Counting Our Steps

By Ashley Reedman, April 26, 2019
History tour details the progress of the LGBTQ movement in the City of Ithaca.

The history of the LGBTQ movement in Ithaca may have been lost forever, had it not been for the efforts of a small team of IC students, staff and alumni who created a self-guided walking tour.

The “Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour,” available on the PocketSights app, documents accounts from local residents and makes them available to the general public. It includes 32 landmarks, such as the Gay People’s Center, which in the 1970s was housed above what is now Viva Taqueria; the location of Firebrand books, an independent publisher of feminist and lesbian literature; and the home of the first peer-led transgender support group in Ithaca, started in 1995.

On April 28, locals and visitors were invited to Textor Hall on the Ithaca College campus where the first self-guided tour of LGBTQ history in Ithaca was officially launched on the locally-produced digital tour app, PocketSights Tour Guide. There, event-goers spoke to the tour’s creators, who then led the walking tour through the Ithaca College campus, downtown Ithaca and Cornell University. The tour will remain available through the app and users can customize their experience. 

Highlights of the Tour

  • Ithaca High School’s Kulp Auditorium, which had been utilized as an after-school safe space for LGBTQ youth in the 1990s.
  • Buttermilk Falls State Park, where LGBTQ community members would socialize and hold community barbecues before heading to the relocated Common Ground bar on Comfort Road.
  • Fall Creek House Restaurant, where the Ithaca Women’s Softball League would hold league meetings, was considered a point of social and recreational interest for members of the LGBTQ community.
  • Cornell University Library, where the compositions of Grammy-winner and “A Clockwork Orange” score writer Wendy Carlos, a transgender woman, can be viewed among those of friend and fellow music engineer Robert Moog.

“I had heard stories of the rich local LGBTQ history of the area, but there is no one place where it is written down or recorded,” said Luca Maurer, director of the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services. “We realized many people were literally walking historical archives — elders in our community who made this history, elders who lived this history.”

The fact that most of this information did not exist in print added a sense of urgency to the project.  Maurer brought on Rachel Steinmetz ’19 (a communications intern and communication studies major), Cal Goodin ’19  (a student employee for the LGBT Center and documentary studies and production major), Gianna Caputo ’19 (vocal talent and communication management and design major), and alumna Rachel Kreidberg '18 (audio engineer) to complete the project in the span of one academic year.

Student recording at microphone

Cal Goodin '19 recording audio for the tour.

Goodin had experience developing an LGBTQ walking tour in New York City while still in high school and was instrumental in working with the app interface. Steinmetz gathered any photography and news clippings that could be found in the Ithaca College and Tompkins County Public libraries, and conducted interviews to collect personal stories from long-time Ithaca residents.

Considering many of the interviewees were now in their 70s and 80s, and some had since moved away from the area, this was no small endeavor, but the team found even more material than they had anticipated.

“Learning about Local Law C, which was the legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and how it divided the town, was so impactful!” says Steinmetz, referring to the initial defeat, and then passage of Tompkins County’s Local Law C in 1991 in the Ithaca High School cafeteria. “Learning about one of the first ever statements on bisexuality being recorded at Ithaca College was astounding.” A conference held by the Quakers on campus in 1972 led to what is believed to be the first public statement of the bisexual movement in the country, known nationally as the “Ithaca Statement on Bisexuality.”

“Without the rich history of protests, [bar boycotts], [nationally recognized] sit-ins, legislation and lesbian publishing companies right here in Ithaca, our history would not be as transformative and transparent as it is today,” says Steinmetz.

The tour has been accepted as an activity host for Streets Alive! Ithaca on the same day of its official launch and, through collaboration with the Ithaca History Center, has been designated an Ithaca Heritage Tour.

Ithaca Pride Walking Tour

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and World Pride 2019, the creators of the Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour will lead a special tour on Saturday, June 22 at 3 p.m. For more information visit www.ithaca.edu/sacl/lgbt/events/history_tour/.