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!

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.