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Theses Master's

A Spatial History of Lesbian Bars in New York City

Stegall, Gwendolyn

Lesbian and gay bars are much more than spaces for drinking and socializing (though this is important)--their very existence has been and continues to be a political act. From police raids of Mafia-run locations in the mid twentieth century, to the pivotal Stonewall Riots of June 1969 when patrons fought back, to organizing of Pride marches and other political actions starting in the 1970s, to the terrorist attack at Pulse in 2016, bars have been key public sites where LGBTQ history has unfolded. Lesbian bars, a rarer subset in the category of LGBTQ bars, are even more crucial, especially since there have always been fewer all-women s than all-men s spaces. Before the Stonewall Riots spurred the LGBTQ rights movement, lesbian bars were some of the only spaces where lesbians could gather and meet each other, although even there they were not always safe from harassment. Today, lesbian bars remain important epicenters of lesbian life and key sites for LGBTQ events.

Starting with proto lesbian bars pre 1950s (lesbian-welcoming spaces), through dingy, often-raided Mafia-run spots in the 1950s and 1960s, to bigger, thoughtfully designed lesbian-owned bars in the 1970s and 1980s, to roaming parties and sex-positive places in the 1990s and early 2000s, and ending with the decline of lesbian bars, which has left us with three places open in 2019, this thesis tracks the spatial and social history of lesbian bars in New York City. Given the hiddenness of this history, my research methods go beyond traditional book, archive, and historical periodical searches. Non-academic articles, films, and oral histories are a few of the alternative methods used to find cultural and visual information about historic lesbian bars. The thesis ends with suggestions for continuing businesses that still exist, commemorating and preserving places lost, and distributing information about this history to various audiences through permanent and event-based approaches.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Dolkart, Andrew S.
Degree
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
June 24, 2019
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