A Queer History of Boston – Evan Penn & Martin Pilataxi Barrera

The emerald necklace is full of stories that are intertwined within its landscapes. The city and people that inhabit these spaces and its surroundings utilize these spaces in ways unimaginable to the original designers and influence various communities in different ways.

The queer community, for instance, has needed gathering spaces for over a hundred years. Often these must be in outside, public spaces, because they must live a life of secrecy when inside, surrounded by people they know. The Back Bay Fens, for example, serves this purpose of providing a place where gay men can meet each other. Another location for this was the Buddies Club in Boston Common. Under the guise of a meeting place for war veterans, this space served as a hub for anonymously meeting gay men for a night. It is important to note, however, that these spaces and their uses have evolved over time due to the ever changing landscape of politics, morals, and viewpoints. Over time, gay rights have improved, and especially in Boston, to not be cisgender heterosexual (cishet) is not an abomination. It is not a crime, and it will not get you killed… mostly. Being outwardly transgender in this country is still very dangerous in many communities.  Already this year, 2020 has seen 39 murders of trans people, most of which are trans women of color. The idea that queer people are safe everywhere and anywhere now is simply untrue, and spaces created by and for this community are as imperative as ever. The transgender resistance vigil and march in Franklin Park this past summer was a testament to the work that needs to be done and used the Emerald necklace to serve the needs of the queer community in a way that is relevant to today’s society.

It is also important to have in mind that the Queer community of color is the most affected. Along the way, they were vulnerable to the systematic oppression constructed by the government in the mid 20th century. As it is explained in Richard Rothstein book, “The Color of Law” America became residentially segregated, sustained by a specific set of forces, institutional actors and public policies. These intensified and lasting forms of segregation were set up to privilege the white male American.

By examining the landscape and its history, we can uncover solemn truths regarding our government and its state sanctioned discrimination. In the 60s, Boston’s city council sought to renew and “clean up” several of its neighborhoods. Specifically targeting neighborhoods with strong minority presences, LGBTQ+ communities along with communities of color were essentially wiped out and erased from central Boston. Unfortunately, this harmed communities of color almost irreversibly, but this has greatly altered Boston’s queer cityscape as well. Due to hundreds of years of oppression, the queer community needs safe spaces to congregate, work together, and be joyful. Many of these sites have been erased forever. Unfortunately, this leads to their stories being erased as well. Through research and understanding, we can uncover at least some of the hidden truths regarding the queer community in Boston.

On the tour, you will be able to observe several locations where the LGBT community has been the victim of discriminatory acts. Most of the historic locations have been rooted from the current Boston map, such as the “Combat Zone” and “Gay Community news offices”, both vital spaces for community building and an escape from social persecution. These towns are located in the heart of Boston next to Chinatown. Several locals of that time moved to the South End to be closer to this space to comfort their sexual orientation since homosexuality was still not entirely tolerated by society. Dominant institutions decided to take change measures in the sector. Politician Frederick Langone, a member of the Boston city council, stated, “We will be better of these incubators of homosexuality and indecency… we will uproot this cancer in one area of ​​the city” advocating a remodeling of the area. Certain tour locations were replaced by new buildings and family friendly business. The segregation of the LGBT community was inevitable. Similarly, the community that resided in Chinatown would be gentrified. Within the tour, we will also observe a few bars in this area that have remained open despite the impact of segregation. For example, Jaques' Cabaret, the city's only lesbian bar from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, and evolved into a venue for drag performers, which remains its focus to today.

We want to tell these stories of how queer spaces have evolved. From the first time where gay men could gather and share ideas to where they can gather for a date night, where queer people have organized efforts for equal rights and where they can celebrate their accomplishments. These stories are invaluable and yet, they are not examined in a relational way. Hopefully, we will help people understand how a random movie theatre is inextricably linked with the nation’s largest gay magazine. It is impossible to take back what is lost. However, we can extend the understanding of what has been lost, we can not only preserve these locations and bring them back into the collective consciousness, but we can make an effort to preserve and rally behind places that support the Boston LGBTQ community today. By setting this idea in society we can create a Reciprocal Landscape, where this community can live safely and prosper. These sites all have stories to tell, and the emerald necklace transect will help them come to life.