Historians retrace Boston’s LGBT history


Click the markers to locate Boston’s LGBT landmarks

The History Project, a Boston-based nonprofit, launched in 1980 to unearth Massachusetts’s LGBT legacy and share that information.

Stephen Nonack

Stephen Nonack

Stephen Nonack, a researcher and board member with the History Project, moved to Boston in 1970 to attend college and happily shares his knowledge of local LGBT milestones. He said it’s a history largely comprised of marginalized people living in marginalized neighborhoods before the Stonewall Riots and gay rights movement.

“Gay and lesbian history is all around us in Boston, but some of it is hard to see,” Nonack said.

The LGBT community has called several Boston neighborhoods home, including parts of Beacon Hill and the Bay Village, according to Nonack. In the 1980s, the South End became a hub for the community until they began to be priced out a decade later. Now the LGBT community is spread throughout the Boston area.

“The community has kind of lost its center. We’re everywhere,” Nonack said.

The group will lead a walking tour Saturday for NLGJA convention attendees. Here are some of the highlights of Boston’s rich LGBT history, with photos by Connect staff member Cecilia Alvarez:

The Park Plaza
50 Park Plaza

During World War II, Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel, then called the Statler, was a hangout for servicemen. According to the book “My Queer War,” the posthumous memoir of James Lord, the Statler Lounge was a gay cruising site that maintained a straight-friendly space toward the entrance to keep up appearances. Lord described much of the same lobby scene that convention attendees will find.

Jacque's Cafe

Jacque’s Cabaret
79 Broadway

Jacque’s in the Bay Village opened in 1939 and was originally a bar for lesbians. It later became known for its drag shows, which it still hosts regularly. Right across the street, the owner of Jacque’s opened Boston’s first gay disco, the Other Side, which has since been torn down.

The Boston Common
Beacon and Park

The Boston Common, originally a cow pasture, was America’s first public park and has been the site of a few historic LGBT moments. In 1977, gay rights advocates held a rally at the Parkman Bandstand that drew attention when an activist burned his Harvard diploma, his draft card and his Bible. Also, the Buddies Club (now a visitor’s center) was a spot for nighttime hookups and served from the 1940s to the 1960s as a clubhouse for servicemen interested in such liaisons.

The State House

The State House
24 Beacon St.

After a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision made same-sex marriages legal in the state in 2004, the public park spaces across from the State House on Beacon Hill became the site of many rallies both for and against marriage equality during numerous legislative battles.

Hampshire House
84 Beacon St.

Hampshire House, in the heart of Beacon Hill, is one of many historic buildings in Boston designed by a gay architect. It is famous as the exterior to the bar in the classic television show “Cheers.”

TOUR_GIBSONGibson House Museum
137 Beacon St.

In Beacon Hill (near such historic cruising sites as the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge, called “The Bridge of Thighs,” and the old stroll for gay hustlers on Marlborough Street called “Vaseline Alley”) is the Gibson House Museum. Charles Gibson was a poet, travel writer and eccentric homosexual. He maintained the Gibson House as a tribute to his parents and their Victorian aesthetic. Although the museum opened to the public in 1957, the truth of Gibson’s sexual identity has only been embraced and shared with the public under the current director.

The Old Police Headquarters
350 Stuart St.

In 1971, Boston had its first official Pride Parade. The parade began in the Bay Village at Jacque’s. After stops at the State House — to demand new rights laws and the removal of Puritan sodomy laws — and at St. Paul’s Cathedral, the parade ended in front of the police headquarters on Berkeley Street. Vice raids were common occurrences in LGBT spaces, but the Stonewall Riots in New York helped inspire a protest at the police department’s headquarters. The building is now home to the Loews Boston Hotel.

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