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LGBTQ+ HISTORY in Tompkins County
The struggle for LGBT rights has been a long and arduous one. Tompkins County is nationally known as a welcoming community for LGBT people, but that wasn’t always the case. Decades of activism by LGBTQ+ residents helped produce community, culture, and national rights and access to care we see today.
Tompkins County and Ithaca has a longstanding history of being at the forefront of LGBTQ+ rights. A student led protest at Morrie's Bar in 1968 may have been the first gay student sit-in in the United States; and the Student Homophile League formed at Cornell University in 1969, was the second public gay student organization in the country.
The first formal statement about bisexuality made by any religious or political group in the United States happened in Ithaca in 1972. The General Conference for Friends, brought 1,400 members and friends of Quakerism to Ithaca College for their annual convention. Over 130 people showed up to the bisexuality workshop, and the statement was drafted over the following days.
In 1984 the City of Ithaca became one of the first U.S. municipalities to pass a law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In 1991, under a contentious vote, the measure passed county wide as "Local Law C."
Ithaca was also the home of the “Ithaca 50” – a group of 25 local same-sex couples who gained national attention in 2004 for the case Seymour v. Holkomb. Newly elected Mayor Carolyn Peterson devised a unique approach to support local same sex couples while same-sex marriage was still illegal state-wide. The City of Ithaca submitted a collection of 25 same-sex marriage applications to the State Department of Health in Albany NY where they were rejected under the state laws of the time. This allowed the couples to sue the City of Ithaca (with the City officials' "blessing") under the claim that the marriage prohibition was unconstitutional. Although the case was defeated in the Court of Appeals in 2006 it gained national attention and put Ithaca in the national spotlight as a community with a creative approach to supporting LGBTQ+ rights.
**Thanks to a two-year (2021-2022) grant from the Institute of Museum & Library Services, The History Center has been funded to make more of its oral history collections available remotely. Contact email@example.com to learn more.
Connect with our archivist to contribute to the archival collections documenting LGBTQIA+ history in Tompkins County.
HISTORIC LGBTQ+ PEOPLE AND LOCATIONS IN TOMPKINS
LAVENDER HILL (1973-1984)
Lavender Hill formed in Newfield NY (address of West Danby) in 1973, and became a commune of young gay and lesbian activists. The community survived for 11 years, making it one of the longest running queer-based communities in the country. In 2013 a short documentary was made including interviews with surviving community members and original 8mm film shot in 1974.
During a time when over a dozen "straight" communes also existed in Tompkins County, Lavender Hill which grew to include several homes across the property was unique in its expression of collaboration, intentionality, and social political connection for young gay and lesbians during this period.
FIREBRAND BOOKS (1984-2000)
"From 1984 to 2000, Firebrand Books published exceptional literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry on lesbian and feminist themes. Publisher Nancy Bereano won the Publisher's Service Award at the "Lammy" or Lambda Literary Awards in 1996. She took the first risk on author Dorothy Allison, publishing the double-Lammy winning Trash in 1988. (It won awards in the categories of Lesbian Fiction and Small Press). Keeping more than 80 titles in print, including the entire "Dykes to Watch Out For" series, poetry by Audre Lorde, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Cheryl Clarke, and short stories, novels, and nonfiction from the likes of Ruthann Robson, Lesléa Newman, Mab Segrest, Leslie Feinberg and Judith Katz, (and more than a few Lammy winners and finalists), Bereano was at the forefront of lesbian and small press publishing for 16 years."
The Ithaca LGBTQ Walking Tour was developed in 2019 as a collaborative effort of the Center for LGBTQ Education, Outreach & Services of Ithaca College, Visit Ithaca, Out for Health, The History Center in Tompkins County, and Ithaca Heritage.
The project developed out of a student internship with Ithaca College under the supervision of Director of LGBTQ Education, Outreach & Services Luca Maurer. This internship consisted of interviewing LGBTQ elders in the local community to learn more about local LGBTQ history. As more stories emerged from these conversations, additional students were brought into the project to create the PocketSights walking tour, SoundCloud audio guide, Ithaca LGBTQ History Spotify Playlist, and additional in-person events exploring and celebrating LGBTQ history in Ithaca and Tompkins County.