We leave pieces of ourselves in every place we visit, every home we live in, and throughout all kinds of physical spaces. In the digital age, that permanence is heightened — there’s an additional record of everything we’ve done or said to our captured, internet audience. That’s often terrifying, but it’s also powerful, especially for under-represented peoples who fight to bring invisible stories to the fore.
Never has this been more relevant than now for LGBTQ communities, which have been habitually erased from mainstream history and face
Digitizing everyday LGBTQ history
In the 1980s, Damron
The Mapping Gay Guides website was created by Eric Gonzaba, assistant professor of American studies at CSU Fullerton, and Amanda Regan, a lecturer in the department of history and geography at Clemson University. The idea to transition Damron’s guides into a digital resource came as they were both defending their dissertations, one with a focus on queer history in the 20th century and the other on women and gender in the 20th century, at George Mason University. Gonzaba was using Damron’s guides in his research into gay male nightlife post-Stonewall; Regan, a digital historian who created software for fellow scholars, agreed there was potential to do more with the guides, as well as preserve a kind of oral history that is easily forgotten or erased.
Credit: Mapping the Gay Guides
Damron’s weren’t the only resources of their kind, with others like the
“I wanted people to have a communal resource that’s forever changing and growing and evolving. And I thought of a map.”
There are hundreds of thousands of entries that Regan, Gonzaba, and their team are trying to map (and that’s just up to the 2005 guides, with help from a
Gonzaba added that there’s a cultural misconception that queer history and culture is contained to large, metropolitan areas — the places you most often see in historic images or history books, if they’re included. “So many people think queer history is stuck in the streets of New York and San Francisco. By having a database showing that gay bars existed in my home state of Indiana, or Kentucky, or in Idaho, you really refute the idea that gay history is only this mega metropolis, urban phenomenon.” This history has permeated all spaces and is, importantly, continuing to influence present-day existence.
Empowerment through modern mapping
“I really just felt this euphoric community of like 100 queer people for a week, that I’ve never felt before,” he reflected. “Driving back to Colorado, I was like, ‘How can I create this feeling for other people?’ I wanted people to have a communal resource that’s forever changing and growing and evolving,” Sprinkman said. “And I thought of a map.”
After soft-launching the site with no listed businesses and a collective hope in January, Sprinkman has seen immense online traffic to his map, with hundreds of businesses added and more than 500,000 site views since its launch. He wanted it to be entirely a communal effort, nurtured by the site’s casual, organic growth — any business can register their location using a Google form on the site or in the bio on its
The map has garnered media attention and the ever important TikTok buzz, when
Credit: Everywhere Is Queer
Sprinkman isn’t alone in thinking of maps and databases to help connect LGBTQ communities. There are several other mapping initiatives in the works, including more specific identity “maps” like the
These kinds of maps have tangible effects in the real world beyond the very important documentation of history. They build safer spaces for queer existence and foster essential relationships that have personal, social, and even economic repercussions. Sprinkman explained that his map has allowed LGBTQ people to find and connect with each other in their own hometowns after believing they were all alone. “We have 28 queer owned businesses here in Bend. I talked to people that have lived here for 15 years and were like, ‘I had no idea that there were this many queer-owned businesses!'”
Maps as community storytelling
The present-day effect of Sprinkman’s mapping and the historic work of Gonzaba and Regan are connected. “You see stories written by the press almost every year, especially around this time of year during June, asking ‘Is the gay community divided?’ Or, ‘Are gay spaces evaporating?'” Gonzaba said. “I think to answer the question today, we have to look back. What role did queer spaces have historically on our community? Are those roles being met now, by other spaces? Is there not a need by the community? What has changed?”
Other digital mapping initiatives have responded to this need for answers, for community, and for accessible queer histories in uniquely creative ways. For instance,
“SF General Hospital. In Ward 86 anyone with HIV could get high-quality treatment. We learned about giving people love at the end of their lives. So many friends left the earth here during the ’80s.”
In Michigan, you can read through an entire personal history:
“April 2015, I finally came out, and ran from here to find a real family who’d love me for me. I succeeded, I got a job and a degree in Grand Rapids, I made some other trans friends, and I’m getting married soon!”
Abroad, you’ll find even more, like the story of a young person in Turkey’s first queer experience:
“This is the place where I went to the third base with a girl for the first time, a small garden of orange trees near my old middle school. We had a picnic and drank. When it got dark, we sang ‘yıldızların altında’ together and kissed. It was short-lived though, my parents called me home and sent my brother to look for me…”
Or across the water in England:
“we sat and played minecraft in a tent here. i wonder if you’d still love me now im a boy? do you even know? did you then?”Queering the Map gives the global LGBTQ community a digital fingerprint.
Credit: Queering the Map
The site’s purpose doesn’t necessarily have a quantifiable effect, like guiding people to businesses or physical safe spaces, but it’s still documenting a modern queer history that serves to metaphorically tattoo these identities on the physical locations we live, work, and travel in. It’s forging community, and building a common empathy, through the human act of documenting everyday moments.
“I really love to think about our youth and what this opportunity can provide in this major technology world that we’re living in now,” Sprinkman said. “If you’re reading this article, and you’re not out, know that there are millions of us that see you. Your feelings are so valid. And I hope that in time you can come to terms with everything. One of these spaces will hopefully help that.”