Digital Proposal – Mapping Historic LGBTQ+ Spaces and in Seattle

Queer history is full of lost spaces and lost stories, but in the past several decades there have been many grassroots and more academic efforts to preserve queer histories so that even if they aren’t around anymore, they don’t just disappear. My digital project would help bring together research on the grassroots and academic levels in Seattle to create a tool that could be used throughout the city and in classrooms to show the history of queer space in the city. This virtual tour would follow the movement of queer spaces throughout the city, showing what those spaces looked like before in comparison to now, and provide context to how queer people navigated the city and maintained community. The pins on the tour would—in the theoretical final form, at least—include edited story clips from oral histories that have already been recorded, images of the sites when they were LGBTQ+ scenes, and brief written histories that are either excerpts from other work or original writing. The tour would also follow the timeline of LGBTQ+ sites historically as they shifted between neighborhoods and such from the late 1800s through today, with the path moving chronologically.

The center of queer community in Seattle for the past few decades has been Capitol Hill, but that hasn’t always been the case. Centers of queer community sites in the city have moved from neighborhood to neighborhood over more than a century now, and many of those sites have long been replaced by other establishments. Although these places themselves mostly no longer exist, there have been extensive efforts in Seattle to continue to document these histories, from books by historians to oral history projects to local community-run archives. This project will be an attempt to bring these sorts of sources together to create a digital tour that can be used to learn queer history in the classroom and while out exploring the city.

Gay Seattle, by Gary Atkins published by the University of Washington Press
The Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project website’s home page. Here you can find previous publications, collected oral histories, and guidelines for contributing to their collections and exhibits.

The map would have pins on historic sites in Seattle’s queer community, and the path of the pins would go chronologically through the sites as they moved from neighborhood to neighborhood over time. For each pin, there would be some combination of archival photos of the space when it was a queer bar, community center, organization, etc., short written descriptions of what the site was and the role it played in the queer community and Seattle history, and—where applicable—edited audio clips from any oral histories that discuss the site directly.

Often, mainstream tellings of queer history center on the same few places—New York, Washington DC, San Francisco—and moments, like the Lavender Scare, Stonewall riots, and Obergefell v. Hodges. While these places and instances are deeply important to the development of the queer community as it is now, focusing on these locales leaves out a ton of nuance and difference that can be found when expanding the places considered in queer histories. Seattle’s queer community formed in wildly different political, social, and economic contexts than those same communities in the cities mentioned before. In many ways, policing of gay spaces was less severe, the massive increase in military presence in World War II impacted what spaces were safe to gather in, and some early legislative cooperation made political actions and organizations focus on different goals. Without digging into local histories of queer communities in Seattle, however, these things would go entirely unknown in the context of broader national narratives and curriculums teaching about queer history.

3 Replies to “Digital Proposal – Mapping Historic LGBTQ+ Spaces and in Seattle”

  1. I think this is a really cool project and an interesting way to build on work that is already being done. I’m particularly interested in your idea to move chronologically through the locations rather than geographically. While it wouldn’t have occurred to me, it’s exactly the beauty of digital maps. It will help to bridge ideas of physical space and temporal space. I also think the audio elements you mention will add an even greater layer. I’m really excited to see how this might turn out!

  2. Hi! This is such an interesting, cool idea! The project provides a more complete picture of Seattle’s history, and I like how it spans from the 1800s to the present-day. I hope you can connect with historic societies and projects, such as the Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project you mentioned, to get the word out about the tour if you decide to do this project.

  3. Hi Corinne,

    This is a solid idea for a project. I can very much imagine that there could be a good bit of interest in this kind of virtual tour. It’s great that you already identified the Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Project as a place to connect with for source material. If you were to work on this project, I would suggest you think about reaching out to them too to see if they have any particular key insights for how to approach the project and also to see if they might be interested in helping get the word out about your project when it was completed.

    You didn’t mention what mapping platform you would use, but I could see this working in StoryMaps, or in HistoryPin, or even as a Google My Map. So you have lots of options there. If you were to work it up as a whole project, you might want to try prototyping it in one or two of those platforms first to get a sense of which of them would work best for your goals.

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