Capital Pride, one of the largest gay pride celebrations in the US, is this weekend. It’s a time of celebration, but also of protest, as the fight for rights for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities is still very much ongoing. The above map and its accompanying history tell the story of the bars, bookstores, group homes, clinics, and churches that have played essential roles in DC’s gay community for the past half century.
GGWash contributor Kate Rabinowitz created the above map in her work as a senior fellow at the DC Policy Center. When you click it, you’ll go to a version that gives a detailed history of how the places have changed over time, with dots appearing and disappearing as you scroll through the decades.
Kate writes that despite government-sanctioned discrimination, a number of LGBT spaces emerged in DC prior to the 1960s. During the 60s and 70s, as LGBT activism moved more into the public forefront, the number of gay bars grew throughout the District; also emerging in this time were Guild Press, which published gay travel guides, fiction, and a newspaper called Gay Forum, as well as the Washington Free Clinic, which provided STD counseling to gay men.
The growth of gay spaces slowed down in the 1980s, she says, but at the same time the decade included DC’s first inaugural High Heel Drag Queen Race, which has now become an institution. The slowed growth continued in the 90s and 2000s, but it’s very possible that’s because time has passed, there’s been less of a need for gay people to hide in plane site. Same-sex sexual activity was decriminalized in DC in 1993, and same-sex marriage was legalized in 2009.
“With greater acceptance has came blurrier lines to what constitutes gay bars and spaces,” writes Kate. “Nowadays bars like Nellie’s, one of the few notable gay bars to open since 2000, are attended by straight people, and many bars without the intention of being a gay bar welcome and celebrate their LGBT community.”
The data Kate used to create the map is available through the Rainbow History Project, an organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, and promoting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender history in DC. Her sources for the project were the Rainbow History Project, Metro Weekly, the Washington City Paper, and the Washington Blade. You can find complete code for this on Kate’s github page.
This article is a part of an ongoing series of studies from the DC Policy Center.