of your project.

    The StoryMaps platform can create some really engaging interactives. So I think you can do great work in there. Given your observations about generational connection and dialog. It would probably be good to reach out to a diverse set of stakeholders and folks represented in the materials you are looking at working with for the project. If there are any ways for you think about using participatory design/user centered design methods like those we discussed while looking at the IDEO book there are potentially opportunities in using those methods whereby the process of developing the project could be an means to engage in the dialog you hope the platform will ultimately help enable. That is, there is a chance that you can make the process of creating the project something that is itself part of how you achieve your outcomes.

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